How to find low-cost luxury in Tahiti

Wander Woman, Marie Javins, discovers how to get all the frills without the bills in Papeete, Tahiti

6 mins

A giant brown spider was in my shower!

Using my Australian Vodafone SIM card instruction booklet and a hotel water glass, I gently removed the Huntsman Spider, temporarily placing him in the rubbish bin, where he remained as I showered. I then placed him back where I'd found him, leaving the decision on what to do with the spider up to the Sydney budget hotel.

I didn't want to smash him. For one thing, he'd leave a huge gooey blob. But for another, in Australia, you're supposed to stand back and admire scary animals. Put a snake between an American and an Australian, and the American will search for a shovel to decapitate the snake, even as the Australian says "Crikey, that's a beautiful incredibly poisonous snake" while pulling out a smart phone to snap its photo.

I headed out to the front of the hotel five minutes before my airport shuttle was due, and there it was, already waiting to spirit me off to the Sydney Airport's international terminal.

What a great time I'd had here. I've always had a good time in Sydney – even once, ten years ago, when I’d been savaged by bedbugs at the Y. I’d hung out with friends night after night, and one poor guy had even gone underwear shopping with me on Saturday. He learned quickly not to do that again. He told me later he’d imagined women’s underwear shopping to be something else. But it was just fully-clothed women going through racks of clothes. How disappointing for him.

The plane carried me to Auckland, where I called a hotel shuttle to transport me to the airport hotel I'd booked with points. I was only there overnight on this trip around the world, just passing through. I hurried out to the supermarket, my sole destination for this touch-down in New Zealand.

My goal was this: Tahiti, where I was going tomorrow, was reputed to be really expensive. Rapa Nui – Easter Island – where I was going later in the week, was supposed to be even pricier. I'd read on websites that I should take snacks along to Easter Island. But obviously, I could only buy stuff at the Auckland Airport supermarket that didn’t need to be refrigerated, and I couldn’t buy anything too heavy.

Plus, I needed shampoo and soap to last me to the end of my trip around the world – after Rapa Nui, I was going to be on a ship for two weeks.

I’m sorry to report I did a pretty poor job on the supermarket front. Apparently, I'd be eating salami sandwiches and nuts for the entire week on Easter Island. But at least I was ready to picnic among the giant stone Moai heads.

Those heads came up on the morning flight, when I was seated next to a large Australian man who liked to chat.

"Why would you go to Easter Island? Isn't it just a bunch of stone heads,” he asked me.

"Why would YOU go to Tahiti? Doesn't Australia have beaches?" I shot back.

"I'm not going for the beach,” he declared. “I'm going to buy a yacht."

I hadn’t said much to him after that, and dodged him when everyone from the plane was waiting at the baggage carousel in Tahiti. I was happy to find my ride waiting for me – Beni, from the guesthouse I’d booked. He offers airport transfers to all his guests.

The next morning, I had am important question to ask myself.

"Where the hell am I?"

I’d woken up and seen crisp, white sheets. An air-con remote control. White, fluffy pillows. Wha..?

Nothing sprung to mind.

I started to panic, then remembered I was travelling.

But where? 

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

I'd worn myself out over the few days of travel, and yesterday I’d wandered all over Papeete without drinking enough water, then finally stumbled onto the food trucks, which were cheap and wonderful. No wonder I'd slept so well.

I 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 we were in the middle of the Pacific and almost everything had been imported aside from seafood, fruit, coconuts, and some garden vegetables.

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 centre of town to work out my bearings and see what there was to see in Papeete, which had a reputation for being dull.

The bad rap was 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 home checking account (sans fee), 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 picked up a five-dollar multiple outlet extension cord. I had no way of knowing what the dorm situation would offer in the way of outlets on the Aranui ship. Five bucks wasn't much wasted if I didn’t need it.

I was really dragging in the afternoon, out of steam, so I went into the tourist information centre 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 for the pay phone 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, I was reading information posted on the wall when one of the tourist information guys tracked me down after the phone rang.

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

Papeetewas all right.

Now if only someone had told me the man from the plane was going to be on my tour too. 

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