Going Up Hills as French Polynesia Goes Downhill

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Wow, right? Looking down on the town of Arue with the island of Mo’orea in the background

We recently did one of our favorite things. Renting a car and roaming aimlessly about is as good as it gets. Although we’ve done this numerous times on Tahiti, we still find fabulous nooks and crannies, incredible vistas, and great local cuisine.

We are in the minority when it comes to cruisers renting cars. This is something we frequently do. Other cruises tend to limit themselves to how far they can walk, bike, or take public transportation. I’ve never really understood the reluctance of other cruisers to rent cars. Perhaps for some, it is not within their budget, but we have always managed to find exceptional deals, often from local companies.

How often do we rent a car? The answer to this varies by location. In Panama, we rented a car on a monthly rental and kept it for 3 months at a time. We drove all over Panama. And, I mean all over! The rental there was dirt cheap. Here, nothing is dirt cheap. But, this doesn’t stop us. We’ve rented a car here for 3-4 days at a time about every 4-5 weeks.

One of the rental days is running errands and grocery shopping. We can buy the heavy stuff, park at the marina, and unload near the Puffster. This sure beats lugging stuff from the groceries stores. I don’t mind doing this occasionally but there are limits on how much this mule can carry. At the end of the errand day, the back of our tiny car is jammed full.

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Exiting the grocery store, I sometimes am taken aback by the beauty waiting outside

One of my favorite movies is the 1989 film Blaze. It stars Paul Newman as Earl Long who constantly refers to himself as “the fine governor of the great state of Louisiana”. The story is told through the eyes of his “liaison” Blaze Starr who was a famous New Orleans stripper.   There is a portion of the movie where uncle Earl, the fine governor of the great state of Louisiana, goes on a road trip to round up votes for re-election. There are a couple of police serving as a motorcycle escort and the governor’s limousine. At each small town, he stops and talks to various business people and store owners. He inevitably buys something from every person. As the trip progresses the limo is loaded with goodies he’s purchased hoping to secure their votes. There is stuff tied to the roof, hood, and fenders of the car. It’s a funny scene that has somehow stuck with me over the years. That, and the scene of him shooting his lawnmower with a shotgun for failure to start as Blaze tries to convince someone he isn’t crazy.

As our tiny rental car fills, I mutter to Cindy how I feel like uncle Earl, the fine governor of the great state of Louisiana. She knew instantly to what I was referring. I guess the scene also stuck with her.

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The glorious building is the town hall for Pirae. Mairie de Pirae

Driving on this island is really easy on the main roads. However, once off the beaten track, a level of caution must be maintained. Mountain roads are frequently one-car wide. They wind up and down the hill often with blind hairpin corners. And, many have shear drop-off for hundreds of feet on one side with no safety railings. This makes me think.

I wonder if we drove off one of these mountain roads if anyone would ever find us. We often have our phone off. I would be amazed if the car had any type of GPS system. It is very basic. It would be days before our friends would realize we were gone. And, nobody would have any idea where to begin to look for us.

Now, morbidly I wonder if there are dead tourists in these deep valleys. How long have they been there? Is anyone looking for them? Perhaps other cruisers are smart not to rent cars and drive these roads.

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As we go higher, the roads become narrower

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On the right, there is no guardrail. The drop off is thousands of feet into a lush green abyss

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The vegetation on the mountainside is thick and green. Tall trees grow to make a canopy.

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As we get higher still, mountains start to disappear into the clouds

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And then, there is the reward!

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Looking down on Pape’ete and the harbor. Somewhere down there is the Puffster

Since my last update, the virus situation in French Polynesia has rapidly gone downhill. We had weeks upon weeks with few new cases. Really there was nothing to be concerned about. French Polynesia opened tourism and visitors had to be vaccinated prior to arrival or be quarantined. Unfortunately, the low number of active cases caused people to become complacent. Many of the locals saw no need to be in a hurry for the vaccine or opted not to vaccinate because of misinformation on social media. Yes, we have that here too. If you look at my pictures from the last post that include scenes from Heiva, you will notice how few people wore masks. They really weren’t needed and only required indoors or in crowded areas. Then, the delta variant arrived.

