Saturday, January 31, 2015

Jan 29 – At Sea

It was the normal sea day.  Arthur had another session of Rappin’ with the Rabbi; the entertainment tonight was comedienne Rita Rudner; and tonight’s pillow gifts were leather passport holders.

We crossed the Dateline at 11 tonight, so we have lost a day and when we wake up, it will be Saturday.  It gets very confusing.

Jan 31 – Approaching Tonga

It’s Saturday according to the rugs in the elevators, but the NY Times is dated Friday.  It will be better eventually, but right now it takes some adjusting.

Today was another sea day as we approached Tonga.  We were due to dock here Monday, but we were re-routed because of the swells at Rarotonga and the storm approaching Alofi.  By law, the whole island shuts down on Sunday, so we had to dock before then.  The only spot available was not going to be available until 7 tonight as we waited for another ship to vacate the dock.  Around 5 tonight, the captain advised us that we would be even later, docking around 8 pm just as we started dinner.  We have been playing tag with the Oceania Marina and had to wait for it to dock first.  The logistics must drive the captains crazy.

Once the ship was cleared, a group of local singers and dancers began to perform native dances on the pier right by the ship.  We were able to watch from the wrap-around deck outside our room before going to dinner at 8.  Because of the late arrival, anyone who had hoped to go ashore had to do so in the dark.  We had thought about taking a quick look but changed our minds with the new schedule.  Dinner tonight was with the Starrs and Shopshires to celebrate the Shopshire’s noniversary.  That’s not a typo – their anniversary is the 30th which we sort of glossed over. 

After dinner, we all walked off the ship to explore the little stalls the locals had erected in hopes of capturing our attention and dollars.  Note that this marked the purchase of mask #1, handmade and even dated and signed by the woodworker herself.  It looked even better when we got back and into good light.  As crowded as the “mask wall” is, there probably won’t be any [well, too many] more.  As MA said, we didn’t have any from the South Pacific; now we do.

TOMORROW -- A really quiet day in Tonga

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Jan 27 --  A much-needed sea day

After yesterday’s sun-filled adventure in Bora Bora, we really needed a day of rest.  Spending so much time in the water and sun can be surprisingly tiring.  With one notable exception, we spent today just like all of the other sea days.

The exception to the sea day routine was our second Cruise Critic meeting at 10 a.m. in the Crow’s Nest.  We did not have nearly the turnout for this gathering – about 100 people someone estimated – but there was lots of meeting and mingling.  D arranged a little contest in order to facilitate this and was able to cadge prizes from the Cruise Director.  Once again, HAL supplied not only the requested cookies, fruit and veggies but also champagne, mimosas and orange juice.  As they say, a good time was had by all.

Other than that, it was a regular sea day – Trivia, eat, nap, Trivia.  The nap was especially welcome because neither of us had slept well last night.  D was the more restless because of his sunburn; MA was not as uncomfortable from hers.  So we returned to the room right after lunch and napped until 4:30.  Ahhh!

Tonight was another formal night, but there was no special occasion.  There were no escargots on the menu, but we feel confident they will return several more times.

Although there is a tender port tomorrow [Rarotonga in the Cook Islands], we have no planned shore activities until we reach Auckland, NZ, late next week.

TOMORROW – Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Jan 28 – Or not

The captain woke us at 7:30 with the announcement that we would not be making our scheduled port call in the Cook Islands.  Dangerous swells at both the primary and secondary harbors prevented sending tenders safely to shore; he was not going to risk injury to passengers or crew not to mention damage to the tenders.  We had no plans here, so there was no sense of loss.  MA had already decided that she was not tendering unless it was absolutely necessary and D was going to go ashore solely to show the grandchildren on another Pacific rock. 

Perhaps the only one remotely disappointed will be our friend Richard.  Prior to our departure, he sent us pins to wear as members of the Traveler’s Century Club, a mythical group of people who have touched at least 100 countries from their rather odd list.  For example, the US counts as 3 countries – the mainland, Alaska and Hawaii.  Many people object to the TCC list, but it is what it is.  Rarotonga was to be our 100th country. 

The weather is playing a big part in our plans for the rest of the week.  Because of a large storm system, we will also bypass Alofi on Friday and head straight for Nuku Alofa, Tonga, where we will apparently dock Saturday night.  Originally, we were scheduled to dock there on Monday, crossing the International Date Line before arriving.  It appears that now we will lose Friday to the dateline and have Sunday and Monday in Tonga.  It is very confusing as to when is when; we were supposed to lose Sunday and were psyched up to watch the Super Bowl on Monday.  That, at least, has not changed.

To make us all feel better about the change in plans, Capt. Mercer is picking up the tab for wine or sodas at dinner tonight.  We will also have taxes for the missed ports refunded to our shipboard account, but it won’t be very much money.

The schedule reverted quickly to a sea day routine. 

TOMORROW – Another sea day 



Monday, January 26, 2015

Jan 23 – At sea again

MA has the cold now. 

We followed the sea routine again.  Paul gave his final lecture before departing tomorrow in Papeete.  We treated them to wine at dinner as a going-away gesture. 

TOMORROW – Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia

Jan 24 – Papeete, Day 1

Like yesterday, today was overcast.  Skies were grey all day and low-hanging clouds obscured the tops of the hills surrounding Papeete.  Seas were a bit bumpy overnight and into this morning; the ship even rock while tied to the pier.  We are hoping for sunnier weather tomorrow.

