Rapa Nui and the South Pacific
This trip satisfied a long-standing desire to see the enigmatic stone statues on Easter Island and, in addition, to visit several other South Pacific Islands. We traveled on Society Expedition's new World Discoverer, a replacement for the beloved ship of the same name that sunk in the Solomon Islands in 2000.
With "Operation Reelect Bush" in full swing in Iraq, the elevated security level at LAX resulted in random inspections of incoming vehicles. We decided that the usual 3 hour allowance for international flights might not be enough so we left for the airport at 9 am for our 1:20 flight to Santiago. At 9:55 am we had passed through ticketing, luggage inspection, personal security inspection, and were in the LANChile lounge. Our vehicle was not selected for inspection.
The flight did not board at a usual gate. Instead we were transported by van to the extreme western end of the airport. There, beneath the sand dunes, are some elemental boarding gates, consisting of little more than an enclosed cement ramp up to a typical aircraft boarding ramp. These are an expedient solution to insufficient terminal gates. The ramp is certainly much better for wheeled carry-ons than the stairs that are often encountered.
We arrived in smoggy Santiago, Chile, pretty much on time and passed through immigration and customs quickly, probably due to the early hour. A local rep of Society Expeditions met us and soon we were all whisked off to the Marriott Hotel where day rooms had been reserved for us. After a nap and a shower we wandered over to an adjacent shopping mall. It was difficult to tell that we were in another country. The shops and layout of the mall were quite familiar; it could have been any mall in Southern California. The people didn't seem to be dressed any differently. Even the sound of the Spanish language wasn't all that unfamiliar. Although unemployment is supposed to be high, this part of Santiago seemed quite prosperous.
We left the hotel at 1:30 pm for our 4:30 flight to Easter Island. We had now become part of the 25 to 30 thousand tourists who visit the island every year.
The flight was long and uneventful. Easter Island's airport runway is quite long. It was built in 1966 as a fueling point for flights from Chile to points east. NASA greatly extended it in 1986 as a shuttle emergency landing field. It now extends from one side of the island to the other. Although it is quite long, there are no taxi ways so the Airbus had to back-taxi on the runway to the very small terminal building. I wondered how the shuttle would be handled if it ever had to land there. There are no facilities or heavy lifting equipment. In addition, the island has no port facilities.
The busses took about 5 minutes to carry us from the airport to the Taha Tai hotel. This is a new, comfortable facility, although rather elemental. It is located on the coast and we could hear the surf crashing against the rugged lava coast line.
This schizophrenic island has at least three names and characters. Rapa Nui is the Polynesian name given to the island by a Maori translator who came to the island with Capt. Cook. The captain had heard of the island when visiting Polynesians and came prepared to speak with the locals. This name reflects the probable origin of these inhabitants. Apparently it is also known as Te Pito o Te Henua, or The Navel of the World.
Dutch admiral Jacob Roggeveen named it Easter Island since he first encountered it Easter, 1722. This, of course, is the name be which most of the world knows it.
When Chile annexed it in 1888 they named it Isla de Peschua. This is the name by which Chileans know it. Approximately half of the 4,000 inhabitants are from the mainland. The remainder are of Polynesian descent.
On our first day we began an all-day tour at 9 am and drove a short distance to Ahu Tahai. This ceremonial complex was restored in the 1960s by American archaeologist Dr. William Mulloy. (Dr. Mulloy made his first visit to the island with Thor Heyerdahl in the 1950s.) There are three different ahus, the platforms upon which the moais were mounted. The moais are the giant stone statues for which the island is noted. The statues are carved from volcanic rock, all taken from one specific volcano, Rano Raraku, and transported to the various sites by means unknown. (Dr. Mulloy was so devoted to his work and the island that he is buried at Ahu Tahai.)
The original population completely destroyed its environment by over-population and excessive religious zeal. The statues apparently formed an important part of ancestor worship, tribal rivalry, or both, and were, perhaps, akin to cathedral building in Europe. The clan with the biggest and best ahus and moais were the best. They used up all the trees on the island moving and erecting these things. The lack of resources caused the outbreak of war. All of the moais were pushed over and damaged. Contributing to the demise of trees were the Polynesian rats that the immigrants brought along as food. They ran wild, and along with the hungry natives, eliminated the native birds. Among these birds was a parrot that was the only pollinator of the indigenous giant palm. The loss of trees also meant that there was no way for the residents to flee the island.
Many ahus have been restored by modern archaeologists, such as Dr. Mulloy. The most spectacular at Ahu Tahai has been fully restored with, coral eyes and a red top knot.
After Ahu Tahai we moved a short distance to the museum. Although small, it has a nice collection. Unfortunately all the signs are in Spanish. The guides attempted to explain the exhibits to us however the sound levels in the building made it impossible to hear. There are, however, booklets available in English.
We had lunch at the Aringa Ora restaurant. It started with Pisco sours, an almost mandatory drink in any part of Chile. The meal, as usual, was served buffet style and consisted of local foods which were quite tasty.
In the afternoon we visited Ahu Akivi where there are 7 moai, all facing the sea. All of the others on the island face inland although they are located on the coast. At this site, each statue is approximately 14 feet high and weighs an estimated 12 metric tons.
Originally each moai was finished with a large red topknot, made of red scoria, a volcanic stone. All were taken from one location, the Puna Pau quarry, although the stone is available all over the island. There were several topknots laying there, awaiting transport.
Our final stop was one of the many lava tubes on the island. This one still contained signs of habitation.
