A Visit to Civilization in Tahiti

Getting a slip in the Papeete Marina was a welcome relief for me from our new life of cruising and conservation. In fact, it was like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow! It’s not that I don’t think it’s good to conserve power and water and eliminate waste that gets thrown in the trash. It’s that I’m still getting used to this new lifestyle and there was no easing into it for me. It was cold turkey, (or hot turkey as it turns out). Honestly, I’m not sure I’ll ever really get 100% adjusted to the inconvenience of doing things on, or from a boat.

We take for granted so many things that are just normal to us in the US. Unlimited data, for example, is hard to come by in French Polynesia unless you stay someplace long enough to sign up for a data plan. We are operating on recharge cards that contain 8 GB of data, with a bonus of 2 GB for weekend use. I eat through them fairly regularly and I don’t care too much about the cost ($20 a card). Having connectivity is still very important to me at this stage of my newbiness as a cruiser. Feeling connected to my old life gives me comfort and I need that.

Another thing we take for granted is just being able to pick up the phone and make a doctor’s appointment if we need to. Granted, there is usually a waiting period and a process to go through to see someone, but it’s not as difficult as trying to communicate in a language you don’t speak. Brent injured a tendon in his thumb on the passage to the Marquesas Islands. He had been suffering with it for a few months and it never seemed to get better. Since we all use our thumbs all the time, he was constantly straining it and thought it was getting worse. When we got to Tahiti, his first priority was seeing an orthopedic doctor. We found one in the Tahiti Cruiser’s Guide and fortunately, one of the receptionists spoke some English. Although he was able to make an appointment, he wasn’t sure if he got the time or the address right. On the appointment day, we walked down to the clinic building we thought the office was in and they told us that doctor only does surgery there. We needed to walk another couple blocks to his office building. We found it and took a seat to wait in the crowded waiting area, after confirming that we had the correct time. Brent was eventually called in to see the doctor, who turned out to speak very good English and was also a sailor. He knew exactly what was wrong with Brent’s tendon and ordered an ultrasound and X-ray as a first step in confirming the diagnosis. After we went off to a different part of town for the ultrasound/X-ray and had a follow-up appointment with the ortho, it confirmed the diagnosis and the doctor gave Brent an Rx for cortisone and an order to have it injected by a radiologist. On the scheduled day, Brent went off to pick up the cortisone and take it to the radiology center. The injection worked like a charm after a few days. Seeing the specialist cost $63 for the initial visit, $50 for the follow up. $4 for the cortisone and $250 for the X-ray and to inject it. At home it would have cost our insurance company 5x as much and our co-pay would have been more than the visits themselves cost.  Socialized medicine is a wonderful thing! It was also great to be able to walk to all the appointments and to the pharmacy. Another reason to love the marina and it’s location!

Speaking of the marina, the traffic noise of the city, the construction site noise adjacent to the marina, the large wakes the ferries generated starting at 5:30 AM and cruisers using power tools to do boat projects were not great, but the convenience of being on a dock with easy shore access and markets sugarcoated all of that.

Here is what I was excited about being able to do:

  • I could use my hairdryer if I wanted to.
  • I could charge ANY device, including my power-sucking laptop.
  • I could run the microwave for more than a minute.
  • I could leave all the lights on.
  • I could take a long shower with warm water if I want to.
  • We could empty our trash in the marina’s dumpsters.
  • We could do as many loads of laundry as we wanted.

Such utter decadence to a cruiser!

We had a choice of bars and restaurants, right next to the marina. I’m not keeping close track of my weight, but I could feel the chocolate croissants, Nutella waffles and Atomic Hawaiian cocktails adding up. Thankfully, there was a beautiful waterfront park next to the marina that also had fitness stations with nice equipment that just used your body weight to create resistance. I walked and used the machines multiple times a week.

It was finally time for Marnie to leave us on June 16th to fly back to San Diego, after 4 months on the boat. She was a great crew member, but her visa was expiring. Part of me was a tiny bit jealous that she could go home, but I am trying to get past that feeling. We set about seeing the island and rented the smallest car in the world for 10 days from Avis. They claimed it was all they had – oh well. We soon became familiar with every hardware store in Papeete. We found a a sail repair guy to fix our jib and repair a zipper on a sail bag. We found bigger markets and did big grocery shopping. We drove the whole way around the island, stopping at beaches, blowholes, breweries, belvederes (French name for viewpoint), botanical gardens, waterfalls and for hikes. We scoped out what we thought Kyle and Alyssa would like to do when they arrived. We found some sources for gluten free foods for Kyle. We had time to become better friends with other cruisers we had met previously in other places, as well as meeting new people. Before we knew it, 3 weeks had slipped by.

By the time Kyle and Alyssa showed up, we were able to show them around like well-seasoned tour guides before taking them over to Mo’orea for a taste of some more authentic cruising. It sure was great having them! They brought a big suitcase full of all the things we’d been ordering on Amazon and it was Christmas in June! We really enjoyed their visit and I think they went away with a really good idea of what our cruising life is like. I’ll tell you more about Mo’orea in my next post which will be dedicated to that island. 

After Kyle and Alyssa left from Tahiti, we were notified that our extended Carte de Sejours were ready to be picked up. We had submitted the application only a week before after procuring a $90 Fiscal Stamp, (never heard of such a thing) from the post office to accompany our submission. We thought riding our bikes 10 km to Tahiti Crew’s office in the Taina Marina would be no big deal to retrieve them. It was the ride from hell. We had to ride on a busy highway-like road for much of the way. There was a bike lane, but it would mysteriously end just before approaching a round-about. There were bicycles prohibited signs at the end of the bike lane, but before entering the round-about. What are you supposed to do if you’re riding a bike?! We took our chances and tried to keep up with the speeding traffic. Somehow we made it! We collected our highly-coveted Carte de Sejours and sat down at La Casa Bianca for a pretty good pizza and a pitcher of beer to celebrate before tackling the ride back. 

A week after Kyle and Alyssa left, our friends Dave and Lynn Jaeger came in for over 2 weeks. They also brought a suitcase full of things for us! They stocked us up on alcohol, coffee, snacks, some parts and boat cushions. Who needs Amazon?! We repeated some of the best places in Tahiti with them, as well as renting a car again, (a bigger one this time) seeing some new things and also going to Mo’orea. Their time didn’t have a definite end date, as they are newly retired, so we had some flexibility in where we went and how long we took. I will continue the description of their visit in the Mo’orea and Huahine posts that come next. 

It felt really good to have a home base for more than a week and to feel like you actually knew something about the place you were visiting, before setting off for the next island. But it was Tahiti, which has gained a reputation for just being where you stop to fix things, get parts, go to the doctor, do big grocery shopping, or get a haircut. Papeete is the big city fraught with noise, pollution and dirt. I however, looked at it with eyes of a not-quite-adjusted cruiser, who still longs for her old first-world conveniences, habits and social connections and I rather liked it.

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