Hawaii & Tahiti- April 2003
Sat. 4/12/03- Williamsville, N.Y.
We arose at 5:30 A.M., finished packing, prepped for the day and closed up the palace. The taxi arrived at 7:15 A.M. and ferried us to Buffalo International airport. The terminal was pretty quiet for a Saturday morning. We checked in at Continental Airlines and then went through the security screens to gate #22 to await our flight eastward, to Newark airport in New Jersey.
After the one-hour flight into Newark, we got some coffee at a Starbucks and searched out gate #132. We were to board one of those huge airborne monsters that would ferry several hundred of us in an eleven-hour flight to Honolulu, Hawaii. We had managed to get “bulkhead seats,” so we had a little more legroom for the odyssey. I was reading John Grisham’s “The Summons.”
As we transited the continental U.S, I passively viewed the terrain beneath us. Lake Erie, Lake Michigan and their surrounding environs are flat and featureless. Wisconsin sparkled with hundreds of lakes in the noonday sun. The Platte River, with its twin branches looking like lazy ribbons, ambled through the Dakotas. Then, the Rockies hove into view. The
rugged, black-granite range appeared to have powdered sugar sprinkled across its peaks, the residue of the winter snows. They drifted beneath us as the sky clouded. The Northwest and later, the Pacific Ocean were clouded from view as a massive front roared beneath us. We caught a glimpse of Mt. Rainier as we crossed the Pacific Coast. It looked tall and forbidding, even from 34,000 feet.
The flight was smooth, if long. We read, watched movies and otherwise passed the time pleasantly. At 6:00 P.M. Hawaiian time (2:00 A.M. EST) we began our descent into Honolulu International. The first thing that strikes you about the islands is their emerald green color. They look like Ireland. The blue of the pacific and the green of the islands are eye
pleasing. To the sound of Hawaiian music, we arrived in the large Honolulu airport. Princess cruises collected our bags and shipped them and us to the Hilton Hawaiian Village a few miles away on Waikiki Beach. The ride in was interesting. Oahu is crammed to the rafters with people and businesses. Nieman Marcus, Nordstrom’s, Macy’s and many other toney shopping meccas lined the streets of the main boulevard. Hawaii looked as pricey as its reputation. Everything appeared new and expensive. Cars were everywhere, a side effect of prosperity that all of the islands suffer from.
The Hawaiian Village Hilton is enormous. Its four huge towers contains 3,000 rooms. Several pools, restaurants, a beach bar and lush shrubbery and shopping areas complete the mammoth complex. We were assigned to Room #1775 in the “Tapa Tower.”
We unpacked some clothes and then decided to get something to eat before we ran out of gas completely. We were running on EST and it was late for us. We walked amidst the complex, enjoying the warm wind and the swaying palm trees. The ocean surf was quietly crashing nearby. We found and entered the “Tropics Restaurant,” sitting on the Oahu’s Waikiki beach. We managed to get a sandwich and a beer just as the place was closing for the night. ($37) Food here is pricey but not anywhere near as bad as the levels we had heard about before leaving.
After dinner, we walked along the beach path, enjoying the night. A Hawaiian woman gave us two flowered leis and then asked for $10 contributions for the local boy and Girl Scout troops. Tiring, we headed back to the room to read, make some notes and surrender to the Hawaiian night. We were as tired as logs in a swamp, but glad to be here.
Sunday, 4/13/03- Honolulu, Hawaii (Huh Vay’ ee)
We arose early, our internal clocks still hours ahead of local time. We read for a bit, dozed again and then decided to go for a long walk. We walked along the world famous Waikiki beach, gazing down the beach to “Diamond Head.” The massive granite outcropping had been so named by Captain Cook, an early explorer who saw the crystallized volcanic material glinting in the noonday sun and thought the peak encrusted in diamonds. The beach is tidal and slanted, making walking difficult. We also found out later that the sand had been imported from Australia due to a lack of white sand locally. Sigh, Hollywood even stages paradise.
It was windy and the surf was kicking up. Scored of local surfers were sliding across the blue and white froth, like a scene from a 1950’s beach movie. The beach path and huge hotels soon gave way to a nicely manicured park area that ran the rest of the way along the beach to the old natatorium, just below the hills. The park is clean and eye pleasing. On the way back, we opted to walk the street parallel to the beach. It was awash with tourists and shoppers even on a Sunday. A large “brunch at the beach” had been set up in the street featuring food from the area restaurants. It was interesting and colorful.
A native market area, featured tee shirt stalls, food courts and a whole potpourri of souvenirs. We browsed and bought a few tee shirts at $4 each, a bargain. The walk was getting long at 4 miles. We made our way back to the beach side “Tropics restaurant” in the Hawaiian Hilton and had a nice breakfast ($21.) It was Palm Sunday and a group was getting ready to hold and interdenominational service on the beach. We stayed for a bit, watching a lovely rendition of Hawaiian dance. The “Don Ho” style preacher had everyone singing God Bless America and other group songs. That sent us quickly on our way.
We changed into swimsuits and idled for a few hours by one of the smaller pools, enjoying the sun. It was warm and in the 80’s. I was reading “The English Assassin”-DeSilva. An afternoon conversation with Ozzie Nelson ( nap) soon followed.
Late in the afternoon, we again walked along Waikiki Beach enjoying the roughening surf and the wind in the palm trees. The Outrigger hotels, The Royal Hawaiian, The Sheraton and others were full of visitors, all enjoying the beach. Surfers abounded on the waves and the scenery looked very Hawaiian. We stopped for some decent Kona coffee in the Outrigger and watched the moving tableau around us. It never seems quite real when you are sitting in such beautiful surroundings. You always think it will evaporate like some ephemeral bubble that will just go “pop” and disappear.
We showered and cleaned up for dinner. We had reservations at an open air, beachside restaurant in the complex called “Rainbow Lanai.” There, as we watched the surf crash on the shore, we dined on spinach salads, curried shrimp and Mary, the breast of chicken. A decent cabernet accompanied this pleasurable meal. It was a reasonable $76, for dinner overlooking the ocean on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu.
After dinner, we wandered through the small village. The moon was near full, the palm trees were swaying above us and it was a delightful night to be alive and with Precious. We lolled in the moonlight and then reluctantly surrendered to the sandman. It had been an idyllic Palm
Sunday on a beautiful beach on a magical isle in the Pacific.
Monday, 4/14/03 Honolulu, Hawaii
We arose early. It was to be a busy day. Our bags had to be packed and ready for shipment to the Cruise ship by 6:30 A.M.. We managed that well enough and then had coffee and croissants in the lobby area of the Tapa tower. We were pleased to have stayed here and would return.
At 7:20, we assembled with several other tour groups in a small area adjacent to the hotel. A caravan of huge buses, from Roberts of Hawaii, were taking guests all over the island. We were headed for the holiest of military shrines in the state, the Arizona memorial, commemorating the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941.
“Gus,” our driver, narrated the sights along the way. High rise condos lined the boulevards. He told us about the “Hawaiian Home Program.” Residents of Hawaiian descent are eligible to purchase homes and receive the land for $1. That is a “biggie” in land scarce Hawaii. We had the impression it is quite a commendable social program. Gus sure thought so. Guides on another island weren’t so complimentary. More about that later.
Military installations are everywhere around you in Hawaii. We passed by the Pacific Naval Command Center and then on into the small park and visitor center that houses the entrance to the Arizona Memorial. We off loaded the bus and stood in line to enter. Security guards were inspecting bags and purses. Maybe they thought someone would blow the sunken ship up again?
As we entered, we picked up tickets with 10:45 A.M. stamped on them. We had a 2-hour wait to see the 30-minute movie depicting the history of the 1941 raid. The interior of the open court was awash in other tourists, so we walked outside. A small park area looked out across the channel to Ford Island, where the graceful white arch of the monument sat atop the sunken remains of the Battleship USS Arizona. Over 1,200 men were still entombed in the sunken wreck and the site was treated respectfully as a burial ground.
We walked, talked with other tourists and enjoyed the morning sun of a beautiful day. A large group of high school kids were passing the time like all kids, singing, joking and clowning around. The skies were blue above us and the sun was shining. The rugged green mountains that split the island were just to the North of us, with gray garlands of fluffy clouds drifting across them.
The time passed quickly enough and we lined up to enter the small theater inside. The 30-minute film was grainy and old, but well characterized the history leading up to the attack . It showed some of the graphic war footage from the raid. Various survivors recounted their memories of the surprise raid and how some of their shipmates survived and some didn’t. Most of us had of course seen two or three later movies on Pearl Harbor and were familiar with the general details of the surprise attack so long ago. It is a cache phrase that still rings in infamy in the American Psyche, like “Remember the Main” and “Remember the Alamo.”
After the film, we filed out into a motorized, Naval tender, manned by U.S. sailors, for the short ride across the channel to the Memorial. A graceful white arch of stone, with a series of open side vents and open roof area, house two smaller enclosed marble rooms at either end. A list of the sailors and marines lost that day, in raise metal etchings, adorns one wall, with a plaque and several American and military flags. It is a shrine to those lost. Along the center of the small monument is schema of the ship that lies beneath us. The bridge and superstructure had been removed in the late 1940’2. You can still see the large circular bases of the massive gun turrets rising just above the surface. Most of the rest of the ship is an indefinite mass that lies below, a sepulcher to those who went down with her. An armor-piercing bomb, from a Japanese dive-bomber, had pierced her forward magazine.The ship virtually exploded and sank in minutes on that fiery Sunday morning 62 years ago.
As I looked to the North, at the mountains not far away, I could imagine the first wave of 187 dive-bombers and then the second wave of torpedo planes appearing like an evil apparition over the nearby crests. They had launched from the Akagi, Kiryu and two other carriers sailing a short 220-mile to the Northeast. The sight of an entire fleet of attacking planes, on a warm Sunday morning, must have been surreal as the angry wasps spit fire and lead into the row of battleships at anchor. The channel from Ford Island to Oahu is narrow and an entire fleet of ships was berthed here. The Japanese pilots must have hardly believed their eyes or their good fortune. Our ships never had a chance. The Arizona, the West Virginia, the Oklahoma and the California all were caught in the initial barrage and either exploded or sunk. The Nevada tried to get under way but was barraged with several bombs and torpedoes. It managed to run aground on the nearby shore. Scores of smaller tender vessels simply sank into the shallow bay. Burning oil, smoke, noise and confusion reigned for several hours that day until the attack ended.
These thoughts careened through my head as I looked at the raised nameplates of the mighty battle ships nearby. 2500 sailors and marines died that day. In the words of a prescient Japanese Admiral, with their surprise attack, they “had awoken a sleeping giant and filled it with a terrible resolve.” The conflict wasn’t to end for four long years. The surrender documents were signed aboard the U.S.S. Missouri, “Mighty Mo.” She and the submarine “Blowfin” are anchored just around a bend in the lagoon and are available for boarding and viewing to the public. The surreal experience ended gradually as the tender ferried us back to the reception center. But the memories have followed me home from that haunting place in the beautiful Hawaiian sun.
