Thursday, October 18, 2007

Marquesas – Monday & Tuesday

After cruising for 2 days to get from Papeete we finally arrived in the Marquesa Islands on Monday 15 October. The days at sea had been rough, cloudy, rainy really not very nice. I went up to the Lotus Spa & had a massage & body wrap. We mainly spent time exploring the ship, eating & relaxing.

We downed anchor at Nuku Hiva on Monday & it was 29C & sunny. We watched the ship anchor out, all around us people were commenting on the beauty of the island. To me it looked a lot like the area around Banks Peninsula except the foliage is obviously different. There is probably a good reason for this sort of similarity & it is because Nuku Hiva is the result of two volcanoes that erupted. The locals make their living mainly by selling copra & noni. A lot of the women supplement their income by making & selling necklaces made of seeds, selling shells, noni juice & tapa hangings to the tourists that mainly come off the cruise ships. The island does have an airport & at the far end of Taiohae Bay there is the best hotel on the island, Keikahaunui Pearl Lodge. Our cruise ship is the first one that has been in for 4 months & they only get about 6 cruise ships a year.

We took the tender ashore & then walked around through the town of Taiohae. The town really isn't all that big in fact we met some fellow tourists & they asked how far it was to the town & we told them they were walking through it. Really the town consisted of a general store, a bar, a cathedral, a market area, a bank, a primary school & a secondary school. That was it & they were all strung out along about 2kms of the shoreline. We walked the full 3.5kms of the shoreline to a lovely beach where it was safe to swim. The Marquesa Islands are different from the Society Islands in that they are not atolls, they don't have a protective reef from the ocean. This means that the swells straight from the ocean roll on to the beaches. This can make these beaches dangerous for swimming. The swell at Nuku Hiva was quite big but the beach at the end of the 3.5km Taiohae Bay was safe & a place where shells & coral could be found. Unfortunately it looked like the beach had been well & truly picked over for shells though. There is a beautiful cathedral ½ way along the stretch, Notre Dame Cathedral of the Marquesas Islands. It is made of stone from the 6 inhabited islands of the Marquesas. Inside the wood work is ornately carved & the roof is very high with a gap between the end of the roof & the walls to let a breeze flow around. Outside there are a couple of stone sculptures, one of the pope & the other of the Madonna & Child. It really was a lovely setting with an ornate arch marking its entrance. Further along the bay we came to Piki Vehine Pae Pae which is also known as Temehea. In this area there were a lot of stone ti'i. Ti'i are basically stone carvings of heads, in other areas of the South Pacific they are known as tiki.

At 12:30 we were back at the pier where we got into a 4WD vehicle for a scenic drive around the island. All the vehicles on the island seem to be either 4WD or mopeds. Unfortunately our driver, Katrin, only spoke French but luckily the English couple who were with us had some very good conversational French skills so we were able to communicate a bit with her. She lives in the village of Taipivai with her husband & one of her daughters. She has nine children the oldest is around 30 & the youngest is 17. Her husband is a fisherman, he catches the fish & she cleans them all & then together they sell them to the restaurants. When the tourists are around her husband will take them out on fishing charters & she drives tourists around the island sightseeing. She gets 30 thousand SP Francs for every 2 ships that come in that she shows people around. She drove us up to near the top of Mt Muake where we could look down over Taiohae Bay & see how small our ship really is in the scale of things. We were then driven down to the small village of Taipivai where we got to see the church. It is in a nicely landscaped area with neatly trimmed hibiscus bushes growing around the front. Like the cathedral the walls don't meet the eaves so that a cool breeze can flow through the church. Inside the wood carvings of the Madonna & Child & of Jesus were carved with more of the facial structure of the Marqueasan people. The carvings were very ornate. From Taipivai we headed along a dirt road to Hooumi. Hooumi is at the end of 3 inlets that make up Controleur Bay. The road ends at a beach that is sandy & has a lot of black coconut husks, coral & shells on it. I was very lucky to find quite a collection of shells so I've picked them up & will see if NZ Customs will let me bring them back into the country. The local women had a market set up where the selling necklaces, wood carvings & shells. They also had fresh coconut, pineapple & other fruit that we could taste. Unfortunately the prices were very expensive & after we got back in the car Katrin asked us if we had bought anything & then why not. We explained that we thought it was expensive & she quite agreed with us & suggested that the people would have been better to have lowered their prices & taken a possible loss rather than charging such high prices. She explained that most locals don't think that way & think that the tourists have so much money that they won't hesitate to spend it. I had seen the most beautifully carved pendant. It was part of an oyster shell, carved into a spiral. Part of the spiral was made out of the outside of the oyster shell & the other part of the spiral was the inside of the shell. Unfortunately at 13,000SPF it was way out of our price range. Scott told me that it was over $NZ200. There really was no way I could think of paying that much for the pendant despite it being so beautiful. We got back into the car & headed back up the hill where we stopped & looked over another inlet of Controleur Bay called Hakapaa Bay. This inlet was one of the bays that was used in the filming of Survivor Marquesas, now I want to watch that program again to see it all put in the place that I saw. After that it was time to head back to port & to catch our tender back to the ship.

