Travel by freighter to the Marquesas Islands

There are some places that are just better seen by boat. If you don’t have your own sailboat or are averse to cruising on a mega-ship, you can still travel by boat around the Marquesas Islands on the Aranui 3 “Freighter to Paradise,” a real working freighter that welcomes a limited number of passengers aboard.

It sets sail from Tahiti every two weeks for a 14-day tour of the islands. There are daily stops at over a dozen remote islands, plus two full days at sea. The boat can hold up to 200 passengers and meets international safety standards. There are two bars and a swimming pool and the vessel offers standard, deluxe, and suite accommodations. All meals and wine are included in the cost of sailing.

Along with the 50 Polynesian crew and deckhands, guests onboard will visit some of the most untouched islands in the world on one of the last ships to carry both cargo and passengers. I’d say that beats a week on the Oasis of the Seas any day.

[via Urban Daddy]

Shake it like a Tahitian

In a language that’s mostly all vowels, a bit of interpretive dance helps communicate one’s deepest thoughts and feelings. Sad? Lower your eyes. Fierce? Scowl and posture. Happy? Shake it, baby. Travelers have been awestruck by Tahitian dancers ever since they first landed on these dancing shores. The bearded missionaries of long ago secretly loved it and today’s MTV backup singers wanna steal these moves but ain’t got no rhythm.

Every two-bit hotel in Tahiti puts on a decent dinner dance show for the tourists, but when the natives start dancing for the natives, things get hot fast. I caught this little show at an official awards ceremony on a hot white sand beach on Bora Bora. Sit back and enjoy, and just ask yourself, can you shake it like a Tahitian? I didn’t think so.

10 Tips for getting a tattoo in Tahiti

Tahiti is one of the world’s top tattoo destinations and for a good reason: the Tahitians kinda sorta invented the whole tattoo thing, even giving us the word which derives from the Tahitian tatau, “to strike”.

Once upon a time in Tahiti, tattoos were made by taking a comb with teeth of sharpened wood or bone, dipping the tips into natural black ink and tapping it into the epidermis: tap, tap, tap. Then along came the tattoo gun, followed by Spring Break, bad Chinese charcter tats, and tramp stamps.

But Tahiti ain’t Cancun–tattoos have a long history and mean something here, which is why enthusiasts travel all this way for the real thing. If you are among such travelers, here are ten common-sensical things to think about before getting drawn upon:

Don’t rush
Please, please, do not do the following: come to Tahiti, notice a few cool tribal designs and think to yourself, “You know, I gotta get me one of them before my plane leaves in two days!” A tattoo is forever and ever, amen. Take time to learn and make an informed decision. A lot of enthusiasts take a ‘”recce” trip to Tahiti just to plan out their second trip in which they actually get the tat.

Do your homework
Read all about the history of Tahitian tattoos, the meaning of each design, and the range of artists out there. There are plenty of online sites and picture-laden books that can give you a better understanding of the particulars while a preliminary visit can give you a much clearer understanding of what you’re getting into.Ask
If you see a Tahitian on the beach with really cool ink, ask them where they got it. The really good, traditional work is often done by a family friend, and you might just get an introduction. These are small islands so the more you observe and ask, the more chance you have of learning who the most talented artists are.

Show & Tell
Visit prospective artists and ask that they show you photos of their previous work. It seems obvious, but not everyone is as smart as you. If in doubt about any of the work you see, move on. Despite all the talented artists in Tahiti, there are still a few impostors out there.

Go to the market
Papeete’s market is a wild visual destination in and of itself. While wandering among the piles of mangoes and goggle-eyed fish, visit the tattoo artists who hang around on the upper levels on Sundays. They cater to a local, Tahitian clientele and tend to do magnificent work.

Custom build
If in doubt, get a custom-designed tattoo, made just for you. Most Tahitian tattoo shops will have books that are loaded with traditional designs, however most Tahitian artists are actual artists who can draw up a beautiful tat just the way you want it. That’s part of what makes the experience so cool.

Reject realism
If you travel to Tahiti to get a tattoo of turquoise dolphins doing somersaults across your back, well then, you’re a moron. Likewise, there are tattoo artists who will gladly take your money to attempt a scrawling of Bart Simpson skateboarding across your thigh, but none of them know who Bart Simpson is. When in Tahiti, stick to to Tahitian designs and stick to black.

Tap it
For the full-on Tahitian experience, skip the comforts of the tattoo gun and get your design tapped into you skin the traditional way–with a boar’s tusk comb. This takes longer and costs a lot more (one or two helpers need to hold your skin taught while the artists punctures you about four thousand times), but it’s as close as you’re gonna get to the experience of the early explorers who first visited. Moorea Tattoo still offers this method, as do a few other artists.

