Wednesday, January 5, 2022

12/5 & 6/21: Onto Raiatea, French Polynesia

To say that Steven and I were a little demoralized after seeing the accommodation on Huahine was an understatement. We knew we wouldn't be staying at the island's equivalent of The Ritz but the property was more basic than we anticipated. At this stage of our lives and traveling overseas for nine years straight, I really like the 'luxury' of decent towels, having more than one piece of cutlery apiece, and a kitchen stocked with the bare minimum of supplies. The wifi was hopeless, too, but we soon realized that was certainly not unique to Huahine. I wasn't able to upload a single photo to the blog the entire three weeks we were in French Polynesia. 

The property had advertised itself as a B&B - however, the 'breakfast' consisted for four days of one stick of butter, some jam, and a package of inedible toast that cost all of $1 in the local grocery store.

On the positive side, it did have AC, which, even during French Polynesia's rainy season, was a 'necessity.' It was also large so we could spread out and not be on top of each other. A big bonus was having our private and secluded patio.

After discovering the quiet and great swimming beach about half a mile walk from our rental unit the day before, we hightailed it back there the next morning for several hours before our flight to Raiatea. 

If you read the last post, you might remember that the darker colored water was evidence of coral reefs. 

When Steven and I arrived on Easter Island several years ago, we were quite touched when our host presented us immediately with leis. We, therefore, were surprised and delighted when our Huahine host gave us these lovely flower garlands when we left the island. 

Since I've been taking photos of unusual bathroom signs years ago, this one has to be one of the most exciting bathroom photos ever! 

Just thirty kilometers from Huahine was the island of Raiatea. At 171 square kilometers, it's the second-largest French Polynesian island with its main town, Uturoa, the administrative, business, and educational center of all the Leeward Islands which were also known as the Iles Sous-le-Vent or 'islands under the wind.' 

Raiatea is traditionally the ancient Havai'i, the 'sacred isle' from which all of eastern Polynesia was colonized. Just as Huahine was comprised of two islands, so was Raiatea with Taha'a, its northern neighbor, located across a lagoon three kilometers away. According to a local legend, the islands were cut apart by a mythical eel. 

According to Polynesian mythology, the god, Oro, was born of the molten rage of the 772-meter-high Mt. Temehani, the cloud-covered plateau that dominates the island's northern end. Growing above the 400-meter level on the slopes around the summit was a sacred white flower found nowhere else on earth, tiare apetahi. The fragile blossom represents the five fingers of a stunning Polynesian girl in love with the handsome son of a high chief who was unable to marry him because of her lowly birth. I read that local residents sometimes spend the night on the mountain so they can hear the petals making a sound when they forcefully pop open!

Raiatea's history: Though the island was originally called Havai'i, according to legend, the island was rechristened by Queen Rainuiatea in memory of her parents, Rai, a warrior from Tahiti, and Atea, queen of Opoa. Raiatea was the religious, cultural, and political center of what is now called French Polynesia before Europeans 'protected' the islands. Tradition maintains the Polynesian voyages to New Zealand and Hawaii left from Raiatea. Captain Cook visited the island three times between 1769 and 1777 as the island was his favorite anchorage.

When France annexed Raiatea in 1887, island Chief Teraupoo launched a resistance campaign that lasted ten years until the island was conquered by French troops and warships. Teraupoo was captured and deported to New Calendonia until 1905.

Thank goodness Steven was limber enough to squeeze into the back of the ancient jeep that belonged to our property owner's parents when we were picked up at the airport in Raiatea. That was the first clue as to what our stay would be like at Johnny's place about a 20-minute drive outside the island's main town!

Since Johnny's place, aka our 'villa' for the next five nights, was in the boonies and no grocery stores were open at that late hour to make dinner or breakfast, he kindly stopped at a roulette or food truck so we could pick up something to eat. I was amazed at how extensive the menu was and how mouthwatering the food was once we ate it a  good while later. The food was as fresh as could be, all made to order in one of the grills set up on the other side of the truck.

