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Intoxicating Tahiti
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Intoxicating Tahiti
  Papeete Travel Tale

By Lorry Patton

The world turns slower beneath Tahiti and her surrounding islands. Maybe it's because the nearest land of any consequence -- where you can drive in one direction for more than a day -- is over 4000 km away. Or maybe it's the intoxicating hibiscus-scented humidity. That is ... hibiscus with a hint of French perfume.

Internally autonomous since 1957, Tahiti became a French colony in 1880. Thus, sophisticated French influence is evident in attitude and fashion. For example, the cosmopolitan European female resort guest basks by the pool bare from the waist up and hotel personnel perform their duties with a touch of reserved class.

Nevertheless, the underlying flavor in Tahiti is pure Polynesian -- from the barefooted grass-skirted young women gyrating frantically to the beat of the drums in nightly performances to the flowered-laden beautiful women going about their daily business wrapped in "pareus."

The "pareu," considered Tahiti's national garment and very popular with the tourists, is for sale everywhere. ... along the waterfront, at sidewalk stands, in artisan centers, at hotel boutiques, and most profusely, at the kiosks set up permanently upstairs of the "Marche" -- Tahiti's municipal market.

The bright and cheerful Marche is located one block from the waterfront right in the heart of Papeete -- Tahiti's capital city. Open daily from 5:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., it reaches its peak of activity around 4:00 p.m. when fishermen haul in their day's catch. Sunday mornings are fun, too. That's when most of the people living in Papeete gather at the market to gossip and to visit and to buy -- among other things -- taro, breadfruit, mangoes, bananas and fish.

A major highway cuts through Tahiti's landscape, which consists of mountain peaks, deep green valleys covered with rain forests, cascading waterfalls and flat coastal land. It circles Tahiti Nui ( big Tahiti ) and partially enters each side of a small peninsula called Tahiti Iti ( little Tahiti ) on Tahiti's southeast corner. We decided to tour Tahiti Nui ( big Tahiti ) in a rented car. First thing to confront us was a torrential downpour. I mean, I've never seen it rain so hard. Visibility was nonexistent, so we parked the car and checked out the prices at a local supermarket just out of Papeete.

The prices were intoxicating, too. Six cinnamon rolls were almost $10 dollars.

The most reasonable meals in Tahiti are served at " Les Roulottes " -- mobile diners set up each afternoon along the boat dock. Here you can order barbecue steaks, chicken, shish-kabob, french fries, pizza, Russian potato salad, a sweet crepe for desert and still stay within a low-cost budget.

We continued our tour of the island stopping at marked attractions such as history and shell museums and many scenic view points. The rain had stopped. The sky was blue, the air fresh and the jungle squeaky clean. The ocean churned beside us, agitated from the storm that brewed earlier. It was a dramatic sight.

We had about 22 km to go to complete our 114 km circle when we were confronted with our second obstacle -- a barricade across the road. We sat there perplexed for a couple of minutes. The road wrapped around the rocky cliff so we couldn't see what was beyond the curve. Suddenly, we knew the reason for the barricade. A wall of water shot up from the ocean with such force it exploded through the cracks in the blacktop creating powerful geysers while the rest of the giant wave slapped the side of the mountain completely covering the road with gallons of salty sea. This was the blow hole. A star attraction.

" In heavy weather, " the brochure understated, " it is advisable to be careful; the water can be thrown well on the road."

Some motorists turned around. Others, timing the gushing geyser, made a dash for it. I can't believe I agreed to go for it. I tell you, my hair stood on end. It must have been the spirit of the moment or I was drunk on Hibiscus and French perfume.

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