Published: September 26th 2007September 25th 2007
Papeete - A view from above
Kristina & Zach are off to Paris for a couple of days after spending 3 days here in London with me. Paris hotels, as most European hotels, are notorious for their small rooms but, probably not in comparison with my flat's bedroom that they had to stay in prior to boarding a Eurostar train to Paris this morning. Why else would Kristina think that their hotel room is quite good? :)
Reading her travel blog inspired me to start my own as no matter how great travel experiences are, they are even better when shared with friends, even if not in real time. (Plus, I can stop clogging your email boxes with 500k + pictures).
As most of you know, my most recent vacation (or I should say "holiday") was in the beautiful French Polynesia, which I was told was an odd choice for somebody who just moved to the UK after living on the West Coast for many years. It took me 4 flights (and 4 stops) to get there (LON-SEA-LAX-PPT-XMH) but it was worth it. Plus, how else would I get a chance to see Vicki, Maria, Sveta and Anna if it wasn't for Seattle stop, and
My Air Tahiti plane
a high school friend, Grisha, who I have not seen since early 1990s, if I didn't make a stopover in LAX!
BA flight to Seattle was uneventful not counting chatting a bit to lady next to me who was on her way back from one month in Europe, and who told me how BA lost her luggage and could not find it until the final week into her trip. Made me worry a bit ... (Thankfully, my luggage manage to stick with me through the entire trip). :)
Had a great though very short time in Seattle. I definitely miss the mountains and Puget Sound as well as driving (and, goes without saying, my friends!). My car rentals in the US are the only driving fixes I get nowadays, not counting the ocassional extreme driving in Russia when I go visit with my family. (Ever wonder why there are no Russian Formula 1 drivers (although, come to think, there is one ...)? Compare to what you have to deal with driving on Russian roads, car races are for kids!) :)
Before heading over to Papeete, I stopped in LA to meet my former high school classmate, Grisha,
The beautiful and serene Manihi
who has been living there all this time and I did not find out about it until I moved from Seattle to London. Go figure ... Grisha was very sweet to drive to LAX just to catch up for a couple of hours. As a true Russian gentleman, he promptly offered to help (and helped) me with my luggage and insisted on paying for our drinks. I wish many American and a few Western European men would realise that being chivalrous and being taken advantage of are two different things and stop being paranoid about paying for their dates' meals or offering to open doors, carry things ... Okay, okay, I'll stop daydreaming and get back to my blogging. ;)
Three hours in LA passed quickly and I think we barely had enough time to find out a bit about each others' lives in the US. It is such a strange experience to see somebody you have not seen in a very long time and who was part of your life you almost don't remember anymore. Is it me getting old or too many things have happened since I left Russia? :(
But wasn't I going to blog
about Manihi anyway???
Right. I arrived to Papeete at 4 am Saturday morning and had to wait until 8 to catch a commuter flight to Manihi. PPT is not a big airport, about the size of the San Jose International, if not smaller. However, when international flights arrive (or leave) and only when, duty free, X-change desks and cafes are open. Don't try, however, to withdraw cash from an automatic bank machine - neither UK nor US bank cards worked. I even called my UK bank to ask why the heck they were blocking withdrawals but was told it wasn't them. A clerk at a cash X-change desk said something about bad internet connection ...
Anyway, thanks to having some Euros, I got thousands of very colourful Tahitian money (I believe, X-change rate was something like 1 Euro to 119 French Pacific Francs.
My Air Tahiti flight to Manihi was very comfortable even though we had to make another stop before getting there. What an incredibly gorgeous (Sveta's famous word :)) view from above. Magnificiently clear blue water, so clear you can see reefs below.
Manihi was as beautiful and serene as I pictured it to
Quite roomy and very comfortable
be. If you ever are looking for an escape from brutal realities of life :), even if for just a bit, go to French Polynesia (just not Papeete - more on that later). My blackberry could barely get a weak GSM signal and there was definitely no GPRS. It was the first time in a very long time I could not check my email. Sort of information junkie rehab ...
And rest I did. The first 2 nights I slept for over 15 hours each. What a change from a typical 5 -6 hours that most of us get.
I had an overwater bungalow on top of a coral reef. No air conditioning but one was not needed as the wind from lagoon was enough to make it just cool enough and not humid.
It was a first holiday I went on alone and I was wondering whether it would feel weird to be there by myself. When one thinks of French Polynesia, couples and honeymoons come to mind. Not exactly a place for a single traveller. Yet, it was great. I felt so grown up. :) Nobody to coordinate your schedule with, worry about or compromise
The locals :)
with - sometimes it is just exactly what a girl needs. :)
I had a large private deck for sunbathing (and I put it to good use ;)), a staircase that lead into the water, many books, Sex & the City/Grey's Anatomy DVDs and a resort's restaurant with a menu just large enough not to have to eat the same thing every day. I only had to leave my bungalow for food and spent the rest of my days wondering around the little island Manihi is, taking a boat tour to a local pearl farm, snorkling, reading and sleeping. A week was a perfect length of stay - not too long to start being paranoid about not checking messages and just short enough to leave the island feeling like staying just a bit longer.
Six books later, with a newly acquired knowledge of how to grow Tahitian cultural pearls and with some of the aforementioned pearls as part of my possessions, I left Manihi for a day stay in Papeete on the way back to London.
Papeete is pretty dead on Saturday. After checking into the Radisson Plaza Resort (that ended up being on the opposite side
In case my snorkeling pictures will not come out ...
of the island from the airport but given the size of the island it wasn't a biggie), I took a cab to the Papeete market and wondered around a mostly empty downtown. Both (market and downtown) reminded me a bit of Sao Paulo (except, of course, there were many more people in Sao Paulo). Obviously, tourism $$ don't necessarily go towards improving economic conditions of the islanders. But this is just an impression. Despite my reputation, I have not analysed, nor conducted a thorough research on this subject matter. :)
The resort was your typical boring resort and despite large comfortable rooms and a beautiful black sand beach, I would have not wanted to spend a vacation there. This is a place for people that travel on cruise ships or need a place to spend a night in between flights. A side note - are Russians the only ones who actually think that a beach is a place to sunbathe and swim rather than a pool? Why in the world, no matter how clean a beach is and how good the water, most of the tourists hang out by the pool??? Do they think that chlorine is better than
... and more fish
sea water? Or is it something that my Eastern European elementary school education failed to mention? Anyway ...
Well, not counting a minor scare caused by a hotel clerk forgetting to order me a taxi the morning of my flight and my getting to the airport so late that I was still checking in at 7:30 am, the time of my Air France flight's official departure, the rest of my stay on Tahiti was fairly uneventful. Thanks to the small size of the airport, my luggage was literally carried across the tarmac by one of the luggage handlers and I was the last to board.
Spent one more day in Seattle and was on the way back to London just in time for graduation looking tanned and feeling rested. :)
There are more photos below