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Friday, August 10, 2012

More about Moorea

Monday, August 6
This morning began early, as most mornings do for us here. Daylight comes about 6 am although the sun does not rise over the mountaintops until about 7. Nevertheless, we are up and about just after 6, enjoying the early morning colours in the sky, the gentle lapping of the water in front of our Bangalore and the cool, quiet of the morning. It is a great time to catch up on diary writing or photograph indexing since the rest of the day will be filled with activity and conversation. Today, the fluffy clouds in the sky reflect a soft pink hue and the vast ocean before us is smooth and calm.

Moorea is surrounded by a coral reef which calms the waves before they find land. There are 17 navigational entrances around this island.  As the tide goes up and down, the coral beds lie in shallow water. Boat captains are universally cautious when moving about inside the reef. Not far from here, there is visible evidence that the coral will conquer even large ships that venture off course.

One of the great treats of the early morning is sitting along the edge of the water and watching the many and varied fish dart in and out of the crevasses and cubbyholes created by the strange shapes of the coral. The colours in the coral abound, generally soft and subtle, yet clearly varied with pinks, greens, whites and greys. There is at least one patch of vivid red that stands out in the morning light. Many of the fish we see here are familiar from other tropical reefs but we have also seen some new varieties. One particular fish has geometric patterns of turquoise blue along his back as well as stripes of red. Quite striking! We have also seen a small ray, black with white dots pass through ‘our’ coral reef. The other creature that captures our interest and fascination is the small octopus that lives close to the shore. We have seen him move among the coral, tucking his tentacles into holes in search of something, all 8 of them simultaneously. He the draws that all together near his body and very deftly moves across the sand and coral to a new location. This octopus changes colour frequently and almost instantly, camouflaging himself quite readily, even from those of us who are watching him closely. He is a remarkable creature.

Another early morning sound is the crow of the many roosters who live on the island. Cock-a-doodle-doo is not limited to the early morning, as their voices rise throughout the day. But they do seem to sleep when it is dark and we get a respite from their presence. They rise early each morning and each day there is a gentle cock fight that unfolds in front of our Bangalore. Neither birde gets hurt but it is clearly a feature of the determination of dominance and, I supect, prominence among the hens.

We have rented a car and have several short partial daytrips planned for the balance of this week. One such trip occurred today, simply a leisurely drive around the island. There is only one road and it hugs the seashore for its entire 60 kilometres. We knew we could enjoy this drive and be back at the resort for a late afternoon snorkel. Boy, we were mistaken!!! In fact, we made it less than half way around in the entire driving day, a lowly 25 kilometres in total, … and finally turned around and covered the same road back to the resort as we had already travelled.  We really laughed at ourselves and our inability to cover any distance at all.

No, it was not because of any trouble or mishaps. It was simply due to the fact that the inquiring minds of 4 curious people required frequent stops along the way to explore the culture, the history, the industry, the vegetation, the seashore etc etc. And don’t discount the number of ‘Kodak’ moments that took precedence over forward movement.

Our first stop was a fruit juice factory where tropical fruit was processed into pure juice, juice punch (that meant it has rum in the mix) and fruit liqueurs. There were tastings, of course, and opportunities to purchase their products. We simply purchased pure pineapple juice but we enjoyed tasting a variety of samples. Next stop was a beautiful tropical garden atop a high plateau with amazing seaviews. The garden was beautiful but the main focus of our interest was the vanilla plants that were grown here. Tahitian vanilla is a hybrid which requires manual pollination. It housed in a greenhouse, mostly made of a gauzy fabric, to protect it from outside influences. It was interesting to see each plant growing up a pole, sporting both tiny white blossoms and long, slender vanilla beans. The highlight of this visit though was the homemade ice cream, flavoured with real vanilla and fresh coconut. Yum!!!

The next planned stop (lots of unplanned stops punctuated the day as well) was to see a church that was originally constructed in the 1700’s, the oldest European structure remaining on Moorea. This church has been rebuilt since then but some of the original stones used for construction remain visible.

