French Polynesia: Entry 2

11 February 2003: Avarua, Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Subject: French Polynesia

Well I am now almost at the other side of the world and finally I am back in a country where they speak English (well, some version of it) and drive on the right side of the road. (That's right side as in correct side, not right side as in not the left side.) The Cook Islands are probably also the smallest country that I'll visit. They are about as independent from New Zealand as Jersey and Guernsey are from Britain: they print their own money but it is equal in value to the N.Z. currency, and they have their own parliament but N.Z. looks after defence and international relations. Right now it is quite breezy outside; there are some big waves and when the plane landed this morning it was pouring with rain. But it was warm rain! Hopefully this will blow over in a couple of days and it will be an idylic tropical paradise again.


My flight from Easter Island finally removed me from Spanish-speaking Latin America after almost five months. After a morning of saying "Gracias err Merci" to everyone I finally managed to switch over to speaking French, though no doubt still with a few bits of Espancais or Franspanyol thrown in. Tahiti is really quite noticeably french; it is full of patiseries with lovely cakes and real baguettes, for example. And it is quite picturesque. But the overriding impression you get is that it is unbelievably expensive. In Easter Island I had been paying US$15 for a room to myself in quite a pleasant guest house - and that was expensive by Chilean standards. But in Tahiti the cheapest bed I could find was about US$25 for a bed in a shared room in one of the most awful places I've stayed all trip. So rather than put up with that I decided to go to the Cook Islands, which are described as "Just as beautiful and five times cheaper".

An interesting observation is that arriving in Tahiti I was finally further West than I had been in Victoria, British Columbia, way back in September.

So I had just a few days to see the highlights of Tahiti, and luckily at least one of them is free: the beach! Although some of the other French Polynesian islands are coral atols with lovely white sand, Tahiti is a big volcanic island (the highest point is more than 2000m) with a coral reef around it, so the beaches are a mixture of white coral sand and black volcanic sand. Once I paddled out into the very warm sea I realised that the snorkelling was going to be excellent. Just a few feet from the shore you could see lots of little birhgtly-coloured fishes. Once I actually put on a mask and swam around the coral - again really close to the beach - it was magical! Many many different varieties of fish, including striped, spotted, plain, blue, orange, black and white ones. One of the most distinctive is the trumpet fish, which has a very long nose. Now that I'm in the cheaper Cooks I'm going to buy myself a waterproof disposable camera and take some pictures, assuming that the sealife here is as good.

I also went to a couple of museums: the Musee de Tahiti et les Isles, which was an excellent mixture of ethnography, geology, history and natural history, and the Musee Gaugin, which had some interesting things about his life in Polynesia. Then I saw the so-called Botanical Gardens which were a bit disappointing. If you're interested in all the different varieties of palm trees then you'll like it, but I was hoping to see some of the lovely orchids that I'd seen in the florists.

And that was about it. I got on a 0345 flight (YUK YUK YUK) to Rarotonga and here I am.