Zack and I have long followed points and miles blogs and played around on airline and hotel websites looking for sweet spots – great value redemptions for points or just inexpensive flights and hotels. With defined and often inflexible vacation time we often lamented that we couldn’t take advantage of our finds. That is no longer! Now that we travel full time we have the flexibility to use some of these sweet spots. So, when we came across availability for a flight from Santiago, Chile to Papeete, Tahiti around the time we wanted to leave South America we booked it. Our flight cost us 25,000 frequent flyer miles and 30 USD each. Not bad for an almost 5000-mile journey!
Three months after booking we found ourselves traipsing from Santiago’s domestic to international terminal with our bags. Men hollered at us trying to sell us things and calling us crazy for taking the stairs with heavy packs. “Crazy lady there is an elevator! What are you doing carrying that bag?!” Zack received similar exclamations. When did using your own muscle become crazy?
After checking in, we went as directed to the passport control line for international departures. Once we waited in a bit of a long line we were told that we were to go to the domestic terminal as our flight stopped in Easter Island, part of Chile. Luckily, we had given ourselves plenty of time at the airport! Finally, we celebrated our journey with some snacks and drinks in a lounge near the gate before boarding our flight for the long journey.
On both legs of the journey, the cabin and flight crew seemed to know quite a few of the passengers, a telling sign of just how small Easter Island’s community is. At our brief stop at Easter Island’s mostly outdoor airport, we soaked in the tropical air. We were even able to see the bright moon and stars despite the lights from the plane being refueled. Next time we will have to spend some time on the island!
Finally, we landed in Tahiti at about 1 am and passed through immigration to find that our rental car reservation had somehow been lost. In a moment not unlike a Seinfeld episode, (but with the desk agent speaking French and us English) we found out that there was no car for us. The agent drove us to our Airbnb with a promise that someone would pick us up in the morning to retrieve a car. It was certainly annoying that our reservation did not in fact reserve a car, but the people in the airport were extremely helpful and kind.
Our hosts met us despite the late hour, showed us our studio, and we all quickly went to bed. After our long journey, we were asleep in seconds. Jetlag had us up early for sunrise – it is an eight hour time difference between Chile and Tahiti – the Pacific is huge!
As promised, we were taken back to the airport in the morning to pick up our car. As we drove down the hill from our rental our smiles were huge. Since we arrived in the dark, we hadn’t seen any of the views. To our left was the island of Moorea across the channel with its triangular peaks reaching to the sky. In front of us was the brilliant blue Pacific and the city below. Things were certainly looking up.
We drove out of the airport excited to be back in the islands. The morning was absolutely beautiful. I turned on the radio and one of our favorite island songs played as we made our way along the road. “We’re back!” The familiar relaxed and joyous feelings of being on a tropical island returned.
Our first stop was the grocery, Carrefour, a chain that is also in Argentina and many other countries. Traveling makes us appreciate things that we may take for granted at home, like a well-stocked supermarket, and our time in often remote South American towns made us realize the luxuries of American groceries. We walked into the massive, new, clean grocery like kids in a candy store. Zack and I love to cook and once again easily having access to wonderful ingredients was so exciting. The store had everything! French Polynesia, as part of France, has a French-influenced cuisine. Situated in the middle of the Pacific, it’s food products that aren’t local come from Europe, the US, and New Zealand (making them very expensive). Baguettes, gorgeous pastries, sauces galore, cheeses upon cheeses, and a wine section to make any snob happy were just some of the things we were excited about. There was an organic section, local and varied produce, a large international section, sushi, hot bars, cold bars, and a large beauty and bath selection. We didn’t know where to look first and jumped around happily picking things up and showing each other our finds. Immediately after leaving, we enjoyed some of the supermarket’s poisson cru and poke – raw tuna dishes of Polynesia and Hawaii, respectively. It was a happy and delicious lunch.
