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On a breezy day, never stand under a palm tree fully loaded with coconuts unless you like living on the edge

Wow! What a difference a couple of weeks makes. Since our last post, things are significantly better here now. Covid cases are again minimal and manageable. The hospital staff is able to breathe again. Most restrictions have been lifted and there is chatter about more being eased very soon or totally abandoned.

Swimming was allowed during restrictions but only if it fell within the limits of other exercise constraints. This meant, to swim a person needed to be within a kilometer of their home. Cindy used our navigation software to determine one of our favorite snorkel spots was 3 km away. Rats! But now we are free to move about. To celebrate, we went for a snorkel at a nearby reef.

The spot we decided upon is one of our favorites. It is the best we’ve found to see all sorts of small things. Tahiti is surrounded by reefs. Inside the reef, the conditions are really calm so long as the wind isn’t howling. The water is shallow meaning we can stand up when we need to adjust our mask. Also, it is warm meaning we can stay in for hours.

We anchor our dinghy on the sandy shelf and make the short swim into the coral bank. Once inside the coral bank, we swim through what can only be described as a maze of canyons. At any given time, the water is barely shoulder height. We have to be careful not to bump against the coral heads. They are sharp. Being cut by coral is nothing to sneeze at. It can cause staph infections and can even have flesh-eating bacteria. Surfers know this too well. It is important to ensure any cuts are immediately cleaned and a good dollop of anti-biotic cream is applied. Lucky for us, this time we didn’t have any accidents.

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This is the first time we “spotted” a Yellow Spotted Boxfish

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The markings on Trigger Fish make it look like they are smiling with big yellow lips

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I waited forever over this giant clam hoping it would open to reveal the colorful interior. But instead, it decided to clam up

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This Brownspotted Sandperch is usually hiding under rocks

As we snake our way through the coral we are treated to a bird’s-eye view of the habitats of tons and tons of colorful little fish. A single coral head can be home to hundreds of small colorful fish. Another plus to snorkeling in shallow waters is the colors are better. The deeper an object lies below the surface, the more grayish it becomes. Red is the first to be absorbed, followed by orange & yellow. The colors disappear underwater in the same order as they appear in the color spectrum. Even water at 5ft depth will have a noticeable loss of red. At greater depths, everything just becomes the same color, sort of a blue/gray.

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If any deeper, this pink coral would not show its color

The top of most coral heads are about two feet underwater allowing us to swim over them (barely). We have to be careful not to kick them with a fin as we pass. Other heads reach all the way to the surface and we snake around these as we proceed with our aimless roaming about in fish heaven. The contrast of bright neon blue fish against a dull red coral head is stunning and can only be observed at shallow depths with natural light. Some divers use a flashlight to help see colors underwater. At our place, we just need the sun. Here is a short 1-minute video we took showing you the abundance of tiny fish. If you don’t see it below, click here.

I think the fish were a little friendlier this time around. Perhaps because people have not been able to visit them for the past 4 weeks, maybe they were a little curious about us being there. Who are these people? What are they doing here so early in the morning?

We got up and got going on this particular day. The morning was dead calm but higher winds were forecast for late morning. The forecast was dead on. We hung about in the water for a couple of hours just casually floating over our little colorful friends. Then, the winds arrived. Fun time is over. We had the wind in our faces on the ride back making it a very wet ride in the dinghy due to the spray. But, who cares. We are already wet. So long as the sun stays out (which it did) there is no fear of getting a chill.

On the way back into the marina, we blast by our friend’s boat with whom we’re having dinner later that evening. We don’t stop because we are both hungry and wet. It’s time for brunch.

Later, we meet our friends and head to the waterfront food trucks, roulettes is the local name for them. Since restrictions are just over, it looks as though a few trucks have failed to open back up yet. However, our favorites are there. The food truck dining experience is unique.

