Based on the previous post, I have a feeling you might be expecting to see pictures of Bora Bora and a post detailing our travels there on this update. No such luck. We are still in Tahiti. And, we are going to be here for a little while longer. I have to laugh at the old cliché, “just when we thought it was safe to go outside…” I had a bit of a health issue. Nothing to worry about now, but I did get the see the inside of Tahiti’s hospital. No, it wasn’t Covid. The prognosis is exceptionally good and a full recovery is well underway.
Our exploration of Tahiti continues as we seek out new nooks and crannies. Our most recent excursion involved a trip to Belvédère de Taravao. This is a lookout point high on the southern mountain of Tahiti (Tahiti Iti). If you ever plan to come to Tahiti and are looking for the perfect place for a picnic lunch then look no further. The view from Belvédère de Taravao is stunning.
The road up the mountain is a single lane. If you happen to meet someone coming the other way, it requires one of you to pull over. This is sometimes easier said than done since the shoulder can be rut-ridden and in a small rental car this means bottoming out. Ask me how I know this.
For the most part, the shoulder is hard dirt and it is quite easy to pull over to the right. A quick flash of the lights to let the other driver know we are yielding is all that is required. Rental cars here have large orange dots on the front and rear bumpers. The locals can easily spot the tourists and ensure they stay clear of them especially on these narrow roads.
Our tiny rental car struggled with the grade of the climb. The perfect gear to chug our way up was between 2nd and 3rd ensuring the clutch leg got a good workout. I learned to drive on narrow roads like these in England and know to look well down the road for oncoming traffic. On corners, a driver needs to look through the trees or toot the horn on blind corners. Unfortunately, American tourists are clueless about the concept of yielding on a single-lane road and tend to just slam on the brakes. Stopping in the middle of the road in a panic doesn’t help anyone.
How do I know they are American Tourists? For the past couple of weeks, French Polynesia has been open to vaccinated people from the USA. The EU countries are only just now being allowed to enter, so the odds of a tourist being an American are pretty much stacked in favor, for now. I once read somewhere that spotting American tourists is exceptionally easy since most all of them sport new trainers (athletic or tennis) shoes. The bright white shoes are a giveaway. For some strange reason, this has always stuck in my head. Perhaps because I detest the idea of buying new shoes and would never consider testing the comfort of new shoes on vacation where lots of walking is going to happen. Or perhaps my rather tweaked mind finds tidbits like this oddly entertaining.
Once at the lookout there is a paved area to park. Exiting the vehicle the first notable element is the cool air. If you recall, the rental house we stayed in during the time Cream Puff was in the boatyard didn’t have heat or air-conditioning. The climate at this altitude is perfect. And best of all, we manage to time our trip on a clear day giving us the ultimate view. In the far distance, we could see the outer reef off Hitiaa O Te Ra some 28 kilometers (17 miles) away. The northern mountain of Tahiti (Tahiti Nu) has its normal cloud parked atop the crest. This is God’s way of making sure the huge waterfalls on the island don’t disappoint the tourism industry. It is almost always raining on the mountain tops.
So yes, the borders are open again and we have tourists. Flights have resumed and the near future of the badly damage industry now looks rather bright. Hotels are about 90% occupancy and cancelations are few. For the first time since our arrival here, we had difficultly reserving a rental car. What? What do you mean “sold out”? Nope. We’re not used to that at all.
There are still a lot of hoops a tourist has to jump through with Covid testing but, for the most part once here, it is business a usual. We have no curfews, bars were the last to open. Nightclubs and discotheques remain closed. Masks are still required in crowded areas (downtown streets) and inside all buildings and on public transportation. Vaccinations are still going strong for the local population. I fully expect the cruise industry to be up and running in the very near future. Selfishly speaking, It looks like our experience of Tahiti without tourists is slowly coming to an end. But, I’m really happy for the people who can now go back to work.
If you are a boater reading this, a word of caution: The maritime borders remain closed to private vessels at this time. No announcements have been made by DPAM about when this is expected to change. However, a good sign is the French online visa site is once again taking applications for long-stay visas.
The best part for us about tourism re-opening is the passenger planes coming to the islands. Just about everything in French Polynesia is imported. Things like berries, some produce, and vegetables not grown on the islands are flown in. These goods fly in the belly of passenger planes along with other things, like mail. The freight companies like UPS, FedEx, and DHL do not use cargo planes to ship goods here. There is simply not enough volume to justify the expense. They contract with the passenger planes for space in their cargo hold. When the passengers stopped coming, so did the freight. This has made our ability to get parts for the Puffster and goodies from home a real challenge.
