Posts Tagged ‘Pacific Princess’

Bora Bora

November 6th, 2007 at 6:57 am (AST) by Jake Richter

Day 7 of our Pacific Journey – Bora Bora
October 26, 2007

Our second full day aboard the Pacific Princess commenced with anchoring at Bora Bora, a larger atoll and island located some hundreds of miles northwest of Moorea – we sailed (if moving under propeller power can aptly be called sailing) about 15 hours to get here.

One of the geological differences between the atoll of Bora Bora and that of Moorea was that Bora Bora had many things in the atoll lagoon referred to as a “Motu”, or motus in plural. A motu is a small piece of land between the barrier reef of the atoll and the main island at the center of the atoll. The motu land is typically a volcanic substrate with some exposed coralline rock, and because of the volcanic soil, can be covered with lush vegetation, as was the case with the motus around the island of Bora Bora.

The Hawaiki Outrigger Race

Outrigger on Bora BoraAfter breakfast and the now-usual tour group congregation, we were ferried over by tender to Vituape, the nearest port. Port traffic was hopping, as was island traffic in general, and we only learned later that this was because today was the final day of the Hawaiki Outrigger Race, in which many contenders in outrigger canoes (a long canoe with a pontoon on one side and about a half dozen rowers) had been rowing diligently for the last three days between several islands. It was kind of like the Tour de France, but with outriggers and teams instead of bicycles and individual riders and held in the water instead of the lands and mountains of France. Okay, so maybe not quite like the Tour de France, but the local populace was pretty excited about the whole thing – so much so that people cut out early from work and clogged the sole around-the-island road.

The Island Circle Tour

Our tour bus stops for the church photo opportunityAnyhow, we were guided to a set of three vehicles that at first glance looked like buses, but in fact were trucks onto which bus-like structure had been added on. This structure featured rows of office chairs bolted onto wood frames, and also had a woven reed roof. Very innovative, but not particularly comfortable. We ended up in bus 2, with Virge (“Vihr-zheh”) as our driver and tour guide Enua (“Enn-ooh-ah”). Enua was quite an interesting character – a blend of French arrogance, island charm, scolding parent, and I’m-Big-Mama-don’t-mess-with-me (and she was a big woman too – that helped support that attitude). I don’t believe I liked her much. And, while I felt she was talking down to us during a fair bit of the tour, there was never any one thing I could point to to support that feeling on my part. Linda’s take is that Enua exuded a not-so-subtle sense of having better things to do than shepherd a bunch of cruise cattle. I certainly enjoyed Sandy’s more down-to-earth tour guide style on Moorea. That’s for sure.

This was my first experience in a long time of being in a large bus (or bus-like-thing) with a large group of people, and I did not really enjoy it much at all. Enua kept having us stop in various places for 5 minute breaks – I’m not sure if that was for us as tourists (because the places we tended to stop did not seem particularly noteworthy for the most part) or for her so she could take a cigarette break. Something, like her lighting up as soon as we had all removed ourselves from the bus, leads me to believe it was the latter. The part I really did not care for was that with all of the older folks on board, it took longer to get off and back on the bus than we actually spent at a particular 5-minute break location.

Our first real non-break/photo stop was at a pareo “factory” – basically someone’s house with a big backyard where the pareos were made. A pareo, as I pointed out in my previous post on Moorea, is much like a sarong. While the pareos on Moorea were basically just tie-dye-like patterns on cloth, on Bora Bora they had come up with an interesting way of incorporating recognizable designs, such as shells, sea turtles, and the words “Bora Bora”.

Bas observes the application of the linoleum shapes on the freshly dyed pareoThis was accomplished by taking the freshly dyed (and still damp) pareos, laying them out on a flat surface, and then putting linoleum forms and shapes over them. These linoleum forms would be cut in the shapes of shells, sea turtles, and the words “Bora Bora”, for example. As the sun dried the exposed parts of the pareo and faded it a bit in the process, the parts under the linoleum would dry more slowly and not fade, thereby highlighting the pareo with the shape of the linoleum forms. A human analogue would be when people are sunbathing, the parts of their bodies that are exposed to the sun turn one color (brown, but more often pink and red), while the parts that are covered by bathing suits, bikini tops, or thongs, remain relatively pale. We call the intersection of such burned tanned areas and the untouched areas a tan line. What the Bora Bora pareo makers do, in effect, is give their pareos tan lines too.

