Part 13: AND IN THE END THE AROHA YOU TAKE IS EQUAL TO THE AROHA YOU MAKE
The Last Resort: Hilton Hotel Tahiti
Standing on the balcony of the last “port-of-call” on my sensational voyage from Alcatraz to Pitcairn and the isles in between and beyond, from the sumptuous Hilton Hotel Tahiti I can see Moorea beckoning across the waves. The four-star Hilton Hotel Tahiti has around 200 quiet, well-appointed suites and rooms in a five-story complex that stretches across expansive grounds. My final resting place on this South Seas sojourn is wood paneled with a flatscreen TV that airs multiple channels, including English-language outlets like CNN – if you care to find out what’s happening in the world beyond Tahiti’s reef.
A seemingly Olympic-sized pool, ringed by cabanas and lounge chairs, is beside the sea and adorned by an inset islet with palms and the Vaipuna Bar, featuring submerged perches for languorous swimmers ensconce themselves on to order those tropical cocktails with dainty bamboo umbrellas, such as maitais (which, BTW, is the Tahitian term for “good!”). Beside the pool, outdoors and indoors, is Taitea Brasserie, which serves a hearty hamburger as well as steak and fish. The cleverly named San Sushi Bar has an Asian menu while La Strada bistro serves Italian cuisine. On my last morning in French Polynesia, I partook of the cornucopia of the over-the-water Moevai Restaurant’s buffet, which is quite simply the most filling, best breakfast I’ve plundered since breakfasting at Switzerland’s Badrutt’s Palace in St. Moritz. “Manuia!” (“Good heath!”)
Hilton Hotel Tahiti’s service, too, is exceptional, very attentive and helpful, with that much-vaunted Polynesian “aroha spirit.” (“Aroha” – or “aloha” in Hawaiian – means “love.”) In addition, the Hilton is very conveniently located – while the front boasts the Pacific Ocean with Moorea on the horizon, on the streetside the resort is connected via a bridge to what I assume is the territory’s largest shopping mall, including a substantial Carrefour department store. The Hilton is also within walking distance of what’s probably the nicest part of Papeete, Paofai Gardens, a park that stretches along the capital city’s waterfront. In the other direction, Hilton Hotel Tahiti is only minutes from Fa’a’? International Airport, where, alas, I’ll catch my United Airlines Flight back to the USA tomorrow.
This resort is an excellent launching pad for exploring Tahiti or overnighting in between cruises or outer island flights, or for a romantic getaway. If James Hilton authored 1933’s paradisiacal novel Lost Horizon, Hilton Hotel Tahiti offers a slice of South Seas Shangri-La.
The Tattooed Laugh
At the start of this adventure and travel series, “The Ultimate Island Odyssey: From Alcatraz to Pitcairn,” I posed the philosophical question: Were islands prisons, like the Alcatraz federal penitentiary, or refuges, like Pitcairn Island? For me, islands have always symbolized an escape to freedom. Some members of my generation crusaded to change the world, but when that dream failed to come true, it was as if Fletcher Christian and the mutineers had failed to seize the ship, and Captain Bligh continued to rule over the Bounty with an iron fist.
When I first came to Tahiti in the 1970s, I found a welcoming, hospitable, generous, loving, joyful people who seemed to be perpetually laughing. The easy-go-lucky Polynesians proved to me that human happiness was indeed possible on Earth, and they lifted a veil from my heart, for which I remain eternally grateful. Since I went to Tahiti when I was 21, I’ve never suffered from a spell of depression. I encountered lots of friendship and aroha. I’m endlessly slapping myself on the back for having had the foresight and wisdom in my youth to have gone to the Pacific Islands, where I’ve lived for about a third of my life. America is such a wonderful place to leave…
I realize that Polynesians, like the rest of us, have problems too, and that life under colonialism is no bowl of mangoes. But contemporary Polynesians now adorn themselves with traditional tattoos much more than they did back in the 1970s, a visual affirmation of their ancient culture and identity. And despite the increasing encroachments of the bureaucratic state and imported symptoms of civilization and its discontents – big and small, from radiation sickness to hyperinflation to a mustard shortage due to the war in Ukraine – Polynesians still possess a beguiling joie de vivre, and smiles are rarely far from their lips for long.
Last October, when I set out on my 15th trip to Tahiti, I’d feared that my voyage to Pitcairn would be my “last hurrah,” my final South Seas journey, that roaming the South Pacific was a young man’s game. But after this Oceanic adventure I feel revitalized, and hope to embark on Aranui’s upcoming expedition to the only one left of French Polynesia’s five archipelagoes I still haven’t been to yet. Hopefully, on September 9, 2023 – the exact anniversary of my premier trip to Tahiti, lo those many moons ago! – I’ll be boarding Aranui 5 for its cruise to the Austral Islands (see: https://www.aranui.com/en/austral-islands/) and once again, I’ll be ready to “Paddle up, and move ’em out, Polynesians!”
When you go:
Enjoy Moorea: enjoymoorea.com/en (689)87 38 45 65
Tahiti Food Tours: tahitifoodtour.com firstname.lastname@example.org Tel/WhatsAPP: (689)87 77 66 23.
Tiurai Tours: Vanessa Alvarez Tel/WhatsApps: (+689)89513222 Vanessa@tiuraitours.com
Mana Tang Tel/WhatsApps: (+689)89527377 email@example.com.
Hilton Hotel Tahiti: (689) 40 86 48 48; 1-800-HILTONS
Hilton San Francisco Union Square: (415)771-1400 1-800-HILTONS.
Beacon Grand, A Union Square Hotel: www.beacongrand.com (866)377-9412.
Written by: Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell has traveled widely, to more than 100 Pacific Islands, Asia, Europe, Mexico and Africa. His travel writing and photography has appeared in: Islands, Action Asia, Travel Age West, Skin Inc, Porthole, Far East Traveler, Asian Diver, L.A. Times, Toronto Globe & Mail, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, Pacific Business News, E — The Environmental Magazine, L.A. Reader, etc. Rampell is a staff writer for the Los Angeles Journal. Rampell was interviewed in Tahiti for the CBS newsmagazine 48 Hours, and National Public Radio’s Savvy Traveler interviewed Rampell about the Marquesas Islands. Rampell acted as a consultant for, and appears as the most used on-camera interviewee, in the 2005 Australian-European co-production Hula Girls, which has been seen by millions of viewers on Dutch, German, French, Swiss, Australian, etc., television on the Avro and Arte networks. Rampell’s Polynesian daughter Marina is a singer in Australia.