Every once in awhile we have the privilege of hosting a few of our local Polynesian friends on Sugar Shack. The local English teacher, Poerani (also known as Popo) and her friend Anne hung out with us for a few days. Anne is an English teacher in Huahine who is visiting Gambier.
We picked Popo and Anne up along with loads of food and a full cooler. You could see the excitement in their eyes! We had hoped to raise the sails, but there was little to no wind. A motor it is. We head to Onemea Baie which is on the west side of Taravai. It is a beautiful, isolated bay with a pretty beach, beautiful reef, and is surrounded by lush green hills.
Onemea with Polynesian Friends
The motor only took about 2 hours as we let the ladies enjoy the experience. They hung out on the bean bags which were on the trampoline and had a marvelous time.
We enjoyed some water time hanging out behind the boat with some floats. Then we get the girls out on the paddle boards and they make their way to shore for some beach time.
Polynesian Friends on beach
We enjoy a feast for dinner after a beautiful Polynesian sunset.
After a lazy morning, fresh bread and a pancake breakfast we head out. Instead of returning straight to Rikitea, we take a detour to a new motu called Tenoko. It is a really small spit of land just east of the main pass. We have always wanted to stop here but the weather has to be just perfect.
Tenoko is a very small motu measuring about 500’ from end to end. There is very little onshore besides rocks, coral and trees. It is surrounded by coral which makes it tricky to get to by dinghy. The image below shows Tenoko in the upper right corner. You can see the main pass into the Gambier lagoon in the lower left corner (pink lines below the red marker)
Popo, Anne and I jump in the water and enjoy the beautiful setting. We were blessed by a visit from a spotted ray who hung out under the boat for well over an hour. Such pretty creatures!
On the way back, we enjoy some sun and goofy girl moments.
Popo and I
It is a true blessing to have met these two ladies – they are the epitome of the perfect local Polynesian friends!
Events from this blog post occurred during early April 2021. Our blog posts run 8-10 weeks behind our adventures.
The vaccination process is unique in every country and I thought I would share our experience in a third world country living in a remote archipelago during a pandemic. France supplies the pfizer vaccine to French Polynesia (FP) and then FP disseminates it to its population. In general, FP was very lucky in that the infected rate and death rate were relatively low in comparison to other countries. Not to say that there was no tragedy here as there were hundreds of lives lost.
The most infected areas were the most populated areas (naturally), including Tahiti and Mo’orea where more than 75% of the Polynesian population live. As you might recall, Tahiti and Mo’orea are located in the Society Archipelago. We are located in Gambier which is one of the most remote archipelagos within French Polynesia. In order of population and popularity: Society, Marquesas, Tuamotus, Gambier, Australs.
Officially, there are no reported covid-19 cases in Gambier. But then again, there are also no tests here either. We happen to know several locals that have had the virus. Most locals self-quarantine when they experience symptoms and they don’t tell anyone. They don’t want to be the one to bring it here to the archipelago.
The first vaccine made its way to French Polynesia in mid-January 2021. Five pop-up clinics opened up in Tahiti and Mo’orea allowing the population to more easily access the vaccine. By mid-March, the FP government opened up vaccines to all residents over the age of 18. And it included tourists with long-stay visas. However, this was not the case in the outer islands.
The Outer Islands
The “outer islands” consist of any island outside of the Society Archipelago. The process and availability are severely restricted once you leave Tahiti.
Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas was the first outer island to receive the vaccine. They immediately put out a decree that the it would only be available to residents. Fakarava, Hao, and Amanu in the Tuamotus issued a similar notice. Not that we are surprised as it only makes sense to care for the local population first. But the hope was that cruisers with long-stay visas would be eligible after the local population was inoculated. Not the case in the Marquesas or Tuamotus. Cruisers in these two archipelagos are forced to travel hundreds, if not a thousand miles back to Tahiti to get the jab.
In Gambier, the situation was a little different. There are approximately 1400 residents in the Gambier archipelago. Most, like 98% live in Mangareva. Of the 1400 residents, 300 are children and another 300 are young adults living in Tahiti going to school. That leaves about 800 residents that are eligible. Of those 800, 100 signed up on the priority list as being high risk (either due to age or health).
