(Uturoa, Raiatea, Society Islands, French Polynesia)
Three months has already passed, I can hardly believe it. Today marks our 90th day “officially” in French Polynesia. Which means, those in charge would now like us to vacate their country.
When checking into French Polynesia, cruisers are granted a 90 day stay visa. Way back in Panama some cruisers choose to obtain a one year extension of this visa. A process that requires a visit to the proper embassy, a review of your current bank standing, a check on your criminal past, a look into your personal health present, and an undisclosed period of time. At least that’s what we were led to believe and we weren’t keen to find out otherwise. Supposedly though, if you just come on over to French Polynesia and say you want to stay longer, the entire procedure is concise and painless. All that aside, three months is about how long we had for French Polynesia anyways – making the norm completely fine with us.
So armed with our paperwork – and God knows what else – we made our way into the Gendarmerie (French Military) to formally check out of the country.
To begin with it seemed like the process was going to be quick and straightforward – two adjectives that can scarcely be used for the checking out procedure we’ve encountered in every other country along the way. It was simply us and one guy across the desk. Then, the matter of our clearance from Tahiti’s Papeete Harbour came into play…
This is an insignificant bit of paperwork applied to cruising vessels that have visited the city port. It is a bit of red tape that only seems to burden an otherwise uncomplicated process, yet it stays in place for some unknown, bureaucratic reason. In my mind it’s kind of like the resealable function now available on chocolate bar wrappers. A cute idea, but completely unnecessary.
So with the majority of our paperwork complete, and four emails and one phone call made to Papeete Port Control, we sat waiting with the Gendarmerie officer for our no-one-eats-half-a-chocolate-bar clearance to come through.
I must say though, it was an enlightening and entertaining hour and a half wait. Quizzing our young officer we found out that his military unit is stationed here in French Polynesia for three months. He and a couple of his contingent are here in Raiatea, while everyone else is appropriately stationed throughout the other Society Islands. This being the standard for service in the French Military. In fact, when three more officers came into the building we got talking to his superior who has served three-month stints in French governed countries all around the world. His impressive and incredibly extensive list included islands in the Caribbean, nations off the east coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean, and a whole slew more I barely knew, let alone realized they were in the command of France.
Now with three new players in the room the reason for our presence was obviously questioned. When it was said that we were waiting on an email from Papeete to complete our yacht checking out process, the knowing sighs and tired rolling of eyes were a clear signal that this was a normal occurrence. Jokes were made, the island-way of time-keeping was mocked, and a general atmosphere of good-nature and witty impatience set over the room.
As such the floor was open to new topics, and given a second Gregory jumped at the opportunity to discuss the officers’ utility belts – by this I mean weapons. And unsurprisingly enough the military men were more than keen to gab. Boys!
The guns were quickly covered, though the piece de resistance was the taser. The voltage they dispense, the duration they can dispense it, the number of times it can be dispensed, and, of course, have they ever themselves been at the business end of the dispensing. The answer? Oh ya. In training each officer must feel the zap of the high-powered weapon. How’d it feel? Let’s just say, no one was lining up for a second go of that military milestone.
Our clearance finally did come through – two more phone calls and three emails later. With this our certificate of clearance was completed, our passports were stamped, and after a round of friendly au revoirs, we were on our way.
Presumably out of the country.
Though between you and me, the plan is to hang around just a wee bit longer. We’re pretty sure our taser-toting amis won’t notice.