A single man’s journey in French Polynesia
By Steven Bereznai
I know of a roadside restaurant. It’s affordable. The food is good. But the place is simple. The floor is sand.
I read the instant message on my phone, sent through a popular gay dating app, as I lounge on the back deck of my bungalow. I’m staying at the InterContinental Resort on the French Polynesian island of Moorea, just a short ferry ride away from the island of Tahiti. Crystal blue waters lap against the shores, and a pair of resort neighbours drift by on paddleboards, pointing out colourful fish to each other.
I gaze at the guy’s profile, making good use of the hotel’s complimentary WiFi. He’s cute, about a mile away, and it would be nice to meet a local who knows the local hot spots.
Last night I enjoyed the resort’s Polynesian buffet, with its take on the Tahitian specialty “poisson cru” (raw tuna marinated in lime juice, mixed with diced veggies and coconut milk), Polynesian pork, sliced banana in coconut milk, and seafood-stuffed pineapple. It was delicious, and accompanied by a very authentic local dance troupe that included a fire show by athletic men and women in scanty costumes of bright green foliage.
Tonight I’m up for something more rustic. I type back, I’m in.
Our plan is set. But dinner is still hours away, leaving me plenty of time to enjoy the resort’s amenities. On-site is the Helen Spa, where I’m pampered with a soothing Polynesian massage of long flowing movements that mimic the undulations of the ocean, and I soak in the cooling waters of a traditional river bath. Refreshed and lightly scented with aromatic oils, I change into a T-shirt and casual shorts to wait (a little nervously) in the open-air front lobby for my dinner date to arrive. His name is Pascal. He pulls up in his SUV, and is thankfully as cute as his pictures.
He whisks me off into the night, and about five minutes later he parks on the side of the road, at the Coco D’isle restaurant, part of a cluster of roadside eateries—a cheaper alternative than dining at the hotel. (For those who don’t have access to a vehicle, it’s about a half-hour walk from the resort, and the concierge is more than happy to provide directions.)
As promised, the floor is sand and the chairs are plastic. It’s utterly charming in its simplicity and lack of pretension. We order raw fish, and Pascal gives me the lay of the French Polynesian land, clearing up some of my geopolitical ignorance.
I’d always thought of Tahiti as being its own country, but in fact it’s the largest of 118 islands in what’s known as French Polynesia, located eight hours by plane from LA (and about halfway to Australia). French Polynesia is a French Overseas Country, which means that although it has its own currency and government, French Polynesians carry French passports, can work in France without restriction (and vice versa), are protected by the French military, and receive assistance for infrastructure and social programs. “It’s a good deal for us,” Pascal says. “They give us money.”
As in France, gay marriage is legal here, and it’s a popular destination for gay honeymooners—but with a total population of less than 300,000, there’s not much of a gay scene. What there is can be found in Tahiti’s capital of Papetee, which Pascal calls home. Like myself, he’s on vacation in Moorea. “A lot of the bars have closed,” he says. “We rely on Grindr.”
Amidst the socio-geographical lesson, I work in some flirtation. Between his English and my French, I tell him about my adventure the previous day, booting around an extinct volcano with ATV Moorea Tours. I felt very butch driving my own vehicle, and it was an exhilarating way of climbing narrow paths to spectacular ocean views (guided hikes are also popular). After dinner, I kiss him in the front of his car like we’re a pair of teenagers, and I’m reminded of how nice it is to have a gently romantic gay connect, especially in a tropical paradise.
Finding peace in Bora Bora
In fact, I think about Pascal as I take flight the next day for neighbouring Bora Bora, and suddenly start worrying about spending the next five days alone. Given the small population—most of it in Tahiti and the rest spread out over an area the size of Europe (most of it water)—meeting Pascal was a fluke. Will I get lonely? Depressed? Get down on myself for not having a boyfriend to take part in this with me? Thankfully, like author Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love, I find my inner peace as my journey unfolds.
I want to squeal as I walk into my over-the-water bungalow at the Four Seasons Bora Bora. The living room, walk-through bathroom and bedroom all have sliding doors that open out onto the ocean. I will spend each night here soaking in the massive tub, my skin absorbing essential oils (provided) as I stare out to sea and enjoy the Pacific breeze.
Steven Bereznai is the author of Gay and Single…Forever? and the YA dystopian novel I Want Superpowers. He can be found online at stevenbereznai.com.