The ladies at the pareo “factory” greeted us with fresh fruit – pineapple, grapefruit, coconut (not really a fruit – it’s a seed, I guess), and papaya, and then proceeded to demonstrate pareo-making and pareo-tying. They also had a nice special of “buy five, get one free”, so we did, and got a couple of small tridacna clam shells as a bonus. This made the kids happy, and Bas was so thrilled with the pareo that he picked out that he wore it as a cape for much of the rest of the day.

Along the way, we did learn a few things from Enua. First was that the major export of Bora Bora, and in fact, many of the surrounding islands, was something called “copra”. Copra is dried coconut meat (the white part of the coconut), and when it was a major trade item in the Pacific, starting back in the 1800s, it was used to make coconut oil. Copra continued to be actively made from harvested coconuts until the end of the 1900s, with the coconut husks being used to fuel Bora Bora’s power generation, but as the pay for work in the service industries, especially in tourism, improved, copra production became less attractive as a means of livelihood and has since faded away as a cash crop. And the power plant is now fueled by diesel instead.

A Marae featuring a carving of a turtle on Bora BoraWe also saw a Marae – a sacred place of power for those who believed in the so-called old Gods of the Polynesians. Enua told us that human sacrifices used to be made there. The marae we saw, indicated by a stone with a carving of a turtle on it, still stands because it is “tapu” (taboo) to build anything on the land where it resides.

Land crabs were another feature of our tour – we saw them lured out with green leaves and fighting over that leaf. There were holes all over the shoreline where these crabs live. The crabs will eat most anything they can get their claws on, which means that island residents have to take extra measures to prevent the crabs from destroying their crops. That includes putting metal bands on palm trees (which keeps the rats away from the coconuts too). The land crabs are edible, but only once they have been “cleaned” for two weeks with a diet of coconut, mango, and papaya.

Enua also made sure to tell us about every hotel we passed by. For some reason, hotels and resorts were perceived to be tourist landmarks, a thing we found both curious and annoying at the same time. Sandy back on Moorea did the same thing, but as they only have three big resorts, it didn’t grate upon us as much.

One of the sights we did enjoy, but from afar, were the multitude of motus surrounding Bora Bora. The turquoise waters around the motus were stunningly beautiful. But almost all of the motus were privately owned, and only accessible by boat. Interestingly, Bora Bora’s airport also sits on a motu.

A partial list of celebrities which are to have graced Bloody Mary's in Bora BoraAfter several more “breaks” – which were actually sorely needed because the road conditions were horrific as a result of lots of pot holes and no real suspension in the bus to speak of, we ended up at a tourist trap fine local bar and restaurant called “Bloody Mary’s”. We assumed it was a great place, because lots of world-renowned celebrities who likely knew nothing at all about Bora Bora had visited the establishment and had apparently agreed to have their names listed on a board of patrons. The $12 house special strawberry daiquiri was a real treat, and worth at least one-sixth that price.

We had to bypass one final stop, namely at a pretty beach, because it was intensely crowded with people awaiting the arrival of the outrigger canoes in the aforementioned Hawaiki Outrigger Race, returning instead to the small village of Vituape.

Fine Dining on Bora Bora

While our search for local cuisine was not quite as thwarted on Bora Bora as on Moorea, our choices were still rather limited, at least within walking distance of Vituape (and we really did not care to go back and eat over-priced burgers at Bloody Mary’s either). The Richters wait for lunch at Fare Poulet, a Snack in Vaitape on Bora BoraAfter some wandering about we settled on a local “snack”. Much as on Bonaire, a snack is a local eatery where food is typically ordered at a counter for take-away. Some snacks have a larger counter where one can also eat the purchased food on site, much as we did at a little place called Fare Poulet. Fare Poulet featured mostly modified oriental fare, using some local ingredients. Krystyana had a fish dish, I had pork in oyster sauce, and both Linda and Bas had chicken in tamarind sauce. All quite tasty and filling (and no ill results the next day either).

While we enjoyed our snack fare, we found the lack of nice sit-down restaurants a bit troubling. As best we can figure is that most of the resorts are either all-inclusives or make it very difficult for their guests to leave by being on private motus, and as such demand for fine dining is too low to support a breadth of fine dining establishments. Again, for us this was a stark contrast to Bonaire, which, while having an abundance of snacks, also has a great selection of sit-down eateries within easy walking distance of the piers where cruise ships would dock.

We wandered about the various tourist-oriented shops in Vituape for a bit, and also checked out the local grocery store where we encountered a geriatric stock boy dusting the shelves as he filled them, wearing nothing more than sandals, shorts, and a duster (he wasn’t actually wearing the latter, but did have it in hand).

