Papeete Tahiti: an unplanned medical sojourn
15th August – 2nd September 2017
We were pretty happy to leave the rolly anchorage of Hiva Oa behind us and headed out to what we thought would be a better anchorage on the western side of the island, but alas the swell was rolling in there as well and gusty bullets of wind swooped down into the bay like a Frigate bird hunting it’s prey.
We had a pressing repair to our mainsail halyard before we set sail for Nuku Hiva 125 mls to the north, which entailed Liam going to the top of the mast, and that could only be done in relatively flat waters. So we cut our losses, retraced our track down the west coast and motored across to the calm waters of Hanomeana Bay on the island of Tahuata, where we’d first made landfall, for the night.
Rather than sailing the full 125mls overnight we decided to break our journey to Nuku Hiva and stop at the island of Ua Pou some 62 miles to the west.
As we closed on the coast, jagged peaks stretching skywards began to appear on the horizon. And what an absolute stunner of an island it was, like nothing we ever seen before. Just a pit stop for us this time, we will revisit it on our way south later in the month.
Arriving at Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva mid morning Friday we contacted our agent Kevin from Yacht Services and explained our medical situation. He kindly drove us to the hospital where we saw two doctors, both of whom agreed that Liam needed immediate specialist treatment in Tahiti, or could risk loosing the sight in his left eye. An appointment was made for 0730 Monday morning and the doctor also rang Air Tahiti to confirm that 2 seats were available on the Sunday flight for us. It all happened so fast that our heads were spinning.
Figuring that we’d see the specialist and just get some different medications from what he’d already been taking, we booked our return flight for the day after his appointment. So with the flights booked, our accommodation booked, bags packed and GWTW all set for a few nights alone on the anchor,, we headed off to the airport on a wet Sunday morning for the four hour flight to Tahiti.
Lady luck seemed not to be in our corner that morning as not long after checking our bags came an announcement saying that our flight was grounded in Hiva Oa due to bad weather, and no one knew when or indeed if it would be able to takeoff. Our hearts sank.
As everyone waited patiently morale was kept up by an impromptu musical interlude by a Marquesan passenger who whipped out his ukulele and stuck up a tune or six to keep everyone’s minds off the problem at hand. The terminal coffee shop did a roaring trade, completely selling out of lunchtime baguettes, pastries and coffee. Eventually the plane arrived two hours late and we took to the air and were on our way.
So now we were in Tahiti. Roughly nine months earlier than planned and we got here a hell of a lot quicker than sailing here. We figured that while we were here we might as well cram a bit of sightseeing into our three day trip.
Next morning at 0730 we fronted up to the specialist appointment and the doctor confirmed the worst. Liam’s eye was beyond bad. He wanted to admit him to hospital for intensive intravenous drug therapy and so made another appointment with a colleague ophthalmologist at French Polynesia’s main hospital. We were to go straight there he said. Not knowing where the hospital was everyone from the receptionist to the waiting room full of patients tried to it’s location explain to us in very broken English and in French. One middle aged couple who we’d struck up a sort of english /french conversation with before seeing the doctor decided that they would just go out of their way and drive us. Once again the kindness of people in this country just brains us.
After a lengthy examination by our new specialist she explained that rather than being admitted into the hospital she would prefer to monitor Liam’s treatment every second day as an outpatient. She also told us that we’d have to stay in Tahiti for another week.
Well that put a spanner in the works. We had only three days worth of clothes with us and three days of accommodation booked. It would also mean cancelling and rebooking our flights. Oh well if that’s what had to be done, so be it.
Now I must say it wasn’t really a hardship having to stay longer apart from the clothes thing and the extra charges for rebooking flights. The hotel was lovely, the views from our balcony over Moorea were to die for and the staff and management who we got to know on a first name basis could not have been more helpful, but it was an expensive place to call home, beautiful but expensive.
We quickly got used to the local bus system and became “frequent buyers “at the huge Carrefour supermarket which was only a short walk from the hospital. The price of having three meals a day at the hotel was truly out of our budget so instead we dined on fresh fruits, wonderful cheeses, pate’s and tasty rotisserie chickens and salad, oh and of course fresh baguettes every day. The hotel staff gave us everything that we needed, bar a microwave, to make our own meals and they even let us stay in our original room despite the fact that it had been prebooked by an influx of cruise ship passengers over the weekend.
One Saturday we rented a car and drove the island sussing out what there was to see. But given there is only one road around the perimeter of the island as the interior is mountains, there weren't too many Kodak moments. That same evening we had dinner at the iconic Roulotte vans down by the waterfront in Papeete. These mobile vans are set up with kitchens inside and there are dozens of them, all with different menus. They serve fresh cooked meals to order from crepes to pizzas and Thai food to burgers.
The vans move in about 5pm each night and take over the car park area next to the tourist office setting up shop as mini cafes complete with tables and chairs under the stars. The food is really good and there’s something for everyone’s taste bud’s. It’s a must do if you come to Papeete but get there early or you won’t get a seat at the van you want.
Another time we splurged on an over rated and overpriced Chinese meal. Being the connoisseurs of this type of food that we are, the meals were a big disappointment. We also had a couple of afternoon walks around the city visiting the huge produce and craft market as well as a few churches. That combined with the cultural dance shows which our hotel put on twice a week, gave a good feel for Papeete over all.
With the all clear given for Liam’s eye at our last appointment we were homeward bound to GWTW next morning. It had been a long two weeks away which actually felt a lot longer but the outcome had been excellent.
He’s well on the way to recovery now. He has two more follow up appointments left to go, one back in Nuku Hiva in a month’s time when his specialist does her yearly road trip to the hospital there, and the final one back in Papeete in early December two days before our flight back to Oz.
If you ever need medical treatment while in this part of the world the main hospital in Papeete, Centre Hospitalier De Polynesie Francaise, is the place you want to make a bee line for. The medical standard is excellent and the price very affordable.