Papeete is the commercial crossroads of Polynesia and the South Pacific.  Container ships are daily visitors and there are ferries – both passenger and vehicular – scattered around the harbor ready to take on and all to the other islands.  We were one of three cruise liners in port this morning; we were tied alongside the Paul Gaugin and the Oceania Marina.  Based on the number of lifeboats, the Paul Gaugin holds about 400 passengers and the Marina about 1000.  The Amsterdam can carry 1250 or so although we have fewer than 1000 on board at the moment.

MA’s cold has gotten worse, so she stayed in bed this morning while D went to the MDR for a quick breakfast.  He brought back a bowl of muesli which has become one of her breakfast mainstays.  She remained in the cabin until after we docked at noon at which point we went ashore in search of the local market.

According to our sources, the market was set to close at 1 p.m. and we could not disembark until 12:20.  We followed the crowd toward the Tourist Information Center.  While MA looked at some jewelry in a little crafts area, D found a map of Papeete and directions to the market.  It was only 5 minutes away, so we left the jewelry vendors and went searching for the market.  We found it with no difficulty and spent 20 minutes looking around.

The market was a cross between a craft market and a produce-and-fresh-fish market.  The craft area was more crowded with tourists than the food stalls, not surprisingly, but we were able to find the one thing we were looking for and then spent time just looking around.  As we exited the far side of the food area, we even found a woman selling rambutan and thought of Caiden and Carter who learned to eat this exotic fruit in Indonesia.

Rather than walk any more than necessary, we skipped the pearl museum and the rest of the dilapidated downtown and returned to the vendors by the information center.  We bought nothing there but did run into Ann and Paul who were also doing a bit of shopping.  Back on board, we went to the Lido for lunch.  We tried unsuccessfully to Skype with the children since there is still only a 5 hour time difference.  Perhaps we will have better luck tomorrow.

We read and napped for the rest of the afternoon.  MA skipped Pub Trivia as she had the morning session.  When it was time to eat, we went to the Lido only to discover that the regular buffet was unavailable and we were stuck with a Polynesian buffet by the pool.  Dinner was most unsatisfying.

Had MA felt better, we could have gone to the Friday night food truck festival which is set up on a parking lot adjacent to the pier.  We even considered going over for crepes, but she did not feel up to it, especially in the light mist which started as we finished dinner.

HAL had arranged a native dance show for tonight – one performance only – but we decided not to fight the crowd for seats.  Besides, it did not start until 9:30 and we did not feel like staying up to see it.

TOMORROW – Our first tour

Jan 25 – Sadie Thompson was here

Somerset Maugham set a story in the South Pacific, perhaps even here in Tahiti.  The protagonist was Sadie Thompson.  The story was called Rain.  That’s the story today, too.

Having room-service deliver breakfast is always an adventure.  Usually, one of us has to struggle into a robe to answer the door because the stewards come earlier than expected.  Today, we were up more than an hour before the tray was due to arrive.  It was actually on time, but we were ready for a nap.  Neither of us slept well.  MA is still battling the cold and D never sleeps well the night before one of our private tours.

The weather had not improved during the night.  The Paul Gaugin and Marina both left Tahiti, but the rain stayed behind.  The clouds were even lower over the ring of hills around town and the rain varied from almost-nonexistent mist to heavy showers.  MA decided that going on tour today, especially in this weather, was not a good thing, so she stayed on board the ship.

D met today’s group at 8:45 as planned and we disembarked to find Carl the Cabbie who had been contracted to take us on a tour of the island’s highlights.  We were outside ahead of the scheduled 9 am pickup time and waited patiently.  And waited some more.  One of the tour operators even tried to call Carl’s cell phone, but he did not answer.  Although everyone we spoke to attested to his reliability and skills, we were left in the lurch.  Finally, the other 4 in the group opted to join a 4-hour bus tour which was supposed to visit most of the same places.  D gave them their money back in CFP [the local currency] and they joined the queue.  D waited until 9:35 without any sign of Carl before re-boarding the ship.  This is the first time we have ever been stood up by a guide or driver; we hope it is a one-time event. 

The upside of Carl’s disappearance is that we now have enough CFP to use as the tip for tomorrow’s excursion in Bora Bora.  Although the vendor wanted payment in USD, we feel sure they will be grateful for a tip in any currency.  The USD set aside for the tip will go into the general fund for future use.

D found MA reading on Deck 5 outside the Ocean Bar and we stayed there until a little after 11 am at which point we returned to the cabin to call the grandchildren.  We sent Emily a text warning her that there would be an incoming Skype and she was online by the time the computer was ready.  We spoke with Harper – well, around and about Harper – until she threw a small fit.  Moments after disconnecting, Emily texted that HJ said goodbye to Mi Mi and Pop Pop after she ate a muffin.  It sort of puts us in our place.

The ship is quiet today.  Many of the passengers are out on tour or jumping in puddles.  We spent a very relaxed day on board the ghost ship.  All-aboard was 4:30 with departure at 5.

TOMORROW – Bora Bora

Jan 26 – A day in the sea

We worried most of last night that the weather today would be as unfriendly as it had been in Papeete yesterday.  D went on deck to take a look before the breakfast tray arrived and was cautiously optimistic when he saw that the clouds were neither as low nor as dense as they had been.  However, we were going on tour today come rain or shine.

