We have been Covidized. Both of us are now fully vaccinated with Pfizer’s concoction. I know I have said this before here but, it’s worth repeating. The French Polynesian government has done a fabulous job of managing this crisis. During the onset, they recognized some boats (including us) were en route and had very limited options. We set sail before the world went into chaos and during our 30-day journey countries started to close borders. French Polynesia allowed vessels to enter even after borders were closed to tourism (with special permission). Of all the places in the world to be stuck, French Polynesia has to rank in the top few countries.
Once we could wrap our arms about what the virus was really all about and wade through all the minutiae, we made a plan. After the initial lock-down and inter-island travel ban was lifted, many cruisers decided to get away from Tahiti and head for the remote outer islands. I think perhaps their thoughts of the isolation might be safer for them compared to Tahiti. Our plan was completely the opposite. This was May-June 2020.
We decided to stay put. Frankly speaking, we have a great location in downtown Pate’ete at the marina. We can walk to just about anything we need. As a part of our plan, we opted to limit our social interactions with people unless we observed them wearing masks and using caution against any potential infection. We stopped eating out until the cases minimized. We washed our hands frequently and avoided touching our faces when in public. When out and about, we wore masks and stayed at least one meter away from others.
Part of the thought process for us was, if we get sick there is a very good healthcare system on Tahiti. This includes a state-of-the-art large hospital just a few blocks away. We already have a good relationship with an English-speaking physician. On the outer islands, healthcare is very limited and often requires a person to come to Tahiti for treatment. Sometimes this is difficult since the size of French Polynesia is equivalent to the size of Europe and if someone is very sick it means an emergency medical air-vac.
Another part of our thought process revolved around the amount of time we can legally stay in French Polynesia. We have a long-stay visa and carte de sejour (residence card). This means each year we can apply for the next year by proving we can financially support ourselves and maintain healthcare insurance. This renewal can go on indefinitely. Most other countries require a person to leave (sometimes for an extended period of time) and return again to satisfy the visa. The boat is allowed to stay here as a yacht in transit for 3 years (recently changed to 2-years but we were grandfathered). This means the boat has no import tax until this time expires. With this amount of time at our disposal, we feel no hurry to rush about and see the sights. We don’t view our travels as a race.
Some cruisers have begun to mock us because we decided to park for a little while. We’ve had a recent comment from a neighbor, “did you forget how to sail?”, “I can’t believe you haven’t moved”. And, it seems generally we are sometimes looked down upon because we are not out exploring the islands (like this is a sort of mandate for visiting boats). I don’t take this personally. I have always made it very clear on this blog and to people who ask, we travel in a way we want to travel and shrug off any peer pressure to do otherwise. If we find a sweet spot, we stay. If we want to move, we will. The islands will still be there when we are good and ready to travel to them. What’s the hurry? We found a sweet spot.
Our past year here in our same location has, for the most part, remained relatively normal. Yes, we have mask requirements and adhered to a few restrictions but nothing really to cause any hardship. The marina offered discounted rates of half price. This was due to some construction. We took full advantage of the cheaper rates and were unaffected by the construction. The building of a laundry, showers, tenant lounge with Wi-Fi, and offices were nothing we don’t already have on Cream Puff.
The one-year mark of being in the same spot just passed. In all honesty, the time has flown by. We absolutely love being in downtown Pape’ete and the shops and services. We have discovered all sorts of great eating dives including a fantastic takeout pizza place, food stalls in the nearby marketplace, and some incredible food trucks. There is no doubt we have discovered places during our car excursions on Tahiti most other tourists completely miss. The dinghy gives us access to the reef surrounding Tahiti. I am so glad we put the money out for a great dinghy. The reefs offer fantastic diving and snorkeling. We can go to spots in our little dinghy for free where tourists pay big dollars to visit. It seems we are a rarity in the marina because we used the dinghy for outings and to visit good friends who are on anchor just inside the reef. In addition, we have checked off an awful lot of projects on our to-do lists. Cream Puff has a way of letting us know what the diva wants and we obey.
We have mastered the art of shipping worldwide when options are limited. Mostly we’ve used sea-freight to get needed parts to us. This is a slow economical method. But, hey, we have time. Cindy’s parents help us immensely by being a receiving and re-packing center. They ship items we need to Los Angeles where they are loaded into a container and put on a ship. Once the container leaves LA, we receive our stuff in 3-4 weeks depending on the customs workload. Why don’t we use FedEx, UPS, or DHL? The short answer is they do not use their own planes to move freight to French Polynesia. There is not enough to justify the expense. So, they use passenger planes. Guess what? Without tourism, there aren’t passenger planes.
As you can imagine, with a lot of projects completed, new bottom paint, and being in the same place for a year, we are getting a little antsy. The Covid era here is definitely winding down and plans are being made to fully open French Polynesia to tourism. Fully vaccinated Americans can come without quarantine restrictions and this will no doubt expand to other countries in the very near future.
Speaking of vaccines, our vaccinations here were 100% free. The vaccine center is just a 10-minute walk from the marina. We let the initial rush die down when the priority was people over 65 and “fragile people” meaning people with health risks. Once the crowds eased we decided it was time for us.
The center does the first dose of vaccines in the morning and the second dose in the afternoon. They take walk-ins and appointments. We decided to try our luck as walk-ins. A very nice young man told us in perfect English they were full for the day and suggested we wait a week and come again in the early morning. He told us if we arrived by 7 am we’d get a spot for a shot when they open at 8 am. We did as he suggested the next week and within a couple of hours received our first shot. After this, they gave us an appointment for our second shot.