The first issue to be solved, which truck are we going to agree upon? We let our friends choose the place. And, they choose wisely. They opted for an Asian truck with a Thai menu. The next challenge, does the wait staff speak English? In our case, she didn’t. However, she was up for a good round of charades. Between our limited French and fantastic miming, we managed to order a chicken curry with a side of rice to share. Our friends ordered Won-Ton soup and a special that looked delicious.

The portions here are huge. Cindy and I rarely eat at a restaurant where we don’t share an entree. Ironically, our dinner conversation revolves around this topic for the first part of the meal. They tell us about a time they order green beans as a side (trying to be healthy). The plate arrived with a massive serving of green beans. We often see the same with french-fries. We watch plates of steak and fries going out of the truck with a massively tall stack of fries. The stack is so tall fries spill off the side of the plate much to the delight of the ever waiting birds. Personally, I think, there must be a law somewhere requiring a restaurant to cover the entire plate before being allowed to serve the dish.

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Christ plants have awesome blooms but don’t get too close. The thorns are wicked

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Golden Trumpet flowers smell incredible!

If you remember from the previous post, I mentioned we were working on a couple of very tedious projects: the insurance company claim from my health boo-boo and changing our boat documentation. Cindy proved to be the star. She has successfully changed the flag of Cream Puff to the UK from the British Virgin Islands. In the future, being away from the BVI ships registry office will save us a lot of money. Too bad, the BVI used to be a good place to register but now has become greedy to collect fees from boaters. We estimate our savings to be well over US$1,000 a year in corporate and government fees. Well worth the effort. Cindy recently found an article about government corruption in the BVI. I have to wonder if all the recent changes in fees were a result of some greedy minister. I don’t really care. We are done with the BVI now.

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From left to right how Hanging Lobster Claws bloom – really cool looking flowers

Meanwhile in French Polynesia, it is like the lights came on again. People are out and about and the islands. French Polynesia has basically licked the virus for the second time. Unfortunately, a lot of tourists canceled trips here leaving the economy a little worse off. I can’t say I blame them for canceling since at the height of the confinement they were restricted to the resorts and not allowed to venture off property. So, we decided to take full advantage of the lack of tourism before things change again.

We rented a house from AirBnB for 10 days and a tiny car for 12 days. The choice of houses to rent was vast due to no tourism. We opt for the same place we used previously when our boat was hauled for maintenance. It is completely available for the next two months. It is a fantastic property located high on a hillside offering magnificent views of the Tahiti isthmus and the ocean way on the other end of the island. We fell in love with this house the first time and decided it was a great reward for being cooped up during the peak Covid outbreak. For 10 days we lived like normal people.

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The deck off the house offers incredible views

As the sun rises behind us in the morning the northern mountains of Tahiti come to life and have clouds nestled on the tops

On a cloudy day, we have a colorless sunset – This is not a B&W picture – it is in color

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Ahh! That’s more like it!

The exact same spot a couple of days later as rain pelts the north part of the island and heads our way

I can’t remember the last time I carried groceries like a regular person from a car to a kitchen. Normally, we walk or bus (substitute bus with dinghy when at anchor) to the grocery store and use a cart and crates to lug our purchases back to the Puffster. Once at the boat, we have to load everything on the deck. I stand on the dock and hand over bags to Cindy who places them in the cockpit. Then, stage two. She goes below and I hand her down bags from the cockpit where they are placed on the galley countertop. It felt really weird to take groceries from the trunk into the rental house without lugging them down a long dock first.

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Entering the village of Vairao where our favorite restaurant, Tavania, is located.

Living at the other end of the island way off the tourist path, we can sample some of the local eateries. We already have a favorite in this area called Tavania. Like most Tahitian restaurants, Tavania is family-owned. The dad is the cook and his daughter works the register and waits on the approximately 12 tables. There is a second daughter who sometimes “helps” bus tables. I use the word help figuratively. Cindy and I got the biggest kick out of watching her during one of our lunches. She doesn’t ever use a tray. It takes about 3 or 4 trips to a single table to clear away the dirty dishes. First, she will carry off just the glasses. This might take two trips. Next goes the plates. This also might take two trips. And finally, she wipes off the table and arranges the condiments. In the meantime, the other daughter (who speaks English) is running about like a mad thing taking care of everything else. They are both really happy people and are sweet and friendly.

