Archive for February, 2016

Sydney, Australia (Day 2)

     Sydney is the largest city in Australia & was also the first settlement here.  This area was first visited by Captain Cook around 1770.  He sailed past Sydney harbor without entering & anchored a little way to the South in a place he named Botany Bay (now the location of Sydney’s airport).  He submitted glowing reports about Botany Bay.  Meanwhile, some 17 years later, Great Britain had a growing problem with its criminal underclass.  The Enclosure movement had driven many peasants off the land and into the cities where they had no way to earn a living.  This led to large growth in petty crime.  At that time any theft worth 40 shillings was a hanging offense, and the prisons filled up with people convicted (usually in very summary trials) of petty theft.  Criminal overcrowding had for many years been eased by deportation to the American colonies where the convicts were sold into indentured servitude, usually for seven years.  But the American Revolution cut off deportation there, and overcrowded prisons were supplemented by “hulks,” ships denuded of masts anchored in the Thames & at Plymouth where prisoners rotted away in the unrelieved filth with little fresh air or food.

     Something had to be done, so ultimately the government decided to begin transporting convicts to Botany Bay, which was as far from England as it was possible to go & which Cook had assured them would be a good place to live.  Many convicts were given a choice between the gallows and transport to Botany Bay, so you can imagine how many “volunteers” there were for transport.  The “First Fleet,” headed by Arthur Phillip, arrived in Botany Bay at the beginning of 1788, but it quickly became apparent that Cook had been wrong about the living conditions, particularly because of the lack of a source of fresh water.  After a few days Phillip set out to explore the other bay to the North & found it to be extraordinarily good for settlement.  He wrote that it was the best harbor in the world, in which the entire British navy could be harbored with room to spare.  So the fleet moved there & they began to build a settlement at a place near where the Opera House now sits that is called “the Rocks.” 

     The Aboriginals at Botany Bay were glad to see them go.  When Cook had been there, they had gathered on the shore and shouted to him to “go away.”  Of course, Cook had no idea what they were saying but he did go away.  So when the First Fleet arrived there the Aboriginals again told them to “go away,” and they had every hope that this tactic would work again.  But when the British began building a settlement on their land, and catching their fish to eat, they began to realize that this was a lot more serious.  This led to a lot of strife.

     Our plan for Day 2 was to explore the Rocks area, the oldest section of the city situated between the Harbor Bridge & the Opera House.  It is a very interesting area, with old buildings, some built by the original convicts, intermingled with glass skyscrapers.  The old Victorian buildings had a lot of interesting architectural detail of the kind not seen anymore (too expensive I guess).

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     Our first target was the State Library built in 1906, which was quite magnificent with a domed reading room.  The floor in the entrance was an amazing stone inlay copy of a map of this part of the world drawn by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in the middle of the 17th century.  I think he was the first to reach this part of the world, which is why it was known as New Holland into the 19th century.  The island of Tasmania (which he called Van Damien’s Land) is named for him, as is the Tasman Sea between Australia & New Zealand.  There is a tunnel leading to a modern library building that is mostly glass and very light & airy.

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     Outside the library is a statue of Matthew Flinders who we met before in Melbourne, the first circumnavigator of Australia at the beginning of the 19th century.  On his way back to England he was detained in Mauritius, a French territory that was at war with England at the time.  It seems he had obtained a pass, but it was in the name of his ship rather than his own name.  He had lost his original ship and was returning on a different one, so the officials on Mauritius refused to recognize it and imprisoned him as a spy.  He spent several years locked up there before clearing up the matter and obtaining his release.  In England he wrote a book about his exploits, but he died on the very day it was published.  Through all of this he was accompanied by his cat, Trim, who even stayed with him in prison on Mauritius.  But when they were freed, Trim was nowhere to be found as he prepared for departure.  It turned out that a group of ravenous locals had eaten him.  Behind the Flinders statue out side the library is a separate statue of Trim, the first cat to circumnavigate Australia

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     We walked past Sydney Hospital, built in 1814.  In front is Il Porcellino, a bronze copy of a well known statue in Florence, donated by the Florentines in 1968.  Its nose is rubbed shiny & there is a plethora of small animals sculpted into its base.

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     Next we came to the Hyde Park Barracks, built in 1819 and designed by a convict turned architect, Francis Greenway.  This was built to house convicts, not soldiers.

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     We walked through Hyde Park, lush with trees & flowers.  In the center is a very elaborate fountain built in 1932, on one side is St Mary’s Cathedral and at the end is the ANZAC Memorial (but we didn’t walk that far).  There was a sign warning to watch out after a rain for “failing trees.”  The park is also home to a large number of Ibis, an awkward looking bird with a long beak that we were told are considered pests hereabouts.

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    The Queen Victoria Building was erected in 1898 as a market hall & after years of neglect it was restored in the 1980’s into a really glorious indoor mall.  It has four stories with a large variety of stores & kiosks, and a huge hanging clock on which, when it strikes the hour, small figures emerge and behead Charles I (or so we have read . . . sadly, we didn’t see this happen).  We rode down from the upper floor in an old fashioned cage elevator, & in front of the building is a large statue of Queen Victoria.

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     Over the last few decades Sydney has developed into a cosmopolitan & ethnically diverse city (it has only been a few decades since Australia abandoned its narrow racial immigration restrictions).  This month it is celebrating Chinese New Year over a period of several weeks & the city was decorated with some delightful displays.  Our favorite was the rabbits in front of the old Customs House, built in 1845 & remodeled in 1885, whose first three floors house the city’s public library (which we didn’t visit because we only learned about it later).  We also passed a fellow playing the Digeridoo; not just for Chinese New Year, he looked pretty permanent (and other passengers mentioned they had seen him on previous visits).  We have had a digeridoo player on board since we left New Zealand, teaching passengers how to play.  His scheduled performance was, unfortunately, canceled because he injured his eardrum shortly after boarding the ship.127. Sydney, Australia  (Day 2)129. Sydney, Australia  (Day 2)82. Sydney, Australia  (Day 2)130. Sydney, Australia  (Day 2)324. Sydney, Australia  (Day 1)124. Sydney, Australia  (Day 2)131. Sydney, Australia  (Day 2)227. Sydney, Australia  (Day 1)

      Well, after seeing all this, doing some shopping & consuming huge cones of gelato it was time to return to the ship for the sail-away.  It had been a sunny & warm day, but at sail-away it turned cloudy & overcast, so the views were not as great as they could have been.  Pretty good still, though.  There was a big party on the aft deck as we left & HAL provided free wine & food so everyone was feeling happy, including moi.  We passed by all the icons one last time: the Opera House, the Harbor Bridge & Luna Park.  There was a group of bridge climbers on top as we passed under the bridge & there were shouted greetings on both sides. We had to wait about an hour at the mouth of the harbor for a boat to come out and pick up two passengers with medical issues that required hospital care, then we sailed up the Eastern coast of Australia. This was too short a stay in this special city, which left quite a lot to do and see next time.

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Sydney, Australia (Day 1)

 

     We got up very early on February 10 to see the sail-in to the legendary harbor of Sydney, Australia, thought by many to be the best harbor in the world.  We got our first view from the ocean threshold before sunrise & it became more beautiful as we sailed in.  We had our first view of the famous Opera House and the Harbor Bridge. 

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    We sailed under the bridge and on to our berth at White Bay, within view of the bridge but about 45 minutes drive by shuttle bus.  Last year the world cruise docked at Circular Quay, right next to the Opera House, but when there are larger ships in town that can’t fit under the bridge, smaller ships like Amsterdam are banished to White Bay.  It seemed to us that the site must have been selected by someone trying to find the most inconvenient spot for cruise passengers & little has been done to provide efficient transportation (our cab driver that night had been driving here for 5 years and had never been to White Bay).  But despite this, we were very happy to be here.

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     After breakfast we set out on an excursion that took us first to Koala Park, an animal park (ie. glorified zoo).  After all, you can’t go to Australia & not see koalas and kangaroos! Despite its name, the park only had one koala.  Koalas sleep about 20 hours a day because the eucalyptus they eat gives them very little energy, so this little guy must spend all his waking time on duty.  In Queensland it’s permissible to have your picture taken holding a Koala, but here in New South Wales it is illegal to touch a koala.  But people lined up to have their picture taken standing in front of the koala anyway.  It looked like a hard way to earn a living.

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     While there was only one koala, there were a lot of other interesting animals.  We have been told that 90% of the species of animals and insects In Australia are found nowhere else, so Australian zoos are pretty exotic to Americans & Europeans.  Among the birds we saw here were the Laughing Kookaburra, the Blue Peafowl, the Double-Wattled Cassowary, a White Cockatoo & the Emu. There were also some creepy looking bats called Grey Headed Flying Foxes.

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     We saw Dingoes, which looked a lot like our son’s Australian Cattle Dog but for their yellow color, and seemed much nicer than portrayed by Rudyard Kipling in the Just So Stories, oh best beloved. We even got to pet one that was being walked on a leash.  There were some Blue Tongued Lizards, although we didn’t get to see their tongues.  We saw part of an Echidna (a spiny ant-eater and egg laying mammal), who was hiding with only its back showing.  And there was a Wombat, but it took one look at the approaching tourists and retreated into a barrel & covered itself in straw.  I am including a picture of its face taken while it was inside the dark barrel, even though it is pretty hard to discern.

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    And finally, the Kangaroos & their smaller cousins, the Wallabies.  There were two species of Wallaby in this park, Wallaroos & Red Necked Wallabies.  They seemed very active, hopping here & there, very suddenly and very fast.

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    The kangaroos were in a sort of corral which visitors could enter to interact with the kangaroos.  You could feed them (they eat grass & leaves) or pet them, and they were quite used to people & very friendly.  One was a mother with a joey in her pouch; all you could see of him or her was the long legs sticking out of the pouch.  We were told that kangaroos are born very tiny & somehow manage to climb into the mother’s pouch, where they latch onto a nipple & stay attached until ready to emerge many months later.

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   The flora here was interesting as well, including very large-leafed ferny plants & a variety of Eucalyptus whose bark appears to fall off, leaving a white trunk.

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     The next thing on the advertised agenda was lunch at the top of the Sydney tower.  But it turned out that our guide hadn’t made reservations ahead of time & the restaurant wouldn’t take us until 2:00.  So we had to drive around town for a couple of hours, seeing some of the city but mostly to waste time.  This was a problem for a few of us who had opera tickets for that night & were relying on the published return time of 5:00 to make it to the show.  We made it back only 15 minutes late despite all this delay, but it made the rest of the excursion a little nerve-wracking for us.  Our first stop was in a park on the opposite side of the Harbor Bridge from the Opera House.

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     We drove through the Royal Botanic Gardens to its furthest point, where there was a nice view of the Opera House & the bridge (I hope you aren’t sick of them yet, there is more to come).  We also saw Mrs MacQuarie’s Chair, a bench cut into the stone wall in 1816 by convicts at the behest of the Governor’s wife, who liked to sit here and enjoy the view.  There was a group of tourists on the very top of the bridge. For about $250 you can join a bridge climb to the top, dressed in a special suit of overalls and tethered to the bridge so you can’t fall (you can’t bring a camera either, since it could be dropped & hurt someone below).  We didn’t do that.

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     We finally made it to the Sydney Tower at about 2:00 for lunch.  This is similar to the tower in Auckland, prominent on the skyline from many areas of town.  We had lunch here in a revolving restaurant: the windows & central kitchen area are stable while the table area rotates at about one revolution every 1.5 hours.  The buffet had quite a lot of foods available, & Rick had crocodile & emu sausage, and a sort of kangaroo stew.  Not all that great, so fortunately there was other food available too.  The views were very far-reaching.

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     Our last stop was for a tour of the Sydney Opera House.  The story of its building is long and complicated, but basically this design was chosen from a worldwide competition after initially being rejected.  No one knew how to make a building with this design actually stand up, but after a lot of experimentation the original architect hit on the idea of using sections of a sphere for the sail-like structures & that turned out to be the breakthrough.  It ran way over budget (doesn’t everything?) which led to the original architect being ousted from the project, & he never saw the building in person, though there was some reconciliation before he died.

