Be Back Whenever

French Polynesia

11/2021 – Where to spend Christmas in a world gone crazy from COVID?

After 25 months of hanging out in the states, several cancelled trips, a few rescheduled trips, in September 2021 we decided things were looking good enough to plan a Christmas trip to Germany for the Christmas markets, a visit with a German friend and meet up with some Iowa friends who had the same idea we did.

We bought the tickets from Lufthansa – direct to Munich so no stops to cause possible problems.  We found some great hotel rates since December in Munich is not a big visit time, lined up a schedule with Jutta and Sam and Josh. We were fully vaccinated and even got our boosters in November.  We investigated how to get the online Vax Pass for Germany, where to get a COVID test 72 hours before flying home to Denver and uploaded the Luca app for contact tracing in Munich.

Everything was looking pretty good when COVID decided to attack Germany. We watched Bavaria and Saxony cancel their Christmas markets only a few days before the markets were supposed to start during Thanksgiving week. After we watched rules change for restaurants and museums, we gave in! Cancelled everything and rebooked our plane tickets for some made up dates next Fall.

Now where could we go for Christmas?  We knew Hawaii was packed already but what about Tahiti?  United flies direct from San Francisco, seats were available, and we could find hotels to stay in.  Why not?? About 4 days later, we’d booked the flights, reserved hotels, and investigated Tahiti entrance rules – not in that order!

Paperwork and testing!

We needed to fill out a ETIS (electronic permission to board the plane and enter the country), prove we’d been vaccinated and pay $50 each for testing when we landed.  At this point, we also needed a COVID PCR test within 72 hours before departing – 2:05 PM 12/7.

Tahiti gave us permission to come, took our $100, and all the documentation still told us we needed a COVID test (PCR) 72 hours or an antigen test 48 hours before departure from San Francisco.  This meant we needed COVID tests after 2:05 PM on Saturday 12/4.  We went on-line and managed to find one in FC.  Actually, we found and scheduled 2 different ones in Fort Collins just to be sure – one for money and one for free.

I’m a big chicken when it comes to scheduling flights out of Denver in the winter with connections so we were flying from DEN – SFO on Monday 12/6 and then SFO – PPT on 12/7 (Tuesday). 

Everything is going merrily along when Thursday 12/2 hits.  I checked the French Polynesia entry requirement ONE more time (I have them memorized at this point.) and see that Tahiti changed the COVID test to 48 hours before departure, thanks to our Omicron friend.  Now we need our test after 2:05 PM on Sunday. Time to cancel the FC 72-hour tests.  (BTW – United still said 72 hours on their Travel Ready website and we’re thinking there are going to be LOTS of pissed people at the airport.)

Now what are we going to do?  It is really hard to find a test in FC on Sunday that will get you results quickly.  There’s always the SFO airport but those tests cost about $250 each and we made some reservations there just in case.  Mark did great research and found a place in SF who would do a test on Monday afternoon and was even free.  Another set of reservations were made!  We just needed to take BART into the city and go from there.

Now it’s Friday and United texts us to inform us that Tahiti changed their entrance requirements to a test 24 hours before departure. I’m pretty sure they were wrong but who am I to argue with United when they control access to their planes?  More research!  Mark finds a place that will perform rapid antigen tests in San Bruno about 4 miles from our hotel by SFO.  We make more reservations for after 2:05 PM on Monday and cancel the ones in the city.  We rent a car for the day, too, so we can actually get to the test site.

Saturday and Sunday, I keep checking United and French Polynesia which still don’t agree. 

Monday rolls around, we fly to San Francisco, pick up a car, and wait until close to our reservation time for our COVID test.  Google maps gets us to the address which has the correct signs and is a repurposed shipping container. We drive up; fill out a bunch of forms on our phones while we sit in the car.  The lady does the test and we head off to Target to pick up some socks since Susan forgot to pack any.  By the time we bought socks, our results were available.  We passed!

SFO was ready for Christmas!

Back to the hotel for the next stress point.  United makes you upload a picture of your passport and the app has a bit of trouble actually focusing. No, you cannot upload a jpg file. The app has to take the picture.  We also had to upload the file with our COVID test results.  Mark downloads the file on his tablet and uploads it to the United website.  Approved!  Susan downloads the file on her laptop and uploads it to United. Fail!  Not accepted!  Try number 2 – Fail!  Mark reads the comments closely and sees that the file can’t be read.  SO … Susan sends link to Mark, he downloads the file on his tablet and uploads it to United – Approved!

We are ready to go and had a few beers and wine at dinner to celebrate! 

Lessons learned for COVID travel:

  • Check and double check and triple check the rules and regulations for testing. Everyday is a good benchmark!
  • Print out EVERYTHING!  If you have any form that is electronic, print it out.
  • Take then entire pile of paper with you on your flight.
  • Download any files that you couldn’t print to your phone AND to any other device you are traveling with.

12/2021 – 3 Weeks in French Polynesia

Given Susan’s belief in checking in for flights REALLY early, we went to SFO about 3 hours ahead of time to avoid any lines.  Flight left on time and was very empty.  When we landed in Papeete,Tahiti, we had to show our vaccination cards, passports, Electronic forms, and COVID tests before we were allowed into the country. We had no way to print the COVID tests in SF but did download them to our phones to show Mr. Immigration.  He was good to go with this.

