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Friday, August 31, 2012

Papeete, Tahiti, Bora Bora

Friday, August 24

It was a bittersweet morning as the Aranui pulled into port in Papeete. The trip that we had been planning for more than 2 years was suddenly over. It had been such a success on so many levels – friendships, exploring new places, learning about Polynesian culture, speaking with and listening to French speakers, meeting new people, experiencing our first cruise (a unique one to say the least) and celebrating birthdays.

Yet here we were, bags packed, back in Papeete, awaiting our ride back to the now familiar Fare Suisse. We almost experienced one of our greatest travel mishaps at this point. We were expecting Beni, our hotel host, to pick us up from the ship. Instead a driver from a rental car agency arrived and asked for us by name. It was a large van and all 6 of us could fit in it along with all our luggage. We assumed that Beni had made this arrangement (it is dangerous to make assumptions!). So, we hopped into the van and the driver took off. After travelling on some unfamiliar roads, we finally pulled in to the rental car agency. It was only then that we realized there had been some kind of miscommunication. Through some halting conversation in French and English, we discovered that based on an inquiry Jim had made about the potential availability of a vehicle on this date, the agency had assumed we wanted to rent it for sure …. And so, had made arrangements to pick us up. Happily, we got it all straightened out and the driver of the van agreed to take all of us to Fare Suisse as we had thought would happen. When we arrived at the hotel, we learned that Beni was at the port looking for us (Oh no!!!). He was called and returned to the hotel with an empty vehicle and seemed no worse for the wear. Ironically, Beni’s vehicle could not possibly have transported 6 adults and all our luggage. So, in the end, the miscommunication turned out to be a very lucky thing.

Once settled in Fare Suisse, Jim and I headed out to explore Papeete. Although we had been there twice before, we really had not seen much of the city so today was our chance. We started at the Pearl Museum which provided an excellent historical overview of pearls as well as some detailed information about how the black pearls of Tahiti are produced, a different process from the production of the more familiar white pearls. To create a black pearl, there is actually a surgical procedure that must be performed on the oyster to insert a small round object into its gonads. Imagine the precision that requires. It takes 3 years for the pearl to grow. The pearl is harvested from the live oyster and the process is repeated. An oyster can produce up to three black pearls over its lifetime.

Following the Pearl Museum, we stopped at a café for a cup of espresso and mapped out the rest of the day. We spent most of our time visiting either churches or government buildings. We visited catholic, protestant, Mormon churches along with a beautiful Buddhist temple. We also visited the President’s palace (a modern colonial building), the archbishop’s palace (an original colonial building), the Town Hall (a lovely view from the top floor) and the territorial assembly where there was a wonderful garden around a beautiful pond. Jim and I spent a couple of hours in this garden relaxing, reading and simply enjoying the atmosphere.

We had lunch at the market and returned later in the afternoon to explore some of the stalls. Sadly, we arrived too late and much of the market had already closed for the day. We had a little time on our hands so we dropped into a nearby pub for a beer and a snack. Soon after we were seated, we spotted two familiar people on the street. John and Barbara were also out looking for a place to have a beer. They joined us and we chatted and drank beer until it was time to meet David and Sue for dinner.

We had dinner at the Roulottes, a collection of food trucks set up along the waterfront each evening. Choices of foods ranged from chicken and hamburgers to Chinese food and many different kinds of seafood. We each selected something and shared all the dishes among the group. We ensured we had saved space for dessert since the choices of freshly made crepes is hard to resist.

We returned to Hotel Suisse for a cup of tea and then tumbled into bed. It had been a great but tiring day.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

This was our last day as a group in French Polynesia. First thing tomorrow morning, Jim and I were flying to Bora Bora and later the same day, David and Susan were flying to New Zealand, and Barb and John are remaining in Tahiti for a few more days. So we decided that we needed to do something special for this final day together.

We booked a tour into the interior of Tahiti. We invited a young Swiss couple who we had met on the Aranui to come along with us and fill up the seats in the 4x4 jeep that was going to be our transportation for the day. Our guide was Tere. Happily he spoke excellent English and was very knowledgeable about the history, the culture and the vegetation of Tahiti.

Most images of Tahiti feature the coastline, the coral reefs and the large surfing waves that have attracted millions of people to French Polynesia. Very few tourists are interested in exploring the mountain range and the volcanoes that created Tahiti in the first place. And very few people know that the population of Tahiti was much larger at one time and that most of the people lived inland where they could live safely and comfortably away from the dangers of the sea.

Today, Tere took us on a journey high into the interior mountains along the only road that has been built to cross the country. (It is not possible to go all the way across on this road due to a property dispute so you can go as far as the disputed property boundary and then you have to turn back.) Along the way, we were treated to views of towering mountain peaks, innumerable waterfalls, lush green valleys and steep forested slopes. We learned about native plant species and introduced species and saw firsthand how destructive the introduced species can be in places where they have no natural deterrents to their growth and propagation.

The road we travelled was poorly maintained in many locations and extremely steep in others (up to a 20% gradient). There were no guard-rails anywhere and some parts of the road had been blocked off due to erosion and landslides that had occurred underneath the road. To make things even more interesting, it rained off and on all day long. The back of the jeep was covered but open-air so there were times it became quite wet as well. We stopped for lunch along a river where there was a good swimming area. The young Swiss couple, Rahel and Daniel jumped into the water whereas the rest of us chose to eat our lunch and explore the immediate vicinity. Later (and much higher) we stopped at a hotel for a cup of coffee and to explore their well stocked wine cellar. Of course, we indulged in a shared bottle of wine. (Thanks Rahel and Daniel!) We continued to climb higher and higher and the road deteriorated rapidly. Still we lumbered forward to one of the most highly acclaimed points of interest, the tunnel through the mountain. It was dug less than 20 years ago to enable traffic to cross into the next valley without having to actually go all the way up the mountain. It was a pretty amazing structure in such a remote area. Once through the tunnel, we travelled only a short distance before we had to turn around and head back. Along the route, we saw several hydro-electric dams which produce much of Tahiti’s electrical power. We also had to ford 2 rivers. In both cases, the water was flowing over the ford. We arrived back to Papeete just in time to see a wonderful sunset over Moorea.

All in all it was a wonderful adventure and certainly provided us with greater awareness of the diversity of Tahiti and of how the population has shifted over time from living inland to living on the coast.

Back to the roulottes (food stalls) for dinner and then home to bed. Tomorrow will begin at an early hour.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The alarm went at 5:20 am. That is early no matter what time zone you are in. We had a 7 am flight to catch to Bora Bora. The hotel provided a shuttle to the airport and soon we were on our way! The sky was somewhat cloudy along the way, impeding our view of the coral-ringed islands below. But when we drew near to Bora Bora the clouds cleared and we were able to get one of those spectacular views of water colours, white surf, green earth and coral reefs from above. It was just as beautiful as we had expected.