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     We visited the major performance spaces.  Best was the Concert Hall, huge & beautiful with outstanding acoustics.  Our guide said there are no bad seats here, so you may as well buy the cheapest ones.  There are also seats behind the orchestra on stage. Above the stage is a series of large hanging discs.  These are raised and lowered to improve the acoustics for the performers: low for a string quartet & high for an orchestra, for example.  And in the middle is a huge pipe organ, with several thousand more pipes behind that you cannot see, from small enough to hold in your hand to several stories tall.  Quite impressive.

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     That night we went with another couple to an opera in the Opera House. Originally operas were expected to be staged in the concert hall, but that didn’t work out (can’t remember why), so another smaller space was converted into an opera stage.  The orchestra is beneath the stage with the conductor standing up through an open space in front; there are TV monitors so that orchestra members can see what he is doing above his knees.  The opera was Rossini’s Barber of Seville, and it was fabulous.  They played it for laughs, & the biggest joke was all of these magnificent voices in the service of low comedy.  In the other performance venue was a show called Blanc en Blanc.  A number of other passengers attended this cabaret style show, complete with hot tub & full frontal nudity.  Sadly, there was no nudity in Barber of Seville.

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     We made it back to the ship late, but it was a lovely night so we went up to the top deck for some final photos from a very full day.  And we weren’t through with Sydney yet.

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Melbourne, Australia

     After three days at sea we arrived at Melbourne, Australia on February 8.  Melbourne (pronounced “Mel’-bun,” to our surprise) is the capital of the province of Victoria & the second largest city in Australia with a population in excess of 4 million.  It was founded in 1835.  Of course, Aboriginal people had populated the area for 30 or 40 thousand years before that, having mostly walked from Southeast Asia because the oceans were much lower then.  The Aborigines were progressively dispossessed of their land in the region over the first 5 to 10 years after settlement by Europeans.

      In 1851 there was a gold rush in Victoria & by the 1880’s Melbourne was one of the largest & richest cities in the world.  In 1901 it became the temporary capital of the new Australian federation, but after years of competition with Sydney for that role the capital was moved to Canberra in the 1920’s, halfway between Sydney & Melbourne.

     The harbor is a few miles from downtown so we took the bus in ($14 Australian to ride all day). The bus let us off just across the Yarra River from the central business district, so we walked across the bridge into town.  The weather was gray & overcast, but we hoped it would improve at it has done many times on this trip.

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     Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of Melbourne is the combination of soaring glass skyscrapers and elaborate Victorian stone buildings of the late 19th century.  The proliferation of monumental Victorian buildings in the 1880s and 90s was a direct result of the excessive flow of money into the city from the gold rush.  We came upon three of the best examples immediately upon crossing the bridge.  First, Flinders Street Station was built in 1909 and was the busiest commuter rail station in the world during the 1920’s.  It is still bustling and “under the clocks” at the station is one of the commonest meeting places in the city.

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     Second, across the street from the station is St. Paul’s (Anglican) Cathedral, with soaring steeples and a beautiful interior of alternating colored stone stripes.  It was built in 1891.

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     Next to the cathedral is the Town Hall, a massive building completed in 1870.  Its entrance doors display the four images on the city coat of arms . . . a whale, a ship, a bull & a sheep, representing the area’s economy.  Across the street was an imposing building of a later vintage that is part of Victoria University.

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     We walked on to the State Library of Victoria.  Built in 1856, it is one of the oldest cultural institutions in Australia and has more than 2 million books in its collection.  Its domed, multi-story main reading room is quite impressive.

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There was another reading room with skylight & lots of glass & a separate chess room with chess tables & one of the world’s most extensive collections of chess books.  Also here are some architectural details. 

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     The museum we most wanted to see is closed on Mondays (naturally), so we decided to walk up to the Melbourne Museum, a very modern building of recent vintage said to be the largest museum in the Southern Hemisphere.  It has a vast collection, but we mostly just wanted to see their Aboriginal collection, so we were happy that they waived the $14 per person admission for seniors, even if you aren’t Australian.  This made us feel better about the limited time we had to spend there.  There was a lot of interest in the Aboriginal collection, both artifacts and narration.  On the way out we noticed hanging from the ceiling an important old airplane, which may have been the first one built in Australia (we can’t remember).

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     Near the museum is the Royal Exhibition Building, erected for the International Exhibition of 1880. This is also where Australia’s first parliament met in 1901.  There was a big sign on one side advertising that you could rent it for your wedding or other function, and there were similar signs on other grand old buildings, like the Town Hall.  It seemed strange to us, but I guess business is business.  It’s not as bad as naming baseball stadiums after the corporation that bids the most.

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     We walked back downtown to the Supreme Court to see our second library of the day.  It seemed to take forever to get though the metal detectors at the entrance, only to find that we were required to leave our cameras with the guard.  This we duly did, & walked in and looked around the lovely round domed library inside the court.  When we came back the guard told us that only cameras were forbidden & it was OK to photograph with your phone!  So back we went and made the photograph below.  When we returned to take our leave it appeared that lunchtime was over because there was a line of people waiting to enter the court.  Rick was the only barrister there who wasn’t wearing the British style black uniform with a fluffy white collar (actually, they probably wouldn’t have believed Rick was a lawyer, dressed in his t-shirt, cargo pants & baseball hat).

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     There were some other miscellaneous things.  On Flinders Street were a number of tall poles with designs on them, some Aboriginal and some not.  They didn’t seem to have lights at the top, or any other obvious function, so maybe they are just decorative.  On the same street was a statue of (surprise) Matthew Flinders.  While he is not well known outside of Australia, here he is a hero somewhat akin to the Founders in the U.S.  He was the first to circumnavigate Australia, mapping much of its coastline for the first time, and he was also the first to call it Australia (it had been called New Holland up to that time).  More on him in a future episode.  We walked through the Royal Arcade, a shopping mall built in 1869 and Melbourne’s oldest existing arcade.

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     By now it was getting late (& we were getting hot & tired), so we walked back across the river to catch the bus back to the port.  It was much sunnier now & the river and the newer development along its shore were brightly lit.

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      We sailed away from Melbourne in late afternoon, feeling that we had seen quite a lot in only one day but that there was still quite a lot of interesting places to see on our (hopefully) next visit.

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Picton, New Zealand

     The Amsterdam was easing into its dock when we opened the window on the morning of Thursday, February 4.  Picton is a nice little town in a beautiful setting, Queen Charlotte Sound.  It is at the north end of the south island of New Zealand & is the terminal for the ferry across the Cook Strait that connects the two islands.  This province is called Marlborough & is New Zealand’s top wine country.  The first European settlement here was a whaling station set up in 1827, but the town was established in 1848.

     This bay was one of Captain Cook’s favorite anchorages & he spent almost half a year here spread out over his three voyages.  During his second voyage he was separated from his second ship in fog near Antarctica & this bay was the designated meeting place.  So he brought his ship here & waited a number of days before giving up and sailing on.  The other ship arrived just a few days later & sent ashore a provisioning party.  When it did not return they sent another party to find them.  The second party found them, but only some recognizable parts of their bodies & they concluded the first party had been killed & eaten by the local Maori.  So they returned to the ship, which hightailed it back to England.

     We were anchored almost in the center of town, so after breakfast we walked in.  Like a lot of days on this voyage, it was very cloudy & looked like rain but later turned brightly sunny.

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     Our first stop was to see the Edwin Fox, what remains of an old ship built in India in 1853.  Its first service was to transport troops for the Crimean War.  Its primary significance is as the only remaining ship to transport prisoners to Australia & settlers to New Zealand.  If you have seen the movie “The Great Train Robbery,” the characters played by Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland were later transported to Freemantle, Australia on the Edwin Fox’s one voyage in 1858 as a prisoner transport.  The ship served as a commercial vessel for a number of years, carrying tea from India to England, then after its sailing days were over it was made into a giant refrigerator for storing preserved meat before transport to England.  After arriving in Picton in 1897, It languished for a number of years, subject to plundering, before being purchased and towed to its permanent display location in Picton  in1999.  It’s not in very good condition & they lack the money for any refurbishment (at least so far), but its historical significance is substantial. 

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     We walked over to the Picton Foreshore, the beach area at the center of town.  The weather was still threatening, but the bay was beautiful.  There were also colorful flowers in extensive flower beds.

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     Passing through the Anzac memorial serving as a gate between the Foreshore & the town, we walked up the main street.  Not much beyond a few uninteresting stores & restaurants, but in a lovely setting surrounded by mountains.  Then we found the library, always a primary objective for us.  We discovered recently that Steve & Wendy, two of our Cruise Specialists hosts, also collect library pictures for their son, who is a librarian in Louisville, Kentucky.  We thought we were the only ones, but apparently not.

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     We decided to take a walk on one of the trails along the harbor, so we headed over to what the locals call the Coathanger Bridge, passing a lot of sailboats at anchor.  From the bridge we followed the road straight ahead, which turned out to be a mistake.  After hiking about a mile we (finally) happened upon a sign that told us we were on the wrong path.  The one we wanted required turning left after the bridge (but there was no sign at the bridge to tell you that).  So our best recourse was to take the “Scout’s Track” over the mountain ridge to the path overlooking the harbor.  It was very steep, but we made it.  We decided that the name referred to boy or girl scouts, who would be much younger than we are!

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     At the top we were rewarded with great views of the Sound (and the prospect that the rest of the trip would be downhill!). 

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     As we came down the trail on the harbor side of the ridge of mountains there were more nice views & some interesting flowers.

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     After this hike we were ready to walk back to the ship.  We passed a playground with a Donald Duck statue (does Disney, Inc. know about this?) & some acrobats busking in the Foreshore area.  They announced that they thought their act was worth at least 10 or 20 dollars, but since we only saw the ending as we passed by we just continued on. You can see from this view of the harbor that the weather had greatly improved (yay).

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     So that’s it from Picton & from New Zealand.  The sailaway was quite beautiful, as you might imagine, & the Sound was much longer than we had anticipated.  We were looking forward to some relaxing sea days as we crossed the Tasman Sea to Australia.

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Auckland, New Zealand

     When we woke up on February 2 the Amsterdam was already docked in Auckland.  Founded in 1840, Auckland was the capital of New Zealand in the middle of the 19th century.  It is located about half way down the north island & is the only city in the world built on a dormant (not extinct) field of volcanoes, the last eruption of one of its 50 volcanoes having occurred just 600 years ago (presumably to the dismay of the Maori living there at the time).  With a total population around 1 million, Auckland has the largest Polynesian population of any city in the world (somewhere around 100,000).

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    After breakfast we left the dock to walk through town to the War Memorial Museum.  Next to our dock is the 1912 Ferry Building, which is still the terminal for ferries to other parts of the region.

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     It was a pretty long walk and, as seems so normal in New Zealand, mostly uphill.  We walked through two parks: the Domain & Albert Park.  Albert Park had a floral clock & we walked past a lot of apparently old trees with wandering boughs. We also walked past the University of Auckland, which had a striking clock tower on its Old Arts Building, built In 1926.

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     The Auckland War Memorial Museum was built in 1929 to commemorate the ANZAC (Australia New Zealand Army Corps) soldiers from New Zealand who died in World War I.  In front is a “cenotaph,” based on the tomb of the unknown soldier in London.  On the front steps we met another couple, one of whom was wearing a Cincinnati Reds jersey.  He is from Martins Ferry and she is from Yellow Springs, Ohio, quite near where Rick grew up. They are teachers living in China.  Since Rick was wearing a Reds hat, it was hard to miss the affinity so we talked for a few minutes & they took a picture.  The Museum is on a hill with a nice view of the water.

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     This is really a world class museum.  It has 3 floors: Maori & Pacific Islands artifacts on the 1st floor, natural history on the 2d & military on the 3d.  We spent several hours there and couldn’t finish the first floor.  There were a lot of Maori artifacts, mostly intricate carvings; we can show some of them to you but can’t really explain them. The piercing blue/green eyes are made of paua shell.

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     In the center of the gallery is a pataka, used as a storehouse.  It was originally built in the 1870’s & the figures represent ancestors of the chief.  It is quite beautifully preserved and an impressive piece of work, covered in carved panels all the way around. 

