COPING WITH CORONA….SCAVENGER HUNT AND BLACK SAND

Wanderlust? Stuck inside? Same here. I turn to memories of travels in times past to keep myself sane.

While visiting French Polynesia, I flew to Tahiti for a day, longing to find a beach with black sand. I flew into Fa’a’ā International Airport in Tahiti, armed with a little bit of the French language under my belt and a lot of adventure in my soul.


Even the plane to Tahiti is colorful

As soon as I got off the plane, I knew I needed to rent a car to go on my scavenger hunt (if only in my mind) to find a black sand beach. I stopped at one car company and was aghast at the rate they would charge me for less than a full day rental. The attendant was surprised that I could speak French, as I am sure he wanted to take advantage of this five foot American woman traveling alone, so I said thanks and moved on to the next car rental agency. At the next car rental agency, it was the same story with a slightly better rate, so again I moved on. They say “three is a charm” so I settled on a car rental from the third agency, whose rate was still high but a bit more realistic. The rate for less than twenty-four hours was equivalent to what we might pay for a three day rate here in the States.

A business in Tahiti

With a rudimentary map I picked up at a tourist kiosk at the airport, which listed only the highlights of the island, I set off for my adventure. I decided to pull over at a local business (Intersport) to seek clarification of the map. I walked into the shop and was greeted with a smile by a kind man. In French, I told him I was looking to find a beach with black sand, as I wanted to take some home to my daughter, and showed him my crude map of the island. Again, he laughed and gave me instructions (in French) to the black sand beach. As best as I remember, his instructions were something like go to the third red light, take a left, then take a right, etc….I thanked him and then set off on my adventure. I was delighted that one can travel half way around the world to still find a kindred spirit and kindness. The man laughed with me, not at me, and called me a “Cowboy”. Evidently he understood the wanderlust deep in this American soul. The language may be different than that which we are accustomed, but there is so much similarity between people from all parts of the world. Kindness, humor, gratitude, confusion, amusement, and respect are all part of the universal language we share with people all over the world.

It had been a while, several decades maybe, since I drove a “stick shift”, or car with a manual transmission. The road was very steep in some parts, but I was committed to finding that black sand. I was also VERY committed to finding an adventure.

Black sand beach in the north of Tahiti

I had been to a black sand beach in Hawaii before, but it had been many years. There is something other-wordly about seeing black sand radiating beneath my feet. I knew from my college days of Geology 101 that Tahiti was formed by two volcanoes, so the black sand is actually pieces volcanic rock. Continuous weathering of the rock replenishes the sand through the years as well.


Basalt volcanic rocks

After getting my sand in my little bottle I purchased at some little gift shop along the way, there was a smile in my soul when I finished my scavenger hunt and was ready to enjoy all else the island offered.

I stopped in the Marché de Pape’ete (Pape’ete Market) which is famous for its sights, sounds, and smells of authentic Polynesian life.

Marché de Pape’ete in the capital
Fish for sale at the market
Sign at the Tahiti Market that reads, ” Before Dying I Would Like….”

I encountered a blackboard at the market with a sort of “bucket list” written by visitors, which made my heart smile. Others everywhere had “bucket lists” and were checking off items one by one I’m sure.

One visitor wanted to travel the world. Another wanted to live in Tahiti with a spouse. Another wanted to find his love. Another wanted to return to Polynesia. Yet another wanted to build a big house for her children. I didn’t write on the board; I kept my “bucket list” in my soul.

After my journey, I was able to get back to the resort to relax a bit to sit in a comfortable egg chair with a good book in my hand and the scent of frangipani wafting through the air.


A Tahitian sunset



“I’ve seen a black sand beach
stranger than any foreign world
where King Poseidon draped in seaweed
once walked upon the Earth–”

-“Black Sand Beach” by Bret Norwood

Life is good. See the sights. Smell the scents. Taste the flavors. Carpe diem friends………….

“I’ve seen a black sand beach
stranger than any foreign world
where King Poseidon draped in seaweed
once walked upon the Earth–”

-“Black Sand Beach” by Bret Norwood

COPING WITH CORONA….VANILLA AND TEMPORARY TATOOS IN TAHAA (Armchair travel to French Polynesia)

Temporary Tatoos in Tahaa? Time for armchair travel to a warm, sunny place….. French Polynesia. Armchair travel in my mind keeps me sane amidst the Corona pandemic.

While visiting French Polynesia, a country comprised of more than one hundred islands located in the South Pacific, I took a tour of one of the islands there, Tahaa. Tahaa is ninety square kilometers (about thirty five square miles) and simply breathtaking. While driving along this island, located on the leeward (western) side of French Polynesia, our guide pulled over to the side of the road to pick a wild fern.

The fern has silvery white powdery spores on its backside.

When you place the backside of the fern against your skin and press for a few seconds, the spores leave an imprint on your skin which resembles a white tattoo. This spore powder doesn’t easily rub off and remained on the my skin for the duration of the day, coming off only when I washed it with soap and water later at my resort.

The thought of a tattoo on my arm did not especially appeal to me, but the thought of a “temporary tattoo” imprint from the spores of this natural plant intrigued me.

For the next stop on our tour, we visited a vanilla plantation. Tahaa is known as “l’île de la vanille” in French, ( “Vanilla Island”), as this island produces about eighty percent of Tahitian vanilla.

Vanilla growing in Tahaa

The vanilla plant is part of the orchid family, and the wet climate and altitude of this part of the world is great for growing this vanilla. La Vallée De La Vanille, an organic vanilla plantation, was an amazing place to visit.


vanilla normally produces flowers in a short season (May and September mostly)



During my visit, I learned that vanilla beans are harvested after each flower is hand pollinated, after about six to nine months. While it is possible to hand grow Vanilla planifolia  (vanilla) in other parts of the world, Tahitian vanilla is actually a hybrid of two species (vanilla planifolia and vanilla pompona), which were bred together to create Vanilla tahitensis or Tahitian vanilla. The bees that normally pollinate vanilla were not brought to French Polynesia by the Europeans from Central America, are not on the island, and are nearly extinct. The plants, which contain both male and female parts, are hand pollinated accordingly. The plant is propagated mainly from stem cuttings instead of seeds because they require a certain type of fungus to even germinate.

unripe vanilla pods on the vanilla plant and a “temporary tattoo” on the tour guide
Dried vanilla pods after several months

Vanilla pods are harvested when they are mature, as harvesting them too early before they turn the right color yields a vanilla bean that is not as aromatic or flavorful. Post-harvest, the beans are washed and dried in a series of steps for approximately nine months before going to market.

Marché de Papeete in Tahiti where many things, including Tahitian vanilla, are sold

Tahitian vanilla tastes very different than the usual vanilla we eat here in the Americas, which is usually a Bourbon vanilla or Madagascar vanilla. While Madagascar vanilla taste can be described as “rich and creamy”, Tahitian vanilla can be best described as sweet and floral with a hit of cherry somehow. Many people simply LOVE the flavor of Tahitian vanilla (especially my friend in Belgium), but I find it tastes almost like eating soap some how.

So when the travel bans are lifted, think about visiting French Polynesia. Try something different. Enjoy the local color wherever you end up and keep dreaming. Carpe diem, friends……….