We love Tavania because the food is good and reasonably priced. Their menu changes daily. In accustom to other restaurants, the portions are huge. On the rare occasion we make it to dessert, the choices are to die for. All the desserts are freshly made by dad every day. If they have chocolate cake, it is a must. And, this is coming from a person who is not genuinely fond of chocolate.

The lady who owns the house we rented suggested another restaurant nearby called La Plage de Maui (Maui Beach). What the heck. Let’s give it a try. But first, we go to TripAdvisor to check it out. Reviews on TripAdvisor crack me up, especially the ones from Americans. And, you can tell the ones written by Americans. Almost all Americans ding the service when dining outside the US.

Americans are used to arriving at a restaurant, being seated immediately, drink orders taken, being told about specials, the main order taken when drinks arrive, drink refills, being checked on throughout the meal, not asking for the check, and leaving a large tip. All of this takes place in less than an hour. Am I right? This is not the way it works outside of the US. And, certainly not how it works in French Poly.

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At La Plage de Maui, every table has a view of the lagoon – it is semi open-air with a sand floor

We arrive at La Plage de Maui. It is packed with locals, a very good sign. There is no hostess to show us to a table. Here, they tend to think we are quite capable of seating ourselves. We spot one empty table that has used dishes and head toward it. One of the staff spots us and rushes to clear it. We plonk ourselves down. I am not kidding when I say this: I can stand up from the table and take one step to dip my toes in the lagoon. We are seated in an extension off the restaurant on the narrow beach.

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From our table, I can almost put my toe in the water

Because it is packed, we know things are going to be slow. But, this is how things are done on the island. Nobody is in a hurry. So what if lunch takes two hours. We take a few minutes to enjoy our surroundings. We watch as food is delivered to other tables and once again, the portions are massive. But today, we are both hungry and are ready for a good size lunch.

After about 10 minutes, we are given menus. Well, not exactly. The menu is a huge chalkboard and a lady sits it on a chair near us. Then, something ingenious happens. She also gives us a small book with pictures and explains in broken English that we can look up the dish (written in French) on the chalkboard in the book to see what the dish looks like. How clever is that? She also makes a couple of suggestions. One of which is a seafood platter that looks like it is big enough to feed a large family.

It’s hard not to order seafood when my toes are just inches from the beach. Both Cindy and I decide on steak. A different lady comes over to take our order. We realize her English is better and was probably volunteered to help us. She is so excited to speak English, has a brilliant smile and a bubbly personality. She is chatty and tells us she is from the Marquesas Islands. The Marquesas is a group of French Polynesian islands located about 1,400km (870 miles) northeast of Tahiti. People there are known to have friendly and welcoming personalities. This lady was a testament to this. She asked once more if we wanted fish and pointed to the reef saying, “It’s from just over there”.

I am also criticized by the lady for not ordering a beer. I laughed hard at this. It is amazing to me to see local people order beer followed by a bottle of wine at lunch. If I drank that much, I’d be asleep by three o’clock.

In ordering food, we’ve found if we order an appetizer we need to specify how we’d like to eat it first. Otherwise, all the food comes out at once. We learned this at our favorite Chinese restaurant. Once the food arrives, the chances are you will not see the waiter again. Perhaps occasionally you might get a thumbs up from the staff as they take an order to another table. In French Polynesia, like most other countries we’ve traveled to, if you need help or something more you catch the eye of the staff across the room and they’ll come over. Otherwise, they leave you in peace to eat and enjoy your meal.

