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September 9, 2010

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    Tahiti
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Greetings! I hope you had a great holiday weekend. For those of you following me on Twitter, you know I've been all over the place including Tahiti, which I'm going to begin telling you about in full detail today and next week. We'll start with Papeete and its nearby attractions. Also this week: We sent Jerome Shaw on the Aranui 3 for a multi-week cruise on a cargo ship that makes stops to French Polynesia's remote islands.

ARRIVAL IN PAPEETE
We arrived into Faa'a International Airport at 6:40 p.m.--about 30 minutes late--so we just missed the sunset. The sun sets early in French Polynesia all year round--I think it fluctuates between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. They don't have jetways, so everyone has to walk down the airplane stairs and then walk a hundred yards or so to customs. One advantage of going down the open-air stairs is that you get a feel for the destination immediately. And who doesn't love feeling that warm, thick humid air?

WELCOME TO TAHITI
The French Polynesian government really knows the importance of tourism, as they give passengers a warm welcome, unlike some other countries (ahem, the United States). Here it begins the moment you step into the arrivals area, where a local band is playing Tahitian music, followed by a couple of beautiful young Tahitian women handing each passenger a Tiare Tahiti gardenia (it goes behind the left ear if you're married, and behind the right ear for singles) as they get in line for passport control. Both passport control and customs weren't a chore, and I cleared within five minutes of stepping off the plane.



FINDING YOUR GUIDE
I didn't check bags, so I felt like a rock star walking through the exit as I was one of the first to do so. The arrivals area was packed with excited family members, lovers, and tour operators, all hoping the next person out was coming to see them. Every tour operator has a board with last names written down. Our group was listed with Marama Tours, and after getting lei'd I hit the ATM while waiting for the others.

TIP: Always print your itinerary and keep your documents handy just in case your tour operator isn't there--it happened to me last trip!

CURRENCY
I grabbed some Central Pacific Francs (XPF) from the ATM. Currently, the conversion is US$1 = 92.5 XPF. If you want to take out the equivalent of US$100, then 9,254 XPF would be your magic number. The ATM spits out large Flintstone-like paper notes.

T-MOBILE IN PARADISE
While waiting I also realized that my BlackBerry's T-Mobile international data plan didn't work. I could text and make phone calls, but I saved that type of communication until I got to my computer because emailing and Skype are much cheaper. FYI: My friend had an AT&T BlackBerry and her data plan worked--so be sure to get the right plan[How do you know what the right plan is?].

GEOGRAPHY
Tahiti is located in French Polynesia, which is almost exactly halfway between Australia and California. It is made up of 118 islands in five archipelagoes (island groups), each with its own character. Those five archipelagoes consist of the Society Islands, Tuamotu, Gambier, Australs, and the Marquesas. Most visitors go to the Society Islands, which are home to the popular destinations of Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora.

DID YOU KNOW: French Polynesia covers an area of 2,000,000 square miles, which is about the same as Europe, except here it's mostly water, not land mass? The actual land area is only 1,370 square miles.

The government is described as an overseas territory of the Republic of France, so naturally most people speak French, but the first language here is Tahitian, which is a dialect of French.

Here are some translations to help you get by:

  • ia orana (heeyah orah-na) hello
  • nana (nah-nah) good-bye
  • parahin (pah-rah-hee) farewell
  • ia orana ite matahiti api (ya orah-na itay mah-tahiti api) happy birthday/happy new year
  • fare (fah-ray) house
  • fare-moni (fah-ray-monee) bank
  • fare pure (fah-ray pu-ray) church
  • fare toa (fah-ray toah) supermarket
  • fare rata (fah-ray rah-tah) post office
  • fare ma'i (fah-ray mahi) hospital
  • tane = man
  • vahin = woman


  • Don't worry about any language barriers, because most locals also speak English, which makes sense because Americans are their number one visitors followed by the Japanese, Australians, and French. Tahiti relies on two major industries. As you probably guessed, the first is tourism, but did you know that pearling was the other?

    PAPEETE
    Most people who come to French Polynesia use Papeete as a jumping-off point. When they stay here it's usually for one night either because their plane arrived too late or they come in a day before setting off on a cruise. I really didn't know what the island of Tahiti was like because both of the previous times I've been here it was just for a few hours. But this time I spent more than 36 hours total on the main island. The whole population of French Polynesia is 259,596 inhabitants (2007 census), and 150,000 of those people live on the island of Tahiti.

    FACTS AND FIGURES
    OK, put on your seat belt--I'm about to give you a lot of information: According to the last ethnic census, French Polynesia is made up of 66.5% unmixed Polynesians, 7.1% Polynesians with light European and/or East Asian mixing, 11.9% Europeans (mostly French), 9.3% Demis (mixed European and Polynesian descent), and 4.7% East Asians (mostly Chinese).

    RELIGION
    The religion is broken down as follows: 54% are Protestant, 30% Catholic, 6% Mormon, 2% Seventh-Day Adventist, and 2% Buddhist and Confucians.

    HISTORY
    Here's a good link to the History of French Polynesia.

    WHAT TO BRING
    The average temperature in FP (French Polynesia) is 80 Fahrenheit or 27 Celsius, and the water temp is just about the same at 80 F / 26 C! No matter what time of year you visit, you should bring summer clothes, beachwear, and sportswear and boating clothes, all preferably in cotton. Some evenings might get cool, so bring something warm. We did not need to wear any of our light sweaters, but if you are on the lagoon side or on a boat, or maybe in the mountains, then you might need it. Most people wear sandals, sneakers, boat shoes, or no shoes at all. Bring lots of bathing suits, sunglasses, a hat, water shoes, sun block, and mosquito repellent (those suckers can get evil after the sun goes down). BTW: The restaurants are casual.

    MORE HELPFUL INFO
    The tap water is supposedly safe to drink only in Papeete and Bora Bora, but not in other places. We didn't take a chance--we drank bottled water everywhere. If you are planning on plugging in electronic devices, then bring an adapter for French-style plugs and pay attention to what voltage your device can handle--electricity is either 110 or 220 volts depending on the island and type of accommodation. Connecting to the Internet is not a problem at any of the hotels, but it can be expensive.

    LOCALS
    Everyone wants to know how friendly the locals were, especially the French. The Tahitians are friendly, laid-back, and peaceful people. The French transplants I met were mostly hotel managers or chefs and they too were friendly, they just weren't as laid-back as the Tahitians. We did encounter a few French tourists. Some were very friendly and some weren't. I am sure it's the same impression the French get when they come to the U.S., and I think it's just people in general, nothing to do with race or nationality. Some people are cool, some aren't.

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    Copyright 2010 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    Pictures From

    The Trip

     

    Papeete

     

    Arrivals

     

    Welcome Band

     

    Welcome Flower

     

    Welcome Sign

     

    Tahitian ATM

     

    Central Pacific Francs

     

    Getting Lei'd

     

    Funky Trees

     

    More Trees

     

    Church

     

    Another Church

     

    And Another Church

     

    Palm Trees

     

    Tiare Tahiti Gardenia Fields

     

    Friendly Locals

     

    Tahitians On The Beach

     

    Local Beer

     

    Grocery Store

     

    Black Sand Beaches

     

    Surfers

     

    HOUSEKEEPING

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