Diving Dry

We were supposed to return to the dock for a 1:50pm pick-up to go on our afternoon excursion aboard a submarine, but it turns out that that time was a typo on our tickets, and in fact were supposed to show up at 2:50pm. We were a bit disgruntled, but ended up using our time to view the outrigger canoes which had finished the race and were being packed up to be taken back to their homes – locally and on other islands) and followed that up by some ice cream and a French puff pastry at a little café we had stumbled across.

At just before 3pm we found ourselves with Sebastian, the pilot of a small, fast boat heading out beyond the barrier reef encircling Bora Bora. We approached what at first appeared to be a yellow spot on the horizon, but soon grew to be the submarine we had reserved space on. Along with us was an older couple, for a grand total of six passengers – the maximum the submarine could hold.

We boarded the submarine with the assistance of its captain, Alan, a Frenchman filled with enthusiasm for his job (truly!), and embarked for our journey into the depth’s of Bora Bora’s waters. Awaiting us, on the other side of 9 centimeters of plexiglass, were a bevy of remoras. Remoras are the fish which are usually seen clinging to large marine creatures, like sharks, whales, and manta rays. They are also known as shark suckers.

After the submarine’s hatch closed, and our ballast tanks were loaded with sea water, we started to slowly descend in a rocking motion, first pitching forward for a while, then backwards, until we had descended to nearly 20 meters (66 feet) below the water’s surface. Alan waxed on with infectious glee about the various fish we were seeing outside the submarine, providing an on-going commentary about how the submarine operated, where to look for the most interesting fish, and what we might expect next.

A fisheye view of the submarine's interiorBas, who was initially rather filled with trepidation by the whole concept of going underwater in a submarine lost all his worries and started joining Alan in pointing out various fish species (he and Linda had been studying some fish guides we brought along with us after they snorkeled briefly in Tahiti at our hotel there).

One thing that attracted the fish to the submarine was a small exterior hatch that was well stocked with frozen, aged (stinky) fish. The opening to the hatch could be popped open temporarily, and Alan used this feature to create small feeding frenzies for our viewing pleasure.

Over the course of the 45 minute dive, we saw dozens of species of jacks, snappers, butterfly fish, angelfish, several coronet fish, a trumpet fish, black tipped reef sharks, lemon sharks, a school of young barracuda, triggerfish, and many more. And the mildly eerie cyan lighting permeating the interior of the sub as the colors of sunlight were filtered by the depth of the water in which we found ourselves only made the experience more interesting.

All in all, the enjoyment of our submarine ride far outshone our disappointment with the morning’s circle island tour, and Bas stated he would love to go down in a submarine anytime the opportunity arose again. Definitely a convert to the underwater life. Now we just need to remind him he can see all the same things and more when he goes scuba diving with us.

We returned to the pier at 4pm to catch the penultimate tender back to the Pacific Princess. Once on board I headed off for another spa treatment (this time with Karen and a men’s facial). And at 6pm we took our first “formal night” in stride with the best clothes we had brought with us, and dined in Sterling Steakhouse Grill, one of the two specialty restaurants on board. The meal was good, as was the service.

After dinner, Krystyana and I went to see the evening show put on by the ship’s entertainment staff. The show was entitled “Shake, Rattle, and Roll”, featuring rock music of the 60s – clearly targeted at the median age demographic of our fellow passengers. But we knew most of the music as well and enjoyed ourselves. I was pleased to find virtually no lip-syncing going on (a contrast to my first and only prior big-ship cruise on Carnival about 20 years ago) – the performers actually did their own singing (and dancing, of course). That show got Krystyana hooked on attending the evening performances as well, much to our amusement.

Conclusion

As might be apparent from the above, we were less than charmed by Bora Bora. It seemed overly busy, and not particularly friendly to visitors (other than wanting to part them with their money at places like Bloody Mary’s). Others who had visited Bora Bora before told us that our day was unusual, mostly because of the Hawaiki Outrigger Race, and normally Bora Bora was a sleepy, quiet place. Bora Bora might be worth a return visit at some point, but it’s definitely not very high on our list, especially in contrast with Moorea. I will note that first impressions, when you have but a part of a day to experience a new destination, are critical, and our bus tour was our first (and negative) impression. If the people giving you your tour don’t exude enthusiasm and delight over their own lands (or island), how can visitors expect to be delighted with their visit? Food for thought, even for our friends back on Bonaire, which is seeing an influx of cruise tourism itself even as I write this.

And so ends day 7 of our Pacific Journey.

Photos from this day can be found here.

 

From Tahiti To Cruise

October 29th, 2007 at 10:38 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

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.