It was an early day in several regards. We were once again up before the breakfast tray arrived at 7 a.m.  We killed time in the room with the morning paper until we went to meet today’s group at 8:30.  To our surprise, everyone was already at the meeting point despite the announced 8:45 start time and we hurried, with deliberate speed, to the tenders.  We wasted no time here, either, because we walked right onto a tender and cast off almost immediately.  The ride to the dock was smooth and quick and we met our vendor’s reps well before 9 a.m.

Our guide today was Ed.  Ed was tall, thin and muscular with the typical facial features one expects of Polynesians.  He was ruggedly handsome and bronzed everywhere there were no tattoos.  The tattoos are a cultural distinction of the natives of Polynesia.  While some are representational, most are abstract geometric designs.  We have seen them now in three ports, Nuku Hiva, Tahiti and here on Bora Bora.  Ed had a decent command of English although he was sometimes hard to understand.  Not only did he act as pilot, navigator and guide, he also serenaded the 12 of us most of the day.  Unfortunately, the sound was a cross between Willie Nelson and a blackboard, but maybe that is how the songs were meant to sound.  Every time he let out with something akin to “yee-haw,” the bad children in the back of the boat joined in.  We were part of the bad children.

We made several stops before lunch.  First, we motored out to a spot close to the breakwater to observe stingrays and black-tipped sharks.  The latter are so named because their dorsal fins [the ones which break the surface] are black.  Since Ed was not feeding them, they were pretty quiet and just swam around us.  The stingrays were even more graceful than we imagined.  They literally flap their wings and fly through the water, although gliding would more accurately describe it.  Ed showed us how to touch the rays, warning us not to touch their undersides or tails; the tails contain a barb which can kill a man.  The surface of the stingrays is super soft, almost like a very close-napped velvet.  They were pretty docile and let Ed hold them for picture-taking by those who brought waterproof cameras. 

Before we got in the water, we watched as the sharks and stingrays swam around and under our boat and the others which were there.  Reflection on the water made it hard to get any clear pictures, but most of us tried.  Then we donned our snorkel gear and climbed down the ladder and into the crystal clear Aqua-Velva-blue water.  Although we have never snorkeled, we gave it a try.  MA had trouble with the equipment and decided it wasn’t worth fighting; she stayed in the water and watched the aquatic action.  Ed brought a stingray to her to see and touch.  D eventually got the hang of the equipment and peered under the surface while floating in the current.

Our next stop was at a “coral garden” which would have been more spectacular had we had more sunshine.  Nonetheless, it was fascinating.  Swimming around this coral collection were a number of fish of different species.  There were brightly colored ones with yellow and black stripes which we had seen at the first stop, but there were some smaller ones in schools which seemed to hang motionless in the water and below them were fish which appeared to be translucent so they could not be seen by predators above.  The coral varieties included brain coral, staghorn coral and others.  The most striking one D saw was a purple brain coral which he kept returning to.  Because the water was too deep to stand in, MA chose to stay on the boat.  For the same reason, D used a swim noodle to stay afloat.  Once again, he almost mastered the snorkel equipment with a minimum of leakage into the mask or his mouth.

We also had a stop during which Ed and the other guides fed the sharks.  Many in the group got in the water, staying a safe distance from the action, but D stayed on the boat so he could see better.  Once again, we were visited not only by the sharks but also by stingrays.  We speculated on whether the sharks and rays know the schedule of the tour boats and only showed up at feeding time.

We had a little free swimming time before lunch.  Since the water was only 2 feet deep, we couldn’t really swim, but the water was, once again, perfectly clear so we could see tiny fish.  However, the rays and sharks had the day off.  Actually, we think the water was too shallow for them.  We lazed in the bath-tub warm water, sat on the sandy bottom and stood round talking.  There were 6 couples on this excursion, and we did not know any of them very well.  Several of the others seemed to know each other already, so everyone got along well.

We went to a motu for lunch.  A motu is a small island and the vendor, Patrick, has his own private one.  He told us later that it is about 24 acres.  There were 2 boats – 24 tourists – for lunch today.  Cooked by Patrick’s employees and relatives, the menu included grilled stingray and shark as well as the contents of a small fire pit.  We watched as the layers of cloth and banana leaves were peeled back to reveal whole baby pigs, containers of banana pudding, plantains, breadfruit, taro and chicken-and-spinach.  We ate with our hands off of banana leaf plates.  Drinks included local beer, champagne and wine and canned sodas.  Some of the guests may have had a bit too much of the wine.

There were picnic tables set in water where most of the folks ate, but 6 of us chose to eat in the shade on dry land.  While we were finishing our delicious meal, Patrick himself came to our table and talked with us for 15 - 20 minutes.  He is well-spoken [in 4 languages] and it was easy to see the pride he takes in his homeland as well as the business he runs.  Some of the guests treated him like a god and he handled himself with dignity and grace.  We were pleased that he chose to come speak with us.

Before leaving the motu, Ed had us follow him through the scrub and volcanic residue [i.e., rock] to see the coral reef on the other side of the island.  The track was narrow with loose stones, mud and intruding plants.

