A lone backpacker in Tahiti

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When our plane touched down at 2:30AM, we were greeted by a band playing island music and a woman holding a basket of flowers (I only took one because I thought it would be edible). The island is not the final destination for any international flight, so the airport operates at very odd hours. I went to the tourist office and asked where I could rent a bike; the girl responded with "You are travelling alone?" "Don't you have a girlfriend?" I could tell they weren't going to be of much help so I followed a fellow backpacker up to a nearby pension; without quoting a price the owner just gestured toward a bed; he didn't know anything about bikes either. Since I had slept all night on the plane, I decided to walk the 5 kilometers into town. A horde of loose dogs seemed to follow me wherever I went - their eyes were full of hunger and desperation. Before being devoured by the local house pets, I was picked up by a woman who had been out partying all night and was just returning from DD duty to her home in the city. She showed me all the relevant sights of Papeete - the bus stop, the hostel, the McDonalds - then, claiming she didn't want to sleep, took me several kilometers out of town to her favorite overlook. Next she offered to take me back to her house to grab a shower; I took this opportunity to suggest that now would be a good time to drop me off at the city market. Due to some glitch in the time zones, sunrise on the island is approximately 5am and Papeete is in full-swing by 5:30. I checked into the hostel, looked over the odd range of fruits in the market, and explored the utterly boring port city. Upon hunting down breakfast, I began to realize the enigma that is the Tahitian economy - the island has all the trimmings of a third-world country - non-potable water, most of the population living in unenclosed shacks, chickens running free in the streets - but the cost of living appears to be about three times higher than that of American cities; for the cost of a takeaway sandwich here, you can have a feast in a fancy Floridian restaurant Groceries charge as much as ten-times as much as a French store would ask for an identical product; I would often see the locals with armfuls of baguettes, the price of which is frozen by the French government at half a buck. Once the tourist office opened, I asked where I could go hiking and the girl directed me to a number of companies that offered hiking excursions for ridiculous sums; all of her answers seemed oriented toward the end of sucking every one of my dollars into the local economy. A French guy came in around that time to ask for a map so he could plan his day's hike. After a few minutes of confusing translations, it seemed as if he had invited me to wherever he was going. Jean-Pierre was a cook in the French Navy who had been given the choice of any station in the world and had settled on the idyllic setting and high pay of the isle. We met up with one of his friends, took “le truck” (the local bus) to the trailhead and began the 5 kilometer ascent. At 600m, we ate lunch at the "Belvedere," a restaurant with unparalleled views and a cheapest entree pricier than my hotel bed; I ordered "hot cold tuna" which was sashimi cooked on the edges. Defying all I knew about French eating habits, J.P. ordered my meal as an appetizer and a substantial slab of raw beef topped with an uncooked egg yolk as the main. After lunch we had the option of continuing to the top of the mountain; everyone we talked to seemed to think that a downpour could start at any moment creating an instantly fatal mudslide; for some reason this deterred J.P and his friend, so I was forced to return the way we had come. In typical French form, J.P. smoked two packs of cigarettes over the course of the 5-hour hike but seemed to be none the worse for wear in the end. After we were back in town, he agreed to loan me his bike since he would be working for the next two days and had no use for it. I soon realized that it would be more of a hindrance than the freedom I sought; though it professed to have 21-speeds, I only ever found two and it spent most of the time in some intermediate state; the tires were flat and the wheels were highly out-of-true, the seat was permanently rusted to "midget" and the brakes were shot (this would have been more of a problem if the top speed were more than 5kph). I set out to bike around the island, but due to the traffic (as bad as any French city) and the utter lack of mechanical advantage, I was exhausted and gave up around 10km. On the way back, I encountered a "LeaderPrice" (European discount supermarket) and stocked up; the prices were still several times France's, but you can't argue with cous-cous for a euro per kilo. Unfortunately, I was still several kilometers from the hostel and really had no idea where it was to begin with, but with my groceries precariously balancing on the handlebars, I made it back by nightfall. The hostel had no windows or AC (which you really appreciate with a nighttime low of 85) but it did have power and