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     To one side is the much bigger Hotunui, a meeting house similar to the one we saw in Waitangi but much older.  This one was built in 1878.  We were told that not many of these buildings have survived that long because they were often destroyed by war or fire.  When it was acquired by the museum in 1925 they painted it all red (like the one in Waitangi) & repainted it in the 1950’s.  For the last 30 years they have been working on restoring the building to its original appearance, removing all the red paint they can & repairing the woven tukutuku mats that line the interior between the vertical carved panels.  As you can see below, this work continues, but the lead worker on the project told us it is expected to be finished in a few months.  When asked he acknowledged that they are now putting some thought into the celebration they will have & said he was pretty sure it would involve alcohol.  You are required to remove your shoes before entering as a sign of respect (and yes, the shoes were still there when we came back out).

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     The third oversized artifact is Te Toki a Tapiri, a war canoe some 25 yards long that held 100 warriors. Built in 1836, it is the oldest waka in existence.

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   Finally, there was a collection of paintings of Maori chiefs, all looking pretty fierce in their facial tattoos.  Here are a couple of them.

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     Time was beginning to run a little short so we left the museum, having been unable even to finish the first floor.  We will have to come back here next time!  Walking back toward downtown we found the public library.  It is a nice library & its collection includes books translated into Maori as well as those in English. The Maori term for “library” is the same word they use for “storehouse.”

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     The last item on our agenda for today is the Auckland Sky Tower.  Finished in 1997, this is the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere at more than 1,000 feet. It is possible to see 50 miles from its observation level.  This being New Zealand, it is also possible to bungee jump from near the top (you are probably not surprised to hear that we didn’t).  The elevator to the top is very fast & has glass walls and a partially glass floor.  One poor guy on our elevator firmly fixed his head facing into a corner he was so terrified.  You can see this tower looming over other buildings all over town.

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The view from the observation deck is pretty spectacular, from islands across the harbor to hills (volcanoes) in the other direction.  We could look directly down on the tops of pretty tall buildings, and also on the bungee target platform.

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     So we sailed away from Auckland in late afternoon & got to see the view we missed by sleeping through the sail-in.  We passed a sailboat with a guy leaning about as far out as possible to keep it balanced.  It was a strenuous day on our feet, so thankfully there would be a sea day before our next port.

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Waitangi, New Zealand

     We sailed into the Bay of Islands near the northern end of New Zealand before sunrise on Monday, February 1.  Captain Cook, the first European to visit New Zealand in 1769, named it the Bay of Islands after climbing a nearby mountain and counting more than 100 of them.  Today the number given is 144.  The American writer Zane Grey came here to fish in 1927 & made the area famous in his book “The Angler’s El Dorado.”  Although we got up early to see the sail-in, the lack of sunlight made it difficult to see much.

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     Of course, the Maori (“Mow-ree” with the first syllable rhyming with “cow”) had been here for hundreds of years before Cook’s first visit.  They called this area Aotearoa.  Today New Zealand is an officially bilingual nation; signs are usually written in both languages.  After sunrise Amsterdam began running tenders to shore.

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     At breakfast we enjoyed “Waitangi Rolls,” just like the Panama Rolls distributed when we were in the canal, but with a delicious Kiwi filling.  Then we tendered to shore and walked to the Waitangi treaty house.  This is a national preserve that contains a small museum, the Treaty House, a Maori meeting house & some Maori Wakas, or war canoes.  Here is some of what we saw on the way.

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     The Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840, is considered the founding document of New Zealand. The treaty was signed by a representative of Queen Victoria & a large number of Maori chiefs.  It is a continuing source of controversy because there were two versions of the treaty, one in English and one in Maori, and they are not entirely consistent.  It seems the Maori thought they were only accepting British protection and would continue to govern the islands independently, while the British viewed it as giving them sovereignty over the entire country.  The British quickly moved to institute their rule, leading to a war with Maori some years later before the matter was settled. The anniversary of the signing on February 6 (just 5 days after our visit) is a national holiday with commemorations at the site of the treaty.  They were expecting some 60,000 visitors this year, and there are always Maori protestors.

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     The house where the treaty was signed was built in 1833 for James Busby, the first British agent in New Zealand.  It is a fairly small white wood building with extensive gardens full of beautiful flowers.  The Brits seem to take their gardens with them wherever they go.  In front of the house is a large lawn leading to the shore, with a very tall flagpole & three flags: New Zealand, Great Britain, & Maori.

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    We walked over to the whare runanga, a traditional Maori meeting house built by the Maori in the late 1930’s in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the treaty in 1940.  It is richly carved with Maori faces and designs.  You will notice in the carvings the Maori intimidation face, with tongue out.  You have to take your shoes off to enter these meeting houses.

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     We walked down to see the 3 Wakas (war canoes) in a shelter house.  built in the late 1930’s, the biggest one is about 35 yards long, reportedly the largest in the world.  It is launched every Waitangi Day, with 80 warriors to paddle it.  Our bus driver later in the day told us that Maoris would call the Amsterdam “Waka Nui Nui,” a big big boat.

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    These war canoes are made from giant Kauri trees, which live 800 years or more.  Below you can see Mary standing next to the stump of one of the trees cut in 1937 as part of the construction of the large waka.  It’s really big.

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    Having seen the sights here we walked back to the pier to catch the shuttle bus into the nearest town, Paihia.  The treaty house grounds were quite beautiful.

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     Paihia was founded in 1823 by missionaries.  Today it looks pretty much like a conventional beach community & is a center for the water sports & hiking that bring vacationers to this area.  There are only a couple of downtown streets, so we walked up one.  Soon we came to the Paihia Library.  It is in a very old house that belonged to the family of the missionary, Rev. Williams.  The library was closed the day we were there but there was a crowd of people using the free wifi.  It also has extensive grounds with colorful flora.

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    Our last activity for the day was a walk to a viewing point above the town of Paihia.  It was only about a mile but it seemed (not really) to be all uphill.  The walk led us through woods with a lot of trees with multicolored bark that looked painted.  We think this was probably done by lichens.  And there were more nice flowers too.

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     Fortunately, at the top of the hill was an excellent view (it would have been irritating if there hadn’t been one after all that climbing).  The ship visible in the harbor is not ours but the Azamara Journey, which had arrived after us and anchored nearby.  You may think there are too many pictures in this section, but we worked hard to get up the hill for this view so they are going in!  We returned down the path (much faster) & returned to the ship.  On the way we had our second taste of New Zealand cuisine:  Hokey Pokey ice cream.  Actually, ours was gelato & it was called “Wicked Hokey Pokey” & it was very good!

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   And so in late afternoon we sailed away from the Bay of Islands.  It was a lovely evening sail-away.262a. Waitangi, New Zealand_stitch281. Waitangi, New Zealand269. Waitangi, New Zealand273. Waitangi, New Zealand282aa. Waitangi, New Zealand_stitch280. Waitangi, New Zealand276. Waitangi, New Zealand277a. Waitangi, New Zealand_stitch


At Sea, Sailing Toward New Zealand

     We had four days of sailing between Rarotonga and New Zealand.  During this period we crossed the International Date Line (which is imaginary, so no picture of it) & we each received a nice certificate signed by the Captain to memorialize it.  We went to bed on January 27 & when we woke up it was January 29.  It’s an odd feeling.  When Mark Twain crossed this line (recounted in his book Following The Equator) he was worried that the world would be thrown out of whack if some people were launched into a different timeline one day ahead of the rest.  After some analysis he finally decided that about as many people crossed in the opposite direction & lost a day as those who gained a day, so things would balance out in the end.  In any event, we can confirm that living a day in the future (for you) does not enable us to hit the jackpot by learning the Super Bowl score before the game was actually played.

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     On grand voyage cruises HAL occasionally leaves gifts in your cabin while you are at dinner, mostly on Gala Nights (which just means you have to dress up a little for dinner, & Adagio plays during part of your meal).  About a week before Rarotonga we had received copies of “The Happy Isles of Oceania,” Paul Theroux’s book about his mostly kayaking trip through the islands of the South Pacific in the 1990’s.  It is a very interesting book, which Rick had read last year in preparation for this voyage, and it had an autograph inside, on a sticker on the inside page.  Well, it turned out that Paul Theroux was actually on the ship (many rumors to that effect finally confirmed). For those who don’t know, he is an American who has been a leading travel writer for more than 30 years (& a novelist; Mosquito Coast was made into a successful movie).  He did a Q & A session in the Queen’s Lounge on January 29, then autographed books for quite a while in the Atrium (it was a very long line & we were told he autographed some 300 books).

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     Every night there is a show, usually be a guest entertainer, in the Queen’s Lounge.  We often attend the 10:00 performance, which is scheduled for late eaters like us.  They are usually on board for a week or so & can be seen around the ship.  On January 30 we had a show by Bobby Brooks Wilson, who is the son of the great singer Jackie Wilson.  He looks & sounds a lot like his father & he put on a very energetic & enjoyable show.  He loves to sing & sometimes spontaneously joined in on some of the smaller music venues on the ship.  On February 1 (technically beyond the timeframe of this episode) he stopped by the piano bar to sing with Debbie Bacon.  It was a rousing performance & everyone had a great time.  Even Paul Theroux was there at the bar, clapping along.

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     On the afternoon of January 30 we came across some wildlife.  First, it seems that a bird had accidentally hitched a ride on the ship from Rarotonga.  It looked like it might have been injured and unable to fly and was hiding in the shadows on the walking deck.  We hope it made it to New Zealand & a new life.  Then later the ship encountered a group (pod?) of dolphins cavorting nearby.  By the time we made it out on deck they were some ways off the starboard deck, but still looked like they were having a good time.

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   Since Papeete a Maori cultural team had been on board.  The Maori are the original inhabitants of New Zealand, Polynesian immigrants from (perhaps) the Cook Islands.  Like the Polynesian group on board before Papeete, this group taught classes in Maori language, culture, music & dance.  On January 30 they gave a performance of Maori dance on the main stage in the Queen’s Lounge.  The leader of the group (whose name we have forgotten . . . Maori names and words seem rather difficult for Westerners) is a college professor & official of some New Zealand cultural boards.  If I understood correctly, the other four are (or have been) students of his.  His group came in second in the last national Maori dance competition.  I must say, the first time I passed him in the hall near our cabin I did a double take.  But he is quite erudite.

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The Maori have a long history of tattooing like this, as you will see in some of the artwork that will be in the next episode.  Women traditionally had tattooed chins; today the dance competitors often apply removable tattoos for performances (as I think was the case with one of the performers on board).  The lighting on stage was poor & we were sitting in the balcony, but we have some decent pictures of the dancing.

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   They performed 6 or 7 different dances, but we can highlight two of them here.  One is the Poi, which involves the women swinging those white balls tied to their waists in very fast circles.  It is designed to demonstrate manual dexterity. The Maori team had given dance lessons to the few children on board Amsterdam & they joined the Maori’s onstage for a performance of the Poi.

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     Probably the most famous Maori dance is the Haka.  This is a dance for intimidation of enemies or potential enemies.  Along with a lot of fist pumping and aggressive movement, Maori try to intimidate opponents with scary faces, opening their eyes extra wide and sticking their tongues out & down.  Rugby fans (I know at least one is reading this) may recognize this because New Zealand’s world champion All Blacks rugby team (just a name, the players are not all black) do this dance before each of their matches to put fear in the hearts of their opponents.  It seems to work.  The children were invited back to perform this dance as well.

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  Well, that’s all the Maori pictures until we get to New Zealand.  But we can’t end this shipboard episode without some of the cute little shipboard towel animals.

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Rarotonga, Cook Islands

     We arrived off Avarua, the only real town on Rarotonga, on the morning of January 26.  This is a tender port that often has to be skipped because of rough seas.  The day before had been pretty rough so we fully expected to miss this port, as the world cruise had done last year.  To our surprise, we were told to meet in the Queen’s Lounge for our excursion as the crew began to put out the tender boats.  Four boats were in the water, but the sea swells turned out to be too high to enable boarding, so the Captain announced we would sail around to the northwest side of the island where a narrow channel had been constructed in the reef that our tenders might be able to navigate.  So the ship set off with the tenders following along like ducklings following their mother. 