We weighed anchor at 5pm & headed off to Hiva Oa. Nuku Hiva is in the Northern Maquesas at around 7 degrees latitude South. Hiva Oa is in the Southern Marquesas and sits at 8 degrees latitude South. We have now been as close to the equator as I have ever been & as close as we will get on this trip. After a cocktail & some late lunch (5pm) we decided to see if one of the specialty restaurants on board had room for us. The 2 specialty restaurants operate on different days & on Monday night it was Sabatini's night. Sabatini is an Italian restaurant that has lovely roman décor. The menu is interesting in that we only had to choose either a soup or salad & then the main course. All the rest which includes antipasti, pizza & pasta gets delived to you & you can choose to either eat it or not. The antipasti included, chargrilled vegetables, mozzeralla & tomatoes, prosciutto & melon, air dried beef & cheese, prawns, sevruga caviar, crab cake, anchovies & NZ green lip mussels. I then got to choose between a salmon, mushroom, ham & pineapple or anchovy pizza slice. I chose the mushroom pizza & Scott choose the salmon pizza. After pizza our choice of soup or salad arrived. I chose a seafood soup that had NZ mussels, prawns & fish in it. Scott had minestrone soup. It was then time for our pasta. We got potato gnocchi, spaghetti with a tomato sauce & cannelloni. By this time I was really starting to feel full. Then finally our main course came out. I had scallops & Scott had prawns in periperi sauce. Unfortunately neither of us could finish our mains but they were both delicious. I don't think the waiter understood that we couldn't fit anything else in because he came out with a tray of 5 desserts for us to choose from. There was icecream, tiramisu, semolina cake, panacotta & one other thing. We decided in the end to share a tiramisu & have an expresso.

This morning we woke up as we were entering the mouth of Tahauku Bay in Hiva Oa. This island also has steep cliffs & is at the mercy of the sea swells & today we were too. The swells at the moment are 2 to 3 metres which means that loading the tenders with passengers can be quite dangerous. This has meant that for the last 4 hours we have been at anchor but not been able to go to shore. We were informed about half an hour ago that the captain believes the conditions will continue like this so we have now weighed anchor & are cruising slowly around the island of Hiva Oa before heading off on an all day trip south to Rangiroa in the Tuamotus group of islands.

It's just past midday & the captain has told us his midday spiel which included how the saying "no room to swing a cat" came about. In the past the navy used to discipline it's crew by whipping the crewman at fault with a whip made of leather but with knots in it. This whip is called a cat of nine tails. So that all the crew realized what they were not allowed to do the whole crew had to watch this flogging & sometimes if there was a full crew loading there wasn't enough room for the whip (cat) to be swung around without lashing the innocent. So the saying not enough room to swing a cat really refers to a whip & not an animal.

It must be time for lunch & a sunbathe by the pool & then I'll connect up to the internet & send this to the blog.

Brent & James I hope you are having a wonderful time with nana. Good luck for your cricket game on Saturday, Brent. Lots of love to you both from me & dad.

