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South Pacific Dance Cruise 2009: Part III: French Polynesia

Two Days in Traveler's Paradise: French Polynesia

Our South Pacific Cruise is rapidly coming to an end  and this is the part that most of us had been waiting for; visiting the beautiful islands of French Polynesia that sit like exquisite jewels in the warm blue and green waters of the Pacific Ocean.

The islands we will visit on this cruise are Bora Bora and Moorea, and then the  Pacific Princess will dock at Papeete in Tahiti.  With a 7:30 am flight  next morning I won't see Tahiti so I really wanted to get a  flavour of the other two islands.

Bora Bora and Moorea are part of the Society Islands , an archipelago originally named for the British Royal Society by Captain Cook. There are two groups, the Windward Islands, in which Tahiti and Moorea are included, and the Leeward Islands in which Bora Bora lies. They have been a French colony since 1880.

Because of the time constraints, what these cruise visits do is  just give you enough of a taste of each destination so that you can decide to where you would like to return for further experiences.  Having grown up in Cape Town where  I used to love to swim in the warm waters of the southern Indian Ocean, I was eager to dip my toes into the waters of the South Pacific. So Bora Bora and Moorea - here I come. 

Wednesday October 7  Samba at Sea and Bora Bora

We were originally scheduled to arrive  at  the island of  Bora Bora at  8 am  and  depart at 5 pm for Moorea, but  adverse currents and choppy seas over the preceeding  five days had  forced a reduced cruising speed and that meant we would not arrive in Bora Bora until around noon. 

This caused some concern among those who had booked early morning excursions, and lots of scrambling on the part of the staff to reschedule everything. I had not booked an excursion so it did not bother me. I was more concerned with the fact that I had rashly  signed up to do a  Samba routine in the talent show at 10:30 am and we had not really rehearsed anything.

I woke as usual around 6 am and by 6:30 was sipping coffee and eating a banana  nut muffin and yogurt in "my office" on the aft deck outside the Pacific Buffet. We had arranged for Jorge to come and help Richard and I choreograph a short samba routine - really simple stuff but energetic enough to look like we were doing something good. I had my I-Pod with some great samba music and we put together three mini-routines that we thought would be fun.

We went through several variations and by the end of our brief practice i already felt I had had my workout for the day. I went back to the cabin to recharge my I-POd and get changed.  Ruby and Jorge decided to put together a tango routine. Cool - so as it turned out of the 6 "acts" 2 were from the Dancers at Sea group.

There is something strangely liberating about being among a mass of strangers who don't know your name, and whom you will never likely encounter again. I think I can almost understand why some people can make absolute idiots of themselves on those reality TV shows without  it seeming to bother them.  So although I was a bit anxious at first, when it came to actually getting out on the floor with all these strangers watching, I sort of forgot about them and just focused on not falling over when the ship rocked, and having fun.

I even made a joke about not having any Brazilian blood so that this would be a "Canadian samba."  Since what I actually meant  was that there wouldn't be any of the "frenziedly  shake your chest" action  that seem to be the most favoured celebrity moves in the Dancing with the Stars samba routines, I should probably have qualifed it further by saying this would be an "age-appropriate Canadian samba" but I don't think fast with a microphone held in front of me.

Anyway we got through the routine and Wendy videoed it on my small digital camera. Having viewed it, i don't think I will post it.  Too many things to work on before I will be comfortable having anyone see a video of me dancing!. Having said that, the husband of one of the other performers said he had videoed our dances and said he would mail us a copy. Hopefully he wouldn't post them anywhere without asking first. Oooohhh...

By around noon the Pacific Princess anchored in the bay opposite the main settlement, Vaitape, on the western side of the island and the ship's tenders carried passenegrs ashore. By 12:30 we were in the tender and  coming ashore at the quay at Bora Bora. We found the Avis Rent a Car booth,  signed up for a small manual-drive car and took off for a drive around the island.

