Fiji – Part I of III

We have been at sea for what seems like weeks, but seeing land this morning and the vast beauty of the Fijian islands makes you forget all of that. We were due to pull into port at 9:00 AM, but we were still miles off the coat of Lautoka, stationary, which made everyone onboard a bit nervous. Finally the Captain announced that the Health department of Fiji were coming onboard to make their inspection before granting us permission. They wanted to interview all those passengers who embarked in Tahiti, I suppose to check their connections getting there to assure no coronavirus countries were involved. The Captain announced they would begin their inspection after the Fijian crew had breakfast aboard the Serenity– that was the clincher– no one would deny the Serenity after sampling their spread of breakfast treats…. no one…..

We have not stepped foot on land, yet, but both of us agree this is a destination worth returning to– for you could stay here and explore these islands for months.

There are more than 330 islands that make up the Fijian chain of which 110 are permanently inhabited. I cannot quite capture the color of the water from our stateroom, but it will never be found on any paint chart, for if there were, our house would be painted this color inside and out.

We will be here for two days and looking so forward to an exploration of this tropical paradise.

Storms and earthquakes and viruses, Oh My…

The good news is that our Captain has received word from Fiji that they will accept us…..

The bad news is that this area of the Pacific is a little active at the moment. Above was a live screenshot of the events in the area (Serenity represented by the blue dot). We are in between some major deluge of rains (beautiful at the moment), but ahead of us were three ocean floor earthquakes ranging from 4.8, 5.2 & 5.4, all within the last 24 hours and if that were not enough, there is a named Cat 3 cyclone (Uesi) ahead of us. After Fiji we turn to port and head to New Zealand which should get us out of things, for a little while, but New Zealand does lie on the ring of Fire– BUT THE DRINKS ARE FREE FOLKS!

OF SPECIAL NOTE:

Maria, Dan. 2nd today in trivia. We missed by one question……

Ton-gone

Our Captain received an email, at midnight, from the Kingdom of Tonga that they are denying entry of all cruise ships.. most likely due to the Coronavirus effecting some cruise ships that went into Hong Kong, etc. A bit of an over reaction, but understanding for these small islands who are not equipped to deal with any pathogen emergencies. We have walked past many medical facilities on these small islands and they are not somewhere you want to go if you were sick. In fact, we asked one of our guides what happens when someone needs a major operation, she said they are flown back to France. I imagine in the Cook Islands they evacuate to New Zealand.

We are hoping to get into Fiji and stay a couple of days. If not… on to New Zealand.

We are beginning to feel like real sailors at sea.

Mozart Tea, Time Zone

Every day from 3:30 PM to 4:30 PM there is afternoon tea time. But today the Serenity offered up something special– Mozart Tea time, featuring the staff in period dress, Irina Guskova on the violin, and Richard Pucci on the piano. Irina is very well known on the high seas and pretty incredible on the violin. The teas are fantastic as are the pastries– I mean look at these things!

I once thought the ship was rolling gently from side to side by the swell beneath our bow, but I am beginning to wonder if it is just the passengers moving from port to starboard and back again.

Fortunately I use this time to write, disappearing behind my noise cancelling headphones and Restoration Hardware electronic ambient playlist streaming through them as I scribe away on a distant planet, without the calorie distraction. But looking up from time to time at the staff in period costume with their smiles and bows, it is easy to get lost in this world, where I think I am on the Endeavor with Captain Cook seated beside me as we cruise through the islands of the South Pacific, not caring if I ever return to land.

OF SPECIAL NOTE:

Maria, Dan… The Fab-8 won this leg of Trivia… 37 with two teams tied with 36….

The day today is tomorrow… sort of….

From Wiki: For the two hours between 10:00 and 11:59 UTC each day, three different calendar dates are observed at the same time in different places on Earth. For example, at 10:15 UTC Thursday, it is 23:15 Wednesday in American Samoa (UTC−11:00), Thursday in most of the world, and 00:15 Friday in Kiritimati (UTC+14:00).

We cross the International Date Line (IDL) around 2:00 AM local time, on the 9th of Feb, and the second we cross this imaginary line, it becomes 1:00 AM on the 11th of Feb…. WTF? What happened to the 10th.

It is currently Sunday evening, the 9th, but it appears that we have lost money in the market on a day that did not exist (10th), because we awake on Tuesday (11th). However, the upside is one less day of political nonsense. But still on the downside is that I have gained weight on a day I never ate…. does the cruise line reimburse us for one less day? What if your birthday was the 10th?