We also had to do a COVID test at the airport – covered by the $50 fee.  Cough 5 times, blow your nose into a Kleenex, swab each nostril, swab top of mouth, under tongue, each cheek.  We only get notified if we test positive.  Thank heavens we never heard from the public health people in FP.

Our next COVID test adventure will be getting a test within 24 hours of leaving but the airport has them.  Otherwise, I guess we’ll be in Tahiti longer!

Geography lesson – French Polynesia is HUGE, south of the equator, and just about directly south of Hawaii (same time zone). It’s made up of a number of archipelago’s and hundreds of islands. We went to 3 – Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora – but there are lots more to explore. The islands are connected by a few ferries and lots of planes.

First stop was Papeete, Tahiti, the capital and largest city.

Tahiti is a volcanic island with black sand beaches
Tahitian Christmas tree

Our next stop for a week was Moorea which is the island you can see in the background of the black sand beach picture above. We took a taxi to the ferry terminal, bought a $15 ticket for each of us, waited 15 minutes and took the 25 minute ferry ride to Moorea. Then we took a taxi to our hotel, Hotel Manava. It’s actually near a town (about 10 minute walk to the grocery store), has a food truck next to it and a restaurant grill across the street. This gave us more choices of where to eat instead of eating at the hotel all the time.

The town also has a laundry run by a French lady who moved to French Polynesia with her surfing husband 20 years ago and has been in the laundry business ever since. Drop it off one day and pick it up the next – about $20 for 10 kg., washed, dried, folded and probably ironed!

Cook’s Bay. We took a tour one day to see more of Moorea and to learn history and plants. Cook never actually sailed in this bay.
View from the side of one of the volcanoes.

We took a 4 hour excellent tour with lots of info about the history and myths of the islands plus the plants. Stopped at Cook’s Bay, the Belvedere where we can see both bays, archeology sites, Agricultural school for a bathroom break and ice cream.  The vanilla and the coconut ones were yummy!  The students were on break. Stopped to get info about many plants – wild pineapple, wild hibiscus, yellow magic flower.  The tour guide gave us cold clothes that were soaked in water and plumeria flowers.  One of the plants smells like Chanel #5 when crushed. Last stop was at the juice factory for samples of the alcoholic drinks and juices.  It’s too expensive to export locally grown fruit so the plant makes it into juice.  Pineapple is grown locally along with bananas, avocados, green beans, papaya, mangoes, oranges, grapefruits. 

A yellow flame tree. Red ones are way more common.
Poisson Cru – raw fish marinated in coconut and lime juice. Yummy!
On the hunt for more flavors of potato chips around the world- smoked ham

Bora Bora was the next stop for a week. We expected things to get busier since this was now Christmas week and it did.

We were #1 and #2 people to check in for our Air Tahiti flight after the boxes of green mussels got checked in!  No security, take water on board.  A prop plane picked us up on Moorea on the way from Papeete after dropping off about 6 people.

Bora Bora airport sign

Left 10 minutes early and took about 50 minutes to fly to Bora Bora.  BOB airport is on an island and the only transport from the airport is a boat either from Air Tahiti or from each resort. We stayed at Le Bora Bora Hotel and the guys were at the desk in the arrival area and gave us leis and crowns; took our luggage to the boat for the 10 minute boat ride across the channel to Le Bora Bora Resort, a Relais and Chateaux property. 

We splurged and stayed in an overwater bungalow. The A/C worked after we got instructions to not change the temperature!  Glass in the coffee table to watch fish along with glass behind the sinks and the bathtub. We had a lovely deck and ladder down into the lagoon.

Our room from the lagoon
View through the coffee table
View of the resort island from our room
Mark and Susan at sunset.

One hint – Liquor is very expensive in FP but each person can bring 2 liters into the country. Do it! We brought 3 liters of gin and only had to find tonic which was way cheaper! Lots of people did this. French wine was reasonable and beer was OK priced for local beer – about $5-6 each. The resort gave us 2 cans of beer, coke, juice and water each day in our room included in the price.

We did a 4 hour snorkel trip around the island with sting rays and sharks. I’m in love with sting rays now!
Fresh fruit on our snorkel trip!
Another sting ray hanging around our room

After 7 days in Bora Bora, it was time to go back to Papeete for Christmas and to get COVID tests in order to fly back to the U.S. Let’s just say, Air Tahiti was not having a good travel day but we made it and were not among the passengers worrying about missing their flights home!

Exercise class at our hotel on Christmas Day!
Microbrewery in Papeete. The beer was good!
Notice the BIG container of beer for your table. We did not order one!

We flew home on the 28th at 10:40 PM but took the shuttle into town to get a COVID test at the local pharmacy on the 27th. Really easy and got the results in about 30 minutes although the pharmacist really wasn’t sure we didn’t need to wait until within 24 hours.  The US says the test cannot be dated before 12/27 and mentions NOTHING about how many hours. We both passed, thank heavens! 

I passed!

The end! French Polynesia was excellent; we want to go back and check out Taha Island and a few others. The United flight is only about 10 hours from SF. We learned that Costco has some great packages at the moment with Air Tahiti Nui out of Los Angeles.