Papette, Tahiti

What a beautiful week at sea! Great weather every day, and what a romantic way to spend Valentine’s! As we typically do prior to arriving at a new port, we attend the lectures describing the country or city we’re visiting, and Papeete, Tahiti was no exception. It’s much like being back in school – accept I can take a glass of wine to class if I wish…and usually do! Cheryl takes her Rum & Coke! Between Easter Island & Tahiti, we set our clocks back a total of five hours – not in one chunk, but an hour each day. I didn’t fully understand it, but the world is divided into 24 different time zones – each zone is 15 degrees wide because 360 degrees (once around the Earth) divided by 24 = 15 degrees. See what you learn in these lectures?! OR…maybe I just missed this information in 2nd grade!! The term Polynesia, meaning “many islands”, refers to a sub region of Oceania consisting of over 1,000 islands in the central & southern Pacific Ocean. Geographically, Polynesia resembles a triangle with its corners at Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island, or Rapa Nui. Other main island groups located in this triangle are Samoa, Tonga, & the Cook Islands and French Polynesia. Papeete is the capital of French Polynesia, and is the primary center of Tahitian & French Polynesian public & private governmental, commercial, industrial and financial services. Cheryl and I were here 18 years ago – we landed in Papeete (from Los Angeles) then boarded a commuter flight for a week in Bora Bora, followed by a week in Morea – both very isolated islands. We arrived at the mouth of the harbor at 6:00am and picked up our “pilot” – pilots are local officials familiar with local waterways and don’t actually steer the ship but give directions to the Captain. Nearly every port in the world has one or more pilots to guide ships into and out of their respective harbors. They typically meet the ship in a small boat and while the ship is still moving, they literally jump on board…sometimes just grabbing a rope ladder suspended on the side of the ship and climb to an entrance where he is met by a crew member and escorted to the Bridge to meet the Captain. The same procedure is used when exiting a harbor – the pilot stays with the Captain until that water is deep enough and the potentially dangerous obstacles are passed. At any rate, we picked up our pilot at 6:00, and by 7:00 we were safely docked at the pier, just adjacent to downtown. It was wonderful seeing land and bustling activity having been at sea for so many days & nights – there was a tropical rainstorm in the area to greet us but no one seemed to mind. It didn’t last long and before we knew it, the sun was out, the humidity was as thick as smoke and we knew we were on an island in the South Pacific! At the bottom of the gangway, local Polynesian belly-dancers & percussionists greeted us with their talents and we boarded an open 4X4 for a trip up to the waterfalls. As luck would have it, the Captain & his wife signed up for the same tour as we did. As a courtesy to them, we didn’t talk shop but rather kept our exchanges & comments on the landscape & scenery. The tour lasted about 4 hours and rained on & off throughout. The heat & humidity was extreme. We returned to the ship at Noon, had lunch, showered, and we then went shopping in a mall district right across the street from the pier. We were highly disappointed with the condition of the shopping area compared with what we found here 18 years ago – the city is quite rundown in comparison. The French government has been gradually reducing financial support over the years, and it’s very apparent. The major airlines have all pulled out – Air France still services the island but only with small commuter “island hoppers”. Tahiti Air purchased a few planes from Quantas 5 years ago but only has enough passenger capacity to fill one 737 each week. Cruise business is declining as well – Tahiti has historically been visited by 12 ships annually, but this year they expect only seven. Their daily docking fee is $10,000 – nearby islands charge only $6,000. Local residents are highly disappointed with the decisions of their government, & easy to understand why. There was a strike going on as well – all seven car dealerships were closed because the workers hadn’t received pay increases in 10 years – 10 years!! The city & island is in a downward spiral – and such a shame because it’s such a beautiful place. We returned to the ship after only two hours of shopping – the heat & humidity got the best of us. We had made prior arrangements to meet a few couples at 6pm off the ship to have cocktails & dinner but about 4:00, the rain hit again and didn’t stop for 3 hours. Holland America once again came through – they brought the city to us. They made arrangements for a BBQ next to the pool, complete with a roasted pig! Local dancers & drummers were brought on board and everyone had a great time! The gangway was pulled at 9:30pm and we set sail for Pango Pango – another 1,200 east – scheduled to arrive Sunday morning.