Here is the link for Nuku Hiva slide show

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Friday 12th October – Moorea

I woke up with what felt like an earthquake shaking the bed. It took me a few moments to realize that I was on board a ship & probably not really likely to feel an earthquake. It was just the boat going through some sea that was obviously a bit rougher than before. It was 5:30 in the morning but I was excited to get up & moving. We were due to arrive at Moorea at 8am. Moorea was shrouded in low cloud & mist & other than the palms it looks a lot like the lush green Fiordland area of NZ. The temperature was decidedly warmer than in Fiordland though, about 26C. We went up & had a buffet breakfast & shared a table with the Canadians we saw at Auckland airport. They come from Vancouver & had had a long flight just to get on this cruise.

The Tahitian Princess is too big to actually dock at a wharf at most of the islands so today was our first day of seeing how the tender process worked. Along our side of the ship (starboard) there are two tenders (each holds 120 people unless it is to be used as a life raft & then it holds 150 people) & 2 motorised life boats. The crew unhooked & the winched down both of the tenders on our side of the ship. I think they must have lowered one on the other side too because during the day there was 3 tenders making constant trips from the ship to the wharf. We were supposed to have been having a full on day but we found out that the whale & dolphin watching had been cancelled (never mind we can do that at Kaikoura, NZ anyway). We were still able to have a dolphin encounter in the morning though.

We had to make our own way to the Beachcomber Intercontinental Hotel, so we caught a taxi that sped past roadside fruit & vege sellers & dogs that looked very unloved & possibly disease ridden. We arrived very early for our encounter so we spent time drinking coffee in the bar. It really is a lovely setup there. They have a section of the lagoon roped off & there are lots of colourful fish right near the water edge. They had little boats to hire as well as running whale watching, diving & snorkeling tours. We were really there to see the dolphins so after we checked in we walked to a totally separate area where they have a dolphin area. These dolphins have been given to them by the US Navy. There are 4 dolphins, one female who rules the roost & 3 males. We watched them for a while & then we got into our swim gear & were given water shoes so that we could start our encounter. Just as we started our encounter it started pouring with rain. We were standing hearing about the dolphins & getting soaking wet before we even got into the water with the dolphin. Eventually we got to go in the water. Our dolphin was Aito, which translates from Tahitian into Warrior. He was given the name because he got lost for 48 days out in the islands. While he was out there he lost 80kgs of weight because he didn't know how to live in the wild. This dolphin came from captivity to the centre so he had never had to live in the wild. When he came home they found marks across his back where a tiger shark & tried to maul him. The markings of the teeth are still there on him as are the ones from the sharks that kind of grab hold & twist a little piece out of his body. He lived through all that so he got called Aito. We were allowed to touch Aito everywhere except his face although we did get a photo taken with me giving him a kiss on his nose. It really was fantastic getting to be in the water with him & being allowed to stroke him. All through this time the rain was pouring down. We got out of the water & of course the rain stopped. We dried off, got dressed & watched the dolphins for a while & then went to pick up the photos they had taken of us & Aito.

We caught our taxi back to the wharf to find it bucketing down with rain there so we boarded our tender & headed back to the ship. Apparently the people who did the island tour saw the whole island in the rain, so in some ways we were lucky as we got to see some sunshine. We then stayed on board ship & did a tour of the ship with the entertainment officer, partook in a cocktail & headed to dinner. It was about then that we headed out into the open sea & Scott started to go pale. The boat was not quite broadside on to a lot of the waves, with us taking a NE direction & the wind blowing in an E direction. It has made for a very rocky journey for the rest of the evening & even now we are still rocking about a lot. We have been allocated our table now, & our fellow table mates are from Maloolaba & Auckland. We have a wonderful little Italian man called Roberto as our waiter. He looks & seems to act a lot like Manual off Fawlty Towers. We have not worked out if that is because he is like that naturally or because he knows that we think that & plays up to it. His helper is a man from Portugal. The meal itself was a lot better. Scott didn't eat anything but I had a prawn cocktail, that actually had 5 prawns in it. I followed that up with a seafood turnover that was just beautiful. We left as soon as it was polite & went back to the room. Scott went straight to sleep but I tossed & turned all night. Just as I was getting used to the motion of the ship going one way it would change & rock another & then there were always the funny earthquake like shakes of the bed as well. We woke up at 6:30 to find that the weather is awful, 43mile per hour winds from the East, rain or drizzle & clouds all the time. The temperature is a balmy 26C but with no sun out & the rain it does make enjoying things a bit hard. We have found a chart of our route that we will be taking & on it a weather map, with a satellite picture of the weather patterns in our area. We have found out that we are actually on the outer edge of some kind of depression, cyclone, anticyclone thing so that must be why the sailing is quite rough.

