My Tahitian Cruise Aboard the Royal Princess
$1079.00 (for ocean view cabin on deck 4; later,
received free upgrade to balcony on deck 8, plus
(for ocean view cabin on deck 4; later, received free upgrade to balcony on deck 8, plus
Shipboard credit -37.50)
Los Angeles 1299.00
Tahiti 4.58 Le Truck rt to beach
Rangeroa 22.90 Boat to Aquarium
Raetera 68.70 Dive
Bora Bora 34.35 Van Tour of Island
45.80 Snorkel Tour
Moorea 11.45 Gas money
on board 26.44 beers
To Save up to 2/3rds on Shore Excursions
Our Air Tahiti Nui plane is filled with cruise-bound passengers. As I bought transport to/from airport from the cruise line (a seemingly bad-bargain as the trip only takes 20 minutes), we are whisked from airport to the 700-passenger, 11 deck, Royal Princess. Quel supris: We've received a complimentary upgrade to an eighth-floor balcony! My newly-met cabin-mate is a loquacious, well-traveled argumentative but easy-to-get-along-with Israeli. His one drawback--he wants the bathroom light left on all night and the bathroom door left open a crack. We differ on acceptable size of crack.
Tahiti: The most crowded island in French Polynesia, the houses rise almost to the mountain top, and apartment blocks (condos) may be seen near the mountain's crest. the main road is solid with traffic from nine to five We take Le Truck (200 FF each way) from central market a few blocks from pier to an attractive public beach, Plague de Toaroto, 45 minutes away on Day 1. Acceptable, but not great snorkeling.
The capital Papae 'ete seems at war with itself--tourist-friendly monuments along the beach, with some of the exhibits already covered with graffiti. The town closes at five pm, the shutters coming down over the souvenir and jewelry stores, reopens at eight with a huge public, natives-only gathering on the last day of our cruises as our buses take us back to the airport and out of the natives' lives.
Each island's harbor is a lagoon protected from the waters of the open ocean by atolls, motus, and coral reef. As we leave Tahiti, a group of surfers outside the lagoon do their best to ride a series of towering waves around the harbor's entrance and up onto an offshore beach. For those who succeed, the ride is a long one. But the majority are wiped out, though none is battered against the coral reef.
Huahine: The most primitive and least-settled of the Society Islands. Major occupants are the huge land crabs. On fait l'autostop (I hitchhike) to Relais Mahana, a small hotel on Auea Bay near Huahine's southern end. Trees grow along the beach, which slopes into a lagoon deep enough for swimming at any tide. The visibility is superb. One sees extensive colonies of staghorn and brain coral as well as a unique hemorrhoid coral (whose appearance matches the name I've given it). Add a half-dozen more species of coral and the area abounds with reef fish including large angels. Alas, a chilling wind discourages repeated dives,
A meal-filled day at sea. Breakfast on the 9th floor terrace could be lox and bagels and smoked fish, or a made-to-order omelet, or pancakes, or Belgian waffles, or blintzes, of banana fritters, or fresh fruit, muselli, and yogurt, or several different kinds of sausage, ham, bacon, breakfast steak.
The open Pacific lack life--no whales, dolphins or flying fish. Yet, opened my cell phone and found a network--for emergency use only. Frequent heavy showers cut off on-deck escape from the cold of ship's interior air conditioning.
Lunch in the dining room is the best way to meet new people. Dinner features spring rolls, rum-infused pina-colada soup, crawfish pie, lemon soufflé.
The dance floor is crowded with couples, while for me, "Lonely days, Lonely nights, Where would I be without my woman?"
Rangeroa: A series of thin flat atolls (motus) surrounding a lagoon. We sail slowly in through one of the entrances through which swift currents flow. The beach recommended by Princess, just a few km from the tender landing, was pebble strewn and free of life, probably a result of the garbage deposited by successive cruise ships. Returning to the landing, the pier was crowded with a dozen vendors hawking independent boat tours. We negotiate a boat ride to the "Aquarium." (see negotiation guidelines atop this trip report.)
Quarante pour deux. Un bon marche. Alas, my cabin mate, an Israeli insisted on further bargaining, pissing off the vendor who immediately raised his price. Eventually, we settled on a combination of currencies, which my cabin mate assured me was a mere $38.50. But at one risk was this accomplished? What if we were deposited at "the aquarium," then left there to drift in the current? My fear took on a face when once in the water, our guide hollered, "Philippe rest la," and pointed to a second boat.
I swam with the current, the original boat invisible. (Yes, I hung around the ladder of a second boat.) Schools of hundreds of medium size fish surround me in 3D, for "the aquarium" is located near the entrance to the lagoon. Below on the ocean floor are one, two, three six-feet long incredibly vicious moray eels.
Later that day, just after I return to the Royal Princess, the wind rises, blowing away the canopy protecting the members of the ships crew who help the passengers get off and on the tender. A female passenger walking along that rocky beach, trips, splits her lip and breaks her radius. "But," she says, touching her husband's hand as she describes the walk back to the tender and the pain as the ship's physician set her arm in cast, "thankfully, I had a faithful companion to help me through it."
