We spent the first evening ashore in Nuka Hiva exploring town with our group of Norwegian friends and a stray dog who started following us at the dock and didn’t leave our side until he was shooed away by the hostess at the Pearl Lodge. We visited the church, the markets, the hotel at the top of the cliffside with an amazing view, and a cute dinner spot with a baby kitten for company.
The next day was a Sunday and things get very quiet on Sundays around here. The locals stay home, and all the businesses are closed. So, we took this chance to tidy up the boat. We have friends flying in from home on Tuesday! The real question is: where to put them.
I stood looking at the bow bed with wonderment. A guitar (which we have tried to use a total of 8 times), a costco pack of paper towels and a costco pack of toilet paper, four coats, a costco box of saltine crackers, two chairs, a giant spinnaker, a giant bag full of backpacks andcanvas grocery bags (the bag-bag) and hammocks full of (slowly rotting) pomme-citrons all needed to be relocated elsewhere in the already stuffed full boat.
We started by removing everything in the stern lazaretts, where Andrew luckily found a large gap of space behind the autopilot and above the rudder. This freed up space to vacuum seal and store the inordinate number of blankets and coats that we thought we might need in the tropics. Once the blankets and coats were removed, we started looking around for other gaps of light and air….the shower! We have been showering on deck in our swimsuits the last little while because it is more pleasant then showering down below. So, the shower in the bathroom is 6x4x4 feet of space not being used. Perfect to hold the bag-bag, paper towels, toilet paper, and the guitar. Andrew boils the pomme-citrons for his last batch of hooch, I roll up the spinnaker and install it into its bag in the back lazarets, and the chairs go outside for sitting. Success! The guest bed is open and free for use.
In the midst of this project, I discovered I needed to go see a doctor. I will spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say for about ten minutes I thought I was dying. Then, I didn’t think I was dying anymore, I just thought I may have to be exiled from human contact. I consulted trusty Web-MD which confirmed my fears at the speed of third world dial up, then I devolved into the first of three Nuku-Hiva meltdowns. I don’t remember the rest of Sunday because I was in a foul mood.
On Monday morning, we woke early, drank our coffee while I pouted over my raw luck. We hopped into Grin to get our laundry done, track down a doctor, and inquire regarding a tattoo. Grin’s motor is sketchy after three months of being doused in salt water, and the gear shift still isn’t working. Andrew has developed his new strategy: open the motor cover, shove it manually into neutral, and shift into forward only when we are good and ready to go. Once it is in forward, there is no turning back. We buzz into the dock, and he tries to cut the engine at precisely the right moment to float gracefully to the ladder. Instead, he cuts it too late, landing with a “thunk” against the dock. The ladder is bright and shiny stainless steel bolted into the side of a craggy cement quay. I grab the ladder with one hand, and hold Grin’s rope in the other. I stand, trying to balance enough to get a foot on the ladder, but Grin rises and falls five feet up and down while riding a significant ocean swell. I time my jump while Grin is lofted at a high point, and scuttle out. Andrew had other business to do, so I was on my own.
First thing is first here, I make a beeline to the hospital. It is not immediately apparent where the entrance is. There are a number of doors, each of which lead to empty hallways. One woman spies me looking lost and asks what I need. Sometimes my French comes out smoothly, and other times, I freeze like a deer in headlights. This time, I garble a few words about speaking with a doctor and she seems to understand. She tells me to go around the corner to an open door. So, I do, but no one is anywhere in that hallway either. There is a window, but it is shuttered even though it is 11:00 a.m. I stand there, trying to read various signs looking for answers. A sign depicting a human with grotesquely swollen limbs warns citizens to take their medicine once per year to avoid Elephantitus and another gives instructions for reducing the risk of Dengue Fever. My stomach twists in knots worrying.
Maybe I have Elephantitus, too. I envision a lifetime of exile in my parents basement, lugging fifty pounds of lumpy feet from one side of the basement to the other, trying to remain out of the view of other humans. How long does it take for these things to take hold? I poke at my foot, testing to see if I have any extra skin.
Pretty soon a cleaning lady approaches, swooping her mop back and forth toward my feet. She looks at me inquisitively. I explain I wish to see a doctor and she points the window and tells me to take a number. But the window is still closed, and there are no numbers. I figure there is something lost in translation here, so I continue to stand there trying to put together context clues for what I am supposed to do. She mops toward my feet again and looks at me like a third grade teacher when a child just isn’t doing what the child is supposed to be doing. “Dejeuner,” she says really slowly, “Returner a un heure et demi.” She says, as if it is obvious. Ah! They are at lunch, and I should return at 1:30 p.m. Ok. This I can do.