We are at sea until Monday our time when we will be in the Marquesa Island of Niku Hiva. Now I will see if I can get an internet connection to post these to my blog.

I hope you all are having a wonderful weekend & Brent if you are reading this I hope that your cricket game went well.

Here's a link to the photos of Moorea

Thursday 11 October – Catching a Ship

We had dinner on Wednesday night at the Sheraton's Maeve Restaurant. It was 6:30 & it was already dark, but the nightlife was out. On the way to the restaurant we saw a lot of lizards that obviously hide away in the daylight hours. The restaurant sits out over the water & we were able to get a table by a window. There were a lot of fish just swimming in the shallows waiting to get any stray crumbs of bread that might fall their way. The meal was nothing exceptional, I had a prawn risotto which was lots of rice, one prawn & maybe another prawn chopped up in amongst the rice. Scott had a plate of grilled prawns which really was only grilled prawns, no vegetables. We finished off the night at the bar & learnt the Tahitain word for thankyou, maururu.

On Thursday we packed our luggage & then headed to the reception to see if we could get a late check out. We weren't able to get a late checkout because the hotel was full. Instead we checked out & then left our big luggage at reception & then spent a couple of hours by the pool. We decided to have lunch & then catch our taxi to the ship at 1pm. We arrived at the ship slightly after 1pm & checked in. She looks a really big ship but in reality she is one of the smaller ships in the Princess cruise line. We got welcomed aboard & then told to proceed to level 9 & the Panaroma Buffet where we could eat our lunch. If only we had known that before we had paid for lunch at the Sheraton. Our room wasn't ready until 1:30 & then our bags didn't arrive until around 6pm. We have been assigned a room steward who always seems to be out in the corridor everytime we are going out of our room. She is really nice & bubbly & very happy to help us. She comes from Mexico. A lot of the crew working in the restaurant seem to come from either Romania or Hungary. The men working on the tenders seem to come from the Phillipines. They all speak English but interestingly (after staying at the Sheraton where they speak French, Tahitian & English if you are lucky) not many of them seem to be able to speak much French & they don't speak Tahitian. We found out that the ship wasn't actually leaving port until 4:30am so we decided to leave our baggage in our room & to head off into the city of Papeete to see some shops. We came back aboard around 5pm & decided it was time to look around the ship & then went & watched the movie "The Queen" that was playing in one of the lounges.