On this, our second day at sea, we circumnavigate the island of Makatea, a hundred miles from any other sign of land. Fish must school near the island, for almost immediately we are surrounded by a flock of high-flying frigate (pirate) birds with their split tails and enormous wing spans. Closer to the waves, a watch of boobies wait for fish to near the surface, though they'll be lucky if the frigates don't pirate the freshly-caught regurgitated fish away.
Matakea has a one-room school house with five to nine students. The numbers of students changes each year as families move among islands.
Formal night tonight, but as I left tux and jackets back home--people keep asking me, "where is your home?" "With my wife," I always reply--I ate up at the buffet. But no buffet tonight, instead the room has been turned into a bistro with menus and waiters, waiters in training as it turns out, for the maitre-d is constantly correcting them.
I'd made an appointment over the internet to go diving on Raiatea with temaranui.com which proved to be a one-woman operation. She drove us in her motor boat to a anchored hitching post on the reef's edge. When this plump buxom Frenchwoman learned that I'd last gone diving two years before (and perhaps when she glimpsed the scar from my open-chest surgery) she insisted on two things: once in the water, she had me remove and then replace my mask, after which she took my hand and held it throughout the dive--very erotic.
We took a spiral course down the reef, close enough that it was in touching distance. Me, having once kneeled on fire coral, I only touch what I've been shown is safe to touch. Our one-tank dive took about 40 minutes, but I can't say really saw anything remarkable--other than a passing shark--that I hadn't seen and wouldn't see by snorkeling.
In the late afternoon, I head out again for a walk up the mountain, but fail twice to find the hidden road upward..
Today, we approach Bora Bora. I had hoped to rent a bicycle and drive around looking for the perfect beach. What a bummer: All the bikes for rent are children's size with foot brakes. David and I take a van tour around the island (David bargaining us down to $25 each) and then have the van drop us at the beach. Beach lacks coral, no fish. Bummer.
Eating supper in the buffet tonight, rather than in the main dining room, the servers were constantly asking me how I was doing; one suggested that I should smile and offered to tell me a joke. Perhaps, all this attention is because I was eating alone. Sometimes, one can feel more alone when eating in the company of strangers.
Day 2: Having been tipped off that turning left after leaving the tender (rather than right) will result in a lower tour price, my cabin mate and I start off together in that direction. I spot a couple heading out to the end of the left hand pier and follow them; David, the foolish fellow, drops out and heads back right toward a sure thing. The couple step onto a boat and I ask its driver, "combine pour le tour?" "Quarante." Un bon marche; I learn later from the couple (who prove to be from my ship) that they have paid $65 each.
It's cash only, of course. "Do I have time to get to the ATM?" "No" is the answer for we've a pair of young honeymooners to pick up at a nearby hotel. Meanwhile, David has paid $70 to join 15 others on a parallel tour.
First stop is in waist-high water to feed the sharks (only their fins are scary) and some rub-all-over-you rays without stingers.
From this feeding frenzy, we follow our hosts over a very shallow coral garden. Many, many medium-size clams are embedded in each coral; their mantles of many different near-fluorescent colors. Returning to the boat, we drive too much deeper water; I exit into the water over the side in a backflip, the others more sedately take stairs. I'm the first to spot a moray eel as it darts in and out of its rock hiding place.
Next, we motor around one of the larger and less motu motus, where a mini-tsunami put three pricey hotels with their over-the-water cabanas out of business two years before. Finally, we anchor a few yards near a second motu. I wade ashore, put down a towel, and fall asleep exhausted, only to be woken to wade back out into the water and dine al fesco off the side of the boat on freshly-cut fruit.
Back at the wharf, I run to/from and ATM and pay for my well-worth-it snorkeling tour.
On Moorea, where all prices appear doubled, I raise my thumb once again. After walking three kilometers (with ten more to go), Jerry and Fifi, his canine companion, pick me up and drop me at a beach.
An easy walk from the public beach takes me out amongst live coral to view a variety of reef fishes. On the beach, an elderly Frenchwoman suns herself topless. A French resident of Moorea and I talk at length about the bicycle he is driving--it's portable, and he folds it up to show me how easily it fits in the back of a kayak. A second man arrives by kayak from the lagoon at that moment and carries it up the beach to his car.
Back on the road, it appears no one is willing to stop. I remove my hat, perhaps revealing my gray hair will help. A car does stop! It's Jerry and Fifi, making their return trip from Moorea's equivalent of the DMV.
Jerry asks, "have you been up the mountain?" When I respond no, he drives me up into the hills to all the major viewing sites as well as to the six-century-old foundations (all that remains) of the areas where the early Polynesians worshipped. This included a sacred archery course. In each case, the tour buses appear to be following in our tire tracks.
Jerry, a Polynesian, hates the French and wants them to leave. France pays for the elementary schools, but all the teaching is down in French not Tahitian. When Jerry was in school, forty years earlier, he could expect to receive ten of the best if caught speaking Tahitian with a fellow classmate.
Our final day is spent anchored in the harbor in Papete'ete. Kudos to Princess who lets us lounge, eat, and take showers aboard, until it is time to take their shuttles to the airport.