Since our first breakfast at the hotel had been pretty meager, we decided not to have dinner there but to walk the short distance into town to a restaurant recommended by one of the tour guides. When we got there we found it closed because most don't open until 7 pm. We killed time by strolling around town then sat on the rock wall in front of the place until it opened at 7:15. The meal was excellent, stir-fried tuna and veggies served on a wooden platter for two. The meal, plus a bottle of Chilean wine, cost $30 US, including tip.
4/1. To start our second day we drove first to Ahu Vaihu where we saw eight moai laying face down. It was interesting to see the moai in their unrestored state.
We then drove to Ahu Tongariki where 15 moai stand proudly gazing across a valley. Like all the other moai on the island, these had been pushed over when the civilization collapsed. If that wasn't enough, a tidal wave in 1960 made a further mess of the site. Japanese archaeologists brought in a crane in 1992 and restored it to some extent. Fortunately there were some old photographs that they could use as a guide.
As I stated before, all of the moai on the island came from one volcano, Rano Raraku, which overlooks Ahu Tongariki. We drove over to visit this moai factory. With volcanos all over the island, only one was suitable for the moai. The moai were carved out of the native rock laying on their backs. It has been estimated that it would have taken 20 men, using stone tools, approximately one year to carve a moai. When this phase was complete the supporting keel was cut and they were placed upright in a hole further down the outer slope of the volcano for the final work. After this they were moved to their final location on an ahu somewhere on the island. The pictures I had seen of them were all from this area. Interesting point: there were far more moai in process than there were topknots in process.
There are a total of 900 moai on the island in various states. There are 100 still in the quarry; 100 upright for their final finishing; and 100 laying somewhere between the quarry and the intended destination. At least 180 were fitted with the red topknot.
We hiked through the erect moai, still half-buried in their holes. There were several in various stages of being chipped out of the lava walls. Our hike then led us on up into the caldera. There were several more moai inside, in addition to a reed-filled lake.
After viewing all this we hiked down to an eucalyptus grove were a picnic was in process. As an added surprise we were offered the opportunity to buy souvenirs. There were many, many outstanding wood carvings.
One of the biggies, after lunch we visited the largest moai ever errected on an ahu, Ahu Te Pito Kura. It turned out that, like all the other moai, it had been pushed over and looked mostly like a pile of rock. We saw an even larger moai in work on Rano Raraku so this one wasn't to impressive.
The final visit of the day was to Anakena Beach, reputed to be the location where the original Polynesian landing was made. There is a restored Ahu there. One of the nice things about this Ahu is that the moai fell into sand when they were pushed over. Their features were protected by the sand and therefore still sharp, non-eroded. This is also the site were the only white coral eye has been recovered. The moai were not considered fully capable, whatever that means, until they were fitted with coral eyes after erection on the ahu.
That night we tried another recommended restaurant, Hotel Orango. This time we timed our arrival for after 7 pm and went right in. A young girl greeted us and asked if we had reservations. We said "No." She said that was ok and directed us to sit on some couches in a waiting area near the bar. Soon the owner/chef, Raoul, came out and told us what he was cooking that night, fish, and asked if that was ok. We said it was and he said just wait because his cooking could not be rushed. "Did we want a drink?" We enjoyed some wine and then eventually one of the tables was set and our meal placed on the table. Then we were invited to the table. The meal was excellent. Raoul came to the table and asked how we liked the meal. I said it was magnificent and he replied, "I know."
After we finished our meal, and wine, and were waiting for the bill, Raoul noticed that the wine bottle was empty so he brought out a partial and said it was on him. So we finished it. The whole meal cost us $35 US.
4/2. On our last day, the tour was only a half day. We had the afternoon at leisure. We first visited Ahu Vinapu which suggested to some historians that the original settlers were of Incan origin. The stone work on the Ahu is quite similar to that attributed to the Incas in South America.
We then visited Rano Kau volcano and Orango Village. This ceremonial village was the location for the "bird man" ceremony. There are two tiny islands just off of the coast here. When the birds arrived in the spring, they triggered a competition to see which clan could bring a fresh bird egg back to the highest chief. The competitions had to climb down a very steep volcanic cliff to reach the sea and then swim to one of the islands, climb up the island's cliffs and snatch an egg from a nest. The egg were carried in the competitors' mouths as the swam and climbed back to the start. The chief of the clan whose representative presented the first egg was considered the bird man for the following year which gave him many privileges.
After all our elaborate meals we decided we would have some of the highly touted ice cream from a store in town for lunch. We walked in and arrived before noon but found the place closed. Instead we had a "meat" sandwich. It was served on a 6" bun and consisted of a few thin strips of highly seasoned beef, at least one avocado, lettuce, tomatoes. A very filling lunch. For dinner the group went to an umu dinner and dance show at the outdoor Kari Kari Cultural Center.
4/3. As we strolled down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast we saw the World Discoverer at anchor off the coast. There was a pronounced swell coming in, as there had been during our entire stay. There was continual booming of the surf. You could see that the ship was rolling in this swell. There are no docking facility on the island so all of our luggage and we had to go to the ship via zodiac. The ride out through the surf was thrilling, and wet. The ship's crew earned their keep that day.
After checking in we went to our cabin, 519, and started unpacking in an attempt to finish the task before the ship sailed. It finally occurred to me that the ship would probably roll less when under way than the very unpleasant rolling at anchor. Lunch was served shortly thereafter. During lunch it was announced that we would circumnavigate Rapi Nui before heading off to Pitcairn Island. It was nice to see the entire island from the ship and to see the features from a different perspective. We concluded our unpacking after departing the island.
