Saturday, April 26, 2014

Pape’ete, Tahiti: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Two weeks ago, Mark and I arrived in Papeete, the capital of Tahiti and French Polynesia, and attached Irie to a mooring ball off Taina Marina in an area called Punaauia. We have so much work to do, stuff to buy, boat projects to fulfill and things to accomplish after over a year of not being able to do anything efficient in regards to the boat and the internet, that we will probably be here a while. Whether we want to or not. As with all civilized and “citylized” places, being in one brings pleasure and dread, and requires a lot of effort, patience, endurance, and money.

The mooring field off Taina Marina with Tahiti in the background

The Good

Broccoli! Fresh mushrooms! Different kinds of meat, cheese and bread! The selection, the air conditioning, the space, the pure joy of shopping in a western-style, mosquito-free, well-lit grocery store (like the Carrefour) pleases many of our deprived senses. We still like chicken, carrots, onions, garlic and cabbage, and we still enjoy a fresh baguette once in a while, but it is mighty nice to have a change in diet for now. Although the abundance of tasty (fatty) foods is already showing a change in “belly looks” as well!

A western-style mall and supermarket

Other (English speaking) cruisers! Yes, we can finally communicate in earnest again and have a social calendar to prove it. The new cruising season has started and a new group of sailors has crossed (and is crossing) the extensive Pacific. We caught up with a few people we met in French Polynesia and the Galapagos last year; they are all here for the same reason: to work on their boats! And, I managed to meet and talk to Yvan Bourgnon, the famous Swiss-French sailor who is trying to set two world records.

BBQ/potluck on one of the docks at Taina Marina - Mark and Lily are getting some meat

Marine stores! There are a few “real” marine stores – although as with most of the stores here, the choices, availability and prices in Panama were much better – so we have managed to check some items off our “to buy” list. Now, we still have to find (or order) the other 95 items…
The wireless internet is not too bad. Some providers truly suck – yes, even here, Ioranet is deficient - but after a few tries and tons of money, we think we found some reliable internet, most of the time…
English (and tourism) is more common here, so communicating with the locals and the French ex-pats is much easier, especially for Mark.

Full moon over Tahiti or "Under the Tahitian moon", as Porno for Pyros sings appropriately

The view of Mo’orea across the channel and a full moon above the Tahitian hills is something honeymooners and other vacationers pay hundreds of dollars for and enjoy from their hotel balconies. All we have to do is drop anchor or pick up a mooring and look around us.

Sunset over Mo'orea, Tahiti's sister island, about 10 miles away

The Bad

The cost of everything but baguettes (and the usual subsidized items – chicken, rice, pasta, sugar, milk, the four vegetables …) is outrageous. Now that we can finally touch the items we have so long desired, we have to consider whether they are worth the high price. Of course, we splurged on some goat cheese, croissants, salami and ice cream the first couple of days, but now we are back to “the usual” food stuffs, with something extra here and there. Tomatoes cost $4 a pound, zucchini $5 (we have not eaten any of these yet), chicken breast $14 a pound (when I wrote chicken before, it meant whole chicken – frozen). Boat products cost twice the price than in the States, alcohol – other than beer ($2 a bottle) - is still unaffordable (the cheapest wine costs $8 a bottle, drinkable rum costs over $40 a bottle) and tax and import duty is high. To order something into the country (with a value of over $300 including the shipping costs, which are taxed as well!), you need to use an agent, who charges $250 and up. This would add 20% to the cost of a new jib ordered from abroad for example. On the other hand, if we would buy a new jib here, it would cost four times more.

Billboards and fruit stands - $11 for 4 small pineapples or one watermelon

Pape’ete is a city, so… it is busy. Four to six lane roads, traffic jams, cars parked everywhere, people crowding the stores, dinghies buzzing back and forth in the anchorage and local boat traffic creating massive wakes, especially in the weekends. There is music, there are fumes, there is garbage, there is smoke from fires, grit from construction, and noise from landing planes. Parts of the mooring field consist of garbage, seaweed and scum, making showering impossible and creating massive stains on our waterline. Many people make Taina Marina their home, so the selection of moorings is very limited. A spot in the marina itself costs $60 a night for a catamaran of 35 feet (no weekly or monthly fees) in this high season. But, they are full at the moment anyway. The World ARC fleet is here…

Traffic and four lane roads in front of the marina and along the road to Carrefour

The heat and the hassle trying to locate necessary boat items are very draining. The sun, especially when there is no wind, can be relentless. The distances between useful stores are big. There is a main bus route (every trip costs $2 per person which adds up quickly) to and from the city, but most of the time, we are walking for hours to get to a store, only to discover that they don’t have anything we need – either it is not in stock, unavailable or the wrong size.

The ugly

I will just repeat here that Pape’ete is a city and that comes with the ugliness of a city: noise, smells, dirt, crime, crowds, garbage, expense, and lack of authenticity. It sometimes reminds us of a third world country, but with higher than first world prices.

Parking lot at the Carrefour grocery store

It is possible, however, to find a relatively remote mooring ball or spot to anchor and forget about it all, until you have to take that 30 minute dinghy ride to amenities and facilities again! :-)

Meeting up with Mark and Marian from SV Zenna and getting to know Emma, who took care of SV Liward during the owners' absence

Sister island Mo'orea during the day

Ma Louloute on a mooring ball in front of Marina Taina during Yvan's visit in Tahiti

Yvan Bourgnon and his wife Nadia, who joined the support boat in Fakarava

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