The vials arrive by plane on the one flight per week. The clinic is already closed by the time the plane arrives, unloads, and delivers the package of vials. The medical professionals then have 3 days to administer the vaccine.
The first vial arrived by plane on Tuesday 23 March. We had hoped they sent 48 vials which would be enough to inoculate 300 people. There are about 6 doses per vial. However, Gambier only received 8 vials. 8 times 6 is enough to inoculate 48 people. Really?
Are We Eligible?
The doctor and 2 nurses were more than willing to inoculate the cruisers (with long-stay visas). However, they had to first give the vaccine to the 100 residents on the list, then the medical staff, teachers, and police. This would take 3-4 weeks based on the receipt of 8 vials per week. Then cruisers would be eligible. However, we learned on 31 March, that they would first have to circle back and give the 2nd shot to those who were eligible – thus another 3-4 weeks. Putting us eligible to receive the first shot in late April/early May. Then we would have to wait 3 weeks for the 2nd shot. We had not planned on staying in Gambier that long. But the other alternative is to wait until we get to Tahiti in July to get both shots. The dilemma….
FP remained closed until mid-May. They require the vaccine in order to re-enter the country which means I would be required to get the vaccine if I wanted to return to the states in July. It has been nearly 2 years since I’ve been back and I am anxious to see my family, friends, and physicians.
The Government is talking about requiring the vaccine in order to re-enter the country. Smart move in my opinion. However, it means I would be required to get the vaccine if I wanted to return to the states in July. I am anxious to see my family, friends, and physicians as it has been nearly 2 years since I’ve been back.
We Get the Call
Lucky for us we have many modes of communication. We have internet-based tools such as WhatsApp, email, FB messenger, GoogleFI, and Skype. Then there are non-internet-based tools such as our IridiumGo (satellite) email and text. And then there is our VHF radio (reach is 25 miles) and the SSB radio (reach is thousands of miles). And just for fun, we also have a local SIM card with a local number that “sometimes” allows us to make local calls and texts. Phew, seems like we should be constantly connected, right? Ha!
We gave the local clinic our local phone number to call or text (local SIM) when they have a spot available for our shots. We also gave them my WhatsApp number (internet based) as our local SIM card seems to work randomly and periodically. They did not seem to want any other form of outreach.
Matt and I went to the clinic the day we had decided to leave the main village anchorage. We asked when we might be eligible and they said in 2 weeks. That’s great, we said we will check in the following week and to call us if anything changes. We were with 4 other cruisers our same age. All six of us were leaving the anchorage.
The following night we get hailed on the SSB Poly Mag net. Apparently, the clinic had contacted Titoan, a local, who emailed a boat Pakea Tea (one of the 6 cruisers) and told them that all of us have an appointment in 4 days! Pakea Tea was asked to contact all of us to let us know! Evidently, the clinic could not reach anyone on phone, text, or WhatsApp. Why? Because the tower is down. Of course, it is! But we got the message and will be there with bells on!
The clinic scheduled 10 of us at the same time on the same day. Lucky for us we showed up 30 minutes early and were first in line. You can tell we are all comfortable with each other (lack of masks). When you enter the clinic, you wear a mask.
Waiting for our vaccine
The process for the first shot:
Meet with health administers. They verify your identity, take your weight, blood pressure, temperature, heart rate. Wait outside.
Meet with the doctor. He verifies allergies, medications, and overall health. Listens to your heart. Wait outside.
Nurse completes your medical card, cleans area, and jabs you. Wait outside.
Clinic in Mangareva, Gambier
The regular clinic is under repair so all of the clinical professionals are operating out of a make-shift clinic/building which does not have as much interior space so there is a lot happening outside.
We receive our shots in the back on a folding chair by one of the two nurses. Yes, he is in flip flops and NOT wearing a mask. But he was lovely and gentle.
We did not have any side effects besides a sore arm for a few days. Not sore enough where we could not move it, but sore enough to let us know we had the shot.