We now faced two days of rocking and rolling to cross the 1100 miles to the Pitcairn Islands. Thank heavens for stabilizers.
A few words about the ship; it looks quite new and elegant since it has been in service for only a year. It is a replacement for the original of the same name that sank April 30, 2000, at Nigella Island in the Sand Fly Passage in the Solomon Islands. Although it was beached and could have been recovered, armed islanders drove the survey team off of the ship and looted it. Prior to that, the locals stole anything they could from the passengers on the beach immediately after the abandonment.
The current ship was built in 1989 and placed in Baltic Sea ferry service as the Delphic Clipper. She proved too small for this service and was sold to the Samsung Corporation in 1995 who converted it to a floating school called Dream 21. This venture was not successful so she rode at anchor for five years off of the Samsung shipyard in Korea. Society took possession in November, 2001 at a cost of approximately $15 to $20 million. The conversion took another $20 million and was completed in April 2002.
There is extensive use of wooden paneling and ceramic tile. Our cabin evokes memories of our cabin on the Radisson Navigator, except on a smaller scale. For example, we had no walk-in closet but we did have very adequate storage space. There is a balcony however it is only 18" deep, just enough for chairs setting sideways. A small refrigerator is stocked with complementary nonalcoholic beverages and bottled water. There is a couch and a coffee table and a nice desk. The TV is a flat screen plasma type. Extensive use is made of tile in the bathroom. The shower is included in a very short tub. (The bathrooms were built as units, complete with extensive tile, and shipped from Korea to the shipyard in Singapore.) The shower water temperature remains constant! We had requested a double bed so the two twin beds had been shoved together and covered with one bed spread. When the spread is removed the truth is revealed. Rather than the more conventional sheet and blanket, the beds have the accursed duvets. The mattresses are extremely firm, so much so that we slept on top of the duvets with a sheet on top.
All decks are serviced by two elevators.
4/6. Ducie Atoll is the home of countless sea birds. It is the only remaining nesting location for Murphy's petrel. We landed on the steep, coral rubble beach and walked across the island to the inner lagoon. The air was full of acrobatic birds. The most spectacular were the fairy terns. Some of these elegant white birds would hover just out of reach inspecting you closely. There were also quite a number of masked boobies flying and also nesting on the ground. The beauty of the birds was augmented by the beauty of the atoll. Every hue of turquoise was present in the lagoon.
This atoll, and the rest of the Pitcairn Island Group are British, courtesy of the Bounty mutineers. Although considered outlaws by the Crown, they were recognized as British citizens enough to allow the Crown to claim the islands.
4/7. Henderson Is. This tabular, coral island was uplifted from sea level, perhaps by the general crustal uplift. After our time ashore we circumnavigated it and could see precipitous cliffs on all sides with a couple of places where there are beaches with coconut palms.
We went ashore on one of these beaches and walked with Tony Roberts, the botanist on staff. According to him, most of the plants and trees and introduced. There is archeological evidence of early Polynesian presence here and on Pitcairn. They probably were responsible for the introduction. The undergrowth is fairly open with many sizable trees. As on previous shore excursions, the temperature in the shade was quite pleasant.
We saw three of the endemic birds, the Henderson warbler, Stephens lorikeet, and the Henderson flightless rail. The rail is all black except for red feet and a red eye-ring. It looks like a walking 8-ball.
In the afternoon we indulged in an absolutely worthless snorkel. Although the water was quite clear, there was nothing to see other than thousands of sea urchins.
During the circumnavigation we frequently saw the surf soar to the height of the island. Quite spectacular!
4-8. Pitcairn Island. Bounty Bay is just the slightest indentation in the rugged coast line of this volcanic island. A very small breakwater protects the landing stage. The swell made boarding the zodiacs difficult however all made it. When we got ashore we faced a 240-foot climb up a road to Jamestown, currently the residence of approximately 45 people. Most, of course, are the decedents of the Bounty mutineers. I was expecting a homogeneous, basically Polynesian population however they are individually quite different. Some are Polynesian however many look typically English, if the English have a typical look. There are several residents who are on the island for special projects.
The center of town consists of a plaza with the 7th Day Adventist church on one side, the town offices on another, and the museum on the third. Thee were many tables of local handicrafts for sale. These are primarily wood carvings with some baskets and the inevitable t-shirts.
After shopping we strolled up to the school and chatted briefly with the teacher. He and his wife are from New Zealand. They had taught here before, really liked it, and sought another session. There are six students in the school, three in elementary and three in high school. The high school students use a correspondence course.
We hiked to an overlook from the school and then back to the town center. Our return to town took us past the cemetery where we saw the recent grave of a 93-year old who had never left the island. The local minister/nurse offered us a ride back to the landing on his ATV. These are the only form of mechanized transportation used on the island. The ride was quite dusty.
The swell increased during our time ashore so re-boarding the ship was a bit of a challenge. As a result, the planned return to town in the afternoon was cancelled. Also as planned, many islanders came onto the ship and set up shop and also had lunch. After lunch we circumnavigated the island twice. The islanders left by one of their very large long boats, after loading it with a large amount of food, beer, milk, and canned goods. These things are given to them by the ship and are referred to as "out sharing" by the islanders. This is in addition to the $45 per landed passenger paid by Society.
4-10. Mangareva. After almost a full day at sea we arrived in the Gambier Group and spent the night at rolling anchor. This was touted as a quiet night at sea where sleep would be easy. The ship rolled considerably in the swell all night long. The night was made especially long since we set our clocks back one hour. In our steady voyage West we keep stepping the clocks backwards. We have now left the time zone that California is in.