{Rant} As a European, it was hard for me to get used to being rushed at meals in restaurants in the USA. It irked me when wait staff approached the table and rudely interrupted the table conversation with “is everything ok” or “can I get you anything else”. I realize the staff is busy but when did it become acceptable to rudely interrupt someone’s conversation without any apology? And perhaps, the rudest thing of all is when they place the check on the table and say “no hurry – I’ll take this when you are ready”. Why don’t they just say, “you’ve eaten – now get the heck out of here so I can make more money”? {rant over}

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Pineapples are in season! The local ones are sweet and not at all acidic.

In most countries we’ve visited, dining is a pleasant experience and not a rushed necessity. And like most countries outside of the US, you have to ask for the check here. It is not automatically brought to the table. When sitting at a restaurant, the table is yours for a long as you want it. There is no pressure to leave. It is not unusual for lunch to take more than an hour or a dinner to go three hours. If you make a dinner reservation for 8 pm, the restaurants expect you to still be there at 10:30 pm. Many of the restaurants will have you pay on the way out. And, this is the point where many Americans insult the staff (unintentionally).

Americans want to tip. It is a huge part of the culture. Cindy once read a hysterical travel article written by a Brit about tipping in the US and how incredibly confusing it was for foreigners. He talked about checking into a nice hotel and was in a quandary about the number of people who handled his luggage. One guy takes it out of the trunk and places it on a cart. Another guy takes the car away to park it. Yet another guy then wheels the luggage cart to the front desk. After check-in is complete the front desk hails a third guy who takes the cart to the room. Who are you supposed to tip? All of them? The last guy? Do you tip the valet who parks the car or the one who brings it back to you? And, how much do you tip? Americans can’t help themselves, they have to tip.

In French Polynesia, in some instances, tipping can be considered extremely rude. If paying by credit card here, there is no opportunity to add a tip.
Many tourists complain about the price of food at the restaurants. But doing the quick math, it isn’t that much more expensive than the US. Here the price includes tax and service. In the US, these are added to the check and often tips are put on the credit card when paying the bill. Do not leave money on the table in French Polynesia. A simple thank you and telling someone you enjoyed the food will go a lot further in brightening someone’s day than a few coins.

I am not kidding when I say you might insult someone by tipping them. Like Japan, China, or South Korea people could very well take the attitude you think they are not paid enough. Cindy is the one who takes time to know when to tip and reads all about the culture and tipping practices before arriving.

On a final note, I’m going the change the subject. Let’s talk about smells. When we first arrived in French Polynesia we had just spent 28-days on the ocean. A nearing land smells differently when you are coming in off the ocean. I think we might have commented about how pulling into Tahiti’s main harbor we smelled coconuts. Ironically, we later found out it was because there is a coconut processing plant located nearby. How funny is that?

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This roadside hedge is full of Purple Princess Flowers

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Stone kilometer markers mark the roads since most places do not have an address or block number

Leaving the Pape’ete area and being in the mountains the smell of the island once again became apparent. Tahiti is covered with flowering plants. Many of them are so fragrant you can smell the tree or bush for quite a distance. For the people living here, flowers are a huge part of their culture. Besides the leis most tourists are familiar with, Tahitians often wear a flower in their hair or over an ear. In the flowering season which is now beginning, locals pick flowers in the parks or along the sidewalk. You’d think they’d run out of flowers with everyone doing this but there are so many.

There are some flower farms (if farm is the correct term). Sometimes when driving we see fields of flowers. These are picked and sold at local markets or used in leis. However, these are not the flowers I’m talking about. I’m talking about driving down the road and seeing bush after bush or tree after tree with wildflowers. This is what causes the sweet ambrosial smell to waft about the island. At the house up high in ultra-clean air with every wisp of wind came a sweet smell. Sometimes it’s subtle but it is definitely there. And I did check, there is no flower farm nearby.

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This Bougainvillea looks good enough to eat!

Categories: French Polynesia, Sailing Blog, Side Trips, South Pacific Ocean

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