Moorea, French Polynesia
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.
Exercise and Shopping
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.
A learning experience
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 font 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.
Dinner and a show
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.