On Saturday, we took a taxi to the Motu Itu Pier in Papeete where the Aranui 3 was waiting. Boarding was extremely easy compared to the large cruise ships we had been on many years ago. We were shown to our cabin - the "splurge" of the trip - a deluxe cabin, with an outside door with a tiny balcony, as well as a large window. It is on the highest deck (below the bridge), called the Star Deck. It is not a really large ship, and the front 60% is a cargo ship with cranes and four holds. There are about 150 passengers, of many nationalities, and announcements are made in French, English, and German. We go ashore in whaleboats most of the time, unless we are at a dock, and we are assisted, and sometimes carried, in or out of the whaleboat by the seamen. The Aranui flies the flag of France, since French Polynesia is "just" another part of France, politically.
Seating in the restaurant is not assigned , but lunch and dinner are "sit down" served, and both meals are what we wold call dinner. The food is very rich (too rich), and it's all white bread, and very little fiber or dairy available. We have learned to eat only what we can or what we know will agree with us, or even pass on a course at the table. Wine is served free (French wine only, of course), with both lunch and dinner.
This ship does not have stabilizers, so there is a lot of motion when we are underway. On the first night, it was difficult to feel like we were going to remain in the bed with all the rolling and pitching - but we did.
We left Papeete at 11:00 on Saturday morning, after a great deal of maneuvering to get the ship away from the dock in a strong wind. We spent the rest of the day at sea, getting used to the ship, being surprised to be served a hugh piece of prime rib for "lunch", and meeting some of our fellow passengers. On Sunday, we arrived in the Tuomotu Islands. (French Polynesia is a huge oceanic area comprised of five island groups. Tahiti is in the Society Islands; the other groups are the Tuomotus, the Marquesas, the Australs, and the Gambiers.)
The island of Fakarava, in the Tuomotus, is a coral atoll with an enclosed lagoon, meaning that the original volcanic island in the middle has been worn entirely away, leaving only the small coral reef islands around the edges. Imagine one of the smaller Hawaiian islands disappearing completely and leaving only a ring around the outside!
The ship was able to enter the lagoon, and anchor. We went ashore for the first time in the the whaleboats, to a lovely sandy beach. There were vendors there selling black pearls, which are cultivated in these lagoons, as well as "pareu" (sarongs made of a long piece of cotton, about 2 meters long and 1 meter wide) beautifully hand-dyed. We walked the very short distance over to the ocean side of the island, about 100 meters away. While Tom took pictures, Anne worked on a watercolor.
The remainder of Sunday, as well as all day Monday were at sea, heading for the Marquesas. There was a bridge tour and Tom got to drive! (not really) On Tuesday, we arrived early at the island of Ua Pou ("Wapoo"), at a dock. These docks are a bit dangerous, as there is cargo being loaded and unloaded with forklift trucks running around, and it is up to us to avoid them. The dock is usually a bit of a ways out of town as well. In this village of Hahahau, it was coincidence that it was also "Polynesian Day" which is a chance for the children to act out stories and practice the old ways. it was quite loud and chaotic at the gathering on the beach where the crafts were also for sale. There were a few woodcarvings, but mostly necklaces made of seeds - very pretty.
Tom climbed to the top of the hill that overlooks the town and reached the large concrete cross that has light bulbs in it. It might also be a navigation aid? From this vantage point, there is a commanding view of the bay and the mountains. A cool wind was blowing on the peak and this made the steep climb and hot descent on the rocky, dirt road more tolerable.
We all had lunch at Rosalie's restaurant, a buffet of Marquesan foods. We are getting tired of the buffet and "herd" of people pretty fast, and it was yet another Polynesian "feast" put on by a restaurant for a large group. (Are we Polynesia-ed out??) It is VERY hot here (90) and very humid as well - we are right about on the equator. Our sun protection garments are serving us well, along with drinking lots of water. The entire area seems quite dry and almost desert-like in some places. There are palm trees - but not the copious lush vegetation we expected. The Marquesas are high volcanic peaks - each island seems to be like slices of a pie - valleys separated by mountain ridges radiating out from the center of the island. Life seems so constricted here too - everything must be brought in by ship or plane.
We sailed around the island to another village, Hakahetau, and Anne went ashore in the whaleboat to the pleasant and quiet small town. That was a brief stop, where the Aranui crew brought cargo in on whaleboats, throwing the large barrels up to waiting strong arms to be caught. This was a tricky landing spot, a bit slippery and the saliors did a great job of getting us in an out safely in the swell. We left Ua Pou in the late afternoon, and were grateful for the air conditioning on the ship and the wonderful shower.
