Archive for May, 2018

Auckland, New Zealand

     We arrived in Auckland on the morning of February 2.  Auckland is by far the largest city in New Zealand with about 1.5 million people.  We were docked in the middle of town, so you could walk right out the port gates into the city center.

     The Auckland area was originally settled by the Maori about 700 years ago.  They are Polynesians & came here from such islands as Rarotonga & Samoa.  By the time the English came the Maori occupied pretty much all of New Zealand, which they called Aotearoa (land of the white cloud).  They had a vibrant culture, which in recent years has been embraced & supported by the state, so that (for example) public signs are usually in both Maori & English & the libraries have books in English and Maori.

     On our way to New Zealand there was a Maori cultural group on board Amsterdam, giving classes in language and dance and arts & crafts.  They also put on a show of Maori song & dance.

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     Maori often have elaborate tattoos & many of their dances are aggressive, with much foot stomping & cries.  Well known is the Haka, a Maori war dance that is performed before every game by their world champion rugby team, the All Blacks.  It is characterized by bulging eyes and protruding tongues, which are supposed to be intimidating to the opposition, & I guess they are.

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     The last time we were here we walked to the War Museum, the library & the tower.  You can see all that here:

This time we decided to ride the Hop On Hop Off bus around the city.  So after breakfast we set out to find the bus terminal.  But during breakfast we noticed right next to the ship a large crane, the top of which we couldn’t see from our table.  This turned out to be a pop-up restaurant with a table & diners suspended in the sky from the crane.  Its hard to believe the food was worth the $900 per person cost we heard, so it must be the thrill of eating suspended in the air with you chair over the edge.  New Zealanders are known for this kind of thrill-seeking, but I don’t think it would be for us, even at a much lower price.

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     We found the HOHO bus just down the block from the old Ferry Building, built in 1912, right next to our ship.  The bus took us across town & out to some islands.  Auckland is built on 48 extinct (we hope!) volcanoes.  The large island hill in the distance, Rangitoto Island, is the youngest one, having emerged from the ocean about 600 years ago.  Must have been pretty scary for the Maori living in the area.

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     Coming back into town we drove past the Catholic Holy Trinity Cathedral & St. Mary’s Anglican Church, one of the largest wood churches in the world.

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     We exited the bus at the War Memorial Museum, a wonderful museum in which we spent hours last time.  It was built in 1929 to commemorate the end of World War I & is now undergoing some renovation.

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But this time we only stopped for a short time to transfer to the other HOHO bus line.  This took us to near the top of Mount Eden, the highest spot in the city.  Mt Eden is an extinct volcano and, along with One Tree Hill (now topped by an obelisk rather than a tree), offers the best panoramic views of the city outside of the Auckland Tower.  We climbed to the top & the wind was so strong it felt like we would be blown away.  It made picture taking very difficult.

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From Mt Eden we had a nice view of the War Memorial Museum.  There was a stately Norfolk Pine in the distance. We also saw an interesting black bird with an orange beak and some bushes with what appeared to be glowing thistles at first but upon closer inspection looked like a strange kind of flower.

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     We left the bus in the neighborhood of Parnell, with a lot of restaurants & boutique stores.  We had a delicious pizza for lunch then started walking back to the dock.  On the way we visited the Civic Theater, built in 1929 as an elaborate movie palace, complete with elephant & crocodile motifs.  It even had a Bora Bodur Room, named after an ancient Indonesian Buddhist temple we visited on our last world voyage.  Altogether it was interestingly over-the-top.

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     We walked back to the dock, detouring along the way for some shopping. But the area was in disarray from construction so we didn’t find much.  We stopped in the Ferry building for gelato (our first of the trip!) then back on board.  The sail away was during our dinner, so we didn’t get to see it.  But there are some pictures of our 2016 sail away from Auckland in the episode linked to at the beginning of this post.

Alofi, Niue

    Amsterdam anchored off the coast of the island of Niue early on the morning of January 28.  Never heard of Niue?  Well, you aren’t alone. This is the largest raised coral island in the world and also the world’s smallest sovereign state.  Home to some 1500 people, give or take a hundred, it also boasts the highest percentage of elected representatives: 1 for every 65 people.  There are actually twice as many Niueans living in Australia as on the island itself, and more than 12 times as many living in New Zealand.  That exodus was probably exacerbated by Cyclone Heta, which devastated Niue in 2004 with 150 mph winds and 90 foot waves that cleared the island’s cliffs. Although independent since 1974, the islanders are citizens of New Zealand.

   Many cruise ships miss scheduled stops here because of ocean conditions (no reef to protect the waters around the island). Our friend Bob, who has been on half a dozen HAL world cruises, told us that he had been scheduled to land here four times but had never made it ashore.  But we did . . . two for two in difficult islands!

     There were no shore excursions offered on this tiny island.  In fact, this was a Sunday, which in Polynesia is a very serious matter with everyone attending church and businesses all closed down.  We were told HAL had to negotiate with the islanders even to get permission to come ashore here on a Sunday.  Fortunately, those negotiations succeeded, but still there was little to see or do since transportation was largely unavailable beyond walking down the one main road of Alofi, the nation’s capital and largest town.

   So, after a leisurely breakfast, we tendered ashore. The Captain & his wife came ashore on the same tender.

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     We walked up the winding road in the first picture above and walked to the right.  There we found a church with services in progress.  We had heard much about the beauty of the singing of Polynesian choirs so we walked over to the church.  The singing was indeed nice, in four part harmony, but probably not what it usually is because about a third of the congregation was from the Amsterdam. Several dogs were lying patiently near the front door waiting for their masters to finish the services.  Around the church was an interesting graveyard, with many graves decorated with fresh flowers. One grave stone looked like it had been split by lightning. We actually saw graves in many places in Alofi, some in people’s yards & others near the cliffs that border the water.