The airport in Bora Bora is on an island so, right after luggage collection, we boarded a ferry shuttle to take us to the main town, Vaitape, on the main island. From there, we were driven around the south tip of the island to our resort, The Mai Tai.

Just enough time to check in, and then it was off to church. Back into Vaitape we went to attend the 10 o’clock service at the island’s protestant church. What a treat it was to observe this worship service. People from all over the island were streaming into the sanctuary. It was very large, very airy and very simple. We noticed a couple of unique things right away ….. ALL of the women were dressed in WHITE! White dresses, some quite elegant, white hats (yes, all but a few wore hats), white purses and even some wore white shoes. As luck would have it, I had put on a fresh white top this morning so I did not look totally out of place. We had read that, as visitors in the church, we would be seated in a place where we would be quite conspicuous. Oh yes …. The friendly female usher walked us right up to the front right pews and seated us in a place where everyone else in the congregation could see us. So much for sitting in the back row as we might have chosen.

The service began right on time with a procession of church elders walking up the aisles and taking their places on the dias. A woman’s voice broke into song and the entire congregation burst forth in 4 part harmony on the opening hymn. It was spine tingling. The service followed a somewhat familiar pattern with prayers and scripture readings and of course, a sermon. That was where the familiarity ended though. The entire service was conducted in a Polyesian language and there was not a single word except Amen that we understood. There were three congregational hymns, four choirs (some sang twice), at least five baptisms and full communion. Oh and a hell and brimstone sermon that lasted for a VERY long time. The service was more than 2 hours long!!!

But the music was marvelous. Each piece of music was sung in 4 part harmony without benefit of instrument or written music. All the words and the harmony were in the hearts and voices of the worshippers. This is what will make this experience memorable. However, I do not intend to go to church next week!!!

We returned to our resort and were able to check into our room right away. And, great news! We were upgraded to an over-water bungalow rather than an oceanview room. The reason ….. the oceanview rooms are high on a hill and due to our age, they would rather have us on level ground. I love being a ‘senior’!

Our bungalow was spacious, and well equipped, including a large deck with stairs and a ladder that provides direct access to the ocean. It did not take us long to change into bathing suits and jump into the crystal clear blue water. It was absolutely lovely. Other than going into the restaurant for dinner, we found no need to leave our room at all on Sunday.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The weather was a bit inclement today, making it the perfect day to have rented a vehicle for the round-the-island tour. The entire road around the Bora Bora coast is only 29 kilometres in length. But …. It took us the entire day to make the trip.

Along the first section of the journey, there were many, many photo stops as the road flanked the coast and Kodak moments presented themselves over and over. The colours of the water here are mesmerizing. Blue, turquoise, and green create bands in the water as the eye moves from shore to sea. Large areas of coral reef provide darkened patches in the colour palate, a kind of texture to the intensity of the hues.

Many people live in this area of the island (heading north on the east side) although there really are no communities to speak of. Individual homes pepper the roadside, kept in Polynesian style, clean and tidy. Many homes had extensive gardens of flowers, fruits and vegetables. Roadside stands were fairly common, selling fresh fruit (especially bananas and coconuts for drinking), tomatoes and cucumber, and occasionally fresh fish. Outrigger canoes were all along the shoreline as well as any other kind of boat you could imagine, from little tin tubs to full-sized sailing yachts. A few very large private yachts were anchored in the bays but if they do not have sails, they are viewed with great distaste, being merely oversized motorboats. Some have helicopter pads and several other watercraft on board, yet, with no sails, they are not seen to have value on this island.

As we continued on our journey, we stopped at several snack bars and general stores. This island is a much more tourist-driven area than others we have visited (even Tahiti itself) and the merchandise in the stores reflects that. There is a much greater ‘western’ influence in the products that are available – lots of junk food, water toys, Carters clothing for children, plastic and tinfoil picnic dishes, souvenirs of all kinds, especially with Bora Bora inscribed on them. We found ourselves missing the deep culture, crafts, music and dance that we had found on other islands. There was also much more English spoken here along with Polynesian. French, although everyone speaks French, was less frequenty used.

After a few hours of poking along, we finally arrived in Vaitape, entering the town from the north end. It is a long town stretched along the coastline, consisting of an interesting mixture of homes, businesses and some small industry. The centre of town features 2 large churches, one protestant (the one we attended) and one catholic. And a long strip of services and tourist shops. But before we began to explore the town, we decided to have lunch. There is a famous restaurant here called Bloody Mary’s. It has been in business for a long time and has attracted all manner of famous and infamous people. Names like Bill Gates, Marlon Brando, Phil Donohue, Goldie Hawn, were listed among the names of many celebrities who have eaten here. So, we joined the crowd and were totally impressed by the service, food quality, cleanliness and prices. Jim had a mahi mahi burger (delicious) and I had a garden salad (fresh, colourful and tasty). And of course, we indulged in their famous Bloody Mary’s. Before long, we felt refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to head back out into the heat and explore Vaitape.

We needed to visit a supermarket, an ATM and we also wanted to take a look at a local craft market. All were easily located in the heart of town. We quickly disposed of our business and moved on to a café known to serve good coffee and have good internet service. We indulged in both. And, we still had time to return to our resort with enough daylight remaining for a refreshing swim.

We ate dinner in the resort restaurant (seafood salad and swordfish skewers; mussels and lambchops). Nicely presented and great flavour.

When we returned to our room, we discovered that we have a glass-topped table that enables us to view the coral under the cottage …. And it has a light on it for night viewing. What fun we had watching the fish, so many varieties, some familiar and some new to us. We even saw a stingray slide past.

Snorkelling awaits us tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

We still had use of our rental vehicle until 10:30 this morning. So we had an early breakfast and headed back into Vaitape. Jim wanted to get his beard trimmed and I wanted to visit some pearl vendors. We also enjoyed the drive along the coast in the morning light.

Tuesday seems to be market day in Vaitape. Roadside vendors with all sorts of merchandise – food, pareos (sarongs) and crafts were displayed on both sides of the road through the main area of town. We had great fun looking at what was available as well as stopping into several pearl shops.

Time passed quickly and soon we were on our way to drop off our car and return to our resort. As soon as we arrived back ‘home’, we jumped off our ‘personal’ ladder and donned our snorkels. What a delight it was!! Such an array of fish greeted us ….. both large and small. Among the first creatures I encountered was a sting ray gliding along the bottom of the sea, deep in the crystal clear water that surrounded our bungalow. Blue fish, yellow fish, turquoise fish, pink fish, rainbow fish, white fish, gray fish, black fish, striped fish, luminescent fish all awaited our viewing pleasure. (We are currently trying to identify the many varieties we have seen here.) Around and under our bungalow, there is an amazing growth of coral, many colours and textures providing wonderful food sources and hiding places for the fish. The water is shallow in places above the coral and the drops off quickly to much greater depths, therefore attracting fish that prefer a range of water depths. The water is so clear that no matter the depth the bottom is clearly visible along with any sealife that passes through.

