1 November – Travel from San Jose to Papeete
2 November – Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia
3 November – Embarkation at Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia
4 November – Moorea, French Polynesia
5 November – Taha'a, French Polynesia
6 November – Bora Bora, French Polynesia
7 November – At sea
8 November – Aitutaki, Cook Islands
9 November – Rarotonga, Cook Islands
10 November – At sea
11 November – The day that wasn't
12 November – At sea
13 November – Vava'u, Tonga
14 November – At sea
15 November – Savusavu, Fiji
16 November – Suva, Fiji
17 November – Malolo Island, Fiji and Lautoka, Fiji
18 November – Part 1: Disembarkation
18 November – Part 2: Travel from Nadi, Fiji to San Jose
Chris and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary in July of this year. Last year, in anticipation, we decided a tropical cruise would be a good way to mark the occasion. We had been on a Radisson Seven Seas cruise in Italy in 2004 and really liked it. We looked at their website to see if they had a cruise that fit the bill. The first thing we found was that Radisson had changed its name to Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
The second thing we found was that they have a ship called the Paul Gauguin that cruises the South Pacific, mostly around French Polynesia. One of their cruises would start in Papeete, Tahiti and end in Lautoka, Fiji after 14 days. It sounded perfect, and the price was within our budget.
We had worked with a travel agent named Margie Weidert of the Travel Shoppe in Los Gatos, CA on a previous trip, and we had gotten along very well with her. We called her up to see what she knew of this cruise. It turned out she had actually been on it and highly recommended it.
We had a choice of several departure dates, and we chose the November 3, 2007 date, because it fit well with my expected work schedule. Of course, since we were booking nearly a year in advance, my schedule would change; but we had to start somewhere.
Margie booked the cruise, flights and two nights pre-cruise in a luxury resort. And then we had 11 months to dream and plan.
Four months before our departure we were able to request our shore excursion via Regent's web site. We studied our possibilities and selected excursions for nearly every stop. We would be at sea four of the days, so we weren't too worried about making ourselves overly busy.
Our travel documents arrived three weeks before the cruise. Margie came to our house one evening to go over the details with us and give us last-minute advice about our travel. We began setting out clothes and equipment to take with us, and finally packed our large suitcases and carry-on bags on the last two days before we left.
I woke up one minute before the alarm went off at 5:00am. When it started buzzing, I already had my feet on the floor. We were finally starting our dream vacation. I roused Chris and we got ourselves ready to leave. We also made sure all the non-essential appliances were unplugged, turned down the thermostats on the furnace and water heater, and put the refrigerator in “vacation mode”, whatever that is.
At 6:00 I called Mini to make sure she was up and would be coming to pick us up. Heath woke up and answered the phone. He said, “Yeah, she's about ready to leave.” Shortly after 6:30 she was at our door. We loaded our three larger cases and three carry-on bags into her Jeep, and we were off. Traffic was moderate, but moving well. We were at the airport by 7:20am.
SFO wasn't too busy, especially at the American Airlines international check-in. We were quickly checked in, through security, and at our gate nearly two hours before our departure time.
The flight to LAX was on time and mostly uneventful. The one notable bit was when the couple in front of us asked the flight attendant how to get to the international terminal once we landed. She told them and then asked “Where are you going?”
“Tahiti!” they said.
Our ears perked up, and we said “Us too!” It turns out Nancy and Rich Phillips were on the same cruise as us. They were staying at the same pre-cruise resort and everything. On the ship, they would be just down the hallway from our stateroom.
At LAX we had to go outside security to get to the international terminal. There was a long line at the Air Tahiti Nui ticket counter, but the time went fast as we chatted with Rich and Nancy. When we got to the counter, the agent asked to see our luggage claim checks. For a panicked minute, I wasn't able to find them, and thought I might have accidentally thrown them away. Finally, I found them in the inside pocket of my jacket, which I had folded and stowed in my computer bag. Whew!
We were soon through another security checkpoint and waiting at our gate, again chatting with Nancy and Rich. The hour-long wait passed quickly. As boarding started at 1:30pm our hearts sped once again as we realized we were that much closer to our destination in Tahiti.
From the waiting area, we did not board the plane directly. We were packed into busses and driven to a building far out on the tarmac. There we wound our way up a ramp, then out the jet way to our waiting Airbus 340. On this flight, Rich and Nancy were in the seats behind us. It was difficult to talk between the seats, so we had a nine-hour hiatus in our chat.
The Air Tahiti Nui flight attendants were uniformly beautiful. They all wore flowers behind their ears and had on ankle-length flower-print dresses in bright primary colors. They were extremely courteous and attentive.
The flight was, well, a long flight. Even with pleasant flight attendants, two decent meals, a couple glasses of wine and a large selection of movies to watch on seat-back screens, eight and a half hours is a long time to spend in an economy-class airline seat.
The flight was made slightly less pleasant by the woman across the aisle from us. She persisted in standing in the aisle and chatting to us, even when we tried to make it clear we weren't interested in her stories. She was long-winded and talked only about herself, her wealthy son, her Jaguar (she mentioned it twice in case we had missed it the first time), and her slob-ish husband. The merest grunt of acknowledgement was sufficient to keep her talking for another five minutes. When she finally had to get out of the aisle for a moment to let someone pass, I immediately picked up my book and started reading and Chris donned her headphones. That was finally enough of a hint for her, and she sat back down in her seat and stopped the constant chatter. The bad news was that she would also be on our cruise.
We finally landed in Papeete (pronounced PAH-pay-AY-tay) twenty minutes before our scheduled 8:00pm arrival time. French Polynesia is in the same time zone as Hawaii, ten hours earlier than Greenwich Mean Time, and three hours earlier than California during daylight savings time. Our bodies were telling us A) it was nearly 11:00 at night, or B) we had gotten up at 2:00am local time. In any case we were tired.
We were seated near the front of the plane, so we were not too far back in the line for passport control. We were through in half an hour. We claimed our bags and headed to the bus that would take us to the Intercontinental Resort – Tahiti. There was a van parked in front of the bus. We left our luggage to be loaded into it and boarded the bus. We waited for another half hour while the remaining passengers made their way through customs and out to the bus.
As we waited, I wondered if the luggage van wasn't just some brilliant scam to steal lots of luggage from gullible tourists. I hoped not.
The bus finally got under way and we were soon at the resort. Chris and I were first off the bus thanks to an exit door right next to our seats. We felt pretty clever getting to the front of the check-in line. We continued to feel that way as we waited for the party in front of us to check in. Then we noticed there was an RSSC check-in table across the lobby, where everyone else had gathered. We ended up being next to last checking in. Rich and Nancy were right behind us.
Our bags had made it to the resort. No scam after all. We identified our bags and boarded a small cart that took us to our over-water bungalow. Our bags would arrive shortly after us. The bungalow was like a spacious hotel room inside, but it was in its own little building sitting on stilts over the lagoon. There was an arrangement of flower petals on a mat on the bed, and a plate of fresh fruit on the cocktail table. Outside was a small deck with chairs, lounges, a table, and steps down to a swim platform. It was as perfect as we had imagined.
After we settled in and explored the room we gave into our fatigue and fell into the very comfortable bed.
We woke early thanks to the three-hour time difference. We lay in bed as long as we could, but the bright sky outside our window lured us from bed around 6:00.
The view from our deck was wonderful. The clear lagoon water lapped against the pilings and lower deck. Farther out was the deeper blue of a small channel, then the light turquoise of the shallow lagoon. About half a mile away, we could see large waves breaking against the outer reef of the island. On the distant horizon sat Moorea, the neighboring island twenty miles distan.
We sat on the deck for a while and enjoyed the breeze and our view of Moorea. At 6:20, I called room service and asked for an “American Breakfast” to be delivered to the room. If we had ordered the night before, we could have had it delivered in a canoe, but that would have been too extravagant even for this vacation.
Half an hour later, there was a knock on our door, and breakfast was delivered by a pretty Tahitian woman. The tray was big and loaded. We had eggs, sausage, bacon, fruit, bread, juice, coffee, and tea. We would find out the next day that it had been complimentary. We were only charged the 500 French Polynesian Francs (about $6) room service fee.
As we gorged ourselves on our massive breakfast, we talked about what to do with our day. We could tour the island, walk around downtown Papeete, or just take it easy at the resort. We decided we would stay put and be lazy until we tired of it.
At 8:00, we went for a walk around the resort. It is quite large – 34 acres – and beautifully landscaped and maintained. One of the main features is the “lagoonarium”, a large pool of sea water that is separated from the lagoon. It is stocked with fish and even has a couple of stingrays. The resort also has a lot of over-water bungalows. Some are like ours, and others are larger and farther from the reception area.
We ended our tour back at the main building, where the biggest restaurant, Le Tiare, is. The restaurant is covered, but open on the side that faces the lagoon. As we walked past, we heard our names called. We looked up and saw Nancy and Rich waving at us from their table in the restaurant.
We snooped around the resort gift shop, and Chris checked out the Robert Wan Jewelry store. She saw some nice pieces and some ugly pieces. All of them were expensive. We eventually decided we weren't going to spend money there and walked back to our bungalow.
There we changed into our swim suits and headed back up to the main pool. It is just outside the Tiare restaurant and features an artificial waterfall. The water was perfect. Cool enough to overcome the mugginess of the air, but not too cool to lounge in. We played around in the waterfall for a while and then went down the hill to the lagoonarium. We didn't have masks and snorkels, but we still got in.
It was time to test out our new camera – an Olympus Stylus SW770. It is waterproof to thirty-three feet. Since I didn't have a mask, I couldn't really compose the pictures using the camera's LCD viewfinder. I just pointed it at fish and rays and hoped I was getting decent pictures. I took lots, but only a few turned out well.
It was still early, but the sun was getting quite hot and we were paranoid about getting sunburned on our first day. We returned to our bungalow where we showered off the salt water, and then relaxed in the shade on our deck. We read our books, dozed a bit, and read some more.
Eventually, we realized we were hungry. We trekked back up to the Tiare where we ordered Caesar salads with seared Ahi tuna, a Hinano – the local beer – for me and chardonnay for Chris. The salad was excellent. The tuna had been seared, spiced with curry, and sliced. The red, rare meat was tender and delicious.
On our way back to the bungalow from lunch, we passed by a hammock strung between two palm trees next to the lagoonarium. We lay down in it and closed our eyes, enjoying the shade and the breeze. After about twenty minutes, the sun was starting to peak around the palm fronds, and we weren't wearing sun screen. We climbed out of the hammock and continued to our bungalow.
Our deck faced west, and the sun was invading it, too. We took a nap inside the room instead. Around 5:30, the sun was sinking toward the horizon so we moved to the deck again. For the next half hour we watched the sun set and waved at a dozen or more outrigger canoes that rowed past.
We had a 7:30 dinner reservation at Le Tiare, where we would also watch a Polynesian dance show. By 7:00 we were ready, so we walked up. We sat down in the bar to wait for our table. I noticed a large line at the hostess desk where diners were arriving for their 7:00 reservations. It turned out that the best tables for the show went to the 7:00 arrivals.
When the bar waitress came, I ordered a Chimay beer – a French brew I had never tried before. Chris ordered a mohito. The drinks came and were very good. The Chimay had a nice flavor and a bit of a kick with its 9% alcohol content.
At 7:30, we were led to our table. It was at ground level, just below the dance stage and about twenty feet from where the dancers would be. Chris had a great view, but I noticed a video camera tripod between the stage and me. A TV cameraman would be recording the show from there.
We ordered a bottle of white wine and a bottle of water and headed to the buffet. Most of the food was seafood in a wide variety – from whole shrimp and split lobsters to monk fish, salmon and sushi. There was also some red meat, including lamb kabobs. We helped ourselves to fish and salad. Later we made another visit for desserts.