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     Behind the church near the cliff was a small area with a tomb in it.  Rick walked out there, but wasn’t aware that this is apparently the resting place of two of Niue’s ancient kings.  It had a fine view of the tender dock & the waves that constantly run in over the rocks nearby.

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     Walking up the road from the church we passed the seat of Niue’s government, a colorful hut built for an art exhibition a few years ago and more nice sea views.  Very little was open, just the tourist information stop, a small shop advertising DVD rentals (we were told it actually had no dvds) & a couple of restaurants.  The tourist information shop had souvenirs and postcards for sale, but not much else was to be had.  We continued up the road.

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     Finally we found the one historic spot in these parts.  In 1774 Captain Cook found this island and tried to come ashore. On the third try they set foot on land.  But although he brought trinkets & gifts he was driven off by spear throwing islanders with what he thought was blood around their mouths but was actually a red plant dye.  He named this “Savage Island,” claimed it for England & sailed away.  No other Europeans attempted to land here for another 80 years, when missionaries finally set up shop.  The place where Cook tried to land is called “Opaahi Landing.”  It was a very steep & slippery climb down from the road to the landing spot, so Mary stopped about halfway & Rick went all the way down to this picturesque spot.

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     While there wasn’t much here in the way of sights, we did see some flora & fauna while walking through the town and its outskirts.

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      One of the more dramatic aspects of Niue is the tall cliffs that line the water.  They appear to have been worn away at the bottom only by waves, which gives them an unusual aspect of hanging out over the water.  Quite beautiful.

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     We tendered back to the ship for the sail away.  We were glad we had a chance to see this remote and not often visited island, but it is not one we would go out of our way to visit again.  Unlike the others we have visited on this cruise, Niue lacks mountains or other distinguishing geographic features and the view as we sailed away was flat & uninteresting.

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Avatiu, Rarotonga

     On January 26 we were scheduled to stop in Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands.  These islands are “associated” with New Zealand, which means they use NZ currency & New Zealand handles their foreign affairs, but internally they are self-governing.  In 2016 we visited here, but one of the tenders was shipwrecked on a coral reef, resulting in some injuries & expense to Holland America, including the Captain having to go to the Netherlands for an inquiry.  You can read all about that incident (and our visit to Rarotonga) here:

As a result of all this, it was quite clear that the Captain would not send in the tenders unless conditions were quite reliable.  During our sea day there were some sizeable ocean swells, so it didn’t look good for a visit.  Ships often miss this port because of sea conditions (there is no reef creating a calm water space around the island, as there is in Moorea & Bora Bora); most recently just a few days before we arrived. The Cook Island newspaper had an article (edited by me) anticipating our arrival:


 Cruise ship to call, weather permitting

With the scheduled arrival of the cruise ship MS Amsterdam this morning, local tourism operators are praying for a good weather so passengers from the cruise ship are able to come onshore.

The cruise ship which belongs to Holland America Line, an American/British owned cruise line originating in the Netherlands, will stay in Rarotonga for a day, leaving later in the afternoon.

It is expected to be off Avatiu harbour at around 7am.

Turama Pacific Travel’s Nina Webb said 340 passengers were booked for various tours during the day.

Webb said they were hoping for a better weather to allow the local tourism operators to maximise on MS Amsterdam’s Rarotonga tour.

On Friday last week, some tourism operators suffered a loss of business after efforts to get passengers onshore from the cruise ship Viking Sun proved futile. The cruise ship, with 930 passengers aboard, arrived on early Friday and was to call at Avatiu, but high swells made it difficult to get passengers onboard the cruise tender.

The ship was then directed to the Arorangi jetty where the sea was much calmer, but the passage through the reef proved too narrow for the tender to get through safely.

“We hope the weather is good enough to allow passengers from the Amsterdam to come onshore and enjoy what Rarotonga has on offer for them.”

Fourteen different ships will visit six of this country’s islands in 24 separate voyages, this year.


     We arrived off the coast at Avatiu early in the morning.  To make a long story short(er), the Captain maneuvered the ship around to protect as much as possible from ocean swells, then after lengthy consideration they lowered the tenders & tender platform.  So we were going in (yay!).

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     We were on a HAL excursion so we were sent into the first tender.  As luck would have it, this was the same tender that had been shipwrecked in 2016.  Our friends Bill & Robert, who had been on the tender for the incident in 2016, were on the same excursion.  From the look on Robert’s face we weren’t sure he would board the tender, but he did in the end.  Boarding the tender was unusually treacherous, since it was going up & down several feet in the waves, and also drifting several feet away from the platform then smacking back against the platform again.  So the crew helping people board were repeatedly yelling “hold on” as we hit the platform.  It took a while, but everyone boarded & we sailed for the harbor.  We noticed that while loading the next tender they had a second one acting like a tug, pushing the tender against the platform so it couldn’t drift away & back.

     Because of the treacherous conditions the Captain had restricted tender access to those who could walk on their own, or with easily portable assistance (like a cane).  We were told that one fellow wheeled his wife to the tender bay in a wheelchair and loudly demanded that she be admitted to a tender. With fully mobile people finding it so difficult to board the tender there was no way a wheelchair could have done so safely.  Reportedly, he actually said (this is kind of a running joke on board) that he had paid a lot for this cruise (who hadn’t ?) & resented being denied access to this island. He was properly told to take it up with the Captain.  You see a whole lot of strange behavior on a cruise ship; if you have a relaxed attitude this is one of the more entertaining aspects of life on board.

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     We boarded open trucks for a trip around the island and into the mountains.  Unfortunately, three people hadn’t made it on time for the first tender, so we didn’t leave for about half an hour as we waited for them to arrive on the unusually slow tender service today.  This had consequences for everyone on the tour later; we would have left them since it was their own fault they didn’t get themselves to the meeting point for the first tender on time. But lucky for them it wasn’t up to us.  Finally, we all boarded the back of the trucks & drove through some rough landscape to reach a high viewing point.