MA fell, just as she did in the Amazon several years ago and in Ephesus before that.  She was not seriously injured but brought home a neat little gash in her left knee [the bad one] as well as abrasions on her right one.  When we showed Ed what had happened, he made sure to help her back to the campsite where we had eaten and then retrieved a first aid kit from the boat.  He applied antiseptics and bandages and MA ended up looking like she had lost her fife and drum unit.  Several others discovered scrapes and abrasions when they returned from the walk, but none was as dramatic as MA’s.

We started back to the tender dock, but some of the part-goers wanted Ed to detour to a local bar called Bloody Mary’s, a “must see” for some people.  They wanted to continue drinking but D told them that Ed was taking us [and others] back to the dock.  They were free to have him drop them off and/or wait for them, but they needed to tip him appropriately.  As we got off Ed’s boat, D told him to negotiate a price beforehand, just to be safe.  We think the group decided to take a minibus both ways so they would have more time to drink with less of a chance of missing the last tender.  Since we departed Bora Bora on time, we assume they got back safely.

Even though we used sunscreen at the beginning of the day, we must not have applied it evenly or it washed off.  Regardless, we were both bright red when we returned to the ship, a fair price for the best recreational shore excursion ever.

TOMORROW – A much-needed sea day


Friday, January 23, 2015

Jan 18 – Are you ready for some football?

It’s yet another sea day – number 5 for those of you counting – and the routine is in place.  Today featured a not-so-elaborate buffet billed as a traditional Sunday brunch; the only thing traditional about was that most of the food was the normal offerings in the Lido with the addition of cheap champagne and mimosas.  But it was football in America and at sea.  With the time difference, difference we were able to watch both NFL playoff games live on the big screen.  This presented us with a conflict because the Green Bay – Seattle game was scheduled for 1:10 this afternoon local time and Paul’s lecture was set for 2 pm.  We avoided the problem by watching the game for a while before MA went to another crafts class.  D watched a little longer before returning to the cabin and crawling under the covers albeit with the television tuned to the game.  We were really upset with the result.

We did not watch the New England game which overlapped with dinner [and wasn’t worth watching anyway].  D’s cold continues to get the best of him, but, as we say in our house, “There is nothing worse than a man who thinks he’s sick.”  Even though D ate very little at dinner, he has gotten no sympathy from MA.  The waiters were more worried than she was. 

MA read after dinner while D cowered under the covers.

TOMORROW – Day 6 at sea

Jan 19 --  A visit to the doctor

D spent a horrible night fighting the cold, chills, dizziness, etc.  Even so, he accompanied MA to breakfast but ate very little of his breakfast, so MA suggested [ordered?] him to visit the doctor.  He skipped Arthur’s God Squad presentation with the priest and minister as well as Paul’s lecture.  He finished his visit to the doctor just after Trivia started but stopped in only to say he wasn’t playing today.  The doctor prescribed antibiotics, cough syrup and meclizine, the anti-nausea medication used for sea sickness, to combat the dizziness.  It was suggested strongly that he stay in the cabin until his fever disappears. 

Ship life continues unimpeded, though, and there has yet to be an armed rebellion after all of the sea days. While we love seeing new countries and people, we also like sea days.  There is no pressure to do anything or be anywhere if you don’t want to.  Life doesn’t get much better than lying on a deck chair watching the water. Or being confined to quarters and watching the inside of your eyelids.

Needless to say, D skipped lunch.  Before MA went to the Lido, we filled out entry and exit forms for Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia.  These had been sent to the cabins last week but were quickly recalled without explanation and re-issued today with a “hurry up” message.  MA dropped these off at the Front Desk before going to the Lido to play with her Indonesian pals, especially Mukti.

She read outside for a while and then came home to take a nap before Pub Trivia.  She slept right past the 4:30 alarm and D’s attempt to wake her.  When she asked the time at 5:10, she figured he had missed Trivia and went back to sleep.  She left the room pretty much on schedule for her pre-sinner drink in the Ocean Bar.  As soon as she was out of sight, D hustled to the Lido to get some food.  For all practical purposes, he had not eaten since the Sunday buffet.  MA said she was going to look for evidence of room service when she returned, so D brought back ice cream and cookies to prove he had eaten something somewhere.

In an oddity of our race around the world, we set the clocks back another 30 minutes tonight.  At least for one day, we will be 3-1/2 hours behind the East Coast.  Thus, when it is 7:30 tomorrow morning here in the middle of nowhere, it will be 11 a.m. at home.  We presume we will find that odd 30 minutes somewhere along the way.

TOMORROW – Another day at sea


Jan 20 – Still at Sea

With the extra half-hour to sleep and the near-total darkness of the cabin, it was easy to stay in bed this morning.  D felt well enough to go to the MDR and try some oatmeal, but he was still “off his feed” as his mother used to say.  After we returned to the room, he curled up on and, later, under the covers.  MA went on deck to read and then went to Trivia.  When she returned, she read the questions from this morning’s and last night’s games to see if D would have been any help to the team.  The results were mixed – he knew some answers which the team got wrong but not enough to affect the results. 

We ate lunch in the Lido again today.  We might have been too late for the MDR, but, regardless, we did not want to spend an hour over lunch.  MA made a salad and got cheese cubes while D had what he imagines could be congee [Correct me, Jon, if I am wrong], a soup of noodles, chicken, shrimp, baby bok choy, hard-boiled egg and scallions in a tangy broth.  He made sure there were no chilies added. 

