We were all very excited to arrive in Tahiti. It was a long haul – leaving Easter Island at 1 am, flying for 6 hours and arriving at 1 am again. We got a couple of hours of sleep at the airport motel, before heading to the ferry that would take us to the next island over, Moore’a. The jetlag was a tough one, and knocked us of our socks for close to a week. As soon as we arrived, we tried to switch to French but my brain was so confused! The conversation at breakfast went something like: “Voulez-vous un autre croissant?” “Oui, je voudrais bien, por favor”. “Eu, I mean muchas gracias”. “No! Thank you!” “Yikes, … Merci!!!”.
Somehow we had envisioned pearly white beaches, perfect weather, mojito’s in the hammock, snorkeling and surfing etc. After travelling fast and intense across Peru and Chile, this would be another stint of “vacation”. But it wasn’t that. At least not for us. When we got to the ferry, big clouds cast their threatening shadows. Soon enough, it started raining. By the time we got to our little house, the sun was out again, and we pinched ourselves as we walked through the door. A neat little cabin, right by the water, with an amazing view from our terrace. Authentic with a covered patio overlooking the reef, in the middle of nowhere, and calm swim, snorkel, and kayak water on our doorstep.
We had hoped it was just a short bout of rain, but we were wrong … the rain would not stop for almost a week. And I mean rain, day and night. Sure, some intermittent sun here and there, but by the time we had our swimsuits on, the rain would be pouring down again. Regardless, the rain wasn’t really what got to us. It was the bugs, or more specifically, their bites.
I noticed a burning sensation on my lower legs almost immediately upon arriving at our cabin, and a couple bumps from bites emerged here and there, but nothing too serious. We were guessing simply mosquitoes. Until we woke the next morning… Without exaggeration, our legs were covered in bites. Covered. Not just a couple, but easily 30 on each leg. A couple on our upper bodies and arms. Despite dousing ourselves in anti-mosquito and “tropical strength” deet products. We were at a loss of what this could be. And it i-t-c-h-e-d. Nothing like we had ever experienced before. We looked all over the bedding, the couch and found a couple tiny bugs. An internet search suggested “bedbugs”, but who knows, really? Was it fleas?!?
Our landlord acted promptly and had the cabin smoke-bombed to disinfect. Not sure how to feel about that, as the chemicals penetrate everything. But the fact that he acted so swift made us just a bit suspicious that this was not a new problem. Honestly, the bites could just as easily have originated from the couple hours at the airport motel. It did get better after smoking the house, but mosquitoes and other bugs kept being utterly annoying. And the kids scratch off course, infecting the wounds almost immediately in the humid climate. Especially Matthias’ legs still are a patchwork of close to a hundred white scars (yes, we counted them). The next morning, we paid a visit to the doctor, hoping to identify what caused the bites. She ruled definitely not mosquitoes, but other than that it could be anything. She prescribed anti-histamines to provide some much needed itch relief and prevent scratching, and something to disinfect the wounds. This was our first trip to the doctor and the pharmacy thus far. Not too bad, I guess.
Why didn’t we move, you ask? Well, the house was great otherwise, we couldn’t find something suitable quickly, the landlord responded adequately and we were cranky and tired and jetlagged.
We had not rented a car, thinking we’d bike and walk just like we did in Costa Rica, but that was a bit harder here (blame it on the rain). There’s no taxis on the island really, the roads are fairly narrow, and renting bikes for all of us was just as expensive as renting a small car. So we succumbed. In general, Tahiti was incredibly expensive and way way over our budget. Make sense as most everything is imported. On the plus side, everything’s imported from France. So we stocked our fridge with all the European brands we love like Bonne Maman and Le President :). Even a local fish dinner was out of our budgetary league, so we cooked most all of our meals at home.
That first week in Tahiti was not quite what we had expected and hoped for. Jetlag, bugs, rain, expensive. Knowing it would not rain forever, we made the best of it. We settled in and got into a decent school routine. Watched a couple of movies. Played games. Hung around. And then the weather broke.
Sunshine! I’ve commented before how the weather affects our travel mood, and no different here. Once the sun was out, everything immediately felt way better. We had 2 kayaks at our place, and the reef literally right outside our door. On their first kayak trip, Steven and Vincent spotted a large sting ray and a black tip shark. Snorkeling and kayaking around the reef, we were treated to the most spectacular explosion of colorful fish.
With Christmas right around the corner, we would not do typical gifts this year (no need for more stuff to haul around!). Instead, we splurged on an extra-ordinary, educational experience. The resort next door had a nice dolphin center, with 3 dolphins living in captivity. Yes, I too have very dual feelings about the commercial exploitation of these amazing animals. Yes, their living quarters in no way compare to a life in the wild. Through a different pair of glasses, these animals were born in captivity and would not survive in the wild (one was a navy vet; who knows what he/she was trained to do?). They are cared for with love and respect, and allow to teach our children about these amazing animals up close. This experience focused on marine preservation and what we all can do to ensure these species can continue to survive in the wild (Plastics, anyone? Over-fishing?). We chose not to swim with them, although I have to admit I would have loved to. We got to stand in the water with them, and touch them. Feel their power, and their grace. Afterwards Elyse was firm that she wanted to work there. So she inquired what she’d have to do. Become a marine biologist. Allright! Elyse was sold. Although she also wants to be a rock star. And an adventurer. Lest we forget a ballet dancer.
