Jeanne and David's trip to Tahiti and her island July 13-28, 2001.
So - we are here to testify that it is indeed true - Tahiti is paradise or at least as close as we have come to our realization of a
stress-free, truly relaxing and very romantic idyllic tropical paradise for a 25th anniversary vacation.
That said, it seems it is now up to our children to send the truly interesting and adventuresome travel logs; but we would like to
share our summer travel experience - in keeping with the Friedrichs Family travelers tradition.
Our two weeks of tropical paradise (did I mention paradise already?) started with a 14 hour flight (5 hours to LA ; 9 hrs. to Papeete,
Tahiti) which had the advantage of being a night flight into Tahiti, so as least I slept the second leg. We arrived at 4 a.m. with no
clear idea of how we would get to our ship. We were literally the only passengers arriving at this time frame. It seems we did
something a bit unorthodox when we made an itinerary and bookings different from the standard week-long cruise, air & transport
We had decided at the outset that we wanted to stay an additional week on a less-developed island and experience the true
meaning of relaxation - defined less by psychic willpower and more by succumbing to the tropical heat, gentle winds, and scenic
beauty around us and no work - even for David.
So we told the travel agent we would make our own flight arrangements and transfers. It was inspired thinking. Even though this
ship was "only" about 680 passengers (unlike the mega-ships toting 2000 + passengers), we avoided all the queues by arriving in
the wee hours of the morning. We took a cab to the gangplank, walked on and went right to our room after a brief stop at the
reception desk - and slept a bit.
The day of our arrival in Papeete, Tahiti was July 14th, Bastille Day, celebrating French Independence. This day was celebrated
by both French and Polynesians (despite the fact that the Polynesians actually lost their independence to France); in one of those
ironies of history.
This turned out to be fortuitous for us because the French military part of the celebration included a rather pompous and stuffy
parade with lots of militia and weapons displayed, but interesting - especially the uniforms, nonetheless; whereas the Polynesian
contribution to the parade was much more colorful. Miss Polynesia, in traditional garb and flower crown and lei was surrounded by
her court (and looked beautifully bored to tears); the Polynesian chorus was headed by a magnificently large female director who
invoked the image of past royalty, and the crowd of spectators included many beautiful Polynesians, decked in flowers and wearing
traditional pareos (the cloth draped so stunningly over their bodies); the children were frisky and the sun was hot, with a pleasant
breeze to fan us.
But my favorite part was the men! A group of young male dancers emerged from the wings, at the very end of the parade (and
after all the conferring of medals and honors on uniformed clad men - long-winded!) And did they liven things up! They wore
(almost nothing)- bare-chested with loin cloths, green jungle wreaths that spiked out from their heads and calf adornments that
similarly were spiky green vegetation. This "ensemble" was completed with brown army combat boots. We never again saw
dancers any way but barefoot). This must have been their military garb - Polynesian style. And they danced! It was a wild and
provocative dance and ended that part of the celebration (and how!).
OK, so you get my drift...
Next we headed for the canoe races in the harbor. Each canoe held about eight men or women - never mixed genders. They
competed all afternoon and after we left the harbor front to make our way back to the cruise ship, we found we could continue to
watch the races while we took afternoon "tea" on the ship.
The racers wore colorful pareos or shorts, always the head wreaths and were amazing rowers. The crowd that gathered to watch
was equally colorful: comprised of mostly locals and a mix of backpackers, the occasional "survival-type" guy who looked like he
hadn't washed or shaved in about 4 years, and a few tourists. Of course there were lots of families with children and babies and
music all the time. It was quite festive.
If you or anyone you knows travels to Tahiti or her islands consider going during the month of July, which is when all the islands
celebrate traditional music and dance and canoe races, for the festival called Heiva. We were enchanted to find ourselves, on
more than one occasion, treated to a local celebration of traditional dance and music as part of the festival. It really added to the
The other "Society Islands", as they are known, we visited by cruising from one to another during the week). A quick run-down ...
each had it's own unique appeal...
Day 2: Moorea (Where we returned the following week to stay- more later).