Later that day we went off in search of surf shops. Finding one board in Papeete at a whopping price we kept looking but found nothing further. So, we drove down the southern coast to do some exploration. We found lots of fruit stands and stopped at a beach park next to a black sand beach, and one of the popular surfing/body boarding spots. There were a few surfers out, not many, and we poked around the small beach. Orange flowers were scattered on the black sand under the shade of their tree and the sun blazed hot on the ocean. Once we returned to the car, we noticed something else – pull-up and dip bars! The beach park would become our go to spot to practice for some of our fitness goals. After a day of getting to know Tahiti a bit, we returned to our studio content, but neither of us could stay up past eight!
Waking early once again we sat and watched the sunrise with espressos on the patio. Our host, back from her morning run, stopped by for a chat and informed us that there was a trail further up the hill that had expansive views at its end. Naturally, we went to check it out. The trail turned out to be a construction road. At the top were terraced lots in the hillside and great views down into the valley and out to sea. It may go without saying that land is at a premium on most islands. However, in French Polynesia, there is even less usable land than Hawaii, for example. The area between the shore and the steep mountains is very narrow all the way around the island. So, flat land is being created by terracing the hillside and building massive retaining walls.
Once again, we went in search of surf shops, this time heading along the north coast. Our search was unsuccessful so we decided to just drive around the island and see what we could find. Mr. Money Mustache writes about hedonic adaptation, which is essentially the fact humans can get used to anything. Luxury items actually change our definition of luxury when we have them all the time. What was previously a luxury is now normal and expected. On our journey, we found that it goes in both directions. A year ago we wouldn’t have thought twice about being able to go to a large, clean, air-conditioned, grocery stocked with tons of options. Now, what used to be normal became a luxury after we adjusted to something else. A normally mundane errand became exciting!
Having a car where we can control the temperature, listen to music, and go wherever we please when we please also felt like the ultimate in luxury (and something that is also often taken for granted). Our drive around the island included some stops to spot tall waterfalls, wander black rock and black sand beaches and check out a few small villages. We reveled in the freedom and enjoyed our ability to explore the island on our schedule. Rental cars are expensive outside of the US and so we don’t get them often; we really don’t need them anyway. It was definitely a treat to have one on Tahiti, but we will stick with our preference for public transit in most places.
Our days in Tahiti often began early as the sunrise poked through the large windows. We would begin with an espresso, a snack, and a workout turning the square studio into a sweat box. Then, we would jump into the teal pool and float to cool off and rest our muscles. The studio was one of our favorite Airbnb accommodations so far. Everything was new, the kitchen was well stocked with dishes, the wardrobe was spacious and modern, the internet was fast and reliable, and the bed was firm. Most of all it had that beautiful pool, killer views, and an awesome host family. Essentially, it was another luxe delight – we loved it!
The search for a surfboard was unsuccessful. Well, we did find one for around $800 USD and some foam ones for $400 USD, very expensive for the quality available. Unfortunately, we wouldn’t be able to bring a longboard with us on the small Air Tahiti planes to the other islands. As we researched we learned the other islands are almost all reef breaks (perhaps doable for Zack, not for me yet) and are famous for a fierce localism (when the locals harass outsiders who try to surf). There are a few surf spots in Tahiti for amateur surfers like ourselves. None looked too enticing and with the price of purchasing or renting we weren’t all that keen to spend the money. Living in Hawaii really spoiled us! We will see if we can rent boards somewhere and catch a few waves in French Polynesia. In the meantime, we have agreed that part of our future planning will include a dedicated surf trip where we can both surf frequently.
We wouldn’t end up surfing in Tahiti, and we found there aren’t many beaches, but we did slide right into island life even in those first few days. The food, the landscape, the superstores, the pier full of yachts, everything felt extremely lavish coming from rugged Patagonia. The difference was stark and a bit astonishing, one of the wonders of travel! Tahiti was also the first time in a while that we hadn’t been moving, and our little piece of paradise on the hill soon became home. We would soon find that there is a lot to do on this tropical island, even without the big white sand beaches.
Next up…what we found on all of our explorations around the island!
© Cheers Life Partners 2017