19 December 2012 - Pape'ete, French Polynesia is where the second leg of the cruise began and today was luckily dry after two days of rain. Our tour guide, Noël, told us she had danced a sun dance this morning so that the rain would stay away for us and if we remained “oa oa,” which means happy in Polynesian, we would keep the rain away. Today's tour was a bus tour around the island with numerous stops - happily none of them centred on shopping. Our first stop, after leaving Pape'ete proper, was at Point Venus, where Captain Cook is said to have arrived and from where he tracked the transit of the planet Venus over the sun during his stay. It contained a monument of his visit and one of the HMS Bounty as well as a volcanic black sand beach and some surfers. The next stop was for the Ara-Ahoaho Blowhole, an underground tunnel naturally formed through the rock. The ocean forces waves into the tunnel creating sound and a geyser that shoots out. Several tiny fish were also been blown up out of the sea and crabs were scurrying around the area. Close by were the three waterfalls of Fa'auruma, of which we visited one, where children were selling small bananas for 100 Polynesian francs. I asked them if it was 100 francs for one banana or 100 francs for a bunch and they said 100 francs for one - that is equivalent to about $1.10 for a small banana!
Next, after about 40 minutes, we stopped at the highlight of our tour, the Paul Gauguin Museum, which had very good displays in English of the different stages of his life, postcards of all his paintings now located in galleries around the world, and a few original sketches, but no original paintings. Although he lived many years in Tahiti, he died and was buried in the Marquesas Islands. We then had lunch at a restaurant attached to, but about 1 kilometre from, the Museum, which contained a fish farm and here we were able to try some breadfruit and taro.
Next on the itinerary were the Vaipahi water gardens, which contain water lilies, torch lilies (above), Chinese pagoda flowers, and a few ducks, among other plants; then a fern grotto, and finally the ancient Polynesian sacred site, the Arahurahu Marae, with its many tikis (below).
Below are some interesting facts I remember from the guide's spiel:
1. Milk in Tahiti currently costs $5 per litre, gasoline costs $8 a litre.
2. The first photo above is of the 2013 Miss Tahiti, whom I photographed in the town hall on the 18th as she was present at a special Christmas arts and crafts fair. She is also coincidentally the runner up for Miss France, whose competition took place last week. For the Miss Tahiti competition, the contestants had to create and wear a costume which was totally made from nature. This girl's costume was made entirely of petals from red ginger flowers. The costume of the runner up to Miss Tahiti from the Marquesas, was made entirely of seeds. Miss France 2013 is from Burgundy.
3. The children are currently on their Christmas holidays from 14 December until 14 January as this is the rainy season and it is thought best they be at home during the rainy season.
4. The Anglican (protestant) churches provide the best music in Tahiti. It is similar to gospel music in the USA.
5. Tattooing was banned in French Polynesia for many years but it was brought back by a leader of a dance group who asked his troop members to find out about their genealogy. A television program was then made about this dance troop, where they explained the reason behind the tattoos they had chosen based on their family history. Tattooing was thus made popular again.
6. On the less accessible coast of Tahiti, far from the towns, French bread is delivered to houses twice a day. For this purpose there are special French bread boxes, resembling elongated mail boxes, outside those homes that wish to have it delivered.
7. Tahitians like to keep chickens in their yard. Their homes are plagued by centipedes who live outside but move to shelter in people's houses when the rain comes. The chickens then feed on these centipedes, which are to them like foie gras is to the French.
8. The Tahitians also like to eat foie gras with breadfruit.
9. Foie gras came up a third time in the introduction of coconut crabs, which are crabs that like to climb up coconut trees and eat the young coconuts. The trunks of coconut trees all over the island are thus sheathed in about a foot of aluminum sheeting about 6 feet up from the ground to prevent the crabs (and rats) from climbing up the trunks to get to the coconuts. It is the gonads of these coconut crabs that are eaten by the locals, and their taste is compared to foie gras.
