Sunday, January 31, 2016

Photos of Cook Island Excitement

Gala evening with London theme (thus the umbrella and bowler hat)
The doomed channel before coral-gate
Our tour leader
Mary, one of the tour participants, agreed to have a paste of this stuff applied to her hair (it's supposed to make your hair grow)
But it smells god-awful
The "heart" of King Kehmehahmeha (sp?)
Mary's hair post-treatment! Only kidding. She brushed it later and it looked lovely. She is a beautiful woman and a good sport too!
Mrs. "Pa" with a couple of her paintings 
The stranded tender
Captain and crew wading out
Passengers making their way ashore
Rescuing the boat
The "survivors"
Boat drained water for a good twenty plus minutes
We've been watching this gal -- she has this same outfit in a myriad of colors. The hat is a new touch though.
Presentation on Maori culture in advance of our visit to New Zealand 
Two heads are better than one!

Photos of Moorea

Pineapple plantation 

Our fellow photo safari participants
One of many rough roads we took that day
The caldera of Moorea
Your intrepid duo
Cool rooster pic R got
View from Belevedere
Vanilla beans on the vine
The road to Magic Mountain
View from Magic Mountain
And in the other direction
Some of those famous Polynesian over the water cabins
So happy to be able to share photos with you again!

Sailing Toward New Zealand

Sunday January 31, 2016

Today, like the previous four days, was spent at sea – needlepointing, eating, exercising, attending lectures, etc. This week we will be in New Zealand so I am looking forward to that. Not too much else to report. The Internet connection on the boat continues to be ridiculously slow if not completely useless.

We did have one exciting thing happen last week while visiting the Cook Island of Rarotonga (part of New Zealand). We had to use tenders to get onto the island and although the water did not seem particularly rough there were large swells that made disembarking in the usual spot off shore not possible. So, after several attempts at setting up the tender platform (in the front, in the back, on one side, then the other) our Captain decided that we would try the other side of the island. The new location didn’t have much in the way of services or amenities. Also, the cut in the coral reef that allows access to the dock was very narrow. Nevertheless, the ship’s crew was able to set up the tender platform and so after a two-plus-hour delay the tendering process finally began.

We had signed up for a tour – Pa’s Eco Adventure. Pa, the tour guide, is, I would imagine, a bit of a local legend. Certainly he was a character – no shirt, sarong, dread locks. First stop was his house where he pointed out several plants/fruits and explained their medicinal value – sort of. Mostly though we just stood around looking at one another and listening to him ramble on about how he gets twenty-hour advance notice of any earthquakes on the planet (that’s twenty hour notice not twenty four hour notice) and how he was given the heart of King Kuhmehahmeha (sp? – you know, the one from Hawaii). I told you he was a character. After a couple hours of wasted time, I had had enough and when a minibus left to take anyone back to the dock Russell and I were on it. At the dock, we discovered the exciting thing that happened (no I have not forgotten that I promised you something exciting) – namely that one of the tenders that was delivering passengers from the boat to the shore ran aground on the coral reef. And that is where it was when we arrived. Stranded about two hundred yards off shore. Loaded with passengers.

After several minutes, the Captain arrived on shore and with a group of officers and some supplies they waded out to the boat. The area between the boat and the beach was not too deep but it was filled with coral so it wasn’t particularly easy to navigate. Eventually, they started to offload passengers using a zodiac/raft-like thingy while others simply hopped in the water and walked ashore with or without assistance. Fortunately for us another tender came along after about forty-five minutes and we high-tailed it back to the ship. Later in the day people had to wait on shore for as much as two hours.

We received varying reports on how the passengers on board the stranded boat fared. Some people said that everyone took it in stride while another person we talked to (who was clearly none too happy with her experience) said that some people were panicking. We did hear a funny story about a passenger who was worrying about the boat sinking.
That’s when some wag observed wryly that “we are already on the bottom!”

Eventually the boat was pulled off the reef by a small tugboat and it returned to the boat still with some passengers aboard and several holes in its bottom and so much water on board that it took a good twenty plus minutes to drain. Awfully glad we were not on that ill-fated boat. That’s one story that I will gladly do without.

The only other exciting thing to happen in the past several days was our crossing of the International Date Line. Never have I done that before and so I didn’t really know how it works. Well, allow me to explain. You cross the Date Line from east to west and you advance your calendar by one day. Clock stays the same, just the date changes. You cross the Date Line from west to east you turn your calendar back by one day. Again, clock stays the same only the date changes. In our case we were left to wonder where did that day (January 28th) go? Well, we missed it! Simple as that. Of course, in our case we will get that day (or most of it) but in one-hour increments as we pass from time zone to time zone. So, we used to be several hours behind American time but now we are many hours ahead of you all. It’s very confusing but it seems to be working – at least the sun sets now at seven thirty-ish (p.m.) and rises at six a.m. so that’s as it should be. I am sure that comes as a great relief to you as it does to us.