From the Arizona memorial, we boarded our buses and rode up into the hills to another peaceful military cemetery called the “Punchbowl.” Here, amidst the bucolic rows of trees, shrubs and neatly trimmed grass, lie 39,000 military men and women who saw service in the pacific theaters, in various wars of our history. It is restful and idyllic.
As we drove through Honolulu, the bus passed by several old churches and then by the Queen Iolani Palace. It is a two-story, frame structure, with a massive lanai running down its front. It was the seat of the last reigning monarch of Hawaii. A bronze statue of King Kamehameha, founder of the line, stands nearby. The driver noted several times the 1893 takeover of the Hawaiian republic by British and American military. The natives, in relating the destruction of the monarchy have that mildly pissed off attitude that you hear when native Americans talk about how their lands were stolen from them. Maybe they too will discover the notion of gambling casinos and how they can fleece their lands back from us someday.
We approached the dock areas with mild excitement. We could see the huge cruise ship the “Dawn Princess” nearby. The bus took us to a virtual “sea of luggage” and calmly suggested we “identify ours” for processing. It was like an Arabian bazaar trying to search for our two black bags amidst a sea of hundreds of others. Finally we elbowed our way through the befuddled crowd and found the rascals. Then we walked them through a line to run them through a huge x-ray scanner for transport to the ship. Finally, we walked through another line to be scanned and searched for who knows what. Lastly, we walked through yet another line to pick up our cruise credentials and be scanned and have our carry ons searched yet again before walking up the gangway to the ship. We have entered and left several countries with less security than this.
We had been assigned cabin number 714 on the Baja deck (deck 10). We found our room and met Carmello, the room steward. He was pleasant enough. The room was standard size, but had a nice balcony with a table and two chairs on it. It seemed adequate enough. The hunger monster was calling so we ventured forth to the buffet lunch on deck 14, The Horizon court. We had a nice medley of shrimp, salmon and fruit for lunch as we took stock of our surroundings. The ship has a large pool and smaller one amidships on deck 12. Surrounding it are hot tubs and rows of deck chairs, and a small bar on deck 14. This was the main gathering areas for passengers. We walked along the deck enjoying the late afternoon sunshine. The aft elevator carried us down to the grand concourse on deck 7. Here, a covered walkway extended around the entire ship for walkers and joggers. Inside, several bars and galleries led to the central three story, open well that extends from deck 5 to deck 8. The ship’s two formal restaurants, several boutiques, the casino and other small cafes all opened off of this central court. It is resplendent in gleaming glass and shining brass with marble staircases and open glass elevators. It is impressive.
We stopped by the excursion desk on deck 5 to book our shore excursions for the trip. We were able to get every trip we wanted except for the island of Tahiti. That had been sold out before sailing. Ozzie Nelson was paging me and we returned to the stateroom for a long afternoon nap, my favorite activity in the tropics.
By seven P.M. we had showered and dressed for dinner. We had chosen something called “free style” dining. You could go whenever you chose between five and ten P.M. and request to dine alone or be placed with others already eating. It freed you from the fear of being stuck with morons and cretins for dinner during the entire cruise, an experience we had already suffered thorough on an earlier cruise. First though, we headed for the Vista Lounge on deck 7 with our large orange life jackets for the mandatory lifeboat drill. This ship was to be at sea for twelve days in stretches of the Pacific where even the birds didn’t fly. We all paid attention to the crews explanation in the proper use of the jackets and tenders should an emergency arise. After the drill we headed to the deck 5 “Florentine Room” for dinner.
Precious and I had elected to dine alone this evening. We had a nice Fiume Blanc for openers, then a shrimp appetizer, crème of mushroom soup, pastry filled with shrimp calamari and other seafood, in a lobster sauce. A chocolate tort and decent decaf coffee ended this memorable repast. It was to be the first of twelve such meals that would impress us greatly and expand us measurably. The waiters were Mexican and Rumanian. It was to be a medley of nationalities that had me speaking Polish, Tagalog, Spanish, French, Italian and mumbling bits of Rumanian and Hungarian. Each new linguistic experience was enjoyable. The wait staff seemed to appreciate the language efforts, however humble.
After dinner we walked topside to watch the grand ship depart from Oahu. Instead of molten rock, I could see the flow of electric lava as it slid down the mountains in the dark. Diamond Head, Waikiki beach and the other recognizable features of Oahu blended into the Ocean dark. The ship was rolling side to side like a hog in a wallow. We had not developed our sea legs yet and walked with a wobble. This gigantic floating hotel swayed from side to side. If you were topside, you were at the furthest end of the pendulum and felt the full range of the sway. Amid ships, and 5 decks below, the sway was much less pronounced.
We were tiring with the long and active day so we retreated to our cabin, We opened the balcony door and sat for a time in the fresh sea air admiring the moonshine of the ocean beneath us. We read for a time and then surrendered the hypnotic sway of the ship as we drifted off into the land of the great beyond. It had been an auspicious beginning to the cruise for two aging honey mooners. We were glad we had come.
Tuesday, 4/15/03 Kauai, Hawaii
We were up early, showered and breakfasted. The Dawn Princess was berthed in Nahwilli willi harbor on Kauai. Kauai is pronounced “Cow eye” or “Kuh why ee.” The emerald semi circle of the mountains ringing the harbor are the remnants of an age-old volcano when the island, the oldest and most northern in the chain, had been formed by a “pacific hotspot” below the seabed, some 5 millions years before.
The mountains are older here and erose, subjected to eons of wind and storm erosion. The port area holds warehouses for sugar and other island commodities, as well as the many things that the residents must import to maintain a modern lifestyle. Several small container ships gave evidence to the expensive process.
We disembarked and mounted our huge motor coaches for the three-hour “Waimea Canyon “ tour. Our immediate impression of the islands is that it is lush and tropical, with a much smaller population (56,000) than the other isles in the chain. The informative bus driver gave us a running narration of the fauna and flora of the island as well as a cultural overlay that we found interesting. The bus passed through Poi Pu, with its alley of mahogany and Eucalyptus trees that met overhead. It is a rural road that leads to an outcropping of black lava on the ocean shore. Here, the wave erosion had formed several “blow holes” where the seawater exploded from fissures in the rocks as each wave crashed upon them. This particular formation was called the “spouting horn” for the noise and spray that exploded from it. We watched for a time as the frothy turquoise sea crashed upon the eroded black lava formation. It is picturesque and eye pleasing.
From Poi Pu, we passed through a traffic light that had been installed in 1974.It is reportedly only the second one installed. Now, the island has 26 of them. The driver told us humorously that in the early 1960’s whole families would bring picnic food and camp out nearby to watch the light change colors. I don’t know how true the story is, but it gave insight into the islanders endearing trait of not taking themselves too seriously.
The island is rich with cattle and chickens, animals introduced here by Captain George Vancouver in the 1730’s. Similarly, we espied cacti on the hillsides, a plant introduced in the late 1800’s as natural fencing. It seems that most of the things in Hawaii have been introduced from someplace else. Hurricane Iniki, in 1991, had leveled most of the vegetation here, but the
leaves and shrubs were making a strong comeback on this lush isle. In some places on Kauai the average annual rainfall is within the 400-500 inch range. It is reputedly the “wettest spot on earth.”
We stopped for a photo op at a portion of lower Waimea canyon. The various lava tubes in the canyonside had been used throughout the centuries as burial grounds for local tribes people. The streaks of red earth, through the canyon walls, bespoke of the high iron content in the soil. It looked in many ways like the buttes and canyons of the American Southwest.
As we continued along the one road that circled the island, we passed Port Allen. It had been the military and sole port on the island until after W.W.II. The U.S. military had constructed most of the roads, bridges and astructure on the island. Fields of raw sugar cane waved in the morning sun. Four of the five major sugar plantations had closed down on Kawai
recently because it because it has become uneconomical to harvest and process the sugar cane. With the loss of each sugar plantation went some 400 jobs from the local economy.
In the 1800’s workers had been imported to Hawaii, from the orient, to tend to the plants. Each sugar plant took some 18-24 months to mature. The long shoots are then cut, boiled and washed many times before they are squeezed through a press to extract the sweet sugar juice. It also requires a hundred gallons of water to process a pound of sugar. The sugar crystals are then shipped to a California refinery for final processing.
An interesting historical footnote involves the cane workers, who were regarded as mere land serfs and apparently not treated too well by the 19th century growers. The workers protested and burned the fields to show their anger. The growers, ironically, found that “burning the fields” lowered the molasses content in the plants and increased the sugar yield from the cane. It has become a standard practice ever since. In any case, the current process has become too expensive. Kawai is now struggling to replace the jobs lost with alternatives crop ideas.
Next, we came upon the small inlet of the Waimea River. It is here where Captain Cook had first put in to the “Sandwich Islands” during the 1760’s with his ships Resolution and Discovery. The natives thought him a reincarnation of their god NOLO and treated him with all due regard as an immortal. A few years later, on the island of Hawaii, Cook cut himself
accidentally. The natives realized that Gods don’t bleed and killed him in anger. There is a moral here someplace about pretending who you are not and the consequences of that action. But that is best left for Theologians.
We passed by the “Barking Sands” missile range. There is an entire story of Hawaiian mythology that gave rise to that name, but then, they seem to have a story for just about everything here. In many ways, the Hawaiians resemble Native Americans with their preoccupation with superstition, mythology and colorful sagas transmitted orally throughout the generations. The stone foundations of a “Russian Fort” gave rise to another tale of Colonial treachery and Hawaiian retribution, swift and sudden.
Finally the bus turned into the Waimea Canyon Rd. We ascended, in a series of gradual switchbacks, 2,800 feet to the top of the island’s extinct Wai ali ali volcano. The flora along the way became decidedly mountain like. You could picture yourself in the American Rockies in a high canyon. The CCC and the U.S. Military had carved out the roads in the 1930’s, though it was still rugged and untamed. You didn’t want to get stuck up here with your car. Tow trucks would gladly come and get you free, for a $600 fee. We pulled into the small and crowded parking area to view the canyon. A series of stone steps took us to a leveled out rock outcropping. From here, we could look across one mile to the other side of the magnificent canyon. It runs some 15 miles across the island. Great swatches of color and layers from different ages are apparent on the rock walls. A huge waterfall, far in the distance, gave testimony to the force of the winds this high up. Most of its water blew sideways before it crashed into the canyon. We did our “Chevy Chase” and appreciated the beauty of the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” as Mark Twain had once called it.
On the journey down the mountain, we could espy Nihau, the “forbidden island” about 11 miles from Kauai. The Sinclairs, a family of Slave traders from Massachusetts, had purchased the island from King Kamehameha in the 1830’s. They had kept Nihau private and refused entry to visitors since then. Only the beaches are public. Nihau still lies in the hands of Mrs.’ Sinclair’s grandsons, the Gay and Robinson Company, who also own about one third of Kauai.
Our driver gave us an alternate version of the “Hawaiian home program.” She said the “selection process” was politically wired and that to take part, you had to “know somebody.” She had been registered since she was a child and not been selected yet. Some things are the same everywhere.
We were tiring as the bus returned us to the Dawn Princess. We boarded the vessel and had a nice lunch of fish, fruit and vegetables in the deck 14 buffet. It was a beautiful day and we decided to walk from the port area to the nearby Sheraton hotel and beach area. Some small shops and restaurants are clustered nearby, but the real attraction if the golden beach and the bright blue ocean. We sat for a time under a shade tree and watched the ocean crash against the shore on a golden day in Kauai. Life can be good when you let it. After a bit, we returned to the ship. I sent some e-mails into cyber space from the 12th floor business center and Mary did some laundry in a small area near our room. Then, I sought out a conversation with Mr. Nelson, (nap) while Mary spent some time in the Health club. I was enduring a bad head cold or I would have tried to mitigate the caloric onslaught as well.
At 6:00 P.M. we visited the Windjammers lounge on deck 14 to watch the Dawn Princess weigh anchor and leave this beautiful island to sail to Maui. We sipped some passable Cabernet as the erose skyline of Nawiliwili harbor and Kauai faded into the setting sun. We had enjoyed our visit to the island, though we thought that a goodly supply of books would be needed for an extended stay here.
A quick shower and we proceeded to the Florentine room for a late dinner. Fiume blanc introduced some crab quiche appetizers, spinach salad, and salmon for me, a filet for Mary. We topped this off by splitting a chocolate for desert. Everything was of excellent quality. I could already feel my waist size increasing from the intake. Jon, a kindly waiter from Manila,
gave me my first lessons in Tagalog, which I retain today. After dinner, I was still reeling from a bad head cold, so we retreated to the room to read and retire. The ship was still rolling side to side precipitously. Morpheus soon called us to him for the night.
Wed. 4/16/03 Lahaina, Maui
We were up early at 6:30 A.M.. The ship had arrived at Lahaina, Maui. We are anchored in the bay, like so many whaling ships before us. The crew would have to use tenders to get us all ashore. We had breakfast on our balcony, in the warm Hawaiian sun, before getting ready for the day. We wanted the major tours to get underway before we headed ashore. It was going to be hot today.
We walked down to deck five and boarded the motorized tender for the short ride to the Lahaina docks. These “tenders” are wholly enclosed lifeboats that are capable of ocean sailing in an emergency. They can seat almost 90 people and are a bit removed from the old “lifeboats” that ships used to carry. The sea was calm this morning, so getting on and off the tender was pretty easy. When the waves are choppy, the boat can rise and sink several feel, in an instant, making getting on and off interesting, especially for the older folks on board.
In Lahaina, one is first taken with the emblems of the islands whaling past. The four masted sailing vessel “Carthaginian,” used in the
movie “Hawaii,” is anchored prominently, quayside, in the center of the “old village.” A commercial chandlery and ancient courthouse take up the center of the small village. A huge Banyan tree shelters much of the area with its large leafy umbrella. One can only speculate at all of the events, legal and foul, that must have transpired under its shelter. Radiating outward are collections of small commercial shops, hawking the usual tourist wares, and several streets of small, neat homes. We browsed some shops for a bit and then hopped a cab to nearby “Whaler’s Village” on Ka'anapali beach.
There is a geographical provenance to the area’s whaling past. Molokai, Maui and another of the small islands lie close to each other here. The small basin between them is shallow and became an ideal breeding ground for the sperm whales from time immemorial. They spawn here from December through April and then in May, begin their swim up to the Aleutian Island chain. Whale blubber and whale oil fueled the lamps of Europe and America during the 1800’s, until the advent of mass production of electricity. Ambergris, a whale product was also a base for the manufacture of several perfumes. Lahaina became a rough and tumble port for whalers from across the globe. Hard drinking, hard living and men who had been at sea for a year had their effect on the local populace both in terms of quality of life and gene pool additions.
The scenery along the roadway to the village was soft and green. Several golf courses and rows of expensive condos and hotels line Ka’anapali beach. It is perhaps the most luxurious portion of the island. Whaler’s Village was not what we were expecting. It is a modern, tri-level shopping court of high priced shops like Versace, Ferragamo, Tiffany and Gucci. I wonder what the old whalers would think of the place? We browsed the shops for a time and then discovered a small whaling museum on the second level. Harpoons, scrimshaw (carved whale bone) abounded in small exhibits that told you everything you would ever want to know about whale blubber, whaling and the industry that surrounded it. It is interesting and worth a stop.
The village square opens onto Ka’anapali beach. We walked the paved ocean path, along the beach, enjoying the swaying palms, the flowering hibiscus, the neatly manicured lawns of the huge hotels and the general aura of opulence. This is everyone’s ideal vision of Hawaii. The Marriott, Sheraton, Hyatt and Maui Ocean Shores are beautiful in their landscaped elegance. We stopped at the Marriott for coffee on the ocean and watched the comings and goings of the many vacationers. This is where we would return for an extended stay. Golf courses, shopping, trendy restaurants and the finest white sand, that California could supply, make K’anapali beach a comfortable and elegant escape from the everyday grind. The surfers, divers and swimmers enjoyed their recreation while the sunbathers reveled in the warm hot Hawaiian sun.
We hiked back along the two-mile ocean path and stopped for lunch at “Leilani’s” overlooking the ocean at the entrance to Whaler’s Village. Ice tea, great Caesar salads and even some verboten French fries made for a good lunch. ($32) We browsed some shops and then caught the public bus for a slow ride back to Lahaina. We had enjoyed this low-key, unhurried look at Maui, without the hustle and commotion of a guided tour. It gave us a softer look at a place that deserves to be further explored on another occasion.
In Lahaina, we bought some souvenirs, a few bottles of Merlot and then headed back to the docks for a short tender ride to the Dawn Princess. The seas were roughening more this afternoon. The rapid rise and fall of the tenders, up against the dock and ship, made it a challenge for the tender’s crew to off loads its aging passengers onto the ships gangway.
It was mid afternoon, and I was feeling better today, so we sunned for a time on the aft portion of deck 12 and even caught a refreshing dip in the small pool in the health spa. It was lazy and relaxing. It was the way a day on Maui should be spent, easy and soft like the landscape.
At 6:00 P.M., we were topside to have a ritual glass of wine as the Dawn Princess weighed anchor and set sail for the “big island” of Hawaii. My binoculars spotted an oddity in the emerald hills above the port. A Large “L” had been created by clearing the vegetation form an area on the hillside. I guess it serves as aerial confirmation that the port was indeed Lahaina. The
emerald hills of Maui faded into the golden sunset as we stood at the ships deck 14 rail and watched the gilded sunset. We met and talked with Marty and Tom Bleckstein, who live on Maui and were aboard for the cruise to Tahiti. Marty is a photographer and Tom, a developer. It is these incidental meetings shipboard, either at dinner or casually, that much enhance the entire experience.
We repaired to our room to prep for dinner in the Deck 5 Florentine room. Fiume Blanc led us into a salmon and leeks appetizer, green salads, filet of Mahi Mahi and then New York Cheesecake made for a memorable repast. Jon was our waiter again this evening and we exchanged a “Magandang Gabi” (good evening) and “Mabuti, salamat” (I am fine, Thanks) in Tagalog.
The sea was roughening and the boat wallowing from side to side. The day had tired us and we retired early to read and surrender to the sandman. It had been a leisurely and pleasant day in Maui. We plan to return someday for a longer look.
Thursday, 4/17/03 Hilo, Hawaii
We arose early, at 6:00 A.M., to watch the Dawn Princess arrive in Hilo harbor on the “big island” of Hawaii. It was cloudy and warm, with the promise of rain, something that happens often on this side of the island. The Hilo side gets over 126 in. of rain annually and has tropical rainforests. The Kona side only gets 10 in. during the year and is semi-arid. It makes for some interesting contrasts in flora over short distances.
The island is also much bigger than the others, at 4,000 sq. miles, some 2/3 of the landmass of the island chain. It also has three volcanoes, two of them active. We were scheduled to visit Mt. Kilauea today.
We breakfasted in the deck 14 Horizons court, watching with interest the rain pregnant clouds circle the high peaks on the mountain. It is always hard for me to imagine how big these islands really are. The seamount upon which the island is perched, extends over 18,000 feet to the seabed below. The highest volcano, Kilauea reaches another 13,000 feet above the sea line. This is one tall hummer of a mountain. When you think of lava exploding all the way up through 31,000 feet of mountain, that makes for a degree of physical force that is hard for me to grasp.
Our group assembled in the deck 7 Vista Lounge and was duly led ashore and into a warehouse to await our huge land cruisers for the 7-hour tour. The heavens opened and the rain poured like a Spring torrent. We scurried, laughing, for the bus like kids in a schoolyard. Derek, our driver was both young and obviously highly educated. He looked like a younger version of Wayne Newton. His grasp of plate tectonics, the mechanics of volcanic eruption and a score of other disciplines, involving agriculture, local flora and fauna and marine biology were not just superficially acquired. The man had been a student some place and paid attention to what he had read.
The land cruiser lumbered up the ascending roads of Mt. Kilauea. It was raining intermittently and we could see the dense, lush foliage everywhere around us. Our destination was the Volcanoes National Park, atop Mt. Kilauea. We arrived soon enough and stopped in a small lot adjacent to the Thomas A. Jagger observation station. Inside are displays explaining measurement of earthquakes, pre volcanic expansion and scores of other details relating to volcanoes. A few colorful murals depict the Goddess Pele and her minions. The Hawaiians have a rich mythology about everything. We were tongue in cheek cautioned about removing lava samples, because Pele would bring us bad luck. However sophisticated or urbane we thought ourselves, no one removed any lava samples.
It was misting lightly as we stood outside the center and looked across the Caldera, or Volcano’s mouth. The distance was a staggering 2 miles. The actual volcano mouth was surrounded by succeedingly larger depressions that extended out further. It was fascinating for me to look at this cone and realize that enough volcanic material had erupted from this aperture to create 4,000 sq. miles of land mass and extend some 13,000 feet into the air.
All around the caldera, you could see the searing marks from tremendous temperatures. Great white swaths of dried calcium and super heated sulphur remained from the flows of heated magma.(magma below ground, lava above) As the mist and rain seeped into the ground, steam rose as the water hit heated rock below. The aura was medieval and menacing. Off to the Southeast, visitors were warned from walking because the sulphur fumes could be toxic. It looked like Dante’s version of the nether regions and it held us spell bound at the raw power and energy contained in the process. Super heated Lava was currently seeping from the side of Mt. Kilauea about 11 miles from and below us, but it was too difficult to get us safely near enough to view the phenomenon.
It was only 12 years ago that an enormous lava flow had slid down the mountain and destroyed 189 homes and virtually the entire town of Kalapena. The fiery lava seeped into the ocean and created super heated mists that explodes the rocks and created the black sand beaches that we were to see in a few hours.
We traversed the volcano on a ring road watching the lunar landscape created by the sulphur and old lava flows. The driver stopped for a time and let us walk out among an old flow from 15 years back. The lava had the consistency of brittle tar that had frozen in wildly flowing waves of super heated rock. The top layer of the flow had that crystalline diamond effect as the molten surface rock cooled and crystallized. Just down the road we drove by a flow from the 1950’s. Grasses and scrub trees had already started to cover the rock, attesting to its rich mineral content. Everything grows well in the rich volcanic soil.
Down the road, the arid scenery changed quickly to that of a tropical rain forest with dense vegetation. We were stopping at the “Thurston Lava Tube.” The 360 yard, ten foot high tunnel had been carved out by heated lava. When the surface of a lava flow starts to cool, the molten lava often is still flowing beneath the surface. It does so and created a tunnel to flow hrough. The super heated gases, just above the molten rock, further molded and carved the area until a fairly smooth rock tunnel is created through which the lava can flow like tooth paste through a tube. We walked the damp tunnel and were mindful of the heat and energy that had created this natural wonder. At the other end of the tunnel, we ascended a few sets of stairs and the hiked through the dense tropical rain forest to our bus, admiring the many varieties of plants and flowers everywhere around us. This had been an interesting stop. Luckily for us, the rains had stopped for a few minutes to allow us this walk through the lava.
The Park has a functioning lodge and restaurant that over looks the volcano mouth. It is named appropriately, Volcano house. Our bus rolled up and we got off to stand in line for the buffet. The house had that CCC, open-beamed, timbered look that you find in many American Parks. Its broad picture windows overlooked the Volcano mouth some miles in the distance. The lunch was middling to poor, “slop the hogs” variety, and the place was crowded to the gunnels with tourists from everywhere. We finished quickly, browsed the cheap souvenir shops and then did a “Chevy Chase” outside looking at the scenery, before boarding the land cruiser to continue the tour.
From the Volcano house, we rode a brief way to the “Akatsuka Orchid Gardens” to admire the many gorgeous varieties of colorful orchids that the island produces. It was visually pleasing to see so many orchids in an attractive display. The rains came with a vengeance as we traversed the mountain roads to our next destination, the Mona Loa Macadamia Nut grove and factory. It sounds inconsequential, but these nuts are big business here abouts. The nut trees are densely planted on 225 acres of scarce land. The trees take over seven years to mature before dropping their nuts to the ground, from where they are harvested and processed into all manner of candied and dressed macadamia nuts. They retail for $25 per pound. The bus stopped at the gift and sales shop for everyone to browse and sample. Mary and I made for the ice cream stand behind the place. For $6, we ate some wonderful chocolate macadamia nut ice cream that was delicious.
The rain was still pouring on us, so we passed on seeing “Mac the nut” the company’s mascot. We elbowed our way through the crowded shop and tasted some of the samples. They are delicious in all forms. Our fellow park bears were munching at the sample “buffet line” like people who hadn’t just consumed 1200 calories at the Volcano House.
From the Mona Loa Nut factory, Derek drove us to the ocean shore, at the afore-mentioned site of the unfortunate town of Kalapena. The bus parked and we were then ventured across the lava flow. It extended back some 11 miles, was over 15’ high, and was 1/3 of a mile across to the black sand beach at the ocean shore. The flow had destroyed 189 homes in its trek to the ocean. It was surreal walking across the huge, cooled mass of lava. Great swirls of cooled rock made walking difficult. We literally had to jump from one smoothed pile of lava to another. The fissure here were more brittle, like shattered pottery in a huge black piles of hardened tar. A sign stood out on the flow. It had a walker, with a red line though it, apparently warning people from walking across lava that had not yet cooled and risk being burned alive.
The black sand beach itself was weirdly beautiful. As the super heated lava met the cool ocean, the rock literally exploded into thousands of tons of black powdered rock. This created the black sand that we now trod
upon. Here and there in the fissures, locals had planted palm trees that were
now inching up through the lava fissures. In a few hundred years, this newest portion of Hawaii will be a tropical beach and palm grove. Maybe we should take out land options now for our descendants?
As an interesting aside, the housing lots below the huge mass of
cooled lava still belonged to the residents whose homes had been destroyed. An enterprising local mayor had wanted to tax the owners for their buried lots. He was near run off the island. The idea has not resurfaced again. We enjoyed the sea, sky and harsh lava for a time and then set off back across the fractured flow for our bus. The day was getting long.
Our last stop on the tour was modest though interesting. The rain
was falling on us as we left the bus to look at Rainbow Falls. It is a pretty
setting surrounded by African Tulip “flame” trees, towering Banyans, with
exposed roots and huge monkey-pod tress with their large, leafy canopies. We took some pictures and admired the flow. In that Niagara Falls is virtually
down the road from us, we wondered at all the fuss, but whatever does it for
the tourists, works for everyone, I guess.
The rains had come in earnest as we returned to the harbor area. We espied a small grocery and stopped by to by two bottle of Merlot for the . Then we scurried back across the ways, fielded the array of security
cordons and entered the Dawn Princess, grateful for the dry and clean
surroundings. We had a glass of the Merlot in the cabin as I wrote up my notes and we settled in to relax for a bit. This vacationing stuff was getting to be hard work.
At 6:00, we walked up to the deck 14 windjammers bar to have a
drink and watch the Dawn Princess weigh anchor and sail for Christmas Island near the Gilbert chain, some 2,000 miles South of here. As we watched the big island settle into the Horizon, we met and talked again with Tom Bleckstein. He was a developer and I worked for an association of builders. We shared municipal war stories and enjoyed the ritual of leaving port.
We went through our dinner rituals in the Florentine Room and
enjoyed another 5 star dining experience of shrimp appetizer, consommé’. Filet of Halibut is mushroom sauce and some Austrian strudel. It was wonderful. The day had tired us and we repaired to our room to read, relax and recover from a hard day of “touristing.”
Good Friday, 4/18/03 at sea, South of the Hawaiian Islands
We arose early. The sky was studded with gray clouds, the air was warm and a brisk trade wind was quartering us from the northeast. We had a leisurely breakfast on the balcony, watching the white caps of the blue sea swell and flow around the big ship’s wake. There was neither a bird to be seen, nor a ship nor another person. We were alone in the South Pacific. We read for a time (“Stone Monkey” Jeffrey Deaver) and relaxed, appreciating the slower pace aboard when the ship was at sea.
At 10:30 A.M., we stood in another line and presented our passports and properly completed immigration forms to Tahitian authorities in the deck 7 Vista lounge. In return, we got a crisp receipt for our passports, hoping we would see them again. We had brought our books with us and sat outside, on lounge chairs on the covered promenade deck. It was geriatrics row, god bless them for the gumption to be still traveling at an advanced age. We were seeing our future here and it made me feel older by the minute. We didn’t want to waste the lethargy so we repaired to our cabin for a delicious one-hour conversation with Mr. Ozzie Nelson (nap).
After our late morning siestas, we stopped by the deck 14 trough to ingest the appropriate caloric overload. Everything was both fresh and of good quality. That is the problem. One simply cannot resist scarfing down major carb loads at these buffets, From lunch, we made our way to the 3:00 P.M. wind tasting in the Florentine room. A humorous Hungarian waiter gave a knowledgeable and entertaining lesson on appreciating and purchasing Pinot Grigio, Fiume Blanc, Shiraz, a Mondavi coastal Merlot and Korbel champagne. We had fun and enjoyed the performance. I bought two bottles of the coastal Merlot for use at future dinners on the ship. One exercise was both interesting and tasty. We put salt on our hands to lick, then bit into a lemon and drank some Pinot Grigio. This light wine immediately took on a much fruitier and fuller taste to some chemical transfer or other. We had shared the experience with Lynn and her father Peter from London and two Torontonians, Judy and Paul.
The weather was still cloudy and warm as we ventured topside for a brief walk in the air. It prompted us to return to the cabin to read and talk yet again with Mr. Nelson. Tonight was the first “formal dinner” in the Florentine room and we wanted to be alert and enjoy the affair.
At 9 P.M. we walked down the grand promenade on deck 7 to the dining areas. Four photographers were busy taking pictures of passengers in their tuxedos and evening wear. We met up with a charming young couple, Jazz and Janice, from London. Mary had met them while waiting in line to book excursions the day before. We chatted a bit, enjoying their company. They had only married the year before and were celebrating their first year of marriage. We all posed for various pictures and decided to join each other for dinner in the Florentine room. It is these chance encounters with people from everywhere that make the cruise experience so enjoyable.
The waiters served up the usual five star extravaganzas as we sipped a nice bottle of Mondavi Merlot and got acquainted with this charming couple. Janice owned her own fashion design company in London and Jazz, is a computer programmer. We much enjoyed their company as we had a leisurely dinner worthy of royalty.
After dinner, we set off for the Princess Theater to watch an hour-long musical review. It was lively and entertaining and we forgot for a time how far away the real world was. One old battle-axe nearby was shushing everyone to beat the band. We found her comical and part of the evening’s performance.
It was raining cats and dogs topside. The air was humid and bath warm. Everyone walked like drunks after a spree, down the main passageway. The ship was motoring at top speed and she rocked side to side like a hog in a wallow. It had been a lovely day at sea and we were tiring. We put aside our glass slippers and magical robes and surrendered to the sandman, happy to be here and with each other, someplace at sea in the vast pacific.
Saturday, 4/19/03 At sea South of Hawaii, nearing the Gilbert Islands
We were up early. It was warm topside with a 35-mph trade wind crossing the deck. We breakfasted in the deck 14 Horizons Court and then sunned on the aft fantail of deck 12, enjoying the leisurely time to read, try a cooling dip in the small pool and generally laze about the deck. It is a life speed gear that I am not much familiar with, but would like to experience more of it.
The day was leisurely so we decided to have a formal lunch in the Florentine room. Proper dress was required, so we cleaned up some and venture in to this now familiar place of gustatory titillation. We had shrimp Louis and crab and enjoyed the pleasure of the food and our surroundings. Life can be very good when you let it.
We were now some 800 miles South of Hilo and still had another 400 miles before we reached that small speck in the Pacific labeled Christmas Island. Or Kirimatati as it is now called. Had I known then that the U.S. had carried out underground nuclear explosions on Christmas Island in 1962, I might have been more apprehensive about our coming visit. Ignorance, as they say however, is bliss. The Dawn Princess proceeded South at a brisk 19 knot pace and we could espy nothing around us except for sky, wind and wave.
An art auction was taking place in the wheel house lounge, so we sat through that for a time enjoying the banter of the auctioneer and the lively patter about artists “not yet dead.” Then, we watched the delightful comedy “Analyze That,” with Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro. It is every bit as funny as “Analyze this.” The really is a wealth of things to do shipboard if you seek them out. After the movie, I sent some e-mails into cyber space enjoying the novelty of transmitting from the middle of the ocean via satellite, something that would have been near impossible only a few years before.
It was nearing 6:00 P.M. and we headed for the windjammer lounge on deck 14 to watch the sun slide into the deep pacific. The performance was blocked some by clouds, but we watched it eagerly enjoying the light play of sun on water and sky as the day turned into night at sea in its daily magical performance.
8:00 found us entering the Florentine room. Fate had the waiter sit us next to Jazz and Janice. We smiled at the co-incidence and enjoyed another meal with these charming young people from London. It was “French Night.” I had escargot, French Onion Soup, Orange roughie and an apple tart with ice cream for desert. It was accompanied by a nice Fiume Blanc and good coffee. The dining experience was delicious and consistent with the other elegant repasts we had enjoyed aboard the Dawn Princess.
The temperature topside was 80 degrees at 11:00 P.M. It was steamy, warm and humid. The kids were in the mood to party. We are much older and realized we could not keep their pace. We wished them a good evening and returned to our cabin to read and finish yet another lazy and enjoyable day at sea.
Easter Sunday 4/20/03 Christmas Island- Republic of Kiribati
We were up early and breakfasted on our balcony overlooking Kirimatati, formerly known as Christmas Island. The Dawn Princess had anchored at Bridges Point, on the West side of the island, earlier this morning. Her tenders were now motoring about, laying out a safe channel to transport her passengers through the shifting sands and spiny coral reef. Large poles, with flags atop them and attached to floats, delineated safe passage through the marine maze to shore.
The lagoon is a bright aquamarine, the beaches are so white that the reflected sunlight hurts your eyes. Waving palm trees lined the shores. It looked every bit the tropical atoll that Hollywood had conditioned us to expect. An older and rust spotted freighter, with its gangling derrick arm, even completed the scene. Everything on the island had to be shipped in
from great distances, increasing its cost several times.
The ships tenders had begun transporting passengers at 9 A.M. After two full days at sea, virtually everyone wanted to get off and “stretch his or her legs.” We got a number in line for spots on a tender and idled about the deck for 90 minutes until our turn came. The sea was fairly calm, so offloading passengers went smoothly enough. We took a
circuitous and lengthy 40-minute ride through the coral and sand obstacles to arrive at the London docks. Truly, the place had been named London. Even better, across the bay at a now abandoned similar anchorage, the area had been named Paris. It must be sardonic tropical humor.
Immediately adjacent to the jetty, a small line of delightful elementary children were clad in pink dresses and singing island songs to welcome all of us. Nearby, under a large straw pavilion, sat a booth labeled “post office”, “island tours” and the ubiquitous tee shirts ($20 each here). A larger group of Polynesian men were singing island songs and
performing dance routines for our entertainment. It looked like most of the island population has turned out to greet this cruise ship. Not many vessels stopped here apparently and when one did, it became an island happening.
Mary and I set out for a walk down the crushed coral road. Ramshackle huts, with grass roofs and several ongoing attempts at masonry construction, lined the small roads. A mind-blink would quickly transport you back to the 1940’s here. Most of the small buildings had tin roofs to catch the rainwater. We saw several small children, hiding under trees to escape the heat of the blistering sun. Most of the adults were at the jetty, so the small lanes appeared deserted. Now and then a small open truck
would whiz by with several tourists in the open back end. This was the “island tour.” We never did find Captain Cook’s Hotel or any other commercial establishment for that matter. A small Health clinic with “Island of Kirimatati” on it looked ready for business.
The island palm trees are big and beautiful. The crushed coral roads are bright with the sun and soft with nearby sand. A few odd automotive relics lay rusting in the sun. Just off shore, we were told, lay the rotting remains of several W.W.II vintage Japanese freighters. The odd coastal artillery piece also lay old and unused near the shore. We continued our walk for a bit, waving at any small kids that appeared. They smiled and waved back.
Soon enough, we retraced our steps to the jetty, realizing that the line for a return tender might soon become humongous. At the jetty area, we listened to the island music and watched the brilliant and beautiful surroundings on the small islet. It looked like you would have to be both adaptive and very inventive to survive here. It only took us about 30 minutes to get aboard a tender and we soon retraced our way, through the Turquoise lagoon, to the welcome splendor of the air-conditioned Dawn Princess. As at every port, the crew supplied antiseptic handi wipes to all returning passengers. It is the age of SARS and the many intestinal viruses and the ships try to be proactive in minimizing bugs brought from shore to the ship.
We had an exquisite lunch of fresh fish and several fruits in the deck 14 Horizon Court and then retired to our cabin to read and catch a one-hour nap. It felt like E.T. returning through a time warp to the Mother ship and appreciating what the modern technology had made available.
6:00 P.M drew us to the deck 14 windjammers bar for a ritual glass of wine, as we watched the Dawn Princess weigh anchor and sail away from the remote atoll so far away from everything. The 6:32 P.M. sunset, out over the Pacific, was a glorious celebration of another day in paradise. We returned to our cabin to shower and prep for dinner, much appreciating the splendor of our surroundings in juxtaposition to those available on Christmas Island.
The deck 5 lounge had a talented piano player and vocalist every night. We stopped for coffee before dinner and enjoyed the music and each other’s company. The Florentine room was again no disappointment. We enjoyed Lobster appetizers, pea and onion crème soup, filet of Halibut in peppercorn sauce and Macadamia nut ice cream, all accompanied by a Mondavi Merlot and good coffee. It doesn’t get any better than this.
A musical review in the deck 7 Vista Lounge was both colorful and entertaining. These kids might not be on Broadway, but they gave 150% in energy and we enjoyed their performances. After the show, Mary and I wandered topside to look at the full array of celestial beacons that adorned the heavens. It was a nightly show that you can’t see on land. I wondered at the ancient mariners who had sailed these lonely seas for thousands of years using these same beacons as their maps. They must have gazed in wonder, even as we now did, at the full array of twinkling beauty that we now admired. The day was waning and we were tiring. We retired to our cabin to read and surrender to Morpheus. It had been another interesting idyll in the far Pacific. We were happy that we were here together.
The Dawn Princess steamed on as we slept and crossed the equator sometime after Midnight, a first for us sailing across the equator.
Monday, 4/21/03 at sea 350 miles South of Christmas Island
We were up early. The light of the “false dawn” had broken over the waves at 6:00 A.M. A single bright star still shined just over the horizon. How many mariners before me had used it to guide them across the tractless waters? Dawn Princess had crossed the equator several hours before, so we were watching our first sunrise on the Pacific Ocean and in the Southern Hemisphere. Watching both sunsets and sunrises on the same ocean was a novel event for us. At 6:24 A.M. the golden orb climbed from its watery grave and brought light, heat and color to the sea and sky. It was worth the early rising to watch this daily spectacle.
Breakfast found us in the deck 14 Horizons court and then we sunned on the aft section of deck 12 for an hour or so before retreating to “Octogenarians row,” on covered deck 7, to read our books and enjoy the lazy motions of the ship. We were 800 miles from Bora Bora and excited to see so fabled a destination. Even the name conjured up visions of Polynesians in outrigger war canoes with the sound of drums resonating in the humid air. You can see that the heat obviously fuels the fevered imagination in these climbs. We opted to pass on lunch and chose a leisurely conversation with Mr. Nelson in its place. It was a good choice.
“About Schmidt,” starring jack Nicholson, was playing in the Princess Theater at 3:00 P.M.. We enjoyed the film and then made our way to deck 12 for Hagendaaz ice cream floats topside. Ai caramba, the calories keep on coming. It was nearing 6:00 P.M., so we remained topside at the Windjammers bar for a glass of wine, while we watched a magnificent sunset out over the cloudless blue sky. We were even treated to the fabled “green flash” as the sun sank beneath the waves and hissed as it hit the cool waters. The red/golden glow on the horizon was as pretty as any sunset we had yet witnessed. We chatted with Marty Bleckstein, the photographer from Maui, as we watched this spectacle and enjoyed her company.
We returned to our cabin to shower and dress for dinner. It was “Italian Night” in the Florentine room and we were looking forward to the gustatory experience. We were not disappointed. The Mondavi Merlot led us into squid and shrimp appetizers, Zuppa minestrone, swordfish griglia and then finally a delicate Tiremisu with good coffee. I can die happily now, I have had everything wonderful that I ever wanted to eat on this cruise. We saw and talked to Kevin and Laura Hanley, a couple from Maywood New Jersey, whom we had met on the ship. We made plans to have dinner with them at tomorrow night’s formal dinner.
After dinner, we visited the casino to throw some money down that dark hole.The place is the usual “empty your pockets special.” We soon tired of being fleeced and ventured to the Princess Theater on deck 7 to watch a nightclub singer named Paul Edison. Paul is from Liverpool England and was a real treat. I don’t usually like lounge singers, but this engaging performer gave convincing renditions of Neil Diamond, Frank Sinatra, Paul Anka, Elvis Presley and a bevy of others, in a toe-tapping medley that left you smiling. Thanks Paul, for the entertaining show.
It was 11:30 P.M. and our Cinderella coach was fast approaching. W returned to our cabin to read (“Backspin” Harlan Coben ), write up my notes and retire. It had been a long day in which we had witnessed the span of events from first light to twinkling evening. We had enjoyed the day and each other to the fullest, in the South Pacific, enroute to Bora Bora and Tahiti. I would never have thought of myself on a cruise like this, growing up in a working class section of Buffalo, New York. Dreams are possible if you make them come true.
Tuesday April 22, 2003- at sea 400 miles north of Bora Bora
We again watched the false dawn break the watery horizon at 6:00 A.M. and then enjoyed another brilliant sunrise at 6:20 A.M. This is a daily ritual that you wouldn’t want to miss. It was sunny and warm even this early. We had breakfast on the balcony and enjoyed the sea air, the azure blue sky and the rolling, royal blue waves around us, We were steaming south at 19 knots and fast approaching Polynesia. The depth beneath us was a daunting 16.000 feet to the sea bed.
Our passports were returned to us at 9:00 A.M. in the vista lounge. That was a relief. We also received official “Equator crossing certificates” from the ships Captain. In the old days I think they used to throw first time crossers over board for the novelty of the rite. I suppose that would probably be somewhat impractical for 3,000 passengers. A glass of wine, topside at sunset, would have to suffice for our ritual equator crossing. We then sunned on the aft section of deck 11, enjoying the steaming morning sun on our bodies. I can now empathize with turtles and crocodiles for the languid pleasure of basking in the warm sun. A refreshing dip in the small pool, in the health spa, felt wonderfully cooling after the 88-degree heat. I wonder if the Czars ever lived as well as this?
Even turtles get sunburned , so we packed it in and walked three miles (12 laps around deck 7) enjoying the vigor and the sweat that the walk produced. Then, we returned to our cabin to shower and dress for lunch in the Florentine room. “Simone” starring Al Pacino, was playing in the Princess Theater this afternoon. We enjoyed this very unusual role for Al Pacino, then drifted topside to watch again another glorious sunset at 6:20 P.M. How many time do you think we could follow this routine? About a thousand if we are ever that fortunate!
It was another “formal night” for dinner, so we repaired to our cabin to dress in our “Cinderella Clothes” and venture forth once again down the grand promenade on deck 7. It really was fun to dress formally after laying about in beach clothes all day. Most of the passengers cleaned up pretty nicely. We met Kevin and Laura Hanley in the deck 5 lounge, had coffee and got better acquainted, before entering the Florentine Room for another wonderful experience. Kevin has a taxi and car rental business in New Jersey and Florida. Laura runs an after school program in one of the New Jersey schools. Kevin was typical W.A.F.I , an acronym one Irish-American reserves when recognizing another of the impetuous breed. Laura was both gracious and charming. They were an improbable pair that had been married for 26 years and they got along famously. They had been on eight other cruises and loved the experience. We much enjoyed their company.