The dance troupe who put on the Polynesian show was excellent. The choreography was exciting and performed well. The women dancers were beautiful and the men dancers were unbelievably buff. The story was a little hard to follow, because the introduction was in French and all the narration was in Polynesian. However it appeared that a woman was separated from her lover, her friends tried to cheer her up, his friends tried to get his attention on other things, and finally they were reunited.
The costumes were colorful and the dancers changed into new outfits for every dance. The show lasted from 8:40 to nearly 10:00. At the end, the dancers came into the audience and selected victims to go up on stage and dance with them. Some of the victims were pretty good, but others were hopeless. Chris and I were just glad they didn't come towards either of us.
After the show we went back to the bungalow and read in bed for a while. We finally went to sleep around 11:00.
We woke up at 6:30am and just sat in bed looking through our deck doors at Moorea and the distant waves crashing on the reef. When we got tired of that, we moved out to the deck, read our books and ate some snacks we had in the room.
At 8:30, we finally got busy. We showered, re-packed our bags, and set them outside the room. With the busy work done for a while, we returned to our deck, enjoying the sound of the water, and the view of the sea. We really didn't want to leave.
At 10:20 we made our way up to the lobby to check out. The line of guests checking out was pretty long, and it wasn't moving fast. In the first fifteen minutes, we saw only two guests check out successfully. After that, it moved a bit more quickly. When we got to the desk, we were checked out in less than a minute. It was there that I discovered we hadn't been charged for breakfast the day before. There was only a 500CFP charge for the delivery.
Our pre-cruise meal had been listed as a brunch, but it didn't start until 11:30. At that time of day, all pretense of breakfast is gone, and it's just lunch. We were expecting a buffet, but instead we were told to order whatever we wanted from the lunch menu. Iced tea and water were included in the complimentary meal.
Chris had a salad and pizza. I had a fish and shrimp platter. We shared the pizza, but ate only half of it. We had gone from starving to stuffed in an hour.
It was just past noon and our transfer to the cruise ship would not leave until 3:30. We decided to kill the time in the shade of the poolside bar. There we enjoyed the breeze, read our books, transferred pictures to the laptop and watched the people walking by. After a while, I ordered a Chimay and Chris ordered a glass of wine. Before she finished her glass, Chris's eyes fell closed and she started dozing. I finished my beer and played Sudoku. When I noticed she was asleep and her wine was getting warm, I finished it for her.
Shortly after 3:00 we went to the lobby. At 3:20 a member of the hotel staff asked us to queue up for the bus. One couple at a time, the ship-bound guests picked out their luggage from the big pile of it in front of the hotel. The bags were loaded onto a truck and we were loaded onto a bus. After a twenty-minute bus ride through Papeete, we arrived at the Paul Gauguin.
While we were still on the bus, members of the cruise staff checked to make sure everyone had their passports and cruise vouchers. Then we exited the bus and were greeted by lovely Tahitian ladies handing out flowers, playing ukuleles, and singing local songs. The ship photographer snapped our picture and we were up the ramp and onto the ship.
We entered the ship on deck three and climbed the stairs to deck five. In the Grand Salon we surrendered our vouchers and passports in exchange for card keys and champagne. A friendly stewardess walked us to our room.
Our stateroom was number 736, a midship stateroom with a balcony on the port side of deck seven. We took the elevator for the first of two times we would use it. We vowed to use the stairs to burn some of the many calories we were going to be consuming. The room was like a smallish – but very nice – hotel room (plan, picture). One wall was mirrored, giving a sense of much more space than was actually available. The room had a desk/makeup table, queen-size bed, loveseat (with a fold-out single bed), cocktail table, and a nicely stocked refrigerator (which would be restocked twice a day by Helen, our stewardess). The room also had a small balcony with two chairs and a table.
After we familiarized ourselves with the room, we headed for the shore excursion desk. Outside our room, we noticed our bags had already arrived, so we pulled them into the room before continuing on. Two different islands had been added to our itinerary since we had made our shore excursion requests back in July. We signed up for excursions on both islands – Vava'u in Tonga and Malolo in Fiji.
While we were in a mood to sign up for stuff, we made reservations for massages and manicures at the spa. I had never had a manicure, but Chris told me I should try it and the staff there highly recommend a “royal hands and feet treatment” for men. I signed up for it. Next we made dinner reservations for four of our nights at the two fancier restaurants. La Veranda and the Pacific Grill require reservations for dinner.
L'Etoile, on deck five, is the larger restaurant and does not require reservations or assigned seating. La Veranda, on deck six immediately above L'Etoile, also serves breakfast and lunch. The Pacific Grill is next to the pool on deck eight. During breakfast and lunch, it is called simple “Le Grill” and features buffets and some cook to order stations.
By the time we got back to the room it was 5:15pm. We unpacked our bags and stowed everything around the room. It had been four hours since our last nap, so we lay down and dozed for twenty minutes. At 6:30 we roused ourselves, showered and dressed for dinner. The Paul Gauguin is a very informal cruise ship, but they still require nice clothes – “country club casual” – for dinner. That meant long pants and an open-neck shirt for me. Chris could wear slacks, a skirt, or a dress.
Once we were suitably attired, we found our way to the piano bar where we enjoyed the patter and playing of a Liberace wannabe who calls himself Kemble. He is quite funny, self deprecating, and he plays the piano well, too. We each had a drink while Kemble played. He ended his set at 7:30, so we headed to L'Etoile for dinner then.
On the Paul Gauguin, diners may choose to sit alone or join a group. We weren't in the mood to mingle, so we requested a table for two. Our table was near the entrance, so we were able to enjoy the constant parade of other passengers as they arrived and left the restaurant. We both enjoyed four courses: appetizer, salad, main course and dessert.
During dinner a wine steward, named Jan Michael, introduced himself and memorized our names. He was quite persistent in his offers of wine and refills, but we managed to limit ourselves. He was able to talk me into a sweet dessert wine. While I enjoyed my wine, Chris ate a bowl of pistachio ice cream.
We were stuffed.
We were also exhausted. The excitement of the day caught up with us early and we went to bed at 10:00. I set my alarm to ring at 6:45am so we could watch our arrival at Moorea the next morning.
The next morning, Chris woke first. She asked “What time did you set the alarm for?” I told her 6:45, and she said “We've overslept. There's sunlight coming through the curtains.” She was right about the sun, but when I checked my watch, the time was only 5:45. The rising sun was directly outside our window, making it look like midday.
We had such a busy schedule planned that we needed a way to keep track of it all. I spent some time before breakfast drawing a simple calendar for the next two weeks showing where we were each day, when we had to meet for our shore excursions, our spa appointments and our dinner reservations. I crossed off Sunday, 11 November, because that's the day we would skip as we crossed the international dateline.
It was still early, and none of restaurants were open yet. We headed up to deck eight and aft to La Palette, where there was coffee and tea set out. There were also breads and pastries, but we weren't yet hungry after our big meal the night before. We took our coffee to the fantail behind the lounge and enjoyed the sight of Moorea approaching.
As we came closer to the island, we headed forward with our cameras to take pictures of the beautiful valleys and jagged peaks that rose above them. We could see a wide variety of trees, from simple palms on the beach to bushy plants on the low slopes to the umbrellas of larger trees higher up.
At 7:00 the breakfast buffet at Le Grill opened. We looked around before settling for cold cereal and juice. It seemed like there were as many waiters as patrons. As soon as we headed toward a table, one of them asked if we wanted coffee. Chris did; I asked for English Breakfast Tea. Both arrived almost instantly.
Most of the tables were full, so we sat at a larger one on the port side with a man in a ship's officer's uniform. The waiter introduced our table mate as the ship's doctor. He had a large bowl of milk in front of him and he proceeded to empty three single-serving boxes of cereal into it. He ate it all as we chatted with him. His job sounded pretty cushy. He has no responsibilities other than the medical center and pharmacy, and he rarely has anything to do there. Mostly, he treats seasickness and goes scuba diving.
Back at the room we let our breakfasts settle for an hour, and then headed to the fitness center. We had been largely blob-like and lazy for three days, and we needed to get our blood pumping. Chris grabbed a treadmill and I claimed the one functioning elliptical trainer. Chris had a nice view out the window to Moorea. I had a view of the wall where a TV had once hung. It wasn't the finest gym we had ever visited, but it felt really good to get our pulses up and break a sweat that wasn't caused by heat and humidity.
Once we had cooled down and showered, Chris went to deck five to shop at La Boutique. I was in a mood to do some writing, so I set up the computer and typed up some of this journal. I was getting pretty far behind already.
An hour later, Chris came back to the room. She wanted me to see some items she liked and help her choose what to buy. She had picked out a pair of black pearl earrings and a beautiful silver choker with a single black pearl on it. They both looked really good on her, so we bought them both.
It was lunchtime. We climbed back up to deck eight to Le Grill. We finished our lunch with plenty of time to make our shore excursion meeting.
At 12:45 we went to the Grand Salon to check in for our shore excursion – Trail of the Ancients. We boarded a “tender” – one of the life boats that doubles as a ferry between the ship and the shore. Soon we were on the island of Moorea, in the tiny town of Papetoai. There we joined Mark Eddowes, an anthropologist specializing in Polynesia. He led us and the other members of the excursion to a colorful bus that would provide part of our transportation.
Mark was fun to listen to. He was a fountain of information about the island, French Polynesia, the history, the people, and the culture. The first stop on our tour was the first landing site of Captain James Cook on Moorea. From there we drove up some very twisty roads to Belvedere Point, which has a terrific view of both of Moorea's bays and its towering, jagged peaks.
After we left Belvedere, we descended part way before stopping at an historical site. The site is a restored marae, an ancient temple. In the times before Captain Cook the priests and leaders of the islanders used the temple as a place to make offerings to their ancestors and ask for their help. Mark pointed out the ceremonial features of the marae and gave us some background on the social hierarchy of the Polynesians. He also told how the missionaries that came to the islands not only insisted on conversion to Christianity, but also forced the converts to burn all the ritual symbols of their old ways. As a result, there is no art or sculpture from those times in existence. The mareas were abandoned and lost to the forests.
From that marae we hiked downhill through fairy-tale woods filled with Polynesian chestnut trees. These trees had “fins” at the base that connected the trunk to the roots, creating thin, tapering walls or scrolls that were covered in a thin layer of moss.
At another restored marae, Professor Eddowes shattered the myth of peaceful, friendly Tahitians. Before Cook's time, the islanders were quite warlike in defense of their islands and made raids on other islands. One of their war traditions was a form of head-hunting, but they took only the jawbones of their enemies.
On one of the steeper sections of the walk, there were rough, uneven stone steps. Chris miss-stepped on one of them and twisted her ankle. After sitting for a few minutes, she was able to continue with almost no pain. After about three miles of walking, we came back to the road where the bus was waiting for us. It took us back to the pier where we boarded the next tender and returned to the Paul Gauguin.
We were sweaty from our hike, but we didn't have much time before there would be a mandatory evacuation drill. Chris managed to grab a quick shower, but I was willing to stay sticky for a while longer. Shortly after 5:00 we went upstairs to the pool bar and got some drinks. About that time the PA announced the lifeboat drill. We were sent back to our staterooms to read the evacuation instructions.
A few minutes after we returned to our room, the ship alarm sounded, and we headed to our muster station, two decks down and immediately beneath our room. We checked in with the muster leader. After a quick life jacket demonstration the drill was over. I headed back to the room for a shower and Chris returned to the top deck.
