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Paradise Lost: Tahiti on a backpacker’s budget


I awoke on the rooftop of Tahiti’s international airport with a heavy jackboot nudging me in my ribs–

“Monsieur, Monsieur, allons-y!”

All of the other sleeping backpackers, alerted by a piping yelp evocative of a vicious French poodle being savagely rogered insensate, rubbed the sleepy seeds from their eyes and gloomily gathered up their gear.

“Monsieur, allons-y, allons-y!”

The grim-faced Tahitian security guard, resembling Rousseau’s “Noble Savage” stuffed into an ill-fitting military uniform, seemed to derive unparalleled pleasure from the abuse of power and sticking it to the man.

All of us wandering drifters had been away from home for nearly a year, mostly picking up mail from variouspostes restantes,and wanted one last splurge on a really famous tropical paradise.

Unfortunately, the island chain known to insular Americans as just “Tahiti” (really only the main island of “French Polynesia”) didn’t actually quite fit the bill. It was less of a dream painting by Paul Gauguin and more of a horrific hallucination of Hieronymous Bosch.

Needless to say, during the taxi ride to any vacant hotel at all, we felt like impecuniousparesseuxor vagrants by force of necessity splitting the bill six ways and still finding the fare a little too dear. With our carefully hoarded funds dwindling, we would thus lower our expectations—or we would perforce be eating out of the proverbialpoubelle.

Dumped outside an inn as intimidating as Eli Roth’s “HOSTEL” (thankfully closed down), our merry band of backpackers set off like Journey down the boulevard, followed by the dusky “natives” (all former headhunters), who, with evident hilarity, shouted at us in French,“LesPains Mangée!!!

We had no idea what in the hay they were talking about.

No idea, that is, until the reluctant French manager, clothed in neocolonialist mufti, of an overpriced hotel we landed upon only by mere happenstance, finally translated the insult: “Tzey are calling you ‘Tze Bread Eaters.’ Tzis is only a light insult for poor foreign travelers who can only afford to buy tze bread. . . .”

An actual part of the French Empire, most Tahitians prefer the status quo over separatist agitation. They eat unpasteurized Camembert and daring pates resembling lip-smacking upchuck; they drink low-grade plonk rouge (instant spew) that comes in handydandy plastic jugs instead of corked bottles; they read Tintin, Asterix, and Babar, and wear berets and play boules.

But on one issue against the French colonials there is an established consensus: no more nukes!

For years the French administration has been detonating nuclear weapons in the region, to the dismay of Greenpeace activists and possibly NRDC personnel as well, perhaps accounting for the spectacularly weird colorized sunsets for which palm-treed Tahiti is unjustifiably famous.

Worse, there are no beaches—or at least no good ones. We soon discovered over large bowls of café au laitand croissants almondesin the common room of the short-sheet hotel that, among the Lonely Planet backpacking
cognoscenti, alt Bora Bora was the “Bali Hai” of Rogers and Hammerstein legend.

But one girl with tribal Polynesian tattoos and St. Marks Place piercings amusingly referred to the postcardy paradise as “Bora Boring,” only because she could not really afford to buy or do anything in this virtual Paid Advertisement, settling instead on getting picked up by a persistent playboypied noirof the “Francophone” persuasion who owned a villa there.

So instead we took the boat ferry to nearby Moorea and marooned ourselves pronto, staying at a pleasant campground on a rocky beach right next to the perfectplageof one of the world’s most celebrated international jetsetter retreats: Club Med.

I’m afraid the magnetic proximity of ultimate hedonism and luxury, only a short walk down the beach, drew a fellow traveler named Neville (not his real name) and yours truly toward the wonderful world ofchaises longuesand bikini thongs.

We would have had a field day had we not been saddled with female travel partners who were too intimidated by all the“Plage Privée”signs to do anything but drink coconut jism straight from the shell and read Steven King and Tom Clancy novels in the shade.

Neville and I passed a topless supermodel with fabulous groodies—I meanreallynice tatas shaped like chocolate kisses or chess pawns–who pressed her lips into amouéand blew us a rosey kiss. As she seductively lowered her Raybans down the bridge of her rudolf, I spotted the cheap fluorescent “doss bag” obviously indicating, well, you know. Doubtful she would settle for a lonely Bread Eater with a famine of francs.

Next, Neville and I “crashed” the Club Med lunch buffet—impressive, impressive, impressive—without any beads, we tried our best to act like regular actual paying guests. We guzzled AOC wine and snacked on alien-antennaed langoustines.

