OK, name the one place on earth everyone automatically associates with paradise, thanks to Gauguin. Or at least they used to.
This is not a trick question. Especially since the answer is in the headline.
Back in the Ice Age (again), when I was traveling from D.C. to Melbourne, Australia, I decided to stop in Tahiti. Like Hawaii, it’s also a truck stop between the U.S. and Oz.
And I was curious about Club Med. My only brief encounters were in Martinique and the French Alps.
I spent a (literally) intoxicating afternoon at the Club Med in Chamonix, France. I took myself to this legendary resort city to learn how to ski. No Poconos for me. Suffice to say I quit while I was way ahead. Did an about-face at the ski lift and retreated to the lodge to perfect my hot chocolate-drinking skills. Definitely an Olympian in that department.
Though I was staying in a nice enough place (read: small, but quaint) I decided to check out Club Med to see how the other half lived. OK, I snuck in. The bar was dark and glitzy, like a fun house. The afternoon entertainment commenced: One Night in Bangkok blared from the loudspeaker. Which shows you just how long ago this was. Some got up to dance. I can’t remember if I joined in. That’s how one glass of wine can alter my memory.
This chintzy, fromage-y floor show should have been my first clue about how Club Med operates.
But I wasn’t paying attention. I had stumbled into a crowd of Australians and was captivated by one in particular. He was all height, beard, playful eyes and smile. And this dumb Yank discovered: Australians ski. And they’re big travelers. With his Raymond Weil watch and talk about how he flew to France via Malaysia, he was the most exotic creature I’d ever encountered in my young life thus far. It was like discovering a new airline.
My absurd desire to see him again led to writing assignments, an interview on Australian talk radio, and a decade-long affair with the place. Not with him; when I finally reached his front door I found out — surprise — he’d had a girlfriend all along.
Anyway, back to Tahiti. I figured I’d stay at a Club Med there to see what it was really like. Seemed like they were always parked on the choicest real estate. And figured if you have to choose one, might as well pick one there.
So took that detour on the way to Australia.
Landed on the main island and took one of those puddle jumpers hardly bigger than a MINI Cooper to Moorea, the island where this particular Club Med was situated.
Nice real estate indeed. The proverbial tropical paradise. Great food. Laid back. What could be bad?
Here’s what: Since there was nothing else around, I was stuck with everyone there 24/7. That included the nightly entertainment. This is not a good thing when the performers at night are also the scuba instructors by day. Quel downer. You’d think it would be a little more sophisticated at that price.
To make it worse, the entertainment included Hands Up, an 80’s song that Club Med made its own anthem. I have no visual mementos. But here’s a version from another Club Med in the Dominican Republic. Like McDonald’s, it was the same in every country. (And it’s apparently still part of the repertoire at some of the resorts.)
I had to get out of there, if only to see more of Tahiti and less of New Jersey. Rented a bicycle. Met an advertising guy from San Francisco who was also traveling solo. Went exploring.
Bought a pretty little black pearl ring.
Brought my new acquaintance to the club for a decent lunch. We stayed friends for a long time after that. He returned the favor by putting me up in the Bay Area whenever I needed a place to stay.
Leaving, went back to the main island, where the capital was as urban as anywhere else, just smaller. Had hours to kill before the flight to Australia. Dined at a passable pizzeria that could have been in Wildwood.
When I returned to work at a D.C. newsmagazine, an otherwise button-down colleague excitedly asked me if we sang Hands Up. And then, to my amazement, did a rendition on the spot. He knew every word. Tried to keep my jaw from dropping.
Footnote: Word is, that particular Club Med closed down some time ago. Shame, but obviously, Club Med wasn’t all of Tahiti, not by a long shot.