Although the fever is much lower [and it was never really high to begin with], D continues to feel dizzy, so after lunch MA went back on deck to read and D lay in bed and worked on the journal for a while.  Eventually, he joined her outside and they read some more.  MA went to Pub Trivia where, she said, the team fared poorly.  She brought the questions back again, but the results would not have changed had D been there.

Tonight is the gala Parisian Dinner, another formal night.  The MDR was festooned with bunting and French flags when we were there for breakfast and the menu for tonight had a decided Gallic flavor.  MA joined the festivities, but D once again stayed home.  He had room service bring dinner and had to show MA the dirty dishes to prove it.  The only remaining symptom of the cold is the cough and that is improving with medication.  If the fever would drop, then the episode would be over.

TOMORROW – The last sea day until the next one

Jan 21 – The Final Frontier

Today was the last of the sea days in this segment.  There will be plenty more although there may not be such an extended period of them until we cross the Atlantic at the end of April.  That seems so very far away to us right now.

We were in full “sea day” mode today.  After breakfast with Ken and Lois in the MDR, the four of us went directly to Arthur’s Rapping with the Rabbi session.  No two meetings are ever the same because the audience brings questions that are important to them and Arthur tries to explain the Jewish answer to their conundrums.  Much of today was taken with the questions “What is a Jew?” and “Can you be a Jew but not believe in God?”  Good stuff to wrestle with at 9 in the morning.

Once Arthur finished, we went to the theater to hear Paul’s lecture on the future of flight.  The Final Frontier, as it was called in Star Trek in the 1960s, is being assaulted by multiple commercial groups now that NASA’s funding and role have been cut.  There are several companies trying to get in on the ISS [International Space Station] which are building components which would attach to and enlarge the Station.  Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s entry, seems to be aiming strictly at the short-term tourist with what would be quite expensive “barn-storming” rides to the edge of space.  Paul included a short promotional video supplied by Virgin or pulled from the internet.

We ate by the pool today, sort of.  We sat in the shade where the heat was only oppressive but not unbearable.  On such a cloudless day, the pool area itself was uninhabitable.  We spent the early afternoon in the movie theater viewing Love Is Strange, the recent film with John Lithgow and Alfred Molina about a gay couple who finally can marry and the fallout in their lives and the lives of those around them.  While we enjoyed the movie and the acting, we thought there were some weak points in the plot and editing, but what do we know?  The popcorn was good, too.

Dinnertime found us in the Canaletto with a group put together by Linda Starr.  The group of eight also included Roger and Barbara, with whom they had eaten on a previous cruise, and Kathy and Bob from Cruise Critic.  Kathy and Bob met the Starrs on a previous cruise and went to Cuba with Arthur’s “mission” last Fall.  Since there were 8 of us and 8 small plates, it seemed only natural to order everything so everyone could have a taste.  Of course, we had to order 2 of every dish in order for everyone to have some.  Even in small portions, there was a lot of food being passed around the table.  We did the same thing with the 5 offerings for the pasta course.  We were collectively stuffed, even Bob who seemed insatiable at the start.  Still, we managed to squeeze in 2 of the 5 entrees although we only ordered one of each as diners fell by the wayside.  There is no explaining how anyone managed to eat dessert, but we shared limoncello, a chocolate torta and tiramisu. 

It was well after 10 p.m. when we returned to the cabin to discover another pillow gift.  Perhaps it was an omen, but there were collapsible umbrellas on the bed.  We are hoping that does not portend rain tomorrow.

TOMORROW -- Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia

Jan 22 – There’s no yeshiva in Nuku Hiva

Our first stop since Manta is in Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas Islands, part of French Polynesia.  Polynesia extends from Hawaii on the north to New Zealand on the south and is roughly triangular in shape. To the west are Melanesia and Micronesia.  Linguistically, Polynesia means many islands, Micronesia is little islands and Melanesia is dark islands.  The groupings are built on sociological and physical characteristics of the inhabitants who share common attributes and languages within the group.

Nuku Hiva is a typical volcanic island which rises almost straight from the Pacific Ocean.  It is gorgeous and green and vertical.  There is very little flat ground available for agriculture.  It is best known as the site of Survivor: Marquesas.

Before we left the ship, we heard several warnings about what to expect.  The one repeated most often dealt with taking nothing from the ship of a food or agricultural nature in order not to disturb the local ecology. The second, which we heard only once, warned against swimming because of the presence of sharks. Great!  We were being loaded into small bobbing boats but warned not to go in the water.  We hoped the guys piloting the tenders were as aware of the danger as we were.

The tender ride was short and smooth despite the humidity in the boat.  As we approached the tender dock, sure enough, there were shark fins circling where one of the locals was cleaning fish.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a photo from the tender and there were no sharks in the area when we returned to the ship an hour later.  We did get a picture of the Flat Grandchildren as held by a hula dancer.  When we asked where she was from, she said, “England.”  “What brought you to Nuku Hiva?”  “I’m the ship’s videographer,” she replied.  At least we did not have to pay her for the picture.