I buy myself an ice cream bar to soothe my worry, then I wander around town looking at houses. I climb up to the top of the city and take a picture of the pretty view of the bay. I’m trying to be cheerful, I am in paradise after all. Once I have passed the requisite amount of time, I return to the hospital and sit in the waiting chairs. For a while, the window is still closed. Then, it slides open, a woman sticks a box of papers on the ledge each with a hand written number on the front, then she slams the window shut again. I approach the little box, take a paper, and sit back down in the waiting seats. I’m the only person around. Soon, a ding happens, and I see the number advance from 24 to 25 on an electronic screen above a door at the other end of the hallway. I am holding number 25. So, I go to the door with the number screen, but nothing happens.
Back where I just came from, the woman from the window is standing in the doorway. She is waving me in. So, I return. In the room, she asks me if I speak French. “A little bit,” I say. She tisk-tisks and proceeds with her questions. She asks me why I want to see a doctor and I try my best to explain without embarrassing myself (impossible) with a combination of French and gestures. When I finish explaining my malady, her face takes on a look of horror and she says: “Oh no! C’est pas bonne! Pas bonne.” Which means, “this is not good, not good.” Then, she asks me for my passport, which is still in the boat because I didn’t realize I would need it. She also asks me if I have any money. I do, but I wasn’t sure if it would be enough. I ask her how much speaking the doctor would cost and she says “vingt-cinq-mille” or 2500 Francs. Thinking that was $250.00, I look at my cash in hand and realize I have only $230. I tell her I will return with my passport and more money shortly, hoping her concern is borne out of a language barrier.
Fast forward another hour, I return to go through the same process with the window, number ticket, etc. This time, though, the woman has two friends in the back office with her. She calls me back, and the friends stay. The woman weighs me for a second time, asks me questions again, and intermittently carries on a conversation with her guests. No HIPPA regulations here. When I describe my problem all three women in the room hum with unhappiness. After providing my passport and information, the woman walks me down the hallway to a window where I am to pay.
The man behind the window takes my paperwork and very cheerfully greets me by name. “Bonjour, Leslie!” Clearly no one has informed him about my malady. He is surrounded by cups and vases of fresh flower arrangements. The smell of flowers waft out from the little hole in the glass where I am to pass through my money. “vingt-cinq-mille, si vous plait.” I hand him the equivalent of $250.00 and he laughs. “No, vingt-cinq-mille!” He says, passing me back the bills. I look, and I swear I just handed him $250.00. “Vingt-cinq-mille!” he says more loudly and more slowing, holding up two $10.00 bills and a five behind the glass. Oh! It’s only $25.00 to see the doctor. I hand him the right payment and he processes my paperwork. Silly Americans.
He hands me a receipt, then indicates I should return where I came from. I wander back through offices filled with records and medical equipment until I arrive in the room where the three women are still chatting. They point me to an open air waiting room with a rooster wandering in and out. A Marquesan woman wearing a headdress of flowers and colorful plant leaves sits next to her husband. Occasionally, a doctor dressed in shorts, flip-flops and a white coat walks through. We wait.
When I am called, my doctor is a lovely young woman also wearing shorts and flipflops. I am relieved to find she speaks English. She is friendly and helpful. I explain my malady, and she is not worried. However, she is quick to say they do not have this problem in the Marquesas; I must have picked this up in Mexico. She writes a prescription for both Andrew and me. I do not have Elephantitus, yet. I ask her what I should do to avoid Elephantitus. She explains it is a disease with slow progression. So, if we take an anti-parasitic at the end of our year in the tropics, we will be just fine. This is good news. And, the walk to the pharmacy was one of the most beautiful we have enjoyed yet.
Back at the quay, Grin is lashed up to the cleat amongst twelve or so other cruisers’ dinghies. They all bounce and chatter with each other, like junior high students at lunch hour. The tide has gone down now, and Grin is so low that we have to jump off the quay and free fall a couple of feet. I land with a thud and Grin wobbles beneath me. Not very graceful, but we stay upright. After Andrew makes the jump and gets settled in, we duck under lines, paddle to the right, the left, and handwalk ourselves out of the maze until our prop is clear of everyone else. Off goes the motor cover, the gear levers are shoved into neutral, the cover goes back on, Andrew pulls the string, then we zoom, sputter-sputter, zoom, sputter-sputter away.