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     Before we get to the tour, however, we wanted to mention one of the musicians on board.  Hyperion Knight is a Julliard trained pianist from California.  He put on three shows during his stay, including some truly virtuoso piano performances and some entertaining music history.  But on most days he also performed informally in the Explorers’ Lounge.  He called it practice, but he took audience requests & interacted with his listeners. Very unusual and a nice bonus.

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     Getting back to our story, we drove through some very rough & steep terrain to a viewing point in the mountains.  At one point on a very steep climb the back door of the truck flew open & a step stool fell out on the road.  Fortunately the passengers at the end were able to hold on and stay in the truck, because the driver wasn’t stopping for anything; if he had stopped he probably would not have had the momentum to make it to the top.  At the top he stopped, then walked down the hill & retrieved the step stool. The viewing point was worth the drive & gave the closest view  available of “the Needle,” a rock formation near the top of the tallest mountain.

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     We drove down from the mountain, the highest point vehicles can reach, to the only waterfall on the island.  Called “Papua Vai Rere,” we were told that this was where women came to bathe in the old days.  Men were not allowed.  On the way we passed a goat & a bust of what looked like a Roman sitting on a pillar, weirdly placed in the middle of the jungle.  Go figure.

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     After a long drive across the island, passing the hospital (why?), the jail & the airport, etc., we visited a large & beautiful beach with water so clear you could see the fish swimming under the surface.

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     We went to see an ancient marae, a sort of platform that was sacred to ancient Polynesians on all of these islands.  This one, called Arai-Te-Tonga, was the site of the royal court of the Makea tribe, built shortly after they first settled Rarotonga round 1350 AD.  These sites are still considered tapu (taboo).

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    Because of our late start, they skipped the site we most wanted to see: the place where the sea canoes left to settle New Zealand.  It was on the tour program & even announced at the beginning of the tour, but in the end they drove us back to town from the marae.  We were not happy campers!

     Back in town, we set out on foot.  Our primary objectives were the local libraries.  We found the town’s public library first, but it was closing so we only had a minute inside.  It is quite small & unassuming with very few bookshelves.  But it has a colorful mural on one outside wall.

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     We walked on to find the National Library.  It wasn’t far away but was tricky to locate. It is in a much larger cultural center complex, amid lush greenery.  It is bigger than the local public library, but not much.

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Near the libraries was a lovely small “Peace Garden.”  There was also a church with a cemetery & a tsunami warning instructing you to seek higher ground if there is an earthquake. We walked by the University of the South Pacific, which we think may have been the first university in Polynesia.  There were a lot of trees near the church with huge trunks & roots but very delicate leaves.

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     Rarotonga is a very lush island, so there are a lot of beautiful flowers all over.  Here are some.

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     We also saw some distinctive Polynesian stone sculptures.

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     After walking through town & visiting some shops we headed back toward the tender dock.  On the way we passed a building with an interesting wall painting and a “fish tree.”  Unique to the Cook Islands, a fish tree is used for fishermen to display their catch for sale. The fishermen sew their catch together in what is called a “tui,” then hang it from the tree.  This large tree has been used for this purpose for many years.

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      At the dock we passed a water playground ($20 per hour), then boarded the tender for the much easier ride back to the ship.

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      So that was all, after a very full day on Rarotonga, an island we didn’t expect even to be able to visit when we arrived this morning.  We sailed away toward another island that is often missed by cruise ships because of iffy ocean conditions.  Would we get lucky twice in a row?  Tune in next time to find out.

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Viatape, Bora Bora

     This was our first visit to Bora Bora, an island Rick has wanted to visit since he read James Michener’s Hawaii when he was in high school.  So he was out on deck early on January 14 for the sail in.  Curiously, not many passengers were out this morning for what turned out to be a pretty spectacular approach with the sun rising behind the big mountain that dominates the island.

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    I’m sure I am not the first to notice this, but this huge island mountain made me think of Bali Hai in the movie South Pacific. Which is not far fetched since Michener spent time on this island while in the Navy during World War II before writing the book on which the musical & movie were based.  But Bali Hai is undoubtedly an amalgam, since the view of Moorea from Tahiti is also reminiscent of the movie.  Our friend Peggy was on deck for the sail in too, and a nice fellow passenger offered to take our picture, undoubtedly under the impression we were a couple.

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     We anchored surprisingly close to shore & could see the town of Vaitape clearly from the ship.  We could hardly wait to get there, it looked like such a beautiful spot. On an island across the water from the town was an abandoned resort that looked like it might once have been quite a nice place to stay.

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    Our plan was to explore the town during the morning, then we had an open truck tour of the island scheduled for 2:00.  So after breakfast we took the short tender ride into town, where we were greeted by a musical group.

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     The town as a whole was a real disappointment.  It was small & crowded with commercial buildings.  The traffic was unrelenting on the one road in the town & there was a very touristy commercial vibe, nothing like what the island looked like from the water.  Of course, the touristy vibe was emphasized by the hundreds of tourists who poured into this tiny town, constituting the majority of people on the street.

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     There were two interesting churches in town.  One was pink with a red roof & steeple, which looked nice in front of the green mountain.  We aren’t sure what denomination it is, but the other one may be Catholic since it had stations of the cross inside.  The second church was less attractive from the outside, but inside was a large window with stained glass around the sides, painted images in the middle & a number of clear glass panes that allowed a view of the mountain behind.  Very interesting.

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     We wandered up the street & back, perusing shops & art galleries but finding nothing we wanted to purchase.  We went back to the ship for lunch, then tendered back to the pier in time for our 2:00 excursion.  There were eight folks in the truck for this outing.  The roads on this island were built by the U.S. Navy, which maintained a supply base here during World War II.  We found that many of them go straight up a mountain, no switchbacks or zig-zags, so we had to hold on tight to avoid sliding into the next person’s lap.  But it was fun.

