All the colors of the rainbow

Anse Mitan

Walking up and down the streets of Trois-Ilets, the sweet smell of colombo and massala spices cooking away in small houses, the sound of waves gently crashing on Anse Mitan beach, the lively market stands selling punch and fruit, live zouk concerts here and there, … all these wonderful things have been part of my daily routine this past week.

Unfortunately I have been unable to rent a car due to having a young person’s driving license. To rent a car, one must have at least 3 years driving experience, and I only have a little over a year. On the upside, this will save me quite a few pennies! My main mode of transportation has been the ferry boat which goes from Anse Mitan to Anse à l’Ane (which I have yet to discover!), and then to Fort-de-France. Of course, I have also been walking around a lot, and have come to know the areas of Trois-Ilets and Pointe du Bout very well.

On board the ferry

What is particularly exciting is the fact that the official carnival festivities commence this week, and there are all sorts of events organized in many villages, including the one in which I currently live in. Make-up workshops, parades, stand up shows, a different dress code every day, live concerts, costume fashion shows, … All these events will be happening as of tomorrow, and I will make sure to be in the heart of things and imbibe as much as I can.

Fort de France

On Saturday I had ventured off again to Fort-de-France, and spent the morning roaming around the markets, boutiques selling carnival gear, cathedral, the famous fort and then lounged the beach. In the afternoon, like in Guadeloupe and Tahiti, all the shops close. What is really striking is the fact that in the morning the streets of the capital are heaving with people of all ages, cars, trucks, stands, pets, musicians.. It is almost exhausting just walking from one block to the next. However, once midday strikes, the shops almost immediately close their doors and the streets become completely deserted – only the pigeons shuffle around as the the cathedral bells announce the arrival of the afternoon.

There is so much color every where you go – young women will mix lots of different bright colors in their attire, men tend to wear loud checkered shirts, houses are painted in yellow, orange, pink, purple, green… And all this color adds a genuine touch of gaiety and charm to Martinique’s surroundings. Of course, so do the palm trees, bougainvilleas, hibiscus flowers, banana trees, royal palms, etc… Once again, it seems I have landed in yet another beautiful bountiful island.

Cathedral

I hear a lot of reggae, dancehall and zouk being played on beachfronts, in restaurants, bars, cars. These seem to the most popular genres. I am looking forward to all the live musical performances organized for the carnival, which will be entertaining without a doubt. Also, the weather has been much more inviting than it was at the start of my stay, so fingers crossed, sunshine and warmth will also be on the carnival’s menu.

Rainbow - view from my room

But I am realizing as days go by that I am on my ‘final’ island, and that this tropical adventure of mine is coming to an end… Thus, I am trying to soak in as much as I can before I get on that plane ride back to reality.

Ia Orana Tahiti!

I left Hawaii a week ago in a limousine to the airport, and flew once again through a rainbow on my way to Tahiti. I had such a great time both in Maui and Oahu, and I will remember those islands fondly, but time for a new country and culture…

Tahiti is similar to Hawaii in its Polynesian culture and atmosphere, except less American and more French, …which makes sense! But that feeling is very present, much more than I had expected. Tahiti is a French territory so all road signs are like the ones back home, and the supermarkets, food brands, car makes are those which I am familiar with. I have enjoyed going to Carrefour and being able to buy things I like to get back at home like goat’s cheese, millefeuille desserts and foie-gras. Of course, one has to be careful selecting wines, as there are good bottles to choose from, but it is best to avoid the older ones as they have probably been sitting in the wrong temperatures for way too long…

The Tahitian language seems to be much more alive and spoken than Hawaiian language in Hawaii. Tahitian is translated from French almost everywhere, and I do hear from time to time some people speaking it. It is very similar to Hawaiian as it I suppose it shares the same Polynesian roots: ia orana = hello, nana = goodbye, manuia = cheers, maruru = thank you, … And my personal favorite: nene = transvestite (!) Yes, much to my surprise, this seems to be a popular phenomenon here in Tahiti – many men chose to dress as women on a daily basis and a lot of them work as hotel maids, cashiers, waitresses. It is very surprising, and adds a little quirkiness to the island!

The most exciting thing for me though has been reuniting with my boyfriend Alex who is working at the Maeva Sofitel Beach Resort here in Faa’a. He works as the assistant to the hotel’s director of finances and administration. We have celebrated Christmas and New Year’s together and have done a bit of traveling together during Alex’s time off. On boxing day we took a catamaran to Tetiaora, also known as the ‘Island of Birds’, which was a stunning private island, a 3h30 boat ride away from Papeete, Tahiti’s capital. The boat ride was very choppy, and unfortunately a lot of people were sick on board. And I must admit that usually I am not sea sick but this long catamaran ride was tough. When we arrived on the island, we walked around it and its beautiful lagoons, saw some extremely rare birds of all shapes and sizes, snorkeled around the shallow waters and swam with some of the most colorful fish I have ever seen. We ate a traditional Tahitian lunch on board, and head back to Papeete in the afternoon.