Chris returned to the room as I finished my shower. We still had plenty of time before our reservation at La Veranda at 7:00. We checked the daily schedule and saw that Kemble was playing at the piano bar again. Chris put on her new jewelry and we headed down. Just before 7:00, we climbed the steps to deck six. La Veranda wasn't open yet, so we milled around with a few other early diners until the doors opened.
L'Etoile offers a different menu every day. In contrast La Veranda has the same menu every night, changing it only once during the two-week cruise. Our menu had a nice variety. I ended up ordering the Mahi mahi, which was very good. Chris selected the rack of lamb. After her first bite an expression of utter bliss came over her face. The lamb was unbelievably delicious. Chris was nice enough to give me a bite. The wine steward offered a white port dessert wine, which I accepted and enjoyed.
The dessert menu listed several odd flavors of ice cream: Chocolate rosemary and Honey balsamic. We just had to find out what they tasted like. Both were excellent. The hint of rosemary in the chocolate made it just a little less sweet. The balsamic vinegar in the honey ice cream gave it a surprising and mild sour finish after the initial honey sweetness. We recommended those flavors to other passengers whenever we discovered they were going to La Veranda.
We finished our meal around 9:00 and headed back to the piano bar. After a few songs, Kemble had to finish his set in order to avoid competing with the main show – a Polynesian dance review by Les Gauguines. We checked out the show, and it was OK, but pretty tame compared to the one we had seen at the Intercontinental two nights before.
After the show, we enjoyed the breeze on our balcony for a while, and then went to bed. During the night, Chris's twisted ankle started bothering her quite a bit. It was swollen and tender and hard to walk on when she got up to take an Ibuprofen. She wondered if she would be able to enjoy our next shore excursion.
When the sun woke us at 6:15 Chris's ankle had no pain and the swelling was down. We were glad we had the “vitamin I” with us.
We went up on deck to get some food at La Palette. We could see the islands of Raiatea and Taha'a and lots of “motus”, small islets built up by wave action at the boundary of the lagoon. We could see Bora Bora pretty clearly less than twenty miles away.
When Le Grill opened we helped ourselves to cereal and juice again. After breakfast we gathered our snorkeling gear and slathered on sunscreen. By 8:45 we were in the Grand Salon once again to check in for the day's shore excursion: Snorkel and Black Pearl Farm Adventure.
Instead of boarding a tender for the trip, we stepped from the ship's dock right onto a large motorized outrigger canoe. There were about twenty passengers on board – most of whom were much older than the two of us. The canoe's canopy covered most passengers, but Chris and I were in the back, out of the shade, and next to the wheel. The pilot introduced himself as Ivan and made the standard guide's joke about it being his first day. Ivan's deck mate was at the front of the canoe, and he was introduced as Dan.
As we motored away from the Paul Gauguin and across the beautiful lagoon, Ivan told us about Taha'a and its main businesses. The biggest business is vanilla. Taha'a is the largest single producer of vanilla in the world. The islanders also harvest coconuts. Ivan told us they have to burn the shells once the meat is extracted. Otherwise the upturned shells fill with water and provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
Taha'a is also a large producer of black pearls. Our first stop of the day was at Love Here Black Pearl Farm. We arrived on a “harvest day”, when the workers remove the pearls that have grown in the oysters and implant a new pearl seed, or nucleus, in its place.
The owner of the farm was a local woman with a thick French accent. She told us about oysters and the process of grafting the nuclei in place along with a bit of transplanted mantle from another oyster. The mantle secretes a thin layer of pearl over the nucleus. Each oyster can produce up to four pearls with the first and second being of the highest quality. If the second pearl isn't very good, the oyster is killed (and eaten).
The process was fairly interesting, but we felt the explanation went into too much detail and lasted too long. We were there for about an hour, including time to shop. One of the necklaces the woman passed through the audience to show top-quality pearls had about 50 pearls on it and a price tag of US$42,000.
After the pearl farm we all climbed back aboard the canoe and motored for about fifteen minutes to a nearby motu. Ivan anchored the canoe in waist-deep water there and we went snorkeling. The water was very clear, and there were lots of coral colonies, but there weren't many fish. After three quarters of an hour we went back to the boat. Shortly after that the rest of the passengers came back, and we motored off again.
We ended the tour on Motu Mahana, a privately owned motu that is leased exclusively to Regent Seven Seas. Ivan told us “mahana” means sunshine. There was certainly plenty of that. The motu had a nice buffet area and bar. Lots of local merchants had set up tables to sell local products, including vanilla and black pearls. We were quite hungry again, so we walked past the merchants and straight to the food.
We feasted on hamburgers, roasted chicken (which was excellent) and even tried poisson cru. Poisson cru is a local favorite. It is raw fish and onions marinated in lime juice and coconut milk. I enjoyed it, but wouldn't want to eat it every day. I prefer my sushi without the coconut milk.
We ate at a table with two other couples – Dixie and Gary and Al and Rob – and enjoyed talking with them. It seems that everyone on the ship has endless stories about past cruises. With just one other cruise under our belt we sometimes feel like pitied newbies. However our tablemates did not make us feel that way. They were all down-to-earth and very nice.
After we had finished eating, Chris remembered she wanted to go to a pareo painting class that started at 1:30. Pareos are the colorful cloths that Polynesians wear as skirts, dresses, swim-suit cover-ups, etc. It was already 1:20, so Chris and I grabbed our stuff and hopped on a tender that was just leaving. As we approached the ship, another passenger heard us talking about the pareo painting class. She said “I thought that was back on the motu.” She turned out to be right. We ended up missing it, but we expected it to be repeated. It wasn't.
We suppressed our disappointment at missing the class and returned to our stateroom. After cleaning up from the salt water and sand, we took our books up to the pool area to read in the shade. It was hot even in the shade, and we had a hard time finding a shady spot that also had a breeze. I got a beer to help keep me cool, and I promptly spilled it on our table, my chaise lounge, and my shorts. A waiter quickly cleaned up my mess and brought me a new beer. Have I mentioned that all drinks were included in the cruise price?
After reading for a while, I couldn't keep my eyes open, but it was too hot to sleep up on deck. I returned to the room, while Chris stayed and read. I napped for about an hour, and then returned to find Chris napping in an area that had become shady after I left.
Chris wanted to stay poolside, but I wanted to check out the internet café on deck five. On the deck plan it is labeled “card room”, but it had been repurposed. There were about eight terminals there. I used one to purchase 250 minutes of access for $50. Then I checked my email via a webmail interface.
Back at the room, I tried my wireless card in my laptop. I discovered I could see the ship's network and was able to connect from our room. That would be much more convenient.
Shortly after 7:00, we changed into our dinner clothes and went to L'Etoile. We requested a table for two again and were seated at the same table we'd had two nights earlier. In addition to the a la carte menu, there was a “Menu Degustation” each night. That menu was the chef's recommendation for a complete dinner. The Menu Degustation looked pretty good to me that night, so I ordered it.
Chris ordered the same salad as I did and veal medallions. My first course was seared tuna, which I love. Chris's salad arrived at the same time, but it wasn't as described in the menu. It was just spinach and tomato wedges. She liked it just the same, so she didn't mention it to the waiter.
My next course was a yummy mushroom soup followed by my salad. It was the right one: spinach with bacon bits and chopped hard boiled eggs. Tasty. The salad was followed by a small vanilla sorbet, which I shared with Chris.
The main course was moon fish. I'd never had it, so I didn't know what to expect. It was served as two round fillets stacked like pancakes on top of potatoes and onions. It had the texture of sea bass, but tasted pretty much like a tender, juicy chicken breast.
Dessert was an array of three different chocolate morsels: chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, and chocolate ice cream. I tried all three, but managed to finish only the ice cream. I was bursting. Throughout dinner the wine steward made sure our glasses were never empty. In retrospect, we should have stopped him sometime around the mushroom soup.
By the time we finished dinner it was after 9:00. We went for a quick stroll around the pool deck and sun deck enjoying the warm wind generated by the ship's speed. At 9:30 we made our way back to the Grand Salon to listen to vocalist Michelle Berting sing songs from the “Fabulous Fifties”. Chris and I were expecting lots of early rock and roll, but the set was skewed towards songs from the likes of Perry Como, Doris Day, and Rosemary Clooney. There were a few early rock songs, but not enough. Michelle was a technically good singer, but she showed no spirit or enthusiasm.
While the band's guitarist played an excellent solo during Johnny Be Good I noticed one of the women in the audience holding her hands over her ears. I guess that's why there wasn't much rock music. Later, I noticed her husband sleeping through the show.
I woke at 6:00 and couldn't get back to sleep. Chris was still asleep, so I slipped out to La Palette and got tea. Dixie (from the Motu Mahana lunch) was there hemming a pareo. I chatted with her and some of the other early birds.
About 6:30, I brought coffee back to the room for Chris. She got up and noticed she was hungry. It was too early for breakfast at Le Grill, so we walked around deck and watched our approach to Bora Bora until 7:00. Once the buffet was open, we got breakfast.
We gathered with other shore excursion tourists in the Grand Salon at 8:45. Soon we were at the pier in the tiny town of Vaitape on Bora Bora. We were guided to a Land Rover that had a canopied bed with padded benches down both sides. We climbed in with six other passengers: Fred, Wendy, and Katherine Salter from LA; John and Marion from Bern, Switzerland; and Marilyn , whose home town we didn't catch. There was also a second Land Rover that took six or seven other passengers.
Our driver introduced himself as Philip and mentioned that he owned a boutique across the road from the pier. He assured us it was the only boutique we would need to go to on Bora Bora. He was a native of Bora Bora but had left the island for his education. He said that most young people do the same thing, but 99% of them return to Bora Bora after seeing other parts of the world.
With introductions out of the way, we headed north along the paved road behind the other Land Rover. After a couple of miles, we turned right onto a dirt track that quickly became steep, rocky, and very bumpy. We all marveled at the state of the road and the ability of the Land Rover to stay upright as we held on for dear life. Phillip told us the road had been constructed by American soldiers in 1942 and hadn't really ever been maintained.
After an eternity, we came to a stop on a rare flat spot. The view was wonderful. We could see Mt. Hue inland and the coastline to our west. After a brief stop for photos, we climbed back into the truck and continued up more horrible roads to a WWII cannon emplacement. The guns were deactivated and left there after the war, since they were hardly state of the art even in 1942. They were left over from the First World War and had been manufactured in 1906.
The guns were installed when 5,000 American soldiers turned Bora Bora into a base for sending supplies to Allied forces fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. The guns were never fired in battle. Before the soldiers arrived, there were only 700 people living on Bora Bora. Talk about culture shock. The U. S. Army did not invade or occupy Bora Bora. They were granted access by the French government in exile. The condition of the grant was that all the soldiers would leave the island after the war. After the war, the soldiers did leave. They left behind the guns, the horrible roads leading to them, and about 150 of their children.
The guns were covered in brown oxidation and white graffiti. Many tourists had commemorated their visits with their names, dates, and occasional messages. From the gun site we could see our ship and lots of motus with over-water bungalows.
After we had taken pictures and listened to the history of the U. S. involvement at Bora Bora, we reluctantly climbed back into the truck for the descent back down that same crappy excuse for a road. Even though it was horrendously bumpy, we laughed all the way.
We drove on pavement through a couple more small towns as Phillip expounded on Bora Bora culture, geography, and history. One surprise was the presence of graves in the front gardens of private residences. It is fairly common to bury family members at a family home.
Our next stop was at a pareo-painting studio called Paarara Mountain Artist. The studio and the artist's home were in a scenic valley surrounded by jagged, green peaks. The artist was a beautiful Polynesian woman who hand-painted pareos in bright, saturated colors. Chris watched a short demonstration of the technique, and then the artist had to get busy helping shoppers buy her pareos. They were priced from $25 to over $100.
