French Polynesia Recap - part 3: Moorea and beyond...

After a slight baggage adventure solved by the ridiculously amazing St. Regis Bora Bora staff, it was time for us to say goodbye and hop our last short inter-island flight to the other hugely popular island in the Society Islands - Moorea.  This island is quite different from Taha'a and Bora, as it is much more of a big island with LOTS of land-based excursions, rather than being all about the lagoon (like the other two).  Our time there was, sadly, extremely short, so we didn't get to experience the interior of the island really at all, but even just our drives back & forth along the northern coast were really quite impressive.  Our time was focused on learning about three of the four "major" resorts on the island, which - again- I'll cover in greater detail on my Facebook account.  One of my fellow agents, though, DID get a wonderful chance for a true cultural experience on Moorea that I want to share.  After having been stung by a sting ray years previously, she'd been thinking about getting a tattoo of a ray on her ankle, but never could quite get the right inspiration.  She "made friends" again with rays during our excursion back on Bora Bora, and finally, really knew she wanted one.  Since rays are practically the mascot of Tahiti, she'd seen several drawings or examples that inspired her during our trip, and she mentioned to our host that, IF there was time somewhere, she would like to try to actually get one somewhere.  Calls were made, and at the last minute (8pm during our delicious hosted dinner at the Hilton), one final call went out to the semi-famous artist "James" (who apparently was featured on a recent Real Housewives episode).  Well, at 8am the next morning, he picked her up, took her to his farm & introduced her to his family & animals while getting to know her a bit.  He drew three lines on her ankle to get a size judgement, then started drawing w/the tattoo gun (if that is even the right term).  Twenty minutes later she was now blessed with an absolutely gorgeous tattoo of a ray, complete with the tail spikes that had stung her years before.  I am NOT a tattoo person/fan, but even I was incredibly impressed with the artistry - especially knowing it was all free handed.  Plus tattooing is SUCH a part of the culture there that it was just a super special experience for her and her roommate that went with her.  They were even a bit early to meet us at our first hotel tour at 10am - so the whole thing took less than two hours, but she'll have memories of it forever.  Another example of how you can enrich a trip with experience - I SO wish I could've gone along to witness it in person.  Here are a few pics of the amazing island (from the bus, apologies on the quality!), and of the lovely tattoo!

After our tour and lunch of the Intercontinental on Moorea, we had time for one last incredible experience before heading back to the main island.  This particular hotel has not only one but two wildlife preserve programs you can check out.  One is a sea turtle rehabilitation center, and the other is a dolphin sanctuary.  This is home to three retired dolphins (one was a military dolphin, the other two were former "show" dolphins who were born in captivity).  Now, if you know me at all, you know that the film about orcas, "Blackfish", was hugely relevatory for me (and many others) regarding cetations in captivity and/or used for our entertainment, so I was slightly nervous about visiting this program.  BUT - as I learned and witnessed, these three have no way of being released into the wild, as they've been captive their whole lives, and they at least get to live in fresh sea water that isn't cut off from their real world.  Plus, the center is mostly educational, so the people-to-dolphin interactions are limited and they try to make them like an entertaining game for the dolphins.  There are three different "levels" of experiences you can choose from, depending on your comfort level in the water.  A very limited number of people are allowed in with the dolphin at any one time (they made an exception for the 11 of us), and the dolphins are limited to about an hour or two max of time in with people.  SO - knowing that, I eagerly waded into the waist-deep water to meet Koa.  SUCH a fun experience. They feel like super soft wet suits (sort of)! They're such beautiful animals, and to be able to touch them and witness their intelligence and power first hand was amazing.  THIS is the way to teach people about these creatures without exploiting them - I was very impressed.  Here are the professional shots that were given to us so kindly by the center (available for purchase during your visit).  

After using the little complimentary shower rooms (which, in this case, were pretty bare-bones - no fancy beach bungalow for us this time!), it was time to rush over to the ferry station for our high-speed trip back over to Tahiti.  It only takes about 30 minutes, but possibly because we went in the evening (about 4pm), we had some INTENSE seas.  We had originally chosen to sit in the air conditioned interior cabin, but a few of us quickly headed upstairs to the fresh air to watch the horizon to hold off any sea sickness.  I know I was close - it was crazy rough!  Apparently it's NOT always like that, especially early in the morning, but it definitely made me re-think sailing trips a bit (which we heard a lot about back at the conference earlier in the week).  In any case, after arriving into the cruise port, we had a quick refreshing happy hour drink before our last tour of the trip.  This was the night of the inauguration party for the brand new ship, the Aranui 5, and we were fortunate enough to get to tour it during the party.  The Aranui is a VERY cool ship that started out just as a supply ship for the Marquesa islands.  BUT, since they were going back and forth from the islands with supplies regularly, they started taking passengers back in the day.  This brand new ship is the latest for the company, and while the front still has cargo, the back has about 10 decks of amazing passenger space.  It is the single BEST way to visit the Marquesas, since only four of the main 8 islands have airports, and being so remote they don't have a ton of resorts out there.  After touring the boat (and having a glass of champagne in the same room as the PRESIDENT of all of French Polynesia!!!!), we ALL were dying to come back and do this trip.  It's 14 days long, with only 2 days at sea and something like 14 ports of call (one in the Tuamotus on the way up, and Bora Bora on the way down).  Some of the suites were large and amazing, BUT they also even offer bunk bed suites at a ridiculously low price of something like $2400.  That includes all food and excursions - pretty amazing deal!!  The new ship was just gorgeous, and though we didn't get to fully enjoy the fun party going on - it was SUCH a neat experience.  (We even got to go visit the bridge!)  Once we reluctantly left the ship, we wandered over to our last experience of the trip - the very cool food truck village called "Les Roulettes".  This is located right by the port, not far from Le Marche where we started the trip, and really has been a tradition in Papeete for years and years.  It was apparently a bit quieter than usual (possibly because everyone who was anyone was on board the Aranui 5!), but still a really fun environment.  We all scattered to sample all sorts of different delicious food options.  They had french food, like crepes and steak frites, they had tons of seafood options, and even a pizza truck.  I ended up with a Mahi Mahi risotto that was creamy and delicious.  For Tahiti, it was pretty affordable as well - less than $20 even with a drink!  Here are a few shots of the evening (though details about the rooms/ship will be on facebook later if you're interested!):

All too soon it was time for us to head over to the airport for our flight home, and for a farewell dinner Les Roulettes was such a great idea.  All 10 of us consultants were on our first trip to the islands of Tahiti, and honestly, we all spent the ride home trying to figure out when and how we were going to come back. There are so many great things to do here, I might be back time and time again.  I hope these posts have given you some ideas and inspiration to visit these little pieces of paradise!