Sorry I’ve been a bit lax in putting up new entries. It's just that we are in the midst of a spate of port days and time at this computer is limited. But we'll be heading into a couple of days at sea shortly, and I promise to get all caught up, okay?
We arrived in the South Pacific two days ago, and I’ve been running non-stop ever since.
Our first port was Raiatea in the Society Islands. Raiatea is known as the sacred island because of all the open air temples or “marae” that can be found here. The people of French Polynesia have a sacred past and then, as is today, they are a religious people. Whereas before they worshiped various Gods, such as Oro, the bloodthirsty God of War, today they are mostly Christian and they take their religion very seriously. For example, most stores and restaurants are closed on Sundays so that the islanders in all of French Polynesia can go to Church. And that even includes when a cruise ship is in port – something the peoples of these islands don’t get everyday. In fact, according to our tour guide in Raiatea, they only get cruise ships about once a month, and Holland America only stops maybe two to three times a year. So, giving up tourist revenue on Sundays shows how seriously they take their worship responsibilities. The woman leading our tour told me that if I really wanted to see something truly unique and beautiful to attend a church service on the Polynesian island we would be at on Sunday (we were in Raiatea on a Saturday). Sadly I was unable to do this due to having a tour scheduled, though I did peek in at the Church located right near the pier in Bora Bora on the next day.
The tour I did in Raiatea was called “Raiatea Highlight” and thankfully this tour was done via an air conditioned bus. I learned my lesson when I was here two years ago, touring around in Raiatea’s version of “Le Truck” – a primitive open air bus with no air conditioning or pa system, and hard wooden beaches to sit on. By the time that tour was over, my back was killing me. So this time, I looked for something that would provide the creature comforts that make taking a tour so much more pleasurable.
On this tour we pretty much covered the entire island, which is rather small. The highlight however was a visit to the island’s botanical garden, where we took a “nature walk” through the winding paths that made up this beautiful estate. We got to see the Tiara flower, which is an extremely rare flower that only grows on this island, as well as a variety of other plant and flower species. We also got to see the Nono, a fruit which is reputed to have special curative powers. It sure stinks, though. Since this was only a half-day tour we were not provided with a lunch, but we did have a refreshment stop where a variety of fruits and juices were offered to us, as well as various demonstrations such as tying a pareo and breaking open a coconut in order to enjoy the rich nectar inside.
Certainly this was a wonderful way to spend the day while learning a bit about these wonderful island people. Sadly, while they enjoy life surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery on Earth, they don’t have it easy by a long shot. Their unemployment rate is around 17%, and most of the islanders who are fortunate enough to have jobs work several of them. Our guide, Summer, came to Raiatea from San Diego about ten years ago when she married an islander. They have two children, ages 4 and ten. She told me that while cable television is available on the island, it is quite expensive and only provides for some 25 or so channels. Without cable, they can only get two stations, both of which provide for mostly news and public affairs and broadcast in French. She told me that she has no cable in her house, instead preferring to share family time by doing such things as exploring the natural wonders of their island, as well as playing and working together. She does have a television set that is hooked up to a DVD player for movies, but no cable television hookup.
Summer told me that she and her husband both work multiple jobs, in additional to raising their children. She works full-time at a Pearl Farm, as well as part-time as a tour guide. She and her husband also run a landscaping business together.
While tourism is an important industry on the island, unfortunately, it is not large enough for them to subsist on. That is why the islanders must work in other industries (such as pearl farming) in order to make ends meet.
Pearl farms are big business throughout the South Pacific, and all along the waterfront you can see the little shacks the pearl farmers use in their work. At just about every pier where the cruise ships bring tourists in, there are multiple Tahitian black pearl vendors hawking their wares, including offering free shuttles to their showrooms. For someone who appreciates fine jewelry, the South Pacific can be worth the expense of the trip just to snag some good deals on these rare and beautiful pieces.
After a full day in Raiatea, we sailed onward for a two-day stay in Bora Bora. Here I decided to primarily do snorkeling type excursions, rather than island tours which I did the last time I was here two years ago.