In the dining room, Kevin and Laura shared a good Cabernet, sent by their travel agent, which we helped them enjoy. This introduced crab and melon ball appetizers, a Greek Salad, Norwegian trout for me, all followed by an Austrian Sacher Torte and good coffee. The table service was exemplary. The food seemed to get better every night. We would pay for these extravaganzas with a few zillion hours in the health club for the next few months. But, it is worth it three-fold for the pleasure that we experienced in this 5 star dining emporium.
The Princess Lounge provided another interesting song and dance routine titled “Rhythms of the City.” We watched and appreciated the talent and energy these kids put forth. Thanks kids for the entertainment. After the show, we said good night to Kevin and Laura. They had enhanced out cruise experience greatly. We were tiring from the long and languid day. The cabin summoned us with its promise of sleepy mist. We read for a bit before drifting off to the roll of the ship-plowing forward, ever forward, to our exotic destination.
Wed. 4/23/03 Bora Bora- French Polynesia
We arose early, eager to face the coming day. At 6 a.m., the Dawn Princess had sailed into Vaitape Bay on Bora Bora. We prepped for the day and headed to the deck 14 lounge for breakfast at 6:30 a.m. The erose, emerald remains of an ancient volcano rose up in front of us, cloud shrouded, mysterious and tolkienesque in the early morning sun. From the high deck of the Dawn Princess, it looked like we were entering one of those mysterious isles that you see in King Kong or Jurassic Park. The scent, on the ocean breeze, was pregnant with the healthy rot of tropical jungle just tweaking our nostrils. We ate quietly, our eyes never far straying from the jagged, emerald peaks of Mt. Pahia and Mount Hue.
Just off the bow of the ship a jagged and erose peak, with a phallic shape, rose needle-nosed into the surrounding sky. It is the fabled Bali Hai. Even the name fires up the imagination. I had recognized the craggy skyline from a modern painting by an Italian artist named Freshcetti, I think. This particular erose formation had probably fed the imagination of a thousand painters and artists over the centuries. We were here finally in this exotic port. A smaller cruise ship, the “Paul Gauguin” already lay at anchor nearby. She is an older and newly refitted vessel from the former Renaissance lines.
The island of Bora Bora is in itself tiny. Its 27 sq.miles hold some 7,000 souls and an indeterminate number of visiting tourists. The bay in which we were anchored, and most of the visible island, once were ensconced firmly in the center on an ancient caldera of a volcano that had risen some 13,000 feet into the Polynesian sky. The deep blue of the bay gave indication of its depth beneath us. It had also provided an excellent location for naval refueling and provisioning for U.S. war ships bound from the continental United States to Australia during W.W.II. 5,600 Seabees had been stationed here during the conflict. The natives say that as a reminder, the soldiers had left behind 100 children of mixed parentage. Most island nations can relate similar stories defining their gene pools.
We boarded a ship’s tender for the 20-minute ride into the docks of Vaitape village. Our tour guide, an elegant, French & English speaking Polynesian woman, met us and ushered us into the amusing “le Truks.” They are small trolleys, with wooden super structures and open windows, resembling an old hay wagon with a roof. The sturdy vehicles were clean and comfortable with seat pads, not anywhere near as Spartan as the guides had warned us. Many of the passengers had brought towels to sit on in anticipation of hard wood “splinter seats.”
Our guide pointed out to us a number of feral dogs running free. It was becoming a problem on the island she said. In the not too distant past, dogs had been items on the Bora Bora menu. When Brigitte Bardot, the French actress, had visited the islands, she took up their cause. Now they are uneaten and becoming something of a problem to care for.
We were circumnavigating the 22 miles of the island on an attractive ocean road. The Palm trees and the vegetation here are lush and green, a result of the 74 inches of annual rainfall. We drove by and admired Papaya, Banana, coconut and the famous breadfruit trees for which the HMS Bounty had come to the Society Island looking in the 1800’s. Everything grows abundantly here. The guide pointed out the Noni trees. A small fruit issues from them from which various lotions and palliatives are made. It apparently has great medicinal effects but had a malodorous side effect that wrinkles the nose. A goodly quartering ocean breeze kept the island from over heating. It was nearing the end of the steamy summer season here (Dec.-April) The Spring season is reportedly much cooler.
The Sheraton, on Bora Bora, sits on a small Motu (islet) just across the bay. It is a collection of those lovely, small grass-roofed huts that sit out on piers right over the ocean. The tab was a respectable $500-$800 a night for those fortunate enough to be able to stay there. It is an eye pleaser to look at across the turquoise bay. Bora Bora has several large and very posh hotels that cater to the carriage trade form all over.
The driver pulled along the side of the road and bade us look at the ubiquitous holes all along the roadside. They are the homes of “tupa crabs” she explained. To entice them forth, she threw several over ripe bananas and their peels onto the sand. Almost instantly, a small army of these crabs crawled forth from their burrows and began dragging the fruit and peels back into their holes. It was humorously horrific. It reminded me of all of those 1950’s science fiction movies, where giant crabs had crawled all over
Manhattan dragging screaming citizens into giant burrows. The crabs are apparently nocturnal creatures and come forth at night o feed on the fallen fruit of the many trees I had noticed.
Just up the road, we stopped by a small collection of stalls that were selling “Tapa Cloth.” It is highly colored, with many native images splashed across their willowy surfaces.. The cotton sarongs are a staple of the island’s clothing for women. They can be folded and worn in a dozen different ways. They are also light and cool and fit the tropical heat nicely. The women vendors gave demonstrations of how they dyed the colorful garments in a process similar to “Batik” in the Caribbean.. We enjoyed the stop but were sweating profusely under the tropical sun. The bus proceeded along through Faa Nui village. The guide pointed out that all islanders who pass on are buried under small, roofed tombs in their front yards. It apparently encourages the children to hang onto the properties for generations. As odd as this custom might seem back home, here it seemed perfectly normal. We didn’t think it odd to see the well-tended graves in the front yards of the prosperous looking homes. We also neither saw nor encountered beggars or pan handlers of any kind during our stay on the island.
As we got under way, the guide pointed out the
construction of several sturdy masonry homes. These were provided by the government, at a cost of $2,000, to any of the islanders whose homes are destroyed by the various hurricanes that sweep over the island. Tongue in cheek, the guide explained that, like most social programs the program has those who used it unfairly. The Bora Borans called these homes, the French equivalent of “re-election homes” for the propensity of mayors to award these homes to certain favored islanders during re-election years. It is a system of practical politics even in the tropics.
Near the end of the tour, the guide stopped by the most famous eatery on the island, “Bloody Mary’s.” It is a grass roofed, sand- floored and quietly elegant restaurant made famous by James Michener and others. A large wooden gargoyle sits in front of the restaurant, near a wooden sign carved with the names of all of the “famous” people who had dined here. We entered and ordered two delicious bloody Mary’s. ( you thought maybe we would drink diet sodas in a place like this?) The cost was $12. We enjoyed them and our surroundings.
Soon enough, Le Truk dropped us off in Vaitape village. We stopped for a café au lait in a nearby restaurant. French is spoken on the island exclusively and French Polynesian Francs the currency of choice.. We cooled off from the sun and then decided to walk the roads for a bit to see what local culture we could absorb. The homes looked prosperous enough, with their stucco walls and tin roofs, used to catch the rainwater. The ubiquitous dogs were lying languidly or exploring diffidently all along the route. The traffic was both swift and steady as we walked the roads with their too narrow shoulders. We were happy just to be alive and in such an exotically beautiful destination. The store signs, and everything else, are in French. You have the feel of being someplace distant and far away. The local school had let out for lunch and the kids were walking the roads like kids everywhere. They looked happy and prosperous.
Pleasant as this Polynesian paradise is, we were wilting under the steamy tropical sun. We caught a 1 P.M. tender back to the Dawn Princess where we drank lots of water and chilled out in the welcomed air conditioned bubble of the Dawn Princess. We decided to visit the La Scala pizzeria on deck 8 for lunch. It was charming and we enjoyed the small gourmet pizzas they had to offer.
We sunned for an hour on deck 12 before enjoying a cooling dip in the small pool. You would need leather skin to sit out in this sun for any length of time. The tropical heat had tired us and we had a lengthy conversation with Mr. Nelson in the late afternoon, in our air-conditioned bubble of a cabin.
We were sitting at the windjammers bar at 5:30 P.M., talking to the kids from London, Jazz and Janice, as the Dawn Princess weighed anchor and motored from Vaitape Bay on Bora Bora. The sun was fast setting. We all watched the magnificent daily performance with the proper appreciation due it. For reasons, unknown to me, the sun sets earlier here, by some 45 minutes, than in the Northern climes. No one else seemed to know the reason either. The Southern Hemisphere star show rose on the horizon and we looked up at these strange constellations for a time before heading back to our cabin to shower and prepare for dinner.
The Florentine room was as good as its previous nights for dinner. Shrimp cocktails, lentil soup, Alaskan crab legs and a wonderful black forest cake made for an elegant and relaxing repast. It had been a long day in the tropics and we were yawning even at this early hour. We walked topside to once again admire the stars emblazoned across the inky night of these former Society Island in French Polynesia, glad that we were here and together. Then we retired to our cabin to read for a time and fall into the arms of Morpheus at sea off Bora Bora.
Thursday 4/23/03 Moorea, French Polynesia
We were up early to watch the Dawn Princess sail into Opunohu Bay on the North Coast of Moorea, some 130 miles Southeast of Bora Bora. The sun had already risen at 5:17 A.M., so the craggy, emerald Mt. Rotui was already peaking out from the gray wisps of cloudy garlands capping its erose peak.
Breakfast on deck 14 was lively, as many passengers talked excitedly of the day’s tours. Moorea, or “yellow lizard” in Polynesian, is drop dead gorgeous as a scenic venue. The 53 square mile island, shaped like a butterfly, is a popular destination for upscale tourism. Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay are visited regularly by cruise ships. The Paul Gauguin was at anchor there already. The 4-masted Windjammer was to arrive later this morning. The tour buses would be full today.
We assembled in the deck 7 Vista Lounge and then walked school fashion, through the ship, to the gangway on deck 3 for boarding the ship’s tenders. The 20-minute ride into Papetoai village, ashore, was quick and uneventful. The air has hot and heavy with humidity even at this early hour.
The pier area is a simple jetty with a stone rest room and a nearby municipal building for the gendarmes. Several tents had been put up by local vendors hawking jewelry and Moorean arts and crafts. It had rained heavily a few hours before and the small rain puddles made the walk through the open field interesting. A dozen or so of the huge, air-conditioned land cruisers were waiting their aging cargos for the day’s tours.
The driver took us first up through the Governmental agricultural reservation, which covers 1/3 of the island, to the hills above and a scenic spot called the “Belvedere Lookout.” From here, about 2,000 feet above the ocean, we could look out on both Cook and Oponohu Bays. The deep blue of the far ocean, azure sky, studded with white puffy clouds, all accented the deep emerald of the lush vegetation on the island. We looked appreciatively for a time before being rounded up to continue our tour. The other buses were lumbering up the narrow roads as we came down. It made for interesting driving.