Looking back, our days at Moore’a were calm and relaxed. Schoolwork, snorkel, paddle, kayak, swim, cook and read. Nothing too extra-ordinary.
After Moore’a, we would spend a couple days on the main island of Tahiti. If you look at the map, the main island is shaped somewhat like a fat tadpole. The tail of the tadpole is called “Presqu’Île”. Literally translated, “Almost Island”. We stayed near Teahupo’o at Villa Bo. What a GEM!!! Not only because of it’s magnificent location (on a hill, overlooking the ocean, facing west with a-ma-zing sunsets), and not only because of the house (open, airy, large deck, wonderful small pool), but because of the people!
As we got out of the car, we were warmly greeted by our host Iris, and later her partner Philippe – French nationals who decided to make this magical island their home for now. The next day, Iris’ daughter Marianka and her son-in-law Roland, with their girls Reva and Rohini came to say hello. They never left for the rest of our stay. We understood each other like age-old friends, despite the language barrier at times. We got to polish our French and they their English. Their generosity and warmth was such a heavenly blanket. We celebrated Christmas together, and felt like family. We talked, and talked, and talked for days. Sadly, amidst all that, we completely forgot to take pictures! They truly adopted us into their family and their traditions, and even had gifts for our kids (we were a bit embarrassed to not have anything to offer in return). Music, laughter, spirituality, food, and debating philosophy. Their hospitality was unlike anything we experienced, and forever has a place in our hearts. Our kids were in heaven – spoiled by the gifts and attention, playing in the pool for hours, and otherwise connecting with the girls. Sadly, also these days came to an end. Before we left, we admired Marianka’s and Roland’s home – out in the country, with a chicken coop and a couple dogs! Big hugs and kisses later, we were on our way again. We were truly sad for the goodbye, as we all knew that, despite good intentions to foster that deep connection, soon we’d be admiring each other’s facebook posts.
We all felt elated, carried, and so enormously grateful for our time at Villa Bo.
We spent our final 2 nights on Tahiti in a fancy hotel with a large infinity pool and a swim-up bar. Our boys loved ordering an ice-cream from their pool seats! What a luxury! It rained cats and dogs again however, so we also spent quite a bit of time indoors. Reading mostly. The kids found a TV show that we remembered from our youth – Fort Boyard, an adventure-style game show in which teams compete through endurance and physical challenges. The kids didn’t understand a word as it’s in French, but were on the edge of their seats!
All-in-all, our stay in Tahiti was amazing because of our time spent at Villa Bo. Otherwise, I would not recommend Tahiti to another world-traveling family. We ended up here as it was the only west-bound flight from Easter Island, in the direction of Asia, and Tahiti sounded so incredibly luxurious and tropical to us. Granted, we did not go out of our way to “do” much and did not explore much of both islands. A wise friend told me that you can’t recommend travel destinations as everyone’s tastes and experiences are different, so take it with a grain of salt.
We simply did not fall in love with Tahiti like we had with Peru and Chile.
Where we stayed:
- AirBNB – Villa Tiahura by Enjoy Villas. Charming, rustic cabin, with open kitchen. One of the bed- and bathrooms is only accessible from the back deck, so make sure you are comfortable with that. Spacious backyard, with direct access to the water and reef.
- AirBNB – Villa Bo with Iris and Philippe. Amazingly welcoming hosts. We stayed in the 2-bedroom cabana in the yard. Situated on a hill, offers spectacular views of the ocean, with stunning sunsets. Small pool, but large enough for the kids to enjoy themselves.
- Hotel Manava Suite Resort – very very spacious split level apartment (a bit too much, frankly). We had “garden view” but I would say .. make sure to get ocean view. Garden view really means, resort / main building view. The pool area was under construction, and while the infinity pool and swim up bar with beach were already very impressive, the new addition to the pool promises to be incredible. Food on sight at the hotel’s restaurant was very good. Breakfast buffet elaborate.
Where we ate: well, mostly home-cooked meals …
- Hotel Les Tipaniers – our airbnb host recommended Les Tipaniers for an informal lunch or snack. We did have lunch here one day, but did not at all enjoy – we found both service and quality of the food lacking. However, the setting is great, and the hotel cabana’s looked nice, and this could be a gem to stay.
- Restaurant Tiahura chez Irene – excellent food and menu with lots of local fish options. Loved it here, and would have returned if not for our budget!
Where we played:
- Dolphin center at the Intercontinental Hotel: from the little exposure we had, we felt comfortable with how the animals are treated, with what seems to be genuine care and concern for their well-being. The focus for us was on learning about the animals, and that’s what the team there was focused on (not so much on the tricks)
- Hotel Les Tipaniers: on the beach at Les Tipaniers is a little shack that rents out all sorts of equipment – snorkeling gear, kayaks, motorized boats, stand up paddle boards etc.