All this seems so confusing, but really, who cares…. I’m still going to get up and do the same thing I’ve been doing every day: Eat, learn, dance, drink, write, laugh, repeat.

Rarotonga Flyby

We pulled into Rarotonga (Cook Islands) this morning and faced the ship into the wind ready to anchor, but due to high winds and high surf, the Captain and port pilot determined it was too rough to transfer passengers safely onto the tenders and get us to shore, so are skipping this island. Too bad, it looked interesting and the beaches we could see from our terrace looked inviting and there are many trails to explore, lagoons to snorkel and shop to buy stuff.

Rarotonga is the most populated of the Cook Islands and juts up 14,750 ft. from the ocean floor, of which 2,140 ft. rises above the sea. The earliest findings of inhabitants of the southern Cook Islands dates to around 1,000 AD.

We attended a 10:00 AM enrichment program, with Special Interest lecturer, Dr. Bill McKay, on, “What you can see in the night sky.” His knowledge of astronomy is incredible and I cannot wait to star gaze with him on the upper deck late in the evenings as well as sit with him and chat about SciFi and pick his brain on exoplanets, since my novel Silversides is based upon Gliese 581 g.

We are on our way toTonga and hopefully better docking weather.

Starship Serenity

We have been aboard this starship for a month now and the crew seems to never sleep– scurrying about like cleaner wrasse– as passengers queue up along various stations, thoroughly engrossed by the luxuries aboard, some hardly noticing the planets zipping by or the ones we have stopped to explore.

It has been a day of deep space travel since leaving the Society Nebula, and walking about the observation deck and looking into the emptiness beyond, space itself seems to have changed color; it has taken on an iridescent blue, almost purple, as we zigzag our way through the narrow belts of asteroids, dropping off and picking up new life forms so nomadic they have no port of origin or destination in mind. And why should they? Serenity has everything and what it doesn’t have must not exist and what does not exist seems to be waiting for you.

There are 250 of us onboard Serenity who were born here and will be with Serenity until its destination is complete. We’ve been to memory school and enrichment programs, we have leaned to pace ourselves– unlike the new life forms arriving from time to time, wide-eyed and taking in everything they can get their hands on before being dropped back onto some other rock never to experience this again, wondering if they were ever here to begin with. Serenity does that– keeps some of your memories onboard.

It becomes difficult at times to remember where you came from or what you did in a previous lifetime, or who you knew before evolving into your current life form. Fortunately the crew onboard have been expecting you even before you were born. They too come and go–getting off at alien ports of call to make their way back to some far off corner of the universe and having to reacclimate into a language and culture that begins to feel alien to them the longer they stay aboard the Serenity.

Then you see crew return and just like some passengers who were born here and leave for awhile, they reenter deck-4, empty handed, and suck in the crisp air like they have been holding their breath for a lifetime, just to say in a hushed tone, “I’m home.”

Apparently this happens to everyone who has been aboard Serenity, a deja vu I am sure we will experience ourselves.

Raiatea – The 2nd largest of the Society Islands

After a night at sea, we arrived in Raiatea by morning. The skies looked threatening, but held off for an early morning excursion along the perimeter of the island with a few stops along the way.

The first stop, and perhaps the most interesting, was to a local pearl farm where we attended a short lecture on the entire process of cultivation– fascinating.

Local Pearl Farm

This farm looks like a pearl in the bay

The process starts with the sacrifice of an oyster, where the Grafter (knowledgeable of oyster anatomy and skilled with a scalpel) cuts out a piece of the mantle (gasket) and sections it off into several small squares that measure about 3 mm each. These in turn act as the catalyst for the nucleus.

Sectioning off the mantle

The Grafter then uses a specialty tool to pry open a live oyster, without damaging the abductor muscle, then delicately slices open the gonad (pearl sack), and slips in a seed nucleus (small round piece of mother-of-pearl made from shells found in the Mississippi, manufactured by the Japanese) and adds one of the mantle squares, which joins with the nucleus and begins to coat it, the oyster doing the rest. The process takes approximately 18 months (anything less is considered cheap). The color of the pearl is based upon the color of the inside of the oyster (white, green, eggplant, black are the main colors).

Oysters are protandrous alternating hermaphrodites, meaning they start off male to produce sperm then morph into females later in life. I am pretty sure I once dated someone like that once.

A Bento box of tool for the Grafter

You can see in the image below that the pearl matches the the oyster’s dominant color.

A pearl formed in the gonad sack.

Another memorable stop along our excursion was to a charming couple’s home where we were invited to sample bread fruits and coconut, done a million ways– How it gets from here to a Mars Bar is astounding!

