Monday, September 12, 2011

We Lose the Plot, or, Uturoa Lets Us Down

Being robbed in Moorea didn't really bother me that much.  Of course it was a bummer when it happened, and then it was a bit of a hassle to return to Tahiti for a new outboard.  But I mostly just saw it as the inevitable sort of thing that happens now and then when you're travelling.

What really got me down was accepting our bond back in New Zealand dollars when the bank at Uturoa was out of other foreign currencies.

I was picking up the thousands of dollars that we posted when we first entered French Polynesia three months ago.  And I got so steamed that the bank was out of both U.S. and Australian currency, and could only offer me Kiwi dollars, that I forgot that the same thing happened three years ago.  That time I merely took my Pacific Francs from the bank that held our bond and walked across the street to another bank to change them into Australian dollars.  But this time we'll end up exchanging our bond money three times - from US dollars to Pacific Francs when we posted the bond, from Pacific Francs to New Zealand dollars when we got the bond back, and then, once we reach Oz, finally from Kiwi to Australian dollars.  And of course each step of the way you lose hundreds of dollars in poor exchange rates...

So much of extended travel revolves around being frugal, and being savvy about staying away from the various spending traps that present themselves, that I felt really lame to have made this goof, and it took me a couple days to shake it off.


And that, it turns out, was a bit of a harbinger for how Uturoa, the "big city" of Raiatea, would treat us.  The Shell station that used to offer water at the dock has locked its spigot, and wouldn't open it when we asked.  My polite "Parlez-vous anglais?" was met with sneers by the clerks at the hardware store.

After two or three negative experiences like this you start to feel like the whole town is against you.

There is an ebb and flow to really long travel - you hit the rough patches that make it feel like you're paying for the fantastic bits.  And, not surprisingly given that this great chapter in French Polynesia is drawing to a close, we've hit a strong ebb here in the leeward Societies, and spirits on board have been low in recent days.

Huahine, our first stop in the leeward Societies, was nice enough.  But I noticed that we weren't taking many pictures, which I think was a sign that we weren't really engaging with the place.  A French acquaintances told us how much he and his wife liked the island, and that they were planning on staying for a few months.  But our attention was already on the passage that was awaiting us after we took care of final errands in Raiatea, and we didn't really give Huahine a chance.

And Alisa, bless her, hadn't taken the robbery so well, and she was spending much of each night on deck, shining the spotlight towards suspicious sounds on shore, while I snored away in bed.

Then we got to Raiatea, and found that Uturoa wasn't as convenient a spot for taking care of final errands as we had remembered, and we hit a stretch of days where it was all we could do to take care of the boys and keep the boat going, so that we ended each day exhausted without having completed any of our pre-departure tasks, and then we really started to lose the plot on this whole exercise.  Why, we each wondered to ourselves, are we sailing across the Pacific with these two little boys?

Part of the trouble is the fragile, ad hoc nature of the communities that we inhabit.  During our three months in French Polynesia we got to know a lot of boats, and met some wonderful people.  But when we got to Raiatea, we were suddenly alone.  There weren't many travelling boats around so late in the season, and we didn't recognize anyone we knew.  The dock in Uturoa was deserted, and I couldn't help looking at it and remembering how vibrant it had been three years ago, with our friends on Macy and Hannah tied up next to us, and that great guy from New Jersey who was sailing an ancient 35-footer from Mexico to New Zealand as part of his plan of travelling around the world without getting on an airplane.  Now it was just us, and our envelope containing four thousand New Zealand dollars, and the sneering clerks at the magasins, and our two needy boys.


  1. hey guys- there are two really fabulous boats near you. look for s/v Evergreen (Dennis/Carol/Josh- dark green Liberty) and Moondance (Doug/Carla- white Tayana). they sailed away from Gate 11 in Alameda where I think you spent some lovely weeks on Galactic. awesome people who can inject fun into the waning low season crowds. tell them behan says 'hi'. :)

  2. I should add- they are in Huahine this week! Working westwards a bit, then up to Hawaii for hurricane season. Hope you get to meet!