French Polynesia – A State Of Mind

Diane Macdonald @dmcamera
· July 2019 · 7 min read · France

THE SOUTH PACIFIC - A STATE OF MIND

I wish I could tell you about the South Pacific. The way it actually was. The endless ocean. The infinite specks of coral we called islands. Coconut palms nodding gracefully toward the ocean. Reefs upon which waves broke into spray, and inner lagoons, lovely beyond description. I wish I could tell you about the sweating jungle, the full moon rising behind the volcanoes, and the waiting. The waiting. The timeless, repetitive waiting.

(James Michener from Tales of the South Pacific.)

Like James Michener, I'm not sure how to begin to tell you about the South Pacific!

What I can tell you is that the South Pacific to me is an attitude, a state of mind, a way of life that defies description by mere mortals. Fifteen years ago I experienced this phenomenon when I visited Fiji and more recently, last month I experienced it again in French Polynesia where my husband Jim and I spent two weeks celebrating our silver wedding anniversary. Time seemed to stand still on these islands. Days stretched out endlessly, although it is winter in the southern hemisphere and dark around 6:30pm in French Polynesia in June.

Rangiroa - the Kia Ora Resort in front of our bungalow

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Although the official language is French, the philosophy of the islands is summed up in a Tahitian catch phrase that everyone visiting the islands needs to learn - “‘aita pe’ ape’a” (aye-ta-paya-paya) – which defies real translation, but means (sort of ) “no worries" or "no problem.” Without all the hurrying and bustling of city and suburban life, island time can be truly appreciated on these tropical islands of the south seas.

And the people are so welcoming! Upon arrival in Papeete, the capital of Tahiti and her islands, and at every resort we visited, we were presented with a beautifully fragrant flower garland each, and upon leaving every resort and upon leaving Tahiti, we we were each given a shell garland to wear.

Jim and I wearing our welcome flower garlands upon arriving at Papeete, Tahiti

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A welcoming flower garland of tiare Tahiti (Tahitian Gardenia)

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Our first stop was Papeete on the island of Tahiti, but our main destinations were the islands of Moorea, Huahine, Bora Bora and Rangiroa. We spent only a night in Papeete at the Tahiti Nui Hotel after arriving late at night via our Air Tahiti Nui flight from Los Angeles. This gave us only a morning when we arrived to explore downtown Papeete, which is within walking distance of the hotel. Our return flight to LA was at midnight, so we had a room with day use allowing us to check in mid-afternoon, and to check out at 10pm. We had hoped to spend the afternoon exploring Papeete at the end of our trip.

View from the Tahiti Nui Hotel, Pepeete, Tahiti

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What we didn't know in advance, was that the morning we had available to explore when we arrived (June 10) was Whit Monday, or Pentecost Monday they called it, and a national public holiday. Every main store was closed, as was the big Municipal Market, which was just a few blocks from our hotel. We did find a small independent store which was open, and my husband bought me a silver necklace with a Tahitian black pearl there. (The pearls are in varying colorful shades and not really true black.) We had read ahead of time that most things like pearls were cheaper on Tahiti than on any of the other islands. This proved very true for my necklace, as we saw the same setting at twice the cost on Bora Bora. Of course the pearl may have had more value, but as I am not a connoisseur of such things, I'm delighted with the one I have.

A silver necklace with a Tahitian black pearl - gift from my husband on our silver wedding anniversary

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All the guide books said that shopping at the Municipal Market was a must, so I made a mental note to catch it on the way home. But the time of our flight from Rangiroa changed, and we were an hour later leaving Rangiroa, so about an hour late arriving in Papeete from what our schedule originally called for. Instead of arriving around 3pm, we arrived just before 4pm. Luckily, I mentioned to our driver that I intended to shop at the market before it closed at 6pm (which was the information on the Internet), and he informed me that the Internet was wrong, and that the market closed at 4:30pm! So at 4:15pm he dropped me off pretty close to one of the market entrances, while taking my husband to check in at the hotel.

But, in true aita pe’ ape’a fashion, vendors were already covering up their goods when I arrived there at 4:20pm. So I made a mad dash to the upper level where one store was still open, and managed to buy a couple of items before it too closed for the day.

The Municipal Market, Pepeete - closed for the day

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© Diane Macdonald - All RIghts Reserved

Of course you can't possibly see and do everything when you are on vacation and have limited time. I was disappointed that I didn't get to experience the market after all, but I experienced so much more on the other islands and I can't wait to share those experiences in later blogs.

If you plan to visit the islands, I would suggest having at least a full day in *Papeete upon arrival, and again another day or two at the end of your trip so that you can tour the island itself. Tahiti is much more than Papeete, just like Florida is much more than Orlando!
(Not being able to see and do everything has its advantages though! It forces you to think about what you want to experience NEXT TIME you visit!)

The guide books and travel blogs are filled with tips about what to bring with you, where to visit etc., but they are wrong in telling you that English is widely spoken wherever you go! From my experience, resort receptionists, tour guides and people in the larger stores speak English, but if you want to communicate with the sweet ladies fixing up your bungalow every day, the gardener working on the grounds, the people clearing your dishes in the restaurant and people in the small local stores, you will need to be able to communicate a little in French. It was the first time in many years that I had been able to use my French speaking skills – but more than that, I was delighted to be told that I could speak Tahitian French better than the French can, because the Tahitians roll their Rs like the Scots do, so I could speak one way to the Tahitians and another way to the French people we met!

About 80% of the fellow tourists we met were French, and just a “Bonjour” got them smiling and talking both in English and French in no time at all.

Other than learning a few French words, if you want to make a Tahitian really smile, learn a few words of their Tahitian language. I leave you with a few words you can use on your trip. You will not regret knowing them in advance, I promise!

Hello

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‘ia ora na (yo-rah-nah ) - Hello
‘aita pe’ ape’a (eye-ta-paya-paya) – No Worries or No Problem
manuia! (mah-new-yah ) - Cheers!
maeva (mah-ay-vah), manava (mah-nh-vah) - Welcome
mauruuru (mah-roo-roo) - Thank you
mauruuru roa (mah-roo-roo roh-ah)- Thank you very much
nana (nah-nah)- Bye
vahine(vah-hee-nay ) - Woman, Wife
tane (_tah-nay _) - Man, Husband
tiare (tee-ah-ray) - Flower
motu(moh-too) - Island
Maita’i oe? (may-tay oh-ay) - How are you?
Maita’i roa (may-tay ro-ah) - I am fine
Nui (new-ee)- Big
Iti (ee-tee ) - Small


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