Our credit cards recently expired. Our bank sent replacement cards FedEx Priority. This would normally take about 5-7 days to arrive in Tahiti. Since FedEx had no passenger plane options coming here, for some strange reason they sent the cards to New Zealand. Yes, New Zealand – a country with closed borders and nothing coming or going between them and French Polynesia. Why? Who knows! From New Zealand, the package had to travel by cargo ship. There is one ship per month. They eventually arrived 8 weeks later.
Covid and the lack of passenger planes have cause all sorts of havoc regarding imports. Shippers had to depend on sea freight. I guess this is true all over the world since there is now a massive shortage of sea-freight containers (especially in Asia). We recently read in the local news about an expected rice shortage in French Polynesia due to shipping issues. Rice is a huge part of the local diet. So, much like the epic toilet-paper shortage of Australia and the USA last year, we had panic buying of rice.
Lucky for us, Cindy had provisioned Cream Puff with the expectation of heading to the outer islands and Bora Bora. So, our massive rice purchase (4 small bags) was done long before the grocery store shelves were swept clean. We notice other oddities caused by inconsistent shipping. Right now there is no pork anywhere on the island. Perhaps next week we’ll have pork again. We’ll see.
We spent a full day grocery shopping going to 5 stores. Don’t misunderstand me here. There is absolutely no food shortage. However, some items during the non-tourism era were hit and miss. Mac & Cheese was there one week and then gone forever. My favorite cookies sold out and were out of stock for about a month before re-appearing on the shelf. Now, sadly they are gone again. The same was true with some French potato chips I have become addicted to. I seriously had the DTs when this happened. Orange Juice from New Zealand was gone for about a month. But thank goodness there is no interruption with the New Zealand iced cream supply. You haven’t lived until you have tried Deep South New Zealand iced cream.
When out of a product, the grocery stores take the price tags down and spread out other items to cover the bare spots. The illusion is the store is full. But, the reality is we are going to miss a few things on the shopping list. It took all five stores to satisfy our long list and we managed all but two items. We tend to bulk buy when we have a rental car. Once we are loaded, we can then buy perishables a couple of times a month from the stores within walking distance of the Puffster and the local market is a twice-weekly event.
While out and about, we manage to find the Expo Artisanale. I say manage to find since for some reason the Tahiti Tourism Board thinks we enjoy scavenger hunts. Sometimes, trying to find the exact location of events is more work than actually getting there. Cindy is persistent and manages to scout out the site using various local news sources.
For this event, islanders travel to Tahiti from the outlying islands to sell their wares. Each group of islands is known for certain crafts. Some do wood carving; others weave reeds or palm fronds. Shell jewelry is very popular and of course, there are always the world-famous Tahitian black pearls.
Last year this event was canceled since inter-island travel had only just been approved after a complete ban of travel. The islanders saved their merchandise for the Christmas event as Tahiti re-open to tourism. But alas, the Covid-free spell was short-lived due to some infected French civil servants arriving here. The Christmas fair was canceled. The merchants from outer islands now have an awful lot of merchandise to sell.
This year, the event is on. Yay! And, despite the efforts of the tourism board to hide the event, we find it. Cindy shopped. I take some pictures and find a chair in the shade with all the other men. This is a trend I see worldwide: Men sit as women shop.
We’ve noticed at these shows, the artist in the booths are very reluctant to offer a discount if asked. Many might have a discount built into multiple purchases but the price is pretty much the price. Craft items are like everything else in French Polynesia – expensive! If you ask for a discount or try to haggle expect a cold response. On the other hand, often times when making a purchase, if we strike up a friendly conversation and chat for a little while, we are given a free gift at the end of the transaction.
Cindy is always getting free stuff from vendors at the local food market. She’ll go for tomatoes or pineapple and come back with a free bag of carrots and a cucumber in addition to the fruit. Because of this, she frequents the same lady whenever she needs produce. Do you see how this works?
I will end this post by sharing an observation made by a British friend of mine. He was talking about haggling over prices in French Polynesia or the lack of. A recent conversation caused him to scratch his head. He wanted to buy some souvenirs for family members and settled on some Polynesian wood carvings. When talking to the artist, he thought the craftsman would be excited about a sale of 10 pieces. He was hoping the excitement would lead to a discount and was taken aback when the price for 10 pieces wasn’t discounted. The artist said, whether you buy one or ten, I still have to make them and my time is my time.