January 2022: Travel Diary Notes Aboard a Viking Ocean Cruise in the South Pacific
By Larry and Kathy
First week: The Pacific
Well, it has been one week at sea, we have had some rough days and some calm but no sea sickness, the ship is fairly smooth. Needless to say we have had some time to read, but really we have some days where we have had a hard time getting in all the meals. I took a picture of the self serve yourself buffet of already cut king crab and boiled shrimp, a little melted butter and dinner is served. We were able to make some new friends even with social distancing from Alberta Canada, Marwayne and Gareth, who’s company we have really enjoyed, and another couple from The Yukon, Joe and Mary Rose, that have made the trip very enjoyable. The lectures have been informative and stimulating. Today was “Islands and History” and a comment was made about the effect of the rising water from melting glaciers and its effect on the islands. Wow! It hit me like a ton of bricks that all we need is more ice on the polar caps.
Yesterday we had visitors
Although we have crossed the equator 3 times in an airplane, this was our first crossing in a ship. Yesterday as we were crossing the equator, King Neptune and his royal court: his Queen, Davy Jones, the royal baby, and other dignitaries, arrived abpard. The “pollywogs” entertained the court while the “Shellbacks” brought charges against them for not being real sailors. There was drinking and frolicking going on all around, luckily no one was hurt and the “pollywogs” metamorphosis into “Shellbacks” and all was well. It was quite a ceremony!
Yesterday was Kathy’s Birthday. As a gift she spent the day at the spa: 1 hr in the thermal baths, 1 hr Swedish massage, and a 1 hr Nordic facial. When she got back to the room, Viking had delivered a birthday cake and a bottle of cold sparkling wine. After dinner with our new friends (Marwayne and Garrett) we were ready for bed. In the morning, we arrived at our first French Polynesian Island of Taiohae, part of the Marquesas Islands. As the ship arrived, long canoes filled with tattooed sculptured brown men rowed to the ship, their canoes filled bread fruit, bananas, mangos and pineapple. They were followed by smaller canoes with young boys in them. In the distance we could see canoes full of young girls in grass skirts, topless with flowers in their hair headed for the ship… That’s when Kathy woke me up. We were on the dry side of the island and everything was brown, the tender took us to the port where we were met by tattooed men blowing conch shells. We did a short tour of the island with a guide and ended up in the shopping area. We were the 1st cruise ship to dock in two years, the people were friendly and glad to see us. It was not what I had envisioned.
Some of you have expressed concern about the tsunami warnings due to the volcano eruption in the South Pacific. As soon as the announcement was made, Kathy and I grabbed two bottles of wine and a bag of cookies we were storing from the restaurant (in case of emergencies) and headed for the lifeboat. We were just starting on the 2nd bottle of wine when one of the crew found us in the lifeboat and made us get out. Apparently the announcement was just a warning and not a message for evacuation. Boy! Did we have wine and cookies on our face!
Our arrival in Tahiti was a little disappointing in that there were no grass covered girls swimming for the ship, but the volcanic mountains were steep and lush with greenery. There were lots of houses along the beach in Papeete, the Capital of French Polynesia. We did a bus tour of the island in the morning and went to some beautiful water caves and botanical gardens and a walking tour of the city in the afternoon. It is believed that the inhabitants of Fiji, Taiohae, Bora Bora, and New Zealand all came from Taiwan starting 300 BC and some of these people went all the way to South America and back way before Columbus. There is a stone marker in front of The Notre Dame Catholic Church from which all addresses are the distance from that stone to your house on the bay side or mountain side. Tourism, fishing and black pearls are the main industries. We were the first cruise ship to dock in 2 years. The “hongi” is the traditional way people greet each other here, I will demonstrate when we return.
Chewing the Fat:
“Chewing the Fat” is a Nautical term that comes from eating the seamen’s daily ration of tough, salt-cured pork or beef (it took a lot of chewing). Today it means “a friendly conversation“ or “talking too much”. This can be best observed at the round table at the “Fishing Center” in Port OConnor.
We were supposed to go to Bora Bora yesterday, but they were having bad weather so we are postponing it until tomorrow, so yesterday and today we did some scenic cruising around some small islands. It is amazing that we can sail within a coral reef next to the island in a deep gut with only one cut through the coral reef.
The resort we passed was $1500 a night. The island was Tanaka.
We returned to Tahiti yesterday and we are here through today. We hung out, read, walked the streets of Pepette and we went to the Theater for a show. Today we took a catamaran outside the reef and to the lee side of the island to do a little snorkeling. I went snorkeling and Kathy wove a reed basket with the other old people. On the way in, Lana (one of our guides) wanted to teach us how to do the hula, I told her that I would love to but I had a bad knee, but my wife could. Kathy was not interested. We had a good day! Kathy ended up buying a “Teki” and some island vanilla that is supposedly better than in Mexico.
We ended our day on the aft deck eating king crab dipped in melted butter, boiled shrimp with red sauce, and fish and chips as the ship sailed away.
(I am looking for some XLarge pants and shirts, don’t give them away.)
Durning World War ll, the United States chose Bora Bora as a South Pacific military supply base, and constructed an oil depot, an air strip, a seaplane base, and defensive fortifications. The French government sanctioned it and the people accepted it because all the men were called to France to fight for France. My Dad flew in the South Pacific durning WWll (Our tour guide thought there was a chance we were related.)
