Day 5 of our Pacific Journey – October 24, 2007
Jet lag is still an issue, apparently, as most of us awoke far too early, with the sun. However, that gave me ample time to return our rental vehicle by 7:15am, get a ride back to the hotel, and have breakfast with Linda and Bas. Krystyana, as a virtual teenager at age 12, apparently does not experience jet lag in the same fashion the rest of us do, and was still asleep.
Bas was all twitchy, as 10 year old boys are likely to be after waking up, and went exploring. While checking out the koi and other fish in the water feature next to the restaurant, he had an encounter with an arachnid. It was a non-contact encounter, fortunately, as the spider was rather large – larger than any other we had ever seen in nature, easily measuring five inches across (leg tip to leg tip). The spider seemed to be rather content with just hanging out, so we took pictures (check link at bottom of this post for some of those).
Jake Goes Plongée (Diving)
After breakfast, Bas and Linda went swimming, and I packed my gear bag to go diving with Eleuthera Plongée, a dive operation recommended by the tour desk at the hotel. They forgot to pick me up at first, so a reminder call was necessary to get the requisite ride to the dive shop, and we arrived there just before 9am. There were seven other divers ready to go out, and we loaded up on a RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) equipped with a powerful Yamaha 225 HP outboard, and off we went.
The dive site we went to was called La Zélée – no idea what that means – located off the end of a breakwater outside Papeete. There was a sizable (and regular) amount of garbage floating on the surface of the water as we neared Papeete. Made me glad I had my tetanus booster and typhoid vaccinations just before we embarked on our trip.
Once at the site we entered as two groups. A smaller group went in for a dive at 40m (132ft), while a larger group (myself included) had a target depth of 20m (66ft). The waters were a bit rough where we tied off, and it was a good thing I got in the water quickly, else breakfast and I would have met again.
The water temperature was a chilly 79 degrees Fahrenheit (this time of year the water is around 85 degrees back home on Bonaire).
I should also note that I opted to take my Olympus SW770 camera in the PT-035 housing, not wanting to commit the time necessary to set up and tear down my more complicated DSLR housing and lighting. The result was that while I got photos of my dive, they were poorly lit, and due to slow focus, only a few of my photos were even remotely presentable (again, see link at bottom of this post).
One of my first observations once underwater was that there was hard coral as far as the eye could see, although not nearly as many fish as I would have expected for that much coral. My second observation was that I had forgotten how well trained Bonaire’s divers are, as my European co-divers here in Tahiti horrified me with their complete disregard for the fragility of coral. Their hands – gloved and ungloved – were grabbing live coral for support at every turn, and one clumsy diver even managed to topple an entire stand of branching coral with his fins. I turned to the divemasters accompanying us, and found they were not a whole lot better, unfortunately. So I just bit my tongue and tried to look away as the coral reef diver transgressions continued.
At the bottom where we gathered to start our dive were the heads of several large fish, presumably left there by fishermen cleaning their catch. I understood that spear fishing was a common sport out here as well, all of which might explain why there were less fish around than an ecosystem like this expanse of quite healthy hard coral should be able to support.
Our next featured “guest” on the dive was a large moray eel being cleaned by small fish, but other than the moray, and a shark we saw later, all the fish we saw were small – a foot or shorter. The reefs themselves were splendid – more coral species than I could remotely identify, and the fish I saw were brilliant in color and diverse in shape. Missing, however, were invertebrates of any sort. For the uninitiated, invertebrates are creatures without back bones/spines, and include critters like star fish, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, octopi, and others. I only saw one sea urchin, a Crown of Thorns (a type of sea start which devours live coral), and a number of the same type of yellow tunicate. I saw no crabs or crustaceans of any kind, nor any soft corals. Again, this was a surprise, because an extensive reef system like this one should support a broad range of creatures and life. Perhaps one of the readers of this blog who understands Pacific marine ecologies will comment.
Towards the end of our dive we did see a sizable (approximately eight foot long) white tipped reef shark, and I managed to get a photo of it from a distance. It did not want to hang out too close to us, alas – it probably knew how grabby my fellow divers were. Due to the distance of the shark from us, the image was rather blue, so I had to enhance it and convert to black and white to show better contrast, as you will see when you peruse the photos in the Gallery for this day.
We ended the dive after about 45 minutes, had a three minute safety stop, and made our way back to the dive shop. I made it back to the hotel by 11:40am, just in time to pack everything up and have lunch. Krystyana was just waking up.
Lunch was at Le Carre, the nicer restaurant at the hotel Linda and I dined at last night. Lunch was also included as part of our American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts package at the hotel, a nice bonus. Food was good on the whole, and I ended up with Kangaroo and lobster. The former tasted a lot like beef. Unfortunately we didn’t have time for desserts (except for Bas, whose lunch was a dessert), as we had to meet Center “Lily”, our van driver, for a transfer to the cruise ship at 2pm.
A Cruisin’ We Will Go…
After a smooth check-out (and yes, we would recommend the Le Meridien as a place to stay in Tahiti), we were taken into the heart of Papeete to the cruise ship pier. Docked were two vessels – the Paul Gauguin (Regent Cruise Lines) and the Pacific Princess (Princess Cruise Lines). The latter was our destination for an 11-night cruise to Hawaii, by way of Moorea, Bora Bora, and Kiritimati (known as the Christmas Atoll).
The Pacific Princess is a relatively small cruise ship as modern cruise ships go. On our present voyage there are only 669 other passengers on board, and half again as many crew. Contrast that to today’s mega cruise ships which hold thousands of passengers (I think I’ve heard numbers as high as 5,000 for the newest mega ships).
