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Vol 2, Iss 9: 10/10, would recommend!
June 7, 2023 | Bora Bora, Îles Sous-le-vent, French Polynesia | 16º29’19” S 151º45’41” W | Wind: SE 18 kts | Weather: 75º Mostly Sunny
Bora Bora, Îles Sous-le-vent, French Polynesia
16º29’19” S 151º45’41” W
A quick update before the gendarmerie chases us out of the country….
We’re walking through the winding streets in Papeete. It’s been one of those perfect international travel days.
We drove with Andrés Jacobo’s parents along the northern coast of Tahiti, watching the world-famous surfing waves crash against the reefs. We found a municipal parking garage where we could safely and reasonably leave the car all day. Our transport to the island of Moorea was novel - a ferry that sped at 30 kts! - and we easily found cabs once in Moorea. We lounged at a resort all day with my best friend and her sister. We devoured fresh seafood for dinner at the food trucks in Vaiete Square.
What more could you want?
We were already dreaming of our beds waiting for us an hour away in the town of Taravao when we turned the corner and…
We see the rolling gate. THE CLOSED & LOCKED ROLLING GATE!
Our car is trapped behind that gate. That gate with no phone number. No name. No ‘emergency contact’ or even company listed.
In college, my best friend was voted “Most Likely to sneak into the DoubleTree Hotel on North Glenstone to use the hot tub and eat the free cookies.” Her skills have been invaluable as we’ve traveled together…but maybe never more so than this past month. She was able to sneak Andrés Jacobo, his parents, and me in as guests to the Hilton Moorea where she was staying with her sister. We napped in lounge chairs on the beach. We snorkeled together in the crystal clear water. We splashed in the pool. We sipped on locally-distilled pineapple rum. A delightful and luxurious break from cruising life!
Never sail on a schedule. I know, I know. We’ve “learned” this lesson before..well, I guess we haven’t. Due to my worsening stomach issues, a growing boat chore list, and incoming guests, we couldn’t wait for a good weather window to sail from the Tuamotus to Tahiti. Instead of sailing, we motored 400 nm and used more fuel than we used on the 2700 nm Pacific Passage.
The only good part about 4 windless days on a passage? A quick refreshing dip in the sea! So hot from the sun and engine heat en route to Tahiti, we took turns tying a rope around our waist and skinny dipping in the cool clear sea water.
It takes the four of us only a moment to realize the seriousness of the situation. We’re stuck in a strange, foreign city at night without access to our way back to Taravao. All the sudden, I have a pit in the bottom of my stomach. I’m the host. I’m the one who found the parking garage. Now I have to figure out how to get my in-laws to the Airbnb safely.
How much do you think an hour-long taxi ride costs at night in Tahiti?
Whatever it is I know it’s worth more than my pride.
Almost immediately I take off running down the street desperately searching for any sign with a name or phone number.
The shells on the necklaces handed to me by the valet at the Hilton resort jangle loudly like sleigh bells, announcing my presence as an idiot tourist to all lingering on the street.
Suddenly I remember seeing an official city office on the backside of the Townhall building sitting above the garage so I pivot and run like a mad woman.
The offices I remembered come into views. More gates. MORE GATES! All doors have massive gates dashing any hope of help.
Finally, one gate is open. No sign on the door to indicate what’s behind it, but I think I see a faint light behind the opaque window.
I bang and bang and bang and bang on the door.
It’s futile I know.
What are the chances anyone is behind it?
What are the chances any angel behind the door is going to say anything but, “I’m so sorry but I can’t help you. You have to wait until the garage opens tomorrow morning at 8 a.m…”?
Already I am developing a plan to get a taxi, pay the exorbitant sum, and take the first bus back to Papeete in the morning to fetch the car.
My father-in-law appears behind me. He sees what I missed in the panic: a buzzer. If my banging didn’t rouse any movement, what good will the buzzer do? We ring it 3 times in due diligence.
Defeated, we’ve turned to walk back when the door opens.
A 7 foot-tall man in a police uniform with a night stick on his hip opens the door. (Okay, okay, he wasn’t 7 feet…but at least 6’8”!) I instinctively take a step back before basically falling onto my knees to beg in French. “Bon soir Monsieur. We’re tourists here and parked in the garage around the corner. We had no idea the garage closed…we checked for signs but never saw any, we promise! Our car is trapped in there. Is there any way you can help us?”
