I have to say this upfront: I love our lifestyle and wouldn’t trade it for anything. Even with our current confinements, I would rather be here than most other places.
French Polynesia went from one of the safest places on the planet to dodge Covid to one of the worst in about 3 weeks. We went for weeks and weeks here with almost no cases as we watched the rest of the world struggle with full hospitals and deaths.
Recently, we have become the poster child of why vaccinations are important. Because cases were low and life was pretty much normal, the people here became complacent regarding the threat of Covid. They were slow to vaccinate and many objected to the thought of being vaccinated thanks to the never-ending balderdash (not my first choice of words) on social media. Sadly, this has taken a toll. The delta variant arrived.
On a side note, I recently read Ed Bastian the CEO of Delta Airlines (a USA airline) refuses to use the term delta variant when referring to Covid. Can’t say I blame him. I’m sure Corona beer had the same thoughts at the onset. Anyway, back to what is happening here. It is horrible.
Tahiti was basically caught with their pants down. In one week, we went from less than ten new cases per day to over a thousand new cases a day. And, this is where we are right now. For three weeks, we have had consistent numbers of over a thousand new cases a day making us one of the most contagious places on the planet for Covid (active cases per thousand of population).
The hospital system is seriously strained. France has sent reinforcements including equipment, extra cots, and staff. Some of the staff is military. The beautiful lobby of the main hospital on Tahiti was turned into a makeshift ward. Cots are even in the hallways. I am not going to go on and on about this because for all of you reading it, unfortunately, this is nothing new. We are all dealing with some aspect of Covid, still. It would be very easy for me to rant about the hardships people of facing here. But, I’m not going to do that. If you want bad Covid news you can turn on the TV.
I am going to tell you about a few of the really nice things to come of this. Restaurants are closed except for takeout food. This happened very quickly as deaths started to increase. Therefore, the restaurants had quite an inventory. Rather than throw it away, a few decided to cook meals for medical staff and deliver them to the hospital. This caught on. People started to donate money to the restaurants so they could continue to do this.
Croq-In Pizza is a regular haunt for us. It is a small takeout place making fantastic pizza and calzones. I’m a little embarrassed to say they know me by first name (I’m the person who picks up the pizza while Cindy makes drinks and sets the table). I call our order in by phone and walk to pick it up. Usually, the person who answers doesn’t speak English. I bumble in French to place the order. I once heard the owner/cook in the background tell the order-taker, if that’s Mark he either wants a large Helena or a Special, which is it?
We recently decided to pick up a pie and couldn’t remember if they were open on Mondays, or not. Cindy checked their Facebook page. She saw they had posted about giving pizza to the hospital staff. When I arrived to pick up the pizza, I mentioned them doing this and told them I thought it was wonderful. Big smiles!
There is a shortage of oxygen in French Polynesia. On some of the outlying islands, they have very limited medical resources. For instance, Bora Bora is home to about ten thousand people. Their medical facilities would be like any other community of the same size. They have a small clinic. Serious illnesses and injuries air-vac to Tahiti. Their socialized medical system pays for this. Bora Bora has experienced Covid outbreaks as have many of the outlying islands. They try to treat the patients at home due to the limits of the clinic. A hand full of the most ailing patients used 50% of the island’s oxygen in just four days.
The plant producing oxygen for the hospitals and clinics is running at full capacity, twenty-four hours per day, seven days a week. And, this is still not enough. Local dive shops stepped up. Experienced divers going to depths more than 40 meters (130’) require a breathing mix called Nitrox. Nitrox refers to a gas mixture composed of approximately 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen. This means dive shops with the appropriate equipment can make oxygen and put it into tanks. Since they are closed, all non-essential businesses are closed, dive shops on islands are helping out their local clinics. They have tanks and they have oxygen.
Retirees with a medical background are helping out wherever they can. A call went out and was enthusiastically answered for anyone with medical training, or close to completing any level of medical training. They only had to ask once for volunteers.