On the first day, I went on a neat excursion to the “Lagoonarium.” This unique facility is located on a remote islet or “motu.” Here they have three separate enclosed pens where one can swim with a variety of marine animals including sharks, stingrays, various multi-colored fish and more. There is also a pen with turtles that we were able to closely observe, but these we could not actually swim with due to their rather nasty habit of biting people.
It was wonderful to swim in these pens, surrounded by all manner of brightly colored fish and big friendly stingrays who had no problem gliding all around the swimmers. Some of these rays were rather large, and we were told that they were also friendly and harmless. Crikey! (Sorry, poor attempt at humor, but memories of the naturalist Steve Irwin were certainly on peoples’ minds – though our guides assured us these rays were harmless and enjoyed swimming with humans.)
In addition to the time we spent at the Lagoonarium itself was the tour we got of the entire island of Bora Bora. We got to see the resort complexes of the major hotel chains, with their rows upon rows of grass huts made into over the water bungalows. Many of these “units” rent for amounts in excess of $1,000 per night, and are part of truly luxury hotels. Imagine ordering room service and having it delivered by canoe! These over the water bungalows are truly an isolated slice of paradise available to anyone who desires some seclusion from the outside world, and has the money to pay for it. The property on which they are built is private and only accessible by boat, virtually guaranteeing at least a modicum of privacy for those staying in them.
Since we were overnighting in Bora Bora, several of us got the idea it might be kind of fun to visit Bloody Mary’s that evening. Alas, those plans were quickly put to rest as we found out that Bloody Mary’s was closed on Sundays. The funny thing about Bora Bora is the fact that we overnight here at all. There really is nothing much to do on the island after dark, unless you want to head to some of the resort complexes for a drink or dinner – something you could just as easily do on the ship. Tenders ran continuously from the time we anchored out in the lagoon, until 11:30 p.m. – and then picked up again the next morning at around 7:00 a.m. until “all aboard” at 5:30 or so.
On our second day in Bora Bora I did an excursion that I did when I was first here a few years ago – the Shark and Ray Feeding. This is a neat snorkeling trip where you swim at a reef that is teeming with a great variety of marine life, including sharks (harmless reef sharks) and stingrays. The guides generously feed them from a large bucket, which brings more and more of them around. I have never swam among so many stingrays in my life. They were coming up between my legs and all around my body. The guides were also showing us how to kiss them and play with them in the water. We also viewed a variety of multi-colored fish which made it look like we were swimming inside of a huge aquarium – the sheer proliferation of colors was absolutely beautiful!
The only problem I had with this excursion is some difficulty getting on and off the boat due to the necessity of negotiating a rather steep ladder, but the guides were ever so helpful assisting anyone who was having a problem. Of course, this didn’t prevent me – klutz that I am – from badly pulling some muscles in my left arm when I slipped coming down on one occasion and fell the rest of the way, almost knocking over one of the guides.
After snorkeling with the stingrays and sharks, our guides took us on a tour of the coral gardens. In order to minimize any damage to the coral, several of us hung onto an orange life ring, while our guides pulled us along. This way we were able to keep our feet floating on the top of the water, rather than stepping onto the delicate coral formations.
I got dozens upon dozens of underwater photos, and these snorkeling excursions made me regret not having an underwater digital camera. I had to use regular disposable film cameras for this purpose, but I will get the photos “developed” onto CD ROM disks.
After our snorkeling excursion was over, we were served refreshments on a nearby motu. Fresh fruit, including bananas, coconuts and a variety of other delicacies were provided, while we had the opportunity to enjoy one last swim in the beautiful warm waters surrounding the motu. We could even see a proliferation of small fish in these waters, and it was truly a paradise none of us wanted to leave.
Once we were returned to the dock, I met up with Trisha and Virgil of Cruise Critic for a visit to the world famous Bloody Mary’s. This restaurant is known the world over for, you guessed it, their Bloody Mary’s. They are also known for good food and many other exotic drinks. The restaurant was named for a woman of the Island, Mary, who chewed on berries that made her entire mouth red. Hence, the name Bloody Mary, and the restaurant that was named in her honor.