The gentle giant puts his hands up to calm me before reaching for his radio. “Yo, I need the keys to the garage. And can you hurry? A pretty lady is waiting.” Turning back to me, “No problem, Madame. I’ll meet you in 5 minutes at the garage gate.”
THERE IS A GOD!!!!
The four of us scurry back to the gate, not wanting to keep him waiting a moment, already talking through how we are going to pay quickly and get the heck out of here.
Sure enough, 3 minutes later he arrives with a key and lifts the heavy gate with his pinky.
We run to the payment kiosk, scan our ticket, pay with a card. “Card not read.” Another scan, a different card. “Card not read.” Another scan, a quick pray, a different card. “Card not read….MACHINE BROKEN.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME???
At night in Tahiti, the ground comes alive with “Tupas”, a type of land crabs. These suckers are GIGANTIC…but quite tasty when you find them on a local menu.
The sights, sounds, topography, and people have all changed as we’ve sailed from the Marquesas to the Tuatmotus and through the Societies. One thing that’s remained constant: the smell of burning coconut husks.
It’s a challenge to export many of the specialties of French Polynesia. Mangoes and bananas here may be the best in the world but they are too fragile and ripen too quickly to make export economical. But coconuts abound and French Polynesia has found a market: your pantry!
“Copra” is the dried meat of the coconut. The Polynesians harvest it even in the tiniest islands, crack open the husks (which they burn every night on the beach), dry the coconut in specially-built shelters, and ship it to Tahiti. The oil is extracted from the copra and shipped all over the world for your kitchens and consumer product goods. As an abundant resource requiring little capital to produce and as a shelf-stable export with a healthy market, it’s a key staple of the economy here.
Everyone warned us food in French Polynesia would be 3X the prices we were paying in Mexico. Since we’re not working right now, we live on a paltry budget. We weren’t sure how we would buy food. But then we learned about food subsidies.
Most food (except fruit, some poultry, and ham) is imported so it’s expensive. To keep the local population fed, the government subsidizes some food items: Canned corn and peas, coconut milk, pasta, pasta sauce from San Francisco, grass-fed steaks from Uruguay (still trying to figure that one out), UHT milk from New Zealand, and the staple of the French Polynesian diet: Baguettes. Baguettes are sold for about $0.70 USD. Judging by the people who visit the store each morning and walk about with 10 in hand, we’re pretty sure many people here are surviving off these baguettes.
We’ve been able to keep our food spending stable by building our meals around the various food items with the subsidized ‘red-tag’ on the grocery shelves. One perk? French Toast is cheaper than cereal so our breakfasts have been pretty luxurious.
The relief I found at finding the policeman was short lived. I take off running (again!) toward the kiosk at the far end of the garage. Cash in hand, I scan the ticket. In goes the bill, out it comes again. ARGGH! In goes the bill, out it comes again. I use a corner of the machine to smooth out the crinkles in the bill, and try again. SUCCESS!
The tires of the rental car squeal as Andres Jacobo drives Jason-Bourne-style to pick me up before we race back to the exit. Monsieur Policeman is patiently waiting, but stops us as Andres Jacobo is about to pull onto the street.
“You might want to turn on your headlights.” Instead of giving us a ticket, this man receives our gushing gratitude with a smile and waves us goodnight.
As we drive the hour back to Taravao, we all keep smiling and sighing. The deep sighs of people who know they’re ever closer to comfortable beds in an Airbnb instead of sleeping on the dirty sidewalks of a foreign city until a garage gate opens.
Even in civilization, adventure seems to chase after us.
We’re leaving Bora Bora to sail west. Where in the west? Well, we have no idea. Between the heavy Tradewinds, the incoming front from the southern ocean, and the ever-changing immigration rules in the next set of islands, we’re setting off and we’ll land where we land. Stay tuned!
In short, if French Polynesia is on your bucket list, it’s time to cross it off! We’d give our experience here 10/10, WOULD RECOMMEND!
Fair winds and following seas,
P.S. You can track the progress of our passage and read the Captain’s daily updates at https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/AnaMaria/
Want to read our logs from the Marquesas and Tuamotus? Visit www.CoCaptainsLogs.com and see photos on Instagram: @CoCaptainsLog