After another steep ascent to an overlook and subsequent descent, we were back in Vaitape. We had driven all the way around the island. After Phillip dropped us off at the pier, Chris and I walked across the street to his boutique. It was a fairly standard tourist shop with logo-ed clothing, tikis, and jewelry. We hadn't brought any cash or credit cards with us. We would have bought something if we had, because we had $30 worth of francs. We were about to leave French Polynesia, so there would be nowhere else to spend them.
We took the next tender back to the Paul Gauguin. It was nearly 2:00, and we were starving. Le Grill would stop serving lunch at 2:00, so we needed to hurry. We did stop by our room to wash our hands and faces. When we were done, the washcloth was brown from the dust that had settled on us.
We managed to make it to Le Grill in time to grab some lunch. Afterward we went back to the room, cleaned up properly and napped for an hour.
At 4:00 we went to a lecture given by a local oceanographer who is working to save the coral reefs. Coral reefs are disappearing due to global warming and through damage done to them directly by humans. He explained how his organization works with local resorts to plant new coral in natural and artificial reefs in the resort waters. The resorts fund the work because the reefs draw fish that the resort guests like to see. The organization also works to make the public more aware of how fragile the coral is, so they won't stand on it or use it as an anchor for boats.
Near the end of the lecture, the PA system interrupted the speaker to announce a Polynesian dance on deck eight. The speaker took that as his queue to wrap up the presentation. He was also concerned about missing his ride back to the island from the ship.
After the lecture, we grabbed our video camera went to watch the dancers. The show was nowhere near as elaborate as the one at the Intercontinental, but the dancers looked like they were having great fun. Their stage area was much too small, but they adapted and put on an enthusiastic performance.
We returned to our stateroom and Chris ordered a bottle of wine from room service. It arrived within minutes. As we drank a glass, we reviewed the photos we had taken so far and watched the video tapes we had recorded.
I filled out a room-service breakfast request for the next day. We had been waking up very early, so I requested delivery between 6:30 and 7:00.
By dinner time, the Paul Gauguin had raised anchor and was heading at full steam out to the open ocean. We were heading to the Cook Islands and would be at sea all the next day. With the engines going at speed and open water swells, the ship was rolling more than usual. We weren't alone in our inability to walk in a straight line as we went to dinner.
Dinner was at a group table at L'Etoile. We were seated with Pat at Tom from Cape Cod. We had met them on one of our visits to the piano bar. Soon the host filled out our table with a third couple. Bob and Sondra were from Laguna Beach. He's an ophthalmologist, but that's about all we learned. He was not chatty. His wife was nice, though, and we enjoyed talking with her, Pat, and Tom.
We finished dinner around 9:00 and accompanied Pat and Tom to the piano bar where Kemble was leading a sing-along. The songs were pretty old and none were our favorites. But Chris had a great time chatting with Pat. Tom knew all the songs and sang along with most of them. I sipped my Scotch and enjoyed the opportunity for people-watching.
We didn't get back to our room until around 11:00. Our heads were spinning from the motion of the ship, the pre-dinner wine, the dinner wine, and the after-dinner drinks. That 6:30 breakfast order was looking like a mistake, but the request had already been picked up, and we weren't thinking clearly enough to call room service to change it.
The 6:30 breakfast delivery wasn't a mistake, but all that wine was. I woke up to the alarm at 6:15 with a combination hangover/sea sick feeling that wasn't good at all. Chris wasn't feeling too bad. We managed to get up and straighten the room a bit in preparation for room service.
Breakfast arrived promptly at 6:30, and the waiter set it up for us on our balcony. We had eggs, bacon, toast, coffee, and tea. It was quite good, despite the shabby way I felt. I felt better lying down than standing or sitting, so I went back to bed while Chris headed out by herself. I ended up sleeping until 10:30. I felt better then and worked on our trip journal for a while.
While I snoozed, Chris worked on a jigsaw puzzle that had been set up in a corridor on deck six. It was a pretty difficult puzzle. It depicted two dolphins leaping from water, but most of the picture is a blank sunset sky that gradually shifted from yellowish-gray at the bottom to brownish-gray at the top. As Chris worked, many people stopped by to comment, but none of them helped her with it. She managed to get the dolphins and the water completed, but the sky was slow going.
At noon Chris came back to the room and we went up to Le Grill for lunch. I just had pasta, but it wouldn't settle. I picked up some Dramamine at reception and took a capsule. I felt much better after about half an hour, but I got drowsy again. Chris went back to her puzzle, and I typed some more.
At 1:45 I put away the laptop and joined Chris at the puzzle. A few minutes later we walked up the hallway to the spa for our 2:00 massage appointments.
The massages were heavenly. We both chose hot stone massages combined with Swedish massage. We each had a private room and our personal masseuse. The masseuse placed the hot stones on top of a towel on my back and then started massaging my legs. She used two warm, smooth stones to knead my muscles. The sensation felt like she was pushing a wave of hot oil along my legs and it wasn't cooling off. I'd never felt anything quite like it. From my legs, she moved to my shoulders and back, then to my arms. When I turned over, she placed more warm stones on my chest and one under each shoulder. She then kneaded the fronts of my legs, and gently massaged my face and scalp. The 50 minutes passed far too quickly.
Chris's experience was nearly identical to mine, but it seems her stones were hotter. She needed a second towel under them. The ones under her shoulders actually left mild burns on her shoulder blades. I noticed the marks later in the afternoon, but Chris said they didn't hurt. We went to the spa to see if they could do anything about the marks. They put some kind of oil on them, and they dissipated over the course of the evening.
After my massage, I returned to the room where I ran a hot bath. Chris took her book up to the poolside. While she read, I had a good, relaxing soak, feeling less seasick every minute.
At 4:00 Chris returned to the room and showered. That's when I noticed the burn marks. On our way to the spa, we passed some of the Les Guaguines women setting out pareos and appliquéd cloths in the corridor. Chris looked through them and asked prices. They were very reasonably priced, so she bought two pareos and two decorative pillow covers.
After the short stop at the spa, we climbed back up to La Palette for tea. We each had some herbal tea and finger sandwiches. I continued to feel better.
At 6:00 we went to the Grand Salon for a talk given by Mark Eddowes on Polynesian culture at the time of Captain Cook's voyage.
We had a light and quiet dinner at a table for two at L'Etoile. We were both very tired from our long lazy day. We skipped the piano bar and the night show – a clarinetist named Pete Neighbour. We went straight back to the room, watched about twenty minutes of The Incredibles DVD and went to bed. By 9:15 we were both fast asleep.
I woke up feeling much better at 6:15. I let Chris sleep while I retrieved two cups of coffee from La Palette. We relaxed on the balcony and drank our coffee until 7:30, when we went out for breakfast.
We had been eating breakfast at Le Grill, but it was also served at La Veranda. We thought it was time to try a new place and let ourselves be waited on. La Veranda has both a buffet and table service. We ordered from the limited menu at the table, but we still had to go to the buffet for juice and toast.
Our excursion for the day was a Lagoon Tour and Beach Break. We boarded the tender at 10:00 and went ashore. From there, we boarded a motorized, catamaran outfitted like a pontoon boat. There was a covered deck with chairs and a second level where we could stand for a good view of the lagoon. The “tour” part was disappointing. The pilot did not tell us anything about the lagoon or the island. In fact, he didn't talk to the passengers as a group except to introduce himself as “Captain Incredible.”
The lagoon was quite beautiful, with every possible shade of blue and turquoise. We motored past quite a few motus that looked like postcard images with their white beaches and palm trees. After about forty-five minutes, we dropped anchor within site of One Foot Island, a tiny motu at the southern end of Aitutaki's lagoon.
The captain told us he would blow a conch shell when it was time to return to the boat in about an hour. Everyone donned their snorkel gear and splashed into the water off the back of the boat. There was shallow water on one side where the water was only waist deep. On the other side of the boat was a deeper channel with water about twelve feet deep.
We swam over to the channel and enjoyed the coral and colorful fish. There were even a couple of giant clams that had embedded themselves into the coral. After about twenty-five minutes, Chris swam to the shallow water to see the sights there. I stayed in the channel, but after ten more minutes, I heard the captain blowing the conch shell. We had been in the water only a little more than half an hour, but I started swimming back to the boat.
As I got closer, I could hear the captain shouting something and pointing out into the channel. He had spotted a moray eel, and was bringing everyone into the shallow water for their safety. Moray bites can be nasty, and he wasn't taking any chances.
I joined Chris in the shallow water for the rest of the swim, then everyone boarded the boat again and we motored the rest of the way to One Foot Island for lunch and more swimming. There was a geocache on One Foot Island and I was looking forward to finding it. We looked for it before lunch and after lunch. We searched for a total of about an hour, but we never found it. Chris joked that it was probably in one of the hundreds of coconuts that littered the area, but we didn't seriously consider that possibility. Later, when we read the logs of previous cachers who found it, we realized she was almost certainly right.
The excursion included a lunch of fish, fruit, and vegetables. There was a cash bar, too, but we hadn't brought any cash with us. We ate lunch with a young couple we had talked to a few times. Steve and Marlene were from Stockton and were celebrating their tenth anniversary on the cruise. We also chatted with the Salters who sat right behind us on the lagoon boat.
After lunch and geocache-hunting, we explored more of the picturesque island. There was a striking young blond woman on the excursion that we didn't remember seeing on the Paul Gauguin. At one point we saw her posing for a professional photographer among the palm trees. We figured she was a model and didn't mingle with the rest of the passengers.
We stayed longer than we expected to on One Foot Island, so we were almost an hour late getting back to the Paul Gauguin. We had some tea and sandwiches in La Palette before we showered. While at tea, we talked with the Salters again and we all agreed we should have dinner together. We decided on Monday night.
At 6:00, we attended a lecture on the European exploration of the Pacific in the 17th and 18th centuries. The topic was pretty interesting, but the speaker had a dry delivery that made the talk a little boring.
Before dinner we went to La Palette to listen to a jazz trio made up of part of the ship's band, Orion. The music was fantastic and much more animated than most of the music we had heard so far on the boat. As we listened, we realized the bass player was the beautiful blond “model” from the island.
We ate dinner at a group table at L'Etoile. Our tablemates were John from Sidney, Australia; Rosie and Warren from Tucson, Arizona; and Pete Neighbor a professional clarinetist who was onboard as an entertainer. Pete is British and he and I had a great time talking about British comedies. He was surprised to find a fellow Monty Python fan sitting next to him. While I talked primarily with Pete, Chris chatted with Rosie, Warren and John. Pete and I joined their conversation occasionally.
We didn't finish dinner until after 9:00. We stretched our legs with a walk around deck eight, watched some more of The Incredibles and went to sleep about 10:15.
We were definitely in a routine: Up around 6:00, coffee from La Palette, and then breakfast at Le Grill.
This was our second of two stops in the Cook Islands. The Cooks are a territory of New Zealand, so everyone speaks English. That fact makes shopping and getting around easy.
At 9:00 we boarded a tender to take us to shore for our day's excursion. As we entered the harbor, we noticed a big black-hulled ship at the dock with “US COAST GUARD” painted in big white letters. There was a plaque on the bridge that said “KUKUI, HAWAII”. We never did fund out what it was doing there.
Our tender was met at the pier by a traditional Tongan warrior who danced and blew a conch shell. He was accompanied by a local drum band. Half a dozen crafts booths were set up nearby. We made our way ashore and found the driver who would take us to the local airport for our “Rarotonga by Air” excursion. We were also joined by Alan, who had also signed up for the air tour. Our ride was in the nicest land vehicle we had ridden in so far: an air conditioned minivan.
