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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!

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