This is one of those stories that really needs a prelude… I grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, as many of you know from my Instagram name @YoungstownToPortugal. I attended Catholic grade school which was where I was first introduced to playing organized football. I was in 7th grade. I have the same love for football as my dad, and was pretty good at it, even though I was a bit smaller than my teammates. My father and I used to spend an hour or two every day throwing the ball around and running routes in the back yard. I got really good at throwing a fast, accurate, tight spiral. We practiced every day after school in preparation for our first season as a team. I played wide receiver and defensive back in 7th grade and had a great time with my introduction to organized athletics.
In my second year of football, I grew a few inches and my dad suggested to the coaches that they give me a try out at Quarterback. I was in 8th grade, and my teammate, Bernie Kosar, was in 7th. I won the job as QB and that was the only year that Bernie did not play Quarterback in his life! True story.
Why am I telling you this? My science teacher back then was a young, 20-something Mr. Orosz, who also was on the coaching staff at Byzantine Catholic Central School. It was a fun year for the green 7th and 8th grade football enthusiasts, even though I think we won only two or three games! The next year, when I moved on to middle school, Bernie won the QB position and 10 years later he was throwing bullets and bombs in the NFL. But that’s his story. This is mine!
Fast forward 44 years, I’m now retired and living in Portugal and enjoying traveling the world. Gary Orosz is now retired from teaching and coaching. He and his wife still live in Youngstown. He follows me on Instagram and enjoys traveling just as much as I do. The two of them had a trip planned to French Polynesia but she was unable to travel due to appointments. So, knowing my love of travelling, Gary DM’d me through IG and asked me if I’d like to join him on the trip since his wife could not go. It took me all of one minute to respond, YES! It was a 7 day cruise of the islands of Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora and a few others so I decided to build in a week before and a week after the trip to spend with friends and family in Ohio.
After getting to see my brother Tommy and nephews Tommy Jr and Matteo, in Columbus, I was ready for my 14-day trip to French Polynesia. I planned on spending five days in Tahiti, getting to know the island and potentially doing some surfing before meeting up with Gary for the cruise. I rented a car for those days and got a hotel right in the city center of Papeete. Every day I set out to explore the island and see and do something new. I’m a surfer and a surfing fan so on day one I set out to drive three hours south to Teahupoo Beach where I just missed a surfing competition with 50-foot waves two days earlier. The remnants of the storm were still there so I rented a board and a wetsuit and got to surf Teahupoo but only on the tiny 6 foot baby waves on the south side of the beach. At 58 years old, 6-foot waves don’t seem so tiny anymore!
I decided to drive the western side of the island and stop along the white-sand beaches to relax a little and to try to get some nice drone footage. The island, 33 miles (53 km) long, is fringed by coral reefs and lagoons. Natural vegetation includes coconut palms (see the video footage!), pandanus, hibiscus and tropical fruit trees.
I stopped at Vai’ava, which is the considered the best beach on Tahiti. It is better known as KP18, as the distance from Papeete is 18 km. In a contrast to most other beaches with depressive black sand, the sand at KP18 is quite light. In fact it’s rather a mixture of sand with small pebbles, but it is still a very pleasant place. This is where I took the drone footage of the kite surfer.
The food in the city of Papeete is just incredible. Fish reigns supreme on menus in the restaurants in this French Polynesian island, with mahi mahi, grouper and tuna undoubtedly the most popular. Another mouth-watering entrée, chevreffes are freshwater shrimp cooked with creamy coconut milk and vanilla. Do not miss Tahiti’s signature national dish, poisson cru which means “raw fish” in French. In Tahitian, it known as ia ota (ee-ah oh-tah). This delicious, melt-in-your–mouth dish consists of raw tuna marinated in lime juice and coconut milk, mixed with diced vegetables.
So, Gary arrived after my third day there, just two days before we were supposed to board the cruise ship. These two Youngstown boys hit it off from minute one and caught up on home town and travel stories alike. I decided to take Gary to the hot spots I had visited on the eastern side of the island and then hit the black beaches on the western side on our last day before the cruise. I showed him KP18 and then we went to the Arahoho Blow Hole. The right swell conditions produce a geyser-like fountain of water that looks very impressive coming up from what is known as the trou du souffleur (blowhole). There’s also an area to sit where you can be blasted by a burst of jet-engine like air that the ocean forces under the rock formation and releases right on the pathway. See the video for both the water burst and the air burst!
We boarded the cruise the next day. This was my first cruise, so I didn’t know what to expect. While most cruises have over 1000 people and are quite large, this one only had 102 passengers. I was told that I was “spoiled” for my first cruise experience, and I was!
The food was just incredible! There were so many options for each meal. There were regional flavors from all around the world. We feasted on curries from India, homemade pasta from Italy, seafood from Alaska and Mexican street tacos! Options were abundant and authentically delicious!
Our next day, we set sail for some snorkeling off the island of Moorea. We boarded smaller boats that took us to shore where we joined the snorkel boat and set out for some fun. See the pics and videos as the turquois water was simply astoundingly amazing! I got to take some great drone video, and snorkel with the sharks and sting rays. I must admit, I was more afraid of the sting rays than the sharks. Think Steve Irwin.
We had another great night on the ship where we all attended the captain’s welcome dinner. Food was fantastic once again. But, we awoke to a disappointing surprise the next morning…
We took a chance on this trip with Covid numbers rapidly on the rise. French Polynesia’s numbers had been steadily rising and finally exploded that same time frame we arrived. The captain summoned everyone to the main ballroom to announce that the islands were shutting down and all of FP had to shelter in place. We were devastated with this horrible news. However, they did tell us that we would receive a full refund of our purchase price and that we could stay on the ship for the remaining 6-7 days, all for free!
While I was sad that the trip was ending, I was happy that I arrived early and rented a car. I got to spend 5 days on Tahiti, Snorkeled in Moorea, and hung out on the ship for 3 more days eating and drinking for free. Gary stayed the entire time and did not fly back early, but we got to hang out in Ohio a week later when I returned to Youngstown to visit family and friends.
All in all, I’d say the month away from Portugal was worth every second but the fact that I could not wait to get back there tells me that indeed, Portugal is home! Ciao, Ciao!