I am hoping to have cellular service in New Zealand and so will be able to update the blog with photos from Tahiti, Moorea and the Cook Island of Rarotonga. I appreciate your patience and I am hoping that we won’t have this issue again for at least awhile because we will be relatively close to land with no long stretches “at sea”.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Sailing Toward the Society Islands

NOTE: After  much frustration with the ship's internet connection -- which has never been good but seems worse now -- I've decided to post this entry without pictures (so you will know that everything is good with us). I will post photos when we have a better connection.

Monday January 24, 2016

Today is a day at sea thus giving me a chance to catch you up on the last couple of days. We spent Saturday in Tahiti and Sunday in Moorea. It was news to me that these two islands are separated by only a seven minute airplane ride or a forty minute ferry ride. In other words they are very close to one another, at least geographically speaking. In many other ways they are quite far apart.

We began with a tour around the island of Tahiti. Our ship docked in the capital, Papeete. Now I don’t want to say Papeete is a dump but … well, let’s just say it’s dump-like. Or at least the parts that I saw while on the bus were. I did see a promising looking walk along the sea and I also understand that the local market includes some amazing flowers but the buildings while still low-rise are nevertheless tired looking and depressing.

Our first stop on the bus tour was the Museum of James Norman Hall, an author (with Charles Nordhoff) of the Mutiny on the Bounty trilogy. The house, a typical French Colonial, is loaded with memorabilia from Hall’s eventful life (war hero, aviator, etc.). Next stop was a viewpoint overlooking the Tahitian coast. It was a spectacular spot where you could get a good look at how the reefs protect the coastline by forcing the waves to break way out to sea. It’s an interesting feature that is common to both Moorea and Tahiti. We also stopped at a beach that was loaded with Tahitians enjoying a fine Saturday in the water.

Our tour continued with an hour’s drive along the coast before we arrived at our lunch destination, the Restaurant Paul Gaugin (called this due to the close proximity of the Paul Gaugin Museum and Botanic Garden where we did not stop because it was closed). Lunch was a buffet featuring local delicacies such as breadfruit and other unidentified “meaty” fruits(?) of varying shades of gray (there was other stuff to eat too so don’t feel too bad for us). After lunch we visited a botanical garden that was just the right size (not too big, not too small) and well-signed (in French and English). This was followed by a visit to another museum – The Museum of Tahiti and Its Islands. Our guide was quite knowledgeable and eager to share information but not exactly sensitive to the fact that the drive was long, the day – hot, and the task – of learning all about Polynesian culture – impossible.

The boat remained in Papeete for most of the night, moving at five a.m. (don’t ask me why five a.m.) over to the neighboring island of Moorea. Russell and I decided to take it easy in the morning on Sunday, doing a little stitching before having something to eat and heading to the island. We had signed up for a photography safari and we were a little nervous that it might be too technical or intense for our level of skill and interest in the subject. Thankfully it was not although it did turn out to be a bit more of a safari than I was expecting. We travelled paved, unpaved and what can best be described as semi-paved roads in search of some fine views. The tour leaders were knowledgeable about the various cameras that people had and their were willing to work mostly one on one to get the best possible photographs so in general I would say it was a very good tour. The final stop in particular was truly memorable as it involved a hair-raising drive up a steep and narrow “road” to a viewpoint at the top of a mountain that overlooked the coastline and the bay where our ship was anchored.

In general, I enjoyed Moorea more than Tahiti as I found it much more scenic. It is also far less populated and developed, therefore fewer people, fewer cars, and more nature. I am not sure we got a fair look at Tahiti though because we stayed on the main road (the only road that circumnavigates the island) and therefore we saw mostly main road-y kind of things such as McDonald’s, City Halls, schools, gas stations, shopping centers, etc. Had we gotten off the main road I think we might have been more impressed with the place. It was funny though because throughout the day I kept saying to myself, “Oh that place looks so Polynesian.” And then I would remember “Well, duh – you are in Polynesia”! So I guess there is still a sense of place there despite all the people and commercial activity.

Today, as I said, we are steaming toward the Society Islands (no I don’t think that I had ever heard of them before either). The sea is a little bit rougher than it has been so we are doing a lot of rocking and rolling. The captain in his daily update mentioned that we are still in deep water with fourteen thousand feet of water beneath us. Amazing.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

French Polynesia cont.

Friday January 22, 2016

Today we visited Avatoru, Rangiroa – quite a mouthful, I know. It is another island in French Polynesia however it is completely different from Nuku Hiva (the last island we visited).