The morning was spent in Mangareva, our port of entry for French Polynesia. We went ashore early and eventually viewed a welcoming dance ceremony. The dancers weren't especially interested in their art. But the real reason for our visit was to buy black pearls on a casual basis, i.e., at street corners, our of pick-up truck beds. The crew bought more than the passengers.
We then visited the 1,200 seat Cathedral of St. Michael, built by a mad priest who enslaved the people and reduced the population from 3,000 to 500. The people were forced to construct his grand scheme rather than fish and cultivate. Those who disagreed were thrown into prison pits. The cathedral was started in 1826 and finished 23 years later. The altar is elaborately decorated with mother-of-pearl. Afterwards we went to a cemetery and then to the nunnery that he built. It is now a ruins.
We were allowed into the cathedral by a short, pudgy French priest, Pierre Maurice. We entered and were then locked in. We had to listen to his "brief" remarks defending the founding priest and the building itself before being allowed to photograph the spectacular altar. His remarks were in French; Christian Walter, one of the German naturalists, then translated them into English and German. Then the doors were unlocked.
The sea-faring Polynesians first settled Mangareva, Pitcairn and Henderson. A triangular trade developed between the three, with Pitcairn providing the hard stone for tools, Mangareva the black oyster shells, and Henderson decorative bird feathers. This all collapsed when, as on Easter Island, they exhausted their resources. Unlike Easter Island, they still had trees which allowed them to build rafts and abandon the islands.
Archeologists have determined what birds and creatures were originally on these islands by excavating middens (garbage pits.) From these they have learned, for example, that all endemic land birds had been destroyed either by being eaten or from loss of habitat.
Mangareva is within a few hundred miles of where the French conducted their nuclear testing. They built a fall-out shelter here. During some of the above ground tests the residents were forced to spend up to three days in the shelter. The French ships that were exposed to fall-out were scrubbed down in the lagoon here. There are rumors that radioactive by products are leaking from some of the underground shots. Although the French keep all medical data classified, there are also reports of increased numbers of birth defects and other health problems in the area.
4-11. We spent the afternoon at Puka Rua on a small island that is part of the atoll. Access is through a very small passage that has been blasted through the coral reef. The reef is immediately adjacent to the island so there is the opportunity to ride the surf into the tiny harbor. The ship was not able to land passengers on the last trip.
We went ashore and found the entire island given over to copra production. There were no apparent endemic plants. All the ground was covered with coral rubble, even the road. We walked across the island to the settlement and lagoon. Freshly painted white walls lined much of the road. The houses seem adequate with electricity and running water from cisterns. Gutters along the edge of all roofs collect rain water and channel it into above ground cisterns. Many homes have satellite TV, an interesting contrast to the sanitary facilities consisting of out-houses.
We were greeted with the usual dance in which both Jodie and I were "permitted" to participate, briefly. Quite a number of the 40, or so, residents are small children.
4-12. Puka Puka. One meaning of Puka is hole. I don't know how this applies to either Puka Rua or Puka Puka. Neither are holes unless you consider an atoll a hole. Anyway, both were very white which made the intense noon Sun even hotter. In a triumph of bad scheduling we went ashore at Puka Puka at 1:30 for the usual welcoming dance. The heat was intense. I don't believe that dance is a normal part of their life. The dancers were the younger girls who danced to the accompaniment of a boom-box. I think that most of the 140 residents were present for the dance.
We returned to the ship after this to go snorkeling. After considerable indecision at the side gate over what use was to be made of the zodiacs we finally were taken to the anchored zodiacs. (Because of this excessive delay at the side gate, we missed an opportunity to swim with some dolphins.) As usual, there were two pairs of zodiacs spaced a short distance apart in fairly deep water. These pairs of anchored zodiacs defined our permitted snorkeling area. Given the number of people in the water it was difficult to avoid running into each other. Given the depth it was difficult to see the few fish that were present.
As we get closer to the Equator the inadequacy of the cabin AC became more apparent. This was a graphic demonstration of the origin of the POSH designation. Our cabin on the starboard side received direct sunlight through the sliding doors. The only way to keep the temperature even somewhat bearable was to keep the room-darkening drapes closed. So why have the lovely sliding doors and balcony? I requested that the AC be fixed. All that happened was that two days later a crew member came in with and determined that the cabin really was hot, 87o F.
4-13. Fatu Hiva. This was our first stop in the Marquesas Islands. It has a population of 650. Our morning activity consisted of eating breakfast then waiting until 10:15 for a lecture on bird migration. Franz Baleriein is the German "bird man" on the trip and is also deeply involved in research in Germany. His institute is on the island of Helgoland that is on one of the migration fly ways. It was quite interesting.
The ship entered the Bay of Virgins around 1 pm. After looking at the rock pinnacles surrounding the bay it is easy to understand why it was called the Bay of Penises before the conservative missionaries arrived.
We received the usual lei upon landing and then wandered around a bit. There was tapa cloth and beautiful wood carvings for sale, however we resisted. Then we had the usual welcoming ceremony which included some pretty good dancing which included both males and females. There was also a demonstration of the making of tapa cloth from tree bark.
Afterwards we did a short hike with Tony and went back to the ship.