I had never been to this place, but had heard a lot of stories about it. The restaurant is unique in that the entire floor is comprised of sand. You take off your shoes when you enter, and the only footwear that is acceptable is perhaps sandals or water shoes, or flip flops. Most people even kick those off as well.
The lunch menu is not terribly extensive, but is filled with all the favorites such as cheeseburgers and hamburgers, seafood items, and a variety of other sandwiches and finger foods. The drink menu is probably the more varied one, and the prices were quite high. I paid over $10 for a rather simple cheeseburger, with fries – and a whooping $15 for a pina colada of average size. I could have gotten the same thing on the Statendam for half that. But, it was probably more the ambience and the experience of the place that we were paying for, and that was certainly worth every nickel. When you enter the restaurant, you pass by a wooden plaque listing the names of many of the “famous” people who have dined there. These include show business, political and other luminaries whose names are pretty much household words. There is also another display inside of dollar bills, signed by many of the patrons who have visited the restaurant over the years. I’d bet there are several thousand dollars worth of these bills on that one wall display.
Another thing not to be missed around the restaurant are the variety of tiki carvings, including the guy with the extremely long tongue. Beautiful flowers also abound the entire property and provide for many wonderful photo opportunities.
But the thing truly not to be missed is a trip to the Men’s Room. Yes, regardless of your sex, you’ve got to stop in there. If you’re a lady, get a guy to take you in. They have a urinal flush handle that is definitely worth a photograph – and, yes, even a fantasy for us ladies.
I’m glad I can now say I’ve been to the famous Bloody Mary’s – and, yes, even sprang $30 bucks for the tee-shirt! But, don’t know if I’d go back there because it was quite expensive. After all, $40 bucks or so for lunch is a bit pricey, at least according to my standards – not to mention the tee-shirt and “Le Truck” transport of $10 bucks roundtrip – but it was certainly worth the experience. Next time I get out this way, though, I think I’d like to try visiting some of the fancy hotel properties around the island. I hear many of them are worth the visit too.
I was so exhausted by the time I got back to the ship this afternoon that all I could think about was a hot shower and a restful nap. This day was particularly full, and I was on the go from early morning almost up to the all aboard time. I was sleeping so soundly that when an announcement came through the pa system looking for the “bosin and sailors” to heave the stern anchor, in my groggy condition, I had to think for a minute “am I the bosin?” – “Naaaaaaah, that’s not my job” – roll over and back to dream land.
Tonight Trisha and I enjoyed a delicious dinner in the main dining room. Our Matri ‘d, Kristin, snagged for us a nice, quiet table for two, where we had a chance for a quiet meal, just reminiscing about the wonderful experiences of the past two days, and the new adventures to come tomorrow in Papeete, Tahiti. Sometimes it is fun to join others at a large table, but we were both very tired this evening and really didn’t want to have to make conversation with others. We just wanted to enjoy a relaxing meal so that we could turn in early. My shoulder and chest were really hurting from some muscles I pulled while getting of the snorkeling boat today, and I just wanted to take something and go to bed – something that will work extra well with the wine consumed at dinner. There’s another full two days on the horizon and I want to be able to enjoy them.
As I sit here in front of this computer at about 2:00 a.m. we are heading toward Papeete and the new adventures that will await us there. Papeete, too, will be an all day/all night port stay. We arrive at around 8:00 a.m., and thankfully dock (no tendering in Papette). We will remain in port until 5:00 a.m. the next morning, when we will move over to Moorea, where we are scheduled to anchor by 8:00 a.m. – obviously Moorea is not very far removed from Papeete if we can make it there in a mere three hours time. We will be doing another snorkeling excursion in Papeete, something called Tahiti Lagoon Discovery, which Trisha promises I will enjoy. Later on that evening, we will visit the grand market, where I am told one can buy just about anything, and probably even grab a bite to eat at one of the “lunch trucks” – or what we refer to at home as “roach coaches,” though I am told they are much more fancy here, some of them even manned by chefs!
So, our adventures in the South Pacific continue, and I’ll be sure to provide another entry in this ongoing travelogue tomorrow. Until then, sweet dreams!