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.

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