Bora Bora lived up to my expectations. It is beautiful, 2 volcanic mountains set off the island surrounded by turquoise colored water. You will not find any big cruise ship going there, with a total population of 10,000 and a total land mass of 12 square miles it can not support a big ship, our ship was the first ship in 2 years. It is a destination of the romantic with grass thatched bungalows placed above the beautiful water where you can swim anytime you wish.
Our first tour was a 4×4 excursion that circled the island with 4 off road trails up the side of the mountain in a Land Rover, definitely a 4 wheel adventure. Each view point was stunning. He told us of some of the history before the Europeans arrived. They did have sacrificial ceremonies but they only sacrificed men because women gave life. He also said it was their custom that when a child was born they buried the placenta in the ground so the land would be part of the child. They buried their dead in caves on the side of the volcano and not in the ground.
In the afternoon we went to town (Vaitape) to look around a try the local beer. The pitcher it came in had a compartment to put ice in to keep it cold, really cool. We walked around town to looking at the black Pearl jewelry and finally to the market. Things are very expensive here, gas $8.00 a gal, a bag of chips $5.00, a fifth of Jack Daniel’s $99.00. The money they use is the French Pacific Franc and the exchange rate is $1.00 to $105 francs.
The next day our tour took us on a catamaran to the shallow coral reef to swim with the stingrays and sharks. The sharks were 5 and 6 ft black tips and the stingrays were about 4 ft wing to wing. They swam right by us with no fear, I cannot say the same for some of the people in the water. Our guide was an uninhibited Polynesian sang and played for us. (See Picture).
They check our temperature every morning at breakfast, you look in a screen and it recognizes you and takes your temperature. This morning the screen was down and they were using a handheld thermometer gun, when the girl went to take mine I jerked my head back and said “Ouch”! It took 5 minutes to revive the poor girl.
French Polynesia is a sprawling possession of France in the Pacific Ocean, made up of 118 volcanic and coral islands and atolls, including Tahiti. Today we went to Mo’orea, probably the prettiest landscape we have seen yet. The island is one main tourist destinations in French Polynesia. The hotels have suffered from the Covid-19’s lock down and are offering lots of deals right now. It is surrounded by beautiful turquoise water with coral close to the beach.
These volcanic islands heaped tons of volcanic rock into mountains up to 3000 ft tall, the immense weight of those mountain cause the island to sink, thus you have deep dark blue water close to shore and shallow coral reefs circling the outside with the beautiful turquoise water further out. Mo’orea (pronounce each o) looks like paradise in both land and sea.
Our ship has a jogging track around deck 2 that is one quarter mile, we try to walk at least 1 1/2 miles each day, if you blow up the picture you can make out Kathy in front of me.
Taiohae (Nuku Hiva)
Taiohae is the main town on Nuku Hiva island. The town is located on a former volcanic crater, which has partly collapsed into the ocean, creating a bay. Taiohae is the main town on Nuku Hiva island.
Herman Melville wrote his book “Typee” based on his experiences in the Taipivai valley in the eastern part of Nuku Hiva and his book Moby Dick in the these waters. The water and beaches were not as pretty Mo’orea but the peaks reach 4000 ft. This was our last island before retuning home. We took 4×4 pickups up a switchback road over the top and down the other side.
Now we are back to sea eating, walking, eating, lectures, eating and wineing , and entertainment. One of the lecturers is Mr Russell Lee who was on our Iceland trip. He is a master storyteller who can speak without a pause and has an array of visual videos to enhance his tale, I never miss one of his stories, today is the story of “The Bridge on the River Kiwi”. Another lecturer is Mr Michael C. Ryan who served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy. In this role he supported the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, He is the most knowledgeable person I have ever met on foreign policies and problems. I’ve gone to a couple of his after lecture round table discussions and was able to talk to him one on one at the hot tub yesterday, he was very patient as I ask my very rudimentary questions. Some of the other lectures are about the stars in the Southern Hemisphere, histories on the islands and Oceans and yesterday we had one on “The Curse Of Lazarus-Leprosy In Polynesia”, which I am sure will be followed by “The Curse of the Sailor in Polynesia-Venereal Disease in the Islands” complete with pictures. (If so, I think I will sleep in.)
Ferdinand Magellan called the Pacific Ocean “Mar Pacifico” meaning “peaceful sea”. While most of our journey has been relatively calm, yesterday we had 29 mph winds and 6-8 ft seas, apparently Magellan never experienced seas like that. The stabilizers really make a difference , I’m going to order some for my boat. We have 8 sea days to get back to Los Angeles, Viking has put together a phenomenal group of Lectures and we have 4 a day. We have an Astronomer Astronaut, a geologist/botanist who worked with NASA, a foreign policy expert, a master story teller, a diver who holds the depth record, a marine biologist expert on coral reefs, a trial lawyer for antiquities , a priest with a doctorate in cultures all of whom wow us with their intellect and sometimes lull us to sleep. We have had entertainers galore. We have 3 restaurants and a huge buffet to pick from and an ice cream station in case you can not make of your mind. There is no lack of bars, 2 swimming pools , a gym, a thermal hot bath, steam room, sauna, heated lounge chairs, ice bucket showers, Nordic ice bath, 2 theaters and an IMAX dome, shuffle board, golf, bridge lessons, sometimes all I want is a nap. Anyway our journey is coming to an end and I am missing the cold front that is freezing the coast, luckily I brought a coat and jeans for the trip home. My knee is better, my waist is bigger and I’m tired and ready to go fishing.
See you soon,