Tahiti continued

Background Info

(9/10/04) We arrived in Raiatea at 11:45, only to learn to our dismay that the few shops open would be closing at 12:30 for the Easter Holiday weekend.  We dashed to the grocery story to provision, then Kathy and I hurried to the fabric store, which they kindly kept open until we made our selections.  Since Raiatea has no beaches and we hadn’t signed up for an excursion, we spent the rest of the day relaxing and reading – then showed Skip and Kathy our Africa video during a private cocktail hour in our stateroom.  After a light dinner, we relaxed with coffee and a movie and fell asleep early – quite a laid back day!

(9/11/04) Our port today is Huahine, where we spent Easter Day relaxing.  We watched a beautiful sunrise, had another delicious breakfast (crepes with caramelized bananas and pecans for me, huevos rancheros – eggs in a tortilla – for Paul).  We took the tender ashore at 10:00, then walked to a local beach for a refreshing swim and some snorkeling, but the current was quite strong.  Paul found a beautiful shell for a souvenir, but we headed back after two hours to escape the scorching sun.  After a shower, lunch and more relaxing, reading, and napping, we had a beautiful sail away at 4:00.

We watched the demonstration on deck of fruit carving (watermelon flower), bread animals and flowers from almond paste … All done in less than 20 minutes!  Next was the Captain’s champagne reception where we learned that 42 passengers this week were returning Windstar cruisers – some had as many as 7 or 8 previous cruises with this line – quite an endorsement!   Dinner was delicious again.  I had a wonderful salad with beets, greens and prosciutto, and pork tenderloin.  Paul had chunky tomato soup and pasta.  We summoned enough willpower to say “NO” to dessert, then relaxed on deck with cognac and fantastic star gazing – the Milky Way, Southern Cross, and thousands of other stars in the clear sky.  Sleep came easily as we sailed toward our next stop in week #2:  Bora Bora.

(9/12/04) We awoke to heavy overcast skies and rain – not a good morning for those planning excursions, but we kept our fingers crossed that they would not have to cancel the beach barbeque on the island, where we planned to spend the afternoon.

The passengers this week are very friendly – and obviously travel veterans from all over the western hemisphere – incl. Canada, Mexico, and South America.

We’ve enjoyed swapping stories of favorite places and giving and getting tips for future adventures.  We definitely would like to follow this ship on another cruise in the future since it will be leaving the South Pacific in December.  (The dry dock in Papeete will be “military-only”, so they have to move.)  We learned that a few years ago the Wind Song, a sister ship that was permanently assigned to this area, had a fire in the engine room and was taken out of service, taken to deep water and sunk.  The Wind Star, which had been in the Mediterranean & Caribbean, was reassigned here to take her place.  So we feel quite lucky to have had the chance to enjoy this wonderful ship in such a beautiful part of the world!

By 9:00 AM the skies were clearing and the picnic was declared a “go!”… so we left for the private motu on the first small power craft at 10:45 and had the island to ourselves, except for the kitchen crew and the island owners’ children and grandchildren who were busily cleaning (sweeping pine needles off the beach) and bringing chairs.  We took our plastic, curved art-deco loungers to a shady spot under sweeping pines along the sandy beach and lagoon that offered some good snorkeling options.  We weren’t disappointed!  The water was shallow, but several areas of coral and underwater plants had a delightful array of colorful fish – large and small, including one very aggressive sergeant major fish that openly challenged me face to snorkel mask on several occasions – then nipped me on the arm – more than a little startling!  A short time later, another girl reported the same thing – but she was nipped on the thigh and it drew blood!  He was definitely one spunky fish defending his territory!

We spent most of the day relaxing in this idyllic location, enjoying the barbeque, breezes, and refreshing water dips between rests on our lounge chairs under the trees.   We returned to the ship ~ 3:30, showered, and continued relaxing to the music of Colin on the keyboard, then teatime at the pool bar, with the beautiful islands of Bora Bora all around us.   The gluttony continues… Chef Erwin’s tapas bar at 6:45, then dinner at 7:30!  Paul tried to be good, with roasted eggplant soup as a starter – then an entrée-sized portion of the creamy shrimp listed as an appetizer.  I had a delicious salad of asparagus, greens and parmesan chips, followed by tender and delicious osso buco with pasta and vegetables.  The chocolate lovers’ dessert buffet was served on the pool deck with specialty coffees from all over the world.  We’ve gained at least 10 pounds each!  We took a movie to the room but fell asleep long before it was over…