For a roughly edited video of the Tahiti Ora folkloric show, please see below:
20 December 2012 - We are now back in Huahine and another rainy day. My tour was in the afternoon and I was hoping it would clear up, but after waiting some time for one passenger to show, we finally left on our special boat at 1pm, motoring across the lagoon to land on a motu or islet called Muri Mahora for lunch, music of singing, ukuleles and drums, and dancing in the water (i.e. the music was on land, the lunch and dancing took place in the water) with a bit of time for snorkelling on the other side of the islet. We got caught in the rain while on the boat and upon our arrival on the island, so under cover (the back of a house) we were given a pareo-tying demonstration and then, as the rain had stopped, it was time for lunch. The photos show the dining arrangements; the dancing and music is now on film. I was also lucky to get an interview with these two 5-year old girl cousins, which, frankly, made my day.
I was once again impressed by the friendliness of this island over the others in this archipelago. Certainly no one was camera shy and all were very accommodating.
For some roughly edited videoclips of Huahine, please see below:
22 December 2012 - We had been looking forward to Rangiroa as it was our one and only visit to this special atoll, a day's cruise away from the Society Islands, in its own archipelago called the Tuamutu islands. We were once again lucky with the weather and had splendid skies and aquamarine waters. I was one of the first off the tender and took a walk around the short end of the atoll, i.e. from the tender pier across the Kia Ora resort with its over-the-water bungalows, to another pier from which a man and three boys were fishing with nylon line, a largish hook and octopus for bait, pieces of which the boys were cutting off with a very large knife. I watched as the man caught one, one of the boys caught one and another of the boys caught three fish. The youngest boy was not having any luck. He was fishing closest to the dock where there was a school of sunfish, but his hooks always came up with the bait gone and nothing on the end. The older boys on catching the fish would club them with a wedge of wood and remove the hooks, upon which the octopus bait was still attached!
In the afternoon I went back on land, after having had my lunch on the ship, and waited around for our boat to take us snorkelling in what they call “the aquarium.” Unfortunately, there were about four boats of us snorkellers all there at the same time, so though the water started clear and we saw a shark and about three moray eels, together with a number of other fish, the water became murky and visibility was compromised by the end of the hour. The motor boat then took us outside of the atoll past the reef in the hope of sighting dolphins, but we were not lucky. The lowering sun showed the land and water in magnificent saturated colours. Certainly Rangiroa is beautiful and well worth a return visit some day.
For some roughly edited videoclips of Rangiroa, please see below:
24 December 2012 - We visited Raiatea for the second time today, Christmas Eve. It was ten days since our last visit. We were lucky with the weather, and I was lucky with both tours, a drift snorkel in the morning, and a sunset cruise in the evening - lucky in that both tours were given by the same tour operator and I had the same vivacious guide, Mary Anne, both times. She had done a DEUG in Tahiti (Diplôme des Études universitaires générales), is married, has children, and has family in California. Although for us paradise is French Polynesia, for someone who lives in French Polynesia, paradise to her is, of all things, the American chain super store Costco - for their low prices and very wide selection!.
In the morning, we were speed-boated around to the sister island of Raiatea, Taha'a, and to a spot between two motus, one of which was the location of a fancy hotel with bungalows over the water (hence the photos). Alighting from our boat, we then walked about 10 minutes across the smaller motu in our special snorkelling/reef shoes, and got into the water between the two motus which had a current, being careful not to step on the large clusters of sea urchins. Then Mary Anne in front and Jimmy, the boat driver/trainee, at the back, we drifted via the current in single file leaving about 10 feet between each of us. Now, the luck part was manifold: 1. It was a clear, sunny day so the water was absolutely clear and beautiful. 2. The water was high. Ten days ago when others on the cruise had done this particular drift snorkel, the water was lower, so a few passengers got cuts and abrasions on their legs, bottoms and hands as they were thrown by the current and therefore rubbed up against coral and urchins. For us, the water was high enough that, in any case, not one part of my own body came into contact with anything other than water. Or maybe there was just less of me, or I was a stronger swimmer than the couple from San Diego that I had been talking to last leg who had had so many cuts and scrapes! 3. Not only were we able to do the drift snorkel once, but, as intimated it might be possible if there was time, we did it twice. And then as an added bonus, Mary Anne offered us all a third chance to do it. Of course I was happy to do it again. (My cameras only caught the first drift. My Kodak sport camera had begun working again for Rangiroa and Raiatea but then died again during re-charging in Raiatea, and it has now been dead for two days straight. So I will just have to buy the new Nikon underwater camera I was talking about before I re-attempt the helmet dive on Boxing Day.) We were then offered wedges of papaya, pomelo and pineapple decorated with large red hibiscus flowers, once we were back on board.