Another call went out on the local news for tablet donations. Not the kind you swallow, the kind with which you access the internet. Why? Sadly, the overwhelmed hospital needs to restrict visits to only patients at end of life. People obviously wish to check on their loved ones receiving care inside the facility. Some patients lack a device like a smartphone or a tablet. Or, perhaps they have just one phone/tablet for the family. I know this sounds unbelievable for most people but on these islands, the internet is way down on people’s list of priorities. There really isn’t much need for it. In fact, one of our biggest complaints about living here is how many businesses have a zero internet presence. Why should a business or restaurant have an internet footprint; everyone here knows where there are located and what they sell. There is no need. The donations poured in.
The president here is in a little bit of hot water. His chief of staff recently died and a funeral was held with a large number of people attending. Gathering in a large group is currently prohibited. Although attendees maintained distancing at the service, his claim this was an important person and therefore warranted a big sendoff didn’t go over well. Islanders rebelled by saying all people are important and French Polynesia culture dictates a large send-off. This can’t happen right now due to bans on large crowds. The president heard the people and made a rather touching gesture. On September 5th a day was put aside to recognize all the people who have passed as a result of Covid. In the park at the end of the day, 500 candles were lit and prayers said. Since then, many people have visited the area to light a candle on the red heart-shaped table.
Due to the outbreak, we now have some pretty serious restrictions in place. We need a compelling reason to be out and about. For us, this means exercise, food shopping, doctor visits etc. Between 8pm and 4am nobody is allowed out unless they are ill or are going to/from work. The going to/from work is unlikely since all non-essential businesses are closed. Pape’ete looks like a ghost town on weekends and evenings.
These are similar to the measures French Polynesia used to rid themselves of Covid the first two times. No doubt they will be successful again. Although this time around, the restrictions are a little more relaxed. They didn’t ban alcohol sales and a person can still shop with a family (past measures only allowed one family member to enter the store). In a recent speech, the High Commissioner made mention the current restrictions are lighter than in the past. He said even though this is the case, it doesn’t mean four people should join together to go buy a baguette. I had to smile at this comment since we’re both guilty of using the excuse to buy a baguette to get off the boat and stretch our legs.
In all honesty, this hasn’t meant much change for us. We can still walk to the grocery store. One of us might walk to the market at lunchtime to get some takeout. We are allowed to walk in the park near us (exercise is allowed within 1km or 0.62 miles from home). We can pick up a pizza so long as it is before 8pm. All restaurants are now take-out only which is okay for us seems we both love to cook. Perhaps the biggest hardship is not being able to hang with friends once in a while.
As it turns out, hanging with friends for the past couple of weeks wasn’t possible for us anyway. We have both had some type of bug. Sore throat, dry cough, mild fever, and tired all of the time was how we spent 7 days each. I had it first and being the kind sharing person that I am, I gave it to Cindy. We had some NyQuil Cough, Cold & Flu medicine. This is not the watered-down USA NyQuil. This is like the old stuff they used to sell in the USA but still sell elsewhere in the world. We got ours in Panama. This is the formulation where if you drink half a bottle you slip into a coma for about 24 hours and wake up feeling much better. Yep. The good stuff. The good news is this has passed.
So what have we been doing to entertain ourselves? Well, first of all, we were very fortunate the day before the restrictions were announced we turned in a 3-day rental car. We just finished a large grocery run and ate at a couple of our favorite haunts on the other side of the island. We also discovered the most awesome Chinese restaurant. Cream Puff was loaded with food when the announcement of restrictions arrived.
We have a rocking internet connection in downtown. This allows us to stream entertainment on Netflix and BBC. We have a monthly data limit but haven’t reached it yet. When we first arrived in this marina, we looked into a local annual internet contract. The marina only has free internet in the lounge – not much help for us on the boat. I did the quick math and realized committing to a year was less money than the 5 months of the monthly packages. Most other cruisers use the monthly packages. In addition, these monthly packages have low amounts of data. We weren’t sure at the tie we entered into the contract if we’d be in the marina for 5 months. But guess what, we’ve been parked in the same spot for 16 months now. Our decision turned out to be a good one.
