Tahiti - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 387 (197)
Wednesday 30th March (2005)
It was just a little bit hurried this morning since we didn’t get up particularly early but still had to vacate the room by ten o’clock to avoid a late checkout fee. I doubt the rather nice owners would have levied such a fee but it was enough of an incentive anyway for us to get things moving. We decided to simply boil some eggs to take with us on the road for breakfast. The plan was to stop somewhere on the way to the airport to buy some rolls. The hostel’s free food shelf was the lucky recipient of several or our bits and pieces that we decided not to take along with us on the flight this afternoon. Naturally, I whipped out the laptop for one last whiz on the Internet to up and download e-mails.
A bit on a nasty going away present was awaiting me on the windscreen of the car when I started to load it this morning. Although I was parked in a spot where I was allowed to park, I was hit with a NZ$40 (€23,20) fine for facing the wrong direction. Facing the wrong bloody direction? What the hell is that all about? Thanks New Zealand; I really needed that! Ordinarily, this sort of bad luck would have hurtled me into a very bad mood for the rest of the day but I did my best to laugh this one off. At the very least, it makes for an interesting tale to tell in the years to come. That’s it, Chris, you keep telling yourself that.
After packing and bidding the nice owners of the Aloe Lodge hostel farewell, we set off to find a supermarket. As it happens the same supermarket that we visited yesterday has its own car park, even though you do have to spend more than NZ$5 (€2,50) just to get the allotted two hours of free parking in it. We picked up some fresh bread rolls and a few other titbits at the supermarket and, with a few directions from the parking attendant, we were finally off to the airport. Actually, we first sat in the car in the car park and ate the boiled eggs and rolls. Somewhat naively, I just followed the signs to the rental car return bay but it seems that our particular rental agency does not have a stand at the actual airport itself, despite what it says on the rental agreement about having to return the car to the airport. It turned out that we needed to be just outside the airport itself but we did manage to find it in the end with the help of an idle taxi driver. We paid the deposit for the rental car on the credit card and with this being our last day here, I didn’t want the city parking authorities to follow our electronic trail to hit us with an even bigger fine for not paying the ridiculous ‘facing the wrong bloody direction’ one we just landed. The young girl manning the desk at the rental agency was actually quite sympathetic about the parking ticket and thought it just as ludicrous as I did. Fortunately, I was able to pay the fine directly to them, and they will then pass it on to the city authorities. They apparently do this quite a bit. She gave me a receipt to show that the fine had been paid so that should be the end of that. We jumped onto the rental agency’s shuttle to the airport and, once we arrived, had to go back again to collect a couple of things we’d forgotten to take out of the car. We take these things in our stride now.
Queues at the airport for our flight were quite long but, again, we take these things in our stride now and just tagged on to the end of the one we thought was correct. I say ‘thought was correct’ since the flight number that is printed in our flight coupon was not actually displayed anywhere on the screens. The queue we joined, however, was for a flight bound for our destination with the same departure and arrival times so I was confident that we were in the right place, which turned out in the end to be correct.
All the usual airport formalities are now so second nature to us both that we barely acknowledge them anymore. We leisurely stopped for a snack in the departures hall and by the time we got to the gate, the last remaining passengers were already boarding the flight. Sandy had asked for an aisle seat at check-in and we were happy to find that we were placed in the bulkhead seats right next to the emergency exit – so we’ll be the first to be sucked out if it fails. Actually, the plane was a very nice and practically new Airbus A330 and was very comfortable. This Qantas flight was a code share with Air Tahiti Nui and with Tahiti being French Polynesian, all the staff on board were speaking French.
We lost another two hours to the time zone fairy by the time we arrived in Papeete. On the flip side to that problem, however, we gained a full day for having passed over the International Date Line. That’s why there are now two log entries for March thirtieth (this one and the next). Originally, I had tried to plan that we pass the International Date Line on March twenty first, so that I could have my birthday twice. That plan was another casualty that was lost to the pregnancy fairy.
I have to stay that I had some misgivings about our intended arrival in Papeete. Tahiti is known throughout the backpacker community as a very expensive and budget-busting destination. I’ve also heard tales of no independent tourist infrastructure at the airport itself. This has supposedly thwarted many an independent traveller upon arrival. Fortunately, we at least have a car and our one night’s accommodation already sorted.
