Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Marvelous Marquesas - April, 2006

Where's My Butler?!
April, 2006

Hey, just what is going on here? Where is Daisy, offering me ice tea as I lounge by the pool? Where is Manon, who kept our stateroom so shipshape? Where is Giovanni with my trivia game? Where are my French lessons, Tahitian dance lessons, Polynesian arts and crafts lessons with les Gauguines? Where are the gorgeous green islands floating in the clear blue sea? Where is the buffet?!!! (Okay, well, maybe I'm better off without the buffet!)

Rob and I have been home from our second Polynesian cruise on the M.S. Paul Gauguin for three days now - back at work for two already - and I'm still suffering withdrawal pains. Our first trip to the Society Islands exactly two years ago was so wonderful that we just had to do it again - but this time, our voyage took us from the Society Islands to the Tuamotus and the Marquesas Islands. I learned that these are three of the five archipelagos that make up French Polynesia (the other two being the Austral Islands and the Gambier Archipelago).

Well, let's back up to the beginning and start the journey.

Bakersfield to Papeete, Tahiti
Friday, April 7, 2006

We woke up bright and early and set out at 7:15 a.m. for the customary looooong day of travel. Happily, the drive to LAX was relatively smooth and easy. As usual, we parked in Parking Lot B and got the shuttle to the airport. Security was relatively easy as well, and we only had to wait about an hour before it was time to be shuttled to our big blue and white Air Tahiti Nui Airbus with the tiare gardenia painted on the tail. As we boarded, we met our first shipmates - Mary Kay and Don, a nice older couple (cousins) from Florida.

The eight hour flight seemed to go quickly. There were several movies to choose from, and the airbus has a bit more legroom than United planes. That is a real plus for Rob, with his long legs!We arrived in Papeete just after dark. Happily, our arrival was expected (our names were written on a big board along with the others to be shuttled to the hotel). We were greeted with a tiare lei (the little star gardenia of Tahiti) and sent on our way...back to the beautiful Intercontinental Hotel where we had stayed before. We freshened up a bit and went down to the coffee shop for a light dinner...just in time for the dinner show with the Tahitian dancers.

Dinner was an interesting experience. The Tahitians have a custom, still being used, of raising some boys as girls. Members of this group are known as "Mahu." Two of our waiters were Mahu. One of them I identified immediately. He was a large, obviously male, person with a very effeminate manner and lovely flowers in his hair. But the other waiter was so completely transformed that I didn't even realize he was a man until Rob pointed it out to me. I had read that many of the hotel waiters in Tahiti are of this class, but this was the first time I had observed it.

Here is a little explanation I found on a website: In the South Pacific island paradise of Tahiti - traditionally a conservative place with a missionary background - reporter Trevor Bormann finds a society that's not only multi-cultural and multi-lingual - it's also multi-sexual. He meets the Mahu - Polynesia’s ‘third sex’: people of ‘ambiguous gender’ who physically remain men but act like women.

The Mahu have been a part of Polynesian life for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. ‘It’s always been the case in some families that the eldest boy would be raised as a girl’ says Bormann. ‘The Mahu take on traditional female roles like cooking and helping to raise the children.’

Mahu are not just tolerated in Tahiti culture, they hold a very special place in it. They are thought to possess the virtues of both men and women. In modern Tahiti effeminate men are maintaining the custom and role with pride.‘I am proud of being a Mahu because in Polynesia we belong and we are recognized in this society’, says Coco, a Mahu. ‘We belong in everyday life.’

After dinner, Rob and I took a stroll down to the lagoon, where we saw several large stingrays floating through the clear water. Then it was off to bed to get rested for the exciting days ahead.

All Aboard!
Saturday, April 8, 2006

Our shuttle to the Paul Gauguin didn't depart until 3 in the afternoon, so we had a nice leisurely day around the hotel. After breakfast, we returned to our room to find that it had been filled with fresh and fragrant flowers - plumeria and hibiscus lining the bathroom sink and piled on the TV stand. We went down for a dip in the beautiful "Infinity" pool, and went for another look at the fish in the lagoon. The water was so clear and calm that you could look right in and see the many fish...Picasso triggerfish, various butterfly fish, parrot fish, tangs, and the stingrays. The young man who stocks the lagoon came down to feed the fish. It was very exciting, as the big rays literally leaped out of the water onto his arm to grab the big hunks of mahi mahi that he offered them.

