As we got closer to Tahiti the land changed from grey to green. And we could see rock formations rising up from the middle of the mountains like castles made of sand. Josh saw them as a crown and Sava saw them as a shaka.
The mountains here do wear crowns. Crowns made of clouds. One cloud was in the shape of turtle that was bending down to capture a caterpillar. That caterpillar would have been a yellow butterfly, if only the cloud turtle would have let it live.
All around us catamarans littered the water in clusters. They looked like they were going to collide, like they were playing a game of bumper boats, like they all released at once from the same pod. There were also strange looking fishing boats that sat high above the water and had the helm on the bow. Seems like a bouncy ride with the helm so far forward.
It was almost time for me to contact the harbor to request a slip and I listened closely to the VHF radio chatter. I was nervous to use the radio. I wanted to fully understand all the twists and turns my tongue needed to take in order to make a lick of sense. I couldn’t understand anything anybody was saying.
Even though I was the French club president 21 years ago, I’m rusty. My brain gets caught in a crossfire of Spanish and French. I basically know enough French now to be polite, “S’il Vous Plait” or to get a kiss “fais moi bisous” or to ask if they speak English “Parlez Vous Anglais” or to understand the direction I’m going “a droite ou a gauche?”
So I could pick up the VHF and string all of these together and say “Do you speak English? Give me a kiss, please. I can turn my tongue right or left.” But none of this would get the Juniper a slip, or perhaps it would?
After listening to channel 12 for thirty minutes, I finally hear an Australian woman request to anchor in English. I wrote down everything she said on my leg with a blue pen. I don’t know why my leg?! “SV something something to port control, do you copy, over?” They copied and English was spoken in beautiful accents.
I called in next and port control told me to catch any empty slip and wait there for the harbor master. As we came into the channel markers, dolphins played off the bow, ferries were taking off and a canoe race was just underway.
We found the only empty slip and tied off the lines. Land felt good to the feet. The stability of it. The warmth of it. The roughness of it.
Port control contacted me and said to stay onboard until Monday because customs and immigrations were closed for the weekend. Everything inside of us sank. We were here but we were not here. Touching land but confined to the space we had been stuck on for nearly a month. Observing land from our cage through its reflections and sounds.
The harbor master, Franco, who is half-Sicilian and half-Tahitian, rode his bike over and told us the slip belonged to someone and there were no available slips in the harbor. He cursed the port control for telling us otherwise.
Sava and I pleaded for him to let us stay somewhere. “Please Uncle,” Sava said. “We have been at sea for 23 1/2 days,” I said.
Franco agreed that we could go to a side tie that is not actually a slip and in which we protrude out of. He followed with, “I never told you to go there or gave you permission, ok, you just went there.”
We moved as quick as we could. Thank goodness for Sava, I would have rammed into the boat next to our new “slip” had he not tied Juniper off so fast. Docking in this spot is like squeezing an elephant into a two-seater convertible.
Our new neighbor said immigrations was open at the airport, so we hopped a taxi down. The driver played music that was sweet syrup to my ears- old school Tahitian jams from the 70s. I’m hooked!
Tahitian women sold fresh leis at the entrance of the airport and tourist were coming and going like ants into and out of their hill.
After two hours at the airport, a lot of back and forth, and a high-ranking senior official coming in on his day off, we are still not officially here. I had all the paperwork. Every little thing they needed except for a paper from Direction Polynésienne Des Affaires Maritimes (DPAM) granting permissions to enter. This new rule went into effect during COVID and though Tahiti is fully open by air it remains somewhat restricted by sea. Damn it all and especially damn the agent who told me I had all the paperwork I needed.
The officer sent us home. He said, “You can’t leave your boat until you speak with DPAM on Monday, then come back here and get stamped in.” He followed with, “But if you do leave your boat just, you know, duck” and he ducked down as he said it, “behind something if you see anybody in this uniform.” Then he tugged at his uniform.
There are a lot of rules being thrown at us then a breath later we are told to break said rule and how to do so. Surreptitiously of course. The bureaucracy here seems a bit muddled. There is red tape, but we are given scissors to create our own gaps within it, while officials avert their eyes.
I’m waiting for DPAM to process our case. Standing-by. Twiddling thumbs. After that our case goes to one more agency. I pray that I don’t get the guillotine.
Here if you risk going to jail they say, “I will bring you oranges.” A local boat builder said this to me yesterday after I asked for his advice on the matter.
Yesterday was dimanche (Sunday). The streets of Tahiti were abandoned and life was slow. Only churches, bars, movie theaters, and fuel stations were open.
While we remain under the radar with our life on the lines, I reflect on the journey. I reflect how I couldn’t have done this passage without Sava and Josh. They are amazing. So many things went wrong along the way and each brought their specialized skills to the table. Sava with his ability to Mcguyver and fix anything and his fearless approaches. Josh with his delicious bread, willingness to sew, fishing skills, and electrical knowledge.
I reflect too on how I miss the ocean. I miss the watery frontier. I miss the surge of the swell. I miss the myriad of waves.