We spent the remainder of the day enjoying the warm water, the gentle breeze, the shade of our deck, and the array of beautiful fish that surrounded us. It was a perfect day on Bora Bora.

A couple from France invited us to have a drink with them before dinner. They had also travelled on the Aranui at another time and wanted to chat about our experiences. We are happy to say that we held our own in an entirely French conversation for over an hour. There were times we stumbled on words, of course, but for the most part we could express our ideas and understand much of what they said. It is rewarding to know how much our French skills have improved in the month that we have been here.

Dinner followed …. And the rain started .... The water swirled so much that even under our bungalow, it was difficult to see the fish that swim at night.

It was a dark and stormy night …….

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tropical Fish seen under our bungalow in Bora Bora
Neon Damselfish
Greasy Grouper
Emporor Angelfish
Butterflyfish – Tear Drop, Threadfin, Racoon, Pyramid
Masked Bannerfish
Vlaming’s Unicornfish
Moorish Idol Fish
Mullet Island Fish
Pineapple Sea Cucumber
Sea Urchin
We slept in a bit this morning, kind of a rare thing for us these days. We must have needed the rest. After a late breakfast, we set about our daily business …. To enjoy the setting we are in and the opportunities it affords us. Even on rainy days …..

It had rained overnight and large puddles had collected on the roads and walkways. And it rained intermittently throughout the morning as well. So … we decided to enjoy our room and take advantage of the time to catch up on our
diary and photo collection. My, we have seen some wonderful sights on this trip.

We wandered down to the beach restaurant for lunch. Mahi mahi was on the menu as a main course (Jim) and as a salad (me). We thoroughly enjoyed our meal, so much so that we made arrangements to have our dinner there tomorrow night.

While we ate, the sky brightened and we even saw a sliver of blue. The wind abated and the water calmed so we knew that snorkeling was going to be the activity of choice this afternoon.  We donned our gear and plunged in right from our deck. While in the water, not only did we enjoy seeing an amazing array of fish, but we also met a very friendly Australian couple who seem to enjoy many of the same things we do. We had a great chat and then snorkeled on.

The rest of the day seemed to speed by. It turned into a lovely afternoon and we enjoyed watching the colours of the water in the lagoon on front of our bungalow. Before dinner drinks ….. and then another delicious meal in the resort restaurant.

During dinner, the Australian couple, Penny and Chris, who we had met earlier arrived in the restaurant. We sat at adjacent tables and it was not too long before we were fully engaged in cross-table conversation. We carried our conversation into the bar area of the resort and spent a lively evening together with not one speck of alcohol. Sometimes when you meet people, you just seem to click!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Unlike yesterday, there was no sleeping in this morning. We had a ‘skype’ date with our grandsons. Rise and shine and turn on the computer. In the end we had to settle for a phone conversation since the video did not work. The internet connections throughout French Polynesia are a bit spotty at times so you learn not to count on anything complex. We did enjoy catching up with Karen and with Wesley. Edward apparently was also on the phone briefly but really had very iittle to say (he is only 8 months old).

We had an early breakfast and Jim left on an excursion that would take him around the island of Bora Bora by boat. There were four points of interest during the excursion and Jim was very happy about each one. He was actually in the water and snorkeling in all four places. First, the boat (8 passengers) stopped to see some manta rays. Although the water was a bit cloudy with sand, Jim was able to see three large manta rays. Next, they stopped at a place where clown fish and anemones share the water.  Again ,,,, very happy. Then they went to a spot on the coral reef where the coral is at its best. “Don’t pay attention to the fish here,” said the guide. “The coral is what you need to focus on.” And the last stop was one of the best snorkeling locations on the island. Jim reported that the number and variety of fish in this place was truly amazing.

While Jim was away, I walked to the local grocery store for a baguette and cheese for lunch. Then, I had a very leisurely and relaxing morning on the deck of our bungalow. I spent time reading, watching fish, sunning (I know this is not a healthy activity), and snorkelling. The water was warm; the fish were beautiful; the waves were small. All in all it was wonderful to be floating in the water on a gorgeous day in a beautiful setting surrounded by tropical fish. I had a terrific morning.

When Jim got back, we indulged in the baguette and cheese and went straight back into the water. Our ‘fish list’ got quite a bit longer this afternoon as we were able to see several varieties of fish that we had not previously seen. We also discovered there are several sea urchins living under our bungalow. Note to self: Never put your foot down without flippers or beach shoes on. Sea urchins can be very painful and dangerous to humans.

Chris and Penny joined us for before dinner drinks. Once again, we sat on our deck and enjoyed the conversation as well as the changing light as the day transformed into night. The full moon lit up the sky and created a sheen on the sea. It was a beautiful evening.

We tidied up and were about to head out dinner when the sky opened up and it poured rain. Where did it come from?? But as quickly as it began, the rain ended and we could walk in comfort to the beach restaurant where we had a delicious dinner with the water lapping at the shore just a few metres from our table.

Now back in our bungalow, we need to pack to leave this magical place in the morning and I am going to sit outside and enjoy reading as the sea laps gently on all sides.

The Aranui cruise was an adventure and a cultural extravaganza; our week on Moorea was beautiful and filled with variety; Bora Bora is exquisite … and could become quite addictive. We do hope to be able to return one day.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

From Bora Bora ..... with love

 Beautiful seascape
 Viatape Protestant Church - 2 1/2 hour service in Polynesian ..... the singing made it all worthwhile
 All the women wear white to church - quite striking
 MaiTai Resort .... our current home
 More seascape
 And more seascape ... can you see all the colours in the water?
 Buying a coconut and bananas from a roadside vendor
 Groceries along the road - eggs
 Fresh caught tuna
 Tropical fish as seen through the glass topped table in our over the water bungalow - how cool is that!
 More fish and lots of coral under our bungalow
 Oops  ..... a big fish .... taken through the glass topped table
 Jim on our access to the sea
Our bungalow

Sunday, August 26, 2012

More Photos as Promised

Here are the photos I promised.
 Copra Production - drying coconut meat for export
 Marquesan sunset
 Unloading cargo from the Aranui
 Uma Hei - a fragrant flower and spice bouquet intended to attract men
A French Polynesian island home
 Uma Hei worn in a woman's hair
 Ancient Tikis on Nuku Hiva Island
 Aranui cranes at work
 Donna at the helm of the Aranui - be very afraid!!
 Vicki - our guide and driver on Oa Pou Island - we had an interesting day on the island and in the car
 French Polynesian dancers
 Baguettes, baguettes everywhere .... and only 53c
 Map of the Marquesas Archipalego
More cargo .......mostly copra

Friday, August 24, 2012

To the Marquesas Islands and Back Again - An Amazing Journey

I promise to post some photos later today!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

We started the morning by docking at the peer in Hakahau on Ua Pou Island (pronounced Wa Poo).  After the last two transfers from ship to shore, rocky at best, it was pleasant to simply be able to walk down the ship’s stairs and step onto dry land.