A very good buffet lunch was included in our hotel package, and then finally it was time to join our fellow cruisers and head for the ship. We were greeted by Rani, our cruise director, posed for the traditional "Welcome Aboard" photo, and and escorted to our stateroom, #721, where we met Manon, our room stewardess - a tall, slender, cheery girl from the Netherlands. Our little blue newsletter, the Ia Orana, was waiting on the bed. This priceless daily newsletter served as our social calendar every day - and now serves to remind me of what we did, as I was so busy having fun that I didn't keep a daily journal, as I usually do on our trips.

We immediately unpacked and settled in. The stateroom design is always amazing to me...lots of cupboards and cubby holes to put things in. By the time we unpacked, it was time to head off to L'Etoile for our first wonderful dinner onboard. The Paul Gauguin has open seating, which we really enjoy. You are not seated with the same people every night, so you have a good opportunity to meet many more people. By the end of the cruise, we had met many of the 320 passengers, although some became much more familiar than others.

After dinner, there was a Bon Voyage Party and the Social Staff was introduced. The Time Stealer Band, a group of young people from the Ukraine, did their first performance, and we were introduced to the Gauguines, the beautiful Tahitian girls who serve as the ships hostesses, to Giovanni, who ran the games and activities, the dive staff, and others.

When we returned to our room, we found the next day's Ia Orana and our nightly chocolate mint lying on our bed. The pampering had begun! Finally, we "set sail" and went to sleep to the gentle rocking of the ship as we headed for Bora Bora.

Bora Bora
Sunday, April 9, 2006

Memories: The remainder of this blog was written many months after our trip. I joked to Rob while on board that my social calendar was just too full to find time to write. Fine thing! There we were in the very leisurely and slow-paced world of Polynesia...and the ship had so many fun - and educational - activities that I had no time to write! I am going to rely on Ia Orana, the ship's daily newsletter and activity list, to help me reconstruct the days.

On Sunday morning, we had the mandatory lifeboat drill that always begins a cruise, then I attended the first of the talks by the Gauguines on "Life in Tahiti." One of them, Raina, I remembered from the first Gauguin cruise we had taken two years ago. On that voyage, she was new to the ship and had very little English...but this time, she was an experienced Gauguin and her English was very good. I enjoyed trying to use my very limited French when speaking with the Gauguines during the trip, but their English was much better than my French!

When Bora Bora came into view on the horizon, I actually got a lump in my throat. When we left this beautiful little jewel of an island two years ago, I cried because I had no idea if I would ever see it again - and now here I was, shedding tears of happiness because we had returned.We were surrounded by the islands. Raiatea was directly in front of me now as I sat on the deck of our cabin. Huahine was to my right, with Taha'a just coming into view as we passed Raiatea - and Bora Bora appeared to my left - just a grey peak in the overcast horizon, but still calling me with her Bali Ha'i siren song.

We anchored in the lagoon of Bora Bora at noon, and Rob and I immediately headed on the first available tender to the motu for our first snorkeling of the trip. Polynesia has some of the clearest water in the world, with a hundred shades of blue reflecting the different depths and varying undersea landscapes. The motu is the quintessential tropical isle, a low mound of pure white coral sands and coconut palms, made even more gorgeous by the peaks of Bora Bora in view across the lagoon. It is surrounded by a wide shallow sand bar that finally drops away to a thriving coral garden filled with butterfly fish, clown fish peeking out of the huge waving anemones, eels hiding in the coral. Snorkeling is always an adventure into a fantastic alien world. I never tire of it and always hate to get out of the water. Just like the first time we came here, I was excited to "find Nemo"...the little clown fish that live in the huge anemones here...and the bright yellow butterfly fish seemed to find our yellow snorkel shirts irresistable. They came right up to invesigate.

But snack time called and we headed back to the ship for our first room service...an assortment of French cheeses and shrimp cocktail served on our own little deck. What a hard life! We finished the day at the enjoyable performance by the ship's pianist, Amy Abler, in the Grand Salon.

Bora Bora
Monday, April 10

I headed for the little town of Vaitape in the morning to do some exploring while Rob relaxed and swam. As I hadn't signed up for any of the shore excursions, I found a free shuttle out to a Black Pearl Farm. Naturally, the intent of the "free" shuttle was to get you to the Black Pearl store to shop, but I had no trouble resisting temptation and just enjoyed the little tour. It was actually quite fascinating to see the process used to grow the pearls...the "black" pearls actually take on the color of the mantle of the oyster which can range from pinks to greens to greys to black. We saw an artist carving some of the pearls with traditional Polynesian designs - amazingly tiny and intricate work! Following the tour, I tried on the pride of the store...a perfect black pearl necklace. It had taken seven years to cultivate the perfect pearls of equal size and color for this necklace, and it was selling for $37.000! Gorgeous - but one of the best parts of the tour was the completely free smell of vanilla beans drying on racks in the garden - heavenly!