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     Rarotonga is the largest of the Cook Islands, with a population of about 20,000.  While Captain Cook visited the Cook Islands (named for him in the 19th century), he never reached Rarotonga.  The Cook Islands voluntarily came under British control in 1888 to avoid the threat of French possession, and in 1901 were annexed by New Zealand, later achieving autonomy “in association” with New Zealand.  They are citizens of New Zealand with NZ passports.  Today more Cook Islanders live in Australia & New Zealand than in the islands.  According to some sources, the Maori who first settled New Zealand came from the Cook Islands.

     The ship finally anchored off the coast at Arorangi, where the channel had been cut through the coral reef that surrounds Rarotonga.  We were on the 3rd tender in, to catch the excursion we had booked.  This beach looked like a nice Polynesian location.

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     Our excursion was called “Pa’s Eco-tour.”  Pa Teuraa is a colorful local shaman in his 70’s & his tours get good ratings.  But this one was really a dud.  It included none of the features described in the brochure, but only a tour of Pa’s back yard and a half mile walk down an unpaved automobile road.  To be sure, Pa’s back yard was filled with wonders, like a tree that is 10 million years old (or maybe just 10,000) – authenticated as such by NASA — and a stone he obtained in Hawaii that tells him when there is going to be an earthquake.  He invited those from California to leave him their phone numbers so he could call and warn them before an earthquake. He is apparently a medicine man & told us that many people come to him when their doctors give up on them.  It seems he is the only person in the world who knows how to cure cancer and lupus.  He warned us that coffee kills your brain cells & pork is full of worms that will crawl out if you soak it in vinegar for an hour.  But his yard did have a lot of beautiful flowers and majestic views.

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   After about an hour at Pa’s place, including about half an hour while he sold books inside his house, we set out on our walk.  We thought, finally we are going to do some of the things described in the brochure! But no.  One of the buses was leaving & about half the visitors decided to go back with it to the pier.  The rest of us proceeded to walk. . . not through the jungle as advertised but down a nice country road.  We saw some nice views of the mountains & some pigs & chickens, and Pa showed us a taro plant and a palm tree he said Eleanor Roosevelt planted near the top of the mountain in 1944.  Soon Pa proposed that we have some watermelon, which was back at his house, but before we got there the other bus arrived & we drove back to the pier.  We did drive through Avarua, but anyone who wanted to stop there had to make their own way back to the pier (there was a shuttle bus, but it seemed a little iffy).

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     Back at the tender pier we found an unusually large crowd of passengers lined up.  It turned out that one of the tenders had been blown onto the reef while trying to get through the channel & it was stuck there, unable to move off.  Some police in a zodiac were taking tender passengers to shore a few at a time & a number of passengers swam & walked ashore in the shallow waters of the lagoon inside the beach.  It was quite a scene (some of the pictures below were given to us by our tablemate Bob and occurred before we reached the pier).

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     As we stood in line one of the other passengers was telling everybody that they might as well sit in the shade because the tender had been stuck there for 2 hours already & wasn’t likely to move soon.  A number of folks followed his advice, but not 5 minutes later the line began to move.  They were loading another tender to sail past the stranded one and take folks on shore back to the ship.  We made it onto that tender & arrived back safely (applause when we got through the channel in the reef).  Eventually, after lightening the tender by a couple of tons of passengers, it was towed off the reef & was back on board when we sailed, somewhat the worse for wear.  The Captain went to the scene to give encouragement & was heard to mutter “I’m never bringing the ship here again.”  We found out later that two of our other tablemates, Bill and Robert, had been on the stranded tender & Robert needed 3 stitches in his finger after cutting it on the coral while walking into shore.  Everyone was given unlimited wine at dinner the next night as compensation & those who were on the stricken tender were each given 3 bottles of wine & $250.  I told Robert that the headline on his Facebook post of the incident should read, “Shipwrecked on a coral reef in the Pacific Ocean.”

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A few days later we were walking past the stricken tender & noticed the damage the reef had done to the temder’s hull and propeller.  As I write, they have had it out on the dock in two ports for repairs & have been sanding & painting while it hangs in its usual place above the deck where we walk.  If the coral can do this much damage to fiberglass & metal, imagine what it can do to your feet if you don’t have them covered.

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     And so, after an eventful if not entirely fulfilling day, we headed out to sea toward New Zealand, our last Pacific islands.

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Opunohu Bay, Moorea

     We stayed in Tahiti overnight and sailed for Moorea at 5:00 AM, arriving in beautiful Opunohu Bay by 8:00.  We had been scheduled to anchor in Cook Bay but the pier there was under renovation so we were switched here (Cook Bay is on the right & Opunohu on the left in the map of this heart shaped island below). 

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Someone told us that Cook Bay is more scenic, but I really can’t imagine anyplace more scenic than this (picture taken when we were leaving Opunohu Bay in the evening, since the ship was already anchored when we emerged from our cabin in the morning).  By the way, despite the name Captain Cook never anchored in Cook’s Bay; he anchored in Opunohu Bay like we did.  Go figure.  For those who haven’t guessed yet, this was the spot pictured in the teaser in our first small posting.

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      Moorea is said to be the inspiration for Bali Hai, the mysterious nearby island created by James Michener in his book Tales Of The South Pacific, the basis for the musical South Pacific. Michener actually was stationed in what is now Vanuatu during World War II & that is what he wrote about, but the view of Moorea from Tahiti shown in the previous episode of this blog sure is reminiscent of what it looked like in the movie.

     This is a sparsely populated island (about 16,000 people) lacking good roads into the mountains beyond the coast.  So to get into the interior we took an excursion in open 4×4 trucks, which turned out to be an excellent choice, especially because it turned out we would be traveling with 3 of our 5 tablemates.  We tendered to a pier that is actually outside the bay, on the right in the picture above.  We were welcomed by the usual musical group in native dress.  Boarding our vehicles we drove first to a pineapple plantation.  The pineapples are grown on a hillside and are used primarily for juice.  Each plant can grow 3 pineapples, one at a time, before the fruit becomes too small to use.  Then all the plants are replaced.  Planting these prickly plants on these steep hills must be a difficult job.

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     Next we went to a plateau surrounded by mountains (I think its called Opunohu Valley) which is what remains of the crater of the volcano that created the island about a million years ago.  All of the islands we visited are volcanic, which means that the visible island is only the tippy-top of a gigantic mountain reaching all the way to the ocean floor.  Anyway, this is a gorgeous valley with pointy mountains and one (Monaputo) with a hole through its top.  I mentioned before that South Pacific was filmed in Hawaii, but one of these mountains was used to represent Bali Hai on the movie poster (I don’t know whether it is the original or the remake).  One movie that was filmed here, in this valley and apparently in Opunohu Bay, is the 1984 remake of Mutiny on the Bounty.

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     When Lee (in the last picture above) bent way over to squeeze out the back of the truck at our first stop, our driver Ari asked if he was having trouble.  When Lee stepped down & stood up Ari looked up & said “Whoa, I’m short!”  We left the volcanic valley and drove (over some pretty bumpy & uneven roads, all day) to Belvedere lookout.  This is located on top of a mountain between the two bays (Cook & Opunohu), with Mount Rotui between them.  It’s quite a sight.

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     We drove halfway down the mountain and stopped at an archaeological site called Marae Afareaito.  We saw a reconstructed marae yesterday in Tahiti but this is the real thing, some 500 years old.  At one end is a platform for religious activities (men only, of course) & there were several flat stones stuck upright in the ground, looking a little like tombstones, that were used as backrests for chiefs during the proceedings there.  Nearby were a couple of smaller platform that were used for archery contests.  While there Pierre showed us some nuts (can’t remember the name) that were shelled & strung together on sticks, then lit & used for candles.  When burned all the way down the leave a very black ash which the Polynesians used for tattooing.  Note that the marae is made of stones fitted tightly together, without any mortar or cement.

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    We continued on to a botanical garden that had a nice view of the ship in the bay.  I think it was called Jardin Kellum.  We saw a variety of fruits, trees & flowers here; we were told the names but most have been forgotten (if you know, feel free to say so in a comment).  There was also a greenhouse of vanilla vines, looking very much like green beans.  Vanilla is an important crop in these islands & they claim it is the best in the world.  We were given a plate with small amounts of each fruit to taste & they were all good.  There was also a stream with a fountain that looked suspiciously like a fertility totem.

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     Last, but far from least, we drove up an uneven, narrow, windy road with no guardrail between the car & the steep dropoff, to reach Magic Mountain.  When we got to the end of the road we had to climb up a very steep & narrow cement path to reach the viewpoint at the top.  But it was well worth it, with views of the bay on the right & the coastline & lagoon where the tender docked on the left.  In the distance were a group of over-the-water huts, which are really very pricey hotels with glass floors to watch the fish.  They are generally associated with Bora Bora, but were in evidence on Moorea as well.

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   The excursion over, we returned to Papetoai, where the tender pier was located.  Here there is an octagonal Protestant church, called the Papetoai Temple.  First built in 1822 on the site of a destroyed marae, this is the oldest European building in Polynesia.  It was closed (this was a Sunday), but we were able to see through the glass door.  Behind was an unusual bell tower that looked like a ladder.  An open air building had been erected near the pier for craftspeople & pearl merchants.  We did some business there & returned to the ship.

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     It was a beautiful sunny afternoon as we sailed away & the bay & island looked stunning.  We passed the reef on our way out, protecting the lagoon from the heavy surf.  And later that evening there was a dramatic South Pacific sunset to cap a very good day.

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Papeete, Tahiti

     We docked in Papeete on the morning of January 23.  Polynesians pronounce each vowel separately, so the name of this city is pronounced Pah-pay-et’-tay.  Papeete was founded by Christian missionaries from the London Missionary Society in the early 1800’s. Tahiti is the biggest island in French Polynesia & Papeete is by far the biggest town with a population of some 80,000.  In stark contrast to the other islands we have visited this has the feel of a city, with lots of traffic & bustle & modern buildings crowded together.  Papeete is the administrative capital of French Polynesia, which is considered an overseas department of France.  The population of the islands are French citizens, represented in the French Assembly, & have the right to vote in French presidential elections (although with a total population of a little more than a quarter of a million, including children & other non-voters, they probably don’t have much impact on the outcome).

     We spent the morning on an excursion to the west side of Tahiti, mostly for an opportunity to get out of the city and see some of the island.  As we alighted from the ship there was a local singing group in colorful traditional garb to greet us.

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     Our first stop was a site with a marae and several stone tikis.  As mentioned earlier, a marae is a stone platform used by the ancient Polynesians for religious and community gatherings (men only).  We were told that most maraes in the coastal areas were destroyed by the Christian missionaries, so that now ancient ones are only found in the mountains where the missionaries didn’t go.  This one is a (supposedly) exact copy of an ancient marae that is in the mountains and no longer accessible because the road was destroyed.  It was built in 1954 & is flanked by copies of two ancient tikis (stone religious statues). Maraes are built of stones fitted precisely on top of each other without mortar or cement.  17a. Papeete, Tahiti26. Papeete, Tahiti6. Papeete, Tahiti

     This spot was also a lush tropical forest.  We saw our first breadfruit tree here.  Breadfruit is a versatile product used to make several different kinds of food.  Captain Bligh’s mission when he brought the Bounty here on its ill-fated voyage was to collect several thousand breadfruit seedlings to transport to the Caribbean, where it was thought they could more efficiently provide sustenance for the slaves there.  He collected the seedlings but, of course, never made it to the Caribbean because most of his crew famously mutinied and set him and a few loyalists adrift in an open boat.  Instead of dying, as expected, Bligh navigated the boat to safety in Indonesia in one of the great epic sea journeys.  The mutineers kidnapped some Tahitians and ended up settling on remote Pitcairn Island, where most of them died a few years later at the hands of their Tahitian slaves. 

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     We drove on to a botanical garden.  As you can imagine, it was replete with beautiful flora.  There was also a tattoo parlor here.  Tattooing originated in the South Pacific, where people were covered with tattoos from head to foot; in some places this was just about all they wore.  It was adopted by sailors on the first ships of exploration.  But the Christian missionaries banned tattooing & required everybody to wear Victorian style clothing.