Lots of tropical flowers (no not me!)
Frangipani-- smells delicious 

Before I go much further about Rangiroa, I want to tell you about our day at sea on Thursday. The highlight of the day came in the afternoon when Russell and I went out of our box and joined the duplicate bridge group for an afternoon of play. There are probably sixty or so dedicated bridge players on board. Early in the trip, as you may recall, we tried to find another couple to play “party bridge” with us but no such luck. We then approached the bridge instructors and explained to them that we had never played duplicate bridge before but that we have played a considerable amount of rubber bridge. They seemed not to know what to make of us (a fairly common reaction we get) and so we held back. Later, we attended a couple of bridge lessons and got to know the instructors better thus leading up to our taking the plunge yesterday.

The Catholic Church 
The Catholic cemetery 

I have to tell you it was a bit stressful. I know I shouldn’t say that (please don’t smack me again) because we are not working and we are on a cruise and it’s bridge -- so really how stressful could it have been? Well, the answer is – pretty stressful. Fortunately we played with the beginners rather than the intermediate/advanced players so they were patient with us but there is a lot to learn. Like: no snapping of cards. And no unnecessary chatter. Count your cards before looking at them. Initial the scorecard in the upper right hand box. East-West players go to the next higher table while the cards go in the opposite direction. Etc., etc. These people are definitely rule-bound. Then, of course, there is the matter of just playing the cards themselves, which in my case is no easy task. I managed for the most part to avoid committing a lot of egregious errors and, lo and behold, the two of us won the afternoon’s match, garnering our first “master points”. Talk about dumb luck! I am still scratching my head over how we managed to pull that off but I’ll take it.

The Pacific side of the island
Your intrepid duo

So, that was our day at sea. Now, back to Rangiroa. I mentioned that it was totally different from Nuku Hiva. Rangiroa is an atoll, which means that it is basically a very flat, long, narrow island that encircles a gigantic “lagoon” (not like on Gilligan’s Island – this lagoon is big, big, big). The highest point on the island can’t be more than twenty feet so one wonders how on earth the place has managed to survive storms and flooding, etc. But it has. Not that there is much there. A post office. A mom and pop grocery store. City Hall. A couple of churches (one Catholic, one evangelical (I think)). Same for the cemeteries – one Catholic, one not. And then there are the houses. Many of which look like a strong storm would take them down. Windows appear to be optional. As does furniture. Curtains, however, in various Polynesian prints, are a must. There were cars on the island -- in addition, obviously, to a lot of boats – so, there must have been gas available somewhere though I did not see it. And then there were, of course, the residents – most of whom were dark-skinned, of medium height and stocky build with broad facial features and dark hair.

Tidal pools, Pacific side
Whoa quicksand! My first dip in the South Pacific however awkward.

Russell and I got an early start this morning having eaten breakfast and ridden the tender to the island before nine a.m. We had no tour today and instead just walked around the island aimlessly. We checked out the church, the cemeteries. Enjoyed lots of frangipani blossoms and their exquisite fragrance. Saw the Pacific side of the island where the waves were crashing and there were lots of rocks, ledges and pools. Here, I was able finally to put my feet in the South Pacific.

Nice photo R!
Lots of palm trees. Note the boat's smokestack (center, rear)

Later, we found a free part of the coastline, seemingly unclaimed by any property owner, where we were able to go in the water and do some snorkeling. The water was beyond glorious. Perfect temperature, deep turquoise blue. Russell came prepared having assembled our snorkeling gear the night before. He even brought with him our surf booties (these have not been used in years). And you thought all that luggage we brought was filled with junk! Hah.

R enjoying our beach
Close up

We snorkeled together and observed plenty of tropical fish feeding about the coral. The coral itself looked not so healthy to me. I fear that it was “bleached out” due to global warming but I could be wrong. Still, there seemed to be just one variety of coral still surviving and it was none too numerous. Anyhow, we had a marvelous time following the colorful fish (until one of them bit Russell). It was still however one of those peak experiences that will go into our memory banks forever.

View of island from our veranda

We were back on the ship in time for lunch and spent most of the afternoon sitting on our veranda stitching happily in the breezy 84-degree shade, watching the palm trees sway and hearing all about “snow-mageddon” on the television.

Enjoying my mock-tail! Perhaps a little too much.

Tonight, we had a delicious dinner at Caneletto, which is one of the extra-cost restaurants on board the ship. I had a “mock-tail” (no alcohol) and we enjoyed a view of the setting sun while munching on portabella mushrooms with spaghetti made from squash and carrots.


It was a truly perfect day. Makes me wonder when the other shoe will drop but I am trying to just be okay with everything being okay. Harder than you might think. But not as hard as shoveling snow! (I just couldn’t resist!)

Hello Russell, oh and you too Russell in the window!