Rangiroa, Tuamotu, French Polynesia
In the United States, if we want some lettuce, we go to the fridge and get some lettuce
(what does this have to do with Polynesian life? Stay with me a sec.)
Fridge empty? Fine, we go to the grocery store. But what would we do if the grocery store had no lettuce? What if all the grocery stores had no lettuce because there was none to be had? What if we couldn’t go to the farm, organic or otherwise, to get our lettuce because it was literally impossible to get to one via land?
Well then I’d guess we’d just have to sit on our happy hands and wait a few weeks / months for the next delivery, now wouldn’t we?
Alright, take that paragraph above and replace “lettuce” with everything from “milk” to “vegetables” to “paint” to “beer” to “wheels for my car” to “computer monitor” to “gas for my stove” to anything you use in your daily life.
You can now understand what we mean when we say the supply ship plays a very critical part in the lives of Polynesians.
The M/V ARANUI 3 makes 16 trips a year to resupply many of the Marquesan islands and a couple of the Tuamotu islands. “Oh, that’s a lot of trips.” No, no it is not. Imagine that only 16 times a year, basically once a month, you could get fresh vegetables or a new TV or your favorite book series or just about anything over the size of an airmail package. Think of the mindset shift for a purchasing consumer. First off, you’d better be darn sure you want whatever you’re ordering, because it isn’t $5.95 shipping and handing, we can tell you that. After having to deal with the Polynesian internet “service”. These people have to order things far enough in advance to get it delivered to Tahiti (which is not exactly on the beaten path to start with) early enough for it to get onto this ship so it can get delivered. The boat only comes by 16 times a year and if your package isn’t onboard when the ship leaves Tahiti, well, guess you’ll just have to wait another month then, won’t you? So that new bike you want to get your kid for Christmas? Might want to think about ordering that around September or so. Just in case there’s a delay somewhere along the delivery chain (sure that never happens) or just in case the weather’s bad on the day the delivery ship shows up and it can’t make any deliveries so it leaves to make it’s next appointment (because we’ve be told that does happen).
Sure stores stock stuff and here on Rangiroa there are more stores than on most islands (about 3) but they each don’t carry much, and by “not much” I mean “not much beyond basic living necessities like clothes, food and cookware” and none of them are specialty stores. You want your XBOX 360 video games or a replacement laptop because yours broke? That you special order and wait for the boat.
Did we mention that the supply ship also has to enter the port via the the aforementioned narrow pass of tidal death ? It comes inside the lagoon and anchors off the pass and deploys small boats, since it’s too big to tie up at the shallow pier. Then it uses its crane to put things into the small boat. You know the video arcade grabby claw? Ok, play that game, except if you screw up, you lose the island’s ration of potatoes for the month, retail value several hundred to several thousand dollars. We did mention this game is being played on a fluid maritime environment where nothing is stable, right?
We have heard stories of new cars and trucks being dumped overboard during transfer…oops!
When the stars do align and the delivery ship can drop anchor, release its tender boat and actually make deliveries, it’s a big deal that a good part of the whole village turns out for.
These people get their supplies from outboard motorboats. The Port of Oakland or New York, this is not.
People buying and selling, right there on the dock. Why? Because if there are 50 wheels of cheese to be delivered to Rangiroa this month, you want to make sure you get your cheese before it’s all gone.
We also found out that you can even book a cabin onboard and ride the ship to a lot of the places we have been. For those of you wanting to see what we’ve seen without the whole, as my friend Michael put it, “sailing across the largest expanse of nothing on the planet on little more than a bathtub powered by a bedsheet” this might be for you. Ain’t cheap though.