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     Our next stop was at the restaurant of the Gauguin Museum.  The museum contains only copies of his works & its closed anyhow (for some time if not permanently).  But the grounds are quite nice.  At the restaurant we were treated to a drink so Rick had a Hinano, the ubiquitous locally made beer (quite good).  Tahiti is actually two islands: Tahiti Nui is the big one where we were & Tahiti Iti is a very small island attached by a small strip of land.  From the museum grounds was a nice view of Tahiti iti across the water.  We also encountered an energetic little bird who didn’t want his picture taken.

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     The last stop on our excursion was the Museum of Tahiti & Her Islands, but before that we should say that although it was quite difficult to take usable pictures from the moving bus, the landscape throughout the drive was quite excellent, with mountains on the inside & shoreline on the outside as we drove along the coast road.

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     The Museum of Tahiti is a small museum with a lot of archaeological artifacts.  Our guide Maeva, explained many of these exhibits for us and there were also a number of informative maps and geological displays.  Most notable here (and sufficiently lighted for photography) was a collection of ancient Tikis. 

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Outside were more beautiful gardens and a surf laden seashore.  Across the water was a stunning view of the neighboring island of Moorea where we would be stopping the next day.

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     We drove back to the pier listening to Maeva’s fairly interesting life story and her less interesting religious views.  Our first stop in town was the Marche, a two story market building.  We had been disappointed to be told that the market would close by 1:00 PM, which is when we returned from our excursion.  But one of our more experienced tablemates, Bob, told us that the upstairs where the pearl and handicraft shops are located would stay open longer.  Sure enough, the colorful produce market on the first floor was closing when we arrived, but the upstairs shops were open until 5:00.  We spent some time there, particularly looking at the beautiful Polynesian black pearls cultivated in this area, which really come in a variety of colors despite their name.  These pearls are big business in this area.  Then we set out to walk to the library.  This took us through a long park along the waterfront that we understand was completed only recently.  Near the beginning was an interesting two headed stone sculpture acting as a support for a tree limb. In the park we saw many flowers & trees, of course, and a monument to the achievement of Polynesian autonomy (but not independence).

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     The library was an anti-climax.  It was the library for adults (we hope there is also one for children) & is a part of a much larger cultural center.  There was no interesting sign or entrance, and it was closed.  But we took a couple of pictures anyway.

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     Walking back, we stopped at two churches whose insides are supposed to be interesting.  But (par for the course this day) both were closed so we didn’t get to see the insides.  The pink Eglise Evangelique is the largest protestant church in French Polynesia, supposedly built on the spot where the London Missionary Society first set up shop here in the early 1800’s.  The Catholic Cathedrale de l’immaculee Conception was first completed in 1875, but was extensively renovated more recently. 

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    Near the cathedral was another little bird like the one at the museum, also unsuccessfully  trying to avoid a picture.  Across the street was a fine example of an interesting tree we had seen on our drive.  It is like a palm tree, but its fronds are arrayed in a semicircular row, just like an oriental fan.  Well, it was very hot & humid & we were tiring out, so we returned to the ship after that, foregoing a jaunt to see some other buildings on our list that were probably closed too.

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     That night there was a fantastic Polynesian music & dance performance by a well known Tahitian group.  Our table mate Bob, who had seen them 2 years before, told us that in this performance none of the costumes and none of the dancers were the same.  One can understand why . . . the dances were so energetic that pieces of the grass-like costumes littered the stage by the end, and the energy required to perform them can only be possessed by the very young.  The women’s hips went so fast & so constantly that it seemed like they had a separate power source from the rest of their bodies.  And this went on without a break in the music and dancing for about an hour.  The pictures really do not convey what it was like in reality.  Quite a show; one had to arrive quite early to get a good seat, since there was only one performance. 

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Rangiroa, Tuamotu Archipelago

     Early on January 22 the Amsterdam “shot the hole” into the lagoon of Rangiroa.  Actually, it was a little too early, since we had gotten up early to watch this operation, but the Captain betrayed us by getting there a half hour before he had told us we would arrive.  So we felt the ship rocking while still washing sleep out of our eyes and missed it by about 5 minutes. 

     Rangiroa is an atoll, one of the biggest in the Pacific.  It is a sort of circular line of closely spaced, long & skinny coral islands more than 200 kilometers in circumference.  The center is all water & it is big enough to hold Tahiti inside.  A lagoon is the relatively calm water protected from the ocean turbulence by a reef.  the “hole” is a narrow pass between islands and the one we “shot” has constant surf coming in from the ocean side.  It is full of fish, with a strong current toward the lagoon, and dolphins are often seen playing in a ship’s wake when entering the lagoon.  Indeed, we heard from others that there were dolphins the day we were there.  But we were too late for pictures.

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     Coral atolls are created when a volcanic island erodes away beneath sea level leaving only its surrounding coral reef above ground.  Charles Darwin was the first to realize this & he was berated for this theory for many years (it seems there is always somebody ready to berate Charles Darwin).  Many people of a certain age who hear “atoll” think of Bikini Atoll where the Americans tested nuclear weapons in the 1950’s.  Actually, a couple of atolls at the other end of the Tuamotus were the sites of French nuclear tests well into the 1990’s.   But that’s another story.  The current danger to low-lying islands like this is the rise in ocean level that may result from climate change.  You can see from the picture above that it would not take too many feet of rise in ocean level before this island would sink under the waves.  This is a major concern that was highlighted at the recent climate summit.

     We had been scheduled to anchor on the left side of the “hole” (called the Tiputa Pass) in the 1st picture above and tender to the island that contains Avatoru, the biggest town in Rangiroa.  But it turned out that spot had been given to an Oceana ship doing a world cruise, so we anchored off the island on the right side of the pass and tendered to the village there called Tiputa (which you can see in the 2d picture above).  We thought that was actually better, since there is at least a little village on that side, whereas Avatoru would have been several miles away on the other island.

     So by now you may be thinking:  all right it’s a big ocean with lots of water, but where is the sea life?  Well, in the morning Rick went on a snorkeling trip to an area called “the aquarium,” not because it is enclosed by glass (it isn’t) but because it is teeming with colorful fish.  It is located near what looks like a sandbar called Motu Nuhi Nuhi that is a little way inside the Tiputa Pass.  We went out on a small but covered boat, donned our snorkeling gear & climbed down a ladder into the water.  Swimming fins were not provided, ostensibly to protect the coral from damage, but since the coral was on the bottom about 20 feet down there was little danger of that (we were surface snorkeling, not diving).

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     As advertised there were LOTS of colorful fish.  I can’t tell you what their names are, but they were great fun to see and swim with.  They came quite close, completely unafraid, though I never noticed any of them touching me.

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     I could see various kinds of coral on the bottom.  And there were also sharks down there!  They were Black Tipped Sharks (I think that’s the name), which are supposed to be harmless to people.  But still . . . kind of creepy to be in the water with sharks.  I couldn’t get a good picture of one, unfortunately, because they were too far away & I didn’t have enough control of my position without fins, but here’s what evidence I have.

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   We sailed back to the tender pier, where Rick took the tender back to the ship to change clothes.  On the way  a cell phone began ringing & our guide/pilot (whose name I have forgotten) took his phone out of a box on the ceiling of the boat & conversed in French.  He told us it was “mama,” & apparently she wanted to know where he was.  He was very good, helping people into & out of the water & towing a large orange float for those who got tired with no place to stand up.  I swallowed a lot of salt water but had a great time.

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     In early afternoon we tendered back to shore in the little village of Tiputa, the second largest village in Rangiroa with a population somewhere below 1,000.  They probably don’t get many cruise ships coming to their village since most ships seem to go to the other side of the Tiputa Pass.  There were a number of handicraft and drink stands around the dock area and a group of Rangiroans was playing & singing in the shade as you exited the tender.  Their music was very sweet sounding.

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We walked through the village, which really didn’t have many notable buildings.  There was, of course, a church, one of the few buildings notable from the ship.  And we saw the city hall, which had a decoration on the top of its garden walls that looked like a caterpillar.  Later we came across a cemetery, with a lot of flowers on the stone covered graves.  Many of the grave stones had photographs of the people buried there.

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     We walked out to the ocean (not a long walk as the island is quite narrow).  There were sand beaches with a lot of coral and crashing surf.  We were warned not to walk into the water here without sandals or shoes with good soles, because the coral is sharp and hard and can do a lot of damage to your feet.

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        We walked back toward the lagoon.  The atoll is small but quite lush, with lots of palms and other trees.  One tree had fruit that looked like a ball of twine (or maybe worms).  Another was the Noni tree, whose fruit is said to have miraculous healing powers.  Of course, this is a tropical island so there were plenty of beautiful flowers.

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      We walked out along the shore toward the Tiputa pass.  We saw many people swimming, especially local children.  We were given lemonade on the tender pier then returned to the ship. When the ship left we went up on the aft deck to take another shot at seeing the dolphins, but no luck.  However, the shore looked nice in the setting sunlight & we watched the Oceana ship shoot the hole behind us as we sailed away.

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     As we sail off toward the Society Islands we will leave you with (of course) some towel animals.266. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands3. Rangiroa


Taiohae, Nuku Hiva

     After 8 days at sea with nothing to look at but water everyone was glad to finally reach the beautiful island of Nuku Hiva on the morning of January 20.  The sail-in was under gray cloudy skies and it was foggy in the beginning.  The island is quite lush & green & is topped by craggy mountains, so it’s quite a sight.

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     The front deck was opened again for the sail-in, with coffee & Nuku Hiva rolls (same as the Panama rolls) served.  There was also a traditional welcoming ceremony from the Polynesian group that had been on board since Panama, teaching the music, language & dance of the islands.  We had seen them perform previously, in colorful costume.

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     Taiohae is the main port & biggest town on Nuku Hiva & is the capital of the Marquesas Archipelago.  It is the second largest island in French Polynesia, a vast area comparable to the size of Europe but with a small scattered population in what is mostly ocean. Nuku Hiva was settled by Polynesians more than 2000 years ago, and it was explorers from here that discovered & settled Hawaii & Easter Island. The island originally became well known in the West during the 19th century, when it was claimed by several western countries & ended up French in 1842.  During the war of 1812 an American ship captain claimed it for the United States, but when stories made it back about the island women’s (shall we say) extremely welcoming attitude toward the sailors, Congress refused to ratify the claim.  Herman Melville’s book Typee (more on that later), based on his experience as a guest/captive of a tribe of cannibals on Nuku Hiva, contributed further to its notoriety. 

     Back then Nuku Hiva was a lively place with a population of about 80,000 divided into warring tribes.   Ultimately, as with most, if not all, Polynesian islanders, some 90% of the population was wiped out by diseases brought by western sailors (and by some slaves returned to the island by order of the church because they had become Christians).  Today the population of Nuku Hiva is only about 2,600; there are more Marquesans living on Tahiti than on Nuku Hiva.  As we sailed into the harbor the distinctive landscape come more into view.

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     The Amsterdam was anchored in the bay, just beyond the many yachts near the shore.  We were part of a small group that had arranged for an island tour, and we were on the first tender to the port.  There were local drummers and handcraft vendors near the dock, and a nice view across the shorefront of the bay.  We saw a man bathing his horse in the water there.

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     We piled into the van and headed up into the mountains.  Our guide, Jocelyne, spoke English well, with a heavy though understandable French accent.  She moved here from France some 20 years ago when the roads were unpaved and you could count the number of cars on the island on your fingers.  She told us that Nuku Hiva receives about 15 cruise ship visits a year.  Our first stop was on top of a mountain overlooking the bay (Mount Muake?), where we could see our ship anchored among the yachts in a fairly spectacular view.