Start saving now
A decent, singular tattoo in Tahiti costs upwards of 30,000 Polynesian Francs (about US$450). Start multiplying that number if you want to cover more than a shoulder or calf. In that same vein, make sure you’re not getting overcharged because you’re a white man. Even on a good day, Tahiti is super expensive.

Grin and bear it
But does it hurt? Yes it does–and in Tahiti, that’s kind of the point.

Tahiti Graffiti

You don’t expect rampant urban culture in the sultry South Pacific, but it’s there. That’s because like it or not, Papeete is a relatively big city that’s home to about half the population of French Polynesia, or about 130,000 people. Also, the city will never run out of reinforced concrete walls and frustrated youth.

Tourists are funny about graffiti-we like it in places like Berlin or in Banksy’s latest coffee table book but tend to get uppity if it’s the backdrop to our tropical honeymoon. But judge not. Graffiti is a fairly honest art form-the subjects and sayings that get sprayed across the blank walls of any city says a lot about the place. In Papeete you’ll find a mix of adolescent tagging to bigger displays of initials and elaborate paintings with Polynesian motifs. Word on the street is that the Polynesian graffiti renaissance is on.

Some come one, come all! Pack up your stencils and spray cans, Tahiti’s open for coloring . . . except that it’s not. Anyone caught “vandalizing” anything bigger than a broken cinder block gets an automatic 4,000 Euro fine. Last year, 35 aspiring artists were charged en masse.

Better to enjoy the artwork of the risk-takers by day. A walk through the downtown backstreets of Papeete reveals the signs of many busy artists, as does the skate park and surrounding areas in the suburb of Faaa. But venture out into other islands and you’ll find good and bad art scribbled everywhere. Even the abandoned swimming pools of Moorea are fair game for les graffitistes.

To get connected with the Tahitian street art scene, visit the island’s Kreativ Concept Association, which is an innocent collective of “fresco and mural enthusiasts.” They also happen to sell spray paint, stencils, and T-shirts that read “Graffiti is not a crime.”

Tahitian truck treats: the finest fare in town

Long before “fusion” pulled its hit and run on the foodie fashion world, Tahiti was mixing foreign flavors into her own pot and getting goose bumps all over. Their verdict: Chinese plus French plus Polynesian equals a little bit weird and a whole lot of yummy.

Thankfully, this cross-cultural cuisine isn’t catering to the Condé Nast crowd since the very best Tahitian eats are served from the side of a truck. Come eventide in Papeete, “Les Roulottes” roll on down to the harbor and park themselves in several neat little rows on La Place Vaiete. Collapsible, stackable plastic tables and stools quickly turns every white, open-sided van into a late-night café that smells like grilled meat and melted sugar.

The mood is convivial, decadent, blithe. Hundreds and hundreds of people gather without anyone feeling crowded-packs of friends, families with young children, a few unassuming tourists-everyone chows down together in peace in the shadow of six-story private yachts. In a city with London prices, a full meal costs a lowly 1,500 Polynesian Francs-about $20 US.

Order what you will, but to be absolutely local, go with the giant plastic plates of steak frites. Parisian by birth, the Tahitian version comes as a cooked-to-order piece of beef the size of a laptop, heaped on top of pile of hot blonde fries. The giant glob of herbed garlic butter is an essential condiment, as is the bowl of spicy sweet hot barbecue sauce. Dig in after shouts of Tamaa Maitai (“Bon Appetit”) and then come back the following night to try the same with bona fide Roquefort sauce.For lighter fare, try the Polynesian poisson cru: raw pink tuna, chopped into cubes, marinated in coconut milk and lemon juice, then tossed with onion, carrot, peppers. Calling it Tahitian ceviche comes up short-this version is both light and meaty with sharp tangy flavors. The tuna sashimi is equally awesome-fresh, pink fish laid out like stained glass and served with a bowl of special sauce that could only be invented by Chinese people feeding Polynesians with a developed French palate. And… if you’ve still got room after all that, finish with one of the hundred-or-so variety of crepes (Nutella always guarantees the goods) or the local ice cream concoctions.

Tahitian truck cuisine is found across the vast spread of French Polynesia but probably varies a bit from island to island. My favorite find thus far was a Lo Mein sandwich-one half of a soft French baguette split down the middle and stuffed with chicken chow mein, cabbage, chopped noodles, and dribbled with soy sauce. That’s one small step for carb-loading and one giant leap for comfort food.

So, ignore all that CDC and State Department advice about not eating street food. This is France, so that veal turning on a spit out in the street is EU regulated and the raw fish is practically still swimming. Yes, Les Roulottes is all about feeding the masses out of trucks-but these masses are discerning…and French.