4-14. Hiva Oa. Our first stop was Pua Mau Bay where we were greeted with tropical "showers." We went ashore, received our leis, and rode pick-up trucks to restored Te L'ipona Me'ae. This is the location of the largest stone tiki in Polynesia. A dance was scheduled there however the continuing rain showers impacted the performance. The last passengers arrived with an intense shower. After it abated the male dancers performed. The rain returned after they finished and most passengers returned to the ship. Since all the pick-ups were full we wandered around in the rain and looked at the site. Eventually we rode down out of the rain and then walked back toward the ship. Our very pleasant stroll was interrupted by word that we needed to return to the ship immediately since the sea was getting rough.
During lunch the ship moved to the principle town on the island, Atuona. Its claim to fame is that both Paul Gauguin and Jacques Brel are buried there. Le Truck took us to the cemetery and then we walked to the Paul Gauguin Museum. Then we walked back to the ship, about a 2-mile walk.
4-15. Ua Pou. The World Discoverer deftly backed into the harbor, dropped the anchor while backing and eventually placed its stern almost against the wharf. The stern was made fast with 4 hawsers and we were ready for the 40-second ride from the side gate to the landing. Adorned with the usual leis, we set off to the craft center with a local guide, a large, tall Polynesian.
The eager shoppers were interrupted by a dance presentation by several high school or college girls. It seemed to be a combination of typical Tahitian dance with some modern variations. The accompanying music was provided by a boom-box. Throughout the dances the dancers seemed to be sharing some secret joke. Once they finished they started working of various demonstration sewing projects. The chef/instructor from the college cooking school and some students were preparing crepes filled with guava jam. The crepes were quite good. I assume that the goal of the college is to prepare the students to support the tourist industry.
No sooner than the intense shopping had resumed we were told that the formal welcoming dance was going to be held at a historic site. This dancing was much more traditionally oriented and accompanied by two very enthusiastic drummers. Some of the dancers wore costumes made of tapa cloth. Both dance presentations were quite good, the best we have seen so far.
There were tables of traditional food, including freshly prepared breadfruit. During the dance, some breadfruit was cooking on hot coals. Each fruit was removed from the fire by picking it up with two sticks. Then one blunt stick was used to peel the skin off. Then a man used a poi pounder to turn the fruit into a thick paste. This paste may be eaten like poi with your fingers or it may be deep-fat fried in hunks. Raw breadfruit is also cut into hunks and fried. Both forms are quite tasty and do have a taste resemblance to bread.
Rather than join any of the organized hikes we just wandered around after the show. There is an unremarkable looking church with some beautiful carved doors that are bolted shut. Inside most of the statues were draped in purple cloth since it was Holy Week. It boasts a remarkable pulpit carved from one piece of wood.
There is also a small but interesting museum. There are some detailed presentations about tattoos. Speaking of tattoos, we had a very good lecture a few days ago from Christian Walker about them, illustrated with many photos. The most remarkable was a penis tabooed with the image of a lizard.
When we departed we paused to circle Motu Oa, an isolated bird island.
4-17 Takapoto. Another atoll, another lei. We seem to be spending all our time going ashore, receiving a lei, and then having a welcoming dance. There is never an opportunity for any snorkeling however the staff can always work in one or two scuba dives. This organization has its priorities all screwed up. We have handed out five Zegrahm cards to disgruntled passengers. The trip is advertised as having snorkeling however there has been none worth mentioning.
Anyway, we went ashore and did a botany walk with Tony which was quite interesting. Then we realized that we should be getting to the BBQ site but no one knew quite where it was. After a 45 minute walk along a very hot road we finally reached the place. Although we had sent our snorkel bag along for a promised snorkel we were told that snorkeling was a waste of time. We were quite hot and managed to get a small portion of water from the locals who were putting on the BBQ. The drink tickets were only good for soft drinks, not the promised beer. The salads for lunch seemed to be quite warm so all I had was a piece of chicken. Jodie had nothing. Apparently the locals saved the better cooked meat items for after the ship passengers had eaten. They ate after we did. We caught a shuttle back to the ship.
We intended to compensate for the lack of lunch at tea-time however we were too late. Other passengers had the same plan and arrived before the scheduled time of 4 pm and ate most of the things offered. Other than a very interesting botany walk it was another wasted day given over to poor planning.
4-19 Mataiva. The guide book says that there are several good snorkeling places at Mataiva. We went ashore and received our lei and watched a delightful childrens' dance, sampled some local food, and did a nature hike. The cruise director was trained as a hotel manager and has no experience with adventure cruising.
The ship stopped outside one of the passages into the atoll. A strong current was draining the lagoon as the zodiacs took us in. We were greeted, of course, with the usual singing and leis. After a bit we strolled to the school for the dancing and food. After all this we went on a birding hike with Dr. Cameron Kepler, the English-speaking bird man, during which he and another naturalist spotted a Tuamoto sand piper. This is an extremely rare bird that doesn't nest on this island. They spotted two so perhaps they are expanding their habitat.
4-21 Bora Bora, Papeete, Bora Bora. On our first stop in Bora Bora we devoted the morning to shopping since it was Saturday. Our visit to Palette would be on Easter Sunday so all would be closed, and our next visit to Bora Bora was on another religious holiday. So Saturday we shopped. After lunch we snorkeled. It wasn't great except when compared to what we have had so far on the trip which made it outstanding. There actually were fish that you could see.
The site was near the reef. There were several other boats there so it was a bit crowded. There were even scuba divers under us. The fish are used to being fed so they approached closely. The only problem was that there was quite a strong current that you needed to fight.
