Everyone loves a good surprise, whether it’s an outcome different than what was expected or something more tangible like a gift. We’ve recently been the lucky recipients of both kinds.
First, we were pleasantly surprised by how much we’ve enjoyed Papeete, the capital city of French Polynesia and located at the northwest corner of the island of Tahiti. It’s a city of 170,000 people with it’s traffic jams, noise and dirt, and even though it completely shuts down at various times of the day (12-3 and after 6 p.m.), we’ve loved being in civilization again after two months of next to none. In fact, while the lack of buses after 6 p.m. were at first a source of angst for us (how were we to get back to the boat which is anchored outside of town?), it became the impetus for connecting with locals -people actually stop and offer us rides home (even if it is completely out of their way – and understand that gas here is about $6-7 per gallon).
Tahiti brought with it girls’ days out in the city (one must have girlfriend time!), lots of pearl shopping, an opportunity to visit various chandleries and hardware stores, excellent provisioning, meandering through the local market, and only a bit of sightseeing (the highlight was, as you might imagine, the Pearl Museum). Harrison picked up a guitar at a local store and is getting lessons from our friend Krister on s/v Britannia. He has even jammed with his friend Maia on s/v Ceilydh who has taken up the Tahitian ukulele. Papeete would not be complete without eating out at the ‘roulottes’, which are vans set up every evening at 6 p.m. serving anything from chow mein and crepes to wood-fire oven pizzas and tuna tartar – it is perhaps the only reasonably priced restaurant option in town and always serves fresh and delicious food.
Another surprise: Before hitting Papeete, our monthly spending had surprisingly reached an all time cruising low – surprising because things here are so expensive. Notwithstanding a $12 small watermelon, $6 lettuces, and $6/dozen eggs, we’ve eaten out very little and have spent almost completely on fresh produce. Once in Papeete, however, there’s been more to spend on…
We’ve been fortunate enough to be here during the Heiva Festival which takes place during the first two weeks of July and celebrates the Polynesian culture. We witnessed fruit-carrying races, javelin throwing, outrigger canoe races, Tahitian dancing (how do they wiggle like that?), fire dancing, and all sorts of other shows of the vibrant Polynesian spirit.
One highlight was connecting with the orthodox Sephardi (of Western European and North African roots) Jewish community in Papeete by visiting the only synagogue in town (which also has a mikvah or ritual bath) for a Shabbat evening service. I love that no matter where I am in the world, the siddur (prayer book) follows the same general order with the same basic prayers so that I can follow along and belong. We were heartily welcomed by the Secretary of the Jewish Community, Dr. Francois Yonah Poul, who also has great tales of his time as the ‘traveling doctor’ for the Tuamotus during a 10 year period in the 90’s.
Perhaps the best surprise, however, came in the form of unexpected visitors. Our friends Dennise and Daniel decided on four days’ notice that it was time to check Tahiti off their bucket list. Dennise, as the great friend that she is, was getting together an order of boat parts for us and a few other boats and when she learned that the cost would be close to $1000 for shipping, she decided to bring it all in person. For the next week with our guests on board we covered a lot ground – more pearl shopping (of course) in Tahiti, hiking and feeding stingrays in Moorea, driving the island of Huahine, snorkeling the coral gardens off the island of Taha’a (perhaps some of the best) , and simply taking in the beauty of Raiatea. I was even treated to Dennise’s much missed company on my night watch during our overnight passage (and D&D suffered only a bit of sea sickness). While we missed their kids (who were at camps back home), I personally could not have asked for a better surprise!
We had a ‘down’ day when they left this past Saturday, but certainly took advantage of the quiet time to re-provision, clean, and rest after a packed week. We’re taking a couple of weeks off from homeschooling and I’ve spent some time gathering next year’s materials. Danielle and I worked on putting together some pearl jewelry and the boys worked on boat projects. We have since reunited with our friends on Britannia and plan to spend only a couple of more days on Raiatea before moving on to Bora Bora, which will be our last stop in French Polynesia. Our visas run out at the end of the month.
Raiatea, Society Islands (Iles Sous le Vent / Leeward Islands), French Polynesia