We were checked in by 2:30pm, and left our luggage with the handlers to get scanned and loaded on board. We had booked two connecting state rooms on the 8th level of the ship – both mini-suites (that was all that was left for connecting rooms when we booked – darn), one with two small separate beds (they call them “doubles”, but they sure look like “singles” to me), and the other with the two beds already put together to form a king bed, courtesy of our cabin steward Reynaldo from the Philippines (he said to call him “Rey”).
Rey brought us a welcome glass of welcome champagne, and we then scouted out the facilities on the ship.
There’s a salt-water pool on the 9th floor, along with the requisite pool bar. The 9th floor also features the Panorama Buffet (the vessel’s buffet dining facility), the Lotus Spa, an Internet room (with eight dedicated systems, plus WiFi, all for the paltry sum of only 50 cents a minute or so for a connection), and a games room stocked with a variety of board and card games.
The 10th floor features a running track (above the pool area), a library, and a lounge. Also on the 10th floor are two specialty restaurants, Sterling Steakhouse Grill and Sabatini’s (Italian food) for which there is an additional per person cover charge, with reservations highly recommended.
The 11th floor has two sun decks, and a golf driving “range” (a net set up about 15 feet from where you swing).
Heading down, there are staterooms on the 8th, 7th, 6th, and 4th floors. The 7th floor also has a Laundromat (which we put to good use today), and the 4th floor features the reception area and medical center in addition to staterooms, or, as the comedian on the boat suggested, “cabins” – a contraction of the word “cabinets”, as the cabins are smaller than cabinets.
The 5th floor is where most of the action happens, though. Starting aft, there’s the Club Restaurant, where table service dining can be had for three meals a day. At night it is fixed seating, and there are two seatings (we’re booked for the 6pm seating at table 34). Dinners also entail a “smart casual” dress code – buttoned shirts (polos okay) for men, and no denim. We also have two “formal” nights scheduled, for which they encourage the wearing (and rental) of tuxedos and formal gowns. We’ll punt on those and do the best we can with what we brought.
Forward of the Club Restaurant are the various gift shops, as well as the display of original art reproductions (an oxymoron, if you ask me) which will be auctioned off during the week. This is apparently a big thing on cruises now, as captive audiences will obviously buy anything presented to them when boredom sets in. For those wanting to donate funds to the cruise ship operators coffers in another way, forward of the gift shops is the ship’s casino, featuring five table games (roulette, several black jack tables, and a three card poker table), and lots of slot machines. It’s on par for size with the casino at Bonaire’s Divi Flamingo Resort, which is the smallest casino I had ever seen previous to this one on board.
And finally, in the bow of the vessel on the 5th floor is the Cabaret Lounge, where all of our sit-down evening entertainment takes place.
Having performed our own ship’s tour and seen all of the above locales, we decided we had time to disembark and take a walk around Papeete, and perhaps examine some local art and handicrafts. We set forth around 4:30pm, and quickly found that most things had already closed, or were about to close, for the day. And walking around Papeete did not do much to improve the image of the city that we had gained last night while driving through it. It was still dingy and dismal. We stopped into a few shops, mostly featuring pearls from other French Polynesian islands, and found most shop keepers to be somewhat aloof and distracted (probably because we must have been inconveniencing them by being potential customers, when all they wanted to do was close their shops so they could go home).
Our grand take for shopping were a bag of pork rinds, some postcards, two packages of temporary tattoos (for Bas, lest you wonder) and a bottle of water.
The 800-Foot Baggage Delay
As we wandered by the check-in area for the Pacific Princess on the way back to the ship, we noticed that our luggage was still sitting out, lonely and desperate to join us on board, but not getting any attention from the luggage processors who sat around sharing war stories of some sort. When we inquired as to how much longer it might take, we received non-committal answers with assurances it would be soon. We neglected to ask what scale of time “soon” related to, however. Big mistake.
At 6pm, wearing what might best be described as “dumb casual” (all of our smart casual clothes were still in our luggage, which in turn was back on the pier), we cautiously approached the Club Restaurant, and much to our surprise were actually seated (we later learned that the dress code is waived for the first night while still in port), and proceeded to have a very nice meal with excellent service.
By 8:30pm we still had no luggage, so I sauntered out to confirm our bags were still on the pier, a mere 800 feet away from us. Yep – there they were, but at least they had a handful of other bags to now keep them company. Asking at the reception desk about the potential time and date of a reunion with our bags gave us pat responses: “soon”, “should be less than a half hour”, “Why? Don’t you have them already?”, “Your flight was late” (when I mentioned we had flown in two days ago, and arrived at the boat at 2:30pm, a mere six hours prior, they all got a bit flustered, but didn’t change their lines). The only token we got for our luggage reconciliation efforts were a couple of distressed passenger kits (kits with necessary sundries, instead of kits with distressed passengers in them – we didn’t need any more of those) so the kids could brush their teeth before going to bed. We finally located a senior Purser, who told us that the cruise line had no control over the Tahitian baggage screeners and neither cruise ship staff nor us as the baggage owners could touch the bags once they were in the hands of the screening staff. Effectively, we’d get our damn bags when we got them, and it probably would be before we left port at 4am.
Resigned to our bag-less fate, we decided to lift our spirits with a tour of the Lotus Spa and proceeded to book a whole bunch of treatments we probably didn’t need, and which cost far too much, but would be wonderful to receive.
I also managed to find a port-side WiFi connection for yachties, but suffered from technical issues as I was trying to post a message in this blog, so that effort had to be deferred to the following day.
We finally received our luggage right as we were getting ready for bed, namely around 10:30pm. Not a particularly positive way to start our cruise, but we consider ourselves taught a lesson – take out a set of clothes and toiletries before entrusting your bags to Tahitian baggage screeners at a cruise ship embarkation point.
Thus ends Day 5 of The Traveling Richters’ Pacific Journey.
Photos of our day can be found here.