The next day, December 6th, Steven and I realized that if we didn't want to starve, we needed to hop on Johnny's bikes and ride a couple of kilometers to a nearby grocery store! Surely, no problem, I can hear you say and you're right but we had to time our jaunt in between the deluges that fell off and on all day long. When we found the incredibly cheap fare of just $250 per person last spring from Tahiti to San Francisco, we knew December was French Polynesia's rainy season. We just hoped that we'd have more sunny days than rainy days in the three weeks we were going from island to island. 

While we had found some fun beaches on Huahine, there are none at all on Raiatea. The island is not the place to visit if you're dreaming of turquoise seas while whiling away the day drinking potent drinks with umbrellas in them and snorkeling.

Having already scoped out grocery stores in Pape'ete and Huahine, we no longer had the same degree of sticker shock when trying to figure out what to buy and also what we could carry, more to the point, on the bike ride back to the 'villa.' Thank goodness, our friends, Gail and Dennis, had been to the islands years previously and warned us of the sky-high prices. I had brought a jar of peanut butter from home so didn't need to spend close to $10 on some here. A package of spaghetti noodles, a jar of pasta sauce, and a French baguette would make the perfect dinner as long as the bread didn't get soggy on the ride back!

Our self-described 'villa' in Raiatea was, once again, not quite what we were expecting even though, after all these years of traveling both overseas and domestically, you'd think we'd have done our due diligence and read a gazillion reviews and looked in detail at the various ratings. Rest assured, we did all that with the Villa and had believed the overall 9.6 rating on and, more specifically, had read 50 or so reviews. 

After stepping inside the 'villa', we knew immediately why Johnny had failed to post a single photo of his property's interior. The place was really, really small with scant space for our two duffel bags and absolutely no chance to take them up to the loft where the bed was as it was only accessible via a ladder!

The ladder to the loft required both hands holding on to the sides for dear life until nearing the top when we had to catch hold of the rope and use it to swing, like we were Tarzan or Jane imitators, over to the narrow landing and then to the bed! Obviously, there was no way a cup of tea could be carried up to bed which I missed each night of our stay. Kindles and phones had to be tucked inside pockets on the way up the ladder. 

Thank goodness, we had no mobility issues or the ladder would have been game over. I thought later that Johnny was prepping us for the ladder ascent when he picked us up in his cramped jeep!

I'm pretty sure the villa's kitchen had the most awkward and inefficient design of any I've seen to date! The stovetop was right in the middle between the half-fridge located under the microwave and the sink on the other side. The bathroom with its half wall was just to the left of the stovetop.

There was no AC, and, with no screens on the windows anywhere in the villa, there were lots of creepy crawlies keeping us company during our entire stay. We were relieved there was a mosquito net on the bed as you might imagine!

Views through the net out to the beautiful property amid another deluge:

The view of the ladder from the top down: imagine going down in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. Twas the stuff of nightmares!

What was the villa's saving grace was having this gorgeous deck out back as it was close to idyllic in the early mornings and evenings as you will see in upcoming posts.

Next post: Driving around Raiatea.

Posted on January 5th, 2022, from our snow-covered home as another winter storm descends on Denver's Front Range. This is what our neighbors up in Boulder County so desperately needed a few days ago when a disastrous fire engulfed a thousand homes in a matter of just hours. 

Tomorrow is the anniversary of one of the darkest days in America's history when the Capitol in DC was stormed by hundreds of insurrectionists trying to change the course of history.


  1. I love your beautiful flower garlands and the smiles both of you are wearing while modelling them ! While your interior spaces were not exactly 5 star, the exterior spaces were pretty lovely as was the beach in Huahine. Love from Tremblant. xo

  2. Always good to think of the positive, Lina, and certainly there were many beautiful moments on Huahine and lots you'll see on Raiatea.

    Hope you're enjoying a winter wonderland at Tremblant. XOXXO