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Sunday 6th June - Moorea to Papeete
By Claire
Tuesday, 8th June 2004 20:41

Our flight to Auckland is at 4am on Monday morning, which is the most uncivilied time imaginable - if we have to be at the airport two hours before, there's no chance to get any sleep. And, we had to check out of the hotel by 10am. So we had to find something to do for the intervening 16 hours. As luck would have it, it's Sunday too, so most restaurants are closed and the buses and ferries have limited timetables.

We packed and checked out of the hotel, leaving our begs in reception. We had gained a box of extra heavy items like 14 packs of photos and guidebooks that wouldn't fit into out bags, so I taped the box up and we'd try to take it on the plane as cabin baggage - there was a bottle of wine from Chile in there too! Then we headed out to the shop for postcards, stamps, somelunch and the internet. hoping to spend a bit of time doing all these things before getting the truck tothe ferry port and the ferry to Papeete. The shop was closed, but we found an internet cafe that was open and we checked our mail. By 11 we decided it was lucnhtime, so we spent a leisurely couple of hours eating in a reasonable French restaurant. It started raining as we were finishing, so we took a bit longer to leave than we needed to, and walked back to the hotel as the sun was trying to come out.

According to a guide book we'd found, the truck buses to the ferry port left at 1.45 and 2.45 on Sundays, so we stood out on the road with our bags waiting for the first one to come along. And it rained, and rained. The road got flooded, I changed into flip-flops and shorts and my waterproof so that I could keep an eye out for the bus, and it carried on raining. When 2.45 came and went with no sign of the bus at all, and I was completely soaked, the hotel lady kindly told us that there would be another one at 4pm. We lugged our bags back to reception and sat and read. Within three minutes, two buses went past the entrance to the hotel. I was not impressed!

Just before 4pm the receptionist offered us an airport transport bus that would be more expensive than the truck, but significantly less than the expected $70 or so dollars that a taxi would cost us. At 4.30 I was a little drier and we were on our way round the north side of the island, something we had intended to see but had not had a real chance owing to the shortness of our stay. The view was splendid, with the lush green volcanoes, turquoise lagoons, silver beaches and palm trees everywhere. It was getting dark as we reached the Moorea ferry terminal, and there was a boat waiting for us - perfect timing for once! The ride back, in the dark, was very rough, so I sat on the deck ignoring the boatness of it all, watching the pretty island lights instead. We reached Papeete at 7pm.

With rucksacks, day packs and a very ehavy cardboard box, we hunted down a Chinese restaurant that we'd read about in one of the guide books. There is a large Chinese population in French Polynesia - they were brought in to work on the cotton plantations atfer the native Tahitians refused to work for the Scotish, or something, but the result is a plethora of restaurants that are open on Sunday nights.

We ate deliberately slowly, trying to kill time before having to sit in the airport for hours on end, and managed two courses in a very respectable two hours. The restaurant called a taxi for us (we didn't fancy trying to find a bus stop and a working bus at this time of night) and by 9.30 we were in the airport.

The airport staff really didn't make themselves likeable, and the place itself was totally without charm or facilities. We were going to be spending at least five hours here, so the four wooden seats weren't really adequate for everyone, and the check-in desks were understaffed (four out of 14 desks in use, one flight at a time, at two hour intervals). They also had an absurd security system whereby all the luggage was scanned before you check it on, then after you check it on, then the hand luggage is scanned again. They refused to take my films through by hand each time, insisiting that the machine is safe for films (yes, I know) and after an hour of queueing and at 2am they decided they wouldn't let our box of photos, souveneirs and wine on the plane as cabin baggage so they opened it up, rummaged around and decided I had to check it on. No-one had any tape to repackage it, two security guards just folded their arms at me and said 'no' at my request, and I had to go back out of the departure lounge,back to the end of the check-in queue and be x-rayed and checked in and x-rayed and questioned all over again. It's one way to kill another hour in an airport, I suppose.

Earlier in the evening we'd tried to track down Mikey's hat, which we thought had been left on the plane from Easter Island. The lost property office is only accessible through the arrivals lounge, and big policemen stand and block the way in from anywhere else. I got fed up with the stupid airport system and just pushed my way through, and everyone just let me, which sort of defeated the object of employing policemen to guard the gates. The lost property office had twelve hats but not Mikey's so we asked a passing LanChile stewardess if she could help. She said to go to the LanChile check-in desk, which was open at that moment. So I had to explain to an over-zealous security guy that no, I wasn't trying to check in to the flight, and I wasn't trying to change my ticket and I wasn't jumping a queue or avoiding whatever it was he was trying to accuse me of, I was just looking for a hat. After calling for assistance, he finally let me through (I needed to be x-rayed and metal-detected first, of course) and then I stood in a queue for half an hour before getting frustrated with everyone else who wasn't standing in a queue. Of course, the LanChile girl needed to ask someone what to do, and when he turned up he spent 20 minutes on the phone trying to find out why I was there, and he finally said they had no lost property and that I should try the proper office. So no joy. Mikey will have to find a new one in New Zealand.

We finally boarded at 3.30, and I was tired and grumpy and thoroughly annoyed at the French in general and Tahitians in particular. You might be able to tell... Mikey slept a lot to avoid me.

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