Aboard Cream Puff, we have our Christmas bling up. We have collected Christmas tree ornaments from each country where we’ve spent Christmas, and then some. For example, the star on top of our tree is a starfish ornament from Rockport, Tx. Hanging the ornaments on our mini-tree this year reminds me of the places we’ve celebrated this holiday as we continue our nomadic lifestyle. Since we started out on this wacky adventure, we have spent Christmas aboard Cream Puff in six different countries.
Our first was in Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas. Wow! What a beautiful spot that was. We stayed in the Marina at the Bluff House and had the whole place to ourselves. On Christmas Eve, a knock on the boat revealed a wonderful surprise gift. We were delivered a bottle of wine. Our sailing friends, Paul and Karen, who we met in St. Petersburg, Florida (our starting point), and who we had spent the summer with while sailing our boats on the Chesapeake Bay called the Bluff House and sent us the bottle. Every now and then in life, some people cross tracks and wonderful memories are formed and life-long bonds are formed. We had hoped this year Paul and Karen would hop a plane to Tahiti and spend a couple of weeks sailing French Polynesia with us. We were all very excited by the prospect. But alas, 2020 happened.
The following year, our Christmas was spent on the Manatee River, Florida. We got stuck there for 3 weeks due to bad weather. While anchored we met some new cruisers on a brand new boat who we kept bumping into in the Bahamas. The cruising world is very small. This river is just outside of St. Petersburg where we had spent the summer hurricane season. We left the Vinoy Marina just a couple of days before Christmas. St. Petersburg is one of my favorite cities. The downtown area is awesome. Every day leading up to Christmas some event was happening. One evening was the lighting of the tree and the lights. Then, there was the Christmas parade. And best of all, there was the boat parade where tons of boats creatively decorated motor into the basin of the Vinoy and show off their Christmas spirit to the spectators lining the shore. Our marina allowed us to view this parade from the end of our dock. We sipped homemade sangria among our dock-friends we had met over the summer.
Three years ago, we spent our Christmas on the Caribbean French Island of Martinique. Martinique is very close to the top of the list of my favorite Caribbean Islands. It is very French. Located at the end of our dock was a typical French bakery. Many of our mornings started with a quick walk to pick up warm croissants for breakfast and a fresh baguette for lunch. We explored every inch of Martinique and often rented cars. This was the island where we accidentally crashed a Christmas party in the small town of Rivière-Pilote and were welcomed by perfect strangers who offered us cake and wine.
Two years ago we were in Colombia. I have to say, the Colombians really get into the Christmas spirit. They have incredible displays or lights in public squares. Even, the smallest square or park had lights. As we roamed about the town of Santa Marta during the evenings we often found new Christmas displays. Santa Marta, Colombia was a place we had planned to stay for about 3 weeks and wound up staying about 5 months.
Last year we were in Panama. Earlier in the year, we transited the Panama Canal. It was a very long day and at the end of it Cindy and I both laid in bed in awe of what we had just done. Again, Panama was a place we stayed much longer than we originally planned. We rented cars and traveled deep into the mountains and found hidden treasures. I think my memory is slipping as I have a hard time recalling much about our Christmas in Panama. I know we were there, but for the life of me, it is all a little bit foggy. We were getting Cream Puff ready to cross the Pacific Ocean. Cindy just reminded me we roasted a chicken for dinner with stuffing, roasted potatoes, green beans, and carrots. I remember her taking goodie bags to the security guards who had to work on the holiday. Their faces lit up and huge smiles were born when they peeked inside. Cindy is always doing thoughtful things like this.
Our Christmas this year is in Tahiti. It is the first time we’ve spent Christmas in the southern hemisphere where it is celebrated in the summer.
I’m not sure of the importance of this holiday in Tahitian culture, but it seems subdued. Perhaps it is the virus thing. Who knows? I think many people this year have had the wind knocked out of their sails. The economy here is suffering a little bit and hope is the virus passes next year and the tourists return with the new vaccine becoming available.
The thing I really love about being in other countries for Christmas is seeing the local traditions. Here on Tahiti, the island’s tree is in a park decorated with oyster shells and coconuts. In the local stores, we have snow globes. I have to wonder how many residents of Tahiti have ever seen snow or even rarer still, have built a snowman. The Clauses are in the full red-suite getup. I’m surprised Santa doesn’t pass out from heat exhaustion. Because it is now summer, this means it is the rainy season. Rain season brings humidity. I am not a fan of humidity. I just can’t imagine wearing a Santa suit in this climate. Hat’s off to those who do and bring smiles to kid’s faces.
It would be very easy to sit here and gripe about this past year. But in all honesty, Tahiti is not a bad place to be stuck. We recently made a couple of decisions about upcoming plans. We had always planned to stay in French Polynesia for at least two years, maybe three. When we left the Galapagos Islands, our plan was to explore the Marquises’, the Gambier Islands, the atolls of Tuamotu Archipelago before spending cyclone season (Nov-Apr) in Tahiti. These islands are all in French Polynesia. French Polynesia is a country about the size of Europe. However, it is mostly ocean and the landmass accounts for a very small portion of the country. In fact, you can drop all of the land in French Polynesia into Puerto Rico about 2 ½ times. The landmass of French Polynesia is only slightly larger than the USA’s smallest state of Rhode Island. Needless to say, a boat is by far the best way to explore these islands.
If you recall, on our way to the Marquesas Islands from Galapagos, we were directed by the authorities to make landfall in Tahiti due to the C19 outbreak. This is where we have been parked ever since. But, as I look back, we missed only 6 months of exploring. Although French Polynesian borders remain closed to incoming private yachts, the boaters here are free to travel among all the islands. The inter-island travel restriction was lifted in mid-July. Many boaters left to explore. We decided to stay and enjoy where we are.
How often does a person get to explore an island like Tahiti without cruise ships or any other tourist? We consider ourselves quite fortunate we can do this. Although Tahiti is open to tourists arriving by air, they have been slow to come. Restaurants are not crowded, streets are very walkable with few others than the locals, and downtown attractions like the indoor market are not crowded. When we dinghy to local snorkel or dive spots we share the area with a few locals and not masses of tourists.
After cyclone season, we plan to head west to the other Society Islands. This includes Bora Bora and Maupiti, two places high on our list. From there we will work our way backward using weather windows to our advantage and travel the areas we missed on the way here. This will enable us to hit Marquises’, the Gambier Islands, the atolls of Tuamotu Archipelago during the best weather. Our next cyclone season we will be east of the zone. And should the borders re-open to private yachts, our timing will enable us to avoid new arrivals and crowded anchorages. So really, as I think about it we really haven’t been slowed down very much at all. We are being forced to spend an extra six months in Tahiti. Oh, poor us!
Now we have a light at the end of the C19 outbreak, we are starting to talk about future travels. The authorities on Tahiti seem to think the virus here will be a non-issue by summer 2021. Between the new vaccines available in the immunity of those already infected, the hope is tourism will flourish, honeymooners will come, cruise ships will operate and the economy will strengthen.
No doubt as we continue to look to visit countries west of here beyond 2022, requirements will have to be met. But, I’m sure it’s nothing we can’t handle. I wonder if travel will ever be normal again. As always, planning is important and we diligently research requirements. Much as Cindy did a ton of research about staying in French Polynesia on a long-stay visa. This long-stay visa proved incredibly valuable as counties started closing this year and boaters had to scramble for options as their visas expired. We just parked ours and took time to smell the roses, once again. We both feel very fortunate this Christmas.
From our home in Tahiti to yours wherever in the world you might be as you read this, Cindy and I wish you a very Merry Christmas.