Bread Fruit

After our excursion and lunch we returned to shore and with perfect timing attended a cultural dance by the locals of Raiatea. The music was beautiful, the dancing carried through us, reaching into our souls.

Marjorie Barnett, if you are reading this, once again I must have held that eager look, because I was the first to be singled out to join in, of which I was more than eager.

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My legs are going to be hurting in the morning

After some shopping in downtown, we finally made it back onboard and headed up to the Palm Cove for afternoon tea. What a treat this is, listening to a virtuoso on violin while dining on tea sandwiches and saying goodby to Raiatea (for now).

Of all the Society Islands, Raiatea was the most sustainable, most natural and uncommercial of the islands. There was a natural vibe here unlike the others.

Onward to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.

When you get to Teahupoo, just wave

Sorry for the delay on this post but due to the time differences, major internet upload speeds (I had to get up at 4 AM to post this) and not getting around to it because of all the pleasantries in between, hopefully the images will make up for it.

Yesterday we awoke to a glorious morning, the sun rising over the mountains of Papeete harbor and it was sooooo nice to have a dock because we have been tendering to shore all through French Polynesia.

Papeete, Tahiti

Steve Powell, if you are reading this, you will know what I’m referring to when I say the French influence of renting a car: leaving the ship to find your scheduled pickup spot (everyone pointing in opposite directions), getting to the airport, filling out the rental forms, and then finding the car in the lot is always a maze of wonder that I think should be free if you can locate it. LOL.

Our rental car—We found it!

Our route began in downtown Papeete, which was charming and reflective of being in the South of France where the main boulevards are lined with street lamps and lush plantings. As the traffic and bustle of Papeete fell behind, the highway narrowed and the sprawl gave way to private residences tucked in along the coast, most just huts, all with spectacular views. Our first off-road venture was down a gravel road I thought would lead us to the beach, but dead ended into a narrow residence access road filled with wild hens. We could not turn around. It did afford Meredith the opportunity to practice on the manual shift, of which I reminded her when we get back on the highway that 4th & 5th gears were optional…… her look was precious.

Farther down the coast, parks and beaches were too many to take in. We did stop at Grottes de Maraa, a beautiful walking trail through tropical plantings and several stops where the cliff walls were arboretums of ferns and flowers.

Eventually we arrived at the southwestern end of the island, Teahupoo–where the world’s most iconic wave (left) breaks and the barrel sucks the water off the reef to fuel it.

Teahupoo is a charming, sleepy little village where the road ends and a foot trail out to the point affords you a view. we ate lunch at the only restaurant (This Is Living) and delivered a sandwich to Coco, our water taxi captain. The ride out to the reef was epic.

This is Living – the only show in town

A walk out to meet Captain Coco

When you realize the waves are big

Just above the reef

Backside of waves

Not very deep here

Why we are out here – pure awesomeness

Getting very close to the break

You could drive a Volvo through this one

Town square

The entire downtown of Teahupoo

It was time to head back to Papeete and return the car. We headed north and took the eastern route along the coast and stopped at various overlooks and surf sites that were strung like pearls around every bend. A surfer’s true paradise.

One of many surf beaches with easy access

Surf bar and restaurant on the beach

If all graffiti were like this

Black sand beach at yet another surf site

Waves everywhere

All good things must come to an end and so must our day driving around the island of Tahiti.

Papeete traffic. The lights are not timed… well they are for gridlock.

We find it amazing how large our ship looks in port, yet feels so intimate onboard.

Tahiti will remain on my list of island returns, if to do nothing but surf. This evening we set sail for the island of Raitea and continue this adventure.

Moorea, French Polynesia

We sailed into Opunohu Bay of Moorea this morning, ushered between two reefs and some awesome surf.

Excellent break along this reef, some surfers were getting covered later in the day

Every view from this island is more spectacular than the one before it and Moorea is, by far, the most beautiful of the islands we have visited– we could come back to this one. Excellent diving, snorkeling, hiking and biking trails… and roads… yes… roads….. LOL.

Legend has it that the God of the thieves (Hiro) wanted to steal the Routi, a nearby mountain, where the toa trees grew, but he was thwarted by the God Pai who caught him in the act– still, Hiro managed to nick off the top of it…..

Below is Opunohu Bay, where Captain Cook sailed into twice– ironically, not Cook’s Bay adjacent to it,

Ancient Tahitian temple

Can you find the wild hen?

Can you find the wild hen?

When we left Moorea