In addition to the vaccine clinics open all over Tahiti, periodically there are mass open vaccination drives. One of the cool locations is the President’s Palace just down the street from us. Every three weeks, they open the grounds to anyone who wants the vaccine and give 800-1,000 shots in a day. They now have choices between the various brands of vaccines. We missed one session and opted for the clinic instead of waiting the three weeks otherwise it would have been very cool to get close to the palace. They do every three weeks since this is the recommended time between 1st and 2nd shots if someone opts for the two-part vaccine.
On the outer islands we have heard through the coconut grapevine the vaccines are reserved for the French Polynesian residents of those islands. Visitors are having difficulty getting opportunities to be vaccinated. How true this is, I have no idea. I am just glad we are located on Tahiti where the issue seems mute.
On the health department website, it does state the vaccinations are for locals residents. We are in fact local residents. We have a long-stay visa, a resident card and a letter from the government stating this qualifies us as such. Cindy was once again prepared for any objection. At our particular center, we didn’t receive any hesitation about whether we could get vaccinated, or not. We received a quick one-on-one consult with a physician who explained the potential side effects (in English). Then, it was pretty much show them an arm and they stick a needle in it. I later learned the reason so many of the people in the vaccination center spoke English was because they worked in the tourism industry. Since their jobs were temporarily gone, the government hired them to help manage the vaccine clinics.
A friend in Hawaii recently sent me a note about how the clinic in his local town gave him a hard time because he had a New Jersey driving license. They thought the vaccine should be for Hawaiians first. He had to make a stink to get vaccinated. I didn’t have the heart to tell him not only did we not have any issues, but it was also totally free. I continue to be amazed at how good affordable healthcare is readily available outside of the USA. People’s attitude toward the right to receive quality healthcare is vastly different.
As I mentioned, we are getting antsy now. We are fully covidized and Cream Puff is tugging at the dock lines wanting to test out new sails. We are thinking about heading over to Bora Bora. So in the meantime, we are starting to stock up on stuff we know might be difficult to come by there. On our bigger shopping trips to provision, we rent a car and did so again for a recent excursion. On this particular occasion, I learned how much I have changed since my corporate days.
Upon arrival at Eco-Car, an agency we’ve used multiple times, I was faced with a lost reservation issue. The lady behind the counter had trouble locating me in the computer. I reserve the car online and prepay for some additional savings. She could see previous rentals but not this one. It took a few minutes for me to understand what she was saying and realized it might be best if I showed her my printout and receipt. This helped. Then, the car she assigned to me wasn’t anywhere to be found. I roamed about the parking lot with a guy whose job entailed checking out the cars and going over the vehicle with me. We were in search of a gray subcompact Fiat. This all took about 20 minutes.
I’ve rented hundreds of cars in my life due to job travel. I can honestly say if I had to wait more than 5 minutes, I used to get agitated. My expectation was most definitely: show up, show a driver’s license, get keys, and go. I was wound pretty tight. But at least I was never the guy who said, don’t you know who I am – I’m a platinum titanium special VIP frequent blah blah blah. So glad I was never that guy, but I wasn’t far behind.
Now, here we are roaming about looking for the gray subcompact Fiat. And, I’m talking to the guy trying to pick up a couple of new French words. But, he is insistent on trying his English out on me. There is no frustration, angst, or ire. Even when he gave up and went back inside to talk to the lady whom at this point we both think might have made a mistake, my mood didn’t change. Instead, I take some time to look across the airport sitting low on the shore and enjoy the view of mountainous Mo’orea in the distance. It is a very clear day. It is not often the volcanic island peaks of Mo’orea are 100% visible. Instead of being irate, I’m having a little moment of Zen.
We eventually did get the car worked out. I’m not really sure what happened and I don’t care. It was just one of those things. And speaking of people being calm, I don’t think I have ever met more patient people than those living here. They don’t even honk in traffic. Trust me, I’ve given them ample reasons to honk at me. After returning the car I got another lesson proving to me humanity still has a chance.
I take the bus to and from the car rental place. Eco-Car will actually pick me up and drop me off at the marina but I really enjoy riding buses (and trains). I use this as an excuse to ride the bus. This happened on a Saturday. It also happened to be Mother’s Day weekend here. Events in Pape’ete where I get off the bus caused the bus to be a lot more crowded than usual. Normally in the non-peak hours, the bus has only a few people aboard. I found a seat in the back.
My lesson in humanity began as I watched from my rear seat vantage point. We stopped at just about every bus stop, and then some. Most buses will stop if you wave at them regardless of whether you are near a stop, or not. Often, people will stand in the shade of a tree perhaps a block away from the bus stop and flag the bus. We barely made it a few blocks at a time before stopping to get more people. Nobody seemed interested in getting off.
So to close out this post I will share with you Tahitian bus etiquette and as you will see it speak volumes about the people living here.
Bus etiquette – French Poly Style:
- To stop a bus, use the universal wave: arm extended – hand up and down at the wrist.
- Once on the bus, to stop it (sometimes there are no buzzers) yell at the top of your lungs “arrête s’il vous plait” or just “arrête” meaning stop please or stop respectively. If you are in the back, others will loudly relay the request to the front. The bus driver will confirm with a glance in the rearview mirror.
- It is okay to dance to the music – many of the buses play loud music.
- If you know the words, sing ‘em loud.
- If you don’t know the words, hum.
- Always yield a seat to elderly men and women especially if they have young’uns in tow.
- Shuffle seats at stops so couples and families can sit together. This is amazing to watch.
- When there is an open seat next to you offer it up and welcome a person looking for a seat with “Ia Orana” pronounced yo-rah-nah meaning hello in French Polynesian. Never sit in the aisle seat and pretend to be looking away in the hope the person will sit elsewhere.