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We landed in Tahiti by night, and the air was pleasantly balmy. The owner of the pension picked us up, and later gave us some delicious buttery cake. A huge advantage of traveling in Francophone countries is that they know their bread and pastries.

The next day was unseasonably cloudy; we walked around Pipette all afternoon. There’s not a lot going on in Pipette.

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Lunch was delicious (and expensive) at a place called Zinc. Black pearls were being sold all over town. After cocktails at an open-air Chinese restaurant, we had dinner at an unlikely place: a French brewpub that makes its own special "tarts" — flaky crusted pizza with distinctive toppings. The waiter joked, "It’s better because it’s French." It was.

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Tahiti´s local brew…

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The next day, after a short ferry ride to the island of Moorea, we took a local bus to our ocean-side pension. Moorea is smaller than Tahiti, and looks wilder and more mountainous. It basically consists of steep, jagged, volcanic mountaintops jutting out of the sea — the platonic ideal of a Polynesian island. People only live at the bottom edge.

Our little hut was several feet from the water. Moorea is surrounded by a coral reef, which creates lovely, calm, coral-filled lagoons. We snorkeled several feet from our bungalow, and saw two octopi, a Lionfish, a Pipefish, and lots of other animals. It was better than some dives we’ve had.

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Diving with a local shop, the coral off Moorea looked like a pristine garden of dimpled umbrella-shaped coral heads. On the first dive, we saw several Black-Tipped and Lemon sharks. But the highlight was a sleeping Nurse shark — an eight-footer slumbering with its head under some coral. It was amazing to be within a foot of this creature.

A friendly Hawksbill turtle named Jeannine came to see us several times. Once, I swam through a current, right next to her. Later, the dive-master helped us feed her some sponge.

Assorted Morray Eels, Lionfish, Porcupine Fish, octopus, Pufferfish, Titan, Orange-line and Picasso Triggerfish, and many others were seen.

Moorea diving seems to be about (relatively) clear, warm waters, and mega-fauna. There aren’t many Nudibranches there.

A later snorkeling expedition revealed a large eel and lots of Pipefish.

One night, watching the sunset from the porch, I saw a couple longboats go by, rowed by chanting men.

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We enjoyed playing with this kitten at the pension.

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No account of French Poly is complete without one of these photos:

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On our last day, we took a tour, and saw lots of Black-tipped Sharks and, later, stingrays. The stingrays swarmed the tour group, searching for food, and felt very slippery and flexible. Lunch was an excellent barbecue on a small island. A bizarre number of chickens (forty?) and five cats showed up for a handout. A chicken drank from a cup of rum punch. We snorkeled near the island a while. Rays came near the shore of the island; being flattish, they can swim in just several inches of water.

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French Polynesia left me with some new impressions, though our stay was short. It has a reputation for being unfriendly, but we had only positive experiences. We enjoyed the meshing of French and Polynesian culture and cuisine. Somehow this sign for web design and sight administration seemed particularly French to me.

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And it surprised us to see how small the tourism infrastructure was on the islands, given that the islands have been a famous vacation spot for so long. This is a great thing for a traveler who likes a (relatively) less commercial experience, but probably makes it hard for the local economy to thrive. A positive aspect of the limited tourism infrastructure is that French Poly seems very livable for locals. It´s not completely overrun with tourists, and many businesses are aimed at the local market — the locals seem to continue to "own" their public spaces, unlike some more commercial places we´ve visited. Though I didn´t stay at Le Meridien, and the feeling might be different at that kind of venue.

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