On Wednesday, we arrived in the town of Taoihae on Nuku Hiva. This harbor is actually a volcanic caldera, and the spot where Herman Melville jumped a whaling ship in 1842 and escaped up the valley where they were welcomed by hospitable cannibals (an oxymoron?), forming the basis for his autobiographical novel, "Typee". We opted to walk into town (many took a bus, "le truk" which was packed), and the entire group got into a convoy of jeeps/SUV's, and first stopped at the cathedral in town to see the wood carvings and beautiful construction. We all then drove up into the mountains and had a "picnic" at the top, followed by a descent to a river where we were taken by a wet whaleboat ride back to the ship. This embarkation point had bags and bags of copra stacked for loading onto the ship, as well as a group of horses! Anne and Tom were literally picked up and carried onto the whaleboat by the crew. This was an exhausting day, even for the more young and fit people on board, and we were all exhausted when we returned to the ship after a long day. At least we were rewarded with chocolate volcano mud cake for dessert, the best dessert yet on board.
Thursday began with a beautiful dawn, and Anne went out on deck at 5:30 to enjoy the solitude and beauty of the morning where we were already anchored at Vaitahu on the island of Tahuata. We had a brief stop ashore by barge this time, and the craft market had some nice wood carvings, bamboo with Marquesan tattoo designs, as well as the bone carvings that the island is famous for. The village also has a lovely church made of rock (discarded old ship's ballast), beautiful wood carvings, and a wonderful stained glass window.
After too many "herd" experiences at the previous lunches ashore, we chose to stay aboard for lunch at the next stop of the day - Atuona on Hiva Oa island, and we had a private lunch in the dining room - just the two of us! It was a very relaxing afternoon doing nothing and staying cool. The big attraction in this town is Paul Gauguin, the painter who ran off to French Polynesia to paint and drink a lot. His grave is here, as well as a museum with reproductions of his work, but we chose not to go, and feedback from some fellow passengers indicated that we had made a wise decision.
Friday, we awoke anchored at Fatu Hiva, a remote and poor island, but rich in beauty. Tom was not feeling too well, so Anne went ashore in the whaleboat. The dock for this cargo ship is always a bit of ways out of town, so there was a walk up and down a hill before arriving in the village of Omao. Fatu Hiva really the only Marquesan island where tapa cloth is still made, and it has only been decorated (painted) since the 1950s. Before that, the tapa was plain because the people had so much tattooing on their bodies that plain clothing was all they needed. However, the tattoo patterns have also been transferred to tapa cloth now as well as on other ornamentation. We saw a demonstration of making tapa, which is very arduous. The women strip the bark off of a branch and then separate the inner bark from the outer bark. The inner bark is then pounded for three hours with a heavy ironwood stick to break the fibers, stretch the bark, and make a soft pliable cloth much like a chamois cloth. It is then dried, and one side coated with tapioca to make an impervious layer so the paint does not bleed and run when the designs are added. In the afternoon, we both stayed aboard when the ship made a shorter stop at another port. Tom was quite ill that night with a fever and chills, but after a couple of ibuprofen, chicken broth, jello, and a movie on the TV on board, as well as a good night's sleep, he began to recover. (We carry a supply of bullion cubes and jello with us - they are hard to find around here, and certainly not on board this French ship.)
During the night, we sailed on back to Hiva Oa, this time stopping at two towns on the other side of the island. This was a day (Saturday) for Tom to get back on his feet, and eggs and toast for breakfast helped a lot. We both stayed on board for the morning stop, partly because we get pretty tired of the "herd" feeling of going ashore, and especially of being herded into jeeps and having a crowded tour of an archeological site which loses its magic quickly when there are 150 people talking and standing all over the place gawking. It seems so "canned". We are learning a lot about ourselves and our travel preferences - part of why we love our RV! The afternoon stop at another village on Hiva Oa was kind of drab - lots of fences, barbed wire, annoying children (for the first (and, we hope, only) time, not much to see or do.
On Sunday, the ship went to Tahuatua for the second time on the voyage, this time at the village of Hapatoni. This was the most enjoyable stop on the Aranui so far - a really charming village with some character, clean and quiet, nice people, and very relaxing. Anne went ashore, as Tom was still not feeling well. There was a barbeque lunch and lots of wood and bone carvings for sale - Anne bought a large canoe paddle made of rosewood - and it's too big to go into any of our suitcases! This will be interesting on the trip home! Anne had time ashore to do some painting too, which means she really liked the place. Tom went to the ship's doctor in the afternoon who gave him some medicine for his stomach problems - and could not understand why we are having trouble getting the food we need for him - but then she is French and does not speak much English!
