“The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
Fear is often the hardest part to overcome when traveling to foreign countries. Fear of language barriers, fear of strange customs and foods, fear of the unknown. Eleanor Roosevelt was a woman to be admired, and I do try to follow this advice, but I am still a little afraid almost every time I go somewhere new. I get over it. I’m too curious not to.
Traveling to Tahiti was less intimidating as my fiance and some wonderful friends of ours were waiting at the end of my long journey. Air Tahiti Nui felt luxurious to me. The seats on the plane were not the drab colors I’d seen on so many flights, but light and inviting and maybe just a little more spacious. Small fresh buds of Tiare flowers were passed out to all the passengers, they filled the plane with their delicate but delicious scent. When we crossed the equator I shared a toast with the couple seated next to me. “Manuia” my first Tahitian word, is a way to say “cheers” or “good health”. The food was edible, and the crew kind and attentive. Landing in Tahiti is a unique experience, the runway is right near the ocean seeming short and narrow to one who has a small fear of flying. I was sure we were going to end up in the vast Pacific ocean, but the crew landed expertly. The Tahitian airport is quite small as well. Music played and many exhausted travelers leaned or sat on their luggage as we all waited to get thru the very slow security. I waited impatiently for my turn, babbling excitedly to the unfortunate couple standing near me.
Finally! Thru security and outside at last. Warm humid air, lush green scents….TAHITI. A unique island in the south Pacific, part of French Polynesia with a lovely mix of languages and culture. With only a few days before the sailboat I was crewing on left for their next destination, I wanted to absorb as much as possible. This is where having friends familiar with the location is very beneficial. Getting a taxi from the airport was very easy, and our driver was funny and knowledgeable, entreating us with an impromptu narrated tour as she delivered us to Marina Taina. She pointed out neighborhoods, restaurants, shopping centers and of course beaches. A very pleasant first impression.
The second day, after using the first to recover from a bit of jet lag, I was ready for Tahiti. After breakfast, I met our friend Jess at the local outdoor Marche (market). The scent of the flowers being sold was intoxicating, and the colors beautifully overwhelming. We walked several blocks, my head turning in every direction, my eyes trying to soak in everything, signs, people, the flower crowns in the women's hair, to a dance class at Tamariki Poerani's Studio. You see, my friend Jess had been taking lessons in traditional Tahitian dance for several months, preparing for a big competition. She was able to get me into one of her classes. After a lovely hour of clumsy attempts to follow the instructor, and meeting some beautiful, kind new people, Jess took me to get some refreshments. At a quirky smoothie shop, bustling with character is where we stopped. The smoothies were delicious, and we enjoyed people watching from their outdoor stand-up tables.
That afternoon I went to my pre-scheduled appointment at a highly recommended tattoo parlor. Two hours later I had beautiful traditional Tahitian ink. We then met up with yet more friends (it is a sailing community) for a round of local Hinano beer and dinner before heading out for a taste of the local nightlife. We went in a large group of sailors all from different countries to several dance clubs. I’m not really sure what time we called it a night, but Tahiti was still wide awake when we had danced our way back to the boat.
The third morning after a big breakfast of fresh berries, fruits, various delicious cheeses, and baguettes at the cafe across from the marina, we took off in our friends' boat for a day of snorkeling on the reefs. Even with fins, it was a battle against the currents and waves to get to the reefs, but well worth the struggles. With such clear waters, the tropical fish, coral, and seagrass were vibrant and enchanting. The sea snakes were a little intimidating, but the small sharks sleek and elegant to watch, kept their distance.
We went to a cocktail hour on one sailboat at anchor in the bay and then hopped over to yet another for homemade ceviche and a smorgasbord of fruits, cheese, and slices of bread followed by fresh tuna steaks and grilled vegetables. A truly delicious meal created by friends with all local ingredients.
While I was doing my utmost to experience as much of Tahiti as possible, my hard working fiance was preparing the boat for its next passage, a week-long sail to Nui. I squeezed in time to assist with shopping and provisioning, between the snorkeling and dancing. And he squeezed in dinner, shopping, snorkeling and dancing between the engine repairs and electrical updates. At last, my whirlwind exploration was at its end. We were now ready for the next adventure.
This amazing time, short as it was, is why travel is so addictive, why I begin to crave new experiences when I’m home too long. Hearing the melodies of other languages, seeing and touching the beauty of exotic fabrics and textures, the taste of new foods and the scent of a foreign land or sea are only a few reasons the world seems to call out to me to be explored. Our entire planet may have already been charted, but not by me, and not by you. Yet.