gas - until those shut off around 8 forcing me to have cold cous-cous and beans for breakfast. At first light, I headed for the harbour to catch a boat to the neighbouring island of Moorea; there are several possibilities for this trip, all costing 5 dollars: you can take a plane which takes 7 minutes of flight time but demands the typical 2 hours "check-in time for domestic flights", you can take a ferry that crosses in an hour, or you can take a ferry that crosses in 30 minutes; I chose the final option. From Moorea's port, I did a grueling 20km bike ride to the guidebook-recommended Haapiti camping. This was hands-down the best place I've ever stayed; for 15 bucks you got a tent with a mattress, full kitchen and bathroom, any fruit that you could find growing on the property, surfing, volleyball, and a view unrivalled anywhere outside the Society Islands. It was run by a guy from north Idaho who had gone on a quest some years back to find the most beautiful spot on earth (yeah, I was also shocked to hear it wasn't Idaho) and he rambled on for some time about how his new island home had attained perfection in every conceivable way. He sent me down the road to the start of a path across the island; when I was about a kilometer down this, I ran into a sign saying "privee propiete," figuring that was a mistake, I continued on only to find "Tabu" a few meters further; I tried turning off on side paths but these just led into a large pineapple farm; I asked a bunch of locals for directions and their consensus was to just ignore the signs. So I pressed on and after only a half dozen brushes with angry dogs, the car path changed into a narrow, muddy walkway that slowly worked up the mountain. Once I reached the top and cherished the view of the bays and crags throughout the island, I searched for a way down - what I found was heavily overgrown and had probably not been used in months; I found red and white marks on the opposite side of trees along the path and fighting off the obvious conclusion that these were just products of lichens and wishful thinking, I decided I was going backwards down a trail. Due to the recent heavy rains, the walkway was turned to mud and was often tilted at odd angles; I would slide uncontrollably down the mountain side until I could grab onto a tree limb. Streams were overflowing and I had to bound from one slippery rock to the next; at one point, I fell in and completely ruined my new shoes, but as luck would have it, I was wearing water-shedding socks and was spared the fate worse than death of hiking with soggy feet (each one of my christmas presents has already saved my life in some way, thank you all). When this trail ended, a dozen more forked off in every direction; my GPS was useless in the jungle so I followed the sounds of chickens back to civilization. Moorea has virtually no public transport system so if you don't have a car or bike, hitch-hiking is the only alternative; I started off small by thumbing down a bus - the drive took me to the end of his route then we got in his truck and went straight to the camp. It had apparently rained at some point during the day and my tent was thoroughly flooded, but sleeping in a pool of water was quite refreshing given the climate. I was awoken at 4am by the sound of a thousand roosters and set out to bike around the island; I first reached a beach where I could kayak out and swim with the rays; I didn't bring any fish with me so the rays didn't swim all over me as they are always doing in the ads, but they were several times bigger than in Florida. On the edge of dehydration, I stopped at the fruit juice factory where you could reportedly get free samples of juices made from all the fruits on the island. As it turned out, they only gave free shots of the liquors they produced, and no matter how many of these I downed, the thirst remained; so in the end I was forced to pay their exorbitant price for a liter of banana nectar. This mixture of juice and alcohol and a pizza I picked up along the way didn't do too much for my will to bike the remaining 20 km, but in another 3 hours, I made it to the port. I left my bike there and hitched 20km back to the campground, grabbed my stuff and hitched back - the whole trip took a little under an hour. From there, I ferried back, returned the bike and walked to the airport to wait for 9 hours for my super-convenient 3:40am flight. I passed out around midnight in the arrivals lounge since they refused to check me in until 1 am; I woke up at 3 in a panic and raced to ticketing in hopes that they hadn't stopped boarding; sensing my urgency, they decided to subject me to the most rigorous security screening imaginable; they unpacked everything in my bag and ran it through the x-ray multiple times, and then attacked me with a barrage of questions of escalating inanity. I reached my gate with about 5 minutes before takeoff...

Traditional homes of the natives? Nope, luxury hotel.

Without warning, the world abruptly tilted to one side; fortunately, the ocean did not flood the island as one might expect

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