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


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