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The heat and museums of Tuscon

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 41 °C
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When leaving the Flagstaff KOA it was just a short drive up the road to pick up our brand new shower system at Buddy’s RV. Excellent! We’ll be looking forward to great outdoor showers from now on…
And even though we did not realize it at this stage: it was a really good idea to get the shower replaced before reaching Southern Arizona. The climate in Flagstaff had been very pleasant, actually even a bit too cool compared to the nights we had spent in Sedona. Flagstaff’s altitude is about at 7000 ft (2130m), so refreshing even during summer. As we headed south, we realized that we were going down significantly - after all Tucson is only at an altitude of 2600 ft (800m). As we left Flagstaff fairly late (had to stop for groceries and allowed Max one last training session in his favourite bike park), we did not make it all the way to Tuscon, but stopped in Pichaco State Park for the night. Already there we were amazed by the amounts of Saguaro cactus adorning the landscape.

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What a change in climate: while the night before Sam had still prepared a bottle with warm water to take into bed to warm his feet, this night I hardly slept at all because of the heat – it did not cool down further than 74 °F (or 23 °C) at night.
But the next day we got to see even many more of them in Saguaro National Park which was our first destination of the day. When Sam walked around to take some pictures of cacti in bloom, the spider webs in the lower bushes caught his attention. The ranger confirmed that what he had seen were in fact the nets of Tarantulas…

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Our main destination of the day was the Sonora Desert Museum. We enjoyed the museum, which in fact is a combination of a zoo, botanical garden and geology museum. While Max was more fascinated by the snakes and the caves, we also liked the nice exhibits which included a sizable piece of moon stone. Given the midday heat we did not get to see all of the animals, but the black bear was impressive, as were the bobcat and grey fox. Still, the clear highlight was the beaver and the otter which were enjoying a swim in the pool and regularly visited their den.

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While Max enjoyed the visit, Sam was pretty down soon after: he realized that his camera lens was letting him down – the autofocus did not work anymore and as it the whole lens got stuck, also the manual focus did not work. This is not good news, specifically when the large portion of our trip is still ahead of us…
And there’s another thing we realized: in Sedona our fridge had started to make funny noises to the degree that eventually we shut it off periodically. After a bit of troubleshooting and research in the various manuals of the RV, we deducted that the last 17 nights without electrical hook-up had probably depleted the batteries in the back of the RV and that the limited driving we had been doing lately had simply not been sufficient. So the theory was that after the two nights with electrical hook-ups in Flagstaff and Pichaco, we should be fine again. But the theory proved not to be right, as soon after we stopped for the night at a free campsite called Snyder Hill a bit west of Tucson the fridge stated to make funny noises again…

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So we changed our plan for the next day and went to have our equipment checked. After stopping at two camera repair shops, it was clear that we’d be talking a lens replacement and not a repair – as any kind of repair would have left us stuck in Tuscon probably for the next two weeks. Still, both stores did not really have what Sam wanted and were already considering to potentially order a new lens via the internet.
Before making a decision, we decided to check the van first. A nearby Jiffylube soon discovered that both batteries in the back of the van were simply dead. And as living without a fridge in the actual temperatures (at that stage it was probably 101 °F or 38 °C) is simply no option, the choice was pretty easy to get new batteries. At least all the other news was good: the brakes and bearings looked good, the motor oil did not need a change yet and there was no other obvious damage that would need to be taken care of.

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We paid less than expected and even got a coupon for a free car wash as a bonus. So we did that – why not and were soon the owners of a shiny camper van. Great!
Well great, if it wasn’t for the cover of the gas system that was suddenly missing – which we realized at the third camera store we went to. So the feeling of elation about the fixed and clean car subsided quicker than a snap second and I just felt horrified: we would never be able to get that part exactly in that color again except if we’d pay a lot of money to get it custom made… NOOOOOOO!