(9/13/04) Another gorgeous day!  After breakfast we took the “Discover Bora Bora” tour in “le truck” – open widows for ventilation, but enough seats for up to 41 very cramped passengers (luckily there were only 26 of us).  We had a local female driver, but our tour guide was a transplanted American (here 8 years) who provided an interesting history of Bora Bora and the sites along the coast road.  We saw beautiful lagoons with spectacular colors from deep blue, turquoise, and translucent greens, many luxury hotels (A Ritz Carlton is currently under construction) built native-style with huts above the water, and fascinating flowers (orchids, ginger, bromeliads, etc… but with hibiscus dominating – 84 different species!).  We stopped at “Ruth’s Place” where we saw an interesting demonstration of tie-dying and imprinting patterns on the local pareos – with ample opportunity to buy, since our bus/truck had to be exchanged due to an overheating problem!  The next stop was disappointingly only 5 minutes away at another roadside souvenir place – this one with a restroom and cold drinks (Paul complained loudly).  The rest of the tour was more interesting, including the valuable structures constructed by the Americans when they used Bora Bora as a refueling base from 1942 to 1946 – roads, boat docks, ammunition storage buildings (now used by the locals during cyclones), etc.  We were amused by the giant land crabs that live in gopher-sized holes between the road and the sea. 

We also learned that the children in French Polynesia have a strict school curriculum, beginning at age 3 and continuing until age 14.  Then they can attend a trade school on their own island or go to high school on Raiatea or Tahiti.  They have 2 months off for their “winter” holiday in July and August (the months when all the local competitions are held), and a month off for Christmas.  School is full day on M-T-TH and half-day on W & F.

Almost all electrical cables are now underground, and preparations are underway for underground fiber-optic phone cables to join them.  Road repair is ongoing, with many potholes due to heavy rains (April is the end of the rainy season.).  Recycling is now strongly encouraged and trash pickup 3 times per week costs ~ $45./year.  One can still order fresh baguettes to be delivered to your roadside hand-made “baguette mailbox” each morning by the local baker – The cost is 40 cents each, with payment due at the end of the month.   Wow!

Our final stop was at the famous Bloody Mary’s Restaurant and Bar where we enjoyed the spicy namesake drink in this beautiful spot, with sand floors, gorgeous locally made furniture, woven thatched walls, and unique restrooms open to the outdoors and special fountains for hand washing.

The tour ended at 11:30.  Paul took the last tender back to the ship before the Sail-By, and the rest of us chose to wait and watch the beautiful sight from shore again.  However, Paul was able to get some great video from the ship, including the captain at the control on the flying bridge.

After another huge lunch buffet, it was siesta time – then at 3:30 Kathy and I attended a pareo-tying class before watching Tom compete in the finals of the blackjack tournament – and he almost won with a 21 on the final hand – but ended up tying for 2nd place (winner took all:  $560.)  After more relaxing on deck and a shower and change, we sampled Chef Erwin’s sushi bar – then headed to dinner.  I had carrot soup with lemon grass and crème fraiche and delicious roasted chicken; Paul had asparagus with dill sauce, soup, and another double appetizer – wild mushrooms and spinach in puffed pastry shells.   After a little stargazing, we crashed into bed.

(9/14/04) We can’t believe that this wonderful trip is almost over.  Folks that came for just one week have to be depressed because that is NOT enough time to adequately relax and enjoy this wonderful cruise… but the weight gain would be less of an issue. (However, we found out that 30 people will be repeating for a second week like we did!)     We woke up to cloudy skies and fog, so no chance to film the spectacular approach to Moorea at 6 AM as we had hoped.  However, by the time we were anchoring in Cook’s Bay (a fascinating process to watch) at 7:30, the weather had started to clear.

After breakfast and a relaxing morning, we headed to shore in search of an internet café, and we were told that one was located ~ 10 minute walk to our right.

We walked along Cook’s Bay past beautiful homes, hedges of hibiscus > 9 feet high, flowering bougainvilla and brilliant clumps of spiky ginger flowers.  The views were fantastic.  We even met a couple from Hawaii who came to Moorea for vacation! … After more than 20 minutes walking, we asked for directions and were assured that it was “10 minutes (more!) walk ahead”… Oh well, we certainly needed the exercise!  We finally arrived at 12:15 only to find out that they were closed until 2:30 for siesta!  So we cooled off with a beer at the pleasant café next door and headed back in the scorching heat.  About halfway to our destination we were gratefully given a lift on the woman from the hotel where we had stopped to ask directions.  We had a delightful lunch in the restaurant of a small hotel near the tender stop with a beautiful view of the ship anchored in Cook’s Bay.  The hotel beach immediately to our left was populated with several young ladies in the appropriate south Pacific beach attire... bottoms only.  We had an excellent lunch of fish sandwiches, French fries and a glass of wine.

Paul headed back to the ship at 2:15, but I opted to wait until the nearby pottery store and gallery opened at 2:30.  The shop was beautiful, with a huge selection of pottery – much displayed in a lovely outdoor garden as hanging and decorative planters ($5. fee to take pictures).  I bought three tiny dishes (the rest were too heavy), then wandered among the lighted showcases of beautiful jewelry – much artfully displayed on pottery pieces.  I had decided earlier in the trip NOT to succumb to the local black pearl temptation (since black pearl shops seem to be as plentiful as rug shops in Turkey!) – but my resistance faded and I ended up purchasing this year’s Christmas gift – two tear-drop pearls of wonderful soft colors on a necklace setting that will (hopefully) fit on my wide gold band necklace [It didn’t]… Grade A, and a very fair price!   So I happily returned to the ship to show off my find to the growing black pearl sisterhood on board.

