Riding in Cars with Strangers: Our Welcome to the Pacific Islands

To give you an idea of the gorgeously kind nature of the locals we met in the Pacific Islands, we’d like to share two stories of our warm welcomes to the Cook Islands and French Polynesia. Btw: Pete and I co-wrote this post 🙂

Rarotonga, the Cook Islands

A few weeks before we arrived to the Cook Islands, I learned we could save ~$30 by taking the public bus from the airport to our hotel in Muri Beach. After we got our luggage, I dragged Pete outside in search of this bus. Seeing no signs of a bus anywhere in the vicinity, I started asking around, but mostly got blank and confused stares in response. A few people gave us general directions like “across the main street” or “over there on the left,” but after following these directions, we came up empty every time.
Finally, while waiting on the corner of the airport entrance with our backpacks, a woman in a pick-up truck stopped to ask us where we were headed. When I explained our destination (Muri beach), she told us she was heading that way and offered us a ride!  We graciously accepted and spent the next 25 minutes in the back of her truck with her 7-year-old daughter, smiling the whole way.
Possibly the cutest picture I’ve ever taken
Up until this point, we weren’t feeling too excited about staying up for NYE round two, but this lovely family made us remember why we love the island life.
Side note: turns out the reason we got blank stares was because there aren’t really any “bus stops” on Rarotonga. To catch the bus, you just go out to the street and wave it down. For more information on that, check out this post.

Tahiti, French Polynesia

After Rarotonga, we stayed one night in Papeete, Tahiti before taking a ferry to Mo’orea. We decided to book the night on Airbnb. We were a bit nervous about what would happen once we got to Tahiti, since we had no service in the Cook Islands and didn’t think we’d get service in Tahiti either. Turns out our suspicions were confirmed – we got absolutely no service when we landed in Tahiti, so we couldn’t contact our Airbnb host.

Our host had given us directions of what to tell the taxi: “The property is where the Chinese restaurant ‘Le Vaima’ was located. We are right after Mr. Robert Wan’s village. The property is closed by a green ‘shade house’ barrier…” Needless to say, we were not super confident giving these directions to our cab driver, but it was the best we could do.

The Taxi Ride

After collecting our luggage, we gave the taxi driver these directions. We weren’t sure if he understood, since he seemed to speak only French (and we only speak English), but he promised us he knew where to take us. He drove us for about 5 minutes and pulled into a strip mall. We exchanged nervous glances – it didn’t feel right, and the drive was too quick. Pete asked the driver once again if this is where “Le Vaima” used to be. He said yes and made a gesture to head up the stairs of the strip mall next to where he dropped us off.

The Kind Strangers

Once up the stairs, we wandered around the dark and abandoned strip mall like chickens with their heads chopped off. We had no idea where we were going. Out of nowhere, a mother and son approached us and asked us if we needed help. When we showed them the directions, they also did not really understand so they walked us to the closest hotel to see if the staff there could point us in the right direction.

Luckily we had the phone number of the Airbnb host, so we gave it to the hotel staff. Supposedly they called the number and talked to our host, but we were not sure if they actually talked (more on that later). They gave the mother and son directions (or so we thought) and we were off again! …Except we ended up right back where we met the mother and son in the strip mall.

Tahitian Hospitality

Once again, we were at a dead end. Luckily, we ran into a security guard in the mall. Our new friends asked him if he knew where we should go. After about 10 minutes, it seemed they figured out where we needed to go. They told us it was about a 25 minute walk, but they would be more than happy to drive us (and explained they wanted to show us the meaning of Tahitian hospitality). We happily accepted the ride and hoped that our journey would soon be over.

Here are some cats we met in Tahiti to get you through this story

When we pulled up in the dark, it was still very unclear which place was the one we wanted. The son tried to call the Airbnb number again, but he got a message that the number was disconnected. This made us feel like the hotel earlier had never been able to call either.

At this point, I had almost given up. I thought we would need to go to a nearby hotel and book a room for the night. But first, it was time for our last ditch, desperate attempt to locate the Airbnb. All four of us started yelling “Hello” as loud as we could over the fences of a few properties. We almost gave up when we finally heard a response! At last we had found the ever-evading Airbnb.

We profusely thanked the mother and son for helping us for so long. They kept saying they were more than happy and were so pleased that they were able to show us some true Tahitian hospital. This incredible kindness was a theme we saw the rest of our stay in French Polynesia.

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