Unfortunately, Jim was not feeling well this morning so we were delayed in our exit from the ship to the community. It was another hot day with a fresh breeze but we were moving slowly along the pier, across the beach to the handicraft centre. It was cooler under the roof so we took our time examining the products that were on display.

Each island we visit seems to have at least one product that is unique to its location. Today, we were looking at products created from Flower Stones,  smooth mottled stone that comes in a range of brown tones. There was a variety of fruit carved from this stone, especially bananas. There were also sea turtles available in many sizes but the item that captured our attention was, in fact, a pestle, used in this culture as in ours, to press food items to create powders and pastes. One pestle was especially beautiful and the carver was at the stall. Say no more ….. it is now in our suitcase!

We resisted most other products such as red and grey seed jewellery, wood carvings, woven hats and sea turtle carvings. Some were beautiful but we do not need more ‘stuff’!

Jim and I continued our walk, moving from the beach into the business and residential areas of this small town. Properties were once again well maintained and most had beautiful plants or complete gardens adorning the yards. People we met along the street were friendly, enjoying the opportunity to say hello to visitors. In each town or village we visit, the day the Aranui arrives is cause for great excitement. People flock to the peer. Streets are busy with cars, jeeps and trucks picking up deliveries and supplies that have arrived on the ship.

We spent a little time in the central square of Hakahau where we found the main municipal building, the post office, two banks and a craft stall. We inquired about finding a place where we could purchase a drink and were directed to a store around the corner and up the adjacent street. We easily found the store where we asked to buy a coke. They looked around but there was no coke left. The proprietor directed us to yet another store further up the street. Again, we asked about coke and there was none to be had. (We did find Australian cookies known as Tim Tams in that store.) We made our way to yet a third store and exactly the same response came from them.

By this time we were close to the restaurant where we were to have lunch so we went directly there and requested a coke. They had only one left. Happily it was cold.

And then we figured it out. The Aranui had just come to town and the cargo was not yet distributed to its destinations. All the coke from the previous shipment must have been sold. We poked around a bit and found at least one supply of new coke, piled high in cases and still wrapped in plastic. I guess the day the ship arrives is a poor day to be searching for a popular product!

Lunch at Tata Rosalie’s in Hakahau was another sumptuous buffet of local foods. Breadfruit, plantain, bananas, tuna, poisson cru, shrimp in salad, barbequed pork, rice. In addition to these items, octopus in a vegetable salad was also available. Overall, it was a delicious meal, completed with two kinds of watermelon for dessert, the traditional red variety and an orange-coloured variety. Both were flavourful and juicy, a perfect end to a great meal on a hot day.
John wanted to do a taste test to see if he could tell the difference in flavor between the red and orange watermelon. He closed his eyes and I offered to put a slice of watermelon in each hand so he could taste them. What he did not know but what everyone else in our group did know is that I gave him two pieces of orange watermelon. The cameras were at the ready when he pronounced that the watermelon in his right hand was the red one! Laughter followed …. And  I brought him some well-deserved red watermelon. We all agreed though that the orange watermelon was slightly sweeter and slightly smoother in texture than the red. On a hot day, both actually tasted pretty good!

Jim was still not feeling his best so he headed back to the ship immediately after lunch. The rest of us meandered down the streets of town, back onto the beach. Others stopped in the handicraft centre but I went back to the ship. We had done enough shopping this morning.

The pier was still quite busy as the departure time for the Aranui approached. Cargo was being loaded and reorganized. Some interesting cargo was added – two cows, a horse and two goats are now on board with us. It is not clear where they are getting off. Among the final items to be loaded are the front end loaders which are picked up and set on board by the two cranes on the ship. The last items are always the two tenders that are used to ferry passengers when it is not a dry landing. These are raised and lowered by the cranes as well and sit into specially made racks where they travel while the ship is on the move. It really is quite a sight to see such large items swinging from a crane as they get put into place. This is certainly a fascinating ship and voyage.

Jim was asleep when I got to the cabin so I busied myself with reading, writing and organizing photos. There is always lots to do behind the scenes so that we can have a written account that will enable us to recall the details of the trip in years to come. I also took a wonderful swim in the ship’s pool.

While out on deck after the ship had left port, we were able to watch two magnificent whales playing in the water a distance from our ship. They lifted their tails and smacked the water over and over and over. It was great fun to see them in the wild.

Jim was awake again by dinner and joined us in the dining room for a delicious meal of carpaggio and pineapple followed by fish in sauce, stir fried leeks and mashed carrots. All delicious!! Dessert followed although I have requested a plate of fresh fruit at each meal rather than the rich sweet desserts that are served.

The evening ended with a ‘pareo’ fashion show. A pareo is what we might call a sarong, worn regularly by Polynesian men and women in a wide variety of simple or more complex styles. It was entertaining and informative to see several passengers volunteer to model pareos in various colours and styles. The cruise director, Manaavi, did great job tying them on and providing an explanation about the function of each style. Every day we learn more about how purposeful this society can be.

And now another day is done. We are almost halfway through the cruise. It is going so quickly! The ship is on the move and we are rocking and rolling a bit tonight. About 7 hours to our next destination.

Time for some sleep.

Friday, August 17, 2012

What a wonderful morning! We enjoyed a leisurely start to the day as we headed off the ship to board a ‘truck’ which would take us to the town of Atuona on the island of Hiva Oa. (The truck turned out to be a school bus similar to the one we travelled in on Nuku Hiva.)  Hiva Oa is the second largest of the Marquesas Islands. At one time it was the government seat for these outer archipealaegos (that position is now held by Nuku Hiva.) Atuona is a bustling community that seems to be more independent than others we have visited. Certainly, the arrival of the Aranui was important to the town but there was not the excitement that we encountered on some of the smaller islands. Several town shops remained well stocked with merchandise and were not as desperate to receive their current shipments. A small snack bar was active both with Aranui passengers as well as local people.

The main purpose for visiting this island aside from cargo delivery was to give the passengers an opportunity to visit the gravesite, a replica of a home and a collection of reproductions of Paul Gauguin’s work. As he became more and more of a renegade in the art world, Gauguin shunned the attention that was cast upon him. He decided that living on a tiny island in French Polynesia would be helpful in achieving that goal. He left his wife and children behind in France and moved to Atuona to further explore his art. He spent his final years of life here and is laid to rest in a gravesite in the local cemetery. Unfortunately, by the time the community realized his impact in the art world, almost all of his original works had been sold and removed from Hiva Oa. So the Paul Gauguin Museum and Cultural Centre has a large collection of reproductions but not a single original painting by Gauguin.