The ride to the airport was only about five minutes. Once there, we checked in at the Air Rarotonga office and waited a few minutes for our pilot. He led us out on the tarmac to a four-seat Cessna plane. Chris and I climbed in the back to give Alan the right-hand front seat. He was tall and older, and we figured he would have an easier time climbing into the front. He struggled for a while with the step and the seat, but he just didn't have enough balance and leg strength to get himself in. He finally managed to get into the back seat on the left side, squeezing Chris against her side of the plane. I sat in the front.
The flight was short, but we circled the whole island and enjoyed looking down on the lush mountains, stone spires, and turquoise lagoon waters near the white beaches. I took lots of pictures. One of the most memorable features was a tall stone spire almost exactly in the center of the island. It stood out dramatically from the surrounding forest and appeared to be several hundred feet tall.
Thirty minutes after we walked out onto the tarmac, we re-entered the small terminal. Our driver wasn't around, so Chris shopped at a kiosk selling local artwork. I found an ATM and got NZ$50. By that time our driver was waiting, and we were soon back at the pier.
We took a look at the crafts booths there, where Chris found a belt made of black cords and oyster shells. Each shell was natural on one half of the shell back and polished on the other half, giving a black-and-white effect. The woman at the booth quoted a price, then immediately lowered it. She did the same with some oyster shell pareo buckles. Chris bought the belt and three buckles. The woman threw in a polished spiral shell for free.
We chatted with the woman and her nine-year-old son for a while. She told us her son would be “running away” to New Zealand the next year. Like many ten-year-olds, he would be leaving Rarotonga to go to school. He would live with his aunt/godmother whenever school was in session. We asked them about the rock spire we had seen. They immediately knew what we were talking about and told us it was called “The Needle.” Many locals hike up it, but the woman hadn't ever done it.
We checked out the rest of the booths, but the only other purchase was a fake hibiscus flower for Chris to wear behind her ear. We considered going to the beach, but the bus fare was more than the cash we had left. We took the next tender back to the Paul Gauguin.
After lunch, Chris took her book to the pool deck and I took the laptop to La Palette. She read and napped while I wrote up some of the previous days' journals. At 4:00, Chris headed to the spa for a manicure/pedicure. I retrieved the video camera from the room and went to the pool area to watch and tape a local dance troupe.
I went back to the room after the dancing. Chris joined me there after her spa appointment.
At 5:30 we went to La Palette to listen to jazz again. At 6:00, we attended a lecture by our favorite professor, Mark Eddowes. Once again he delivered the talk without referring to notes and using a minimum of slides. He told us how the South Pacific islands were settled: first via land bridge during the ice age, and then island to island to the end of the archipelago that includes New Guinea, the Solomans, and out to Samoa. After that, there was vast ocean, and it was a millennium before courageous Polynesian navigators took off to settle Fiji, then Tahiti, the Cook Islands, Hawaii, and Tonga.
We had reservations for dinner at the Pacific Grill at 7:30. We were shown to a nice table, and ordered a meal we enjoyed very much. Jalfonso, our waiter, was excellent and even called us by name throughout the meal. We finished dinner around 8:30 and tried to find some live music. There was none to be had, so we went back to our room. There we relaxed on the balcony for a while, then watched a movie. We were asleep by 10:00.
We went through our normal morning ritual. At breakfast, I decided on eggs instead of cereal. While I waited for my eggs to be fried, I looked around the buffet. There behind the oatmeal was something that looked like grits. I knew it couldn't be, but I got a bowl of it anyway. It turned out to be cream of wheat, which was close enough to grits for me. Chris also had a hot breakfast with an omelet.
Chris went to the gift shop after breakfast. While she shopped, I let my breakfast settle for an hour and then worked out in the fitness center. As I was walking back to our room, I passed La Boutique and saw Chris inside. Our friend Rich was standing outside waiting for Nancy. We talked for a minute about how much time our wives could spend shopping.
Back at the room I showered and dressed. I hung the “Service” tag on our doorknob so Helen would know we were out and went back to La Boutique. Chris was still there. I killed time waiting for Helen to finish our room by taking a walk around the ship. It's not a large ship, so the walk didn't take too long. By the time I passed La Boutique again, Chris was no longer there. She had moved down the hall and was working on the jigsaw puzzle.
Around 10:45, the room was ready. I spent the next hour writing this journal. I would have used La Palette, but there were activities planned for that room throughout the morning.
We had a light lunch at Le Grill. Afterward, I started cranking on the journal again while Chris swam and read by the pool. While she was there one of the galley staff put on an ice carving demonstration. Afterward, there was a fashion show featuring Les Gaugines and dresses from La Boutique. Chris video-taped both events.
While Chris was busy by the pool, I headed to the spa for my first-ever manicure/pedicure. Ivy, the manicurist trimmed my nails, pushed back my cuticles, and buffed the tops of my nails. She didn't recommend a top-coat of polish, and I agreed with her. She went through the same process with my feet. All my nails looked their very best. However, I'd have to say that I would rather have had a massage than the “Royal Hands and Feet” treatment.
After a brief visit with Chris poolside – where she was waiting for the fashion show – I employed my newly manicured fingers to continue typing this journal. I was slowly catching up.
After the fashion show, Chris came back to the room and lay down for a nap. I listened to my iPod through my noise-cancelling headphones while I typed. Around 4:30, Chris got my attention to tell me someone was knocking on the door.
I answered the door to find a room service waiter there with a cart. The cart held a tray with a small plate of hors d'oeuvres and a cake with “Happy Anniversary” written on it. He also had a champagne bucket with a bottle of champagne in it. Unbeknownst to us, our friends Bruce and Michelle had sent the champagne to us. There was a card with their greeting on it and another card signed by the ship's captain. We were speechless.
I tore the foil and cork cage from the champagne bottle. I left it in the ice while I threw them away. While my back was turned, I heard a “pop!” from behind me. The champagne had opened itself. Fortunately, the foam that came from the mouth of the bottle drained harmlessly into the bucket of ice. We drank champagne and ate hors d'oeuvres on our balcony. We left the cake for later.
At 5:30 we went to another lecture by Mark Eddowes: Mutiny on the Bounty – What really happened? The true story is quite different from the story told by the various movies of the event. Captain Bligh wasn't overly tyrannical or sadistic. Fletcher Christian was a spoiled nobleman who didn't like being berated by a commoner captain. While the Tahitian people did welcome the crew at first, the ship overstayed its welcome. Tahitian women seduced the sailors, but they would never have chosen them as husbands the way the movie makes it look. (Compare your typical, unwashed 18th century English sailor to a strapping Polynesian warrior. Which would you choose?)
We really enjoyed the lecture, delivered during 90 minutes without notes and – this time – without even slides. Mark's knowledge of the material was truly impressive.
We ate dinner at a group table in L'Etoile. This time we lucked out. We ended up with two really great couples: John and Ann from Minneapolis and Dixie and Gary. We had eaten lunch on Motu Mahana with Dixie and Gary. Chris had met Ann in La Boutique earlier in the day, but we hadn't met John before. We had great fun talking until we all realized we were late for the 9:30 show in the Grand Salon.
We rushed to the salon to listen to a performance by Pete Neighbour, our clarinetist tablemate from two nights before. He was excellent and the Orion band that backed him up was also very good. We had a great time.
After Pete's performance, we went to the piano bar, but the music wasn't our style. We went back to our stateroom at 11:00 and shared our “Happy Anniversary” cake. Before we knew it, it was almost midnight. We were about to transition from Saturday night to Monday morning.
For us, there was no Sunday, 11 November 2007. The ship's clock leaped forward twenty four hours at midnight to Monday, 12 November 2007. We did not pass Go. We did not collect $200.
By my reckoning, we didn't cross the date line until after 7:00pm, but it's easier to skip a whole day than to go from the middle of Sunday to the middle of Monday. Additionally, we should have gained an hour as we went from GMT minus 10 hours to GMT plus 13 hours. That adjustment wouldn't occur for the ship's clock until the next day.
Once again, I was up at 5:45am. The sunrise looked very nice from La Palette, so I went back to the room and got my camera. After getting some pictures, I took a cup of coffee to Chris and got her up.
Before we had a chance to get breakfast, Chris went to a Pilates workout in the Grand Salon. Claudia, our cruise director, led the session, and there were about seven other women in the group. After Pilates, Chris headed to the fitness center for a cardio workout.
While Chris was working out with Claudia, I had a light breakfast and let it settle. I went for my usual cardio workout at the fitness center around 8:30. As I was finishing up, Chris came in. While she continued her exercise, I showered and took the laptop to La Palette to catch up on this journal.
At noon, I found Chris near the pool and we proceeded to La Veranda for lunch. Afterward, I went back to typing and Chris went to the pool deck to read.
While she was reading, the staff cleared the pool area and began setting up games around the perimeter. She made a quick trip to the stateroom to get the video camera. The members of the ship's staff were setting up a “Tahitian Country Fair”. Each department – galley, housekeeping, entertainment, travel, etc. – set up a different game. When everything was set up, Chris came to La Palette to let me know I was missing the fun. I grabbed my camera and joined her near the pool.
What a crowd! After nearly two full days at sea, the passengers were ready for a diversion. All the games were pretty simple, and nearly everyone was able to win the vouchers that were given out as prizes. Each voucher gave the winner a chance in a drawing for real prizes.
At first Chris was just operating the video camera. Pretty soon, though, Helen, our stewardess, talked Chris into trying the housekeeping game – a magnetic “fishing” game. That was all it took to hook Chris. She went on to play all ten of the games and ended up with more nearly two dozen vouchers. She was only wearing her bathing suit and a wrap with no pockets, so she stuffed the vouchers into the top of her suit.
I spent most of my time taking pictures, but I did manage to win a roulette-type game for one voucher. Many of the passengers showed their competitive side, and it was lots of fun. There was even an ice cream social, but Chris and I were too busy to build a sundae.
Even with all those vouchers, we didn't win any of the drawings. While we were listening for our stateroom number, Dixie invited us to go to the Wheel of Fortune game at the piano bar. It would start within half an hour. Chris changed out of her bathing suit and we headed to the piano bar to check out the game. We couldn't imagine how it would be played without Vanna White and the rotating Wheel.
We soon found out. Michelle, the social director, handed out printed pages for the game. There were about ten rounds, and each round had a clue – such as “Movie” or “Place” or “Phrase” – and a set of blanks for the letters. Each blank was numbered. The participants divided into teams of up to four players. We teamed up with Dixie's husband, Gary, and a woman we hadn't met before, Carolyn.
As team #1, we went first in the first round. We guessed a letter. If that letter was in the answer, Michelle told us which blanks to fill in with that letter. We could then guess another letter. If we guessed a letter that wasn't in the answer, the next team got to guess. At any time, any player could yell “I've got it!” After that, everyone had 10 seconds to solve the puzzle and raise their hand. The first team to have the right answer got two points. Other teams that got the answer each got one point.
Our team got two points for each of the first two rounds, and then we hit a drought. In round six, though, we got the answer without any letters being guessed (“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”). Something about the blanks just spoke to me. We ended up with eight points, which was enough to win the prize: four Regent sun visors. Yippee!
Exhausted from our mental exertion, we went back to the room for a quick nap, and then dressed for the evening.
We attended another lecture by Mark Eddowes. He talked about cannibalism and human sacrifice in the South Pacific. It has not been practiced since the missionaries came in the 19th century, but it was common before then. One point that Mark stressed was that humans were not a food source. Cannibalism was a ceremonial act, not dinner. The basic idea was that the power of one person could be transferred to another by consuming that person's flesh. In the same way a person's power could be transferred to the gods of the earth or sky by sacrificing them and allowing their blood to seep into the earth (for fertility) or fall from their bodies like rain (to strengthen the sky god).
