The islanders are generally shy and friendly. If you see someone driving aggressively or cutting in line in front of you, it’s not one of the locals – it’s definitely a French guy. Not all the French tourists are bad, though. The lawyer who looked like a bad guy from a James Bond movie was actually quite pleasant. But if you see a guy smoking indoors in a crowded area, collar turned up, rolling his eyes at everything, wearing skinny-jeans, he’s French.
Most people on the island speak a combination of French mixed in with traditional Polynesian words. Ia Orana (Ya-o-ranna) means “howdy” and Mauruuru (Ma-roo-roo) means ‘thanks for the money, White Devil.’
I didn’t realize this before, but the art of tattooing originated in this part of the world. Every islander that I saw has at least one. They tend to have a classy style of abstract line art that usually resembles local fish, plants, and critters, and only with the dark-blue ink. (I didn’t see any tramp stamps like the Disneyland logo that I saw on a very large white woman at Walmart back home in Texas.)
The majority of all food we tasted on the island was some combination of French or local Polynesian cuisine, plus a scattering of pizza places. If you crave spicy food like me, you’d better bring your own bottle of Sriracha sauce or crushed red pepper because there apparently isn’t a spicy pepper of any kind on the island.
A big local guy who looked like a Polynesian version of Rodney Dangerfield showed us how to make poisson cru, a popular local dish. It’s basically a coconut ceviche and it’s delicious. He fearlessly hacked away at a coconut with a machete with such little caution, I did a quick check to see if he still had all his fingers. Poly Dangerfield can tell you 100 things you can do with different parts of the coconut tree. When he’s not teaching coconut awareness classes, he swims around and scrubs barnacles off the ladders that go up to the bungalows. It seems like a great life.
Another traditional preparation is for the islanders to dig a hole in the ground, start a fire, and then stick meat in there to be covered and slow roasted all day. When you drive the perimeter of the island, a big, smoky, throat-choking haze of burning palm leaves clouds every residential area. (Until we figured out that this was how they cook dinner, we thought everybody on the island were just pyros and loved to burn stuff.)
We drove across the island to the Tiki Village to watch their traditional cultural presentation that I insensitively referred to as “ooga booga dancing.” It starts off by bringing all the guys from the audience, and then all the girls, out to show us dance moves and make sure that we’re all nice and sweaty and covered with sand for the rest of the evening. Then they do a mock wedding (yawn), and then the whole thing does a 180 and they start badass fire-dancing (furthering my pyro theory). While they danced, their kids in the audience danced along to the familiar moves, singing along to the songs, generally emulating their parents as their heroes, and sometimes even streaking out into the stage area to interfere and dance along. It was awesome.
On the evening that our hotel did their own traditional ooga booga dancing, we were exhausted from the Vacation Trifecta (sun, swim, and rum) and spent the evening lounging around the bungalow playing Candy Crush. The Frenchman in the neighboring bungalow, however, was super excited about their performance. He perched on his porch and yelped at the music across the lagoon, long into the night.
We decided to buy a black pearl, the special gem that is grown only in this part of the world, and Diva Bride set off on a mission to find the perfect one. Her unique blend of researching skills, persistence, love of pretty things, and patient new husband made for a very long day. We ended up visiting 27 pearl stores around the island, but I didn’t mind because it gave us an adventure. Some of the shop owners wear stiletto heels and short skirts to work while driving scooters. While Diva Bride looked at every round stone on the island, I bothered the shop owners. (“Wait, you get these from oysters? Are you sure?”) The punchline is that in the end, our marathon shopping trip didn’t yield a pearl – the best deal was back at the hotel gift shop.
One other shopping note is that the options for electronic merchandise on the island, understandably, aren’t are expansive as we’re used to back home. After our the waterproof camera we borrowed started blinking Poltergeist screen display and then spewed battery fluid, we were tickled to find that the local grocery store indeed sold an underwater digital video camera. It worked once for an hour, then died, and then never worked again. We took it back to the market and experienced their return policy: