1 TATTOO VOUS?
Aroma Salmon's bright, airy tattoo studio is located (just as it would be in a tropical-adventure novel) above a dark, smoky bar and grill overlooking Papeete's lively waterfront. Browsers are welcome to page through books of "flash" (tattoo designs), which range from animistic motifs and Polynesian geometrics to the macabre horrors (think eyeballs en brochette) favored by French Légionnaires. The stunningly decorative proprietor, Aroma Salmon, is a master of all facets of tatouage - outlawed in Tahiti from 1700 until 1890, but now very popular.
2 REMEMBERING THE ARTISTE
Musée Gauguin, around the coast in the lush Papeari district, is a stirring memorial to France's most famous expat artist, the Parisian-born stockbroker-turned-tropical-voluptuary Paul Gauguin. Next year marks the 100th anniversary of his death, making it a particular treat to visit this fascinating shrine. While the artist's best paintings hang elsewhere, only here can you see such things as the poignant record of the posthumous auction at which someone paid a single franc for two boxes of the painter's uncooked macaroni.
3 BODY WORK
Whether you pump iron daily or just want to work off some of the croissants you've consumed at Papeete's seductive sidewalk cafés, you're sure to enjoy a fitness break, Tahitian style. At midtown Bambridge Gym, the shower rooms have thatched roofs, and each new arrival begins by greeting everyone else with a hearty handshake and a "Bonjour, Monsieur" or "Bonjour, Mademoiselle." Day passes are available, and Bambridge's pink-and-turquoise-on-black T-shirts make splendid gifts for your gym-rat friends back home.
4 TO MARKET, TO MARKET
Everyone knows about Papeete's fabulous covered market, Le Marché, but for another kind of intriguing shopping experience, stop by one of Tahiti's Champion supermarkets. Where else could you learn that discriminating Tahitian cats gobble their Whiskas in such Gallic gourmet flavors as agneau (veal) and lapin (rabbit)? Residents rave about Champion's superfresh meat and fish, but visitors may be more attracted by the superb picnic fare, including aisles of wine, p¿té, and cheese, and baskets of those lovely golden-crusted baguettes.
5 THE TRUCK STOPS HERE
To get around the island, hop on Le Truck, the laid-back gaily-painted mainstay of Tahiti's public transit system. For an economical half-day adventure, get on any Le Truck bound for Tautira, a historic village southeast of Papeete; Robert Louis Stevenson spent two months writing Scottish horror stories there in 1888. Rolling past the dazzling coastline dotted with roadside stands offering hot chestnuts, cold coconuts, and fresh-picked flowers is a satisfying, simple pleasure of island life. (Ride Le Truck soon, because plans have been laid to replace them with buses.)
6 SHAKE IT UP
Admirers tend to describe Tahiti's premier traditional dance troupe, O Tahiti E, with sibilant superlatives: "spectacular," "sensational," "astonishing," "superb." When they aren't traveling the world or dancing for visiting luminaries, the frequent winners of the big annual Heiva Competition put on an authentic and gorgeously costumed show at Captain Bligh's Restaurant, a local hangout in Punaauia. If you fall in love with O Tahiti E, as many do, you can buy their videos at your hotel's gift shop, or order the music later on the Web at www.Tahiti-boutique.com
7 HIGH ADVENTURE
It was The Marriage of Loti, Pierre Loti's popular 1880 novel about his own Tahitian romance, that inspired Paul Gauguin's first trip to the South Seas. On a visit to the meandering Fautaua River, you can see a bust of the French author, then swim in the cool water and picnic on the green banks. Or save those pleasures until after the three-hour trek to the Fautaua Waterfall - at 985 feet it's among the 25 tallest cascades in the world. Bathing pools and sliding rocks await at the top of the falls, and the scenery is, to borrow Loti's pet phrase, stupendous.
8 SUNDAY BEST
Elaborate hat-weaving is a proud Tahitian art, and the best place to see haute island millinery on display is at Paofai Temple, a stately Protestant church in the center of Papeete. After the service, join other worshipers who head for the opulent Sunday buffet at the seaside Restaurant Musée Gauguin in Papeari. There, if you dare, try the infamous fafaru, an odoriferous fermented-fish dish that has to be kept in a lidded container, lest the noxious - er, precious - fumes escape. Or play it safe with smoked breadfruit, poisson cru (raw fish "cooked" in lime), and coconut pudding.
9 SOUL FOOD
Everyone loves Les Roulottes, the festive food trucks in Vaiete Square down by the wharf where the cruise ships tie up. Affordable feasts, convivial proprietors, and an exuberant international crowd are the recipe for success. The food ranges from Peking duck and steak frites to chocolate crepes and Belgian waffles, but nothing beats a simple meal of grilled ahi, a green salad with a tangy vinaigrette, and a delicious fresh Parisian-style baguette.
10 SHARP SECONDS
If you like thrift stores and jumble sales, you'll find the Punaauia and Tamanu flea markets irresistible. In Tahiti, even quotidian cast-offs seem intriguing and exotic, and a portrait of Pinocchio - or better yet, the lustrous antique canoe paddle next to it - makes an original travel memento, as does a Jacoulet print or a pair of green lizardskin cowboy boots. There are new goods as well: shell leis, pareus - the usual trappings of paradise. And if you're in a nonacquisitive mode, you can graze on homemade pastries while feasting your eyes on the nonpareil people-watching.