Sunday, January 31, 2016

French Polynesia: Rainy Papeete

Like all good things, our cruise came to an end. Right back where we started in Papeete (pah - pah - aye - tay). It was rainy (which as you know, is fine with us!) and we were scheduled for a 2-hour bus tour before being dropped off at a hotel. Our flight didn't leave until 10pm so we had a hotel room for the afternoon/evening.

The bus tour guide was awful. He talked non-stop for 2 hours, made corny jokes, evangelized his religion throughout the tour and reminded us over and over again that he was Hawaiian. Yikes! But, again, we're still in Tahiti so sit back, enjoy the scenery.

 Black sand beaches. And the sand is really fine - like talcum powder almost or powdered sugar.

Even overcast, it's a beautiful place.

Friday, January 29, 2016

French Polynesia: Tahitian Dancers

We've gotten used to our initial shock whenever we travel somewhere less conservative than Abu Dhabi (in other words, anywhere). We experienced the same in French Polynesia whenever there was a dance show. They really don't wear much of anything. A few leaves and a small piece of cloth which is only tied together and somehow still stays on and in place. I wonder what an Emirati female, covered in black from head to toe, would make of this?

We saw 4 different cultural dance shows during the cruise. The first was a group of little kids from the island of Huihine. They were really cute and it was the first one so it was really interesting and entertaining.

The second show was another group of kids from another island who had done some touring in the US. They were pretty good, but the show was outside and it was HOT. We watched from the pool and sipped the drink of the day so it ended up more entertaining than it probably was! :)

The third show was pretty awful. Very mediocre dancers and what felt like a really lazy approach to the whole thing. One of the dances was two young dancers tying pareos in different configurations. Really? But hey, we're in Tahiti so not much to complain about, right?

The final group was the best. O Tahiti E is a professional troupe who tour all over the world in an effort to preserve and share the culture of the islands. You could immediately see that they were professionals.

Here are a few photos of the last group, O Tahiti E.

This was one of the men's dances. Lots of stomping and leg scissoring and menacing looks.

Yes, those are banana leaf bikini tops. And not one wardrobe malfunction - amazing!

This the band behind the dancers. I guess when you retire from dancing, you take up one of the instruments.

The Tahitian hula. Very graceful and pretty.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

French Polynesia: Moorea Island

My favorite island of the trip was Moorea. It is absolutely beautiful, lush, green and mountainous. With, of course, the requisite bright blue water and sugar sand beaches. We rented another scooter and did some island touring.

A nice view of Moorea form the boat.

We rented a scooter and headed up to Belvadere, which is a lookout point on the island.

Can you see the ship in this photo?

 Another gorgeous day in paradise.

I loved the lush green countryside. We even saw some cows!

And of course the beaches are pretty nice as well.

I think this is my favorite photo. So peaceful.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

French Polynesia: Snorkeling with sharks!?

One of our tour excursions was a snorkeling trip and island BBQ. This snorkeling, however, was a bit unusual. We stood in hip deep water and snorkeled with sting rays and 4-5 foot black tipped sharks. What an adventure!

 On the way, this is Moorea island and more of the over the water bungalows. You'll see below they go all the way up the hillside!

 Just realizing that we don't have any photos of the sting rays. They were probably 2-3 feet long and very friendly. Our guide was feeding them so they would brush up against you trying to get to him. They're really soft.

No, we didn't touch the sharks! They didn't seem bothered by us so I guess they weren't hungry. ;)

After the sharks and stingrays we continued on to a private beach set up with a BBQ area. We did some more snorkeling there and it was the best of the trip - lots of fish and some nice coral formations. For lunch we had Poisson Cru, which is raw fresh fish, lime juice (this supposedly cooks the fish), coconut milk, salt and veggies. It was delicious!

Friday, January 22, 2016

French Polynesia: Bora Bora

Bora Bora. We've all heard of it and have this image of over the water bungalows, crystal clear blue water and gorgeous sunsets. Yep, that about sums it up! But since you know all that, I thought I'd share the island view of Bora Bora.

We spent 2 days anchored off Bora Bora. Our first day, we rented jet skis and rode around the whole island. Sorry no photos of that - have you been on a jet ski - cameras are not recommended. I've now decided we should have a jet ski in Abu Dhabi . . . still working on convincing Brian!

Our second day, we rented a little scooter and rode around the whole island. A very different view - yes, we went past the resorts with the overwater bungalows, but the rest of the island seemed a bit run down, actually. We even passed a garbage dump along the road! Here are a few shots from our adventure.

