27 April 2009

Favourite places we've visited: Papeete, Tahiti

Tahiti is a stereotypical South Pacific island (part of a larger group, actually) and despite the cliches associated with such destinations it is truly beautiful. Of course, we stayed in a resort - there's not much else for families - and despite this being an uncommon experience (for us) we had a marvellous time. Still, we wouldn't do it everywhere, or every holiday - but a few days here and there are very welcome.

So what was it about Papeete that we really liked? Well, a couple of things. Firstly, for the kids (mostly) each afternoon our resort had fish feeding in the resort lagoon. One of the resort employees would bring down a bucket load of fish food to attract the amazing tropical fish close to the shore where everyone could easily see them. Anyone could take part - the guy in charge would hand out fish food and anyone could get into the lagoon or feed the fish from the shore. Seeing the fish was amazing, and watching the reaction of the kids was priceless.

The second highlight of Papeete was a mode of transport called locally, Le Truck. For the uninitiated, most Pacific nations are not well off, despite the luxury resorts literally strung along their coastlines. French Polynesia is no exception. Many visitors to these idyllic locations never actually leave the resort, except to go to the airport on their return journey. So it comes as a bit of a surprise to find that the towns where the locals live are not at all like the resorts themselves. Papeete is, well, lived in. A bit run down, very casual and makeshift in parts, but well loved by the locals.

For those, like us, whose resorts are on the outskirts of Papeete, Le Truck is the recommended public transport for getting into town and back again. With Le Truck, what you imagine is what you get - they haven't dressed it up with a misleading name. It is a truck, with an enclosed area behind the driver's cabin which has bench seats running down the length of the vehicle along either side, and down the middle. It costs the same no matter where you get on or off - I can't remember how much, but it wasn't much. There are no seatbelts. If you travel with an infant car seat, it would be useless to have it with you on Le Truck!

We managed to get on it alright - it was pointing in the right direction. You pay the driver through the window (or his friend in the passenger seat) and simply get on. There are no such niceties as tickets. You get off where you need to - but there are actual stops on the route. Coming back was a bit more interesting, though. I had to get some baguettes at a shop about half way into town (everything else was closed for Bastille Day), so I got off and Yvette took the kids back to the resort. The girls were worried that they might never see me again!

I bought the baguettes, and crossed back over the street to wait for the next Truck. I was joined by an older Tahitian woman, who asked me (our conversation was a mix of her halting English and my halting French) if I was waiting for Le Truck. I told her I was and we waited. She flagged it down as it approached, I paid the driver and got on. The woman didn't. She picked up her shopping and walked down the street.

I was amazed. She had actually waited to stop Le Truck so that I (clearly a stranger) could get on. Her hospitality was overwhelming and helpful! That's what I remember so vividly about Le Truck, and why, if I returned to Papeete some day I would prefer it as my transport and spurn the taxis every time.

Papeete was beautiful because the people were beautiful. The scenic marvels (coral reef fringed beaches, the spectacular sunset looking out across the water towards the island of Moorea etc.) were the icing on the cake. I think a lot of people get this the wrong way round and go for the natural wonders first. I guess it just depends on your holiday and the experiences that you have while there.

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