Day 3: Huahine (Very beautiful. We went with a small group on a 4 x 4 truck and small boat to first visit a black pearl farm over the
water and then to see some of the island's historical and spiritual sites. Remember - don't touch the stones upon which the king's
seat and court was seated - bad luck; and anyone who dared remove the stones - very, very bad luck. We were introduced to the
famous "breadfruit" of Mutiny on the Bounty fame (a bit of historical trivia for the younger of you who may not be aware... breadfruit
was the reason Captain Blye embarked on the fateful voyage to begin with. It was suppose to become the food staple for the
slave-boats from Africa, but the slaves refused to eat it). This island also hosted a truly authentic small port town with no frills and
only a bit of touristy stuff. But of course the Internet Cafe was there! We also saw some interesting "fish traps" made of stone walls
that looked very much like those in a pasture, only these curving walls had been trapping fish for centuries as the tides moved in
and out (and are unique to this island).
Day 4: at sea (spoiled and pampered and overfed!)
Day 5: Raiatea (even more beautiful due to the wind swept trees that framed the island like a halo). This day we spent on the water
with a short stop over at a vanilla plantation which was mildly interesting. We only got to see sample plants, although the lecture
was fine, because the plantation was too inland and too mosquito laden for tourists, we were told. We then took a small boat (with
8 people) to a motu (distant land mass just off the island) where we had a magnificent view of the many layers of colors in the reef
waters. The locals had captured large fish, including small sharks, rays and turtles, the latter two of which were available in
underwater pens for man-handling by tourists. We did not go in (and remembered swimming with the rays in their natural habitat in
the Caribbean which was a nicer way to do it). Of note here was the story told my one local young man that he had indeed been
bitten on the shoulder by a shark (and had the scar to prove it), when he was fishing and the shark, who was with 3 young ones,
somehow got tangled up and reacted appropriately (for a shark). The scenery was breathtaking and the water even more so and I
became impatient to go snorkeling (some did it there but the locals said to wait as the currents were too strong and after all they did
catch the sharks just beyond where we were standing- hello! So after a brief time we headed out with only about 6 other people to
go to a very remote reef area between two motus which formed a natural funnel for snorkeling. We waded ashore and while David
settled in under a coconut palm, I trapesed around to the other side of the island with our guide, where we entered the water and
the current carried us back to the area of the boat. The tropical fish were spectacular! and fortunately it was way too shallow for
those sharks! Now that was neat! When we arrived back at the beach the two men who conducted the excursion had the most
mouth watering woven tray of fresh fruits - I have never tasted such sweet grapefruit and of course we had papayas and pineapple
as well - very yummy.
Day 6: Bora Bora (exquisite waters)
Initially we thought of doing a land tour. Virtually all these islands have exactly one paved road around the perimeter, with only a
small number of lesser roads inland. The center of the islands remain remarkably undeveloped - not incidentally because of the
extreme heights of the cliffs and rugged terrain. But after arriving by "tender" on shore and looking at the options which ranged
from submarine tours to 4 x 4 jeep tours, we decided to try the combination of more snorkeling and the "Acquascope". This was to
give David the opportunity to see the beauty of the underwater tropical world without snorkeling, and was fascinating for me as
well. We chose to go to both sites offered - one for the tropical reef fish and one for the sharks in the deeper water. This vessel
looked like a colorful bug with space-age-like wings on either side. It submerged to the full height of the side windows, so one had
about a view of both sides and the sea floor. It sat eight - but tightly packed. The first time we were the only passengers and
delighted in all the tropical fish - especially when they were fed from above and amassed at the windows in very large schools. They
were so colorful!
After a break at a new location where I did more snorkeling - also lovely, we picked up a few more passengers and headed out to
the sharks. That was quite dramatic! The sharks emerged in a very ephemeral mist, slowly circulating near the sea floor. As we
settled in, many tropical fish were available for our viewing pleasure and then the real action started! Two of the local men who ran
the excursion dived in wearing only masks. They could hold their breath for an eternity! They swam above the sharks and began
feeding the small fish, which in turned caught the immediate interest of the sharks. The sharks make bigger and wider circles
around our vessel and we watched mesmerized as they came closer and closer to feed on the larger hunks of cut-up sea life that
the smaller fish did not feed on.
