A Long Journey Back & Homecoming!
The long journey home started with an internal flight from a tiny atoll called Aratua, so small that the airport has no access road, because passengers arrive by boat.
One smart but small building housed the check in desk plus a few benches that we were not allowed to use due to Covid. The departure lounge was outside where there were a couple of tables and chairs which were already taken so we sat on a log and a kerb, The one toilet was out of order because there had been insufficient rain to supply the water flush! and found the necessary facilities which were also al fresco- Gents- the tree to the left, Ladies - the bush to the right!!
Our flight also stopped at a couple of other atolls in the Tuomutu group, Ahe, which we had sailed to back in June and Manihi, slightly further east, before heading to Tahiti where we arrived 3 hours later. Seeing these tiny atolls from the air with their flat coral islands, lagoons and reefs was fascinating, and the contrast with the mountainous, rainforests of Tahiti was very evident from the air.
Once we had landed at Faa'a airport, Papeete we hired a car and made our way to our Airbnb where we were based for a couple of days. Our first visit was to see friends on boats in Papeete Marina, followed by a delicious lunch out at Soufflé in town, but no saucy cocktails this time, Cunnilingus was still on the menu but Red Hot Pussy was not available, perhaps it is any evening only item!
A day trip to the Botanical Gardens and a drive further south to see the wave at Teahupo, which was more impressive when we anchored in the lagoon here way back in May! This was an early destination after lockdown was lifted in French Polynesia.
Richard and I don't fly very often, when we planned our world trip we wanted to complete the circumnavigation all in one go, within a two year time window, which we thought we could manage without returning to the UK. As we all know world events have unsettled everyone's plans and so we found ourselves nervously checking into our 20 hour direct flight to Paris at 0500 am on Friday 16th October. We had checked in online the day before and found out the plane stopped to refuel in Vancouver, interesting but not important, (or so we thought) as we were not getting off the plane. However, when we joined the line of passengers for our temperature and documents check we discovered that we had been very wrong. We would not be allowed onto the plane without a Visitors Travel Authorisation for Canada which we could complete and pay for online in the 30 minutes before the check in closed! Trying not to panic we had to use our one phone to complete extensive on line forms, one each, and pay the fees, which took 45 very stressful minutes! Both of us aged about 10 years in the process, the other passengers had disappeared and the desk closed while we were still frantically typing personal details into ridiculously small boxes on a phone screen, the staff were hassling us as the time was passing by and we were grateful that we only carried hand luggage because we would have been too late to check any hold baggage. Eventually, we had the required permits and were allowed to proceed through to customs and immigration. Still panicking slightly we hurried to place bags, liquids and electronic items into the scanning trays, then just to add a frisson of further teeth grinding tension, Richard's prosthetic knee set the security alarms off (as always) and we were delayed while he was thoroughly searched. We made it on board and sat down a mere 15 minutes before our flight took off!
The first 10 hours of the flight went quite quickly but the second 10 hours became more and more uncomfortable as the need to be horizontal grew increasingly desperate, never had the aisle floor looked so inviting, or so forbidden, of course, as no one is allowed out of their seats for very long. Eventually we landed at Orly airport late afternoon on Saturday 17th October, the we sat on a train for another hour crossing Paris to Charles de Gaulle airport from where our flight to Manchester departed the next day. A taxi took us to a budget hotel in a small French village which appeared deserted and desolate, marooned in the extensive wasteland of airport buildings, hangars, warehouses and terminals that cover an area far larger than the whole island we had left Celtic Star on!
We finally arrived home on Sunday afternoon and enjoyed a delicious Sunday roast around our own table with Laura and her partner Joel who have been housekeeping for us, plus plenty of laughing water. It took us a week to get our body clocks in sync with local time and to consider reducing the heating down to 20C! During our 14 days inside the weather was often inclement, and we were not too unhappy about being in quarantine as we were comfortable, warm and cosy, and greatly enjoying a living space 50 X greater than we are used to onboard Celtic Star. Scott eventually came back from University in Cardiff to visit us.
After 16 months we were home and everything seemed so familiar, although I had forgotten where some kitchen items lived!
After 16 months away exploring amazing places around the world, it is refreshing to view one's home, countryside, village, house and lifestyle anew, and even better to conclude that it is pretty fine and we are happy to be here! Although one thing I have noticed is that the Welsh hills have shrunk! I think I have become so familiar with the soaring tropical green mountains of Tahiti and the Society Islands, I had forgotten the softer slopes and incredible range of Autumn golds, yellows, browns, or the greys, blues and greens of Welsh limestone and slate strewn hills. Our two weeks quarantine were followed by the final week of the Welsh lockdown, when at last we were able to get out into the local countryside to walk on most days, though we had to build up our CV fitness, despite 2 flights of stairs to run up and down several times a day in the house! Our first outing after lockdown was to our local pub in Conwy. Our second outing was a beautiful 70 mile drive to our static caravan to clear the garden and close the water and gas down. We worked hard and deserved a second visit to another pub, the Cross Foxes, for lunch. A proper grey Welsh day and a stone built pub with a fire and fantastic food and beer!
Now we have been home for a month, we have completed many of the routine tasks and appointments, accountant, dentist, optometrist, health check and chandlery purchases! We have been quite busy really, and now we are starting to make plans for our return to French Polynesia, which bizarrely seems easier than planning what to do for Christmas here! We are planning the work we need to do on the boat, the cruising itinerary and the crew who will be joining us next year.
Incidentally, we all know that the Welsh flag is probably the best in the world, the red dragon (y ddraig goch) is much more interesting than any combination of stripes, circles, stars, or moons, but we think the Tahitian one is also really cool!
See you all next year and a very Merry Christmas to one and all!
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