After the movie it was time to dress in a smart casual attire for dinner in the dining room. Our dinner sitting is the second sitting at 8:15. The first sitting is at 6pm. All of the second sitting people were queuing to get in while all the first sitting people all seemed to be coming out with wine in hand. I thought it was odd until it occurred to me that they had to feed & get the tables cleared ready for the next sitting in the space of 2 ¼ hours. I was hoping that maybe with our sitting being the last sitting we wouldn't be so rushed. What an eye opener it was. We finally get to the front of the queue & are asked if we are just a couple. Yes we are so we follow a waiter around the dining room. The waiter was looking around & trying to find a table where 2 people could sit & then we were put at a table set for 6 people. There was already a couple at the table. They were from Paris (knew of the All Blacks, & wasn't it a wonderful game?) & they didn't know much English. In fact the husband didn't know any English & the wife's English was just as good as my school cert level French. We were introduced to our waiter, Christian from Romania & he had a person to help him, also from Romania. Neither boy could speak French so they really had a hard time trying to get menu orders from the French couple. Christian was waiting on our table (only a 4 as it turned out), a table of 6 & then another French only speaking table of 6. The poor boy had to try & help our French couple understand that just because the menu says, starter, soup, appetizer, salad & entrée( which we found out was a main) you didn't actually have to order something from each section. I asked him what the vegetables were & he said, whatever you want. We finally managed to make sense of the menu & then he got rarked up for not getting the orders in quick enough. He then had a problem trying to understand how our French gentleman wanted his steak cooked. The French man said the term for it in French, it sounded like nothing we know in English so then between me, Scott & the waiter we worked out that a flip on this side & then a flip on that side equals rare. Christian then told me that the chef won't cook a rare steak because by health standards it's not fully cooked. We placed our orders & then next thing we know Christian comes back into the dining room with a huge tray with covered plates on it. That was our first course. Scott & the French couple had soup but mine was salad. The salad was not what I would call a salad at all. It was ¼ of an iceberg lettuce literally the lettuce was cut into ¼ & then ¼ dumped on my plate, no real cutting or anything to disguise that is what it was. I was also lucky enough to get 2 ¼ pieces of tomato. That was my salad. Then no sooner had the other 3 finished their soups & the bowls were whisked away from them & they got their salads, just like mine. I wonder why I was not allowed to wait to have my salad with them? Then no sooner had everyone finished with the salad than the plates were whisked away & the mains arrived. Luckily the French man got the steak cooked to how he liked it. I had a Louisiana crayfish tail. I mean no disrespect to Louisiana crayfish but please if anyone want to try a real crayfish NZ is the place to do it. I got the tiniest little crayfish (probably the size of the NZ Koura) & the taste was insipid, in fact I would say it was tasteless. I have never had anything so pitiful & unfortunately the rest of my dish was rice with a few shrimps (& I mean shrimps out of a can) in it. I was very disappointed. Yet again no sooner had we finished our mains than the plates were taken away. I did have a dessert & I chose a gelato. Yet again another disappointment, it was just 2 small scoops of gelato in a metal dish. There was no attempt to even tart it up with some cherry or orange slice on a stick, or even some green herb (angelica or something). Yet again after finishing the plates were whisked away. It appeared the whole time like there was a race against the clock, it really wasn't at all relaxing. There was no staying & finishing your bottle of wine quietly & relaxing, it was in & out as fast as you can. The waiters work very hard & fast & it would appear that they are under orders to work as fast as possible. Scott & I ended up thinking that the whole dining room episode was actually quite funny & we have now nicknamed the dining room the "beehive" & the waiters the "bees".

We ended the night by watching a Tahitian dancing show. It was quite interesting more from the point of view that a lot of the language used had a very Maori sound to it.

Here's a link to this day's slideshow

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wednesday 10 October – Ground hog Day!

If you have ever seen the movie Ground Hog Day you will realize what I am talking about. We have lived October 10th twice. We spent the first October 10 mainly in airports or on planes & then the second one we have spent in sunny Papeete.

The trip to get here was largely uneventful. We arrived at Christchurch domestic airport after sitting in a queue of traffic. The traffic was because the All Blacks were due to land at the airport around the time we needed to check in. We were lucky enough to get our luggage checked straight through to the Papeete flight so that was one less thing we had to do at Auckland. As we were taxiing to our disembarking spot we saw the Air Tahiti Nui flight arrive so we knew that the flight was at least going to be departing on time. We taxied to our spot & were quite surprised to find ourselves bundled down the stairs & into a bus to get to the airport terminal. I suppose I thought that being the flagship airport of NZ there would be no need to go back to those times in the distant past where you actually had to get off a plane without using an airbridge. Unfortunately we went past the International terminal on the drive through to the domestic terminal so no sooner had we got off our bus than we were walking back the way we came to get to the international terminal. Along the way it started to drizzle but the temperature was quite mild. The Pohutakwa trees along the walk were just starting to come out into flower.

We got to the International Terminal in plenty of time so we managed to grab a panini & cake for lunch before waiting around for our flight. We walked up & down the terminal & took some photos of the Tahiti Nui plane parked off on the tarmac away from the airbridge.