As we exited the quay area we turned right to drive north.  Bora Bora is a really tiny island. To drive around the perimeter of the island takes about an hour at a relatively slow speed. The road is a narrow two way "highway" and for large stretches at a time there is a solid line for no-passing so if  you get stuck behind a very slow moving vehicle, it's just too bad. On the other hand much of the drive takes you past unbelievably beautiful vistas of sparkling water so the slow speed is perfect for appreciating the scenic beauty.

We decided initially to drive completely around the island to get an idea of where various places were located and then to decide where to spend the afternoon.

Bloody Mary's, the famous bar /Restaurant, is a tourist must-visit so after we had completed the circle drive we dropped in there for lunch.  The floor is sand and the high roof thatched. I should have been alerted by that to be wary of bugs.

We sat on log-like stools that were actually quite comfortable. It was very hot and the ceiling fans did not do much to keep us cool, especially after we downed the better part of a pina colada each. I found that I was getting badly bitten - I think they were some kind of sand fly - tiny, almost invisible but with a nasty allergenic bite.

Wendy asked the waitress to bring us some Off and we both sprayed it liberally over our legs. I detest the stuff but since I was already seeing large welts appearing, I thought I should be prudent. The food was quite good. I had fish and chips - nicely prepared and plentiful - too much in fact.  But I was quite happy to get out of there and find somewhere near water with a cooling breeze.

                     After lunch we decided to check out the Intercontinental Resort so we drove back in the opposite direction past the quay area and continued on till we saw the sign.  We found a place to change into swimsuits and walked down to the beach area. This resort has to be one of the most beautiful and romantic places for a holiday.

I loved the design of the huts on stilts in the water, each with its own diving platform and ladder so you can climb down into the water o swim or snorkel. I do wonder however about the bugs. I am sure they spray regularly but those thatched roofs and the heat - wouldn't want to spend a romantic week scratching bug-welts.

We encountered a couple  from the ship who had paid  $100 to spend the day at the resort, have lunch, swim, and lounge on the beach. I think it would be worth it were I to return in the future. I would have liked to see inside one of the bungalows but we did not have much time there due to the late arrival of the ship.

All too soon we had to leave this beautiful spot and return the rental car.  The wait for the tender was relatively short and we were soon back on board.

I scrubbed off the Off in the shower. But I have to admit that it was effective. It even seemed to decrease the effect  of the bites  - the welts were smaller and less itchy  than I was expecting them to be - so maybe I should not hesitate to use it where necessary.

Dinner was smart -casual. Of our group, only Bira, Ruby, Margie, Bob, Helen and I showed up. I enjoyed a delicious bowl of French onion soup made with sweet Maui onions, a tasty duck a l'orange and to finish, a coffee creme brulee which was to die for. 

Until now I had forgotten about my gift bottle of wine  but I remembered before dinner, found the card and ordered a bottle of German Riesling for the table.  It complemented all the dishes perfectly and everyone seemed to enjoy it

After supper Ruby, Bira and I went up to the Pacific Lounge where the Pete Nilson duo was playing for a while.  I really liked their music. The place was empty except for  us so I said to heck with it and danced by myself on that spacious wood  floor  - chachacha, samba, even a jive.  My feet just won't stay still when there is such great music playing.  They packed up at 9:15 to move out to play at the deck party.

Dancing from 9:30 was out on Deck 9 at the  Tropical Fiesta Deck Party. Paul and the Cruise staff were out there encouraging everyone to party and dance to the music of  Neon Groove and the Pete Nilson duo.

The things that got the crowds out onto the dance floor were the usual stuff, YMCA - the Macarena- and the Electric slide. Hmm.... I guess I am just not a crowd person but those line dance things always make me think of the compulsory morning calisthenics that we used to see  in film clips of  factory workers in China, Japan and Korea - or else a crowd of worker bees or termites bobbing away together.  However I guess I am going to have to learn them to be sociable.

Anyway it was great being out on deck. The air was warm - mildly humid but not too bad, and the music was mostly rock and swing but lots of fun. They served fruit and dessert on a long buffet table off to the side, and at 11 pm at the opposite end to the dance area, Maître d'  hôtel, Luigi, set up a  Champagne Fountain! Shortly after that the fiesta ended and most of us went off to sleep.