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It took a while for clear thinking to set in again. Once it did, I called the car wash and asked them to check if a piece like that was found. The lady checked and about two minutes later I was relieved to hear that they had it. Great – I just hoped it would be in acceptable condition and was glad to know that we’d not need to drive the 5 miles again hoping to find the part somewhere on the street – probably run over by other cars a dozen times.
In the meantime, Sam enquired about new camera lenses and eventually ended up buying a new Tamron 16 – 300mm lens. As Sam always wanted to have a 300mm lens, he was happy with that choice and given that online we did not get significantly better prices, he went with that. And we agreed that this will be it – no other birthday presents needed in a couple of days!
Max had been nice the whole time, playing mostly by himself. Still, the heat took his toll also on him and as all three of us were fairly exhausted, we decided to treat ourselves to the local KOA campground which features a pool. And that’s where we spent pretty much the rest of the evening: at first in the regular pool, then soaking in the hot pool. And life was good again – even though the day will hopefully remain to be the single most expensive of our whole trip!
Sam had already fallen in love with Tucson right from the start: after all with the large air force base there were constantly jets and helicopters passing over our heads and soon enough also Max learned to distinguish an A10 from an F16.

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So Sam had really been looking forward to visit the PIMA Air and Space Museum. At first we toured the museum itself - outside and some of the hangars. Sam was fascinated and commented the lack of similar aircraft museums in Europe.

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But after all he had been even more keen to tour the boneyards where the US military is storing 4000 planes and helicopters that have been taken out of service. Some of them are used for parts only, others are ready to be reactivated in a matter of days or weeks. The highlight of the tram tour of the outside facilities at the museum and the bus tour of the boneyards was probably the fact that the tours were held by former pilots who were able to tell by far more stories about the planes than what we would have guessed when just walking around on our own.

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We had come as one of the first people in the morning and left only shortly before the museum closed, so it was not a long decision making process to define that we’d go back to the KOA with the pool.
Before heading off to visit some more museums around Tucson, we first dipped again into the pool – after all it was supposed to get up to 109 °F (44 °C) today, so we figured that a bit of cooling off before starting could not hurt.
Our first stop was at San Xavier der Bac mission, an old building from the 18th century. The stop at the mission was relatively short, but ended with a culinary highlight: it was time to try Indian frybread: Sam and I tried the bean-tomato-cheese-lettuce version, while Max was delighted to get his frybread with cinnamon and honey. We were not alone for lunch: there was a whole group of little whistlers surrounding us.

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Strengthened by lunch we were ready for the next adventures. A bit south of the mission we stopped at the ASARCO Pima mine. After a quick photo session in their yard (in which Sam was quite disappointed not to see any of the local rattle-snakes) we went on the mine tour and were impressed by the sheer size of the excavations. But also the milling processes to extract the copper from the rocks were enormous.

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But more to come, as we still had one more agenda item on the list for today: Sam really wanted to see the Titan Missile Museum. We got to see a missile in its silo – without the nuclear warhead that would have featured these missiles still until 1982 when they were decommissioned. What a reminiscence of the cold war and it’s quite hard to believe how much effort and ingenuity was put into devising a system that was only designed to retailiate in case the enemy would have attacked first. Impressive, but at the same time quite scary as well.

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An hour’s drive later we arrived at Benson, our stop for the night. And the first activity was to jump into the pool. It seems that by now we have adjusted quite well to the temperatures. Sam was already feeling cold and went to get his jacket at 8:30 pm – when accuweather still said that the local Benson temperature was 95 °F (35 °C)… Let’s see it his projection of freezing tonight with his light blanket will come true!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:43 Archived in USA Tagged arizona museum air mine tucson space heat lens battery missile Comments (0)

Heading into Mexico

written by Birgit, sorry no pictures of that day... we had other worries on our mind!