Once again, Mark delivered the ninety-minute lecture without referring to any notes or relying on visual aids. His audience was enthralled. A few people left when he started talking about some of the more uncomfortable ways in which people had been killed. However they may have simply been leaving to make their 7:00 dinner reservations.
We had some time before our own dinner plans, so we went up to La Palette to listen to the music. All the tables were occupied, so we sat down with a man who was by himself. After a few minutes, we realized he was John, from Bern. He and his wife had been on our Land Cruiser off-road adventure with us on Bora Bora. We chatted with him for a little while. While we were talking, his wife, Marion, joined us. By that time it was nearly 7:30, and time for us to find the Salters and go to dinner.
We found Fred and Wendy outside the piano bar. Katherine showed up moments later, and we all walked to L'Etoile. We were shown to a table near the entrance. We joked about whether we could eat meat after Mark's presentation, but we all ended up with red meat on our plates. Greg, Wendy, Chris and I all had the rack of lamb, and Katherine got a nice, rare rib-eye steak.
We enjoyed the good food, the wine, and the easy conversation. By 9:30 we were all full and were starting to fade. We said our good-nights and called it a night.
Back at the room, Chris and I got ready for bed and finally finished watching The Incredibles. We were changing to a new time zone the next day, so we set our clocks back an hour. When we turned off the light, it was still only 9:30.
We both woke up early and went to La Palette for coffee. We watched as the Paul Gauguin threaded its way through a narrow channel to the port of Neiafu, Tonga on the Vava'u island group. We got the feeling that not many cruise ships visited the area. As the captain carefully navigated the channel, the locals came out of their homes and waved at us. We waved back.
Even early in the morning, the weather was hot and muggy. I checked the weather forecast in the reception area. It predicted a uniform 82 degrees Fahrenheit with 85% humidity. And a chance of showers.
After breakfast we boarded the tender for our shore excursion, “Scenic and Cultural Vava'u”. At the dock we passed through an informal immigration checkpoint (just a gate with an attendant) and were loaded onto a small bus. Our guide was a local woman. We would find out later she had seven children and a young granddaughter who lived in Salt Lake City, Utah. She also sold hand-made black coral jewelry, and Chris bought a piece from her for US$5.
Our first tour stop was a college atop a hill overlooking Neiafu and the harbor. When we arrived, though, the gate was locked. After a quick check with a nearby student, our guide found out we couldn't go on the grounds because the students were in the middle of exams. The driver backed our bus down the hill and we continued on.
As we drove we passed ramshackle houses, all of which had lines full of drying clothes. The front yards were littered with toys and appliances. Many of the houses had small gardens or pigpens. We were taken aback by the apparent poverty of the general population. However, the people were friendly and seemed genuinely happy and healthy. The decay just seemed to be part of the environment.
Our next stop was another hilltop viewing area. It was at Prince Ngu H ospital, which had been built with Australian help. From the lawn of the facility we could overlook the whole town of Neiafu. The hospital rooms had doors that opened onto a porch that encircled the building. The porch was separated from the lawn by a fine-mesh fence. We learned later the fence was there to prevent family and friends from giving outside food to the patients, so the doctors could monitor their diets. Our guide said we could go inside the hospital, but neither of us felt comfortable invading the privacy of the patients. Instead we took pictures and talked with the guide.
After about twenty minutes at the hospital, we loaded up onto the bus again and drove back through Neiafu. We stopped at a memorial park where our guide wanted to give us some history, but the gates of the park were locked. After some more driving, we ended up on the far side of the island for tea and a dance demonstration.
It was good to get off the bus. Even though it had open windows, it was uncomfortably hot when we weren't moving. We were glad for the overcast sky that at least kept the sunshine from making things even hotter.
Our abbreviated tour through Neiafu had apparently taken less time than it was supposed to. When we arrived for the dance demonstration and tea, very little was ready for us. There were chairs, benches, and tables under a large marquee, but the tables were empty. We also noticed that the dancers were still in their street clothes.
Shortly two local women came out and began demonstrating local crafts. One of them beat mulberry bark against a log to make tapa cloth. Another pulverized a local root to make kava powder. Kava is used to make an intoxicating drink that is very popular with many South Pacific adults.
While the demonstrations were going on, other men and women set up tea. There was hot water for steeping tea bags or making instant coffee. There were also plates of fresh fruit, bread, and cakes. It was all yummy.
Ordinarily, the dancers and musicians would have been high-school-age kids. Unfortunately, those regulars were in school taking exams. In their place were the junior dancers and adult musicians. These dancers' ages ranged from about 10 to 14. Despite the youth of the dancers, many of them were very good. They also looked like they were having fun, and they remained professional even when they weren't actively dancing – not goofing around the way we had seen some other dance groups do. It was the best dance performance we had seen since the Intercontinental in Tahiti.
A highlight of the show was a toddler who wanted to be part of the goings on. This little girl looked to be about a year and a half old, and she would join the girl dancers and sway along with them. She brought a light note and a lot of cuteness to the performance.
After the show we loaded back on the bus for a short drive into town. Before we reached the pier, the guide asked if anyone wanted to shop. Chris certainly did, so we got off the bus with about five other passengers in the middle of town. We were a short walk from the pier.
We looked through hand crafts in several stores and also shopped at a tee shirt store named Tropical Tease. We found out the owners were a couple who had emigrated from southern California ten years before. After sailing for four years, they settled in Neiafu and opened their store. It specialized in original screen-print designs and red-dirt shirts – polo and tee shirts stained red with the local soil. I bought a red-dirt tee shirt with a map of Vava'u on the back. Chris bought a bone necklace with a spiral design at one of the other shops.
As we walked through town we noticed a quiet bar called Bounty Bar. We could see the deck had a nice view of the harbor, so we stopped in for a drink. I had a Fiji Bitter and Chris drank a Sprite while we cooled off in the breeze and enjoyed the view. When we were rested, we made our way closer to the pier, stopping at a market that sold local produce and handcrafts. We saw pineapples, bananas, eggs, and other foods we recognized. We saw a lot of food that was not familiar to us: taro, plantains, tapioca, and more items we never did identify. We spent most of our time looking at the handcrafts, though.
All of the prices were in Tongan currency, the pa'anga. The exchange rate was roughly 2 pa'anga per US dollar. Every merchant we met was glad to take either pa'anga or dollars.
We bought a necklace for me, even though I don't usually wear any jewelry. It was a very simple, rectangular piece of oyster shell that was silver with a black tip. As we were looking through some of the other crafts, a piece caught my eye. It was a carving in ebony of a face in bas relief. It was mounted on a woven mat with feathers tucked behind the carving to look like hair. After bargaining on the price, I made a quick trip to the ATM to get more cash and bought it. It would look good in our guest bathroom once it was properly framed.
After making our purchases, we caught the next tender back to the ship. We took a dip in the pool and had lunch at the Grill.
We still had some pa'anga left, so we needed to spend them before we left Tonga. We cleaned ourselves up and caught another tender to shore. We bought a carved swordfish bill at the market to go with the ebony face, and then walked through the town again taking pictures.
By that time, there were a lot of school students hanging around. Many of the schools are run by different Christian denominations. Each one – Catholics, Methodists, Mormon, Jehovah's Witnesses – has its own color for the school uniforms. The government-run schools have yet another color. We saw students in purple, green, and orange skirts.
On our way back to the ship, we noticed fat raindrops starting to fall. The rain quickly developed into a torrent, so we rushed under a large tree for shelter. The tree kept us fairly dry, and we shared the shelter with Rob and Al from the ship and a local woman. Most of the locals either went about their business in the rain or sat under umbrellas until it stopped less than ten minutes later.
We caught the 4:00 tender back to the Paul Gauguin, showered, rested, had some wine, and watched TV. Just before 5:00, we noticed the ship was moving. That seemed odd, because the tender schedule had listed the last departure from Neiafu as 5:00. It turns out that the captain had rushed the schedule because the tide was going out. The entry into the harbor had been pretty tight, and he didn't want to run the risk of getting stuck or running aground as he exited. We heard rumors later that he had vowed not to take a ship the size of the Paul Gauguin back into that harbor again.
We had reservations in La Veranda for dinner. While we ate – mahi mahi for Chris, rack of lamb for me – a big storm blew up. I could see large flashes of lightning outside the windows. Chris sat with her back to the windows, and she thought the flashes were just from cameras of the other diners. We found out from Tom and Pat later that the storm had been quite an adventure for diners at the Pacific Grill. The Grill is protected from the weather by Plexiglas partitions and a waterproof awning, but it is not completely enclosed. The wind whipped through the restaurant making it a challenge to eat there, and the rain washed under the partitions and penetrated small gaps in the awning. Many diners gave up, but Tom and Pat stuck it out. The light show was too impressive to miss.
After dinner we listened to Kemble at the piano bar. That is where we talked to Tom and Pat about their dinner adventure. Later Fred joined us. He had lost his stake at the blackjack table, but Wendy and Katherine were still playing. We watched Wendy and Katherine for a while, and then went back to our room at 9:30. We watched more of The Incredibles bonus disc, set our clocks back an hour one last time, and turned the lights out at 9:30 Fijian time.
Despite the time change, we managed to sleep until 6:45, our latest morning yet. Chris ordered coffee and pastries from room service, and they came within five minutes. We enjoyed the food and caffeine on our balcony, where we noticed the air was much less humid than it had been on Vava'u.
Chris had been battling a headache part of the night, so she took a pain reliever and went back to bed. While she napped, I worked out in the fitness center, showered, and left the room with our laptop. I made a stop by the travel desk to cancel my snorkeling excursion on Malolo on Saturday. The weather forecast called for “tons of rain” that day. La Palette was busy with lots of activities, so I just found a place in the deck six hallway, where I could plug in the laptop, sit, and type. I wrote until lunchtime.
By then, Chris had gotten out of bed and gone looking for me. She hadn't found me in La Palette, but she had found more tifaifai (appliqué) on sale. She exchanged the pillow covers she had bought before and purchased a couple more. She was back in the room putting them away when I arrived.
Chris still had her headache, and now she was feeling dizzy and nauseated, too. We concluded she must be seasick. She took a Dramamine and we headed to La Veranda for lunch. The hostess there recommended Ginger Ale and candied ginger. We had noticed the bowl of candied ginger near the entrance of the restaurant a couple of times, but we hadn't known it significance. We each ate a piece, remarking at how strong the flavor was. It wasn't entirely unpleasant, though, and we hoped it would help the nausea.
Lunch was short, and we went back to La Palette where I typed and Chris read her book. The Dramamine made Chris sleepy, though, and she returned to the room to lie down.
I typed until 1:45, returned to the room and roused Chris for our spa appointment. We both received excellent Swedish massages. Merlita gave me mine, and she was quite aggressive – really digging in and putting her weight into it. It wasn't the most relaxing massage I've ever had, but it certainly left me loose. Ivy gave Chris her massage. While Ivy wasn't as forceful as Merlita, Chris did have to ask her to ease up a little on the arches of her feet.
Wrung out from our treatments, we went back to the room where we relaxed more and watched a movie. After the movie, I wrote more journal entries and Chris worked crosswords. She had pretty much recovered from her seasickness and we both felt relaxed and content.
We had planned to just order pizza from room service and eat that while we watched a movie in the room. However there was a party for members of the Seven Seas Society (repeat customers of Regent cruises). We dressed in our nice clothes and went to the Grand Salon.
At 7:30, we left the party. Since we were already dressed, we scrapped our idea for a movie night and went to L'Etoile instead. We had a light dinner of salads and fish and were back at the room by 8:30. We watched 45 minutes of Bringing Up Baby before we realized we were falling asleep. We turned off the TV and the lights at 9:20.