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     While some of the travelling was a little rough, the lookout spots on the mountains were well worth it.  Bora Bora has a particularly wide lagoon inside its reef & our guide told us there are 14 colors of blue in the water here.  While we didn’t count them, we believe it because we saw a lot of shades of blue on our short visit.

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     During World War II the US Navy had an important supply operation on Bora Bora.  To protect the island several large cannons were put in place on the mountainsides.  There was never any actual fighting here, however, so the guns were not used.  But they are still there and we visited one of them.

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    At the gun site were several reddish flowers lying on the ground, having fallen off a tree.  We were told that these were a type of Hibiscus.  The flower lasts only one day: it opens yellow in the morning, turns bright red in early afternoon, then turns dark red & falls off before evening.  It sounds kind of sad, really.  We saw a lot of other nice flowers on this lush island, so there are some more pictured below.

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     We stopped at a beach & also drove by several of the expensive resort hotels with glass bottom bungalows over the water.

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     We stopped at a place where they were making pareos, decorated Polynesian cloth that can be folded to wear as a skirt, dress, shawl, etc.  Many are printed in bright designs, but the more interesting ones are sort of tie-dyed, then left in the sun with decorative linoleum cutouts on top.  The exposed dye is activated by the sun in a way the covered dye is not, giving the design (often including the name of the island) a varied & colorful design.  Pareos are everywhere in Polynesian shops.

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     We returned to the dock & tendered back to the ship.  Here are a couple of miscellaneous pictures that didn’t fit anywhere else.

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     In 2016 we had a number of cook-outs on the lido deck, which were fun.  But last year the health inspectors nixed that for some reason, so now they have “cook-ins” in the lido buffet and you can take the food out on the deck to eat.  This isn’t nearly as much fun.  But tonight there was a Polynesian cook-in at the Lido, complete with suckling pig & drinks sipped out of coconuts.  We ate in the dining room.

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     Sunset was behind an island, but Bora Bora itself was bathed in sunlight.

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     We sailed away from Bora Bora looking forward to a relaxing sea day (finally after 4 consecutive ports).  The sky was clear, the moon was bright & of course there was a towel animal at bedtime.

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Opanuhu Bay, Moorea

     We left Tahiti around 5:00 AM for the short sail to Moorea, approaching the island shortly after sunrise.  Moorea has two large bays parallel to each other: Cook’s Bay & Opanuhu Bay.   We had been told, right up to bedtime the night before that we would be anchored in Cook Bay this time but as we emerged on deck for the sail in we discovered it was Opanuhu Bay, the same as last time.  It is an amazingly beautiful spot, but we (and others) had been hoping for something new.  1a. Opanuhu Bay, Moorea_stitch

    In 2016 we enjoyed a 4X4 excursion through the mountains & pineapple groves of Moorea, and you can see that here:

So this time we decided to take it easy by tendering ashore and hiking down the road toward the bay.  So, after breakfast in the dining room we boarded a tender to go ashore.  We sat by the rear windows during breakfast where a crew member was hanging on a rope outside washing the windows.  We were glad to be on the inside.

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     We walked out of the little village at the tender port, which seems to be named Papetoa, then turned left toward the bay.  They have recently upgraded the road so that it is paved & fairly smooth going.  It was a very nice day & there was a lot of great scenery every way you turned . . . mountains, palm trees, etc.

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     We passed bananas, breadfruit, mangoes & coconuts growing on trees.  There was also a fruit stand in front of someone’s driveway, but no one was manning it.  Maybe it’s an honor system.

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     As we neared the bay we had views of the ship and of the pointed peak in the middle of the bay shore.

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     We saw a lot of flowers along the road to the bay.  Here are a few of them.

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     We were walking along the road on our way back to the port when suddenly a horse stepped out of the brush right in front of us.  She wasn’t the least bit afraid, and a moment later her two foals followed her out.  They grazed by the road as we continued on.  We also passed a goat, working hard at keeping the grass short in someone’s yard.  A bird hopped up on the goat’s back, but the goat didn’t seem to notice.  We also walked past the local school before reaching the tender port.

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     In Papetoa (if that is the right name for the tender port village) is a small octagonal church with a bright orange roof.  We were hoping to go inside this time (it was locked in 2016), but no dice.  We were told that this was the first church in Polynesia, originally built in the first half of the 19th century.  We saw a tile mural that centered on this church.  There was a market set up at the pier, about the best place we have seen to buy nice black diamond jewelry, as well as tee shirts & other items.

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     Waiting on deck for the sailaway, we saw a number of outrigger canoes in the water near the ship.  There was also a resort hotel nearby with cabanas over the water.  These are available for visits (for a whole lot of money) on several of the Polynesian islands we visited.

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     We sailed away well before sunset.  As we did so we saw another ship, a small Europa vessel, sailing out of Cook’s Bay.  Apparently they were given the port position there that Amsterdam had anticipated using.  Moorea is probably the most beautiful island we have seen, lush green craggy mountains & a calm blue lagoon surrounded by a reef where the surf breaks.  As we sailed away in the evening we appreciated the view once again.

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     It was too early for a real sunset, but the sun did dip dramatically behind some clouds.  And after dinner a towel animal was waiting for us as we hit the sack to prepare for an early morning arrival at Bora Bora, the last of our four consecutive port days.

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Papeete, Tahiti

      At about 8:00 Am on January 22, we docked (yes docked!) in Papeete, Tahiti, the second of four consecutive shore days, the only such stretch on this voyage. Last time we were here we took an excursion along the west side of the island, which is documented here:

So this time we had a morning excursion along the north coast to Venus Point, where Captain Cook observed the passage of Venus across the Sun in 1769 as part of a worldwide effort to measure the distance to the Sun. Upon leaving the ship we were greeted by local singers & dancers in costume.