This was a black pearl farm and shop. The round tank full of water is a demonstration of how the oysters are kept and the pearls 'farmed'. It was an interesting tour actually and they had some beautiful pearls for sale.

Here's a random view of the road. I was constantly amazed by how green and lush everything was - that's what happens after 5 years in the sandbox - you become overwhelmed by green.

And then of course there's being overwhelmed by blue. Every shade of blue you can imagine. Just breathtaking.

We stopped at a little lookout of sorts over the lagoon area.
This cloud hung over the top of the island the whole 2 days we were there. I wish there had been some way to get the scooter up that mountain - would have been an interesting trip for sure!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

French Polynesia: Motu Mahana

One of the highlights of a Paul Gauguin cruise is the day at Motu Mahana. A motu is a small island - I mean really small. This one is owned by the Paul Gauguin and they are the only ones who use it. For that day, they pretty much move the entire ship to the island. Deck chairs, full lunch BBQ, little 'shops', crafts and activities and . . .  a floating bar. It's a super relaxing day of snorkeling, kayaking, sunbathing and eating.

Single and double kayaks available. The area is super calm so the kayaking isn't any work at all.

Our camp (at least until the sun shifted and we had to move). Yep, that's Brian reading a book - some things never change.

The floating bar and a newly arrived group getting off the tender.

A view of the boat from the Motu.

There were some tables from the boat (like the spa selling sunscreen) and some local craftspeople. Shells, pareos and pearls, oh my!

Pretty idyllic day.

Yep, not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

French Polynesia: Life on the Paul Gauguin

We cruised on the Paul Gauguin, which is a small boat by cruise ship standards, holding about 300 guests. Let's take a tour.

Here's a nice view of the ship from one of our ports of call.

And this is how we get to shore - in one of two tenders that haul guests back and forth each day. They are then hoisted up along the side of the ship when we continue on to the next island.

This is one of the decks on the top floor of the ship. Great views even though a little windy. You'll see folks up there walking laps most days. We watched them from our deck chairs. :)

This is our friends' room all set up for their anniversary canapes and champagne. The rooms are quite nice - pretty small as you can imagine, but a nice little balcony. The hardest thing to get used to is the tiny bathroom, especially when the boat is rocking a bit. Makes showers pretty fun.

There are 3 restaurants for dinner: the main dinning room, a fancier reservations restaurant and the one above which is outdoors on the deck. 
Throughout the cruise, we are serenaded and supported by the Gauguines. They run all the craft activities and welcome everyone to the nightly show and play and sing on deck almost every day. They give a nice Tahitian flavor to the cruise.

Here's a nice view of the pool deck. The area past the pool is the restaurant from the photo above. The pool is saltwater and surprising cool. They drain and fill it each day.
Another great view of the boat from another of our island ports of call.

Friday, January 15, 2016

French Polynesia: Huihine Cultural tour

Our most recent trip, a cruise in French Polynesia and the Cook islands, started with an 8-hour flight from LAX and arrival on the boat around 11pm. A long day, but worth it to wake up the bluest skies and water you can imagine.

The cruise stopped almost every day at a new port and our first was Huihine where we disembarked for a 4 hour cultural tour of the island. Our guide was an anthropologist who talked a mile a minute and shared so much info our heads were spinning.

Stunning! After years in the sandbox, this much blue was almost unbelievable.

This is a Marae, which they believe is an ancient church of sorts. Also a central gathering area for the community or a family. They were all over the islands and there are a few anthropologists in the area studying them to better understand their ancient religious beliefs and practices. Part of the reason it's so challenging is that when Cook and others brought Christianity (which they accepted wholeheartedly by the way - there was no forcing like South America) the native cultures gave up, and in many cases destroyed, everything associated with their old regions so there is very little record of this history.

This house in the distance is actually a local museum with some old artifacts and lots of information on the history of the islands.

We also visited a vanilla farm. The green bean looking things will eventually look like what we're used to seeing as vanilla pods. The woman who runs this place is the quality control for all the vanilla on the island. She ensures that everything sold meet strict standards. They had a little store selling vanilla and all kinds of natural remedies for everything from skin conditions to stomach issues. Cute little place.

Our final stop was to see the sacred blue eyed eels. One of our guides is in there feeding them  mackerel  . . . holy mackerel (ba dum bump). These guys are pets of a sort - they've been there for decades and are never eaten, but instead fed by the local population - it was clear they are a source of pride for the island. Sorry I couldn't snap a pic of their eyes - I wasn't really in the mood to get that close - those guys were huge!