The evening cruise stayed dry as well, although there were too many clouds in the sky to make it a great sunset. We were served champagne (or an imitation of it} as well as Kirs royales, Hinano beer (the beer of Tahiti), and a fresh juice mixture. We were taken out as far as the reef to look for sharks; saw no sharks but did see a couple of dolphins jumping, plus some surfers and, in the distance, more pearl farms, which made nice silhouettes. A one-bedroom one-bathroom bungalow can be rented in Raiatea/Taha'a for USD1,400 per month but water and electricity is extra. However, to rent a catamaran big enough for a dozen people, the price is USD15,000 per week. This information came from our driver in the evening, Christophe, a Frenchman who was born in Toulouse, but who has travelled and lived in the USA and in Australia and has been living for the last eight years in French Polynesia. He has worked mostly in restauration and tourism. He married a French Polynesian woman and they have a 5 year old boy whom he told me he missed a lot as he, the boy, had been staying the last few months with Christophe's parents in Toulouse. Christophe's wife is expecting their second child in June/July 2013. The anomaly was that for close to nine months, the doctors (I am supposing that these were doctors in French Polynesia) were telling Christophe and his wife that their first child was going to be a girl. it was only on the day he was born that they found out it was a boy! They do not yet know the sex of this second child. Christophe told me he is now becoming a bit bored with French Polynesia - paradise though it may be - and was looking forward to going back to France. He manages to Skype with his son every day but misses the physical contact with him.
For some roughly edited videoclips of Raiatea, please see below:
25 December 2012 - Bora Bora (second time) today, Christmas day, started out cloudy with showers but we went out anyway on our snorkel and sting ray tour with Moana Adventure Tours. We had a large boat with about 50 people on it, plus about five locals, three of whom were musicians, two playing ukuleles and the third steering the boat and banging on the steering column in lieu of drums. After passing close to another luxury hotel with over-the-water bungalows, seen below left, we arrived out in a patch of aquamarine shallow enough to stand up in and this is where every day for a few decades they have been feeding the sting rays. These sea creatures were very friendly and there were also a few sharks around (see below right) but we were told that this was the species of shark that are not interested in eating people, so that reassured us! In any case, they (the sharks) did not come up close to us though the stings rays did. The water was a bit murky, perhaps due to the number of people in it and the cloudy skies.
After about 20 minutes with the sting rays, we got back on board and motored closer to the barrier reef, to the area they call the coral gardens. There we were free to do our own snorkelling for about an hour. It was raining for the first while so it was interesting to feel the rain on one's back while snorkelling. It was evident when the sun came out again as immediately the water and the white coral sands brightened up. I had only my GoPro camera with me, on my chest, but at least there was no current so I could float in the water over the coral and watch the activity of the fish feeding at their own pace. While immersed in the water, though I was a distance away, I could hear the live music coming from the boat as well as their shout when it was time to return on board. The below photos are of the Ocean Princess at anchor and the side of the Ocean Princess showing the tender hooks, i.e. the tender boats had been taken down to ferry us to shore and these were the hooks and ropes suspended from the ship side on which the tenders are raised and lowered.
For some roughly edited videoclips of this tour in Bora Bora, please see below:
26 December 2012 - Bora Bora (third time) on Boxing Day was another cloudy day but it did not rain. Our Aqua Safari helmet dive was delayed so I took a walk round Vaitape and revisited some spots, trying out my new Nikon Coolpix waterproof and shock proof camera. The elderly lady below I had seen and talked to on my first visit to Bora Bora. She was selling mangos and had quite a few cats and kittens around her feet. As she was eating lunch at the time I asked to photograph her, she said no as she had her mouth full, but I was welcome to photograph the cats and kittens around her legs. This time, though, as it was earlier in the day she was not eating, and the cats and kittens were back in her house, so she agreed to let me photograph her with her fruit and on her own. I did not ask her name or her age but I guess her to be in her 70s. The pareo in the second photo caught my eye as it was different from the norm. The third photo is of our Aqua Safari helmet dive guide and driver, and I think he said his name was Daniel, in any case he was the same as the time before.