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     Next we went to the Taipivai valley.  This is where Mellville spent a month after jumping ship from the whaler on which he was a crewman.  He and another deserter fled into the mountains to avoid recapture & ended up with the Tai-Pi tribe (whom he called Typee). They treated him well, nursed him back to health & he even had a girlfriend (called Fayaway in his book).  But they wouldn’t let him leave and, suspecting he might soon be on the menu, he managed to escape (at least that’s how the book portrays it).  This valley became famous all over again in 2002 as the site for a season of the TV show Survivor.  Jocelyn told us that the show’s producers occupied all of the island’s tourist facilities for several months, and the best part of it for Nuku Hiva was that they established cell phone & internet facilities on the island for the first time.  Today the people in this valley cultivate coconut palms.  We stopped on the side of a mountain overlooking the lush valley.

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     We drove on through the mountains to an overlook of the bay where Taipivai valley lets out into the ocean.  While here we also saw a green pigeon, a beautiful bird that is bright green with white head and breast and bright red on its belly.  I couldn’t get a picture while it was flying, but managed one of it sitting in a tree (a bit fuzzy because it was quite a ways down the mountainside & I used a long lens & then enlarged it several times).  Throughout the mountain roads we saw cattle, horses, pigs & lots of chickens, most roaming free but some horses tethered.  Jocelyn told us that the rule with the chickens is: if you can catch one you can eat it. 

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       After viewing this spot we tried to re-enter the van, but the door was stuck.  It turned out that a seatbelt had gotten entwined with the handle; after 10 or 15 minutes someone climbed in through the back & freed the door.  As soon as we all got back into the van the skies opened up & there was a downpour.  It was over by the time we reached our next stop, so luckily we did not get wet.

      Our next stop was overlooking beautiful Hatiheu Bay.  It is distinguished by tall basalt spires & shining white sand beaches.  This was one of the favorite spots of Robert Louis Stevenson, who spent the last part of his life in the South Pacific.  On the way there we passed some very tall waterfalls.

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     We went back down in the valley (possibly Taipivai) and visited a Marae, a sort of platform made of stones that the ancient Polynesians used as temples and meeting places.  This one was reconstructed, possibly on the site of an ancient one, as a venue for the Marquesas Festival.  Held every four years since the 1980’s, the festival is part of an effort to preserve & revive the ancient traditions of the islands.  I don’t know if any of the tikis (carved stone idols) here are old.

141. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands149. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands154. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands146. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands148. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands153. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

Notable here was a huge banyan tree.  We had seen several around the island.  We were told that these trees were planted on the outskirts of each village, and the skulls & bones of people sacrificed (& eaten) were placed inside its many trunks.

145. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     That was the end of our trip through the mountains & we headed back to Taiohae.  So this is a good place to show some the variety of beautiful flora we saw in the mountains.  As usual, we don’t know their names but thought these worth seeing.   Jocelyne told us that Nuku Hiva was pretty much barren when the first people arrived, & all the animals & most of the vegetation (including palm trees) were brought here by settlers & conquerors.

81. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands82. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands88. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands110. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands97. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands89. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands90. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands135. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands132. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands133. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands136. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands98. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands137a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     Jocelyn dropped us off at the cathedral in town.  It is a modern building on the site of earlier churches; the entry gate was part of an earlier one.  It includes stones from all of the Marquesa islands & is notable for the beautiful wood carving, notably in the entrance, the pulpit & the stations of the cross, where religious symbols are adapted with Polynesian faces & occupations.

177. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands160. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands164. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands168a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands162. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands165. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands167. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands166. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands175. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands176. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     We walked along the waterfront to the elaborately carved wood memorial to Herman Mellville & his book Typee . . . the only one of his book that had substantial sales during his lifetime.  It was erected in 1992, the 150th anniversary of Mellville’s stay in the Taipivai valley in 1842.

200b. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands_stitch

     We walked back to the tender dock along the waterfront, most of which was a nice park with stone sculptures.  We saw kids swimming in the surf, a kayaker & the city hall for the Marquesas.

190. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands259. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands260. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands194. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands246. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands256. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands231. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands232. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands239. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     There was additional flora & fauna in town, including several kinds of birds and more beautiful flowers.  And with a selection of those, we will leave you until next time.

192. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands171. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands195. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands186. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands188. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands182. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands196. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands255. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands198. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands251. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands254. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands261. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands245. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands247. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands263. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands228. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands


Taiohae, Nuku Hiva

     After 8 days at sea with nothing to look at but water everyone was glad to finally reach the beautiful island of Nuku Hiva on the morning of January 20.  The sail-in was under gray cloudy skies and it was foggy in the beginning.  The island is quite lush & green & is topped by craggy mountains, so it’s quite a sight.

15a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands_stitch

     The front deck was opened again for the sail-in, with coffee & Nuku Hiva rolls (same as the Panama rolls) served.  There was also a traditional welcoming ceremony from the Polynesian group that had been on board since Panama, teaching the music, language & dance of the islands.  We had seen them perform previously, in colorful costume.

1. At Sea to Polynesia8. At Sea to PolynesiaDSC035043. At Sea to Polynesia5. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands13. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands9. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands8. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands22. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     Taiohae is the main port & biggest town on Nuku Hiva & is the capital of the Marquesas Archipelago.  It is the second largest island in French Polynesia, a vast area comparable to the size of Europe but with a small scattered population in what is mostly ocean. Nuku Hiva was settled by Polynesians more than 2000 years ago, and it was explorers from here that discovered & settled Hawaii & Easter Island. The island originally became well known in the West during the 19th century, when it was claimed by several western countries & ended up French in 1842.  During the war of 1812 an American ship captain claimed it for the United States, but when stories made it back about the island women’s (shall we say) extremely welcoming attitude toward the sailors, Congress refused to ratify the claim.  Herman Melville’s book Typee (more on that later), based on his experience as a guest/captive of a tribe of cannibals on Nuku Hiva, contributed further to its notoriety. 

     Back then Nuku Hiva was a lively place with a population of about 80,000 divided into warring tribes.   Ultimately, as with most, if not all, Polynesian islanders, some 90% of the population was wiped out by diseases brought by western sailors (and by some slaves returned to the island by order of the church because they had become Christians).  Today the population of Nuku Hiva is only about 2,600; there are more Marquesans living on Tahiti than on Nuku Hiva.  As we sailed into the harbor the distinctive landscape come more into view.

24a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands_stitch29. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands30. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands32. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands34. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands38. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     The Amsterdam was anchored in the bay, just beyond the many yachts near the shore.  We were part of a small group that had arranged for an island tour, and we were on the first tender to the port.  There were local drummers and handcraft vendors near the dock, and a nice view across the shorefront of the bay.  We saw a man bathing his horse in the water there.

249. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands40. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands60a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands44a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands_stitch

     We piled into the van and headed up into the mountains.  Our guide, Jocelyne, spoke English well, with a heavy though understandable French accent.  She moved here from France some 20 years ago when the roads were unpaved and you could count the number of cars on the island on your fingers.  She told us that Nuku Hiva receives about 15 cruise ship visits a year.  Our first stop was on top of a mountain overlooking the bay (Mount Muake?), where we could see our ship anchored among the yachts in a fairly spectacular view.

70a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands73b. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands75. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands72. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands80. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands234. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     Next we went to the Taipivai valley.  This is where Mellville spent a month after jumping ship from the whaler on which he was a crewman.  He and another deserter fled into the mountains to avoid recapture & ended up with the Tai-Pi tribe (whom he called Typee). They treated him well, nursed him back to health & he even had a girlfriend (called Fayaway in his book).  But they wouldn’t let him leave and, suspecting he might soon be on the menu, he managed to escape (at least that’s how the book portrays it).  This valley became famous all over again in 2002 as the site for a season of the TV show Survivor.  Jocelyn told us that the show’s producers occupied all of the island’s tourist facilities for several months, and the best part of it for Nuku Hiva was that they established cell phone & internet facilities on the island for the first time.  Today the people in this valley cultivate coconut palms.  We stopped on the side of a mountain overlooking the lush valley.

86. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands101. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands102. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands85. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands93. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands99. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     We drove on through the mountains to an overlook of the bay where Taipivai valley lets out into the ocean.  While here we also saw a green pigeon, a beautiful bird that is bright green with white head and breast and bright red on its belly.  I couldn’t get a picture while it was flying, but managed one of it sitting in a tree (a bit fuzzy because it was quite a ways down the mountainside & I used a long lens & then enlarged it several times).  Throughout the mountain roads we saw cattle, horses, pigs & lots of chickens, most roaming free but some horses tethered.  Jocelyn told us that the rule with the chickens is: if you can catch one you can eat it. 

103. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands105. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands109. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands108. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands127. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands3. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

       After viewing this spot we tried to re-enter the van, but the door was stuck.  It turned out that a seatbelt had gotten entwined with the handle; after 10 or 15 minutes someone climbed in through the back & freed the door.  As soon as we all got back into the van the skies opened up & there was a downpour.  It was over by the time we reached our next stop, so luckily we did not get wet.

      Our next stop was overlooking beautiful Hatiheu Bay.  It is distinguished by tall basalt spires & shining white sand beaches.  This was one of the favorite spots of Robert Louis Stevenson, who spent the last part of his life in the South Pacific.  On the way there we passed some very tall waterfalls.

113. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands138. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands114. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands129. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands131. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands121. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands120. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands126. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     We went back down in the valley (possibly Taipivai) and visited a Marae, a sort of platform made of stones that the ancient Polynesians used as temples and meeting places.  This one was reconstructed, possibly on the site of an ancient one, as a venue for the Marquesas Festival.  Held every four years since the 1980’s, the festival is part of an effort to preserve & revive the ancient traditions of the islands.  I don’t know if any of the tikis (carved stone idols) here are old.

141. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands149. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands154. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands146. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands148. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands153. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

Notable here was a huge banyan tree.  We had seen several around the island.  We were told that these trees were planted on the outskirts of each village, and the skulls & bones of people sacrificed (& eaten) were placed inside its many trunks.

145. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     That was the end of our trip through the mountains & we headed back to Taiohae.  So this is a good place to show some the variety of beautiful flora we saw in the mountains.  As usual, we don’t know their names but thought these worth seeing.   Jocelyne told us that Nuku Hiva was pretty much barren when the first people arrived, & all the animals & most of the vegetation (including palm trees) were brought here by settlers & conquerors.

81. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands82. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands88. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands110. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands97. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands89. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands90. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands135. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands132. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands133. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands136. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands98. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands137a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     Jocelyn dropped us off at the cathedral in town.  It is a modern building on the site of earlier churches; the entry gate was part of an earlier one.  It includes stones from all of the Marquesa islands & is notable for the beautiful wood carving, notably in the entrance, the pulpit & the stations of the cross, where religious symbols are adapted with Polynesian faces & occupations.

177. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands160. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands164. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands168a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands162. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands165. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands167. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands166. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands175. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands176. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     We walked along the waterfront to the elaborately carved wood memorial to Herman Mellville & his book Typee . . . the only one of his book that had substantial sales during his lifetime.  It was erected in 1992, the 150th anniversary of Mellville’s stay in the Taipivai valley in 1842.

200b. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands_stitch

     We walked back to the tender dock along the waterfront, most of which was a nice park with stone sculptures.  We saw kids swimming in the surf, a kayaker & the city hall for the Marquesas.

190. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands259. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands260. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands194. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands246. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands256. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands231. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands232. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands239. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     There was additional flora & fauna in town, including several kinds of birds and more beautiful flowers.  And with a selection of those, we will leave you until next time.

192. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands171. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands195. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands186. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands188. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands182. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands196. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands255. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands198. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands251. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands254. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands261. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands245. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands247. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands263. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands228. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands


Panama City, Panama

     We had to wake up early on Monday, January 11 to catch the 6:45 tender for a 6 person tour of Panama City arranged by a fellow passenger.  After rising so early the day before to catch the entry to the canal it was really hard to get out of bed so early again.  From the ship the city looked impressively large.  Edwin, our delightful guide, told us that most of this has been built in the last 10 or 15 years and we saw quite a lot of continuing construction underway throughout the city.

