Published: February 21st 2008February 11th 2008
The bustling capital of Tahiti, Pape’ete is also known as the “basket of water,” our first, and not very accurate, glimpse into Polynesian life. No idea why it carries that nickname but I’m sure there is some island legend behind the idiom as there is with all other things here. The mountains have legends, the lagoons have legends; even the dances have legends behind them. I learned this vital information from my, “Facts for the Tahitian Tourist” data sheet I picked up at the visitor’s center (they had free bits of pineapple too!). FYI - there are no poisonous snakes or spiders found anywhere in the islands and mango season starts in October.
Welcome to French Polynesia, the lush islands of bare breasted woman (haven’t seen any yet), tropical fruits by the busload (that are apparently entirely sold abroad because we haven’t eaten them), yummy French baguettes (breakfast, lunch and dinner), white sand beaches, hours of laziness, trees rich with ripe coconuts and fragrant flowers, smooth, blue lagoons and enchanting serenity (outside of Pape’ete that is). This South Pacific oasis, discovered by Capt. James Cook in the 1700’s, though the true “discoverer” has been debated by historians, stretches over 2 million square miles, about the size of Europe, excluding the Soviet Union (and to think we are going to sail across it all!!). For years, the images and magical names of Bora Bora, Huahine, Tahiti and Moorea have fed the romantic imaginations of Western civilization, not to mention sized up the renowned talents of such literary giants as Melville, Stevenson, and Michener. ……..and here we ALL are to experience the wonders, the mystics, and the beach bum way of life (in between watches at the helm that is).
Our gaggle of sun starved, mid-westerners are trying very hard to fit into the slower paced island life (not to mention living on a boat with eight very different grown adults.) The Cultra posse, Papa duck, Mamma duck, teenager Lexi and yours truly, flew into LAX on a beautiful California day. After disembarking from or very delayed AA flight, we got to play the Home Alone Airport Race
and had exactly 50 minutes to collect our baggage, cross the entire Los Angeles terminal in search of the International Departures gates, check in with Air Tahiti Nui, unclothe and go through the grim faced security check points again, and find our airport lounge. Mind you, this was not an easy feat when your father is carrying enough tools, flammable substances and equipment to outfit the entire south Miami Dade boating population. I think I only squawked once or twice in frustration as we lugged our fourteen bags of paraphernalia from A to B. Finally settling into my semi-comfortable ice blue seat on Air Tahiti Nui at the end of the afternoon was a much needed reprieve (the offer of free, unlimited alcohol certainly helped.)
Except for some poor movie selections and not receiving my much anticipated and previously requested vegetarian meal, our flight was uneventful. After many long hours of no sleep, Tahiti greeted us out of the darkness with a regal display of lights. From above, we could see the gleaming glow from Pape’ete as well as the smaller, more spread out communities along the hillsides. I won’t give details about our highly overpriced taxi ride to Marina Tahina, the several dingy trips back and forth to anchored Queequeg in order to safely transport all of our luggage or the ungodly hour that we all finally toppled into bed, but our first good nights sleep in Polynesia was welcomed with sweet dreams and clanging halyards.
The following three days were a bustling mass of uncomfortable heat as we rushed to ready Queequeg for her journey through the islands. Carrey and Wes arrived from Sydney. Everything as washed (lots of bleach and wrinkled hands) to remove five months of dirt and sea from the interior. Several visits to the nearby Carrefour to stock the dwindled supply of food stores - canned this and canned that, boxed this and boxed that; a.k.a - not too much fresh stuff. We filled the diesel tanks, loaded up on fifty gallons of water, and washed four loads of laundry (some in buckets on the dock and a few in the expensive laundry machines at the marina.) Since we technically were not allowed to use the marina’s facilities, as we were an anchored boat and not a paying boat, the crew was not permitted to use the showers or pool amenities. Although QQ has two onboard showers, many crew members prefer to take “bucket” showers on the deck - some in their suits but others not, the later have to wait until dark since there are several other boats anchored beside us.
We are re-learning to cook meals as we have only a two burner stove and the alcohol is VERY expensive. One pot meals are a top priority with lots of fresh Polynesian baguettes. Pastas, rice, cous-cous, beans and all other canned or pre-packaged food items you can think of. Speaking of which, if anyone has any "one pot wonders" out there that they would like to share, please feel free to send them onward. The crew of QQ will greatly appreciate your culinary inspirations.
Just a note of advice to any seafaring, honeymooning, or island hopping adventurers out there. Avoid Pape’ete at all costs. Fly in to clear immigration and then haul butt onward as soon as possible to the other more beautiful, more friendly and less chaotic islands. Once a tropical mecca and romantic oasis for the seasoned, ocean going schooner, as it was in the times of Herydahl and Mitchner, it has since turned into a dusty, steemy, sweaty, crowded, smelly metropolis…..and the locals aren’t any better. Instead of long haired, white toothed, friendly Tahitians, Pape’ete is overrun by the French (and they don’t like Americans too much). No warm greeting or welcoming smiles in this bustling town. Maybe it’s just me though.
I spent one afternoon lollygagging around downtown Pape’ete, waiting for our passports to be updated with our new 30 extended day visas. My pick-up appointment was for 4’oclock. However, after napping on the pier, perusing the markets, hopping into air conditioned boutiques (pretending to shop), and checking my email in a record breaking four minutes (internet is about $15 an hour here!), I peeked into the immigration with a hopeful smile on my face around 2:30. The shiny headed officer must have sensed my wistfulness and eagerness to get going and he opened the door to the inner headquarters for me, sat me in his comfy, twirly chair and got to work on our passports. Twenty minutes and one ice cold coke later, I joyfully trotted out of immigration, hailed a bus and high tailed it out of the city.
Hard work has paid off. The galley is stocked, linens and cushions are aired, hulls are scrubbed, sails are bundled and the crew is keen to be ‘underway.’ Just a short itinerary to keep you up to date. QQ’s next stop is the beautiful island of Moorea, followed by Huahine, Raiatea, Tahaa, Bora Bora, and Tubuai before heading west towards the Cook Islands, American Samoa, Western Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, and a few others I can’t quite remember right now. FYI - I can’t afford to sit in an internet café right now (both in the mental sense and the $$$$$). It is too bloody expensive and the connections simply are not cooperating. Hopefully, when we get back to the mainland I can get some shots posted (as I am about three weeks late getting this posted and we are currently on our way back to Pape’ete again). Fair winds till then!!!