Arrival in Moorea

Cook's Bay, Moorea, French Polynesia

Saturday, June 28, 2003

Dear Friends and Family:

We finally had moderate success with the French bureaucracy, and made good our escape from Papeete.  We had been back to see "Calixto" at the Bureau of Regulation and Control of Legality (I kid you not!) no less than four times.

Moorea anchorage - Cook's Bay
Sign at the entry to the visa office in Papeete

The first time we offered him a complete copy of our application.  He only took part of it, but seemed most interested in the charge card receipt.  Each time we went back, he had no answer from San Francisco as to why he had no file for us.  (We think he's probably the one who lost it). Finally, on Thursday, he pulled out two application forms, had us fill them out, and then told us he needed a "9000 CFP revenue stamp, and two photos for each."  He was going to talk to his supervisor, and thought he would have residence cards (visas) for us on Friday.  (We don't understand why this all couldn't have happened sooner!)

So we went to the post office, bought two revenue stamps, at $90 US apiece, and went to a photo shop and had ID photos taken.  We took the revenue stamps back, and he told us we only needed one, since we were a married couple.  (So why did they need two applications?)  Never mind, we walked back to the post office, and were able to redeem our $90 for the excess stamp. When we came back on Friday, lo and behold, the residence cards were ready, and Calixto was obviously very happy to have us out of his hair.  So we are legal!  Also on Friday, our new charge cards arrived (hurray hurray), so not only can we leave Tahiti, we can also spend money!  (You'll recall my purse was stolen a week ago, which engendered a whole different set of bureaucratic encounters, and some considerable distress, not to mention several very expensive phone calls to cancel charge cards and request new ones).

But wait -- we're not done with the bureaucratic hassles!  Remember the American Express TV ad, where the woman gets her purse stolen, and the announcer says "if only she'd had American Express..."?  The implication was that your replacement travelers checks would be only a phone call away.  NOT!  I had one travelers check in my purse, of $100.  So I thought, let's try the American Express refund thing.  So on Tuesday I went to the Papeete American Express office (actually a travel agency called "Tahiti Tours.")  I waited about 45 minutes to see the right person ("John").  He phoned American Express, and then handed me the phone.  I spent the next 15 minutes being interviewed by a very distant person through a very bad phone connection.  Then he told me that John would have my refund.  Well, no, John said I actually had to go to the Banque de Tahiti, where I would fill out the form, and they would give me the money.  But, sadly, it was 3:30 p.m., and the bank was now closed. 

Next day, Wednesday, Banque de Tahiti, it took them about 45 minutes to figure out that they could actually give me a replacement travelers check.  They gave me the promised form to fill out.  Then the bank officer (who spoke no English) got on the phone to American Express.  This went on for about a half an hour, then she handed the phone to me.  The person on the other end (this time a fairly decent connection) was having a conversation with a French translator about payment for the conversation that had just gone on.  Then she asked me, "What is it, exactly, that you want?"  I explained I wanted my stolen travelers check replaced, and she said, "Oh, you're talking to the wrong person.  This is the fraud division."  Evidently the translator had not been very effective.  She transferred me back to the check refund division, and I was back to the really bad connection I'd had the previous day from "John"'s office.

So I explained the whole thing to this new person, who asked me basically all the same questions from the day before.  Then she asked me to hand the phone back to the bank officer.  I explained that the bank officer didn't speak English.  "What language?  Where are you calling from?"  Then I was put on hold again while they went off in search of another translator.  After about 10 minutes they came back, and talked to the bank officer, who was also fairly distressed by the really bad phone connection.  But authorization was evidently given, and the phone was finally hung up.  Now the bank officer's assistant (who spoke a little English) said "but you have to report this to the police first."  I explained that I did, and there was a question about it on the form, which I had answered affirmatively.  "But we need a copy of the police report."  OK, we're at the end of the line for Wednesday, since I didn't have the police report with me.

I'm glad to report that on Thursday I showed up with the police report, signed my name four times, and they issued me two $50 travelers checks.  Whew!  Three trips into Papeete, about five hours of waiting around --  What do you suppose they'll do with all that paper?

Our stay in Tahiti was not entirely filled with bureaucracy.  On Monday we rented a car and drove the 114 kilometers around Tahiti Nui.  We saw some fabulous blow holes where the ocean whooshes up through lava tubes, coming out like a water cannon.  One lava tube crosses under the road, and comes out under the cliff.  We saw surfers galore, lush vegetation, waterfalls, and rugged inland peaks.


Near the Arahoho blow hole, Tahiti Nui
We stopped to see a marae (temple platform) which had been restored to someone's idea of it's former glory, complete with flags and drums.

Tiki at Marae Arahurahu

Marae Arahurahu
At the southeast end of Tahiti Nui ("Big Tahiti") there is a narrow isthmus connecting to Tahiti Iti ("Little Tahiti").  We drove out to the end of the road at Teahupoo.  The road ends at a beach, which is apparently the site of some world-class surfing competition.  We talked with a local gentleman (Mr. Parker) who looks as Polynesian as anyone.  We learned that his grandfather had been English, but neither he nor any of his relatives spoke any English.  (Mark was helpful here, as our French translator).  Mr. Parker explained that the "fish" we could see jumping offshore (in the reef pass) were actually dolphins.  He said there are about fifty of them, and sometimes they come right in to the beach.  We're planning to sail down there in a few days, and check it out more thoroughly!  We also stopped at the French oceanographic institute where Mark managed to wangle a tour (to take place next week).  He had to talk long and hard -- they obviously are not set up to entertain tourists.  
Left: Looking inland from the south coast of Tahiti Iti. 

Below: Kiteboarder on Phaeton Bay (South coast of Tahiti Iti)

Our little neighborhood (anchorage) at Maeva Beach (Papeete) was starting to feel too familiar.  We had talked with or socialized with many of the boats.  Mark was particularly good at finding late night parties, and was often not with us for the evening.  So once we were done dealing with the bureaucracy issues, we decided to sail over to Moorea.  We had heard that it is much nicer than Papeete, and the scenery is certainly gorgeous.
Windstar cruise ship

Back to the previous report    

On to the next report

We haven't been off the boat yet, so there remains much to learn.  The WindStar (cruise ship) is here, with all its electronic foobazz, making email difficult if not impossible.  So this report may be a bit late coming to you.

Best wishes to all. 

Craig and Barbara Johnston