Thanks to our relaxing day at sea and our early bedtime, we both awoke early. We watched our approach to Savusavu from the deck outside La Palette. As we were setting anchor, a large, blue overnight ferry arrived from Suva. We watched it dock and begin to unload. Lots of people, vehicles and cargo unloaded from the ship very quickly.
Fred joined us while we watched the ferry, and he and Wendy joined us for breakfast. They told us they were going on a rainforest walk for their shore excursion. The weather report called for rain all day. We didn't envy them their walk.
Our excursion was the “Hidden Paradise and Plantation Tour.” We took the 8:30 tender from the ship to the pier at a shopping center called The Copra Shed on the edge of Savusavu. Nearly every local we saw greeted us with “Bula!” which means “Welcome” or “Hello.” We weren't sure how to respond, and we alternated between “Thanks”, “Hello”, and “Bula”, with the occasional “Ola” slipping out. The locals were almost universally friendly.
We boarded an antique bus for our tour – a real rattletrap that could barely make it up some of the hills. Our guide, Keni, tried to make commentary as we drove through town and out into the countryside to a coconut plantation. Unfortunately, the creaking of the bus and the loud engine made it difficult to hear him from more than five feet away. One very annoying passenger insisted on sitting near the back and repeatedly complaining that she could not hear Keni.
When we arrived at the plantation, the manager led us to a drying shed where workers were splitting coconuts and removing the meat. The meat was then placed on racks and dried using the heat of burning coconut husks. He demonstrated how all parts of the coconut tree can be used – lumber from the trunk, medicine from the roots, shelter from the leaves, food, drink, and medicine from the nuts themselves, and bowls, musical instruments, and strainers from the shells and husks.
After we completed our tour of the plantation, we rattled back into town and out again, ending up at a copra mill. The mill buys the dried coconut and presses coconut oil from it. The pressed meat is then ground up into meal that is sold as animal feed. The mill was loud and dirty, and we couldn't hear much of Keni's commentary. The technology in the mill was about forty years out of date, but it seemed to get the job done.
Our last stop was the Savusavu Hot Springs Hotel, where we were served tea and finger food. The hotel has a lovely deck with great views of Savusavu, the surrounding valleys, the harbor and the peninsula across the bay. After refreshments the bus dropped us off back at the Copra Shed.
Savusavu was a small city. There was a single main street lined with shops, bakeries, and grocery stores. There were no touristy shops that we could see; those were all at the Copra Shed where the tender had docked. We wandered up one side of the street and down the other, occasionally stepping into a store but not buying anything.
When we were nearly back to the Copra Shed we stopped into a tiny shop where a woman was making tropical shirts and selling them. I needed a shirt for the evening's Polynesian Night, and she was selling them for $15 Fijian, about US$10. I visited a nearby ATM and withdrew cash, we bought the shirt, and we were done shopping.
Despite the weather forecast, we had never seen any rain other than a few sprinkles.
We tendered back to ship in time for lunch, but we weren't hungry. The tea cakes were still hanging in there for us. Instead of lunch, we cooled off in the pool and then found seats near the bar. We realized we had been in the tropics for well over a week and hadn't yet had a single Mai Tai. We remedied that situation with an order from the bar.
We spent the afternoon chatting, enjoying the breeze, and eavesdropping on our fellow passengers' conversations. We watched a 30-ish woman passenger chatting up the ship's doctor. Later they were joined by Kemble, who stood nearby and talked to them. He mentioned that the doctor had a fan club of older women on the ship. They had been at the piano bar a few nights before, just waiting for him to walk by. Weird.
When the doctor and his young fan left, we talked to Kemble for about twenty minutes. He told us some funny stories from some of his other cruises, including one from the Radisson Diamond. During one dead night at the piano bar a couple walked in and sat right next to the piano. They ignored Kemble and chattered with each other. Shortly, the woman asked Kemble for an ash tray – while he was playing! He had the bartender bring one and resisted the urge to make a stink about her impertinence. The next night, she showed up to a big party at the piano bar with a different man. Kemble asked “Is your husband not feeling well?” It turned out she was with her husband and wasn't supposed to have been out with the other man the night before. It suddenly became a long, chilly cruise for the woman. Ah, karma.
At 4:00, we returned to our room and took a short nap. Then we put on our “Polynesian” clothes and went to the piano bar. We took a seat with the Salters and chatted with them for a while. They had received an invitation to dine with Mark Eddowes that evening, but they didn't know why. We envied them the opportunity to talk informally with him.
Chris and I went upstairs to La Veranda. Since it was Polynesian Night, we didn't need reservations there. As we stood in line waiting for a table, we noticed Nancy and Rich waiting, too. They had planned to eat with three other couples, but there were no tables large enough eight people available. We invited them to join us, and they did.
After dinner we went to an enjoyable dance show put on by Les Gauguines. They wore lots of different costumes, ranging from full-length dresses to tiny skirts and tops. The dances ranged from tame swaying to some very provocative hula-type dances. Lots of fun!
We managed to stay awake for the whole show, but went straight to bed afterward.
Suva is the capital of Fiji. It is a city of about 300,000 people and looks it. It has high-rise buildings, shopping malls, and lots of traffic. It was the largest city we visited on our trip. It was nice that we were able to tie up at the city's wharf instead of anchoring off shore. That way, we did not have to wait for tenders; we just walked down a gangway.
Once again we woke up early and had coffee at La Palette. We sat on our balcony and watched the harbor workings as the ship approached the wharf. At 7:30, Chris went to the Grand Salon for a Pilates session. She enjoyed the workout, but she didn't like the location. During the final ten minutes of the session, passengers started assembling for their shore excursions. There's nothing like exercising with an audience.
While Chris worked out, I returned our movies, signed up for a tour of the ship's bridge, and read. When she was done, we had breakfast at Le Grill. Throughout the morning there were short, but heavy, showers.
We went to reception at 9:55 to start our tour of the bridge. One of Les Gauguines led us from the lobby on deck four up to deck seven and through to the bridge. That was our second – and last – elevator ride on the ship. Once there, the ship's second mate showed us around. The bridge was a large room with lots of windows and even more electronic equipment. There were monitoring panels and computer screens everywhere. They allowed the crew to detect and suppress fires, close water-tight doors, and see if any of the ship's exterior doors were unlocked or open.
The main panel had controls and displays for the stabilizers, side thrusters, and a steering wheel for rudder control. The direction of the ship could also be controlled by an autopilot or from a tiny joystick mounted in front of an electronic map display.
The tour lasted for about forth-five minutes, during which there was another torrential downpour.
None of the Suva shore excursions had appealed to us, so we hadn't signed up for any. Instead, we planned to walk into the city and visit its museum. We grabbed our waterproof camera and an umbrella and descended the gangway. From the bottom, we had to walk a not-very-obvious route to get out of the wharf. The route included some pretty hazardous iron steps, and we couldn't see how some of our fellow passengers would be able to navigate them.
Once we were out of the gate, we were besieged by taxi drivers who wanted to give us a ride. We told them all we were going to walk, and they let us go. However, it had started to pour down rain again. Even though we had an umbrella, we waited under an overhang for it to let up. While we waited, another taxi driver came up and offered to take us on a two- or three-hour tour. He kept lowering his rate. When he got to FJ$20 (about US$13) per hour, we said, OK.
We asked for some scenic views, so Binay took us up the highway on the north side of Suva and then turned west, following the coast. As we drove we encountered one rain storm after another, but the sun always came out in between them. We couldn't help but notice the apparent poverty of the people living in Fiji. Nearly every home was either weathered clapboard or corrugated tin. They were small – one or two rooms – and very open. Everyone had a clothesline filled with laundry. We wondered how anything ever dried when rain fell every twenty minutes.
Chris felt very bad for the people who lived in those houses. They appeared to have no furniture, little shelter, and lots of trash. We passed very few houses that looked comfortable and/or maintained. Most of the nice buildings we passed belonged to either the churches or the police.
About 60km outside Suva, we came to Pacific Harbour, a resort town with a shopping center and resort hotel. Binay parked close to the shops and stayed with us while we took a look around. Chris did some shopping, but she felt rushed with both Binay and me tagging along. We did manage to find some things to buy: some carved wooden bowls for Chris and a tee shirt with a stylized shark on it for me. Binay held onto our umbrella and our purchases for us.
From the shopping center, we drove to The Pearl Resort for a quick look-around. We visited the main building. Chris loved the décor: clean Mediterranean-style couches with no back, chocolate-brown upholstery and two intense orange pillows leaning against each other in the center. The lounge area had big square couches with back bolsters on three sides and small table in the middle so diners can eat while reclined. Our tour concluded with a walk past the pool to a very nice sandy beach. It looked like a nice place to stay.
We drove back to town along the same route we had driven earlier. Once back in town, we stopped at the city's large cemetery to take some pictures, but it started raining, so we didn't get many. We noticed that some of the graves had fabric draperies around them. Binay told us they are put up at burial and stay up for 90 days. Some of the drapes were very elaborate. Others were simply fabric strips tied to strings above the grave.
Somewhere between Vava'u, Tonga and Suva, Fiji we had realized we would not be able to fit the carved swordfish bill from Tonga into any of our luggage. It was about six inches too long. While we had a cab, we decided to look for a box or tube to pack it in. However, Binay misunderstood me when I told him I needed to ship a swordfish bill. He thought we wanted to send a fish and needed a Styrofoam box with ice. Once he got that idea, there was no shifting it. I tried to explain over and over that we just needed to ship a long, fragile item, but he wasn't getting it. He took us to several stores, but none of them had shipping containers.
One of the stores was a place called Cost-U-Less. From the outside, it looked like a 3/4 scale Costco. From the inside, it looked like a 3/4 scale Costco with only half the lights working. It had the same kinds of items as Costco and the same warehouse feel. But it did not have a shipping container for a forty-inch swordfish bill.
We drove back to the ship from the store, taking a mini tour of the city. Binay pointed out the new police headquarters that were under construction. The buildings looked like a luxury office building and were situated on a prime piece of real estate overlooking the ocean. We also drove past the president's palace and just missed a changing of the guard. I did get a picture of the ceremonial guard after asking permission from the armed soldier nearby.
When we finally got back on board the ship, it was after 2:00, so we had missed lunch. Chris picked up the phone and ordered two cheeseburgers with fries. I poured us each a beer from the refrigerator. The burgers showed up in twenty minutes. We were ravenous, and the burgers and fries were delicious.
While we ate a heavy rain started. Unlike the earlier storms, this one did not stop after ten minutes. In fact, it continued throughout the rest of the day and night.
Our lunch made us sleepy and we lay down for a nap. Two hours later, I awoke from a sound sleep and realized we had to get up if we wanted to be able to sleep that night. I roused Chris and we showered and dressed for dinner.
At 5:30, we went for drinks at La Palette. We sat with our stateroom neighbors, sisters Sally and Charle. While we all watched the pouring rain, we told each other of our day's adventures.
We had dinner reservations at 7:30 at the Pacific Grill. As the time approached, I tried to figure out a way to get there without going through the rain. There wasn't one. Just before 7:30, I went to the room to get our umbrella. We made a mad dash for the Grill without getting too wet.
There weren't many other diners there, and we got a nice table away from the more open areas. Rain was blowing in under the glass partitions and flooding across the deck. Chris just took off her sandals and dabbled her toes in the water. My shoes were OK in the shallow stream. The folks at the table next to us weren't as lucky. The awning started dripping on them during dinner. The head waiter held an umbrella over them while other waiters addressed the drips. Everyone was laughing about the madness and we had a great time.
The food was good, too. Chris had swordfish and I had an excellent stir-fried duck. We had only a small glass of wine each.