129b1. Panama Canal_stitch

   We met up with the other two couples on the excursion and caught a mostly empty (most folks were probably still asleep) tender to shore on Flamenco Island, where we had to wait about 40 minutes for our guide to arrive.  Our tender passed a striking rock island bathed in the warm rising sunlight. HAL always sets up a nice tender station at the dock, with mats to step out on & cold lemonade to greet you on your return.  This cruise has special mats with the voyage logo.  The dock was at a yacht harbor with a nice view of the city in the morning light.

0. Panama City, Panama2. Panama City, Panama1. Panama City, Panama

     Our first stop was supposed to be the Ancon Hill, the highest spot in the area featuring interesting wildlife and overlooks of the city and the canal.  Unfortunately, after we drove up there it turned out to be closed that day.  Phooey!  So Edwin filled the time by driving all the way across the city, in brutal traffic, to the ruins of the first settlement here, Panama Viejo.  Built in 1519, this was the first European town on the Pacific coast of the Americas & was a major transit point for gold & silver from Peru & products from Asia.  A sizable town, it was sacked by the British buccaneer Henry Morgan in 1671, after which the town was moved about 10 miles east to what today is the far left of the town as seen from the sea.  We didn’t have time to walk through the ruins, which include a famous bell tower from the original cathedral, but we got one decent picture from the window of the moving car.  Driving across the city was impressive not only for the oppressive traffic, which Edwin told us is normal here, but also for the density of the very tall buildings.  Notable among them is the Revolution Tower (which Edwin called the “twisting tower”),  the Trump Tower with its curved sail-shaped top, and the Hard Rock Hotel.  It seems to us that it would be a conflict of interest for a President of the United States to have such prominent financial interests in other countries.  Edwin also told us that Panama City has a number of ethnic communities, each with its own area of concentration.  He pointed out the Jewish area called Punta Paitilla, which looks like an area of high-rise buildings on the shore. We have read that many of the luxury apartments in these towers are empty & may be serving as money laundering investments.  There are kosher groceries and a synagogue in this area.

3. Panama City, Panama4. Panama City, Panama13. Panama City, Panama6. Panama City, Panama12. Panama City, Panama135a. Panama Canal35. Panama City, Panama

     Our first stop was back at the Miraflores locks.  This time it was us who were in the observation building watching the ships go by.  There was a fashion photo session being conducted on the side of the canal below us & in the distance we had another view of the construction site for the new docks.  We saw a 10 minute movie that was just a promotion for Panama & the canal & then we went through their “museum,” which didn’t take long because there wasn’t much to see (mostly displays and few artifacts).  If going again, we would save the exorbitant $15 per person admission fee ($2 for locals), at least if you have come through these locks already.

18. Panama City, Panama15. Panama City, Panama19. Panama City, Panama23. Panama City, Panama22. Panama City, Panama

     Next we drove to Casco Viejo, the old section of the city that was founded by the survivors of Henry Morgan’s raid.  To get there we drove through a run down area called El Chorrillo, which was badly damaged by the U.S. invasion to capture Noriega when hundreds were killed there. Today it is a dangerous area housing drug gangs. Edwin told us that the local authorities are trying to move the inhabitants out for renovation, but the residents apparently realize that once they move they won’t be invited back so they are resisting this effort.

El Chorrillo26. Panama City, Panama

     Traffic was very bad in the narrow streets of Casco Viejo, and we had to wait in line to enter the parking lot until spots opened when cars left.  We walked up the Paseo Esteban Huertas along the top of a sea wall. Partly covered by a canopy of bougainvillea with Kuna vendor stalls selling molas and other colorful craft items.  The sea wall has very fine views of the city, and we could also see the Amsterdam at anchor and the Bridge of the Americas near Miraflores locks.

28. Panama City, Panama32. Panama City, Panama39. Panama City, Panama34. Panama City, Panama37. Panama City, Panama40. Panama City, Panama31. Panama City, Panama

     At the end of the Paseo is the Plaza de Francia.  It is centered by a memorial to the approximately 20,000 people who died during the unsuccessful French effort to build the canal.  Ferdinand de Lesseps, who had been responsible for building the Suez Canal, led the French effort to build a canal without locks.  The Suez could be build that way because it ran through flat sandy land, but Panama is mountainous so this approach never had a chance.  It ended in scandal as many in France lost a lot of money through fraudulent promotion of the canal company.  Most of the people who died here were killed by Yellow Fever.  The Americans were able to eliminate the Yellow Fever plague by (literally) killing all the mosquitoes in this part of Panama.  Mosquitoes are back, but not the Yellow Fever, as far as we are aware.

    The monument consists of a tall obelisk with a rooster (apparently a symbol of France) on top.  Around its base are busts of some of the leaders of the French canal effort, including de Lesseps.  Also in this square are several small metal sculptures of various kinds of workers and a wall of large doors to what was once a Spanish prison.

41. Panama City, Panama43. Panama City, Panama45. Panama City, Panama44. Panama City, Panama

     We walked around the crowded streets of Casco Viejo.  It is in process of renovation & right now is a mix of dilapidated old buildings, gentrified restored buildings and construction projects involving gutting of the interior of a building while preserving its façade.  Edwin said come back in 10 years and it will be beautiful, which may be true but it will no longer have the feel of an “old town.”

46. Panama City, Panama74. Panama City, Panama53. Panama City, Panama55. Panama City, Panama56. Panama City, Panama52. Panama City, Panama66. Panama City, Panama67. Panama City, Panama73. Panama City, Panama

     We visited several churches, which are often the most interesting buildings in Latin American cities.  The convent of the Compania de Jesus was moved here from its original location in Panama Viejo after Morgan’s raid.  It is known (we are told) for its lengthy flat arch, which extends straight across the church with no capstone.  This was reputedly cited during the debates in the U.S. Senate over whether to build a canal in Panama or Nicaragua, with Panama eventually prevailing in part because of its geological stability as opposed to Nicaragua’s many earthquakes & volcanoes.  The arch collapsed just after the celebration of the centennial of Panama’s independence from Columbia in 2003, but has been restored (using noticeably newer bricks rather than the originals, unfortunately).

47. Panama City, Panama49. Panama City, Panama51. Panama City, Panama48. Panama City, Panama51a. Panama City, Panama

     There is a wonderful story we have read in numerous places about the Iglesia de San Jose, which contains a huge carved altar covered in gold leaf.  It seems that just before Henry Morgan’s raid a clever friar saved this valuable altar by secreting some of its parts in the ocean nearby & painting the rest of it black.  When Morgan asked where the gold was the friar told him the altar was still under construction & asked Morgan for a donation.  An amused Morgan said “This friar is more of a pirate than I am” & ordered that the donation be made.  Thus, the friar’s chutzpah saved the alter, which was moved to the new location in Casco Viejo.  Unfortunately, there is a sign next to the altar that says none of this is true: the altar wasn’t built until the 18th century & it was only covered in gold in the 1920’s.  But it’s a good enough story that it ought to be true, & the altar itself is pretty impressive no matter when it was built.

59. Panama City, Panama57. Panama City, Panama61. Panama City, Panama64. Panama City, Panama65. Panama City, Panama

     We walked to the Plaza de la Independencia, where independence from Spain and later from Columbia was proclaimed.  There we visited the Catedral Metropolitana, with its distinctive façade of brown stone, some brought from Panama Viejo after Morgan’s raid, flanked by white towers.  Its large altar is made from seven types of Italian marble.  Edwin, whose first communion was here, says that it is scheduled for renovation soon and from the looks of the interior it needs it.  From the steps of the cathedral is a nice view of the plaza, with a band shell in the center standing in front of the reconstructed Hotel Central, once the ritziest in Central America.

72. Panama City, Panama68. Panama City, Panama69a. Panama City71. Panama City, Panama

     The Plaza Bolivar is an especially nice square full of greenery & nicely restored buildings.  Particularly noticeable is the Palacio Bolivar, which now houses the Panamanian Foreign Ministry, a reddish colored hotel on the other side of the square, & a lush roof garden on one of the buildings lining the square.  We don’t seem to have a picture of the statue of Simon Bolivar in the center of the plaza, which got its name from a unification conference he called that was held here in 1826 (but which Bolivar did not attend).

82. Panama City, Panama77. Panama City, Panama79. Panama City, Panama

     We returned to the parking lot, passing two imposing buildings that are currently closed for repairs.  The 17th century Iglesias de San Francisco de Asis apparently has been closed for some time & the Teatro Nacional, opened in 1908, was recently closed after part of the ceiling fell during a performance.

75. Panama City, Panama83. Panama City, Panama80. Panama City, Panama81. Panama City, Panama

  We drove back along the causeway to Flamenco Island and the tender port.  The spires of the churches in Casco Viejo could be seen from a long way, an interesting contrast with the modern buildings towering over them from the new city.  On the way we stopped at the colorful new Museum of Bio-diversity,  (I think that’s the title). Opened very recently, this building was designed by American architect Frank Geary (who we were told is married to a Panamanian).  We had seen it before while cruising out of the canal & it certainly stands out against its surroundings.  It was closed the day we were here.

90. Panama City, Panama93. Panama City, Panama92. Panama City, Panama123. Panama Canal

     That’s all from our day in Panama City.  We saw a lot, but also missed a lot that we will have to see on our next visit.  We sailed away in late afternoon, with the islands and Panama city lit by the setting sun.  It will be more than a week before we set foot on land again.

97 Panama City (man made islands)98. Panama City in late afternoon


Panama Canal

     We spent Sunday, January 10, transiting the Panama Canal, a true wonder of 20th century engineering.  We had done this once before, almost exactly 4 years ago during our 2012 South American cruise, which is memorialized in this posting:

https://baderjournal.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/panama-canal-2/

We had to get up early in the morning because we were set to approach the first set of locks at Gatun about 7:30 AM.  The bow of the ship was opened for this transit (it is usually inaccessible to passengers) so we went there to watch.  The crew dispensed coffee there, along with “Panama Rolls,” tasty sweet rolls with a sort of peach filling that we were told derive from a Filipino delicacy.  As we approached the first lock we saw another Holland America ship, the Zuiderdam, already inside the first lock in the other lane to our right.

3. Panama Canal42. Panama Canal32. Panama Canal23. Panama Canal41. Panama Canal10. Panama Canal

   The lock doors are massive.  They swing open from the center & are flush with the side wall when fully open.  A handrail across the top for pedestrians folds down when the doors open.  Like much of the equipment here, they were manufactured in the United States (Pittsburgh) more than 100 years ago.  We were told that 90% of the original equipment is still in use after more than a century!

18. Panama Canal15. Panama Canal19. Panama Canal21. Panama City, Panama90. Panama Canal

     Several kinds of birds flew around the ship as we entered the canal, alighting on posts & taking off again.  We are told that crocodiles also live there and are sometimes sighted from the ships.  The Captain announced a sighting of one just before we entered, but we did not get to see it.

11. Panama Canal8. Panama Canal86. Panama Canal29. Panama Canal

    Along the top of the walls of the locks are railroad tracks for the “mules,” vehicles resembling small railroad engines that have no trouble climbing the steep walls as they rise from one level to the next.  They are attached by cable to the ship, one on each side in front and another pair in back.  The ship powers itself through the lock and the function of the mules is just to assist in keeping the ship aligned in the center without rubbing against the walls.  Not easy, since there is very little leeway between the ship & the wall of the lock.  The current mules are the third generation; we passed one of the first mules preserved on display.

27. Panama Canal37. Panama Canal20. Panama City, Panama44. Panama Canal78. Panama Canal107. Panama Canal

   It takes a long time to get through the three levels of the Gatun locks, so we went to the restaurant for breakfast.  We had a great view through the aft windows of the La Fontaine as we passed out of the Gatun locks & headed into Gatun Lake.

48. Panama Canal

     The old map of the Panama Canal below shows that after traversing the Gatun locks on the left you sail across the large Gatun Lake.  This lake was created by damming the Chagres River, which is now the source of the water pumped into the locks to lift the ships.  When a lock is emptied to receive the next ship the water flows into the sea, so an immense amount of fresh water is needed to keep the locks working 24 hours a day. 