And then, it was lunchtime. The ever present baguette, cheese and fresh fruit were carried down to one of the most exquisite beaches we have ever been on. Pure silky sand lay underfoot as aquamarine water spilled gently onto the shore. Palm trees provided a shady respite from the hot sun and a grassy knoll became our seat. It was truly idyllic.

Water sports of all kinds were available. It was fun to watch the snorkelers, the kite surfers, the scuba divers, the canoers, the paddle boat riders and the inflatable motor boat drivers all sharing the beach front with families who were simple enjoying the sun, the sand and the water.

After lunch we continued down the road, still naively thinking we were going to accomplish our goal of circling the island. One of the impediments to this goal was the need to drive back and forth over the same road several times in search of specific sites to be seen. Much laughter ensued as we covered some pieces of the roadway 3 or 4 times. Nonethless, the sea was constantly on our right as we travelled forward with breathtaking views and a reminder that we were on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with great friends …. An idyllic situation for sure.

Finally, returning to our resort, we did don our bathing suits and take our snorkeling gear to the water. It was cool and refreshing and the fish were abundant and colourful. A perfect way to end another day in paradise.  Showers, the late afternoon beer,  a spectacular sunset, a delicious dinner and early to bed …. A wonderful day to be sure!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Tuesday began bright and early as all our days on Moorea have.  There seem to be so many things to do and see and already we have only a couple of days left. Today our goal was to make it all the way around the island.  We started in exactly the same place we began yesterday ……. At the juice and liqueur manufacturing plant. Surrounded by groves of fruit – pineapple, grapefruit, mango, limes – this factory is the largest producer of juices and the largest employer on Moorea. Inside this little building, literally millions of litres of juice and fruit punch are produced each year. A tasting at the juice bar certainly confirmed how delicious they are. One interesting product they make is a blend of fruit pulp, sugar and alcohol. It is sold in litre containers just as orange juice is with one big difference ….. it has 10 % alcohol content. Of course, we had to try some. Our guide was very patient with us as we strove to understand the explanations he gave in French and then translate the key components into English for our Aussie friends. I must say that all the French lessons we took before coming here have truly paid off.

Following the tour, we continued around the island in a counter clockwise direction. Having seen most of the highlights yesterday, we were able to move at a faster pace today, stopping occasionally to take photos or buy fruit (love apples, pineapple). We picked up the obligatory baguette for lunch and enjoyed our familiar feast atop a lookout point with views across the waters to Tahiti. The ring of coral was clearly evident and the ocean waves were bright white as they broke on the outer edge of the reef. The waters inside the reef varied in colour from deep aquamarine to pale blue to deep azure. The scene was like a photo right out of a tourist brochure.

We paused at the ferry terminal to watch the boats come and go. We also drove up a steep and rugged track looking for the beginning of a two or three hour trek that Susan and David were interested in doing.  Alas, the road transformed from two lane gravel to one lane rock to grass to something only a four wheel drive vehicle would tackle. That is when I stopped the car and encouraged the others to continue walking until they were sure that this was the correct track.  Confident we were in the right place, Susan and David made a plan to do the trek tomorrow morning with us acting as chauffeurs at the beginning and end of the trail.

By this time it was time to head back to Kaveka so Susan and I could have our afternoon swim and snorkel. The water was clear and reasonably warm. But most importantly, there were hundreds of fish right at the edge of the coral. What a sight to behold. We both stayed in the water until we were cold while we enjoyed every moment of the ‘fish spectacular’.

Late afternoon drinks, some internet time followed by a 7 pm dinner have become our pattern. Dinner is always a treat as we choose from a vast menu and have not been disappointed with anything – appetizer, main course or dessert. Tonight I had tuna carpaggio, a pepper steak and a bite of Jim’s crepe suzettes for dessert.  A cup of tea on the front porch with Susan and David brought this lovely day to a gentle close.

Wednesday, August 8
What a gentle start to the day. A leisurely breakfast followed by a relaxing snorkel. The sun shone brightly on the aquamarine water and illuminated the fish down as far down as several metres. Yes, we were in deep water, yet floating alongside a huge coral wall. Fish of many sizes and hues dart in and out of the coral gardens, some fish familiar and others new to me. There were blues and yellows, silvers and white and black and irridescent, all of them living amicably in this amazing underwater community. The current was quite strong this morning. I swam against the current for about 30 metres and then let the water’s flow carry me back toward the peer. The fish were so abundant that there were times I felt I travelling on a moving sidewalk  through a large aquarium. 

