Taha’a, French Polynesia
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.
Snorkeling and a mistake
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.
A six-course dinner
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.
Fabulous Fifties for fogeys
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.