Monday was spent at an island we had not yet been to - Ua HIva. Tom had an uncomfortable night, and today will be liquids only for him. The way was set up as a very strenuous and busy day touring the island in Jeeps, so we both stayed on the ship. it sounded like another "cattle drive" to us with endless vistas to photograph again, many museums and many more handicraft shops yet again - especially when the end of the journey was described as a wet entry into the whaleboats sitting a few yards off the beach for the return to the ship. So we both had a relaxing day on the ship, and Tom had a liquid diet - a hard task when no one seems to understand what broth is - communication is very bureaucratic and line of command on the ship so communication is difficult, especially when you really need something and it does not fit into their mindset.
Tuesday was on to soft foods for Tom, and the shore excursion in Nuku Hiva was going to be archeological ruins in the jungle, with mosquitos and "no-no" insects. The worst part, though, was that the shore drop-off would be such that the ship would go elsewhere with cargo and not return for the passengers until 6 hours late; they were to wait on benches until then, after lunch. We knew that would be very hot and exhausting, so again we stayed aboard, although we do wish we could have seen the ruins.
Wednesday, Tom was feeling much better, but it had been quite unnerving to have him sick for so long. The ship returned to the first port at Nuku Hiva, where we were at a dock, with a fairly short stop, followed later in the day with a stop at Ua Pao, our last in the Marquesas. We spent some time figuring out how to package the canoe paddle for checked-in baggage, since TSA would not allow such a thing as a carry-on on a flight to the USA.s We were referred by the front desk to Joel, who runs the dining room, because he has cardboard boxes that the cases of wine come in! Tome found a "big" store in Ua Poa with real duct tape, so we were in business! The canoe paddle is packaged securely now for check-in with the airline.
Thursday was a day at sea between the Marquesas and the Tuomotus. It was a cloudy, off-and-on rainy day for a change, and a bit cooler but still very warm. Tom went to a Q&A on the Aranui Freight operations. Besides finding out that it costs over $1000 to ship a car from Tahiti to one of the Marquesas Islands, the freight manager, Tino, also turned out to be a philosopher. Tino does not use computers to decide where the 50 containers of freight weighing up to 50 tons are housed in the four holds. He works with his people (19 sailors) and the captain and in one day they allocate the freight so it can be unloaded at the correct time, and provide room for the copra and Noni juice exported from the Marquesas. He says, "The crew works in harmony, like the birds in the air and the dolphins in the sea." He also spoke of the benefits of drinking Noni Juice and the power it gives him and the crew. Noni is a fruit grown in the Marquesas for centuries. This drink is now making inroads to the USA in a fruit-flavored, more palatable form, since in the raw it smells like Limburger cheese. We had also encountered Noni Juice in the Cook Islands.
On Friday, we made a stop in the Tuamotus again, at Rangiroa. This atoll was quite a bit more developed than the first Tuamotu, Fakarava, two weeks before. Nonetheless, it was beautiful. This was another big circle of small, narrow, longish, and very low islands surrounding a wide lagoon where the original volcanic island was eons ago. We could not see across to the other side of this lagoon. Tom visited a pearl farm and we watched playful dolphins as we left the harbor. That night we slept to the rocking of the ship and arrived in Papeete early in the morning. What an experience this cruise had been!
We took a taxi to the Tiare Tahtit hotel again, checking out at midnight for our Air New Zealand flight to Los Angeles. The flight was restful until Tom woke up to find a 6-inch wide crab crawling up his arm and into the blanket covering him! The airport at Tahiti is completely open to the outdoors, with a roof, and the plane is boarded on a staircase rather than a jetway. It would have been easy for any of the crabs we did see in the airport to grab onto someone's carry-on bag or even climb up the steps itself! At first the flight attendant thought we meant there there was a nasty person sitting near us, but Tom said, no, it was an animal with lots of legs. The flight attendant hurriedly got a male flight attendant and soon there were five of them crawling around near our seats with a flashlight chasing the crab up and down the aisle and under seats until they caught it in a plastic bag. We did get back to sleep after that - it was an 8-hour flight.
In Los Angeles we spent another long layover at the airport Radisson Hotel, and got the midnight United flight to Chicago and then to Rochester. We took the easy and convenient way out to Webster and home, by taxi, and were very happy to see our house still standing and in good shape. It was nice to be home again, and we are truly still amazed at this entire 3-month adventure - we planned it and we didi it!