Monday, July 15, 2013

The Big City

Rainbow over the Tahiti Yacht Club, Arue, Tahiti
Coming into Tahiti after cruising the Marquesas and the Tuamotos is a little like living in the smallest town in America and then moving to New York.  You’ve been exploring places that usually have one main street that’s about ½ a mile long with maybe one small store, a post office and a bank if you’re lucky.  If I had to guess, the average population in the Marquesas might have been around 2000 people per “town” and in the Tuamotos it’s more like 200!
Our friendly Tahitian bus driver.
Love the personal flair!
Tahiti on the other hand, is the center of French Polynesia – it’s their New York.  According to our guide book, “of the 230,000 inhabitants of French Polynesia, more than half (120,000) live in Papeete.”  Remember that French Polynesia includes all of the Marquesas, the Tuamotu’s, the Austral’s  and the Society Islands.  If you add up the entire area, it’s over 3.4 million (!!!) square miles worth of the earth.  That said, the actual LAND coverage of the 118 islands is just 2485 square miles – “a mere speck of dust scattered on the immense ocean”.  That’s a lot of water and not much land – kind of wild when you really think about it.

So landing in Tahiti (their New York) after several months in these tiny islands was almost like going into culture shock for us.  There is an international airport, a huge and VERY busy cargo Port, a large downtown with tall building (more than 2 floors!) and most importantly – REAL GROCERY STORES!!!!  

The wonderful downtown market - so much great stuff!
Since leaving Mexico we have been shopping in these tiny local stores, which are a little like shopping at a 7-11 on steroids.  A kind of catch-all store with the basics – lots junk food, cookies, pop, beer, plus maybe a few hardware items and maybe even a few t-shirts or sandals thrown in.  Vegetables were pretty scarce – maybe some potatoes and onions and if you were lucky you might find carrots and a cucumber or two.  If you REALLY hit the jackpot there might even be a head of cabbage and a couple of bananas.  It takes a little getting used to, but its fine once you get into the swing of things.  

How I felt when I couldn't
But Tahiti, sweet Tahiti, has a Carrfour!  According to friends, this store originated in France – but (being under French rule) has been introduced very successfully in Tahiti – and I am VERY thankful for that!  For you Seattle readers it’s just like shopping at Fred Meyer – a HUGE grocery store with lots of Target-like stuff thrown in too.  Suddenly we have access to everything we haven’t seen in months!  Being a “foodie” it’s a little like giving a crack-head a big bag of drugs……and then saying “oh – don’t go through that too fast – you’re on a budget so use it wisely”!    

You would be amazed at the strength of the buying IMPULSE when it hasn’t been satisfied for a very long time – it’s very strong.  But being on a pretty tight budget we (wisely) decided that we should do a “walk-through” the first time and not let ourselves buy anything.   It was almost as satisfying just LOOKING at all the stuff we could buy.  After the walkthrough we went back to the boat and talked about what we really NEEDED and what we could actually AFFORD.  This makes for a much smaller list that is MUCH kinder on the budget.  It’s a little tough to keep your head in that sort of situation – we know cruisers that went in and spent over a $1000 – but I’m proud to admit we escaped for just over $300.  Not too shabby I think!  

Beautiful flower head garlands for sale
But enough about groceries!  What did we DO (other than shopping) while in Tahiti?  We caught up with old friends, we explored the island and we did some minor repairs.  We actually stayed much longer than we thought we would.  Everyone had told us what a “pit” Papeete is but I couldn’t disagree more.  Is it crowded, loud and dirty (like every big city)?  Absolutely!  But there was something kind of wonderful about being in that atmosphere again.  Just walking around all the stores and businesses and seeing all the commerce was a little refreshing after months of “island life” and the slow pace that goes with it.  There’s something quite inspiring about seeing Capitalism alive and well in the 3rd world.  

Sunset over Moorea

 While in Tahiti we enjoyed two beautiful anchorages – the first in the town of Arue, just east of downtown and the home of the Tahiti Yacht Club.  Being Seattle Yacht Club members, we introduced ourselves to the manager and gifted him an SYC burgee.  He was beyond excited and promptly allowed us full access to all of their facilities, which he normally can’t allow cruisers to use as it would be too big a burden on the small club.  We were delighted with the club and happy to see a very good youth sailing program at work.  Our second stop was the rather huge anchorage/marina area just northwest of the main Papeete Port.  This is where the majority of cruisers stay to provision, buy parts and fix everything they can before moving on.  We ran into MANY boats we have met along the way here and it was great fun to catch up and spend time with friends we hadn’t seen for a while.  I’m happy to report that both anchorages were really beautiful – situated just behind the protective reef with amazing views of the ocean and the island of Moorea in the distance.  We had breathtaking sunsets almost every night – what’s not to like about that?

Does this rooster look annoyed or what?  Kind of how we
felt after paying $90 for a couple of spot welds...
In this part of the world, Tahiti is basically your best (only??) chance for finding professionals that work on boats and most parts can also be located or ordered and flown in – so LOTS of boats get work done here before moving on.   If you can’t fix it here, your next best hope is New Zealand, which is 1000’s of miles away, so you really hope you can fix it here.  We had our own list of repairs – thankfully fairly small compared to some boats we know.  What repairs?  Mainly our refrigeration system had two issues – it needed to be recharged with more Freon, plus we had snapped the bracket on our engine driven side – so had to have that re-welded.  While I’m delighted to say we were able to find a welder, we were not so happy to pay the $90 he wanted for 3 spot welds – which probably took him about 2 minutes to do.  But when you need something done – you just have to buck up and pay.  Thankfully the Freon recharge was only $50 – so since we were expecting that to be more it helped offset the pain of the welded piece.  

Dinner on Cassiopée - can you tell it's the end of the night?
While here we spent a lot of time with friends, including an AMAZING dinner with Claudine and Gérard onboard Cassiopée – who insisted we have a “true French meal” with all the courses (5!) and the appropriate accompanying beverages.  I now understand why the French are so proud as it was easily one of the best meals we’ve had in a very long time.  They also invited us to join them for a tour around the island in their rental car – a much easier way to see the island than sailing around the whole thing.  It was great to take in all the “sites” that we would have missed without a car – thanks again guys!

Local boat storage!
All in all, we thought Tahiti was great – just the right mix of big city and incredible tropical beauty.  It may be the “New York” of French Polynesia, but we thoroughly enjoyed the “bright lights and big city” atmosphere for the two weeks we were there.

Very old stone tikis at the religious site of Marae Arahurahu