We had hoped the 2nd jab would be exactly 3 weeks later, which would be 3 May. However, the shots will return to a once a week delivery (on the 1 plane per week) which arrives on Tuesdays. So, are next appointment being 5 May which happens to be Matt’s birthday. We had hoped to celebrate his birthday for the 3rd year in a row on Taravai, but we will have to adjust it this year.
We had planned out our birthday celebrations and goodbye’s around our shot. Our plan was to be in Taravai, then head to Rikitea to get the shot, then back to Taravai before we left Gambier. However, that all changed on 3 May. A fellow cruiser, who got their shot when we did, received a call from the clinic telling him that we all needed to come in on the 4th of May instead of the 5th of May. Well, it’s a good thing we were anchored near them to get the message.
We quickly changed all of our plans and headed back over to the main village. We ran into the nurse as Matt and I pulled up to the dinghy dock. He was picking up the vaccines that just came in on the plane. So, we helped him load them up, hopped in his car and got a ride to the clinic.
Yep, I was feeling pretty good as I carried in the vaccines while the other cruisers were waiting.
The 2nd shot was not as “organized” as the first, but we were in and out within an hour. They asked us a series of questions, sanitized our arm, jabbed us and off we went. Easy peazy.
They signed our health passport too.
Our arms did not hurt nearly as bad as the first time. But I had a really sore back. A few advil and all was good in the morning.
Events from this blog post occurred during April-May 2021. Our blog posts run 8 weeks behind our adventures.
We went back to school to learn how to carve oyster shells. I’ve always known this was craft required true talent, patience, and creativity. None of which I possess. I knew this would not be easy, but I was wiling to give it the old college try. My friends Carolyn (on “Askari”) and Sandra (on “Pico”) joined me for this adventure at the carving school.
We each picked our desired creation and Hefara, the teacher, hand drew each design onto the inside of the oyster shells. Armed with our shells we headed over to the work stations.
Tricks of the Trade – the tools. Truth be told we used a lot more tools than what is shown below, but these are the main tools used at the carving school.
Practice Makes Perfect
Hefara shows us how to practice using the Dremel. He drew several straight lines on a shell for each of us and tells us to carve a straight line next to the green ink line. Easier said than done. Learning how hard or soft to press on the shell; how to stay just above the green line; and how to do short downward strokes. I had issues maintaining the same amount of pressure with each swipe. It seemed to have rippled which is not ideal.
Practicing a straight line
Let the Carving Begin
1ST tool rather small dremel tool to begin the carving outside the green line. At this point we did not know if we were carving the design on the shell or if we were doing a cut out of the design (there is a language barrier). Don’t move your hand, but your wrist. Only use short, downward strokes pressing evenly each time.
We also did not know how deep to go so we were all really apprehensive and rather gentle when carving which took us a lot longer to carve our pieces out
2nd tool was much bigger and had a super sharp point – it looked like a cone. We held this at an angle to make the carved area much bigger. If you did not hold it correctly you ended up with lines in the shell. Had we known we were cutting it away we would have been more aggressive with this tool
3rd tool cutting – Hefara used a cutting tool to cut out our designs– then you bang it on something to make the piece pop out
4th tool larger cone tool was used to remove the excess around the edges. Hard because of the uneven surface makes the tool slip which can ruin your piece
5th tool is a cleaning tool with sand paper. This is used to clean up the piece and get the shell to the pretty colors. You push rather hard to remove the top layer of the inside of the oyster shell
6-9 tools: Hefara uses three different tools to carve Polynesian symbols on my manta ray
Students to the Rescue
After about 2.5 hours, Hefara asked a few of the students at the carving school to help us out. It was the last few hours of the last day before a 2-week holiday break – they wanted to leave and we were too slow. But we appreciated the help on the intricate details from the professionals.
We were each absolutely thrilled with our finished designs. I wish I could say this was all me, but in reality, it was about 70% me and 30% Hefara. With the best parts and most intricate designs coming from Hefara.
Click here to read the blog post on the carving school with more images of their stunning works of art.