Around 5 pm we received an invitation to dine with the captain. We assumed that the lateness was because of some other invitees declining and we were a last minute fill-in. We discovered during dinner that all invitations were that late. In addition, all of the invitees were from the cabins around us. We were all from one block of cabins. Our next thought was that the staff had neglected to invite anyone for the captain's table and just picked a bunch of people at the very last minute. This was the farewell dinner for the 141 passengers on the first leg of the trip.
We said good bye to our friends of three weeks in Papeete. We did the circle island tour which took all day to keep the ship clear for cleaning and reprovisioning. There were three shipping containers waiting on the dock when we arrived.
On our second visit to Bora Bora we did the circle island tour in the morning. This island is heavily impacted by tourism, perhaps by choice. The price of copra has fallen (70¢ a kilo) so tourists are the next best source of money. There are expensive luxury hotels everywhere. The local junior college trains the kids to support the hotels. (Historic note; American GIs left behind 200 babies on Bora Bora after WWII.)
We wanted to get some wine to have in the room so we went to the local super market after the tour. There was masking tape across the shelves of wine bottles bearing the word, "Ferme." There was also a sign in French with the dates of April 18th and April 21st. I inquired at checkout and found out that alcohol couldn't be sold because of the holiday.
Tonight was the Captain's welcome cocktail and dinner. There are 82 passengers on this leg, 41 German and 41 English speaking. There are 10 naturalists! About 15 passengers continued on from the first leg.
4-22 Mopelia. This was our last stop in the Society Islands. All we did here was snorkel. It was pretty good; outstanding compared to the trip so far. The birders went to One-Tree Island. Snorkeling was inside the lagoon after a very rough ride from the ship to the anchored zodiacs.
4-23 Atiu. This was our first stop in the Cook Islands. Another traditional welcome of leis and then a dance performance by kids. Entrance to the dock was by a z-shaped breakwater. A freighter was also there, making a regular stop. The zodiacs had to vie with the lighters bearing goodies to and from the freighter. The welcome was on a bluff overlooking the dock. After the welcome we hiked with Greg Calvert, the botanist on this segment, and a local guide named George who identified various local plants and trees. Most plants seem to have some healing properties. The hike ended at the site where Capt. Cook landed when exploring these islands. When we returned to the dance site a spread of local foods had been prepared for our gastronomical enjoyment.
4-24 Aitutaki. Another atoll, another lei. When we came ashore we were challenged by a warrior and then had to walk across the "sacred stone" to be allowed onto the island. The dancers this time were young adults and were quite good. They tour internationally. After the ceremony we boarded local boats while the German group boarded "busses." We rode out to One-Foot Island; they toured. After a wait on the beach, we snorkeled for 45 minutes. It was quite good. The boat stopped in 4 feet of water. We swam from it to deeper water where there were a number of coral heads. As you would expect, there was quite a variety of fish around and in them. When I entered the water I was greeted by a flock of sargent majors who escorted me for the rest of my visit. I felt like I had an escort that was making sure that I did nothing wrong. There was a slight current so at one point when I was down current from a head I swam very close to it to inspect some coral polyps. As I was quite close to the coral I noticed a very small pair of beady eyes staring at me from a hole. There was also a face with a scowl. It was a blemie in a hole. There were also a number of brown damsel fish patrolling various parts of the head. I steaded myself by touching a part of the rock that wasn't live coral and immediately the damsel whose territory this was challenged me. It first squirted little puffs of water at my fingers, then started nipping. These are quite fearless little fish.
We had to leave the water much before we were ready so we could get back to the beach for lunch. Again, there was a spread of local food plus some extremely good fried yellow tail tuna. Then we sat for hours on the hot beach until we shuttled back for our truck ride. We stopped at a gigantic banyan tree where we fed the local mosquitoes.
4-25 Palmerston Atoll. In the 1800s, William Marsters came to Palmerston, an unoccupied atoll, with his three Polynesian wives. They were very prolific. When he died in 1899 he split the island between his three sons. There has been much disagreement between the descendants since then however they continued to intermarry and reproduce. Now there are 56 island residents however there are Marsters in several places in New Zealand and Australia.
Our greeting was quite a bit different from previous atolls. We all assembled under the palms and the current patriarch led us in a prayer and the read a sermon. We strolled around the place with Su who had lived for a few years in New Zealand but came back with her family because her mother wanted her to. William's original house still stands. It was built from lumber salvaged from a ship. There are 20 kids in school. The secondary students use a correspondence course from New Zealand. There are many, many little kids around. They have no doctor or medications on the island so they resort to folk remedies. The ship's doctor treated several kids for ear infections and also left quite a large supply of antibiotics for later use. This is a true sustenance existence. A supply ship comes four times a year. They can buy stuff if they have money in Rarotonga, however few of them do so they must exist on what they can harvest from the land and sea.
This island is the typically flat atoll. At one point in our stroll Su pointed out a small rise, perhaps 10 feet higher than the surrounding ground. When a hurricane struck in 1920 the residents all huddled on top of this hill to survive the tidal surge. All but one survived; one was hit by a falling tree. The storm destroyed all of the coconut palms on the island so the survivors subsisted for three years by scraping the nutritious pulp off of the exterior of Pacific mahogany nuts. We tried it. The pulp is less than 1/16" thick. It would have taken a lot of effort to live on this. Eventually a ship arrived and brought more food. I would think that they would have been able to catch fish during this time, also.
This is the third island with a limited gene pool that we have visited recently. The first was Tristan de Chuna, the second was Pitcairn. Palmerston, however, is the only one with such a limited basis. There were no obvious genetic defects. Apparently they make no effort to limit mating selection.