Along the sides of the road, our guide pointed out thin Mahogany trees, acacia, tulip, “lipstick” trees, guava, banana, teak, lice and Chinese chestnut trees along the roadside. The diverse arboreal growth is colorful and eye pleasing to look at. The “lipstick” tree had small fuzzy buds that when rubbed on lips or fingers had the same effect as rouge. Many of the island women wore it in place of costlier lipstick, hence the name of the tree.
About half way down the slope, we stopped at an ancient Marae. These are limestone temple sites where yearly the islanders had sacrificed humans in a ritual to please the great god Oro. In that older men ran the tribe, no nubile maidens were sacrificed, only men. These sacrifices are laced through the Hawaiian legends as part of the reason the ancient Hawaiians had fled the harsher culture of Bora Bora and Moorea. The temple area had fallen into disrepair, but a small grass-roofed hut and some printed information boards filled in the blanks. Nearby is a small waterfall, but we didn’t have time to walk the mile or so inland. Reportedly, the islander who owns the land you walk across to get there, charges a $2 levy on anyone crossing his land, capitalism in the tropics.
We stopped by a small grove of pineapple plants on the reservation. I always thought they grew on trees. Small bushes, with thin and wiry leaves, are carefully tended by laborers and then harvested for their sweet fruit. All around us was a profusion of flowers. The beautiful Japanese pagoda flowers hung from roadside trees. The tulip flowers were simply beautiful. Moorea is a gorgeous arboretum and botanical gardens that is a pleasure just to ride through and enjoy.
Along the coast road, we could see the island of Tahiti rising up from the ocean, some 11 miles away. The 4-masted Windjammer and the Paul Gauguin were sitting at anchor in turquoise Opunohu bay, the palm trees were swaying in the breeze, against the brilliant backdrop of multi hued sapphire sea, azure sky and emerald hills. It is a riot of soft tropical colors that dazzle the eye and smile the face. This island is the most beautiful in the chain and the one we would most like to return to.
The Moorea Sheraton again has those delightful grass-hutted rondevals, with glass bottomed floors, sitting on piers looking into the bay. The Moorea Pearl Beach and other luxury resorts compete for the high-end tourist trade. Curiously, the club med resort had closed two years back and not re-opened.
The bus lumbered by the huge ferry facility. A large car ferry and a smaller and swifter catamaran ferry made regular, daily trips to nearby Tahiti. All high school students have to commute daily to Tahiti as well as many workers who commute daily. It must be a pleasant daily ride. The parking lot was crowded with cars of the many commuters. Everything on Moorea seemed to be prosperous and thriving.
The 4-hour tour ended at noon and we then browsed the vendors in the pier area for a time. The heat and humidity were intense, so we decided to hop the tender for the air-conditioned comfort of the Dawn Princess, sitting placidly at anchor in the bay. As we ascended the gangway, a blast of the cool air hit us and we again felt like E.T. returning gratefully to the mother ship. We re-hydrated ourselves and then sat for another gourmet pizza in La Scala at lunch. It revived us considerably.
An hour sunning on deck 12, in the intense tropical heat, enervated us. Even a dip in the small pool couldn’t revive us, so we headed to the cabin for a 2-hour nap. We slept like dead crocodiles in a swamp.
We were up in time to visit the Windjammers lounge on deck 14, to watch the 5:34 P.M. sunset, as we talked to the London kids, Janice and Jazz. The setting sun, against the backdrop of the aforementioned island beauty, was glorious. I think it is the simple pleasures like this that we most enjoy about the days activities. At 6:00 P.M. sharp, the Dawn Princess weighed anchor for the brief 11-mile sail to nearby Tahiti.
The Florentine room again summoned us to a memorable repast. Shrimp appetizers and a cold pear and walnut soup were exquisite. Then, Lobsters tails and a light parfait, all washed down with a Mondavi Merlot and decent coffee completed this wonderful dinner.
Topside, after dinner, we watched the Princess nudge her way into Papeete Harbor. She was berthing out in the commercial port for security reasons. We could watch half a dozen freighters lading cargo, the men and forklifts scurrying here and there, noisy and busy at work. The Panamanian cargo vessel “Elsbeth” was lading cargo nearby.
We descended to deck 7, saw and talked with Laura and Kevin Hanley for a bit, before returning to the cabin to read and relax before surrendering to the welcome arrival of the sand man. It had been an interesting day on a lush tropical isle in the South Pacific.
Friday 4/25 Papaeete, Tahiti- French Polynesia
We had arrived in Tahiti, “The Gathering Place.” Just the sound of the name brings up worldwide images of soft breezes, exotic women and an escape from the harsh realities of the Old World. English Captain James Cook and French explorer Captain Louis Bouganville had first discovered these “Society Islands” in the 1760’s. The accounts they brought back electrified Europe enticing artists like Gauguin and adventurers of every type.
Most of us carry visions of Tahiti in our head from the various versions of “Mutiny on The Bounty.” The film, made from a James Norman Hall novel detailing a mutiny aboard Her Majesty’s ship “Bounty,” captained by the now famous Captain Bligh and his first mate Fletcher Christian. The backdrop images in the film are mostly taken from the lovely islands of Moorea and Bora Bora. But it is Tahiti, where the long arm of British justice had corralled the mutineers, except for Fletcher Christian and a small band of others who took refuge in a small isle nearby called “Pitcairn’s island.”
Whalers, merchantmen and adventurers arrived in waves bringing new world gifts like STD and the moral standards of seamen who had been afloat for a year and away from leavening strictures of women and polite society. The Protestant missionaries had come in the early 1800’s and banished most native cultural practices, including ritual sacrifice of humans. The missionary’s razed the several Marae (sacrificial altars) and brought the European version of a straight-laced version of an unforgiving deity. It was a poor fit for these superstitious and easygoing Polynesians.
During the 1840’s, France consolidated its control of five of these small island chains into what we now call French Polynesia. Scattered across 5 million sq. miles of ocean, the Marquesas, Tahiti and three other smaller chains comprise hundreds of pacific atolls and smaller islands of what we now call Polynesia.
Tahiti, one of the larger islands in the group, is actually comprised of two extinct volcano mounts and the slopes surrounding them. Mount Orohena, at 6,700 feet, dominates the larger chunk of the island (Tahiti Nui) Mount Aurai, at 6,200 feet sits on most of the smaller portion of Tahiti (Tahiti –Iti). A small isthmus connects the two areas. Tahiti’s population of 150,000 lives mostly near the capital, Papaeete. They speak French and Polynesian principally. English seems to be spoken by workers in the tourist industry, but is neither known nor spoken by most of the populace. The French Polynesian Franc, equal to about one U.S. penny is the coin of the realm. The attractive copper 100 FPF coins feature the outline of Bali Hai on their face.
After breakfast on deck 14, a wooden “Le Truk” shuttled us into the Centre De Ville, on the waterfront. A small tourist pavilion, adjacent to a newly constructed town square, dominates the waterfront here. A few hundred yards over sits the huge Ferry dock for the daily shuttles to Moorea, visible on the horizon, just 11 miles Northeast of Tahiti. Later that day, the four masted Windjammer would dock alongside this active waterfront.
The ship’s tours, and everything at the visitor’s center, had been booked solid. The offer of $120 for a cab ride, with a driver who knew little English, didn’t seem too enticing to us. What we saw of Tahiti would have to be on foot. We had hoped to visit the Gauguin Museum on the other side of the island. We had just last year seen a Gauguin collection at New York’s Metropolitan Museum and yet another small collection at the Art Gallery of Toronto. We were confirmed admirer’s of this artist’s brilliantly colored renditions of Tahiti and her people. We had also hoped to see the spectacular black sand beach and lighthouse at Point Venus, the Vaima Pearl Center and a few of the waterfalls cascading from Mt. Orohena. Perhaps next time we sail here, we will manage to take them in.
The buildings and houses of the ocean front section of Tahiti are crowded close together. The traffic is heavy and runs in twin ribbons of moving steel separating the town and the ocean. The Tahitians are religious about stopping for pedestrians crossing the street, but it is still proved to be an adventure. We walked for a time, browsing the shops and listening to the chatter around us. It was all spoken in rapid French. The sun was beating down on us already and the humidity was high. Most of the inhabitants seemed to take any refuge from the sun that they could find. Small clumps of people would stand and talk animatedly under the shade of a tree or that of a building’s awning.
We came upon a large café bar called “Mana Rock Café.” (Hardrock) We ordered designer water, in French, from the pleasant waitress ($3) and cooled off for a bit. The café has five internet stations, so for five dollars, I sent some messages into the ether of cyber space, enjoying the speedier land connections over the dead slow ones shipboard. From the café, we stopped to browse in a nice looking Joualierie (jeweler). In halting French, we purchased a single black Tahitian Pearl for Mary. It had a greenish cast to the dark ebony surface. It is apparently labeled as such and much prized by jewelers. ($120) We had stopped at a “Black Pearls of Moorea” shop on the other island. These elegant creations are lustrous black orbs and usually larger in size. We were pleased to have found a smaller one of good quality. The clerk was very polite and enjoyed helping us.
Next, we came upon the two-story version of the central marketplace in Tahiti, “Le Marche,” or the market. The first floor of this open-air barn is filled with food vendors selling everything from fruits to fish and any number of sundries. It reminded me of the Public Market in Seattle. It is colorful and bustling with Tahitians shopping for food. The second floor is filled with scores of small vendors peddling what we lovingly called “Le Jonk.” Sarongs, bead necklaces, carved figures of marine life, Tahitian gods and all manner of jewelry, tee shirts and other sundries, that gladden a shopper’s heart, are on display. We browsed the shops, bought some bead necklaces for a few of the kids at home and enjoyed the color and commerce of a real market place. Fortunately, we were there in the early morning. By late afternoon, the place would be a madhouse of shoppers looking for bargains.
The streets surrounding the market are small and auto-laced. We dodged the speedy traffic and visited another elegant Joualerie where we found a beautiful set of black pearl earrings to match the necklace pearl we had just purchased. They were simple, beautiful and elegant. ($99) The young Polynesian clerks were helpful pleasant and gracious in their service. They share that warm and gracious charm that we had experienced and enjoyed from their Hawaiian cousins.
Towards the end of the commercial strip, a lovely park area faces the ocean. A small bronze bust of Louis Bouganville commemorates this eminent French explorer after whom had been named the colorful tropical flower “Bouganvillea.” We sat for a time in the shade and enjoyed the lush tropical foliage, the colorful flowers and the heat of a tropical isle and each other’s company. We were here together in Tahiti. That was something we will long remember during the cold and snowy Winters of our home in the frosty northern climes.
It was nearing noon, so we decided to stop by one of the many portable “Les Roulettes” for a snack. We would call them food trolleys or hamburger stands in the U.S.. We ordered baguette d’crabbe sandwiches and bottles of Evian in our best French. Then, we stood nearby eating our sandwiches under the protective shade of a large Monkey pod tree. It is a custom we had much enjoyed in Paris and Firenze, walking about a crowded square with a sandwich and bottle of water, enjoying your busy surroundings.