At 5:00 we attended a fascinating lecture on Marine Life in French Polynesia by Dr. Michael Poole, a local biologist who has dedicated his career (the last 17 years here) to the study of dolphins (long-nosed – not the “Flipper” variety) and whales (esp. humpback).  We were sobered to learn of the poaching from 1920 to 1960 that lowered the population of the great blue whale (the largest creature to ever inhabit the earth) to 1% -- critical near-extinction, and the humpback to 3% -- serious endangerment.  There was no chance to see whales on this trip (November is the prime month) – but the dolphins abound, he said.  Unfortunately we couldn’t take an excursion with him the next day because we had another tour planned.

We did not stay for the Tahitian dancers that we enjoyed last week, but instead opted to shower and change early so we could watch the barbeque preparations.  These guys do a fantastic job transforming the pool deck in record time for the weekly outdoor feast.  The meal was great (again), followed by lots of dancing, in spite of a sudden rainstorm!  We partied until almost midnight – but heard that even later the dancers – already wet – were jumping into the tiny pool.

(4/15/04) Wow – our last day and night on board… The two weeks have really flown!  We started our day with the best excursion yet – the “Cata Jet Tour”.  We were bussed to a small beach where we hoisted ourselves onto the little “Cata Jets” –2-person motorized crafts shaped like paddleboats with pontoons.  Our 3-jet flotilla blasted across the lagoon and around the island with the men “driving” these crazy floating machines as we followed our guide in a motorboat.

  We continued past beautiful scenery to Opunohu Bay where the ship was anchored – then went to a great snorkeling spot to swim with a huge variety of fish along the coral reef.   Next stop was a really special experience – feeding an playing with the manta rays.   These huge gentle creatures are so tame that they float over and under you, pressing against your legs and body – quite startling until you get used to it!  Their skin is soft and smooth, but their long tails are rough and sometimes spiny.  They were accompanied by some colorful fish friends hoping for some food, a baby shark, and close by in the deeper water a larger (but harmless) shark.  That was two hours of sheer fun – a really memorable adventure!

Once again, Paul headed to the ship for lunch and a nap, but I returned to shore in the early afternoon to buy some of the wonderful shell and mother of pearl handcrafted jewelry sold by the local women on shore.  Next came packing – not fun – followed by our last sunset sail-away before dinner, and the last night toasts at the Pool Bar, to the wonderful music of Colin and Simone. Video

(4/16/04) The dreaded day of disembarkation arrived.  Packing was completed by 7:30 – then breakfast in the restaurant.  We headed into town for a quick look at the market that was closed last week because of the Holiday.   It was HUGE, with vendors selling everything you could imagine, at very enticing prices… But we had finished our souvenir shopping on the islands and could only think about what might have been.  The town of Papeete was really bustling, and the sound of zooming traffic was NOT music to our ears.  Shop after shop offered fabrics, clothing, jewelry, perfume, artwork, etc.  After a long walk, we finally found the Tahiti music store for Kathy to purchase a CD by “Angelo” before we returned to the ship at 9:15. 

At 10:30 we were herded to a bus and driven to the Sheraton Hotel where we could enjoy a “day room” until 6 PM.  The hotel was beautiful, with tasteful décor, wonderful landscaping, and a great view across the water to neighboring Moorea.  Lunch in the Italian restaurant was expensive, but the portions were huge (I had chicken salad with celery, cucumber, tomato and walnuts – no Mayo, French style; Paul enjoyed a delicious bowl of Penne with mussels).   We spent the afternoon reading, relaxing by the pool, and enjoying sunset cocktails on the balcony.  Then, after a final shower and change of clothes, it was time to head for the airport and the long, long trip home.   The flight left Tahiti at 10:00 PM on Friday and we arrived back in Baltimore at ~ 10:00 PM on Saturday (6 hour time difference, DST)!

Final Thoughts…. This was the most relaxing vacation we’ve ever experienced, and it was the first time we were not itching to get back home!  We could have easily spent another week or two without hesitation… The beauty is indeed intoxicating.  The MSY (masted-sailing-yacht) Wind Star was comfortable and intimate, with a fantastic and friendly crew.  We will always appreciate the efforts of Cepy (our steward), Chris (our buddy and pool deck hard-worker), Dana (dining room manager and practical joker), Sandi (our gentle, wonderful waiter), and Erwin (executive chef extraordinaire) for making this trip even more memorable.

For Background information on Tahiti and the Society Island... click here