It was well into the night when we landed at Papeete and the beautifully adorned girls handing each arriving passenger a small flower to tuck behind their ear was a nice touch, as was the three-man-band of musicians playing traditional music as we lined up for the immigration formalities. After collecting our bags, there was a very long queue at the green channel to clear customs so we walked over to the empty red channel to hand in the two oranges that we still had with us. Unfortunately, after relieving us of our oranges, our man sent us back over to the green channel queue again. Oh well, nothing ventured – nothing gained. It works sometimes.
The arrivals hall at Tahiti was actually quite a bit of a surprise. It was much bigger than I had earlier been led to believe and there was even a manned information counter. We swiftly located the Avis rental car desk to collect our car but I had a bit of an issue with the French-speaking woman about the number of free Kilometre allowance that came with the rental agreement. I had made the reservation over the Internet and had the foresight to save the page that displayed the agreement, wherein it clearly states that we have an allowance of eighty-four Kilometres. Mrs. French, however, was insistent that it was only to be fifty. There’s well over two hundred Kilometres of potential road to explore and back again on Tahiti and I didn’t much fancy paying a small fortune in additional Kilometre charges when I returned the car so I whipped out the laptop and showed her the booking screen, which I had the foresight to save when I made the booking. She was still insistent until she noticed that the reservation was for one day and a couple of hours as opposed to the stock one-day term. She told me not to worry and that she would sort it out in the system. I had my doubts but with communications being what it was, it seemed fruitless to pursue the matter further.
The people at the information desk were very helpful when it came to hunting around for a budget place to sleep for the night. We already had the reservation with the one place that I’ve been e-mailing with but I didn’t see the harm in shopping around a bit anyway just to make sure we weren’t being ripped off. As it turned out, they rang around all the budget places and ended up with the one place that we had already booked with. If nothing else, at least it proved that we were not being hard done by. The fact that everywhere else was fully booked just goes to show that simply showing up on Tahiti unprepared is not a good idea. As I was talking to the information desk girl about the room rate and directions, a representative from the pension we had booked over the Internet showed up to give us directions. How’s that for service?
With our brand new French car, we drove out of the muggy airport and towards Papeete itself. All the road signs here are the same as those you’d find in France too. I should say at this point that Tahiti is really nothing like I expected it to be. The image I always had of Tahiti was one of tropical, palm-lined, sandy beaches with beach hut accommodation raised over the edge of the water and a boardwalk linking all the huts to the mainland. Our budget, unfortunately, is just not going to extend to allowing us to see any such thing. What we’ve seen so far are developed, if slightly worn and a little run down, roads that link together small towns. As we entered Papeete itself, what immediately struck us was that almost everywhere was closed with shutters in front of all the shop windows. This didn’t bode well for our designs on grabbing a bite to eat for the night. In fact, we did manage to spot one restaurant that still looked like it was open for business so we found a spot to park the car and walked over. The restaurant owner spoke good English and seemed like a nice guy. The food was good too. The bill came to FCP3,500 (€31,82) – not bad for Tahiti, I thought.
Now fed and somewhat rested from the flight, we set to the task of locating our pension. It was supposed to be just a couple of streets up into town but that didn’t stop us driving up and down a couple of times before we located the correct turnoff. The main problem was that all the street signs appeared to be nearly completely bleached out and they were barely legible. We finally found our road exactly where it was supposed to be based on the map on the little brochure we picked up from the airport. I parked the car and rang the bell on the gate outside. After several minutes, a young girl came out to greet us. This pretty little Polynesian looking teenager had clearly just woken up and it took several minutes before she was fully conscious and coherent. Luckily, she spoke relatively good English (certainly much better than our French) and we first all sat around the patio table for a few minutes going over the formalities. The room rate turned out to be FCP7,990 (€72,64) after tax but that was for the room without ensuite and we picked up a few suggestions of where to go to kill time tomorrow. Communication was a bit broken at times but we somehow muddled through. There’s no air-conditioning in the room but a floor-standing fan will suffice. All three of us were now clearly very tired so we freshened up and popped off to bed.