Adventures in Bureaucracy

June 18, 2003, 10:00 p.m.

LATITUDE: 17-35.41S

LONGITUDE: 149-37.05W

At anchor, Papeete, Tahiti

Click here for maps

Dear Friends and Family:

We made it to civilization, and what a change it is!  Yes there is a French "hypermarche" (not a SUPERmarket, but a HYPER market!) with long counters of French cheeses, sausages, wines, etc.  There is rush-hour traffic, pollution, security guards at the stores, internet cafes, hardware stores, art galleries -- anything you could want, and more, but not what you EXACTLY want.

Catamaran at Papeete Quay
We entered Papeete harbor, past the seawall, and oggled the numerous large, expensive yachts backed up to the quay.  The Windstar (four masted cruise ship) was there, as was the Antartica and her tender.  (The Antartica is a sailboat -- perhaps 80 or 90 feet long, and her "tender" is the wife's motor yacht -- same length, more luxurious appointments.  They travel together -- we saw them in Taiohae.)  We arrived on a Friday afternoon, and we knew that the immigration officials (with whom boaters have to "check in") go home for the weekend at midday on Friday.  So there was not much point in staying at the downtown quay, where the rush hour traffic and pollution are a mere few yards away. Tahiti from seaward

Above: approaching Papeete



We decided to go to the Maeva beach area, where most sailboats go to anchor.  To do so, we had to motor past the airport, getting permission from air traffic control, and then from the harbormaster.  (Evidently some sailboat masts are so tall that they could potentially interfere with flights -- there's a scary thought!)

Left:  Airplane taking off from Papeete International Airport, as we motor past (with permission from the air control tower, at the right of the photo).

We had hoped to tie up at the Marina Taina, but they've got a construction project going, and no space was available.  So we anchored that first night at a small bay near the airport.  The international jets all seem to take off and land during the night.  At the crack-o-dawn -- actually still in the dark -- we got up to meet Maryline and Bernard's flight -- Air France -- arriving at 6:00 a.m.  There is a craft market at the airport, and we bought flower leis to greet the new arrivals.  Maryline and Bernard had been in flight (or in airports) 22 hours since leaving Germany, where the time is exactly 12 hours different.  They did amazingly well with jet-lag, and by now seem to be fully acclimatized.

Right:  Maryline & Bernard riding "Le Truck"

On Sunday night, we celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary by going to a VERY nice (read VERY expensive) French restaurant.  (Of course nearly everything in Papeete is VERY expensive).  The food was excellent, the service was indifferent -- and I guess that's typical for a French restaurant.  We asked for ordinary water (tap water) and nothing happened for 15 minutes.  We changed that to bottled water, and a bottle appeared within 90 seconds. 

Monday it was time to do the immigration thing.  Papeete is the Port of Entry for French Polynesia, and everything we did in the Marquesas was merely informal preliminaries.  There were four different offices to visit here -- fortunately three of them were in the same building.  Those three seemed fairly organized and efficient, and they had a collection of reports from the Marquesas about our comings and goings.  The fourth office was a different story altogether -- that's where we were supposed to get our long stay visas that we had worked so hard for, and waited four months to have approved before we left San Francisco.  In San Francisco, we were given official looking documents, pasted in our passports, that looked like visas.  They also attached a notice that we had to go to this fourth office, upon arrival in Papeete, to have the visas officially issued.

Well, the Papeete office had no record of our application.  Or at least none they could find.  Despite the computers on the desks, everything was in paper form in boxes or folders, perhaps sorted by date, perhaps sorted alphabetically -- who could tell?  The official-looking French visa glued in our passport means nothing.  Fortunately, we had saved a copy of the application -- although the Tahitian official was less impressed by the application than by the receipt issued when we paid for the visa.  He's sending a telex to San Francisco, presumably to ask them why they screwed up and didn't send the application to Papeete.  Of course we strongly suspect the truth is that Papeete lost the application, since San Francisco would never have issued the visa without approval from Papeete.  Supposedly that's why it took four months.

So now we're in some sort of legal limbo while San Francisco and Papeete talk to each other.  If worst comes to worst, we'll take a flight to Easter Island for three days, and that gives us a fresh 30 day entry period, as though none of this had ever happened.  Hopefully it doesn't come to that, although I would like to see Easter Island!


After the first night, we moved to the area near Marina Taina.  Many of our friends from past anchorages are here -- Rigo from Tahanea, Tondelayo from Tahuata, Golden Sovereign and Deja Vu from Atuona, Windchime from Daniel's Bay, Jaldanemar from Hakahetau (see photo right). 

It is almost like moving into an old familiar neighborhood.  This evening we had dinner with Steve and Iretta on Rigo -- truly delightful, and especially with all those fresh fruits, vegetables and meats we have been missing for the past weeks!

Jaldanemar approaching the anchorage near Marina Taina

Passengers on "Le Truck"

We take the dinghy ashore, and then walk a few blocks to the Hypermarche.  Or take "Le Truck" into central Papeete.  (Le Truck is a private enterprise competitor of the public transport system.  Old trucks are converted, with a canopy and wooden benches in the back.  Not nearly as nice as the public transport buses, but perhaps they come more often, or are less crowded.  They cost the same -- $1.30 per person -- so there must be some other attraction.)

We have enjoyed visiting the public market in Central Papeete, where growers sell vegetables, fruits, flowers, meat, fish and craft items.  I visited a pharmacy and then a doctor to get some prescription refills.  The doctor couldn't figure out the French equivalent of a couple of drug names, and so he refused to accept money for the prescriptions he did write.  We visited a laundry, and managed to get all our sheets and towels done for "only" 45 dollars.  (In Atuona we paid $110 for about the same amount of laundry, and it came back clean, folded and WET!  This was clean, folded and DRY -- a much better deal!)

Mark has been scuba diving and surfing, and has partied with the "babes" on the next boat. (That boat, crewed by the "babes," is reportedly owned by a rich guy who lives two doors down from Bill Gates.  He has the crew take the boat from place to place, and he shows up every now and then.  I guess the "babes" have a license to party in the meantime.)


J-Bernard & Mark whooping it up -- Photo by Maryline Eya

Maryline and Bernard have taken a 4 wheel drive trip across the island, have visited some tourist attractions, and are looking for an opportunity to "jet ski."  Not exactly a sailing frame-of-mind, but they're obviously having fun. 

Craig and I have a long list of chores to accomplish while we're in Papeete, including sail inspection and repairs, and provisioning for the next several weeks.  We hope to take in a dance contest, and find a few other interesting and fun things to do, in between the chores.

Tahiti is fringed by a reef which is a half mile or more from the land.  In between there is typically a deep channel for navigation, and some shallower areas for anchoring or snorkeling.  The reef acts as a barrier to the big ocean waves, so that the areas inside the reef are flat like a lake.  We can see the big waves breaking on the reef during the day, and we can hear them at night.  Mark (who went out beyond the reef with a dive boat) tells us that there are surfers out there, taking advantage of these huge waves.  Once we set about to explore the more remote parts of Tahiti, we will be able to travel mostly inside the reef.  Plenty of wind, and no waves -- it sounds ideal!


Best wishes to all! 

Craig & Barbara Johnston

S/V Sequoia

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