sunny 35 °C
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

Our day started easy and relaxed. Sam and I were up already soon after 6am, such that the heat was still bearable. While Sam unpacked his sling trainer and did some exercise, I used the time to write up a bit more for the blog. Once Max was up and breakfast eaten, Sam and he left to go down to the lake while I was packing up.
And I realized that it would make sense to make sure we have all documents ready for getting easily into Mexico. And even though one should think that in a small van like ours it is straight forward to find everything, I managed to have trouble finding our car documents. Eventually Sam located them just next to the place where we store our important stuff like passports… Still, not finding them would have put quite a damper to our plans. Once we had the documents we headed off towards the border which was just 30 mins away from Patagonia Lake State Park.
You might recall that border and immigration situations tend to make me be rather tense and nervous. This was true also this time. And even though I always hope that everything will go just so smooth such that the nervousness would not have been justified at all, this time it was definitively justified…
At first things looked almost too easy: at the Nogales border no one on the US side even bothered (so let’s hope that no one will ever want to see any stamps in our passports for having left the US) and on the Mexican side we were only asked if we had anything to declare. Upon saying ‘no’ we were waved through and more or less forced our way into getting immigration cards. We were told to just park somewhere behind the border and to walk back into the immigrations building. A bit strange, but fine – why not! A friendly gentleman gave us the paperwork to fill, advised us where to pay the money and upon returning handed us our immigration cards with the stamped passports. Excellent.
So the three of us were now officially in Mexico with all required paperwork. That is us, but not our car. We were told that the customs entry point for temporarily importing cars would be about 20 km further down the road and that this is also where we’d get Mexican insurance. Hmmm, that did not sound too promising. I did not like the thought of not having insurance for these 20 km. As expected the border featured a couple of insurance places, but unfortunately only one which was selling Mexican insurance (all the others sold insurance for the US). And the quote I got there simply did not appeal too much: liability with a coverage of 20,000US$ should have cost 130US$ for a month. Upon my request that this was too little liability, I could have also bought one with 100,000US$ should have cost 200US$.
So I then did what I should have probably done already a while ago: I searched Mexican liability insurance on the web and as I wanted to avoid clicking through too many form sheets, I called a friendly lady on a toll free number. As promised on the web, she was able to give me a quote within a couple of minutes and hooray she offered me coverage of 500,000US$ for 121 US$ for a month… So without much further research, I purchased this insurance on the spot and had my insurance documents in my mailbox 5 mins later – thank you, internet!
So we were all set to head off into Mexico. Except that we did not have any local money yet. Unfortunately, this time it was my VISA which claimed to have not enough funds to give me money, so it was Sam using his newly unlocked Mastercard getting us cash.
We then worked our way south through the town of Nogales. And just from those first meters, it was clear that we were not in the US anymore. Traffic is just different. Wilder in comparison, faster and requiring a good bit of concentration. Sam managed well and felt reminded of his times in Romania.
We soon passed the city limits and were headed south on the highway. There was a stretch on the highway where 70km/h and 40 km/h signs were alternating like every 500m and Sam was a bit unclear on which one was the correct one. Not even a mile after having left Nogales, Sam had the flashing lights of a police car in the rear-view mirror and stopped next to the road.As you can imagine, Sam was shaking a bit – he had not expected to be caught out at all. So the policeman walks up to our car, Sam lowers the window. And it turns out that the policeman had seen Sam talk and had deducted that he was speaking on the phone. Not surprisingly as Sam was in fact speaking, but Max and I were both sitting in the back behind tinted windows… My Spanish was sufficient to clarify the situation and we were let go without any issues. Still, a bit of shock remained.
Still, the real issues were still to come: the next and last step we still had to accomplish was to import our car temporarily into Mexico. We knew that the original registration papers or the original title of the car were required to do so. And we had taken the conscious choice to take only the registration papers and just a copy of the title.