 
Thursday October 8 Arrive 8 am in Moorea, depart 5 pm and arrive Papeete, Tahiti around 8 pm

Up early for breakfast on the aft deck - the usual yogurt, fruit and coffee.  We have a full day in Moorea, and since yesterday worked out well,  I was happy to accompany Wendy on her island exploration rather than do a formal excursion. She was again planning to rent a car to drive around Moorea, but as she was not going to return to the ship, she had to get all her checkout procedures done before we could take the tender to shore.

We reached Opunohu Bay early in the morning. Moorea is shaped like an isoceles triangle wth the three angles pointing east, west and south. Opunohu Bay near Papetoai is on the northern end of Moorea. 

We managed to get on an early tender and were n our way ashore.

We rented a Hyundai from a lady sitting at a table at the marina. So casual in contrast to the formality of procedures in North America. The lady took a credit card imprint, gave Wendy a key, did a cursory walk around looking for pre-existing damage and gave us a reminder to put in some gas- she suggested 500 francs - about 5 dollars worth. And we were off.  

Unlike Bora Bora this larger island takes about three hours to drive  around it.  Neither of us wanted to spend that amount of time in the car. So we decided to check out the ferry terminal at Vaiare from where Wendy was going to get a ferry back to Papeete to catch her evening flight. Then  the plan was that we would find a great spot to hang out. Around 2 we would drive to the ferry terminal, I would drop her off and drive the half-hour or so back to the marina to drop off the car.

The Intercontinental was in the opposite direction to the ferry terminal so we decided to check out the Sofitel Resort instead.  We turned left driving in an easterly direction After about half an hour we saw the sign for the Sofitel and drove in to see it. It was quite beautiful. The restaurant menu looked good and the location was gorgeous, so we  decided to have lunch there later.

From there it was less than 10 minutes to the Ferry Terminal where Wendy checked out ferry times and bought her ticket for later that afternoon.

Soon we were back at the Sofitel and made our way through the resort to the restaurant area which was adjacent to a tempting infinity pool. We stretched out on pool loungers - Wendy relaxed with her I-Pod music and I did some more work on my fiction writing - there definitely is a difference writing with pen and paper compared to computer. I think I should do more writing by hand at home.

 I floated for a while in the pool watching the blue water cascade over the lip of the pool into the sea water that shaded through the palest tourquoise into aquamarine and then into the darker blue of the deeper ocean.  The bungalows here are also thatched and on stilts in the water, but the layout was not quite as appealing as those in the Bora Bora resort.

By noon we were quite hungry and  we went into the restaurant. We were seated at a table out on the patio.  Wendy ordered a club sandwich which was quite magnificent. 

I had tuna sashimi with an orange ginger dressing served on thin sliced cucumber strings, and  a country style pate..

It was delightful ot on the patio with a cool breeze blowing off the water so we relaxed there until it was time to drive back to the ferry. 

We called into the Shell station to put the 500 francs worth of gas into the car that we had been told to do. But before we could stop him the guy put in 1500 francs worth and insisted that as we weere paying by card he had to put in 2500 francs worth.

We got into a bit of a dispute and refused to pay 2500 francs - we had told him 500 after all and he had said nothing about a 2500 minimum. Anyway I guess we made an extra donation of 10 dollars with of gas to the rental car people in the end.

I dropped Wendy at the terminal and took the half hour drive back to the dock  at Papetoai at a steady pace. The signposting is minimal so I was a bit anxious that I would miss the turn off and head off on a three hour drive in the wrong direction but I noticed just in time to make a quick turn into the marina area. One of the ladies was there to take the key and do another cursory inspection.  I picked up the papers and went off to get the tender back to the ship to pack.

For this last dinner on board almost our whole group was there. After the meal the waiters did the traditional march in carrying flaming baked Alaska and they stood there to be acknowledged for their service during the voyage.  The chefs also marched in to be acknowledged. I really like that. I think that regardless of  the industry, acknowledgment of one's work is a very important factor in job satisfaction. That factor plays a large part in the morale problems that result from the prevalent budget cuts and lay-offs. Whether they lose their jobs or are among the "survivors",  people have the  sense that their work was not valued.  And who wants to put in extra effort after that.  Whoops - I am getting back into "health-care system mode of thinking" - that's why I retired so no more of that.  Back to positive feedback.

