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Published: September 30th 2017
Geo: -16.8229, -151.447
The weeks of good eats up to this point have been very kind to our stomachs and hearts, but not so great for our waistlines! That's always the challenge of traveling, resisting all of that restaurant food, something that is even more difficult in a place with the incredible variety of good eats like NZ, and to a much lesser extent, even French Polynesia. Luckily for us, the high prices of French Polynesia are a bit of a deterrent, but we've still managed to stuff ourselves during the first week here.
There are two primary causes of overstuffing ourselves in French Polynesia, the first being staying only a few nights in each place, so buying groceries for breakfast has been a challenge - invariably, we end up buying just a little bit too much, and thus need to find a way to cram it all down on the last morning, so as not to waste anything. The second cause is the biological imperative of all Chinese people - to obtain value!!!
We simply can't help ourselves at a breakfast buffet or at a BBQ on a lagoon excursion - we need to get our money's worth, damn it, even if
it means bursting our stomachs!!! Another piece of chicken? Sure! Some more grilled fish? Bring it on over! Another bottle of beer? Hell no, bring me two!!! The problem is exacerbated by the high prices of everything here, because there is the additional justification of "We can save some money on the next meal if we stuff ourselves now!"
So it was with a sense of relief that we arrived in Raiatea this morning, and checked into the tiniest little family-run hotel imaginable, Fare Vai Nui. Staying anywhere outside of Raiatea's main city, Uturoa, means that you're stuck eating at your accommodation most of the time, if you don't have a car. We've quickly learned in French Polynesia that you need to carefully choose where you stay, if you want to have good meals and still be convenient to activities - that's what led us to Fare Vai Nui, because of all the sparkling reviews online, extolling the hotel's accommodations, service, and food prepared by the wife, Chantal, which we expected to be some good old fashioned home cooking.
Imagine our disappointment as we sat down to lunch, reading a menu that fused French Polynesian specialties with proper French bistro cuisine, and
then gorging ourselves on some fine, fine food. Our expectations of some good home cooking were completely obliterated - this isn't home cooking, unless your mom is a gourmet chef! We had a grand delusion of getting our untamable waistlines under control in Raiatea, dining on some good but simple food, but Chantal's culinary skill only continued to feed the beasts! Aside from a couple of lunches, we ate every other meal here, in the kind of place where, no matter how full you might be, you only want to keep on eating, and eating, and eating ...
There are some talented chefs out there that can do a certain type of cuisine well, but only that type - Chantal definitely isn't one of those, as she's obviously one of those cooks that can make anything taste good, and has mastered both French and local specialties, and we're guessing, the Chinese ones that are popular in French Polynesia, as well. We'll never know for sure, however, since the menu selections were far too great, and we never had the chance to adequately sample all of her offerings during our three nights here. This was probably a good thing, in the end,
Private Motu ...
... most, if not all, of the motus in French Polynesia are privately owned - while some are used for business (i.e. - hosting lagoon excursion BBQs or campers), many are just places where friends and families come to drink, eat, and party.
as we would've had to spend a small fortune on some new pants and shorts, had we stayed any longer!
Beyond the food, Fare Vai Nui was just an awesome place to stay, all around - trying to balance the budget for the trip, we stayed in some pretty spartan accommodations for the first half of the trip, so that we could splurge here in Raiatea, and our last stop in Bora Bora. That's both a good and a bad thing, however, as you spend a lot of time in your accommodations in French Polynesia, and choosing wisely can certainly enhance your experience. While there was nothing wrong with our selections in Papeete, Moorea, and Huahine, we probably would have enjoyed ourselves more had we spent a little more money ... but that would have meant skipping out on Fare Vai Nui.
We completely lucked out upon arrival, as we had worried that our early morning flight would result in us sitting around all morning until the previous occupants had checked out, but it turned out that the second week of January is when tourism completely dies off in French Polynesia, meaning that we were the only people staying here for
the first night! Immediately upon arrival, we were granted access to our cute little bungalow, which was complete luxury in comparison to our previous few accommodations. All sorts of room to stretch out and store our things, a little deck perfect for drinking wine and watching the sunset, and just a few steps away from our own little gourmet restaurant ... this is the definition of paradise!
In many ways, our stay in Raiatea, particularly our time in this little hotel, is the type of experience that all travelers seek, but rarely find. It's often quite difficult to truly connect with the local culture, but staying in this type of family-run accommodation can be a slice of the authentic life that we all seek. Jean Jacques and Chantal were hosting a friend during our time there, and locals also constantly came and went, eating at the hotel's restaurant. The young teenage son of Jean Jacques and Chantal was also constantly buzzing about, fishing from the pier whenever his mom would allow him to take a study break.
Perhaps our best day in Raiatea was our first, when after lunch, Jean Jacques asked if we wanted to take a little boat
ride - normally, this would be an extra, but this was complimentary, as he was taking his friend and son out anyway. Not only did we get in a wicked snorkeling session and some fishing, but we also were taken to a private motu, whose owners were obviously friends with Jean Jacques. We were instantly welcomed like old friends, people immediately shuffling to make room for us on a bench, glasses of sparkling wine and bottles of Tabu, the local vodka beer, magically appeared in our hands, as the group broke into song.
It's a scene that you could imagine being pitched in a cruise tour brochure - "Come to your own private motu, and have a refreshing drink of your choice while being serenaded by a local band, playing Tahitian classics." Doesn't get any more authentic than that, does it? Especially not when the evening is capped off with a dinner of the day's fresh catch, served up family-style with Jean Jacques'. I think we've found a little piece of home, here in Raiatea - at least, for the next few nights ...
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