The cemetery is high on a hillside and not only provides the opportunity to see Paul Gauguin’s grave, it also provides pristeen views of the sea from high atop a hill. In the morning light, the greens of the mountains and landscape against the blues of the ocean were spectacular. What a treasure to have the opportunity to see these islands.

After we left the museum, Jim and I wandered down the hill and through the town, looking at homes, admiring well kept gardens, noticing the overall cleanliness of the village, and returning smiles and greetings from many local residents. Throughout French Polynesia, we have been impressed with the friendliness of the people and the care they take in maintaining their properties and communities.

We met the other passengers at the town square, the Tohua (meeting place) to be transported again by truck to the local Hiva Oa Restaurant where we once again indulged in a feast of local foods.

Now we are back on the ship and heading a short distance across the water to the nearby island of Tahuata where we will land and have the option of disembarking once again. Personally, I hear the swimming pool calling my name on this glorious sunny afternoon.

While I swam in the pool, Jim disembarked for a look around Tahuata. At the same time as the passengers were being tendered to shore, some of the cargo from the Aranui was travelling by barge to the island. This included a horse, two cows and two goats. The Aranui does carry a range of interesting cargo to and from the Marquesas. A large shipment of flour was destined for the general store. And a large shipment of lemons was brought onto the ship to be carried back to Papeete.

Once we were all back on the ship and cleaned up for the day, we shared a late afternoon drink, had another scrumptious dinner and followed it up with a cup of tea in the lounge. What a gentle way to end the day.

 Saturday, August 18, 2012

Once again, the Aranui travelled overnight so when we awoke this morning, we were alongside a new island. This island was called Fatu Hiva. Like other Marquesan islands, it rises tall and majestic out of the water with rock faces and steep slopes towering to the sky. Craggy peaks, sharp ridges and rocky shores are visible. Lush green vegetation covers the island, tall coconut palms and banana trees being the most prevalent.
Because most of the islands we are visiting have a very small population (less than 1000), many do not have piers where the Aranui can dock. Thus, we drop anchor a short distance from shore and travel to land on barge-like tenders. When the sea is a bit rocky, it can be tricky making that final step from the bottom of the ladder to the deck of the tender. The tender rises and falls ….. and the ladder rises and falls with the swell of the water. Three burly seamen are on hand to make sure that the final step is a safe one.

“Give me your hands” (Yes, that means let go of the handrail and stand on the small black platform at the bottom of the ladder with one of the seamen. Is there really space on that platform for both of us?)
“Ready? ….. Step now!!” And the seaman on the platform passes your hands along with the rest of your body to the two awaiting seamen on the tender.

Of course, all of these instructions are in French and the sound is often swallowed by the slapping of the water, the creaking of the ladder and the gasps and sounds of other passengers as the procedure is repeated for each one of us. I have to admit, I am among the most nervous in moving down the narrow ladder, letting go of the handrail, and truly giving myself and my safety to the seamen. I have great admiration for those passengers who are more sure-footed and confident than I am. How I wish I could be just like them.

Today, we also had to contend with weather conditions that were less than favourable. It was raining, at times, quite hard. Donning raingear and sweltering in the warmth of those garments made the beginning of the day quite uncomfortable. We are in the tropics and heat and humidity are ever-present all day and all night. The temperature never varies by more than a degree or two and we are grateful for the air conditioning in our cabin at night.

Having made it to shore, we trudged along a muddy path in pouring rain to the centre of Omoa, a tiny village on an isolated island. Once again, I reflected on what it would be like to actually live in such a place. The pier was teaming with activity as the Aranui unloaded the cargo destined for Omoa. This was clearly a BIG day in this village.

While that was underway, we, the passengers, were in for a treat. Drummers welcomed us to a beautiful handicraft display. Islanders had set up little market stalls with fresh fruit, sandwiches and other snack foods.

But the best was the demonstration provided by a local woman on how to make tapa, a kind of paper made from bark. As she demonstrated each step of the process, one of the guides from the ship translated into French and Engllish. First remove the bark from the branch; next separate the layers of the bark; now pound the inside layer until it is soft and pliable; finally let it dry in the sun. If you make a mistake at any stage, the tapa is ruined and you have to start over. What a labour intensive process!

Tapa is used to create works of art by applying black ink to the tapa to create a symbol or an image that reflects the culture of the island. I imagine that these images and symbols have changed over time as, now, they seem to be primarily geared to the tourist market. Sea turtles, manta rays, tikis, masks and other Polynesian symbols are widely available at handicraft markets and stalls that are set up to entice tourists to buy souvenirs. Even knowing that is not always sufficient discouragement from making purchases. And so we have a few small examples of tapa to bring home.

The second demonstration during the morning program was the creation of umu hei, bouquet of flowers and herbs.  Umu hei is made from a combination of dill, mint, basil, tiara, ylang-ylang, vahi-vo and pineapple eyes which are dipped in sandalwood powder. Umu hei is traditionally worn by women. A string is wound around each bouquet and it is fastened in their hair or around their necks. The aroma of umu hei is pleasant and supposedly has the effect of enticing men.

Following the uma hei presentation, Jim and I wandered along the main (and only) street in Omoa. Neat houses lined the streets. Bountiful gardens were filled with brightly coloured flowers, breadfruit trees, grapefruit trees and the ever-present banana trees. Along the way, we stopped into a small grocery store that was just unpacking its merchandise from the Aranui delivery. What fun it was to see what they had ordered and ponder how one might live on the limited products that are available in such a store. Sadly, much of the packaged food was junk food – chocolate bars, soft drinks, potato chips, sugared cereal. How long will it take before the availability of these products will begin to affect the health of those who live here. Healthier foods come directly from their gardens.

Back to the ship for lunch today while the Aranui repositioned to make deliveries at a second village on Fatu HIva. Once again, when we disembarked, we were greeted warmly and offered flowers to put behind our ears. Behind the right ear means you are available; behind the left ear means you are married.

A third demonstration of traditional practices was offered this afternoon. This time we watched as monoi was created using the traditional method. Monoi is a form of coconut oil. First the meat was scraped out of the coconut so that it was like a mash. It was mixed with sandalwood powder and wrung out using the coconut ‘hair’ until all the liquid had been gathered and the mash discarded. The liquid was then placed in the sun for up to two weeks, with frangrant flowers and herbs added and changed on a regular basis. After two weeks, the oil separates from the other fluid and can be extracted and bottled. Monoi is still produced today in a less traditional fashion and is used as massage oil, insect repellent, and seductive perfume.