When dinner was over, we dashed back to shelter and ended up at the piano bar playing backgammon. At 9:00 we found seats in the Grand Salon for the night's show: a variety show featuring all of the entertainers on the ship. We really enjoyed the parts of the show with Les Gaugines and Pete Neighbour. Kemble played well, but his Phantom of the Opera medley was overpowered by his pre-recorded accompanying music.
When the show was over at 10:40, we went straight to bed.
This was our last full day on the ship. We both woke before 5:00am and tried to go back to sleep. At 5:15 we gave up and got out of bed. Up at La Palette we chatted with the other early risers, comparing excursion notes from the previous day.
At 7:30 we went to La Veranda for breakfast. In addition to the fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, French toast, bacon, and sausage, there was a big steamer tray of GRITS! I helped myself to a bowl and enjoyed them greatly.
We goofed off for an hour after breakfast and then hit the fitness center for some aerobic exercise. When we were cleaned up, it was still pouring down rain outside, so I decided to stay on the ship rather than go to the island. Chris wanted to see what was there, though, so she put on her swimsuit and cover-up, grabbed her book, towel, camera and sunscreen, and went to catch a tender.
While she was gone, I watched the rain and typed in La Palette, ate a quick lunch, read in the room, and reviewed our photos. At 2:00, I returned to the spa for one last massage. It was very relaxing, and I think I may have fallen asleep during the scalp massage. Mmmm!
Chris boarded the next tender and waited for it to depart. The ship was anchored quite a way from Malolo, so the tender took fifteen minutes to arrive at the Malolo Island Resort dock. Despite the rain that was still falling, the tender was met by a welcome committee with singing, dancing, shell necklaces and fruit punch.
Since it was raining, Chris didn't want to stay at the beach, but she wasn't sure where to go. After a little bit of looking around, she sniffed out the gift shop. She met another passenger, named Rose, and the two of them made a game of trying to find something in the shop that was actually made in Fiji. Nearly everything came from China and Indonesia. She finally found a bar of coconut soap with a flower hand painted on it and the word “Fiji” written on the package. She bought it as a gift.
Chris, Rose, and Rose's husband, Kevin, left the gift shop with the intention of doing some swimming. However, it was still pouring rain, so Chris and Rose went to “Treetop”, the resort's bar instead. Kevin was determined to snorkel, so he went to the beach and left Chris and Rose to chat and watch the rain. They both ordered Bloody Maries, which were awful – bad tomato juice and no detectable amount of alcohol. To add insult to injury, the drinks cost FJ$16.50 (about US$10.00) each.
By 1:30, they were tired of watching the rain and didn't want another drink, so they returned to the pier to catch the next tender. There was no sign of the tender, so they knew they had some time. Chris decided to go swimming despite the rain. She was already soaking wet, anyway. She went for a dip in the lagoon and swam until the tender returned. She arrived back at the ship a little after 2:30.
It was too late to get lunch from one of the restaurants, so she ordered a chef's salad from room service and was waiting for it when I returned from my massage. Room service must have been busy; it took 30 minutes for the salad to arrive.
While Chris was eating and telling me about her day, our phone rang. It was the ship's marina reminding us to return our snorkel gear. I returned it right away and let Chris eat in peace.
After her lunch, Chris took a nap. The ship had weighed anchor and we were sailing to our final port: Lautoka, Fiji. I sat on our balcony and watched our progress. I noticed the rain had stopped and the sky was clearing. Nice timing.
We dressed for dinner early. Around 5:15 we went to the pool bar and watched as we arrived in Lautoka. We talked with Pete Neighbour and asked if he had a CD of his work. He did. He retrieved one from his room, and we paid him in French Polynesian francs. He was happy to get them, because he would be back there in two weeks. He would be playing on four more Tahiti-based cruises before he returned home.
At 6:30 we descended to the Grand Salon for the farewell party. Part of the event was recognition of the entire service staff of the ship. We applauded enthusiastically for the people who had made our cruise so relaxing and enjoyable.
As the party continued, we talked to Steven and Marlene and we decided to have dinner together. We also talked about the trouble I was going to have getting my swordfish bill home. Steven realized it would fit in one of their bags, and suggested we could get it from them after we were home. I got the sword from our stateroom and took it to Steven, who packed it in his duffle – protected by an umbrella and padded with dirty clothes.
We had a nice dinner with Steven and Marlene. We talked about their kids and our respective cruise adventures. Since we had yet to pack, we left dinner a little early, getting back to our room at 9:00.
As we gathered up our clothes, electronics, souvenirs, etc., we started to feel sad about leaving. I began to get my typical travel anxiety, knowing that we had lots of hard deadlines to hit during the next day's travels.
Packing took longer than we expected. We didn't get the suitcases into the hallway until 10:30. When I put them out, I found an envelope in our door's message slot. It was a message from the travel desk informing us that our flight from Fiji to Los Angeles had been delayed four hours. It would leave Nadi airport at 3:00am on Monday. Since we had booked the flight through Regent, they had automatically rebooked our flight from LAX to San Francisco. Instead of getting into SFO at 5:30pm and home by 7:00, we wouldn't get in until 9:30pm.
Once we were in bed, Chris dropped right off to sleep, but I tossed and turned, thinking about the long day ahead. Once I did finally fall asleep, I awoke every hour.
After my rough night, I was ready to get out of bed at 5:15. I got my morning tea at La Palette and noted that the weather was very nice – sunny, warm, and less humid than I expected. I did my best to relax for the next hour. At 6:45, I woke up Chris and we had one last breakfast at La Veranda.
We were back at the room by 7:30 and still had two hours before we had to vacate. I took my mind off our travel details by watching The Shawshank Redemption, one of the only things still playing on the ship's television system. Since it was playing in a loop, I caught the end, the credits, and about an hour of the beginning. It was a good thing I had seen it before.
We had one last thing to take care of. During this trip, as we had in past travels, we relied on ATMs to get local currencies. The only problem was that we didn't spend enough time in any one country to spend all the currency we got there. We ended up with about US$30 of currency from the Cook Islands and Tonga. We decided that, even though tips were supposed to be included in the cruise price, we should leave the left-over currency as a tip for our stewardess, Helen. We hoped she would be able to spend it on the return trip.
Tired of waiting in our quiet room, we vacated it at 9:00 and went up to La Palette. We sat on the deck in the shade for a while, took some pictures, and went for a walk around the decks. As we passed the pool bar, we had the great idea to get one last drink before we had to start paying for them again.
At 11:30, we took our carry-on bags to the Grand Salon, where we could leave them in safety until we were ready to leave the ship. We had lunch at La Veranda. During a lull in our conversation, I overheard a woman at the next table say to her husband “Well, I guess it's back to reality.” Soon after, he rose to get dessert, and I leaned toward her and said “Excuse me, but I heard you use an offensive word.” She looked shocked as I paused and then continued “The word reality,” at which point she laughed and looked very relieved.
Done with lunch, we went back to the Grand Salon to await our 12:30 departure. There were about seven or eight different departures scheduled. Each one was a bus that transported some subset of the passengers to one of the post-cruise hotels. Each departure group had different colored baggage tags. Ours were red. We claimed our carry-on and chatted with the Salters until our tag color was called.
Just after 12:30, our group was called. We identified our luggage on the pier and boarded a bus for the Sheraton Denerau. The cruise was over.
We arrived at the Sheraton around 1:30. We filled out our room form, but had to wait until nearly 4:00 for our room to be cleaned and ready for us. While we waited, we had a light lunch of sandwiches at the hotel's café. After we checked in, we took a short walk on the beach, and then took advantage of the shower in our room. We spent a little time looking through the shops in the hotel's main building, and I connected to the internet via the Sheraton's free internet café.
We didn't know if we would be able to sleep on the plane, so we sacked out in our room for 2 hours, then finalized our packing. Once again, I set our checked bags outside our room. We napped some more until 10:00pm. I saw that our bags were still outside, so I called the lobby. Within minutes a porter came for the bags. We left the room minutes later and found chairs in the lobby where we could see busses arriving and departing. While we waited, I identified our luggage for the airport transfer.
Around 11:00pm a bus showed up and we were called to board. As we drew near the bus door, we realized the vehicle was nearly full. The passengers in front of us were the last ones to make it on board. Another bus was not far behind it, and we were the first ones on. The second bus waited until the advertized departure time of 11:30, and then pulled away from the hotel.
At the airport, we found our large bags already loaded onto a luggage cart and ready for us. We rolled it to the end of the very long check-in line and patiently waited. The line moved pretty quickly and we had no trouble getting checked in for our flight and cleared through passport control. By 1:00am Monday we were seated near our gate and ready to get going.
We boarded just before 3:00am and took off nearly on time. The flight attendants served breakfast before turning off the cabin lights. We managed to sleep for about four hours, and then spent the remainder of the flight watching movies (The Simpsons Movie, Die Hard 4, and No Reservations) and reading. Eight hours into the flight, we got a snack of sandwiches.
We arrived at LAX about forty-five minutes early, at 4:45pm Sunday. We had no problem with immigration, retrieved our checked bags, cleared customs and transported our luggage to the domestic terminal to check in for our last flight. The ticket agent told us our SFO flight was delayed, but she could get us on an earlier one, which was also delayed. We even got exit row seats! We were so pooped; we didn't even think to ask if we could get on a flight bound for San Jose instead. That thought occurred to us about five minutes after we had watched our bags – with their SFO routing tags – disappear behind the airline counter. Oh, well. Live and learn.
We had several hours to kill before our flight, so we wandered into a Chiles Too restaurant. We lingered over a filling meal, complete with a nice beer for me and a glass of wine for Chris. The service wasn't up to the standards of the Paul Gauguin, but we managed to enjoy ourselves anyway.
Our flight was delayed several more times before our gate agent finally announced that our plane had arrived. At 9:40pm, we finally boarded our flight. Our row companion was a tug-boat crewman from Los Angeles who was bound for a class in San Francisco. He hated to fly, so he had spent the long flight delay at the airport bar. He was quite talkative, but I just wanted to close my eyes and rest. About the fifth time I shut my eyes and leaned back in my seat, he got the hint and was quiet for the rest of the flight.
We landed in San Francisco at 11:00pm and retrieved our bags one more time. We waited a few minutes on the curb for our friend Heath to pick us up. It was a pretty quiet ride back to San Jose. We pulled into the driveway at 12:10am (Monday again). We chilled for a while, cherishing our comfortable, stationary home, and finally climbed into bed about 1:00am. We were both asleep before the light-bulb faded to black.
With the different time zones we passed through and the International Date Line crossing, it was hard for me to keep track of how much time it took for us to get through that last day. I put together the information below to help myself out.
|I got out of bed onboard Paul Gauguin||Sunday 5:00am||Saturday 9:00am||0:00|
|We left our room for the last time||9:00am||1:00pm||4:00|
|We left the ship in Lautoka||12:35pm||4:35pm||7:35|
|Arrived at Sheraton Denerau||1:15pm||5:15pm||8:15|
|Received room key||3:50pm||7:50pm||10:50|
|2 hours of sleep|
|Finished packing our luggage||8:00pm||Sunday 12:00am||15:00|
|1 hour of sleep|
|Checked out of Sheraton Denarau||10:30pm||2:30am||17:30|
|Arrived Nadi Airport||Monday 12:00am||4:00am||19:00|
|Depart Nadi Aiport||3:00am||7:00am||22:00|
|4 hours of sleep|
|Arrive Los Angeles Airport (LAX)||12:45pm||4:45pm||31:45|
|Arrive San Francisco Airport||7:00pm||11:00pm||38:00|
|Arrive Home||8:15pm||Monday 12:15am||39:15|
|Went to bed.||9:00pm||1:00am||40:00|