The dinner was good, the staff recognition nice, and it was time to head back up to Pacific Lounge for our last evening of dancing. There was still some slight motion earlier as  as we sailed the short distance from Moore to Papeete but by the time we were in the Pacific Lounge the ship was docked and it was the first time during the whole trip that the dance floor felt totally still.

At ten when the Nilson duo stopped playing I had to go and finish my packing. Most of the others had already packed as their luggage had to be outside their cabin  between 8 and 10 pm. As I had an early flight I was disembarking independently and had to haul my own luggage off. So I did not not have the 10 pm deadline. But I knew I had to be up very early to get to the airport for a 7:30 am international flight.

So with hugs all around I said good-bye to our group and went back to the cabin to figure out how to get my suitcase to close with the additional items I had received from the Ultimate Ship Tour.

 I walked into the cabin to find that our steward had as usual turned down the bed, left  a chocolate (I ate the second one left for Wendy too!) and  left my silk night slip perfectly arranged on the bed. I almost hated to disturb the picture but everything had to be packed.

I was a bit sceptical about the arrangements for getting to the airport for the 7:30 am international flight as I kept getting conflicting messages from the Customer service desk but  I had been quite reassured by a phone call from  passenger services around 5 pm. The confident female voice on the phone assured me that someone would be by my cabin at 4 am to collect me and my suitcase and escort me off the ship to the taxi area where I would meet the few other passengers who were on that flight to  get a cab to the airport.  

 So after I had packed and showered, I decided to lie down for a couple of hours and try to get some rest before the long flight. But no luck.

Friday October 9  Tahiti to Los Angeles via Air France

I had placed a wake up call for around 3 am as I thought I might catch a couple of hours sleep but of course I just couldn't fall asleep and ended up reading for a while.  By 4 am I was ready to leave, and waiting for the person who was supposed to collect my luggage. I  waited and waited. By ten past I thought I would call. The passenger service person on duty knew nothing about the arrangement from the night before. It figures. Some departments seem so organized and others don't seem to know what the heck is going on. But he said he would send someone up.

By about  twenty past 4 someone showed up to help get me and my baggage off the ship. When I got to the taxi area there was a van waiting to transport those who had bought transfers through Princess.  So I hitched a ride - for $30.00.

After I checked in at the airport and went through security, I met up with a nice couple originally from the Philippines but who now live in New Jersey. We had chatted from time to time during encounters on the cruise but had not had any long conversations. It turned out that they too were retired doctors. She was an OBGYN and he an ENT surgeon, so we spent a very pleasant time chatting about medicine in the US and Canada, until it was time for our flight.

I fully expected to fall asleep on the flight. After all I had not really slept at all, and the flight was about 8 hours, but try as I might I just could not get comfortable enough to sleep. So in the end I watched Duplicity with Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, not bad, finished the Dan Brown novel - disappointing. And generally wriggled and squirmed until we landed.

It took ages to go through Immigration in Los Angeles.  As a Canadian I am spoiled by the fact that  I usually clear customs for the US in Vancouver, and I have a Nexus pass, so it is quick. But of course coming from Tahiti to enter the US the lineups were quite long. However when I finally reached an immigration officer, he looked at my Canadian passport,   asked about my visit to my grandkids, and said "welcome back to America."  Very nice.

I had reserved a SuperShuttle at LAX to take me to my kids' house in Orange County. There were 8 other pasengers so we did a bit of touring around Hunting Beach to drop people off and in the end there were two of us left for the drive to Orange County.

By the time I arrived, my grand-children were already long asleep so I had to content myself with hugs from their  parents.  I fell asleep knowing that around 6:30 I would probably be wakened by an excited four year old climbing into my bed ready for a story.  A perfect end to my South Pacific Ballroom Dance Cruise.