So we were quite positively minded when approaching the customs office. Our first stop was the copy place where copies of passport, immigration card and car registration were taken. We then proceeded with the copies to the banjercitio where everything was checked. And unfortunately the official behind the counter was not happy with the papers I presented him and refused to process them. When Sam asked what the chances were that we’d be able to go on, I was like 50-50. It’s always hard to judge on how these things will go. Officials might be very bureaucratic and insisting in having exactly what it takes and refusing everything else. Or there might be back doors and alternative ways of doing it that are not written down officially…. So we had to see what would be coming next: the official sent me to another counter to talk with the customs representative.
So once again I showed all the documents I have. He thoroughly checked the papers, went back to his colleague at the banjercitio and eventually returned asking for insurance papers. Luckily enough I was able to present the insurance documents – after all I had just gotten Mexican insurance for the car. But I did not have a copy at hand and consequently the customs official was not able to get a copy for himself.
So following the recommendation of the official, we went into the tiny store next door and asked if it was possible to print the insurance papers there. It was. I sent an email from my phone to the store keeper, then after some back and forth which involved him leaving the store twice for a couple of minutes he suddenly came back with a print out.
Before handing the precious print out (yes, it did come for quite a fee!) to the customs official we made sure that we got another two copies of it at the copy place. Then the customs official checked the insurance papers and attached it together with the other paperwork we had at hand to stamp it and write a note onto it saying that the copy of the title and insurance papers were accepted to compensate for the faulty registration papers… After thanking him for what feels a dozen times, we were able to go back to the banjercitio.
After this critical step was successfully achieved, the rest was easy: I had to stand in line a bit, then the stamped pile of documents was again thoroughly checked, I then had to fill additional paperwork about the contents of the camper van. As usual the window for the officials were at a very inconvenient height. To properly see and speak to the agent behind the window, I had to bend down to what is approximately breast height for me… But eventually I was happy to receive in return for paying the respective fee the sticker for the car and all relevant documents.
We did it! Even though a bit more complicated than anticipated, we were now all set to continue our journey as planned. At that stage it was already 3pm in the afternoon – it had taken almost four hours to get all of this done since we had approached the border in Nogales. So time to eat.
And then time to continue towards Hermosillo. Unfortunately, even though Hermosillo is a town with a population of over 800,000, there is no campground of RV park there. So we had to continue onwards towards San Carlos / Guaymas. The sun was going down already when we passed through Hermasillo and it was another 150 km to Guaymas. We knew that it was not recommended to drive in Mexico at night, but did not really know what else to do. So we just continued along the carretera towards the south.
Once we were out of Hermasillo the potholes subsided again, but it still felt a bit intimidating to go on a Mexican highway after having gotten used to the highways in the US. Having to rather narrow lanes and rather steep declines towards both sides without any additional asphalt on either side felt strange again. And considering that nobody seemed to stick to the posted speed limits, but surpassed them significantly did not help either. Just to illustrate: in a construction area where the onwards traffic was using the left lane and we were limited to the right line, a speed limit of 60 km/h was posted. I drove already about 95 km/h and was still overtaken by trucks and busses on stretches with almost no visibility and they were soon out of sight – I guess they were driving far beyond 120 km/h. So driving required a lot of concentration and we were happy to eventually arrive at 9pm in total darkness at the Totonaka RV park in San Carlos.
The security guard let us in and we could not resist to walk to the beach right across the street once we had parked our camper van. Everybody was exhausted and tired. And we were sweating! It was cool in comparison to Southern Arizona, roughly 86 °F (30 °C), but we were not used to temperatures including high humidity anymore!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 12:46 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico border insurance heat customs carretera humidity guaymas nogales Comments (0)