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     Driving north we passed the crown peak, which actually looks like a giant crown among the mountains.  Then our first stop, the house of American author James Norman Hall.  So, who is that, you may ask (we did).  It turns out he was a flyer in the Lafayette Escadrille in World War I, then co-author of the Bounty trilogy, upon which the Mutiny on the Bounty films were based.  He was, therefore, partly responsible for the maligning of the reputation of Captain Bligh that is still with us.  Bligh (who had been Cook’s navigator on his final voyage) came to Tahiti on a mission to collect breadfruit seedlings for transplanting in the Antilles, where it was thought to be a perfect source of food for slaves.  His ship was here for months & many of his seamen became enthralled with the beauty of the island and, probably more importantly, its friendly women.  Bligh did not treat his men any worse than other sea captains of the time, and better than many, but Fletcher Christian considered himself to be a gentleman who was above the normal treatment of ship officers. He was popular among the seamen & his growing animosity toward Bligh culminated in the mutiny.  The mutineers set Bligh & a couple of dozen others afloat in an open boat & returned to Tahiti, where they split up, some staying in Tahiti with their new wives & the rest sailing with Tahitian girlfriends & slaves to Pitcairn island.  Meanwhile, Bligh brought all but one of his open boat contingent safely to what is now Indonesia, some six thousand miles away, now considered one of the great feats of navigation history.  The mutineers on Tahiti were later rounded up by the British & most ultimately executed, while most of those on Pitcairn did not survive a slave uprising there.  Bligh completed his breadfruit mission on a second voyage and went on to become governor of Australia.

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     We drove on to Venus Point.  The only lighthouse on Tahiti is situated here, built in 1867.  It was reputedly designed by the father of Robert Louis Stevenson, a notable lighthouse builder (we saw one of his in Shetland in 2014). A plaque commemorates Stevenson’s statement upon visiting it in 1888 that he was moved because he worked in his father’s office the year it was designed.  We have read elsewhere that it really wasn’t designed by Stevenson the elder, but his son would probably have known.

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   There are two monuments at Venus Point. The first is to commemorate Cook’s viewing of the transit of Venus.  Our guide told us the spot was picked because of a piece of coral with a ridge cut into it that the finders thought was left to mark the spot, but he said it really wasn’t.  The second monument was erected recently to commemorate the Bounty mutineers, built apparently by some of their descendants.

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     Today Venus Point is a very pretty park.  To its left is Matavai Bay, where Cook anchored in 1769 & the Bounty anchored for several months in 1788.  The beach is black sand, which gets extremely hot in the sun . . . never walk on it barefoot!  Part of the Marlon Brando version of Mutiny on the Bounty was filmed here, as the ships sailed into the bay.  But the coming ashore scenes were filmed at another island because the director wanted a white sand beach; he though American audiences would never accept the real thing.

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     Our last stop before returning to town was at a lookout point on top of a hill overlooking Matavai Bay.  We don’t know its current name, but Cook’s men called it “One Tree Hill.”  We can imagine why, but today it is covered by trees.  There is a huge rubber tree at the top that has been cut back several times.  It looks like it could have been there when Cook visited, but our guide told us it is only about 40 years old.  Apparently the grow really fast.

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     Back in Papeete we first walked to the Catholic Cathedral.  Papeete is a modern city with busy streets & lots of nondescript commercial buildings.  One distinctive thing here is the paintings and/or graffiti on the walls of many buildings.  Some are quite impressive.

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     We visited the Catholic Cathedral in 2016, but it was closed.  This time it was open to worshippers & visitors so we were able to see its interior & stained glass windows.  The windows have Tahiti influenced images, such as breadfruit trees, canoe paddlers, and local musical instruments.  Papeete means basket of water, & one of the windows included this image.

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     We visited the Marche, a large two story market building.  The first floor is mostly produce, with some other products like straw hats.  The second floor has a bar & higher end jewelry & textile stores.  There was a group singing & playing on the first floor as well today.

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     In recent years Papeete has turned its waterfront into a very long & beautiful park, full of trees & flowers.  We decided to walk all the way down to the end, where sits the public library.  In 2016 the library was closed, so we were hoping to see the inside today.

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     They have built sort of an aquarium in the water along one part of the park.  The fish are under netting & there are signs not to touch or feed the fish.  They are not easy to see, but its an interesting concept to have this right there in the salt water.

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     Since we are in the park, this is a good place to show you some of the many beautiful flowers we saw  in Tahiti.  A lot were in the park, but some were at Venus Point & elsewhere. We also saw some birds.

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     We reached the library, but the outer gate was locked . . . worse than last time!  But Rick explored around the back & finally found an open entrance.  I guess you have to know the secret entrance in order to use the library.  Inside was a courtyard with a huge tree in the center with hanging plants somewhat like Spanish Moss.  It looks somewhat like a Banyan tree but for the free hanging fronds. The library is in three rooms, each with a vaulted ceiling, but it’s a lot smaller than that makes it sound.

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     We walked back from the library on the other side of the main street, passing the pink Evangelical Church.  Bougainville Park has a bust of the French explorer after whom the beautiful flowers are named.  Next to the park is the post office, where we mailed some post cards.  Then we stopped at a street café for some French Fries & Hinano dark beer.  It had been a long hot day, and this was very refreshing.  We liked the Hinano dark better than the light, and the fries came with mayonnaise in the French fashion.

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     Another distinctive thing about Papeete is the Polynesian stone sculpture you see in parks and on streets.

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     It was getting to be about 5:30 as we reached the ship, so we walked over to a nearby area that is home to a Papeete institution: its famous food trucks.  They are parked in an open space where tables and chairs are set up so people can buy their food, then sit down while it is cooked and brought to their table.  Not just sandwiches and such, you can get French crepes and other delicacies.  We thought the prices a little high until we spotted a fellow eating a giant crepe that filled his plate after being folded in half.  We were just discussing what kind of crepe to get for sharing when it started to rain.  So we ran back to the ship & still haven’t tasted those crepes.