I did give in to temptation in the craft cottage by the docks and bought a little shell and pearl necklace, then headed back to the ship for lunch with Rob. After lunch, I went to La Palette, the lounge at the top of the ship, for French lessons with Hei-Iti, another of the Gauguines. I ended up being the only guest to show up, so she and I had a nice time visiting...with a little French lesson thrown in. The afternoon was just for relaxation, another "snack" on the deck...then it was time to say good-bye once again to Bora Bora as we sailed away under a soft pink sunset.

That evening was the Captain's Welcome Aboard party - the only really dress-up evening of the trip...followed by a special dinner in the Pacific Grill, the "alternative" restaurant up on deck.
Tuesday, April 11

We woke up to find ourselves sailing amongst the very low lying Tuamotus, the largest - but least spectacular - of the French Polynesian archipelagos. The Tuamotus are a cluster of 78 motus and atolls...rings of low sandy islands surrounding central lagoons...all that are left of ancient volcanic islands whose peaks long ago sank back down into the sea, leaving only the coral rings that had built up around them. They form the largest chain of atolls in the world.

After breakfast, we attended the first in a series of lectures on the culture and history of Polynesia that continued throughout the voyage. This first, on “Human Settlement of the South Pacific,” was given by anthropologist Mark Eddowes, who had actually been on our first voyage on the Paul Gauguin two years ago. Then I joined some of the other ladies for lessons on new ways to tie the pareu…the Polynesian sarong. Somehow, it never quite came out as well on me as it did on those gorgeous, slender girls, but it is amazing to see the variety of styles that can be achieved with one bolt of cloth!

Around noon, we gathered on the bow to watch the dolphins lead us through the Tiputa Pass into the Rangiroa lagoon. Rangiroa is the largest of the Tuamotu atolls…it is so large that you cannot see all the way across the lagoon. The island of Tahiti would fit within it!

Rob and I had not signed up for any excursions, so after lunch, we took the tender to the little village of Tiputa and just strolled around. It was a VERY sleepy little town…a large white church, a few houses made of simple plywood slabs and open windows, a couple of little stores…all closed for the afternoon…and almost no people in sight. It was hard for me to imagine living here. True, life would have few stresses, but opportunities to learn, to explore, to experience anything new would be very limited. We walked down a gravel-paved road across the motu to the ocean side of the island and did a little beach-combing, but it was quite warm so we soon wandered back to the dock. I bought a shell necklace from the sweet little woman sitting there in the shade, then we returned to the ship for a nap, afternoon tea, and a lecture “To the Land of Men: An Overview of the Voyage,” by Dr. Robert Suggs, another of the guest lecturers on our voyage.

After dinner, we attended the Polynesian show by Les Gaugines…the end of a quiet but pleasant day.
Wednesday, April 12

We set the alarm for an earlier than usual wake-up today for 8:30 a.m. snorkeling in Rangiroa’s aquarium. No, we were NOT swimming in a big tank! The “aquarium” is a shallow reef some distance from the mainland filled with coral and fish. The water here was not quite as clear as that around Bora Bora, but it was teeming with thousands of fish which were so used to visitors (and being fed) that they came swarming around us. I saw quite a few fish I had never seen before but I missed seeing the one fish I had hoped to see…the sharks that are abundant in this lagoon! Rob, and apparently almost everyone else on our little excursion, got a glimpse of the reef sharks here, but somehow I was never looking in the right direction at the right time! Oh, well…I guess I will just have to return some day!

My “social calendar” was full again this morning. First came basket weaving class, followed immediately by a Polynesian cooking demonstration. We got to try the poisson cru, a Polynesian marinated raw fish dish that is delicious, as well as breadfruit and taro root. The fried breadfruit was quite good…kind of like french fries…but I found the boiled version to be very unappealing.

At noon, the ship pulled up the anchor and we set off back through the pass and on towards the distant Marquesas Islands. After lunch, the social rounds continued with shell bracelet making with new friends. Len and Lorri, from New York, followed once again by afternoon tea time and another lecture by Bob Suggs on the archaeology of the Marquesas Islands, his specialty. Then it was time for relaxing on the deck watching the waves.

At Sea: En Route to the Marquesas Islands
Thursday, April 13

The Marquesas ARE remote…we spent this entire day at sea and would not reach this archipelago until the next morning. We started the day at Mark Eddowes’ fascinating lecture on “Culture of the Tuamotus.” He spent quite a lot of time living with and studying these people. He lives in Polynesian still, although on the island of Huahine.