More Polynesian dancing and drumming was presented to the visitors. Each island has a slightly different approach to music and in this case, the dancing troupe consisted of 19 women of all ages who danced up a storm for at least half an hour. The drummers exert as much energy as the dancers do. It was a hot, humid day and it became uncomfortable even to stand for that long, let alone dance. They must have been exhausted! Many did have umu hei in their hair.

Back on board, it was 2 for 1 night at the bar. We all indulged in a beverage and sat at a table at the very back of the ship to watch a spectacular sunset, punctuated by ominous rain clouds and occasional cloud bursts. We asked a nearby passenger if he would take our photo, the first time that all six of us have actually been captured on film together on this trip. Happily, the photos turned out well.

Dinner was a festive occasion, the day on which we celebrated the 65th birthdays of each of our husbands. As dessert was being served, the lights in the dining room were extinguished and not one but THREE birthday cakes complete with candles were paraded into the room. Much applause and laughter ensued. Of course, candles were blown out, wishes made and cake served. But the best part was that the Aranui Band played and sang for us. It was great fun; they stayed for a long time.

A great day had come to an end.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

French Polynesia is an interesting blend of cultures. Certainly the traditional island culture and language is prevalent among the native Polynesians. Wearing pareo, flowers tucked into hair, bare feet, music, eating patterns (breadfruit, bananas, coconuts), free range chickens and roosters, thatched roofs, pride in housing and gardens, friendly smiles and gracious welcomes …. All of these greet us on each island we visit. Yet, there is a difference here from other Pacific Islands we have visited because French Polynesia is just that ….. French. The French language prevails; French flags fly; French government regulations, programs and taxation are part of daily life. Even the school system is modeled after the French system. School attendance is mandatory for all children. All islands have an elementary school but for higher grades it is necessary to live on larger islands where schools exist. Room, board and transportation to attend school are paid for by the French government. Even the wine we are served on board the Aranui is French wine.

Whereas in other parts of the world, we have encountered abject poverty caused by unemployment and low wages, in French Polynesia, wages are based on French standards and government subsidies assist those with small businesses or who are unemployed. And prices in supermarkets, handicraft markets, and other businesses reflect a higher standard of living than one might expect. It is an interesting difference to note in going about daily business.

Today was a quiet day in the life of these ‘cruisers’, Jim and I did go ashore this morning as we revisited the island of Hiva Oa at the small village of Puamau. We were taken to an ancient spiritual site where we were able to see the remains of a village and its various components – the hospital, the kitchen, the lounge area among them. Stories of the tribes who had inhabited this place in ancient times were shared and many tikis, representing various kings and priests are still in place. Erosion is certainly causing deterioration of the stone shapes. The gardens surrounding this area were absolutely beautiful, luxuriant with tropical flowers and vines. What an exquisite place to visit!

It was a very long walk back to the pier where we caught the barge to return to the ship. In spite of the fact that it was only mid-morning, the heat from the sun was brutal. Add to that that the roads were either very steep going up or very steep going down! It was a tough walk but we finally reached our destination and were happy to be back in the air conditioned comfort of our cabin.

We remained on board for the rest of the day, eating lunch with our friends, reading in the lounge, swimming in the pool, sharing a before-dinner drink and laughing our way through dinner with silly stories about travel and a comedy of errors about the wine that was served. Dinner as usual was delicious and followed by a cup of tea in the lounge before we all said good night.

We travel to another island, Nuku Hiva, overnight. We have been to Nuku Hiva before but this time we are going to the beautiful Anaho Bay where we will spend the day on the beach, swimming, snorkeling and enjoying a beach barbeque for lunch. A day to look forward to.

Monday, August 20, 2012

What a gentle day it was. A relaxed breakfast followed by some ‘cabin time’ (we do not seem to very much of that). We caught up on photo labeling and diary writing and simply sat and enjoyed the view of Anaho Bay (Nuku HIva) through our French doors that open to the outside. We were able to watch the Aranui barges ferry people across to the beach and also load every component of our picnic lunch – dishes, cutlery, barbeques, beverages (the bar went with us), platters of salads, fish, meat, potatoes, and apples. We were clearly going to eat well on shore!

Jim and I took a later barge to the beach, our plan being to relax a bit under the palms, enjoy lunch and then snorkel in the afternoon. It was a wet landing and we were absolutely shocked by the temperature of the water. It was without a doubt the warmest sea water we have ever been in. The tide was out so it was a long, gentle and warm walk to the shore.

We spread our towels and settled ourselves under a coconut palm with John and Barbara and David and Susan. We chatted, rested, read and simply enjoyed the views of Anaho Bay. Last night we had encountered some rocky seas as we travelled and the contrast with this bay was remarkable. The water was almost as smooth as glass.

A sumptuous buffet lunch was served which we all enjoyed thoroughly. But the best part of all were the cool New Zealand apples that crunched and spurted juice as we ate. It seems a long time since we have enjoyed fruit from a temperate climate!

French Polynesia has a lot of dogs on each island. Some of them are attached to specific owners but many of them run free and are effectively community dogs. They all seem placid enough but are always foraging for food. Not surprisingly, there were several dogs on Anaho Beach. They were amazingly well behaved, clearly having learned the rules for begging for food at a cruise ship picnic.
1.    Don’t intrude into a tourist’s personal space.
2.    Look cute …. And use your baleful eyes to bore your way into someone’s heart.
3.    Do not bark or whine.
4.    Wait patiently until a person rises to discard garbage. Then follow them with a wagging tail and a friendly demeanour.
5.    Work independently of other dogs until most scraps have been handed out. Then travel as a group and ‘perform’ skirmishes to demonstrate your dominance and therefore, your right to receive a hand-out.
6.    Be selective in what you eat. Meat is best ….. apples are not acceptable.
7.    Once the picnic has ended, leave the area and forage for food elsewhere.

Once the picnic was over, Barb, Sue, Jim and I entered the bath-like water for some snorkeling time. The tide had risen somewhat so it was not quite as long a walk to get to water deep enough to actually swim. The coral was close to the shore so it took no time at all to be floating over beds of coral of all shapes and sizes. Sadly for us, much of the coral was covered with a thin layer of sand caused by all the foot and boat traffic to and from shore on that day. But the pools of water within the coral were clear enough to see a wide range of fish. Particularly beautiful were the tiny luminescent blue fish that swam at the very bottom of the coral pools. We also enjoyed large schools of yellow and black vertically striped fish and Jim also observed yellow and blue horizontally striped fish. Other small black fish darted in and out of the coral caves. Although the snorkeling here did not compare with what we had seen on Moorea, nonetheless, just being in the warm water, floating freely supported by the salt and seeing tropical fish in the wild was a satisfying experience.

When the second to last barge arrived to take passengers back to the ship, we reluctantly removed our masks and climbed on board. By plan, I was happy to be wet and salty from snorkeling when I was about to reboard the Aranui where a hot, cleansing shower awaited.

