22 April 2008 | Hiva Oa, Marquesas
We spent several more days in Fatu Hiva, catering to the girls' now hectic social calendar (SO many kid boats here!) and waiting for our friends on Tin Soldier to arrive.
I finally made it to the waterfall with them when they arrived and swam in the pool beneath it (John went the next day). We ate LOADS of pamplemousse fruit (so sweet and juicy!), and Glen and Don from Tin Soldier helped repair our boom vang on Wednesday.
At this point we definitely felt as if we were overstaying our welcome. No one asked us to get out or anything, but technically you are supposed to check in to the country at an official port of entry before you gadding about. We'd been told that the local police will look the other way as long as you don't stay too long and take advantage of the situation. But we're not really the scoff-law type. Plus we were ready to get moving! There are so many beautiful islands here in French Polynesia and we'll only have 3 months to explore them.
So we departed Fatu Hiva Thursday morning and had a nice sail over to Baie Tahauku, near Atuona on Hiva Oa.
Hiva Oa is the largest island in the Marquesan archipelago. The largest town on Hiva Oa is Atuona, with a population of over 1500, and it's about a 30 to 40 minute walk from the anchorage. Fortunately if you play your cards right you don't have to walk it very often. The locals are more than happy to give you a ride if they're going your way. John was in heaven because nearly every vehicle is a Toyota Landcruiser or British Leyland Landrover. and "they're all diesels! That's the cool thing about it, they're all diesels!" Not sure what that's all about but there it is.
Atuona is an Official Port of Entry so this is where we could check in to French Polynesia and obtain our extended (90 day) visas. Nearly every boat we talked with was using "Polynesian Yacht Services" to facilitate their check-in, get a bond exemption and get a duty-free fuel certificate. The cost of using this company was prohibitively expensive to us (more than $800 dollars!) so we elected to do everything ourselves.
All US citizens get a 30 day visa when they check in but we wanted 90 days. It's possible to get 90 days, but they make you post a bond with the bank. The bond is essentially equal to the cost for the local gendarme to put you on a plane back to your country if your boat sinks and you look to be in danger of becoming a burden on their society. You get the money back when you check out of the country but the general consensus is you can lose a bit of money in bank fees and currency exchanges when all is said and done. I'd heard that if you present them with an airline ticket from Tahiti to, well, anywhere- they will accept that in lieu of the bond. The trick of course is to get a FULLY refundable airline ticket, print the e-tickets and have that with you when you begin the check-in process, and then get the tickets refunded when you check out. We're thinking that we still might lose a bit of money in the currency exchange (it's charged to a credit card and refunded to the credit card) but hopefully not as much. The tickets, while expensive, might be cheaper than the bond amount determined by the bank, there won't be bank fees and credit card companies generally negotiate the best exchange rates. Also it saves us running to a bank in addition to the post office and gendarmerie when checking in and out.
The e-tickets had not been emailed to me before we left Mexico so I needed to find an internet caf? first to download the tickets. We were quite spoiled by internet availability in Mexico. The options here in Hiva Oa are quite limited. Your choices are to purchase an internet subscription card at the post office and use the wi- fi there. It's about $13USD an hour though (!) and a rather slow connection. Or you can get yourself up the hill to the Pearl Lodge restaurant where it's rumored to be even more expensive. Finally, the option we've utilized is to contact Sandra on VHF channel 11. She is the local representative for Polynesian Yacht Services. She also takes in laundry and has an internet hotspot in her home. For about $4 an hour, she'll drive her Toyota Land Cruiser down the hill from her home to the marina, pick you up and take you back to her house. Her house is situated up in the hills above the town of Atuona. She has a covered outdoor eating area and that's where we sit and access the internet on our laptop. Bug spray is crucial here. The whole neighborhood is lush with gorgeous tropical vegetation as one would expect. Just what the little, biting "no- no's" love. Oh yeah. and my blood. They love that, too.
(Obviously because of this "hassle factor" our internet time will continue to be severely limited for some time. For those of you who have sent us emails, we really love hearing from you and will respond when we can. but it may take awhile. We also really appreciate all the great comments on our blog- keep 'em coming and we'll read them when we can.)
Okay, back to check in. Once we had the e-tickets in hand, check-in was a breeze. We went first to the post office to purchase 90-day stamps for our passports at roughly $40USD a person. Then we went to the gendarmerie to fill out a customs form and get our passports stamped. Finally back to the post office to mail off the customs form to Papeete in Tahiti. And that was it. Pretty easy all things considered.