We have two big administrative projects keeping us busy right now. Both require some level of decent internet. First, we are looking at moving our corporation which owns Cream Puff out of the British Virgin Islands. Ten years ago, or so, when we purchased the Puffster, this was a great option with many benefits. However, the company that manages the corporation for us has merged multiple times and now leaves a lot to be desired in the customer service area. The other issue is the BVI has decided to go with an annual vessel registration/documentation at a cost of US$200 per year. A vessel documentation is like a deed to a piece of land. When we enter a port, it shows the port authorities who legally owns the boat and to what country the boat is titled. In the past, our documentation didn’t have an expiration date. It was valid until we sold the boat (just like a deed to a house). Now with this new change, every year we need to complete BVI paperwork and wait for an updated document to be sent.
Can you imagine being on a remote atoll somewhere and having the vessel documentation expire? We are required by law to have the original current documentation aboard the vessel at all times when in foreign lands. This means a replacement document would need to be sent to us every year. Guess who has to pay for this? And guess what, if we are in a remote place, it is often impossible to receive anything not arriving by a supply ship. There is no such thing as Next Day delivery in many of the places we go. Even the fastest priority services of FedEx, DHL, or UPS take about 10 days to reach us on Tahiti, the capital island with the most population. The cost of sending an original document: US$150-250. This brings the total cost of this to about US$400 per year. Yep, all of this for a single piece of paper where the only difference on the new paper replacement is the date.
Cindy made a good point. She said, it would be really bad if we were moving west and island hopping between countries when this expired. As you know, we move with the weather. Sometimes a good window can take 30-days to present itself. Imagine finally getting a great weather window and then not being able to sail because of a fear the document might expire while en route. She also reminded me that many countries require the documentation to be valid for the entire duration of the intended stay at the time of entry. An astute agent might question a short-dated document.
We are looking at options. The BVI government seems to have swallowed a stupid pill. To complicate measures our vessel insurance is tied to the country where our vessel is owned and flagged (we fly a BVI flag). Every time we think we might have a viable solution, we need to check with our insurance underwriter to ensure we don’t violate our policy rules. As you can imagine, this is all taking a lot of time. But hey, right now we have time. And, we have good internet.
The other big administrative task we have is dealing with our US healthcare insurance company for payment of my recent boo boo. We are now on their 3rd excuse for not paying. I will spare you the details. I absolutely detest US healthcare insurance companies. In my entire life, I am fortunate to have only needed healthcare insurance just a few times. I have never had a claim paid without a huge hassle, ever! Believe it, or not, I’ve always had “good” insurance. I feel so sorry for sick people who have to deal with claims regularly. What a horrible way to have to live. One of the reasons Cindy and I seriously consider living outside of the USA permanently once we are finished sailing is because of the US healthcare system. We have experienced incredible healthcare in multiple countries far superior to the US and it is often one-third the price or less.
Even my local doctor here has become involved in my campaign against my insurance company. He is writing letters for me. He joked and said it might help my blood pressure. I saw him a couple of days ago because I needed a prescription refilled. I had to smile when he came to get me from the waiting area. No white coat or formalities. He was dressed in a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. This is the standard attire on Tahiti. I know this is hard for many Americans to grasp, but he really takes his time, he chats with his patients and my appointment face time with him was well over the 20-minute allotment.
We think the worst part of this latest Covid wave is behind us and we might now be a the peak. The epidemiologist is “cautiously optimistic”. French Polynesia announced restrictions for only 2 weeks at first. We all know dealing with this delta variant is going to take longer than two weeks. I need only look at Israel, the most vaccinated country in the world when hit with delta, to realize this is a 2-3 month process to reduce active cases. I think the French Polynesian government feels the people here can handle announcements of 2-weeks but nothing more. It has already been extended another 2-weeks and we expect more extensions. This reminds me of my corporate days when I traveled a great deal.
I used to fly an awful lot in my job. Often, I was in three or four cities a week. Needless to say, I became numb to the woes of airline travel. However, one thing always amused me; the pilot’s complete lack of time comprehension. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I boarded a plane and sat in my seat watching the departure time come and go without the plane moving a single inch. Finally, the pilot came on the PA with the familiar “well folks”. He or she would then announce a 15-minute delay. 45 minutes would pass with no further announcement. Then, the pilot would say “we are almost ready, just another 15 minutes”. There is probably some study somewhere telling airline pilots to never say the plane is going to be late beyond 15-minutes because it might upset the passengers. This is how I think the French Polynesian government is when it comes to announcing restrictions.