After lunch we snorkeled. Unfortunately, from my standpoint, the water was deep and I couldn't see very much. The coral seemed quite nice and there seemed to be quite a lot of fish, including a couple of white-tipped reef sharks.
4-27 Nuie. Yesterday was the one year anniversary of the World Discoverer being put into service so we celebrated with a champagne cocktail party and then a "special" dinner. The party was to be on deck however we ran into a squall so it was moved to the Lido.
The ship rolled quite a lot all night. When we awoke, the seas were still rough, with the surf crashing violently against the uplifted coral cliffs and there was rain all around. It didn't look propitious for our landing on Nuie, a very small island-nation. Things calmed quite a bit when we entered the sheltered bay so we were able to land. Mini busses took us to our first stop, Aviiki cave. The acidic water draining off of the land ate its way to the sea through the limestone. The interior is wildly eroded with stalactites hinging from the ceiling. Reaching the cave entrance required going down some rain-slickened steps.
After the cave we rode to the snorkel pools at Limu. Access was by a steep, slick path however it was worth it. The first pool reaches the ocean through an arch. We encountered several sea snakes there, including two that were mating. Although these snakes are extremely poisonous, they are quite docile. In addition, they have such a small mouth that is almost impossible for them to bite a person. The reason for the potency of their poison is so that when they bite a prey in the water it dies instantly, rather than swimming away and dying later
The second pool is quite shallow and so we had a delightful time viewing the many fish there. In both pools the view was often distorted by layers of cold, fresh spring water that drained into them. The temperature and salinity difference created a shimmering affect. Our stop in Nuie was only a half day. Since the day was Sunday almost everything was closed, except the churches so I guess a half day was enough. An advantage of being there on Sunday was the opportunity to listen to the beautiful Polynesian voices singing hymns.
4-29 Neiafu, Tonga. Monday, April 28 never happened for us. We crossed the IDL last night. We spent most of our half day in Neiafu shopping. There were shuttle vans to move us to various places however after going to the view point we went back to the market then strolled around the town. At 10 there was some kind of competition at the visitor center. The first seemed to be who could grate the meat out of a fixed number of coconuts the fastest. The other two competitions involved weaving palm founds.
The downtown area was decorated with blue and white balloons. In addition, there was a pick-up truck driving around with some women in the back singing. It seems that the princess was in town and everyone was celebrating. If we had remained on the ship we could have met her since she paid it a visit. She is visiting all of the Tongan islands.
We went to a grocery store with the intent of buying something so that we could get tome Tongan money in change. They were not willing to take US dollars so we went across the street and got a small amount from an ATM. (We have always been successful getting local money from ATM with a cash card. Usually language is not a problem.) With our local money we bought some sandalwood soap and received the small bills in changes as we originally wanted.
On the way back to the ship I spotted some bottles of wine and booze displayed for sale. This was in the window of a hardware store! Our remaining Tongan money was not sufficient to cover the cost of the wine we bought so we offered US money which was ok, except they didn't know what the current exchange rate was. One of the clerks walked to the bank to find out what it was, came back, and completed the transaction.
During lunch the ship moved through the many islands, finally stopping near a very small village. Zodiac tours of limestone caves, walking in the village, and swimming from a beach were offered. The rain that greeted us this morning continued intermittently. Fortunately we were in the first Zodiac group which remained dry almost until we were back to the ship. The second group ended up taking shelter in the caves. We opted out of swimming or walking in the heavy rain.
4-30 Lifuka & Uoleva, Tonga. This was the first visit by the WD at Lifuka. We went ashore and boarded one of the fleet of little vans and toured the town. Our driver/guide told us nothing of the town as we drove around. It is a small town with many garden plots interspersed among houses. At 10 we went to the community center for a dance presentation by a youth group from a local church. There were four young men and three young ladies. The men's dance was vigorous with much foot stomping, whirling about, and gesturing, probably based on warrior moves. The ladies' dance, in contrast, was quite demure with mostly hand gestures and very little foot movement. Accompaniment was provided by a number of singers, a percussionist, two guitars, and a banjo. (I believe that the banjo is an American invention.) In the midst of the dancing people would wander out from the audience and tuck things into the dancers costumes. Finally the announcer explained that if Tongans approve of the dance they make a monetary gift immediately during the dance. (Although we have no personal experience with such things, it seemed similar to what happens at Chippendale's or other exotic dance establishments.)
During lunch the ship moved to Uoleva where swimming, diving and snorkeling was offered. We snorkeled. The water was fairly cloudy and choppy. It was also quite cold. There were a lot of very nice fish and coral.
5-1 Tongatapu, Tonga. This is the capital of Tonga and the major port. We were alongside by 7 am however it took until 8:15 to get the proper gangway rigged. There was a bus tour in which we saw the King's palace through the fence, the Kings' tomb complex (with one queen), the culture center, and some fruit bats. The flag was flying over the palace, indicating that he is in residence. His health is poor so his place at the tomb complex is ready. Commercial agriculture seems to result in their major exports. At the culture center there was first the Kava ceremony then some dancing similar to that seen yesterday. Then we saw a tapa demo and then a cooking demo. When we were in Neiafu two days ago we saw a large display of canned corned beef in both grocery stores we visited. These were #10 cans and occupied most of one row. There were also many cans of canned mackerel. It turns out that they like to use either one of these products when cooking with coconut cream in banana leaves in a fire pit. We left at 1 pm for Fiji.