The Aranui headed out to sea again as we made our way back to Taiohae in another harbor on Nuku Hiva. As we rounded a point on the island, we felt firsthand the impact that the open sea can have on the comfort of cruise passengers. The sea was rocky and the ship heaved and hoed. Walking on deck was a challenge. At times, it even felt that the deck chairs would go over as the ship tossed from one side to the other. Drawers and doors in our cabin flew open and our precious bottles of Tabasco sauce and Worcestershire sauce fell to the floor (remember that we brought all the ingredients for making Bloody Caesars to share with our friends). Happily nothing broke or spilled so we will be able to enjoy the final Caesar’s before the end of the cruise!

Once we entered the harbor at Taiohae, the sea smoothed again and life returned to ‘normal’, at least what we have generally experienced to date. I somehow think we have had an idyllic experience in the vast Pacific and that our day at sea later this week could offer some new opportunities for us. Time will tell.

Tonight was Polynesian night on the ship. The pool area was decorated with palm branches and flowers and an extravagant seafood buffet was prepared for us. (We do eat well on the Aranui!!) Our before dinner drinks had put us in good spirits and eating on deck under the stars felt magical. Before the meal began, there was a ceremony to recognize all those on board who were celebrating a birthday or an anniversary. Jim and I are among them as we look forward to our 41st anniversary tomorrow. We were each given a necklace of flowers and vines and the traditional French kiss – a peck on each cheek from many crew members. It was all fun!

Following the meal, there was a wide array of entertainment. Passengers from the cruise who had participated in dance classes, ukulele classes and drumming classes all presented routines, all led by the very attractive and multi-skilled Manaavi (the onboard activities coordinator). Passengers from Australia, New Zealand and Italy also made presentations reflecting the music of their own countries. Then, the real highlights of the evening began, when the staff presented songs, dances and music from the Marquesan Islands. It was loud; it was energetic; it was colourful; and, most of all, it was fun!!!

After the presentations ended, the party carried on with music and dancing until well into the night. Those of us who preferred not to carouse until dawn retired to our rooms and settled in for the night.

What a great day and a fantastic evening under the stars!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Happy Anniversary, Jim! Over our 41 years together, we have done been in a number of unusual places on our anniversary. By anyone’s standards, a freighter/cruise ship located in the Marquesas Islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is one of the most unusual. Yet, I would not have it any other way!!

The day began with the usual breakfast fare and disembarkation from the ship. We had remained in Taiohae in Nuku HIva overnight so we had a chance to revisit one of the first towns we had been in. What we noticed first of all was the amount of cargo on the pier. Much of it was great bags of limes and coconuts. An agricultural inspector dressed in a blue shirt with appropriate badges was on site carrying the ever present clipboard. He seemed to be methodically checking the produce and people who were shipping merchandise all looked like they were carrying some kind of documentation. This is the first time that we have been aware of this kind of formality. Taiohae is the government seat in the Marquesas so perhaps that explains why there was more red tape. Soon the bus to town came along and we left the pier behind for a couple of hours.

On this visit to Taiohae, we were going to a museum at the far end of town run by Rosa, an American who has iived on this island for over 40 years. Rosa was eager to share her knowledge of the history, the art and design and the flora and fauna of the area. Since there were only 4 of us in the tiny museum, she gave us a personalized tour and told the story of how the museum was started. She began collecting artifacts soon after she arrived on Nuku Hiva and eventually set them up in displays that other visitors were interested in seeing. Although her collection of authentic artifacts is small, she is certainly able to draw connections between them and paint a vivid story of the early development of life in the Marquesas.

In addition to her own collection, Rosa also has engaged local artisans to create replicas of museum pieces that illustrate early Marquesan life. War ships, cooking utensils, beads and weapons are all part of this collection. The workmanship is brilliant and many of the artists have won competitions for their work. Rosa currently also has the personal collection of a private collector on display. I was particularly interested in the bowls that were among the pieces. Marquesans are known for their special awareness and design abilities. Many unique pieces have been created and carved without benefit of drawings or plans. They just emerge from the artisan’s ideas and work. The bowls were exquisite, beautifully shaped and carved.

The earliest bowls from Maquesan archeological sites were totally round with no flat surfaces anywhere. Over the next several hundred years, the bottoms of the bowls began to be flattened in the design so that they would not tip over so easily. Then, as time passed again, the flat bases began to emerge as low pedestals on the bowls. Rosa’s display of this collection provided a vivid visual  explanation of the evolution of ancient wooden bowls in the Marquesas.

All too soon, it was time to leave the museum and board the bus (wooden planks for seats) and head back to the ship. During the morning we had a chance to chat briefly with both our children and our grandson, Wesley, who told us he had looked at the photos we had sent but wondered why we were there!! One day, we will take him on a trip with us so that he can experience first-hand why we go the places we do.

Lunch and a short trip of two hours carried us and the Aranui to another familiar village, Hakahau on Ua Pou. There was cargo that needed to be picked up from this village before we began the long journey across open water back to the Tuomoto Islands.

While we were in port, a sudden tropical downpour occurred. What a lot of water fell from the sky!! Unfortunately, Jim was off the ship checking out a shop in Hakahau and got caught in the cloudburst. Although the rain was short-lived, Jim arrived back soaked through and through. And, no success at the shop either.

A tradition of the Marqesas is that you throw something made of plant matter (often a hat of pandano leaves) into the water as you sail away from the islands. By leaving something behind, it means that you will once again return to this place. So, our group of friends had a small departing ceremony on the back deck of the ship as we sailed out of the harbour at Hakahau. After taking the appropriate and obligatory photos, we each through something into the sea. Jim and I had ‘colliers de fleurs’, garlands made from vines, leaves and flowers that were bestowed upon us to mark our anniversary. We flung them from the side of the ship and watched them drift across the water back toward shore until they were out of sight.

Sunset soon followed and more …. and more …. photographs were taken. As people left the deck and drifted inside toward their cabins, the dolphins appeared!! I was so happy to have remained behind. What beautiful creatures they are, even at a distance!! And the frolicking – twists and turns and huge leaps into the air. Sometimes one dolphin, sometimes pairs together. It was brilliant! And then as quickly as they had appeared, they were gone! Off on another dolphin adventure …..

Our pattern is now well established. Before dinner drinks, followed by dinner, followed by tea in the ship’s lounge. The sea is a bit rough tonight so there was quite a bit of rocking and rolling as we ate and had our tea. And another odd event …. A red footed booby, a common bird in this area, arrived on the side deck of the ship, clearly in distress. He had probably run into the side of the ship and was clearly disoriented. However, due to the poor bird’s plight, a number of us had a great opportunity to see the bird close at hand because he was right outside the dining room window beside our table. Long blue beak, red feet, white feathers, beautiful!