We were dressed as recommended in the Daily Program – covered up as much as possible because of mosquitoes – in long pants and long-sleeved shirts.  We had hats, of course.  D wore his fake Panama hat and looked just like Phil from The Amazing Race.  Temperatures were lower than we had expected, but the humidity was horrific; it felt like Jakarta or Singapore. 

We were docked on the south side of the island in a natural harbor.  It may have been the caldera of the volcano which formed the island, but we did not ask anyone.  There were sail boats and yachts parked haphazardly on the glass-smooth water, the only disturbance being the wake from the tenders and the sharks.

There was no town to speak of, just a string of buildings around the semi-circular harbor fanning up the hill.  What we think was the government building was on the harbor semicircle with 4 different flags flying stiffly in the wind.  Some of the roads ran up the hill from the beach, but we did not explore this area.  It was too hot to go searching for the local church, too, so we walked about a mile [well, it seemed like it, anyway] before turning around for home.  We stopped to look at local crafts but saw nothing affordable which interested us.  Luckily, there was a little snack bar next to the crafts area so we got Diet Cokes.  Because D paid with the local currency [the Pacific franc], the drinks cost us only 6 dollars whereas the price in USD would have been $8.  Either way, it made the ship seem almost affordable.

We ate outside on the Lido deck again today despite the heat.  Once we were settled at the table, the heat seemed less of a problem than ashore, but we were in the shade the whole time.  It was but pleasant and we saw a number of new/old friends and chatted as we made our way to a table.  After lunch, D went to Bob and Kathy’s cabin to show them the information about the snorkeling expedition in Bora Bora.  They said they were interested in joining the group and, by a stroke of good fortune for them, Ginger and Dave had had an offer of another tour.  They refused to leave us stuck for the money which had been committed but loved the idea of selling their spaces.  So Bob and Kathy will go and D gave the money to Ginger at Trivia this afternoon.  A definite win-win for everyone.

Trivia at 3 was followed by reading was followed by Pub Trivia.  What a busy day!

We were all at dinner tonight in the MDR.  Of course, we had been in the Caneletto last night, but so had Ann and Paul.  Our waiters were probably bored without us.  Tomorrow will be Ann and Paul’s last night aboard; HAL is kicking them off the ship when we reach Papeete on Saturday afternoon.  Paul’s final lecture will be given tomorrow.  We will be sorry to see them go; they have been good company for the past 3 weeks.

TOMORROW – Another sea day






Sunday, January 18, 2015

NOTE – We are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in a dead zone for internet service, so we may not have been able to post the journal for a while.  Here is what you missed while we were out of contact:

Jan 14 – At Sea

We are now on automatic pilot.  With 8 sea days in a row, there will be little to distinguish one day from the next.  Three meals, two trivias and the occasional lecture.  Postings will be less frequent and shorter because there won’t be much to say.

We read on the back deck after breakfast this morning.  Despite crossing the equator, the weather was pleasant and neither the temperature nor the humidity was too high.  There was a nice breeze at the stern of the ship, certainly less than on the exposed sides.

Lunch today was again on the Lido Deck rather than the MDR.  There was nothing too appealing on the formal lunch, so we got food from the buffet line and French fries from the hamburger bar.  D spoke briefly with Mukti to find out if he had spoken with Julianti when we were in Manta.  He had and was just beaming from the memory.  We still have a long way to go before he has his family reunion and gets to meet their new baby.  We are excited to meet his family, too.

We attended Paul’s lecture on Polynesia after lunch.  He is a good speaker but in the dark and cold, there was some nodding off around the theater.  We decided that he lectures exactly as he talks at dinner without any artificiality.  We bought his book the other day but have yet to read it – it’s a long cruise and we will get to it soon.

The afternoon featured more reading and a short period where MA finally organized her clothes.  Our big adventure was going to the gym.  We didn’t do anything once we got there, but at least we can say we went to the gym.  Tomorrow we might even touch one of the machines. 

Actually, we found Bob and Kathy there and MA showed Kathy how to use the rowing machine.  Bob and Kathy walk upwards of 5 miles each day and work out as well.  We admire their attitude and frequently thank them for doing our share as well as their own.  We have had drinks with them before dinner several times and may even make a habit of it.  They are delightful people we met through Arthur and Linda and Cruise Critic.

We also managed to stop by the Casino several times for short forays into the world of slots without much additional damage.

We skipped the guitarist’s performance tonight but might drop in on his afternoon show tomorrow. 

And so to bed, as Mr. Pepys said.

TOMORROW – More of the same

Jan 15 – At Sea, day 2

An early breakfast with Ken and Lois preceded a session of Rappin’ with the Rabbi.  We go because we enjoy Arthur’s presentations rather than through any sense of obligation to a friend and neighbor.  While his explanations are always interesting, the conversation bounces from topic to topic.  Because of all of the asides, he sometimes loses his original topic and veers all over the place.  In other words, it really is a conversation, not a lesson or lecture.

Afterwards, we read on the side of the Lower Promenade so we could actually watch the world float by before morning Trivia.  After Trivia, we ate with Arthur and Linda in the MDR and rehashed some of the conversation from his morning presentation.  We stopped by the casino after lunch for a few fruitless minutes before heading to the Lido to read and work on the crossword puzzle.  If we were fighting with the puzzle today, it won.  MA joined Linda for a crafts class in which they made earrings while D fought with the puzzle a little more before dropping the bag with the tablets and trivia supplies in the room.  A few minutes at the blackjack table – the first time on this cruise – produced a draw [which is better than can be said for the crossword puzzle], and another few minutes on the slots returned the money he had lost earlier in the day.  At three o’clock, he went to hear the guitarist who was performing as a solo act this afternoon while MA was still crafting.  He returned to the room at 3:30 to find her there.  We read in the room for an hour or so before heading out for Pub Trivia. 