After the lecture, I hurried on to Hawaiian hula lessons led by a cute elderly couple from Hawaii, Kupa’a and Puili. We had noticed this couple several times as they were always dressed alike. Kupa’a, a chatty little Asian fellow, loved to tell anyone who would listen that Puili was over 80 years old. Then it was time for the trivia contest with Giovanni.

As I mentioned, I was so busy having fun that I didn’t keep a journal of this trip at the time, so I am reconstructing events from the daily Ia Orana newsletter and photos, but I think Rob and I actually had a little time during this day at sea to lounge around the pool and relax a bit. But in the afternoon we attended a lecture on “Sharks of Rangiroa” by Holly Lohuis, the third of our guest lecturers. Holly is a young woman who lives in Santa Barbara and works with Jean-Michel Cousteau, the son of Jacques Cousteau with the Ocean Futures Society. She was on the cruise with her husband and small son…the only child on the entire ship…and was full of good information about sea life and the dangers now facing our oceans due to global warming, over-fishing, etc. The lecture was so interesting that I was late to the tapa painting class, but got there in time to paint a little tapa bookmark with a hibiscus. Tapa is the cloth of Polynesia, still made in the Marquesas Islands in the traditional way by pounding mulberry bark with a wooden beater on a wooden anvil until the fibers are melded together.

I returned to our cabin to find Rob on the veranda enjoying his afternoon shrimp cocktail and platter of fresh fruit and French cheeses. It is such an amazing experience to be able to call up room service and have virtually anything you desire appear at your door with no additional charge!

In addition to the room service for snacks, we always enjoyed the other meals on the ship. Lunch and breakfast were usually buffet style in Le Grill…the open air restaurant on the top deck, although for lunch, we did have the option of menu selections in La Veranda. Lunch usually had a “theme”…Italian, Japanese, seafood, etc. Dinner was always in L’Etoile Restaurant, except for the two nights we had reservations in the special restaurants. Seating in L’Etoile was open seating, which meant we would be seated with whoever else arrived at about the same time. It was usually a nice experience, as we got to talk with a variety of people…and by the end of the cruise, we had become at least acquaintances with at least half of the passengers. Of course, there were always some who were more compatible than others and we got quite friendly with several couples, including Bryce and Karen Johnson, the darling young couple who later would show us around Salt Lake City during our Wild West trip the following summer.
Fatu Hiva
Friday, April 14

One of the best days of this trip! I woke at dawn, threw on my pareu and went up on deck to see Fatu Hiva, the southernmost of the Marquesas Islands, come into view. It was quite spectacular and reminded me strongly of the Na Pali coast of Kauai, with the sides of its tall volcanic peaks eroded into sharp ridges and deep valleys. We anchored in the bay near the tiny town of Omoa, one of only two towns on this remote island which has a total population of only about 500.

It was quite exciting to be one of the few to visit a spot that is still relatively “undiscovered” by most of the world. Visitors are still rare here…although there are regular visits by the supply ship from Papeete.

There was no dock big enough for the tenders, so we took little zodiac rafts from the ship to the tiny dock. It was a challenge to step off the zodiac onto the land, as the waves bounced us up and down, but there were helping hands extended to help those of us who were athletically challenged. We were greeted at the top of the stairs with beautiful leis, warm smiles, and singing voices.

Due to the infrequency of visitors, our arrival was a big day for the village. The entire population seemed to be gathered for the event. We headed first for the craft building where the Marquesans had set out their handmade crafts…lovely wall hangings of tapa painted with intricate traditional designs…tikis made of rosewood, sandalwood, stone, and coral…various other wooden carvings, spears, and knives…and umuhei, aromatic bouquets of sandalwood and flowers. Rob and I bought a two tikis - one wood and one stone - to join the one of coral which we had purchased on Mo’orea on our previous cruise, then we joined Bryce and Karen and took a walk through the village and up the one road into the valley.

Fatu Hiva would certainly match most people's vision of a perfect tropical isle. There were coconut palms, papaya trees drooping with fruit - (Rob's favorite), huge breadfruit trees, bananas, noni plants (which are a big cash crop for the islanders because of the supposed health benefits in noni juice)…even a pineapple just growing by the side of the road! You could actually live off the land here. Add a few fish and it’s a feast! It would have been wonderful to spend a bit more time here. The road winds over the mountain about 10 miles to the one other town of the island, Hanaveve, but we were given only the morning in Omoa.