Mountains and deserts at incredible temperatures

Written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 48 °C
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

Once we had left Yosemite, it was fascinating to see how quickly the landscape changed.

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The road dropped quickly towards Lee Vinings at Mono Lake. It was tempting to stay at one of the National Forest campgrounds next to lakes with great vistas along the road – but they were all full and anyhow after three days without electrical hookup, we wanted to fill up our batteries. Consequently, we went down into Lee Vinings and arrived before 5pm such that our reserved campground was still available for us.
We did take a bit of time to explore Mono Lake and to read about how it rapidly decreased in size after the city of LA started diverting water from the streams.

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The next morning, we left towards south and passing signs towards ‘Devils Postpile National Monument’ we decided that we wanted to have a look. We had not realized that we were not able to go all the way there, but had to use a shuttle bus. But as we had already gone up quite a bit into the mountains of Mammoth Lakes, we figured that we might as well do that.

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And it was quite a sight to see the basalt columns of Devil’s Postpile. It seems that there are only very few places in the world where this geological phenomenon can be observed so nicely.

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After the sightseeing, we treated ourselves to Bavarian food. Kind of: Sam’s Yodler Burger was not too different vs. any other burger he had so far and I would have classified my Bavarian Chilli as just a regular chilli. After all, at least I am not aware of any typical food that is anything like a chilli in Bavaria.
Heading down towards Bishop and Big Pine we suddenly saw a sign advertising hot springs. We did not want to spend the money to stay at the RV park there, but realized that a bit further down there were a couple of other cars parked and there were people in swimsuits. So we tried our luck and enjoyed soaking in the hot water before heading on to our place for the night.

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The next day it was then time to get into Death Valley. On the way there we passed some nice mountains and also the National Historical Site of Manzanar. We did not stop there though and rather headed on to our hot destination.

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And yes, it was extremely hot. Neither one of us has ever been in such a heat before – well apart from in a sauna. The thermometer at Furnace Creek read 119 °F (48.3 °C) at 218ft below sea level.

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So Death Valley really counts as desert. We do love deserts, but fairly enough, Death Valley in the height of summer was after all just too hot for us. Due to the temperatures not even jumping dunes was an option. It seems that the only thing searching out such hot temperatures were fighter jet pilots (we saw an F18 passing just a bit in front of our car and it was really low!), test car drivers (Erlkönige) and tourists from far away. We clearly belonged to the last category and limited ourselves to viewing the sites from the car and just getting out for very quick stops such as the lowest point of the USA called Badwater or Artist's Palette and eventually retreating to our campground.

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We were easily able to resist the urge to play golf on the world’s lowest golf course. But the pool was very tempting and it was such a big relief to get out of the heat into the pool. Still, it was fascinating to see how the biggest pool we’ve seen so far on our travels was located in the middle of one of the hottest deserts of the world.

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At the pool we also met Jerry and got to talk a bit. Jerry is from Florida and came to Death Valley to support his friend Jodie to run the ‘Badwater135’ ultra marathon. We had seen a couple of cars with signs ‘Careful – runners on the road’, but had not realized what this was about. So for those who don’t know (i.e. just like us): the Badwater135 is a race over 135 miles (or 217 km) from the lowest to the trail head to the highest point Mt Whitney in the continuous 48 US states. It takes place on purpose in the extreme summer heat and all runners are supported by a crew of three people who join them running for the most parts of their run. So while Jerry was ‘just’ a crew member, he would be running 40 miles in the next day. And he told us that just a couple of weeks ago he had been running a 100 mile ultra marathon in Florida…

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We were thunderstruck. This was just way too crazy. And even though the Badwater135 site clearly says that the run is not intended to be viewed by spectators and that the recommended options to see it are competing, serving as crew or following on social media, we did watch the race. At 1pm we went out to the road and observed how the runners were passing after their first 17 miles by the checkpoint at the place we stayed overnight. Wow!

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We did sleep a bit overnight. But quite frankly, we did not sleep really well. It was just way too hot despite having the aircon running in the camper van. So we were happy to go to the pool again first thing in the morning before eventually leaving Death Valley via Zabriskie Point towards Las Vegas.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 14:29 Archived in USA Tagged desert springs death valley pool hot point marathon basin heat deepest mono temperatures Comments (1)

Maeva / Bienvenue / Welcome French Polynesia

In Tahiti

semi-overcast 29 °C
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On long distance flights, for us most airlines are pretty much the same: there’s individual in-flight entertainment, mediocre food and some kind of cheap toy article handed out for kids. But this time, there was a first: never before did we get a flower handed out in a plane. In this case it was even a Tahitian Tiaré which was extremely fragrant with a very pleasant smell.