“The Brie is a little overripe,” Neville broke the embarrassing silence, as I choked and spluttered with laughter. I dug into a plate of grenouilles, wolfing down the ittybitty legs straight out of Mark Twain’s The Jumping Frogs of Calaveras County.

It did not get better than this.

After dispatching our free brunch, we ambulated circumspectly around the grounds, loudly voicing our opinions about “servis compris” and “BCBG,” speculating about which scheduled activities we wished to pursue: parasailing or windsurfing?

A dead-ringer doppelganger of Gallic crooner Serge Gainsbourg chainsmoked Gaulloises and eyed us with evil intent.

Bonjour!

Bonjour!

“Bonjour, Messieurs!”

He smiled pleasantly; the danger had passed.

Emboldened by our free ride, we decided to walk right out of the world-famous resort via the elaborate front entrance en flagrante.

But a too-tan security guard with well-defined biceps stopped us in rapid-fire French.

“What?”

“What?”

“I says: Are you two staying here?”

“Of course.”

“Bean sure.”

“Okay, what room are you staying in?”

Neville covered quickly, “Number twelve!”

“Number twelve?!” The sere sentry, an obvious Algerian exile out of the existential masterpiece L’étranger by Albert Camus, looked vaguely embarrassed, sweating profusely, as he stepped back into his booth to flip through the pages of a phone-book-sized ledger.

We made a break for it, laughing like dangerous Evil Knievel daredevils. We did it, I thought, “We crashed Club Med!”

Back like Spam at the campground, our dames were not impressed by our prezzies: the little red-plastic-wrapped spheroids of La Vache Qui Ris (“The Laughing Cow”), looking like the happy heifer insignia on Elmer’s Glue bottles and lovingly wrapped in aserviette. Neither were they amused by our apocryphal tales of chew-and-screw derring-do.

An impish Australian jackanape interrupted, “Good on ya, mates!”

Congratulating us on our bravery, the Aussie then launched into an unnerving account about a down-and-out Walloon from “Belgique,” who not only visited the Club Med clandestinely and availed himself of all its services and amenities, but became something of a local hero orcause celebre,excelling at all their scheduled social and sporting events and activities.

As the other guests cheered the now-legendary Walloon on in an elaborate beer-bong drinking contest, the uptight management at last caught the rascal red-handed. Discovering he had close to no money at all and spoke only babytalk francais, they dragged the disgraced flaneur up to the top of a hill.

“And guess what happened next?” The Australian was positively paling with excitement.

“They didn’t kill him, did they?” I asked with extreme trepidation.

“No, mate, but they beat the living crap out of him!”

In record time (no: before you could say jack robinson), backpacks packed, tent rolled up, Rockports bouncing across the jetty and landing squarely on the ferry floor, we at last flipped the proverbial bird at Moorea and sailed away into kingdom come.

But back on the main island of Tahiti, the living nightmare recommenced.

Les Pains Mangée!

Les Pains Mangée!

The catcalls and cackles and hoots and snorts of derision were beginning to drive us a little crazy, as once again, this time under a sickle-shaped moon verily wielded by a waxy Grimm Reaper, or a pissed-off Polynesian god, or a flag-waving Levantine terrorist, we couldn’t seem to find any effing place to stay and labored mightily under thetortue-like torture of our hefty backpacks.

Les Pains Mangée!

Les Pains Mangée!

Finally I stopped dead in my tracks and stood my ground, bristling like porcupine roadkill.

“BREAD EATERS!!!” I bellowed.

The comparatively wealthy Tahitians backed off as if we were ghosts orleileis (Pacific islander slang for boys raised as girls by their parents but not necessarily gay).

Obviously mortified that we actually could translate what they were saying, they dropped their taunts and barbs, as well as their shopping bags crammed full of “breadfruits” (highly prized by passing visitor Captain Bligh of “Mutiny on the Bounty” fame as a surefire cure for scurvy), scattering like an apocalyptic rain squall.

It was time to beat it.

There was only one thing left to do until our flight to first Honolulu and then on to LAX. What? I’ll get to that during the denouement. They say there is no such thing as too much of a good thing, but I beg to differ. Give me leggy flight attendants, seatback marsupial pouches full of free magazines, and please don’t forget the
cashewsinclus.

I awoke on the rooftop of Tahiti’s international airport with a jackboot nudging me in my ribs – again.

Monsieur, Monsieur, allons-y, allons-y!

The only one thing left to do then, after discovering after the fact that life is no picnic, was to not miss our last plane out of this overpricey paradise lost. . .

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