At noon, we returned to the town square for a dance performed by the children and teens of the village. It was not a polished, professional performance like those on board the ship or in Papeete, but in some ways even more charming, as it was so authentic.

We stopped in at the little village church with its beautiful wooden carvings, then returned to the Paul Gauguin and began a leisurely cruise along the west side of the island.

As always, there were several activities going on around the ship. Some of the local vendors had joined the ship to sell more handicrafts, the Gauguines were showing off the beautiful (and expensive) Polynesian quilts called Tifaifai, and there was more basket weaving, but it was so gorgeous outside that I just had to stay on deck where I had a nice chat with Mark Eddowes, the anthropologist. Soon we turned into the most gorgeous spot of the entire trip…the Baie des Vierges. (There is an interesting story about this name. The sailors who first visited here noted the rather phallic pillars of basalt standing guard over the bay and dubbed it the Baie de Verges, or Bay of Penises. As you might well guess, this did not sit well with the Catholic missionaries who followed, and the addition of one little vowel turned the name into the more wholesome Bay of Virgins.) I will rely on the photos to describe this scene, but they don’t do justice to the breathtaking beauty of the place. Sometimes wishes do come true because I was snapping pictures like crazy, wishing we could actually spend some time and explore when the announcement came from the Captain that, because of the perfect conditions, we would be given the opportunity to go ashore. Naturally, Rob and I hurried right down to take advantage of the offer!

Our arrival was greeted with great excitement from the children of Vavapepe. As we had not been expected to land, the village had not prepared for our arrival, so they were just going about their normal lives. It was Good Friday, and most of the village was just getting out of church. The children spotted us heading for the dock and came running down to the dock en masse to gape at us. We wished we had brought little gifts for them…pencils were an especially popular item…but alas, we had nothing to offer.

The women of the village also went running…but away from the dock to lay out their wares on blankets in front of their homes. Rob and I took another beautiful walk along the road that led back to Omoa. All too soon, it was time to depart this beautiful island, but we were not too hurried to enjoy an impromptu soccer match with a little boy from the village.

While waiting for the tender to pick us up, we enjoyed visiting with the funny, fat tiki god who stands guard over their harbor like a Polynesian Buddha.

Even our return to the ship was magical. We floated back at just the right moment to catch the sunset behind the Paul Gauguin. A glorious day!

Hiva Oa
Saturday, April 15

Another great day! Once again, I was up on deck early to enjoy our arrival at the island of Hiva Oa, the largest of the southern group of the Marquesas. This island is much more populated than Fatu Hiva and was the home of Jacques Brel, the Belgian singer, and Paul Gauguin himself. Both are buried here…but more about that later.

We took an early tender to the island and were again greeted by musicians on the dock…very impressive drummers covered head to toe with the traditional tattoos that are a hallmark of the Marquesan people. This is probably where European sailors were first introduced to this art form. I find tattoos on most Americans to be rather silly, with their hearts or skulls or naked women…but the Marquesan tattoos seem just right, somehow. They are a true mark of the culture, with different designs representing various clans and centuries of heritage reflected.

Rob and I got on Le Truck, the rickety wooden bus that serves as public transportation and headed up the hills above the bay to visit the cemetery where Brel and Gauguin lie. Jacques Brel was well-loved by the islanders. He used his private plane to ferry the sick to the only hospital in the Marquesas on the larger island of Nuka Hiva and he used his music to capture the beauty of the culture. Paul Gauguin’s story was more complex. He never really found peace and raged against the church, which he saw as oppressing the spirit of the Polynesian people. He had a bitter feud with the local bishop, whose ornate grave - surrounded by a white iron fence - is situated just above his own.

After enjoying the views of the bay from the cemetery, we continued down the hill to the town of Atuona where we visited the Paul Gauguin Cultural Center. Amazingly, the museum does not hold any originals of his paintings, but had reproductions of many of them. One of the adjoining buildings also held a tribute to Jacques Brel, as well as his little plane, Jojo.

At 11:00, we continued down the road for the “Folkloric Marquesan Show” in the town square. As we were a little early, we visited the arts and crafts building to admire the displays and taste some of the native foods - more breadfuit, papaya, bananas - then we joined our shipmates and found seats on the ancient rock steps lining the dance arena.

The dance performance was very impressive! The drummers who had greeted us on the dock were ready at the head of the grassy meadow, then the chief entered with a shout and much fierce gesticulating with his spear.

The dancers followed and put on an incredible show. When one thinks of Polynesian dancers, one usually thinks of the gorgeous women and their incredibly rapid hip movement, but these dances highlighted the men even more.