Many of the adult males wear a very long skirt, many with pockets. In addition, both men and women wear something that looks like a giant place mat around their waists. These mats are woven and must be useful if you are a messy eater. They are said to be a sign of wealth.
At one time, the King of Tonga was the World's largest monarch, tipping the scales at 444 pounds. He apparently decided that this wasn't healthy and reduced his weight to a normal amount. Now, at age 87, his health is frail, although he still consumes a complete roasted suckling piglet for breakfast each day. It must be depressing for him, as his health fails, to know that his tomb is ready and waiting for him. There will be a national year of mourning after his death.
His son, the 50 year old crown prince is not married and lives in an imposing mansion on the outskirts. By law or tradition or something he is supposed to be married before he can become king. He is still single.
5-2 Ono-I-Lau, Fiji. At recap last night we had a little kava ceremony to get us ready for Fiji. I drank some and found it tasted like water with dirt in it. The only affect I felt was that my tongue felt a bit numb.
The kava ceremony is a very important, formal social occasion. Kava is made from the roots of the piper methysticum shrub. Traditionally it was prepared by chewing the roots into a mush, mixing the result with water, and then filtering the mess through coconut fibers. The saliva aids the release of the active ingredients. Now, at least for tourists, the roots are simple pounded into a pulp in some kind of mortar and water added. Kava powder is also commercially available.
The drink is prepared in a very large wooden bowl and served in a half coconut shell. The cup barer takes the first cup to the chief. The next cup usually goes to an honored guest. Subsequent cups are served in order of status. The result of drinking kava can range from mild numbness of the lips to greater numbness and general lethargy.
It was a very long (over an hour), wet, rough, windy ride from where the ship anchored to the village. We went in a convoy since the passage through the surrounding reef is not obvious. One of the locals was leading us. We were greeted by a gentleman on the beach and led to the village center when all had arrived. When we reached the center we stood under a tree for a long time while the chiefs debated whether we should be allowed to visit. After their approval there was a kava ceremony with only a few individuals having kava. Then the school children sang, a genuine delight. An older and then a younger group of males performed some sort of warrior dances. The younger ones seemed like a parody of the older. Residents were clustered under trees sitting on mats throughout the area.
It is considered poor manners to wear a hat in a Fijian village. In addition you must not sit with your legs outstretched or sit higher than the chiefs.
After all this a couple of teen-aged boys escorted us around the village, the church, health clinic, and school. The kids sang again for us. We encountered a small boy dressed as a warrior both at the dancing and at the school. His grandmother asked us to send her pictures of him so she could send them to his parents who were working away from the island.
It was an even longer, wetter ride back to the ship. The tide had fallen and we had to depart by a different route.
5-3. Fulanga, Fiji. The lagoon was filled with strange mushroom-shaped islands. We navigated through these in the zodiac and landed on a crushed shell beach. The village is on the other side of the island which required a half-hour walk to reach it. We took much longer since we walked with Cam and one of the locals. We were looking for birds, especially some endemic parrots. When we finally reached the village we found that we had missed the kava ceremony (darn) but the beautiful wooden carvings were still available. Jodie indulged in a bit of Polaroid photography of the kids. The kids (and parents) really love getting the little pictures. After a bit of shopping we strolled on over to the cemetery. Many of the graves were elaborately decorated with flags and artificial flowers. Most of the tombs were constructed of concrete. All of the 90-pound cement bags must be carried from the same landing we used. There are no vehicles on the island.
The ship's doctor discovered a woman who had a severe infection in one finger. He felt that if it had been left untreated she would have lost her finger, at least. He took her to the ship and treated it and provided her with antibiotics for continued treatment.
5-4. Kadavu, Fiji. Since it was Sunday we encountered most of the residents dressed in their Sunday finery going to or from one of the several churches. Some of the passengers also attended. Most of the men and older boys wore the lava-lava (skirts) with dress shirts and ties. The women wore fancy western style dresses. Everyone we met was especially friendly, greeting us with "Bula" or "Bula-Bula." We strolled with Greg, looking at the plants and eventually finding a live Kava plant. Our stroll turned around at the local airport where we were offered fruit juice. A brief shower providentially occurred while we were there. Perhaps the best part of the visit was no Kava ceremony. Jodie again was a hit with the Polaroid camera.
5-5. Lautoka, Fiji. Debarkation day. After our last breakfast on board we went off on the Fijian Village and Orchid Garden tour to fill the time until we could check in to our day rooms. The first stop was Viseisei Village, a model village within the city. After another Kava ceremony there was some rather good dancing and singing by an adult group. They pounded tuned bamboo tubes on the ground for accompaniment.
We then visited the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, an orchid garden created by Raymond Burr to house his private collection of tropical orchids. It was quite spectacular. The tour concluded with a shopping frenzy in town before going to the very elegant Sheraton Fiji Resort on Denarau Island.
This was a very nice resort. It was a shame we were only going to be there until early evening. We had a late lunch in the open-air lobby. I had a club sandwich which included a fried egg! I also had a bottle of the most excellent Fijian beer. In contrast to Easter Island, this light meal was quite expensive.
At 8 pm we went off to the air port for our 8½ hour Air New Zealand flight to LA.
The World Discoverer is a very nice ship. The meals were acceptable, although sometimes strange. The complementary wine with lunch and dinner were pleasant. All of the ship's service personnel were attentive and helpful, belying the argument that tipping the crew insures better service. (Tipping is not required on the ship.)
There was an excellent naturalist staff. The zodiac operation is one of the best we have encountered. Negatives: the ship is too large for a good "adventure ship," shore excursions were poorly planned.