Following this luxurious swim, we prepared ourselves for the rest of the day and then ‘skyped’ Karen and David  and our grandsons. Wesley (almost 3) was full of stories for us. He uses Skype regularly to talk to his great grandmother so it was familiar for him to communicate through this medium. Edward (7 months), on the other hand, was not sure what to do about Grandma and Grandpa being in the computer, yet talking to him. He was fascinated but reluctant to make a sound. It was rather cute actually. We can only hope that he will be less astonished next time and maybe we can at least get him to smile.

Late in the morning, we headed out with David and Susan for our day’s activities. First we drove up and alternate route to reach a lookout on a mountain. It was a rugged road but very scenic., passing through a lush green valley which has some of the most fertile land in Moorea.
We made one stop at a pineapple plantation and took a close look at how pineapples grow. One pineapple per plant per year.  A plant will only bear fruit for three years and then has to be replaced. It is all manual work and a challenge as the leaves on the plants are as hardy and prickly as the tops of a pineapple. What we learned was that each small segment of a pineapple is actually an independent piece of fruit. These segments are all joined together by the thick core in a pineapple, much the same as individual kernels of corn are all connected through the corn cob. The pineapples that are mostly grown in Moorea at called ‘Queen of Tahiti’ and although relatively small, they are known for being sweet and juicy. We can certainly attest to that. Larger varieties are also grown, mostly for export.

As we continued up the mountain, we came upon an ancient village settlement. Some of the stone fences and remnants of buildings and the town square were still visible. A trail led to many of the features that were in the area. I remained at the car to read my book while Jim, David and Susan followed the trail. It took ages for them to return because they had actually lost their way and had some difficulty finding the car again. It had started to rain so they were particularly happy to find shelter in the car upon their return. 

We continued up the mountain until the road ended at a location known as Belvedere. From a lookout there, both Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay are visible. These bays are separated by a mountain which we look upon daily as we gaze across Cook’s Bay. We have often driven or taken a boat to Opunohu Bay and it was interesting to see the topography of the landscape from high on the mountain. The mountain we were on was actually part of the caldera from the massive volcano that erupted to form the island of Moorea. The volcanic soil is what makes the valley slopes and floor so fertile.

In this valley, there is an agricultural school with many demonstration crops of local fruit, flowers and trees. David, Susan and Jim followed a detailed map that took them to see many of the crops grown at this school. I chose to remain under a massive mango tree where the air was cool while they tramped through the blazing sun. I am enjoying the book I am reading and this was a way a finding some time in a busy day to devour a few more pages.

After a bowl of ice cream made from some of the fruit grown at the school (choices included mango, coconut, vanilla, lime, lemon), we returned to the resort. Jim and I had a skype conversation with Iain while David and Susan went for a swim. As has been our pattern each afternoon, we gathered about 5 o’clock for a pre-dinner drink followed by some internet time (it is only available if you ask for it ….and pay for it too). Tonight we had an early dinner because we had plans to go out for the evening.

We went to a cultural display at the Tiki Village about 25 kilometres away. Although dark, the drive was straightforward because there was absolutely no traffic. I do not think we encountered more than 10 other vehicles along the road. The show we saw tonight was an extravaganza of costumes, storytelling, songs and dance. The fire dancing as the highlight of the evening from my point of view as the male dancers twirled batons of fire, and rolled the fire on their feet, tongues and hands. They even made human pyramids with men at all levels twirling the fire batons. It was a bit frightening and thrilling all at the same time.

A quiet drive home led us back to Kaveka and we were all ready for bed.

Thursday, August 9
Today was a slightly more leisurely day.  We began the day with the sumptuous breakfast prepared by our resort and then I headed immediately into the water for a delightful snorkel. I was excited once again to see all the fish which have become so familiar but this morning held a new surprise, a large sea turtle swimming within a couple of metres of my mask. I was thrilled to have seen this creature at such close range. My eyes followed him until he disappeared into very deep water and I could no longer see him or follow him. 

