Uh oh, he’s making that pouty put-put-put sound they make with their lips. Kind of an exaggerated exhalation through pursed lips. It’s the sound that means you can kiss this day goodbye and probably the next one too. He says something in French, makes the little tiny gesture by pinching his forefinger and thumb together, mutters “petite problem” and disappears behind the counter. Yes, I know I should speak French, but dear Escapees, I’m not a lot of things that I should be. However I am very good at pantomime and I was sure the last guy understood our comings and goings. My “wife with a bad back-go back to Papeete Hospital for a CAT scan” is one of my most requested party pieces. I would have thought he’d remember me with fondness.
In a few minutes I begin to pace. It’s what I do. I peek through the blinds and see that the tourists off today’s cruise ship, the Princess something-or-other, are stacked-up outside taking snaps of the charming Gendarme office with its white picket fence and now Yours Truly is in their vacation snaps peering out at them through the blinds looking for all the world like a criminal, and I may well be if I can’t straighten this mess out. Finally my gendarme comes out from the inner sanctum flourishing, viola, three forms in triplicate to be filled out still again by Yours Truly and copies which are to be sent to Papeete customs which will require a seventy five cent stamp which can only be bought at the post office which is down the dusty road. This is oh so familiar. I bet they’ll remember me at the post office. This is the fourth time I’ve filled out these forms in triplicate and bought the 75 cent stamp to send my three forms off to the black hole in Papeete, but what has me
worried is that my guy said, with his finger wagging, to come back 24 hours before departure. They can’t do anything in 24 hours. Maybe I should go a day early so I can fill out those forms in triplicate again.
I love the French, really I do. I’ve found them to be, by and large, cheerful, happy and smiling. They love high tech. They’re just not good at it. This all started in Tahiti the first time, where we were instructed to just email customs when we were planning to checkout and voila, the correct forms, in triplicate, would be waiting at our next port of call, which was Bora Bora for us and where it turned out they never heard of us. I don’t feel singled out. Nobody’s forms, in triplicate, made it to Bora Bora. Unfortunately Marce’s back really got worse so when the doctor said you’d better get her back to Papeete Hospital for a CAT scan I immediately checked out that day creating my now famous “wife with a bad back-go back to Papeete Hospital for a CAT scan” routine and of course, filling out the three forms in triplicate, hustling down the dusty road to the post office where for 75 cents they’ll post your three forms in triplicate to Papeete Customs which of course is where we ‘re going.
The good news back in Papeete is that Marce’s wonky back slowly did improve along with our water maker and redesigned masthead. After a few weeks we emailed Papeete customs that we were leaving Tahiti and our intention was to sail back to Bora Bora where we would check out of the country for Tonga. Well, no surprise, back in Bora Bora they never heard of us despite emails, forms in triplicate, dusty roads, stamps, or promises to come back 24 hours before we leave.
When our Kiwi weather guru Bob emailed us that our weather window had finally made an appearance and could we leave on Tuesday, I confess I had my doubts. Hah, this time I thought I’ll bring my secret weapon, Marce, who when pushed, can parlez-vous a little French and she learned from the pursed pouty putt-putt that there were in fact a few small irregularities in our paperwork and voila, just fill out these three forms in triplicate and take them down to the post office, buy a 75 cent stamp and come back tomorrow at ten o’clock. After we have the proper forms you can leave, but first we must know where did you go when you left French Polynesia? It seems the more subtle qualities of my “wife has a bad back-go back to Papeete Hospital for a CAT scan” routine were lost on my last guy and instead of just noting that we moved from one island to another, he’d checked us into French Polynesia again. Our new gendarme paged through our passports and pointed. We have two entry stamps
with no corresponding exit. Because we never left. Marce tried to explain this in halting French while our gendarme kept pointing to the entry stamp from last week. Marce smiled and gave her best Gallic shrug.
Faster than you can say voila, fresh new forms, in triplicate, appeared but I just couldn’t face another form in triplicate so M. took over. Uh oh, more pouty putt-putt and apparently they teach that little thumb and forefinger pinch thing in grammar school because this guy did it just the same way. Soon we were hustled back into the inner sanctum where our guy puzzled over the dates of our visas until Marce produced our temporary resident cards. That solved one of the petite problems but there was still the incorrect stamp in our passports to address. With a conspiratorial wink and a shrug he carefully overwrote “sortie” on the French Polynesian “entree” stamp and changed the dates. He told us if there’s a problem in Tonga with the obvious forgery we are to show them the green copy of our exit application. And with that he sorted our growing stack of forms, “c’est pour moi, c’est pour moi, c’est pour moi, c’est pour moi, c’est pour moi, c’est pour moi, et voila, c’est pour v ous.”
Anticipating bad news, we checked our email early the next morning and we were gobsmacked to find our exit papers waiting for us.
It was never in doubt.