And now we are in our room, another day of our cruise has passed. We have a day at sea tomorrow followed by only one more day of activity on the remote islands of French Polynesia. For now, though, we just hope that the wind diminishes so the sea will calm so that we can sleep well and enjoy ourday of sailing tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

So much for the calm sea at night. Rocking back and forth in a bed does not lead to a good night’s sleep! At times, the ship rolled enough to make the cupboard doors and drawers fly open. At one point, some small bottles on a counter rolled forward at the same time the drawer open and they rolled right in on top of the clothing. And that is right where they will remain for the last two days of the cruise.

Happily, to coincide with a day of fatigue, this is also our day at sea. It is a 36 hur journey from Oa Pou, our final Marquesian island, and Rangiroa, our first and only island in the Tuomoto Archipalego. So this is a fine day to catch up on reading, napping and writing a diary.

After breakfast this morning, we attended a lecture by the on-board archeological expert on ancient navigational techniques and skills. As with her first lecture, what could have been an interesting presentation was very disappointing. She simply tries to include too much information on a vast range of topics in one presentation, thus short-changing all of the topics and the audience as well.

Later in the morning, we had a chance to sit on the top deck where it is very quiet and read our books. As we sat there, with the ship’s bridge in clear view, it became clear that it was open to visitors. So, Jim and I made our way onto the bridge and took a look at all the instrumentation, the navigational charts, the electronics systems, and the all important compass. We each took a turn sitting in the captain’s chair (A photo opportunity to be sure) and had a good view of the sea ahead. It was clear sailing, even if the water was a bit choppy.

From the bridge, we had a terrific view of many, many flying fish that were frolicking in the water at the bow of the ship. Although small, their behavior was fascinating nd clearly visible. They looked like stones skipping across the water as they broke the surface and flew through the air, spreading their fins as if they were wings. At times, more than a dozen were in the air simultaneously, many of them travelling a great distance before disappearing below the water again. Some seemed to bounce along on top of the water, thus the reference to looking like skipping stones. The sea is indeed filled with amazing and diverse creatures.

The cargo deck of the Aranui was clearly visible from the ship’s deck as well. We are not carrying as much cargo back to Papeete as we had on our way to the Marquesas. Nonetheless, the enormous refrigeration systems were visible as well as all the equipment that is carried on board to assist with the loading and unloading of cargo and passengers.

In the middle, holding the place of prominence rested the ship’s anchor, ready to be shifted by crane and lowered into the water should the need arise. Two whale boats used to move the ropes that secure the ship to shore, particularly in small and awkward locations. Two barges that carry cargo to and from the ship were firmly attached at the bow and the front end loader used to move cargo around on shore was fixed in place in the middle of the cargo deck. Perched high on their racks were the two passenger barges that we travelled in each time the ship was not able to dock at a pier. Two large cranes loomed over the entire deck and the large steel door of the below deck cargo space was closed tight.

Lunch followed soon after our visit to the bridge, followed by a cup of tea and an afternoon siesta in our cabin. What a luxurious and leisurely day!

The afternoon was absolutely delightful, mostly because there was nothing we ‘had’ to do. Jim had a nap and I read my book. We moved from the deck, to the cabin, to the lounge and back again. Although the ocean was not as smooth as on our southward journey as it had been on our way north, it was still a pleasant voyage with much laughter about the ‘drunken’ steps we were taking on occasion.

5 o’clock drinks preceded the standard 6 pm English passenger meeting to describe what the next day would look like. Rangiroa is our next and final en route destination and we are all excited about the snorkeling options that exist there. A delicious dinner followed the meeting and then came the evening cup of tea in the lounge.

A video of the Polynesian night entertainment was being shown and it was fun to enjoy the songs, dances, drumming and laughter all over again. And another great day on the Aranui came to a close.

Thursday, August 23

We were up early this morning and out on the deck to catch sight of land as soon as it became visible. It has been almost 40 hours since we left Ua Pou and we have not seen a single speck of land since then. It was a beautiful morning and the fresh air and sea breezes were very pleasant.

At last, Rangiroa came into view. Ragiroa is a unique place. It is one of the islands in the Tuomoto Archipalego. Many of these islands are, in fact, atolls. Atolls are very narrow strips of land that form a ring around an inland lagoon. In the case of Rangiroa, the inland lagoon is huge. It is impossible to see across it. The islands of Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora would all easily fit into this lagoon. What makes Rangiroa so special is the array of sealife that lives in the lagoon. The Tiputa Pass is the only navigable entrance to the lagoon, located at the north end of Rangiroa. It is known for its strong current, its scuba diving brilliance and its marine life including hundreds of varieties of fish, including several varieties of sharks. Dolphins also frequent the area and as the Aranui sailed from the Pacific Ocean through the Tiputa Pass into the inland lagoon, Jim and I were fortunate to see at least 7 dolphins gliding through the water alongside our ship.

Once anchored, Jim and I along with Barb and John disembarked on the first barge. We had purchased tickets for an hour on the Seascope. The Seascope is a floating vessel, a catamaran of sorts, with an underwater area lined with glass in which 8 passengers could travel. It is quite different from the more traditional glass-bottom boat because the Seascope windows are on the sides of the cabin well below water level. It is like looking into an aquarium. And there were hundreds of fish to be seen!! Yellow ones, blue ones, black ones, striped ones, fish that swam at the surface of the water and fish that swam on the bottom, fish that darted in and out of coral reefs, and fish that swam in open water. The hour passed quickly, too quickly in fact, and we were all delighted with the array of fish we had seen.

We transferred from the Seascope back to our barge (these transfers were all made far out from the shore with the bury Aranui seamen lending a hand and their strength and comfort at moving about a bobbing boat. Just give them your hand and trust …..

Once on shore, we secured a shade-sheltered picnic table and quickly got organized to go snorkeling. Close to shore the water was much cloudier than out on the Seascope so it was not as easy to see a wide range of fish. Nonethless some beautiful ones presented themselves to us and we enjoyed our time in the water. What a great activity as the final event of our cruise.

An amazing picnic lunch followed, featuring several salads and hot dishes but best of all, there were ample portions of freshly barbequed fish plucked directly from the sea. Lunch was delicious (an Aranui standard we have come to expect!)

Soon after lunch, Jim and I headed back to the ship. This was the last time I had to step from a bobbing barge onto a bobbing staircase and climb up to the deck of the Aranui. Yes!!

A final swim in the ship’s pool followed by a leisurely afternoon in our room was the order of the day. We opened our doors to the outside and watched sea and land as the Aranui sailed along Rangiroa. It was a beautiful sight!

Our final passenger meeting took place once again at 6 pm. This one focused on disembarkation procedures for tomorrow morning when we land in Papeete. Our cruise is quickly coming to an end …. Where has two weeks gone?

Dinner, tea and packing filled the rest of the evening. Once off the ship  in the morning, we will turn our attention to exploring Papeete and the island of Tahiti!