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     After dinner tonight there was a dance performance by a local Tahitian dance group.  We saw one of these last time and certainly didn’t want to miss it.  But there was only one performance (usually there is one scheduled for early eaters and one for late eaters) and by the time we reached the Queen’s Lounge the place was packed.  We usually sit in the front of the balcony, but this night we were lucky to find seats at the very back of the first floor.  So that is why most of these pictures have the tops of people’s heads silhouetted at the bottom.

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     Well, this was a long and tiring day, so nothing to do after this high energy show but go to bed.  The ship would be leaving at 5:00 AM for Moorea, which you can see from some of the pictures is very close, so the sail in would be early.

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Avatoru, Rangiroa

     On the morning of January 21 the Amsterdam slid through the Tiputa Pass into the lagoon of Rangiroa.  In 2016 we didn’t make it onto deck in time to see the arrival through the pass as the Captain had gone through a little earlier than we had been told, so this time Rick got up an hour before the scheduled arrival.  But to no avail, as the Captain beat us again.

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     Rangiroa is a series of long, thin, low coral atolls surrounding the second largest enclosed lagoon in the world.  The lagoon is tens of miles wide & you can’t see from one side to the other. Very few people live here & there isn’t much to do unless you are into water sports.  Rick went snorkeling last time we were here at a place called “the aquarium” just inside the Tiputa pass, and you can see the photographic results here:

But today was a Sunday and in Polynesia everything closes on Sunday, so there was less to do than usual.  We decided to tender ashore & walk around for awhile.  But before that, in the early morning we watched a storm pass by from the ocean over the atoll and off into the lagoon, hardly touching our ship.  Afterward, however, there was a magnificent rainbow that dwarfed the island.

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     We were greeted at the dock, as is usual in these islands, by a group of singers & musicians.  A tent market was set up behind the dock.  As we walked up the road away from the dock we ran into our friends Robert, Bill & Lee near the local grocery.

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     It doesn’t take long to walk across the atoll to the Pacific Ocean.  While the lagoon waters are rather calm the Pacific coast is rough, with pounding surf.  Rangiroa is made up of coral atolls & a lot of the rocks along the road are coral pieces. We did pass one or two buildings, at least some of which are resorts, nestled among the palms. 

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     As is true throughout Polynesia, this island has a great deal of colorful flora, as well as birds & fish.  Most of these flowers were growing on trees or bushes, not directly out of the ground. Rangiroa also has the only vineyard in Polynesia, but we didn’t see that (it is not open for visiting).

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    It was really very hot & humid, & the irregular ground was something of a challenge for Mary’s new knee, so we headed back to the dock.  There wasn’t much more to see anyway.  On the walk back we passed whole fields of palm trees & we saw people swimming from a beach beside the dock.

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     We stopped for a Hinano beer at a little open air restaurant just off the dock, a great refresher on such a hot day.  From our seats we could see the Windstar sailing ship that was also anchored here today (a much smaller ship than Amsterdam).  There were also fish & birds to be seen from a tiny rock outcrop right beside our table.  After that we tendered back to the ship.

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     We had heard that dolphins often play in the ship’s wake as it goes through the pass.  So we went down to the second deck at the aft end of the ship for the sail away in hopes of seeing them.  It was a lovely & very sunny evening as the ship circled through the lagoon in order to build up speed for the run through the pass.  It didn’t reach 88 miles per hour, but then we weren’t trying go go Back to the Future.

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   We were pretty disappointed since we didn’t see any dolphins (or other wildlife) as we traversed the pass.  We were just about to give up & leave when suddenly there they were, leaping in the ship’s wake.  So cool! Well worth the wait.

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     Not sure which night, but probably after Rangiroa, was Polynesian night in the dining room, with Polynesian dishes on offer & Tahitian straw hats distributed to everyone.  And here is another ending with towel animals.

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Taiohae, Nuku Hiva

     After eight days at sea we sailed toward Taiohae bay on the island of Nuku Hiva on the morning of January 19.  The last time we were here, in 2016, it was cloudy & rainy as we approached the island, but today it was beautiful and sunny.

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Lots of passengers were out on the front deck as we sailed past some of the mountains & rock formations & the crew were out there too, serving coffee & “Nuku Hiva Rolls,” which tasted remarkably like Panama Canal rolls.

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     Nuku Hiva is the largest of the Marquesa Islands.  It was famous in the 19th century as the island where Herman Melville lived for several months with a village of cannibals, which he turned into his best selling novel Typee.  In 2016 we went on a very beautiful tour of the island, which you can see here:

So for this visit we decided to explore Taiohae ourselves on foot.  It was a very short tender ride from the ship to the dock, but three tenders went out of commission with engine issues almost immediately so we were not able to get to shore until about noon.  We went up to the Lido deck where they were distributing tender tickets, then sat near the pool waiting for them to reach our number.  From there we saw some local fellows in canoes following in the wake of the tenders (once they got going again).  When they are able to do it correctly the tender wake pulls them along without paddling and this seems to be a popular sport in several of the islands we visited.

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     We finally made it onto a tender & then to the dock.  We were greeted by local musicians & dancers who handed each visitor a flower bud to wear behind an ear.  An impromptu market was set up behind the dock, selling everything from produce to t-shirts to wood carvings.  Nuku Hiva is famous for its wood carvers; most of the Tiki sculptures for sale everywhere on the Polynesian islands are made here (and so the prices for them are much better here than elsewhere).

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     On a hill above the dock & clearly visible from the ship is a large tiki style statue of a woman.  This is new since our last visit & reportedly very unpopular with the locals.  We had to agree with their view, especially after seeing the back of the tiki that has a warrior apparently emerging from the woman.