Some were quite large and quite a few had baby sharks which looked like pencils with dorsal fins, swimming under the mother.
Occasionally one mother shark seemed to be trying to escape from her offspring, but even if the little ones swam away, they soon
returned to ma-ma. This frenzy of sea life was observed by us for about 45 minutes and it was enthralling. I took lots of digital
photos. One woman who happened to be he head of the neuroscience department at Rutgers U. was so disappointed that she did
not bring her camera that I promised to send her my digital photos.
So we did not see much of the land part of Bora-Bora, which gives us great incentive to return!
At the end of our cruise week, we took a speed ferry from Papeete, Tahiti to the island of Moorea. Here we acclimated to a
leisurely life of not doing much and then doing less. It was beautiful there and we thoroughly enjoyed the setting of our place ,
"Motel Albert", as well as the beautiful "Cooks Bay" scenery and private beach of the "Bali Hai Beach Club" across the street. We
had gotten a wonderful recommendation about this place from a gay Canadian couple who posted a report of their stay on the
Internet and we are so grateful they did! Our accommodations were a family-style, family-budget, spacious but simple living
quarters - complete with a hot shower, a kitchen and refrigerator and a screened-porch fronting on the topical fruit tree orchard
which the owners maintain. We were surrounded by the majesty of Cooks Bay, which features a panoramic view of cliffs and a wide
bay complete with hang gliders and sailboats and outrigger canoes (I never once actually heard the motor on a boat, so the private
beach remained very tranquil. And I could snorkel and see a great variety of small fish nearby.
We spent some days exploring the island by Le Truck or by foot and others lolling around.
We found breakfast and the makings for a picnic lunch a the small grocery (French and New Zealand products) and dinner was
either at a local restaurant or at the palm-leafed huts surrounding a center gathering place of the locals. We rarely saw a single
non-Polynesian at this delightful gathering of multi generational families, with music and games and great food prepared by the
older women and served by their beautiful daughters. Not a single menu was written in anything but French, and they seemed
quite indifferent to attracting a tourist trade, while being quite nice to us (especially with our no French-speaking skills.) The food
was always exceptionally good.
Our very last day and night, back in Tahiti, included a great look at Polynesian culture and history at a very nice museum, followed
by some meandering in the markets, dinner overlooking the harbor lights, followed by a professional and very large dance group
doing traditional and a bit of modernly interpreted Polynesian dancing, fire baton twirling and unique singing - chorus style as well
as a soloist who appeared to be the Polynesian incarnate of Michael Jackson. They were all extremely talented and put on a very
But our fondest memories of the people of Polynesia are the dancers who gathered to celebrate Heiva on the island of Bora Bora.
Children, men and women, clad in similarly patterned sea-blue cloth and festooned with garlands and wreaths and for the men, calf
wreaths that hung down like straw. This festival was for them, not for us. It started with the whole group clustered at one end of a
very long sandy paddock, not unlike a coral for horses. It was already nighttime, as the sun sets early in winter Polynesia. At 6: 30
PM it is inky dark with a stunning sky overhead. The whole group began to sing a soft rhythmic chant and moved as one mass, in a
circle to the other end of the paddock. They completed a beautiful choral piece in the traditional way, with every one sitting tightly
clustered on the ground, and facing the middle of the group. Two singers alone, stood up on either side among the huddled
bodies and lent an eerie high pitched tone to the chanting, which I have never heard before. It was so exotic. The group ended the
singing, which was accompanied by musicians with traditional drums and ukulele, and began the dancing by moving into patterned
formations - separating the men from the women. The children left when the adults took center stage.
The men and women as a group each took turns and often while one group danced the other sat elegantly and serenely on the
sandy ground. Often, toward the end of a dance one or two women or men would be left to end the dance with a solo performance,
but only briefly, as the emphasis was clearly on the group's combined movement and the effect of all those beautiful dancers in
rhythm with themselves and their world. ahhhhh, so lovely...
Thanks for giving us this excuse to re-live some of our trip.
Best to all.
Jeanne and David