Panama Canal map20. Panama Canal85. Panama Canal

     We spent most of the long sail across the lake sitting on deck chairs.  This is a rain forest & the shores of the lake & the large island in the middle are lush with vegetation.

50. Panama Canal54. Panama Canal59. Panama Canal64. Panama Canal

     After the lake comes the Culebra Cut.  This was the toughest part of the canal to build, since it involved digging through rock hills, which were unstable enough that debris kept collapsing into the channel from the hillsides.  Much of the hillside along the Cut is terraced to help stabilize it & in some places there are braces driven into the walls.  One of the hills was known as the Gold Hill because it was promoted in France in the 19th century during the unsuccessful French attempt to build a canal as containing a very rich source of gold.  A lot of Frenchmen lost their pants investing in this fraudulent promotion, for there wasn’t a trace of gold there.

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     As you approach the Pacific end of the canal there are two bridges and two sets of locks to lower the ship back down to ocean level.  The first bridge is called the Centennial Bridge, which is just before you reach the Pedro Miguel locks.  This bridge is not very old, but we were told that it will have to be torn down & rebuilt because it is too low to accommodate the much larger ships that will begin coming through when the new locks (discussed below) are completed.

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     At the Pedro Miguel locks we saw a container train pass by.  There has been a railway here since long before the canal was built (although it was upgraded during the canal work).  In 1849 the Panama Railway was an important route for adventurers from the eastern United States headed to California for the gold rush.  And many of them died here of disease after they ran out of money and were unable to book passage to California.  Depending on the cargo, some shippers today find it less expensive to unload containers onto the train and reload them onto a ship at the other end than to pay the cost of traversing the canal.  This can go up to almost $500,000 for a ship, payable in advance in cash.  The toll is calculated mostly based on the size of the ship.  The smallest ever was about 35 cents for Richard Halliburton, who swam the canal in 10 days in the 1930’s.

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     Not far from Pedro Miguel is the final set of locks at Miraflores that lowers the ship to the level of the Pacific Ocean.  There is an observatory building here where folks can come and watch the ships pass through the locks.  It has viewing verandas on four levels and, since it was a nice Sunday afternoon when most people were off from work, it was packed with people waving and taking pictures of us as we took pictures of them.  Meanwhile, on the front deck we spotted evidence that there is no age limit for the use of selfie sticks.

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     Just after leaving the locks we got our firsts glimpse of Panama City on the other side of the hills on our left.  In the distance on the right is the construction site of the new locks being built to accommodate larger modern ships that can’t fit through the current locks.  Several ports on the East coast of the United States are enlarging their harbors in anticipation of these larger ships coming from Asia.  The new locks were supposed to be opened for the canal’s 100th birthday in 2014; now they are saying they will open this Spring, but it doesn’t look ready from where we were. On our left we also passed some old army barracks built during American control of what was then known as the Canal Zone, and some people boating along the shore.

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     Just around the bend after Miraflores locks we came to the Bridge of the Americas.  This is part of the Pan American Highway, which extends from Alaska (I think) all the way to Patagonia at the tip of South America.  The canal’s two bridges are now all that connect North and South America, since the canal broke the continuity of the land bridge through Central America.

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    We now had to sail down to the ocean and around some islands to our anchorage for the night off Panama City.  We were told that the islands we sailed around at the mouth of the canal, connected to the mainland by a long causeway, are entirely man-made from debris removed from the canal when it was built.  The causeway, about 3 miles long, was designed to prevent the ocean currents in this area from silting up the mouth of the canal.  The dramatic clouds over Panama City when we arrived soon let loose a downpour, but it was over before sunset lit up the city, a lovely end to a long and interesting day.

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Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

     On the morning of Saturday, January 9, we docked in the harbor of Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.  Costa Rica is a beautiful country which has abolished its military to free up funds for social welfare and education. The Afro-Costa Rican population, most of whom live in or near Puerto Limon, were not considered citizens until the mid 20th century.  This is a fairly ramshackle little town, located in a spot where Christopher Columbus stopped to repair one of his ships in 1502.  Although the town was actually founded in the mid-19th century, we saw signs indicating it dates itself from 1502.  Puerto Limon is Costa Rica’s major port on the Caribbean side and it has a brisk traffic in containers.  Bananas & coffee are the major exports, although it has a reputation as a drug trading center & a very tough and dangerous town.

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     Most travellers come here for eco-tourism, of which Costa Rica is a leader.  We had seen the wildlife & rainforest on a previous visit & we have quite a few excursions scheduled on this trip, so we decided just to walk around town.  It was a hot & sunny day and really there is little here that is of interest for the visitor.  There is a museum that is supposed to be interesting, but it was closed the day we were there.  So we set out to find the public library (for newcomers, we do that a lot).  We found it, a nice looking little green library with painted stone benches & wall murals in the courtyard.  But it was abandoned and locked up behind a wire gate; we hope it has been relocated rather than eliminated.

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   Strolling along the streets, unsuccessfully looking for the museum, we passed shops, houses & the baseball stadium.  We also passed the Post Office, which had an interesting stucco decoration over the doors and windows.

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     The tallest building in town is the modern cathedral, which was clearly visible from the ship.  It has an old and a new bell tower, an attractive wood slat ceiling & colorful stained glass windows.  A very tall Christmas tree (not a real tree) was still standing outside the front façade & colorful flowers lined the street outside.  The modern design indicates that it was rebuilt after the town suffered a severe earthquake in 1991.

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    Last but not least we walked over to the Parque Vargas, not far from the port.  This is a very pleasant small park bordering the sea, with very tall trees including palms, some laden with bright yellow coconuts. We also saw large stone sculptures and a bandstand in the center.  A lot of construction is in progress, so you have to watch your step

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      The wildlife includes interesting birds unafraid of people & some sloths high in the trees.  We never would have seen them, since they look like shadows in the branches to the uninitiated.  But a local guy pointed them out to us – a baby & an adult – and woke one of them up by banging the bottom of the tree with something loud.  They are cute in a homely sort of way.

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    By now we were tired from the heat & humidity so we headed back to the ship.  In the afternoon we sailed away toward Panama & there was a sailaway party on the aft deck.

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     So that’s it for Costa Rica.  All that is left are a couple of towel animals to end this episode.

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At Sea On Amsterdam, Part 2

     In addition to the main shows in the Queen’s Lounge, the Amsterdam has a number of musical groups performing in various bars & lounges.  A 3 man group called “The Neptunes” plays for dancing nightly in the Ocean bar, versatile singer-pianist-saxophonist Debbie Bacon performs nightly at the piano bar in the Rembrandt Lounge and a really talented violin-piano duo called “Adagio” plays in the Explorer’s Lounge.  The Adagios, Hungarians David & Attila, play light classics, show tunes & jazz (they are excellent improvisers).  We have listened to their 45 minute set almost every night before dinner.  The Explorer’s Lounge (there is one on every HAL ship) is a very elegant venue for interesting music.  Update:  On January 14 there was a “Jazz Night” in the Ocean Bar, in which the Neptunes really broke out & showed they were capable of first rate jazz improvisation.  This was a (pleasant) surprise to us since we had heard nothing like that when they were playing for dancing. We listened happily for an hour and a half to the Neptunes playing by themselves and with guests including clarinetist Pete Neighbor, who performed later on stage in the Queen’s Lounge, and David & Attila from Adagio

     The names of these groups are kind of a joke: most, if not all, HAL ships have a “Neptunes” & an “Adagio” duo.  On our first HAL cruise in 2012 we were entertained by the Rosario Strings (a piano-violin trio), but HAL has cut back to a duo instead of a trio on each ship (we are told it was once a quartet) and they are now required to be named “Adagio” on every ship, so that on our second HAL cruise the same pianist & violinist were now called “Adagio.”  This enforced uniformity seems pretty silly to us, but obviously we aren’t making the rules.

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     The Amsterdam has two florists on staff & a refrigerated room to store flowers (which, we are told, doubles as a morgue when necessary . . . as it was one day in the South Pacific).  So the ship is full of flowers all the time.  From orchids on many of the tables in the Lido buffet to elaborate arrangements in most of the public spaces, to a small vase of flowers on the tray when you order room service, you are never far from some lovely flowers.

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     Last but far from least is the food, which has been consistently delicious on this trip.  It has been great from breakfast (wonderful French Toast) to the gourmet dinners every night.  Open seating is available for the first time on a Grand Voyage, but we prefer the regular set seating with the same waiters & the same group of dinner companions every night at 8:00.  Luckily, our group has turned out to be interesting & compatible, as has happened so often before (as some of the folks reading this know from personal experience).  We were told that most passengers have opted for fixed dining.  We are seated on the upper floor of the La Fontaine dining room (again, there is one on every ship), which on this ship has a striking colored glass ceiling.  The pictures below show the La Fontaine decorated for “Black & Silver Ball” night. On gala nights Adagio plays at the top of the staircase during dinner.

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     At lunch and often at breakfast we eat in the Lido buffet restaurant on Deck 8.  We always walk the 5 flights of stairs up to deck 8 to offset some of the (often excessive) calorie intake.  There is a wide variety of food available, from Asian to pizza to pasta to sandwiches & salads, to name a few.  Amsterdam has new coffee machines in the Lido (rectangular rather than round) & the coffee is much improved.  Not Starbucks, but quite a bit better than in the past.  The pizza is also much better than we have seen on other ships in the past.  Hopefully these are fleetwide improvements and not unique to Amsterdam.  Every lunchtime there is a carving station with a different kind of meat each day, & I (Rick) usually make a sandwich from that with a couple of slices of homemade bread.  There is also a sushi bar, with delicious tuna sashimi every day.  Then later in the afternoon we usually stop back for coffee & ice cream or a cookie.  No one ever starves on a cruise ship!

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     There is also an upscale restaurant called The Pinnacle (you guessed it, one on every ship) where you have to pay extra to dine.  Happily, we have achieved sufficient seniority with HAL that we are charged only half price to eat there.  The food in The Pinnacle has always been a step above, and we have made reservations to eat there several times on this cruise.  Update:  Our first visit to the Pinnacle confirmed what is said above.  After consuming our crabcake appetizers, Ceasar salads prepared at the table, steaks (Rick’s a 23 oz Porterhouse) & Chocolate & Grand Marnier Volcano Cake for desert, it felt like we would not have to eat again on this cruise!

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     So, enough about touring the ship, what do we do all day on a sea day?  There are a whole lot of activities on the ship but most don’t really appeal to us (such as trivia contests, lessons in dance, computers or bridge, various competitions).  We spend a lot of time reading (and one of us knitting) in the deck chairs. Although Amsterdam has a pretty good library, we have e-readers so we can carry a library in a pocket all the time.  We also attend some of the lectures & port or excursion presentations (Barbara, the travel guide on Amsterdam, who was also on the Vikings cruise with us, is particularly good). We walk around the deck every day (unless it is raining).  A mile is 3.5 times around the ship & we started at 4 laps a day & are increasing that gradually.  Then we walk up the 5 flights of steps to the Lido for lunch.  We tend to do quite a lot of walking in ports so we need to stay in shape for that (in addition to trying to avoid growing out of our clothes before trip is over). From the deck we have seen a number of interesting birds, sometimes soaring at about the same speed as the ship so they seem to be suspended in air.  One day there was a huge rainbow with a broad spectrum of colors.

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     There are 14 “gala” nights on this cruise (formerly called “formal” nights) when most folks dress up & most men wear jacket & tie and many wear tuxes).  On the first gala night there was a champagne reception in the Queen’s Lounge where Captain Mercer introduced the senior staff (and the employee of the month). Captain Mercer has his own blog, which is unusual because it includes his photos from the bridge of the ship and an explanation of the navigation challenges of each port, complete with charts.

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     Bringing this lengthy post to an end are some of the things we have found in our room after dinner.  Our room stewards Catur & Melpha are quite adept at making towel animals, which will be featured periodically on this blog.  And our travel agents, Cruise Specialists, gave us each a jacket & a tote bag with their special logo for this voyage, which we actually like better than HAL’s, along with a bottle of champaigne.  The next episode will (finally) be our first port.

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