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     We began the approximately 2 mile walk from the dock to the end of the road on the other side of the bay.  It is a very beautiful walk, with many colorful flowers, mountain views & views across the water.  While some of the mountains were green the lower areas were quite dry & the flowers much less lush than last time we were here.  We were told there had been no rain for three months.  Still, there was a lot of beauty.

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     About half way across the bay is the Catholic Cathedral of Notre Dame.  Unlike any other cathedral we have seen, this one is full of wood carvings covering doors & the pulpit as well as the stations of the cross on the walls.  The figures look like Polynesians rather than Europeans (the actual people depicted, of course, were Semites from the Middle East), with other Polynesian touches, such as breadfruit trees instead of olive trees in the garden.  The building is constructed of stones brought from each of the Marquesas Islands. Very special.

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     In front of the cathedral is an arch with two towers, which may be a remnant of an earlier church. Behind the cathedral is a very colorful garden.  Two interesting Jewish references.  Across the courtyard from the church is a smaller building with carved wood pillars.  One of them is Moses with the ten commandments.  Interestingly, he is depicted with horns on his head, perhaps derived from Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses in Rome.  The horns come from a mistranslation of the Torah, which says Moses had beams of light, rather than horns, emanating from his head when he brought the tablets down.  The other is a star of David carved into the inside of one of the doors.  We don’t know what the inscription says or what it was intended to represent.

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     Continuing on, we visited the memorial to Herman Melville, a carved wood pillar.  Apparently some French officials were expected to visit in a few days, so workmen were out refurbishing the thatched roof of a platform near the water.  Some women were busy weaving palm fronds into mats, presumably as part of this project.  Some outrigger canoes were stored near the shore as well. And we walked past a cemetery, with white concrete & stone graves similar to others we have seen in Polynesia.

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      This is a good place to show you some of the many brightly colored flowers that were all around.  Noticeably fewer than in 2016 because of the lack of rain, but still a lot. Most of these flowers are on trees or bushes.  As usual, the names of the few we know are in the pop-up captions.

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     We visited a very tiny museum of Nuku Hivan artifacts at the very end of the road around the bay.  It had one small room of artifacts, some of which were many hundreds of years old, and the other room was a gift shop.  The owner, Rose, was really friendly and helped explain what we saw.  After that we walked up the hill behind the museum to a restaurant highly recommended for its food and its view of the bay.  Unfortunately, after we reached the top of the hill, panting in the heat & humidity, we found that it was closed for renovation!  Why couldn’t they have put a sign to that effect at the bottom of the hill? 

     Anyway, after admiring the view from just under the restaurant we walked back down the hill & stopped into the small restaurant in front of the museum.  Our friends Peggy & Bill were still with us, the rest of the group having turned back long before.  We had Hinano beer, the main Polynesian brand, and Poisson Cru.  Made of raw tuna, some salad ingredients & coconut milk, it was quite delicious.

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      Much refreshed, we made the long walk back across the bay to the tender dock.  There were several groups of families at different spots along the bay having picnics & swimming.  We did a little shopping at the dock, then boarded the tender for the short ride back to the ship.

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     We sailed away from Nuku Hiva at sunset.  It was a very dramatic sunset, which deserves more than one picture.

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     So as we sail away from beautiful Nuku Hiva, we will leave you with a couple of towel animals, preparatory to a good night’s sleep.

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At Sea Toward Nuku Hiva

     Between Panama City & Nuku Hiva we had 8 sea days in a row.  That’s a lot.  It gives you an appreciation for how really, really big the Pacific Ocean is. The Captain commented that with the vastness of this ocean he sometimes wonders how the opposing fleets found each other during World War II.  Actually, they sometimes had difficulty doing that.

     After we were all aboard in Panama City the Captain came on the loudspeaker and welcomed all our newly arrived passengers. From this we take it that all the folks who missed the boat in Ft Lauderdale made it here by Panama City.  Some had caught up with us earlier, but now all are aboard for the long sail to the South Pacific.

     Life on board is pretty relaxing, if that’s what you are looking for.  If not, there are games, lectures, movies, shows, eating (of course) and other things to do just about every minute of the day.  Often, there are sunsets, especially as you near the South Pacific.

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    We usually eat breakfast & dinner in the main dining room, where the food has been really very good with a lot of variety.  Sometimes food on a cruise ship can get a little bland, presumably to ensure that everyone on board is able to enjoy it.  But the food on this trip has often been fairly spicy.  We generally eat lunch on the Lido deck near the pool.  The Dive In there serves very good hamburgers & hot dogs & the Lido buffet serves a wide variety of dishes every day, including some kind of meat that is sliced to order, an Asian station that prepares foods from a rotating selection of countries, and a sandwich station where you can get a sandwich made to your specifications.  All are very good.  They also have a variety of pastry, pies & ice cream for dessert.  We are slowly getting control of our appetites.

     Outside our cabin is a deck that extends all the way around the ship, for sitting on deck chairs & walking.  A mile is 3.5 laps of the ship & we walk every day, at least once.  Have to keep the muscles tuned for some of the more demanding port visits!  Sometimes we see birds out there, much less often sea life.

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     We go to the Explorer’s Lounge almost every night to listen to Adagio, the Hungarian violin & piano duo.  David & Attila, the duo on this ship (same as in 2016), are really terrific, playing flawless show tunes & light classics with flair & improvising jazz, together & solo.  An intimate concert before dinner every night really enhances this voyage for us.

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     Almost every night after dinner there is a show in the main lounge, which we attend about half the time.  We generally skip the comedians & magicians, but some of the musical performances have been very enjoyable. The Amsterdam Singers & Dancers are the in-house performers (4 singers & 6 dancers).  Last time the singers were very good but the choreography left a lot to be desired.  This year the dancing has, at least, caught up to the singing.  The dancers have been pretty spectacular & the choreography is worlds ahead of last time. Photography during shows has been difficult, so some of these are not very sharp. 