In the past week, the hospital system has filled to capacity, emergency medical staff have flown in from France, and there is no end in sight. Our new cases exceed 1,000 per day. While this might not seem like a lot it is statistically equivalent to the USA having 1,823,333 new cases per day. The 1,000 people getting sick here each day represent 0.55% of the population.

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Back down the hill, we find a great spot for lunch. Cindy unpacks our goodies. 

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Regrettably, this is the 3rd wave here. The initial outbreak was licked in a few months. Then, there was another surge as some civil servants arrived from France and didn’t follow the rules. That was licked within a few weeks and French Polynesia opened to some tourism. The complacent attitude resulted in only about 30% of the population getting vaccinated. There was even concern about tens of thousands of vaccination doses becoming expired. Ha! Not anymore. All of a sudden people are very scared and a massive vaccination drive is underway.

Sadly, the efforts to vaccinate are too late. If the entire populace were to vaccinate tomorrow, it would still take 6 weeks for everyone to be fully immune. The French epidemiologist overseeing the situation was asked if restrictions or lockdowns would help. He basically said, that ship has sailed. We now have to deal with what we have. The delta variant is much more contagious. The hospital is full of people of all age groups.

There is a huge concern on the outer islands that now have Covid cases. In the past, they were able to avoid infections due to their isolation. They have sparse populations and limited medical facilities. I received an email from a friend who is located on the island of Nuku Hiva. This is the location of the one and only hospital for all of the Marquesas. The tiny hospital probably had no more than 10 beds. Like Tahiti, they have to turn away some non-urgent patients to deal with the crisis.

I am still under doctor’s care and have to remain close to the Tahiti hospital. I have a follow-up appointment next month where I am expecting the all-clear (I feel great). However, I really hope things are better by then. I don’t want to be anywhere close to the hospital right now. I can’t imagine how busy the staff must be. Respect!

Cindy made an interesting observation. She said, because of the healthcare system here people who are in the hospital don’t have to worry about anything except getting well. For the most part, their medical care is free. In the USA, people who get well are then faced with the massive problem of how to pay the bills, or their share of them. The getting well part is the easy bit. The fight that ensues with the health insurance provider afterward, not so much. As we fight with our insurance (US company) for my illness here, this was a brutal reminder about how horrible the USA healthcare system is. I foresee a massive surge in personal bankruptcies in the US because of all the hospital expenses.

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Who knew!

Tourism continues. Édouard Fritch, President of French Polynesia addressed the country earlier this week. He said he will keep borders open to tourists since they are not the ones spreading the virus. They arrive fully vaccinated. It is the locals who are responsible for the outbreak. They missed the window of opportunity. We do however have some additional restrictions.

Some of the tourists seem a little myopic according to my very unreliable resource, FaceBook. I think most people think because they are vaccinated, they are immune to Covid. This is not entirely true. A vaccinated person can still catch Covid. The difference is, they will not die from it (a very minuscule chance) and they can be completely asymptomatic meaning they can spread the virus but never feel sick themselves. This has already happened here.

Just yesterday, fifteen tourists were checking in for their flight home and tested positive for Covid. These people were all previously vaccinated and tested negative before boarding a flight at the Tahiti airport. Logic dictates they were exposed once here. They were denied departure and must quarantine for 10-14 days at their own expense.

Knowing how some people have limited time off work (especially Americans), this must be quite a hardship. In addition to the cash outlay required for quarantine and perhaps some medical care, they now have to take additional time off work until they can get on a plane. This is on top of the time they just took off work for the vacation here. I would imagine many bosses wouldn’t be happy about this.

Our Curfew is back. This is country-wide (all islands), between 9 pm and 4 am. On Sundays on Tahiti and Mo’orea, there is a complete lockdown and everyone must stay home. Ironically, neither of these new measures affects us. We are very rarely out past 9 pm. To be honest, I am usually asleep in front of the TV about this time. And, Sundays are days where we don’t do anything. My day starts with the Times crossword with a big mug of English Breakfast Tea. Then a big breakfast, followed by loafing about all day. We have always used Sundays as lazy days. Here, it is easier since just about everything is closed on Sundays.  Sometimes on a Sunday, I’ll write a blog post. This is one of those days.

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A spot to take a swim and cool off. Nobody pays attention to the “No Swimming” sign. Would you?




Categories: French Polynesia, Sailing Blog, South Pacific Ocean

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