Tonight was another formal night, the second so far.  There will be 9 or 10 before we return to Florida, a far cry from “the old days” when there were normally 2 per week on every cruise, even the week-long ones.  This is just another example of HAL [and probably the other “mass market” cruise lines] abandoning the traditions of cruising.  In order to attract a younger demographic, the line has to offer what the new customers want, even on a cruise like the GWV which probably has no one who is not an experienced traveler. 

The result of “dumbing down” the cruise experience is that there are fewer formal nights and a more relaxed dress code.  When we started cruising 30 years ago [thanks to D’s parents], there were three standards of dress for dinner – formal, semi-formal and casual.  Casual dress was reserved for port days when passengers often did not have time to change from their touring outfits before early dinner.  Sports attire was accepted as long as one did not wear shorts, flip-flops and the like.  Semi-formal was renamed informal and changed from coats and ties for men to jackets without ties.  Formal dress has not changed. 

Today, there are just two dress styles, formal and smart casual.  Formal dress is no longer as fancy as it once was; despite HAL’s references to cocktail dresses and similar clothing for women and tuxedoes or dark suits for men, no one enforces the dress code, so some people dress up and others don’t.  Everyone we saw was dressed appropriately, but we have seen passengers on Grand Cruises in polo shirts or worse which sort of defeats the whole idea of having a formal night.  Many who did not want to dress up went to the Lido buffet so as not to offend the passengers who want to dress formally.

Following the oh-so-fancy dinner which featured escargot and surf-and-turf [not necessarily what we ordered], passengers were invited to the Black-and-Silver Ball in the showroom.  We went and sat with Ken and Lois and Ginger and Dave. 

The custom was to give pillow gifts on formal nights, but the only thing we found in our cabin tonight was a fancier-than-usual candy.  On the other hand, we have already received the travel bag and cruise diary, so we can’t complain.

TOMORROW – Day 3 at sea

Jan 16 – Day 3 At Sea

We have now turned the clocks back twice, so we are 2 hours behind the East Coast.  By the time we get home, we will be back on schedule but will have lost an entire day.  What day? Let’s just say we will watch the Super Bowl on Monday if we get up early enough.

This morning’s “new” activity was a presentation by the Port Lecturer on our next stop, Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas Islands.  Nuku Hiva is approximately 50 square miles of lush tropical beauty.  In fact, Survivor was filmed here several years ago.  There are fewer than 10000 inhabitants, so when 1000 passengers descend on it, it will seem almost crowded.  Unless one takes a HAL tour, there is not much to do or see here.  Taxis are almost nonexistent and the roads are mostly single lane and unpaved.  The HAL tour groups may find themselves riding in trucks before the day is done.  We expect to tender in and then walk around the waterfront to see the people, shops and stone statues for which Nuku Hiva and the Marquesas are famous.

The most exciting part of the port lecture occurred early when Barbara lost her computer connection.  Instead of continuing her presentation, she stood around and joked about the support staff who were trying to reboot her computer.  It is bad enough that she reads her PowerPoint slides to the group, but it is disappointing [appalling?] that she could not continue without them.  She may be a friendly and outgoing person when compared to her predecessor, but at least he knew his stuff.

Although most food references are being omitted in deference to Jon, it must be mentioned that today’s lunch in the MDR featured soft-shell crabs.  Of course, D had to have them and was not sorry.  If they are offered, he will get them again.

Paul’s lecture this afternoon focused on the mechanics behind volcanism and the Ring of Fire which extends around the Pacific Rim.  Although he, too, used PowerPoint for his graphics, he did not read to the audience; actually, there was very little text on the slides, just photos, charts and diagrams to illustrate his comments.

Yesterday, we received an invitation to a VIP reception with the captain and senior staff.  We don’t know why we were included but found out that Ken, Lois, Ginger and Dave were invited, too.  It gives us a chance to act important and get free drinks.  D used the opportunity to give the Captain a Cruise Critic pen in the hope that he would attend one of our meetings.  The demands of command obviously take precedence, but it would be great if he could arrange it.

We had to leave the VIP reception early because we had a prior date with Paul and Ann to eat in the Canelleto, the on-board Italian restaurant.  We had never tried the Caneletto on the Prinsendam or the Westerdam but had heard good things, so we were looking forward to the experience.  We were not disappointed.  The Caneletto charges a fixed price [$10, but we get half off as frequent cruisers] and offers a variety of small plates, pasta and large plates.  The note on the menu suggests ordering 2 small plates plus a pasta dish and a big plate for 2 people, so we did.  We shared a salad and then steamed clams and sausage.  This was followed by pasta with shrimp in a cream sauce and then a fish entrĂ©e.  Dessert is included, but we could not eat another bite despite the temptations.  When we go again – and we will – we will be more judicious in our selections.

