Arriving in each of the 7 countries we’ve visited on Aldebaran has been a distinct experience. Just like arriving by airplane, our crew must to go through customs, immigration, and the air traffic controller, which in our case is the port captain.
In Mexico, this involved driving in the back of the marina’s pickup truck to different offices scattered around town (Ensenada). In El Salvador we were greeted with machine guns (Acajutla)! In Nicaragua the corrupt port captain fined us for going “off course” (Marina Puesta del Sol). In Costa Rica it was free, but I had to trek to the airport, 40min by bus, to go through customs (Playas de Coco). In Panama we had to navigate a hair-raising 26 miles up a river (David). In Ecuador it was easy, just had to pay a bundle (less in Bahia Caraquez, more in Galapagos).
The arrival after a big ocean passage is particularly sensitive, as we are frazzled from many days at sea, and feeling of culture shock from being back in civilization… In this regard, we couldn’t have asked for a kinder reception than those by the Pitcairn Islanders on May 1; it felt like the whole town came to the launch ramp to give us a hug, fresh fruit, and handmade shell necklaces.
In contrast, many of our friends made their first landfall in Easter Island, and they reported an efficient but rigid greeting from the Chilean quarantine officials, which along with the naturalists in the island exhibited an even higher level of “control” than in Galapagos; if such a thing is possible.
Now to our experience arriving in Gambier, French Polynesia on May 9. We called the “gendarme” or police on the VHF once we were anchored. (There are no docks here – in fact the last boat marina we saw was a year ago in Golfito, Costa Rica).
“Yes, come to our office when you like,” they said in French.
After taking the dinghy to shore, we walked down the one road street in tiny Rikitea with hibiscus flowers and clean manicured lawns. A car would drive by every 30 minutes. At the Gendarmerie, we were greeted by a Tahitian lady and man in uniform. They were incredibly mellow.
“Which is your boat?” they asked, matter-of-factly.
“The trimaran, the one with three hulls,” I answered.
“Ahh, c’est bon.”
Since I doubted they would actually go look, I gave them our card with a photo of the boat.
“Uuum, merci!” The lady said.