Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Papeete Likes You Too

"Where the hell am I?"

I woke up and saw crisp, white sheets. An air-con remote control. White, fluffy pillows. Wha..?

Nothing sprung to mind.

I started to panic, then woke up enough to remember I was traveling.

But where? 

Tahiti. I was in Fare-Suisse, a great-value small guesthouse in the land of French and high costs, Papeete.

The squeaking toddler family had come in late the night before and moved on to the airport before I left my room. I'd never even seen them. But now my room was silent and climate-controlled, and I'd been so many places this year that I had no point of reference when I awoke.

I'd really worn myself out from Sydney on, and yesterday had wandered all over Papeete without drinking enough water. No wonder I'd slept so well.

I'd dragged myself out of bed, made my own breakfast in the guesthouse kitchen, then checked out the Champion supermarket down the street. Prices were high, a few dollars higher per item than in Auckland, but that's not totally unreasonable given that we're in the middle of the Pacific and almost everything is imported aside from seafood, fruit, coconuts, and some garden vegetables. Locally bottled water was cheap, though tap water is fine here. I might pick up a few more things before heading off to Easter Island/Rapa Nui tomorrow.

I put on a sleeveless T-shirt and felt odd, a bit naked. Sydney and Tasmania had been chilly so I hadn't pulled these clothes out of my bag in a while. I awkwardly headed to the center of town to work out my bearings and see what there was to see in Papeete, which had a bad rep for being dull and unpleasant.

The bad rap is undeserved, I decided, after passing the pearl museum and visiting the market. Papeete is just fine, a friendly place with a bit of life in it in the middle of a large ocean. I found a bank ATM that gave me funds directly from my Citibank checking account (and didn't charge me), the local souvenir stalls, a cathedral and a church to look at, a coffee shop where I was able to get espresso and a glass of ice, and best, a bunch of dollar stores. I don't need to buy crap—somehow, I'm already carrying too much—but I do have my eye on a five-dollar multiple outlet extension cord. I had no way of knowing what the dorm situation will offer in the way of outlets on the Aranui, but Jack had commented here earlier about the benefits of carrying one of these and he's right. Five bucks isn't much wasted if I don't need it.

I also checked out the SIM card options. I'm going on the Aranui 3 in a few weeks, the freighter that serves the Marquesas Islands. I'll be out of touch, mostly, and wanted to know if I could get a data SIM for my unlocked iPhone, so that I could use my iPhone when in range of a cell signal.

Nope. No data plans available here without an annual plan. I can get a regular talk-and-SMS SIM, but the international SMS cost is actually twice what it is on my international SIM, the onesimcard. So fine, I'll set up SMS-to-Twitter, SMS-to-email, SMS-to-email-to-Blogger, SMS-forward certain emails to me, and give out my Batphone details to people who might need it. I did this when living in the national park in Uganda too, though there I had the relief of once a week trips to the decent internet cafe in Masindi.

I was really dragging in the afternoon—I think it's the heat. I was out of steam, so I went into the tourist information center by the cruise ship dock to see what I could do tomorrow that would show me a bit of Tahiti without wearing me out in the sun.

"They have half-day tours around the island in 4x4s," said the woman behind the desk.

"That sounds great. Do you know how much they are?"

"They are all around the same price, around 5000 francs." (That's fifty-bucks, ish.)

"Which one is the best?"

"They're all good. You have to choose one, we can't advise you on that."

She handed me a pamphlet that outlined all the options.

"These offer tours in English," she pointed to several. I'd read about one in my guidebook.

"That one. Can you call him?"

"We can't call. You have to call."

"I don't have a local SIM, how can I call?"

"You can buy a phone card over there." She pointed to a newsstand. "Or I guess you could use our phone, but I can't make the call for you."

I used her phone to call, but had to leave a message. "I'm staying at Fare-Suisse," I said, "but my room doesn't have a phone. I'll call back."

A minute later, one of the tourist information guys tracked me down after the phone rang.

"The phone is for you," he said, handing me the receiver.

See? Papeete is all right.

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