We were 8 passengers, and after providing an explanation and instructions on what we were about to do (which I filmed), Daniel drove us out to the dive boat and this time I was able to take more photos as I did not bring my big camera with me and I was able to film with both my GoPro on my head this time and my new Nikon in my hand. Plus I bought the extra photos they offered us on a funny looking cardlike USB (the size and shape of a credit card), so that is why below you see photos of me in the helmet feeding the fish French bread and filming the moray eel. The third photo is of an outrigger canoeist riding the waves behind our tender boat. At one stage there were four of these guys doing this. In any case I was pleased with the results of the new Nikon camera both in stills and film, though as it has only an LED monitor and no eye hole, I had to guess-aim when taking stills in the water, so it is really a case of hit and miss.
For some roughly edited videoclips of this tour in Bora Bora, please see below:
27 December 2012 - During our time in Moorea this time (our second time) we had perfect weather and gorgeous colours - only the top of the highest mountain remained covered by cloud. I had to smile as our tour boat came into the tender dock as I recognised the captain from four years ago when he had captained our boat for the snorkel and sting rays tour. He was noticeably older, but then so are we all, but I remembered him as being quite quiet and taciturn though forever smiling, but this time he had taken on a more extrovert role for this full day tour. He started by giving us a bit of a history lesson on Captain Cook and as chance had it the dolphin sighting boat was out in Opunohu Bay and there were several schools of dolphins swimming and jumping around in the water, so our captain, Tanemanu, (or Louis, pronounced in the French fashion) drove us closer to their location so we could get some photos and film clips of them. These were the spinner dolphins. As a second privelege, he motored us close to the Intercontinental Hotel, so we could see the over-water bungalows up close and also see their dophinarium which had two bottle-nosed dolphins sold to the hotel by the US Army. We saw these dolphins perform a few tricks for the hotel guests, such as jumping up high and wiggling their flippers, both of which actions I was lucky enough to capture on film. Next he drove us over to where the snorkel and sting ray boat was anchored and we saw our fellow cruise passengers in the water with the rays and the sharks (the same shark species that pays no attention to humans).
Our destination was a motu or islet from which we could snorkel (though here there was a swift current) and where we were provided with a sit-down lunch of lettuce and tomatoes, rice salad, macaroni salad, French bread, barbecued chicken, barbecued mahi mahi and barbecued pork sausages and pineapple for dessert. Here finally I managed a couple of successful underwater stills with my new camera. The fish on the left is a Picasso fish, the creature in the middle is a sting ray. We were very lucky with the sting rays here as the water was quite shallow and they came up quite close to the shore for us to touch and photograph. They were also burying themselves in the sand so that only their tails would be visible. Some of us thought these were sticks of wood in the water, so it's lucky that we did not step on them! There were also terns and a frigate bird flying overhead and diving into the shallow water for fish. The other crested bird you see below on the branch I have yet to identify, but after the Indian myna, the brown boobies, frigates and terns, it is the other species of bird I have sighted several times on various Polynesian islands. On the whole, with the sun, the crystal-clear waters, the good food, (minus the flies this time), the musical entertainment and a demonstration by Louis of how to cut open and extract milk from a coconut, it was a very successful tour. I also chatted to the boss of the whole operation who was a woman. Many women seem to hold ownership of tourism operations here in French Polynesia.
For some roughly edited videoclips of this tour in Moorea, please see below:
We arrived back in Papeete in the evening, signifying the end of the second leg of my cruise. Regarding shipboard life and sea days, I count myself as pretty lucky this voyage: 1. I won two raffles - one prize was a bottle of Californian “champagne” and the other was a manicure. 2. I was invited by a much traveled Torontonian as his date to the Captain's luncheon for the most traveled passengers, at which we were very lucky to be placed at the table of our very extrovert and amusing Hotel Manager from Italy who recounted to us his life story (all 45 years of it) in a very entertaining way. 3. I will also mention that our singing entertainer on this leg was a man from Montreal called Claude-Eric. It was my privilege to be placed at the same table in the dining room as him and his childhood friend - a public employee with Quebec Immigration, with whom I also got on very well. Claude-Eric told me that he has been spending the last 13 years at a rate of 26 weeks a year (not consecutively) as a singing entertainer on various cruise ships. Not a bad job to have! He is also a very nice person and has a very melodious tenor voice.
To read about the third leg of this cruise - Tahiti to Hawaii - please click here.