These were traditional dances with a legacy extending back into unrecorded history, and the male dancers were arrayed in traditional costumes of leaves. Especially impressive was the “Pig Dance” done to prepare the warriors for the hunt of the fierce wild boars. The men would grunt in deep, guttural exhalations, mimicking the sound of the boars. The drummers added to the excitement with the loud, quick rhythms - but the most impressive of the musicians was the chanter - a little girl of only about 6 or 7 years old who called out the chants in a voice that could be heard from one end of the field to the other - a real Polynesian prodigy!

All throughout the performance, the chief remained very visible, frequently “threatening” the audience with fierce scowls and cries. He was so fun, I had my picture taken with him following the performance and, taking both of us quite by surprise, ended our photo by kissing him on the cheek. He responded hilariously, dancing around in delight!

It was quite warm, so following the show, we returned to the ship for lunch and a rest. I spent the afternoon at Tahitian dance class, where I managed not to disgrace myself too badly, followed by Tahitian “crown” making - the crowns being wreaths of huge hibiscus and other fragrant flowers. Why is it that these floral headdresses look so natural and right on the Polynesian girls and so silly on us?

Later in the afternoon was another fascinating lecture on “Coral Cities” by Holly Lohuis, who spoke of the decline in the world’s coral population due to the rapid warming of our oceans.

The evening ended with the usual routine…a fabulous dinner in L’Etoile visiting with new friends, strolling on the deck, and heading for bed to the gentle rocking of the ship.

Ua Huka to Nuku Hiva
Easter Sunday, April 16

Our anticipated itinerary today was upset by an unexpected event. By the time we awoke, the Gauguin was approaching the little island of Ua Huka, the smallest of the northerm Marquesas Islands. Some of the passengers had signed up for the early morning tender to the little town of Vaipaee to attend the Easter Sunday church service. Unfortunately, the seas were quite choppy and a large wave hit the front window of the tender just right…or is that just wrong?…and actually smashed it open! Some of the people (decked out in their Easter best) were drenched and the tender had to turn back to the ship. The captain chose to abandon our day on this island, which was a bit disappointing, as we had signed up for a little excursion to see the wild horses and goats that roam the hills, as well as the numerous archaeological sites that dot the island, but there was no help for it, and we headed instead for Nuku Hiva, the largest and most populated of all the Marquesas Islands, as it had a large protected harbor where we could anchor and reach shore safely.

It was a short three hour trip to Nuku Hiva…we could actually see it in the distance the entire way…and I passed the time attending an impromptu lecture by Mark Eddowes on “Traditional Marquesas Culture” and a demonstration of Tahitian dance by the Gauguines while Rob grabbed an impromptu nap!

Our afternoon was very enjoyable. Bob Suggs had lived and worked on Nuku Hiva for a number of years and offered to take those of us who had missed our morning excursion on a walking tour of the town of Taiohae. There was quite a large group of us, and we must have made quite a spectacle trooping through the little town. At one point, Bob suddenly turned to some teenage boys sitting in the town park and laughing and began to berate them in their own language (telling us afterwards that they had been mocking us). As you might expect, they were quite surprised to have been understood and quickly dispersed. Bob also shared his own story of having been the subject of some mirth on the part of the islanders. He lived in a little house right down on the bay back in the 1950’s when very few people visited here, and during his first week, he went down for a swim in the bay. He looked up from his swim to see a Nuku Hivan man sitting on the sand watching him intently. Soon the man was joined by another and another, and soon there was a whole gathering on men watching Bob. He thought it might be wise to find out what the attraction was, so he swam back to the beach to ask. “Many sharks,” the men told him. Nuku Hiva is a gathering place for several species of sharks, including hammerheads.

Our walk took us past various village sites, including a lovely beach park filled with ancient stone tikis.

We ended at the beautiful Catholic church, which was decked out for Easter with huge tropical bouquets and garland leis draped over the wooden statues.

As we waited on the dock for our tender back to the ship, there were more local musicians to entertain us - and on the short ride back, we caught a glimpse of a couple of the huge manta rays that live in these waters! They are so strange and wonderful…I would love to have been able to snorkel here, but it is not advised due to the sharks.

Dinner was a rather interesting experience this evening. As always, dinner was open seating, so we were seated as we arrived and ate with different shipmates every evening. Ordinarily, this was a fine experience and we enjoyed our visits with a great variety of people. Tonight, we were seated with Len and Lorri - with whom we had become acquainted as a result of doing many of the ship’s activities together and whom we liked very much - but we were also seated with one of those annoying women who simply monopolized the entire conversation, entirely oblivious to the fact that the rest of us were making covert little “please get me out of this” glances to one another. Oh, well.