Our second trip, my favorite of all, was on the 30th December, when we took a ferry to the island of Moorea. Alex had booked us in the Sofitel on that island, and because of his affiliation with Maeva Beach Resort, he got us a wonderful room for a discounted price. The resort in Moorea is picture perfect: a long stretch of real beach, pilotiers, infinity pool, beautiful cocktails, stunning rooms, really comfy beds, tranquility, Tahitian shows at night, a great bar on the beach – it was an ideal honey moon type place. Alex treated me to an 1h massage at the spa as part of a Christmas present, which was excellent. I was blown away by the quality of our room which was honestly one of the best hotel rooms I have ever seen.

The following day we walked around Moorea for an hour or so, saw a lot of crabs, market stands, fruit trees and more stunning beaches, before taking the ferry back to Papeete. Moorea is even more tranquil and laid back than Tahiti, which is sort of difficult to explain as Tahiti is very relaxing as it is..!

I have already witnessed a few traditional musical treats since my arrival – we went to see a Marquisian show at the Intercontinental hotel (our neighbors) which was full of energy, percussion and lively female and male dancers. We also got to see a lot of Tahitian tamouré dancing at the Moorea resort at the restaurant at dinner time. There are some Tahitian dances which are very similar in style to hula, but with more energetic moves, kind of like their alphabet which unlike Hawaiian contains the letter ‘r’ which gives it more oomph. The costumes the dancers wear are also generally a bit more fierce looking – more natural colors like green and brown, more traditional accessories like bamboo, wooden bracelets, more tribal make-up. The women also shake their backsides much more than hula dancers, and with much more rhythm and energy.

The internet is very slow here so it has been difficult for me to upload photos, check emails, keep in touch and write as much as I was in Hawaii where its USA internet connection is speedy and easy to access. I am going to have to get used to this slower and less modern lifestyle in the French islands which I am finding fascinating and enjoyable…

What is really interesting is this sensation that I have returned home because of the French cultural aspects that are so present, yet I am further away from home than I have ever been in my life… Nana!

Boat trips and big hotels

another sunset view from Waikiki beach

A few weeks have gone by now since my arrival on Oahu, and I’m getting used to things here in the city of Waikiki. Although the contrast between the laid back atmosphere on the beach and the non stop liveliness of the city’s streets can be difficult to adapt to. One minute you could be sipping a tropical ice tea, facing the calm waves of the ocean rocking back and forth on the beach, listening to hula, the next you could be in a large crowd of people impatiently waiting to cross the street to desperately get into Macy’s or Starbucks.

I’ve been cruising around the shoreline and around Diamond Head mountain in a boat this past week. Once on Thursday at 3Pm, where the boat sailed around at quite high speed and played some reggae music on board – it was a great way to unwind, and the glass of champagne certainly helped. The next trip I took was on Sunday evening, at 5PM, a ”sunset booze cruise” – same boat, same route, but slower and all-inclusive drinks. This was also good fun, and seeing the sun set, the skies turn to orange, pink, purple, and then watching Waikiki’s city lights brighten as the day turned to night was delightful.

the Sheraton's infinity pool

I have been doing a lot of walking around the city, discovering the right, left and center of it. I go and visit the farmer’s markets on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays (it changes location each day), and have become friendly with one of the market stands which now gives me free gifts such as coconut mochi bread or oatmeal cookies. I ate my very first malasada last Thursday: a Hawaiian treat consisting of two small yet thick doughnut-like buns with creamy custard in the middle – not the healthiest of snacks, but certainly worth a taste.

I’ve met some very interesting people on my little walks and explorations here and there – a very talented barman at Jimmy Buffet’s, who can do all sorts of swinging and juggling tricks with bottles, and makes some mean cocktails too. I also got talking to the captains of both boat trips, who recommend I come on their trips in the mornings to snorkel with the sea turtles.

From time to time, I will hang out in the big hotels: The Sheraton, The Royal Hawaiian, The Hilton Hawaiian Village, etc.. sit on a sun bed, drink a little something, have a dip. No one notices that I’m out of place – it must be because I’m here quietly and discreetly by myself and obviously don’t look too inconspicuous. I also recently came across a Sheraton towel card in my wallet which I picked up at the airport when I transited through Honolulu in October on my way to Maui – I will try and see if I can use it, if so, I will be able to have a dip in the infamous Sheraton infinity pool, which looks rather chic.

Kimo, the bartender from Jimmy Buffet's

The music scene is certainly overwhelming – there is so much to listen to, it is difficult to choose. There is generally a good selection of Hawaiian, jazz and rock music every night in a lot of different bars and venues. It depends on what you’re up for – a laid back background sound to go with a classy cocktail, an energetic dance in a club, a more traditional island setting, etc. But nothing caters for anything else, I was told to experience the up and coming creative musicians who ”aren’t allowed to play in Waikiki” (i.e. not tourist-y enough) play in downtown, also known as Chinatown. However, I have also been advised not to venture in this part of town alone, so I’m a bit apprehensive about checking it all out. Plus, there is so much to hear here in Waikiki, I am afraid I may musically OD if I hit downtown (if there is such a thing).

I have found an equivalent to Mana Foods, a natural health food store in Maui, called ‘Down to Earth’, which is very pleasant and makes excellent food you can eat out on a terrace. This place is in Kailua, which is the nearest smaller town to me. It is student friendly town: cheaper prices, health food stores, internet cafés, small convenience stores, massage therapist places that are considerably less expensive than in the center of Waikiki.

And that is one down factor, Waikiki is extremely expensive. If only money grew on palm trees!