We met Paul and Ann at 7:30 and talked non-stop until the staff urged us out at 10.  Normally, we start at 8 in the MDR and are out by 9:30.  The evening’s enjoyment was enhanced by the presence of Mukti who is a server in the Caneletto.  We spent quite some time talking to him, especially about his impending fatherhood [Yulianti is now 36 weeks pregnant, so it won’t be long].  We are anxious to meet her and the baby when we get to Indonesia.

We were stuffed like ticks when we waddled back to the cabin where we discovered another pillow gift.  Tonight it was a pair of wireless Bluetooth speakers that we will try to figure out when we get home.

TOMORROW – Day 4 at Sea

Jan 17 – Sailing, Sailing

Still at sea with all that implies, we attended the Tahiti port lecture this morning and Paul’s lecture right afterwards but left early to get to Trivia on time.  D has developed a cold [poor baby] so we took a lovely, long nap after lunch instead of going to the gym.  It’s “comfort food day” because lunch was meatloaf sandwiches and tonight’s dinner was the traditional Thanksgiving turkey and trimmings. We continue to eat our way around the world.  

TOMORROW – More of the same



Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Jan 13 – Manta, Ecuador

First, a correction – When we were transiting the Canal on Sunday, we saw no “see-through” railings wherever we were.  In fact, D realized today, the railings on the sides of the ship under the lifeboats are the traditional style, making it easier to see the world as well as jump overboard.  More than anything, this lets you know how often we had been on deck during the first week.

Now, back to our story. 

The Amsterdam was docked and cleared by 5:30 this morning so that passengers could make an excursion to Quito, the capital of Ecuador.  Although HAL arranged the tour, everyone had to take a commercial flight to and from Quito.  In order to accommodate their return, we did not leave Manta until after 8:30 tonight.  We were able to watch some of our departure while we were in the MDR.

Our day definitely did not involve an early departure from the ship.  The local tourism board provided a shuttle bus to the not-quite center of town which began operation at 9 o’clock.  We saw no need to rush and returned to the stateroom after breakfast to read.  We finally gathered our on-shore bag and left the ship close to 10:30.  Today, the bag held the Flat Grandchildren as well as rain jackets and copies of our passports.

The shuttle bus dropped us off across the street from the malecon, the esplanade which follows the water.  The street was a wide boulevard with a traffic island and was so busy that it would have been impossible to cross even if we had been so inclined.  However, near where we began our adventure there was an elaborate pedestrian overpass so people could cross from one side to the other safely.

Manta is Ecuador’s largest port and, as such, is quite busy.  Not only did we see a few freighters, but also lots of smaller fishing boats.  For obvious reasons, Manta is dependent on the fishing industry and considers itself the Tuna Capital.  There is even a big tuna with that slogan in one of the traffic circles we rounded going from and to the ship.

The main attraction at the bus terminus was a crafts market.  In fact it was about the only thing there.  We realized as we walked through the market that it was sponsored by the city.  All of the merchants wore identical polo shirts with the official Manta logo.  Aimed strictly at tourists, the market featured textiles, carvings and Panama hats.  The cloth goods are brightly colored like the molas in the San Blas but are woven, not stitched.  The carvings are made from a nut called the “ivory nut” because it is usually snow white in the inside and is hard like ivory. 

There were many stalls offering men’s and women’s woven hats for sale and D took pictures of a woman demonstrating the traditional way they are woven.  Just as he had in the San Blas, D paid a dollar apiece to take photos of the grandchildren with her.  At another stall, we talked for a few minutes with a woman who was originally from the Melbourne, Florida, area.  She designed jewelry and ivory nut carvings and had artisans who did the actual work.  We asked how she got to Manta and she told us that she had come in 1992 as a Peace Corps volunteer who never left, even after her discharge in 1997.  It’s a small world.

Panama hats are a specialty of the region.  The most famous, and reputedly the best, are made in a town not far from Manta, but they are available all over the region.  Good hats can cost hundreds of dollars and are woven by hand; cheap ones are just that and can be had for $20 or less.  The “secret” to the Panama hat is that it can be folded and stored and still retain its shape.  The hats D saw in Manta were offered at $25, then $20, and he did not even try to bargain.  He also was not interested in buying a hat. It may seem strange that hats made in Ecuador are called “Panama hats,” but there is an excellent reason for the name.  When the Canal was being built, an enterprising Frenchman realized that there would be a market for a lightweight hat to protect the workers from the sun.  Since the Canal was being built in Panama, the hats became known as “Panama hats.” 

We tried to find a bank-sponsored museum which we thought was in the area, but got conflicting directions in Spanish and were, therefore, unsuccessful.  We did find a small park a block from the market and walked through it.  We saw large trees, several large metal sculptures and lots of people.  This park was not just for show, it was being used by the locals as a place to meet, talk and relax.  As we walked back to the shuttle, MA spotted a large MANTA sign on the opposite side of the boulevard and D was able to get a photo despite the traffic.

We also found a church just up the hill from the shuttle stop but made no attempt to walk to it.  Again, D took a picture which he has already title “Praying Manta.” 

The rest of the day was a sea day, basically.  Lunch, reading, Trivia, yuppie coffee and Pub Trivia were followed by preparing for dinner; having a drink in the Ocean Bar; and dinner itself.  There was no show tonight so we read until bedtime.  It’s not a bad routine.

TOMORROW – The first of 8 sea days in a row