Nuku Hiva
Monday, April 17

Today we headed out for a very enjoyable island tour in a caravan of small vehicles driven by our Marquesan hosts. Our talkative dinner partner was also signed up for the tour, so Rob and I were pleased when Len and Lorri grabbed us as we were lining up and suggested sharing a vehicle together so there would be no unpleasant surprises. Bob Suggs was once again our tour guide and we stopped at various overlooks along the road that wound up and over the mountains standing behind the town. Nuku Hiva was made famous throughout the world by Herman Melville’s book, Typee. It was here that he deserted his whaling ship and spent several months living among the fierce warrior people of the Taipivai Valley. We actually saw the route he took as he climbed the through the thick underbrush up the steep hill above the town.

As we drove up the steep hills ourselves, we passed a herd of wild goats, then stopped for a gorgeous view of our ship anchored down in the bay. Our next stop overlooked the long, deep Taipivai Valley itself. At the mouth of the river that cuts into the valley was the beach that had been the site of the TV series, “Survivor: Marquesas.” It was very interesting to see that this supposedly remote spot was actually on the most populated island of the archipelago, and that there was a small village just over the hill from the participants’ location. Bob Suggs was quite indignant about the shenanigans of the producers of the show, as they had actually moved an old man from his home on the beach in order to create the appearance of a “deserted” island.

At the beach at the end of the road, we were greeted by more villagers displaying their wares and sharing samples of the local fruits. I didn’t buy much here, but when we returned to Taiohae, the main town, I finally gave in to the urge to do some serious Christmas shopping and bought several of the distinctive red and black seed necklaces for all the women in the family, then just wandered around the town enjoying the sights and the people.

Back on the ship that afternoon, everyone gathered around the pool for another performance of Marquesan music and dance, and then we weighed anchor and headed out of the bay.

At Sea
Tuesday, April 18

Today was the first of two leisurely days at sea as we returned to the Society Islands. I joined the Trivia Game with Giovanni, our social director, and won another little prize - (all that Jeopardy-watching pays off!) Then I took another Hawaiian dance class with Kupa’a and Puili and enjoyed a performance of songs by Les Gauguines. Rob enjoyed the morning sitting on the deck watching the rolling waves and enjoying the balmy breezes.

Lunch was a fun experience with a behind-the-scenes tour of the ship’s galley. This was the Gauguin equivalent of the Midnight Buffet, with beautifully carved fruits and vegetables and huge platters of fancy tid-bits.

After lunch, we joined George and Frances, a nice couple from Portland, Oregon, for a very competitive game of Trivial Pursuit. George is also an attorney and he and Rob hit it off very well. Later that afternoon we attended Holly’s lecture on marine mammals followed by a pre-dinner show in the Grand Salon, “By Royal Appointment,” by Rhythm and Smooch, another of the performing groups on this voyage, who had performed for some of the British royal family.

After another wonderful dinner, I went back down to the Grand Salon for a movie…the newer version of South Pacific with Glenn Close and Harry Connick, Jr. and which was filmed on Mo’orea.

At Sea
Wednesday, April 19

Today was another round of social activities at sea. Holly presented a morning lecture on the “Open Ocean” and shared some of her adventures with the Ocean Futures Society. She will be appearing in an upcoming documentary with Jean-Michel Cousteau. After the lecture, I was off to a very humorous cooking demonstration by two of our ship’s chefs, two darling young men. Following the demonstration, they held a drawing for some of the goodies and I was the lucky winner of a delicious crème brulee! Yummy! After lunch, I joined the Trivial Pursuit game with Rani and Giovanni, our social directors, followed by more Tahitian dance class.

Naturally, I needed to keep up my energy after all the dancing, so I followed that activity with a visit to the special Chocolate Tea Time in La Palette. (I should add here that, in spite of the almost constant availability of wonderful goodies - or perhaps more likely, BECAUSE of that availability - Rob and I actually ate very reasonably on the cruise. We always knew that more good treats were on the way, so there wasn’t the urge to scarf down every bite that came our way.)

The evening activities included another lecture by Mark Eddowes on “Ancient Tahiti of the Golden Mists” and and a wonderful show by Les Gauguines. All of the girls were wonderful dancers (although Hei-Iti was a stand-out), but the memorable event of the show came when cute little Raina lost her top, which wiggled loose and dropped to her waist. She was a trouper! She just whipped her long thick Polynesian hair over her breast and kept right on dancing. (It was actually probably more authentic that way!)

Our two days at sea were coming to an end and by the time we headed for bed, we could once again see the unmistakable profile of Bora Bora coming into view.