After leaving the water and readying myself for the day, we headed to a nearby café for a morning coffee. Alas, it was not our lucky day as the café was uncharacteristically closed just for this single day. Oh well …. We headed a short distance further down the road and visited a tiny village with a proliferation of tourist shops. I was particularly interested in a pareo (sarong). So many to choose from, different colours, patterns and fabrics. Finally I was able to make a decision and purchased, predictably, a pareo that features turquoise and green. But, I also selected one with a striking black and white pattern. I look forward to wearing them on board the Aranui as I relax, poolside. 

As we continued through town, we stopped at the supermarket to pick up a baguette for lunch. There were only 4 baguettes remaining in the store and they were all premium ‘campagne’ baguettes, meaning they cost $1.40 rather than the typical 53 cents. We also dropped into a very local café/lunch spot for a drink. Besides coffee, tea and other beverages, this roadside stand offered such delicacies as banana pizza  and nutella Panini. I am not sure that either alternative sounds much like traditional Tahitian food.

Returning to the resort, we enjoyed our daily baguette and cheese lunch with a few grapes today for a treat. Sitting in the shade under a towering coconut tree overlooking the aquamarine water of Cook’s Bay, it was a piece of paradise. We lingered into the afternoon. Finally, David and Susan, our travelling companions headed off for a drive and Jim and I settled in for a quiet afternoon reading and resting. 

Another snorkel finished off the afternoon. No sea turtle this time but the fish were a complete spectrum of colour in the bright sunlight that illuminated the water. Jim also spied a long, brown snake-like creature that was actually quite gruesome. We all stayed well clear of it.
This was our final full day on Moorea. How can a week go so quickly? At about 5 pm we gathered for our later afternoon beverage and chatted about the day’s events, things to come and other topics, including the recent Tahiti-Nui airline strike which has stranded our friends, Barb and John in Los Angeles. The pressure is on to see if the situation can be resolved in time for them to fly to Papeete to join us on Saturday morning to board the Aranui.

Dinner was once more a delicious offering of many, many items. Having now been here for a week, we all have some favourite dishes and many of them appeared on our table tonight. Mahi mahi with ginger sauce is delicious, preceded by a shrimp salad. Susan and I both ordered these. Mahi mahi is also served with pepper sauce which Jim liked and David enjoyed the fish soup. Dessert was a real toss up between bananes flambees and crepes suzette. Jim and I ended up sharing them both.

Packing is never much fun, especially when you are preparing to leave a piece of paradise.  Happily everything fit into the same suitcases we brought with us and we still had time to go out and enjoy the southern night sky. It was as clear as a bell. What a spectacle of stars with a sweep of the milky way, a perfect ending to a perfect week.

Friday, August 10
Breakfast, sadly no snorkeling, last minute packing and then off to the ferry terminal. Greg, the host and owner of Kaveka Resort was kind enough to give us a ride to the ferry (you may recall we arrived at the resort aboard the local bus). We were quite prepared to repeat that adventure but a ride in an air conditioned and comfortable minivan was much preferred.

The ferry ride back to the main island, Tahiti, was smooth and uneventful. We even got the news on board via cell phone that Barb and John had boarding passes in hand and were going to be on an overnight flight to Papeete, arriving in time to board the Aranui. It will be so much fun to see them and share this part of our adventure altogether.

The catalyst for this entire trip is that John, David and Jim all turned 65 this year. Several years ago, we agreed that in that year, 2012, we would all meet somewhere in the world that none of us has been and celebrate the birthdays together. And that is what we are doing.

As for the rest of this day, I am working on organizing photos and updating our blog while Jim looks to the future and makes arrangements for our travel following the Aranui. David and Susan are exploring Papeete. We will all meet for our daily drink and then set out to the find some interesting street vendors for dinner.

We are staying once again at the very comfortable and affordable Fare Suisse. Our last night on terra firma. The next 13 nights are on board the Aranui.

There will be lots to tell about that adventure as well but, alas, there is no internet connection on board so the blog will be silent for the next 2 weeks.

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