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Upon our arrival, we were pleased once more about a distinctive difference vs. other airports: at the entrance to the main terminal, there was a couple playing music and dancing for us. I found it funny to see that they were wearing official airport employee badges on their traditional costumes.
Passport control was not more than just a quick glance – after all we were just official entering France, i.e. an EU country. The airport is small by comparison and consequently our bags arrived in no time.
As it was just a bit after 5am in the morning local time, we decided to have a break at the airport snack bar. Max was excited to get his favourite drink, real ‘Apfelschorle’ imported from Germany and we tried to wake up by drinking some tea.
A bit after 7am it seemed late enough to take a taxi to our home for the next two nights, the Inaiti Lodge. Marceline, the owner greeted us warmly and invited us to have some tea and hot chocolate. She explained all we needed to know about our surroundings and shared the great news with us that our room was already available for us and we did not have to wait until the official check in time of 2pm.
We were excited to hear that: all of us were a bit exhausted from the long overnight flight. And after a while even Max went to sleep. By noon we had rested enough to start exploring and to have something to eat. An outside nearby snack bar was easily found and we had great fresh food underneath a tree in full bloom.

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For shopping we headed to the local Carrefour market which reminded us a lot of the Carrefour we used to shop at when we still lived in Romania.
A bit later in the day we took a walk to the Tahiti Yacht Club. There we had a nice view of the sailboats, the sea and the sunset behind the neighbouring island of Moorea. We even spotted a typical outrigger canoe training in the evening sun.

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In the evening we stayed up until after 8pm and rested well until the next morning. And with that we were practically adjusted to the new time zone – five hours behind the Chicago time we were used to.
It did take us a bit longer to get adjusted to the heat though. At 30 °C / 86 °F it was actually not too unpleasant, but we were simply not used to such temperatures anymore.
There were also lots of other things we were not used to anymore after our long stay in North America: typical French baguette for breakfast, seemingly crazy car drivers (of which more than 50% seem to be driving Renault / Dacia, Peugeot or Citroen) and people speaking exclusively French. In fact, many of them probably know how to speak other languages as well, but they usually chose not to do so. So it was time for me to resurface my French skills, while Sam and Max were pretty much at my mercy to get translations.
We ventured into Papeete by taking the local bus into town. Our first destination was the central market, where we had excellent food and had fun people watching.

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From there we headed from the pier with its cruise ships, sailboats and colorful fish to the parks along the sea promenade where we easily found a playground for Max to get rid of some of his excess energy.

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Back in the center of town we had a peak into the cathedral and walked by the town hall, but actually preferred to watch the artists decorating large surfaces all over the town as part of the annual street art festival.

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That evening we were knackered and happy to just sit in our little hut outside, have some baguette with camembert cheese and local Hinano beer. If I wouldn’t have read the label, I could have easily believed it to be Bavarian beer, a typical ‘Helles’ – a nice surprise.
At night, it was raining heavily and we were able to experience a short and intense tropical rain shower also that morning. Once again, we were extremely lucky, as Marceline was able to let us stay in our room until she took us to the airport around noon. Check in was very quick and we took the advice to stay outside the gate area until 10 min before boarding would start. What seems like an impossible idea in most large airports, was easily done: there was no one waiting in front of us at the security check.
And our joker Max did an excellent job again: having a child below 12 years of age, we were allowed to board the tiny ATR 42 turboprop plane first – a big plus considering that there were no seats assigned and we wanted to make sure that we’ll get good seats for taking pictures.
And the views from the plane were beautiful indeed. We got to see all major islands of the Society Islands. We started right next to the sea in Tahiti and soon got to see Moorea and later Huahine below us.

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After just 35 min of flight, our plane made a planned stop in Raiatea, where we got treated to an excellent close up view of Raiatea and neighboring Tahaa. Many people left the plane and a couple of new passengers joined. Still, of the 48 seats in the plane 13 had to stay empty, as the short runway in Maupiti only allows for a limited payload.

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Along the way to our left, Bora Bora was lying peacefully below us giving us already an impressive first glimpse into where we’ll be in a couple of days’ time.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 15:16 Archived in French Polynesia Tagged sea beer sunset flight island outrigger baguette heat eu Comments (0)

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