Thursday, April 20

We arrived early in the lagoon which surrounds both the islands of Taha’a and Raiataia and anchored near the Paul Gauguin’s private motu, Motu Mahana. After breakfast, Rob and I set off on another very special highlight of our trip: a “drift snorkel” excursion through one of the channels leading from the open water between the motus into the lagoon. This turned out to be our best snorkeling of the entire trip! The weather was perfect, the water was crystal clear, Bora Bora was visible on the horizon…it would be impossible to invent a more beautiful setting. We anchored on the lagoon side of a small motu and walked to the ocean side then got into the water and simply let the current sweep us along back into the lagoon. The snorkel was actually a little more challenging than I expected, as the coral was so thick and the water so shallow that you had to really pay attention and guide yourself through the passages between the many coral heads, (I just stayed right on Rob's heels and let him do the navigating), but it was absolutely gorgeous. Rob enjoyed it so much that he walked back to the beginning and did it again, while I paddled around at the end of the channel and photographed the fish.

All too soon, it was time to head back to the ship for our day on Motu Mahana but we had fun on the short journey back spotting the sting rays that floated through the bay.

The afternoon on the motu was a wonderful repeat of our picnic here two years ago…the floating bar on the water, drinks served in coconut shells, hamburgers and tropical fruit. I joined Les Gauguines for pareu painting and more lessons on how to tie them into clothes.

Once back on board, we headed up on deck to watch our passage through the channel between Taha’a and Raiataia. Once again, the beauty of our surroundings was almost overwhelming. It is easy to imagine that European sea captains might have had trouble convincing their sailors to ever return home once they had experienced life in these islands!

After dinner was the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail Party and a fun and funny show, Krew Kapers, performed by the entire crew.

Friday, April 21

The last full day of our cruise. Just as on our first trip, we only had one brief day on Mo’orea which just wasn’t enough time to explore this beautiful island. I have heard reports that Mo’orea was actually the inspiration for James Michener’s Bali Ha’i, and - although I still imagine Bali Ha’i as Bora Bora (with her head peeking out from a low-flying cloud) - I can certainly understand the argument for Mo’orea, with its secluded bays and jagged peaks.

We arrived at the island quite early in the morning, and once again, I headed up on deck to witness the arrival. Just as it had been on our first visit, Mo’orea was shrouded in clouds, but that didn’t affect our enjoyment.

Today we joined the dolphin expedition with Dr. Michael Poole, an American scientist and world-renowned marine mammal expert who has lived here and studied the spinner dolphins of Mo’orea for the last 18 years. From his credentials, I expected a grey-haired, venerable old professor type, but was surprised to be greeted by a youngish, casually dressed man (befitting life in these islands) who was full of knowledge about the habits of the local dolphins. We soon found ourselves in the midst of a large pod of dolphins and took turns sitting on the bow of the small boat, oohing and aahing at the beautiful creature.

We finished the expedition with our last snorkel of the trip near a lovely beach park. I saw several creatures I had never seen before, including an enormous sea slug that was curiously marked with squiggles of vivid blue against a brown body.

After lunch, I returned to the little town to explore while Rob relaxes on board. There was, as always, a little craft market set up near the dock for the tourists, but I set off down the main street to see the “real” village, enjoying the gorgeous flowers, the fish hanging out to dry, the ever-present island dogs, and the friendly people.

Then it was back to the ship for our final little voyage across the 11 miles separating Mo’orea from Tahiti. Rob and I sat on our deck watching the sunset and the lights of Papeete glowing in the distance. By the time we had finished dinner,

we had docked in Papeete, and we ended our last evening on the ship at a fabulous performance by “O Tahiti E”, a wonderful professional dance troupe from the island - and then packing our bags for our return home.

Saturday, April 22

Happily, our flight home was not until the evening, so we got to enjoy the entire morning exploring the famous Papeete Market, with its acres of pareu, straw hats and baskets, bottles of monoi oil, gorgeous floral bouquets, fresh fruit, and fabulous fish market with rows of bright blue parrot fish. Rob took advantage of his last opportunity to have fresh papaya and, I think, ate about 5 or 6 of them! Then we returned to the ship to gather our things and were driven to our “day hotel” where we got to swim in their very nice pool and freshen up before our evening flight home. Although this hotel was not quite as spectacular as the Intercontinental, we had a very nice room with a great view across to Mo’orea.

And finally, we were shuttled back to the airport where we joined our shipmates for one last time and waited for our night flight back to reality…but oh, it was wonderful paying a visit to Neverland!

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