We made landfall at Papeete at sunrise. The green cliffside glowed as the black sky turned grey then blue. We hail port control as instructed by a large painted wall outside the bay, receive permission to enter, and find a spot at the marina. Instead of wrestling with Grin, we step off Sonrisa and onto the dock. Terra firma is just a hop, skip and a jump away. Showers! Laundry facilities! Alleged internet access!
Papeete is a bustling metropolis. 200,000 people total live in all of French Polynesia’s islands, 180,000 of those people live in Papeete. In addition to 1,000 jewelry stores selling pearls, it has a McDonalds, a large market for fruits, vegetables and Tahitian crafts, fabric stores boasting every manner of Tahitian prints, a craft brewery, parks with workout equipment in use, and several marine part supply stores. There are crosswalks and people traversing to and fro on the sidewalks. We have not seen a city this large since February 28, 2016.
As soon as we are tied up at the dock, we jump into this fray and start exploring. 200,000 people isn’t that large, but everyone is pressed between the sheer mountain side and the ocean. It feels a bit like Las Vegas with the tourists milling around and the locals pushing through the mass to reach their own destinations. We can feel humanity pulsing around us. The cacophony of cars, human voices, shipping boats, island ferries, restaurant clatter, and music is a more noticeable din for us. We smell grease from restaurants, diesel fumes, rubber from the warm tires rubbing on the asphalt. All our senses have been directed toward the slow, the quiet and the fresh for so long that the smells, sounds and movements of human business rise to the foreground in a way it never has at home. It’s a little uncomfortable, but also familiar and filled with possibilities.
Andrew’s first item of business is to find the marine parts stores, but after wandering around to get the lay of the land, perusing pearl stores, and eating a cheeseburger, he ran out of time. The marine stores were closing for the day. Instead, we ran into our Norwegian friends (and one Swede) who had been in Papeete for a week so they already knew where the brewery was. Andrew was diverted for his first India Pale Ale since February 27, 2016.
Our days in Papeete were spent in a blur of shopping: groceries, marine parts and of course more pearls. Andrew was bent upon repairing the dinghy motor once and for all, so the majority of his time was spent acquiring and installing the new shifting cables while I caught up on internet needs — blog photos and more importantly, our absentee ballot requests for the November elections. The internet is free, but one must purchase something at the cafe. I always make the healthy choice: a cream puff stuffed with vanilla ice cream, covered in whip cream, chocolate syrup and sprinkled with sliced almonds.
Crystal and Kevin sought out and determined the most economical pearl shops of many, trying to find Crystal the perfect green, blue and purple pearls that were missing from her collection.
We particularly enjoyed the Tahitian vanilla ice cream squeezed between coconut chocolate chip cookies. Yum.
The marina was filled with friends. Sonrisa met another Valiant, and we chatted with its owners. One of our Norwegian friends was leaving the boat to go back home, so this resulted in a full night of mischief before his departure. When Andrew abandoned all of us without warning and fell asleep, he was at risk of being abused in any number of ways. Stifling snickers, everyone took Sonrisa by the dock lines and guided her around the end of the dock to face the other way. Sonrisa gamely stayed silent and did not float away from our grip. She did, however, put a stop to further shenanigans when she sprung a leak in her toilet tank and peed all over Crystal’s pants at 3:00 a.m. - always defending her favorite. I spent the wee hours of the morning mopping up the mess, and my mood was dampened. So, I defended Andrew’s honor, too, and shooed everyone away.
Andrew woke first at 6:30 a.m., ready for the day. As he stepped out on the dock, all seemed right with the world to him until a few moments later a confused flashed across his face. “What the…? Well, the least you guys could have done is turn Sonrisa to put the outboard motor toward the dock so I can work on it. Andrew and I then hand turned Sonrisa the other way for the benefit of maintenance repairs and also to trick the sleepy Crystal and Kevin. When they woke, they blamed the new arrangement on the Norwegians who swore innocence.
We enjoyed our time in Papeete, but we are down to the wire on our 90 day visa. We have to keep moving if we want to see the windward Society Islands of Moorea, Huahine, Raiataiah, Tahaa, and Bora Bora before we must exit French Polynesia. So, after four days, we rushed off to find a gas dock at another marina and carry on to Moorea.
The trip to the gas dock delayed our departure by one more day. Motoring between the island and the reef on a Sunday, we enjoyed watching the locals enjoy picnics while standing and/or floating on the reef. Kids climb and jump off the buoy markers. We tied up to a gas dock and filled Sonrisa’s gas tank to the brim.
In searching for a proper anchorage near the mouth of the reef, I may or may not have driven Sonrisa onto a sand bar. “There are those who have run aground in a sailboat, and those who are lying.” Luckily, it was a soft landing, and all I had to do was give her a little reverse to take her off the beach.
Soon enough we were tied up to a mooring ball and heading to land for a sunset beer and some live music with a man playing drums on a box and making the sound of a trumpet by humming through his lips. Hopefully, we accomplished everything we needed to accomplish in this mecca of supplies, because it will be much harder to find what we need for the next few months. Hopefully, the dinghy motor is fixed once and for all.