We docked in Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia shortly after sunset, and took a leisurely stroll around this charming capital of French Polynesia. Although most businesses were already closed for the evening, dozens of Les Roulottes (Tahiti’s answer to food trucks) were busy preparing and selling fresh food of all types in a bustling park. We learned that each evening at 6:00 pm, dozens of food trucks line the Place Vai’ete park just across from the pier, and local chefs bust out griddles, grills, and bar-b-que equipment of all kinds to prepare and serve huge portions of fresh food from appetizers to crepes, all at a fraction of what one would pay for a similar meal at a restaurant or resort. It was fun to walk among the local residents and tourists enjoying this casual, al fresco dining option. The palm trees were glittering with twinkling lights, and we loved catching the tail end of the sunset from dry land.
Those of you who know Denise know that she often makes insomnia work to her advantage, and today was no exception. She had learned that the Papeete Market opens at 4:00 am, so she made her way down to the market early to catch a glimpse of the vendors opening their stalls. She was delighted to see a large banner across the second floor of the market encouraging shoppers to “Manger Local.” As she made her way around the city of Papeete as it was just waking up, she heard singing coming from the open doors of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Peeking in, she was surprised to see a packed church so she stayed for Mass and was warmly welcomed by the congregants who embraced her and one another with hugs, air kisses, and “Paix a vous!”
At a more reasonable hour, we took a guided walking tour around the city, where we learned more about life in Papeete and saw some beautiful public art; the Town Hall, which is a replica of the former Royal Palace with elaborate courtyards and a quaint wedding chapel; and Bougainville Garden with its lush, inviting green space and secret spring.
Later in the day, we took a step back in time with a visit to the historic home of James Norman Hall, decorated war hero and co-author of the “Bounty” trilogy – “Mutiny on the Bounty,” “Men Against the Sea,” and “Pitcairn’s Island.” We learned that Hall spent the happiest years of his life here, marrying a local woman, raising his son and daughter, and writing his novels and poetry. The charming home is full of memorabilia from the Hall family and the movies that were based on his stories.
The home’s exterior and gardens reflect many of Tahiti’s local traditions. Our lovely guide talked about the origins of the Tahitian pareo, a type of sarong that she was wearing; discussed interesting local customs; and described the many uses for local produce such as coconut, mangoes, bananas, and bread fruit. We also sampled a delicious toasted coconut treat she made just for us!
We continued our journey along Tahiti’s north coast to Matavai Bay, landing site of the island’s first European explorers, including Captain Samuel Wallis and James Cook. The bay is also home to magnificent black sand beaches and Point Venus Light House, an historic light house and monument dedicated to the mutineers of the Bounty.
And while we were really enchanted by our entire experience in Tahiti, Denise was completely captivated by a little boy she spotted on the beach. She watched him for a long time as he challenged, teased, and fought with the gentle waves on the black sandy beach. She couldn’t imagine what he was thinking about as he played, but he seemed as delighted doing what he was doing as Denise was just watching him. Seeing him and capturing his innocent game with the waves will always be a highlight of our 24 hours in Tahiti.