My first thought was "oh more of the same we will have to board via bus & stairs too." Eventually the plane was pushed to a gate & we were able to use an airbridge to get on the plane. It was a lovely plane that was done up in green & blue. The configuration in economy class was 2 4 2 & Scott & I were lucky enough to get one of the 2 on the side. Once we were in the air the air hostess came through the plane & gave each passenger a frangipani flower. It was still closed up but it had the most divine scent even when closed. We then got the arrival cards that have to be filled out for arriving in French Polynesia. The crew messages were each repeated three times. Once in French, once in Japanese or the native Polynesian language (sounds a lot like Maori) & of course last of all it was repeated in English. There were individual screens in the back of the seats so that you could watch a choice of 5 different movies, it looks like 10 but ½ of them are broadcast in French. It really is very interesting that the whole service was bilingual & sometimes multilingual. Sitting in the airport at Auckland I can understand why it is so multilingual. There were people boarding this flight from French Polynesia, Argentina, New Zealand, Canada & America. I have really never noticed so many different languages spoken in one departure lounge before. It really was fascinating. The age range was equally as fascinating, there was really no typical age other than the fact that there were hardly any children, there was a baby though. There were people younger than me that look like they are into adventure, people same age & then the American's & Canadians looked more like the bronzed retired couples that seem to travel the world following the sun. This flight was also heading to LAX after Papeete & then on to New York. I have kept a note of that for future trips that we might do to LAX. The flight to Papeete was 4.5 hours & they served a dinner. It started with a salad, then either a choice of fish or chicken & then a strawberry /champagne mousse. It really was a good flight they only downside was the absolute pain that shot through my head on the descent. It felt like my head was going to split in 2. We landed at the airport & the steps came out to the plane & you guessed it we were walking along the tarmac to get to the terminal. We were greeted by a woman presenting us with a frangipani flower. We then had to stand in a long line for a very long time for the officious little French customs officer to do his job. I worked out that it took 5 minutes for him to process every couple that went through. Of course I didn't know this when I chose his queue I should have chosen the queue that had what looked like the French Polynesian darker skinned people working it. At least they were quick about processing you. We picked up our bags & found it quite surprising that we didn't have to put them through a xray machine & the quarantine people were quite willing to take our word that we weren't bringing any contraband into the islands. We found the Tahiti Tours that were shuttling us off to the Sheraton & this time we were given a frangipani lei. We got to the Sheraton around 11:30pm & after taking a panadol I eventually went to sleep.

I woke up to a new day but the same day, Wednesday 10 October all over again. We went to breakfast at the restaurant that overlooks the beautiful clear blue waters. The rest of the time we have spent lounging by the pool enjoying lying in the sun, having some one run around & get us our drinks & our lunch.

It really has been really peaceful. I did swim in the pool a bit. Interestingly I did a duck dive & that horrible splitting headache thing happened again. I think I must have really hurt my ears when I came back from the Gold Coast a couple of weeks ago. I came back home from the Gold Coast with a cold & ears that wouldn't equalize them selves for days. Scott thinks that I might have some sort of pressure equalization problem at the moment, maybe left over from the Gold Coast trip. The good thing is that we weren't going to learn to SCUBA dive over here anyway so really I won't miss out on anything. Hopefully over the next 14 days the problem will correct itself so that on the descent back home my ears won't be so bad.

Tonight we are having dinner in the restaurant & then tomorrow we go aboard the cruise ship.

For those of you interested in seeing more photos about this day follow this link

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

It’s early but I can’t sleep!

I've been awake since at least 5:45 listening to a noisey bird chirping. Unfortunately I can't get back to sleep because I am very excited. Today I head off with Scott to Tahiti! I am taking my laptop & the ship has a wireless network so I am working out how to send messages to my blog from my Word program. I thought it might be nice to keep the boys updated with where we are. What this program may not be able to do is send photos to the blog so the text might be on the blog before photos appear. This is my first test run so let's see if this has worked. Hopefully if this works I won't run up too big a user bill while on board ship.