We continued walking the small streets, enjoying the feel of a culture and language not our own. We came upon the elegant, two-story colonial “hotel de ville”(city hall). An official Tahitian ceremony, of some sort, was in progress on the main Lanai. Colorful cotton sarongs, flowered garlands and other bright pastels adorned these handsome people. We watched for a time, admiring the pomp of the ceremony, whatever it was.” “Department de France” shined out from a brass plaque on the lanai wall. On the grounds of L'hotel de ville sits a large open-aired hut with a brown grass roof upon the large structure. It is apparently a roofed pavilion for open air, official ceremonies. We smiled, waved hello and said “Bonjour” to two small girls. They waved shyly back at us and returned our greeting with a soft “bonjour” before scurrying away.
A small kiosk nearby provided us with timbres (stamps) for our postcards. The next chore was to find “le box postal.” It isn’t like our cities, where you can find a blue, US mailbox on every corner. We had to ask several shop keepers, in halting French, “Oo e le box postal?” before we found the small box with the dull metal lid that read “post.”
The 90-degree heat and the high humidity had wilted us. We walked back to the waterfront and caught a shuttle for the 15-minute ride to the commercial end of the port and the welcome air-conditioned bubble of the Dawn Princess. Iced tea, in an air-conditioned cabin, helped revive and re-energize us.
We sunned for an hour, on deck 12, had a refreshing dip in the smaller spa pool and then retreated to our cabin to consider the logistics of packing for the trip home. We had to have our bags out in the hall by 9 P.M. this evening for shipment to Faa’a airport and the long ride home. We were ready. However beautiful, however exotic, there is nothing so alluring as the whiff of home. This E.T. was ready for the Mother ship and the ride back.
We packed our clothes, kept some necessary toiletries and clothes for a carry on bag, and then put the bags outside the cabin for pickup. We had taken the first step. We then walked down the main gallery of deck 7 and had some coffee in the small lounge outside of the restaurants. We had agreed to have dinner with Jazz and Janice, from London, this evening and met them in the lounge. The Florentine Room was as pleasant as every previous night. An avocado boat filled with seafood was a delicious appetizer. A cold pear soup was exquisite. A filet of salmon and baked Alaska for desert was all washed down with some decent cabernet. This was exquisite dining. We enjoyed chatting with the London kids this last time and were pleased that we had met them. They had an early flight out tomorrow morning and a lay over in Los Angeles, before the long flight back to Heathrow in London.
After dinner, we walked topside to enjoy the Tahitian night. The Papeete waterfront was ablaze with activity. Neon signs from the honk tonk clubs ”Broadway,” “Manhattan” and others vied for the club trade. The river of cars left a trail of red taillights flashing in the dark, as they rounded the bend towards the air port. We watched the huge car ferry and the smaller catamaran from Moorea glide by our ship for their mooring across the bay. The four masted windjammer still sat berthed to the waterfront. Tahitians of all ages walked the parks and squares, free from the searing heat of the South pacific sun. These two aging honey mooners returned to their cabin to read and surrender to the sandman. It was going to be a long travel day for us. We were ready to go home.
Saturday 4/26/03 Papeete, Tahiti- French Polynesia
We were up early. It was to be another glorious day in the tropics. The ship was a hubbub of activity, as various groups and their luggage were carted off to the airport. Some lucky passengers had chosen to remain for the return voyage and were thus at liberty to see Papeete for another day. Our cabin was not scheduled to leave for Faa’a airport to until 1:00 P.M., so we lazed about reading and enjoying the morning. At 10:00 A.M. we had a leisurely breakfast in the deck 14 Horizons lounge, gazing again at the pleasant surroundings at sea and on shore.
At 1:00 P.M., we were called to board buses for the airport. It is a brief 20-minute ride on buses provided by the Princess lines. If you had not paid for the transfers, you were on your own with cabs that charged $20 per person, each way, to and from the airport. We watched the local scenery drift by and read with interest the many signs in French advertising
this and that. We had long ago noticed that in some of the former European colonies that folks can be “more French than the French” as it were.
The airport check in was a model of efficiency and order. We got off one bus, collected our luggage from a small area and stood in line to check the bags into the World Airways counter, flight # 510 for the 9:45 P.M., 7 & * hour run to L.A.X. It was effortless. Another bus ferried us back to the Dawn Princess where we were at liberty to do as we wished until we left for the airport at 7:30 P.M. this evening.
The Princess Lounge was running a 3:00 P.M. show of “Analyze That.” We saw it for the second time and enjoyed it just as much. Billy Crystal and Robert DeNiro are a great comedic pair that play well off each other. Kevin and Laura Hanley were at the movies, so we joined them and then had coffee afterwards with them in the 5th floor lounge. We watched the newly arrived passengers scurry about, as had we, trying to make their excursion reservations and get the feel of their new surroundings. As nice a time as we had experienced, we were ready to go home.
The Hanleys suggested that we visit the Florentine Room for one more sumptuous repast before leaving. I give credit to the Princess crew. They welcomed us just as readily as the new passengers who were piling into the room. We enjoyed another gustatory array of shrimp appetizer, cold fruit soup, a salmon filet and some wonderful Austrian Sacher torte. It was as wonderful as every other dinner we had enjoyed on board.
After dinner, we sat in the lounge areas and waited for the call to board our buses and head out to the airport. The day was getting long already. The bus ride was short .The bars and restaurants were full and lively. The waterfront park was full of Tahitians enjoying the relative cool of a very sultry evening. At Faa’a airport, it was a mob scene. The huge
charter airplane was to carry 360 of us for seven hours back to Los Angeles. Another Omni airline charter had been delayed for an hour because U.S. customs at LAX refused to open prior to 7 A.M. to process incoming arrivals. Who the heck is running that zoo?
We sat with the Hanleys for a time and then stood in the huge mob of passengers trying to board at the same time. What happened to the order and precision of this afternoon? In time, all of us were seated in the
welcome air conditioning of the aging MVD IX charter. This plane was old enough to have carried Captain Bligh home.
The next seven hours passed relatively quickly. We watched a few movies, read our books and dozed intermittently. Finally, we approached and touched down at LAX. Charter terminal. A shortage of immigration forms caused some confusion and delay. Then we shuttled to the LAX terminal. Customs was actually easy by comparison. The luggage took forever to arrive and it was mass confusion. God Bless the elderly in this mayhem. I don’t know how they managed. We dragged our luggage past some officious clown who wanted to chat. I looked at my watch and saw the minutes evaporate. Another clerk was for agricultural control. Jesus, how many layers of bureaucracy do they have here?
At last we were free. We ran like O.J. Simpson through the terminal. A Princess rep suggested we would make better time if we walked/ran to our connection. She didn’t tell us that terminal 7 was * of a from the international terminal. We ran the entire distance, dragging our luggage behind us and hollering “coming through” to the startled and slow
At United’s terminal seven, the real fun began. We stood in another line as the minutes ticked off. We got the attention of a United clerk and she got us to the head of the line. We had about 30 minutes left to departure. A slow moving inspector took his time about running a small cloth over the zippers and metal surfaces of our luggage. It is the age of
Sars I guess. We breezed through the scanners and literally ran up the stairs and several hundred yards down the corridors to the United gate. We were there twenty minutes before departure, but the ticket agent gave our tickets away for the 10:50 A.M. flight to Dulles in Washington. She didn’t want to know anything or help, just told us briskly to go to “customer services.” Just
about then I was tempted to blast this officious prig to the moon. Good sense and the realization that we were stuck 2,500 miles from home made me check that for which the Irish are so famous, a volcanic temper.
The customer service clerk wasn’t much better help. She gave us “standby” reservations on a later flight. I knew and told her that there was no way we were going to get on a flight standby at the close of Easter Holidays. Resigned to our “Out of Towners” fate, we dutifully trudged to a far away gate and wasted another two hours until that clerk told us to “forget it” too. She gave us standby reservations on yet another later flight. Mary’s call to Princess lines got us reluctant assistance on an even
later overnight flight into Newark airport. The only catch was that the walk up fares were over $2,000 and Princess would not guarantee payment for the fares, suggesting that we had to roll the dice and file claims against our insurance carrier for the added charge. Thanks Princess. All of your hard earned good will just got flushed down the crapper. The bottom line here is
that whomever schedules your travel plans, you need at least three hours to complete the transfer, through the various terminal at LAX, when arriving form Tahiti. Even running like lunatics through the airport had not enabled us to make the connection in two hours after all of the delays and mishaps World airways had experienced. The lord only knows what happened to the many older passengers who had been on board with us. They may still be wandering LAX, looking for help.
We had been traveling for what seemed like a million hours and I had visions of the Jack Lemon, Sandy Dennis classic’The Out of Towners” in my tired head. We tried one more United Customer Service Rep. I suggested that we would go find a nearby hotel if she could get us out the next day sometime to Buffalo. This sweet woman did just that. She found us an LAX to Buffalo connection the next afternoon, via Chicago. She also gave us a number for nearby hotels that offered discounts for passengers with “interrupted service.” God bless you Ma’am for taking the time and trouble to help out two aging and tired travelers. United, keep this older African American, female clerk and give her a bonus. You need more like her!
A small shuttle collected us outside and ferried us to a nearby airport Radisson hotel. We bought some coffee and donuts and repaired to our room ($55 night) to read and relax. We were happy we didn’t have to sleep under a highway culvert someplace. Mary and I both e-mailed and phoned our jobs, telling them not to expect us the next day. We then surrendered to a welcome shower and nap. Travel, even in adversity, can be pleasant.
We had a very good dinner in the Radisson’s “Palmira” restaurant. French Onion soup, Caesar salads, salmon for me, chicken for Mary, were accompanied by a wonderful Philips Merlot. This sure beat the heck out of eating snacks at the airport. ($90) The insistent lure of Morpheus drew us to our room for a welcome night’s sleep.
Monday 4/28/03 Los Angeles, California
We were up early, showered and prepped for the ride home. Coffee and donuts in the room made for a good start to the day. We packed our few things and caught a 10:30 A.M. shuttle for L.A.X. We checked into for our 1:00 P.M. flight to O’Hare, fresh eyed and rested, grateful we had opted for the layover instead of another night’s travel.
By now, the 3 & * hour flight was something we could do standing on our heads. We got to Chicago without further travail. A two-hour layover enabled us to have coffee and walk some. The place was still awash with people returning home from their Easter vacations. The flight to Buffalo was even listed as “full.” I had never yet seen that happen. We had
given up trying to find our bags and resolved to start that search when we got home. The brief 90-minute hop to Buffalo was a pleasure. The air was cool and rain-washed when the plane set down at Buffalo International. Be it ever so humble it was home.
We filed a “missing luggage” form with the United clerk. She checked her computer and advised that she showed our luggage as having arrived with us. By what feat of legerdemain could that have been accomplished? Sure enough, the baggage carousel delivered our luggage to two surprised and tired travelers. Without questioning our luck, we hopped a cab to our nearby home in Williamsville and happily checked our mail before crashing dead tired into slumber. Tomorrow was a workday and its inception was only a few hours away.
Despite its shaky finale, we had much enjoyed this trip and would highly recommend it to others. Travel, with all of its pitfalls is a welcome adventure of new sights and sound s and experiences that you carry with you for the rest of your life. We were glad we had gone and were even happier to be home.