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      A Polynesian location team has been on board since Panama City, demonstrating dances, giving music & dance classes & presenting lectures.  Kainoa, who is from Hawaii, is the lecturer & his presentations have been informative & enjoyable.  There are four younger people who make up the dance group.  Again, pictures are not very sharp.

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     There have been several special nights.  We had a Black & Silver Ball on one formal night.  Masks were provided to everyone at their table at dinner, & some actually wore them.  At the end of the ball waiters circulated with trays of various kinds of chocolate.

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     One night was designated Dutch Night.  Dutch cuisine was on the menu, orange lights filled the dining room & Dutch hats were distributed to the diners.  Below is our usual table array (front: Bob, Judy, Bill, back of table: Rick, Mary, Lee, Robert, & standing behind our friends Corinne, Kathy, Peggy). Some of these photos were by Lee.75. At Sea to Nuku Hivat56. At Sea to Nuku Hiva74. At Sea to Nuku Hivat

     Robert & Bill inhabit a spacious Neptune Suite & they invited the rest of us to a party after we crossed the Equator (first of four times this trip).  Wine was plentiful, canapes were provided by the ship & a good time was had by all.  Apparently the ship has a rule against having more than 8 people in a room; don’t tell anybody, but the eight at this party was more than the usual 8 you learned about in school (photos by Lee).

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     After all this time at sea most folks are looking forward to getting their feet on dry land in Nuku Hiva.  Abbafab, one of the entertainment groups, had an song for that feeling, which went (to the tune of the Beatles’ Let It Be):

           “Day at sea, day at sea, day at sea, day at sea.  What’s on for tomorrow? Day at sea.”

     To finish off this segment, here are a couple of the towel animals we received during this period.

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Panama City, Panama

     We were still anchored off Fuerte Amador on the morning of January 10 when the alarm went off at an ungodly hour so we could meet our tour group by 7:30.  We had a room service breakfast, showered & dressed & then headed out.  We had visited this city on the 2016 world voyage:

Today we would visit one area visited then & one area that was new to us.

Panama City

      We tendered to a yacht harbor on Isla Flamenco, part of Fuerte Amador, and boarded a bus for the ride all the way across the city to Panama Vieja.  Established in 1519, Panama Vieja was the first European city on the Pacific coast.  It was the main Pacific terminal of the Spanish gold route, where gold & silver from Peru & spices and silks from the far East were stored before being transported by mule train across the Isthmus to Portobello to be loaded onto ships bound for Spain.  It was quite prosperous, with numerous warehouses & churches, along with several thousand houses.  In 1671 the English privateer Henry Morgan attacked & plundered the town, which burned to the ground.

     We visited the museum for this site and walked through the ruins.  After the town was destroyed the inhabitants moved to a new location about 8 miles away that was easier to fortify and defend.  They used Panama Vieja as a stone quarry, thus further reducing the ruins.  Today efforts are being made to restore some of the buildings, but most of it still looks like a rock pile.  While we can’t identify all of these ruins, some of them are of a Dominican convent.

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     Our guide told us that the town’s name came from the Panama tree, but a plaque in the museum said that it was the local Indians’ word for “fisherman,” which they were.  Perhaps the tree was named for the local fishermen & the town was named for the tree.  Near the museum was a striking Banyan tree with many trunks descending to the ground from the wide branches.

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      The best preserved & restored structure is the cathedral tower, situated on what was the main square of the town.  They have built a modern staircase to climb up for what is supposed to be an excellent view, but our group didn’t go up there.  In front of the cathedral is a stone base that once held a stone cross.  This is where Africans (presumably slaves) came to pray, because they were not permitted in the cathedral. The stone cross is now in the museum.  Our guide told us that it was not known that this cross was the one that had been in front of the cathedral until one of the people she was guiding showed her a picture of her great grandfather praying there.

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     We walked back to the bus, passing more interesting ruins.  Then we headed back across town to Casco Viejo, the site where they moved after the original town was destroyed.

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     We crossed through the contemporary city of skyscrapers.  The city is impressive from afar, but from inside it just feels massive.  The most interesting one is the Revolution Tower, which twists its way up to a white pinnacle.  A lot of foreign (and particularly US) businesses have outposts here, such as Hard Rock Café, & there is also a Trump Tower.  Our guide told us that the Trump Tower (which bears his name but is not owned by the US President) was sold last week & the new owners intend to change its name.  We passed a fishing village that the developers apparently failed to dislodge.

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     Casco Viejo is the new old town of Panama City, established in 1673 by the folks whose original town had been destroyed by Henry Morgan.  It is full of old buildings of two or three stories with interesting balconies.  The streets & sidewalks are very narrow, so it quickly became crowded & difficult to navigate, especially if you are a group of 40 people, as we were.  Here are some typical street scenes.

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One thing you will notice in these pictures is the very extensive renovation work in progress all over this area.  In 2016 we visited the cathedral & were glad we had the opportunity to do so when we saw it this time entirely covered in construction cloth.  Its good to see, however, that they are restoring these old buildings rather than tearing them down for new construction.

     We visited the Iglesia de San Jose, a church transferred from the destroyed town in 1673.  It contains a very impressive carved wood altar covered in gold, called the Altar de Oro.  There is a story, repeated as history by our guide, that the gilded altar was saved from Henry Morgan by a friar, who either had them hidden in the Pacific or painted black.  When Morgan arrived & demanded the church’s valuables, the friar told him the church was unfinished for lack of funds & requested a donation.  Morgan supposedly said “you are more of a pirate than I am” & ordered that the friar be given the donation he requested.  But anyone visiting the church knows this story is untrue.  There is a sign right in front of the altar that not only says this never happened, but says that the style of the altar indicates it was created much later, in the 18th century, and church records say that the gilding was applied in 1915.  So why does a guide leading people ?

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    We walked by the façade of La Compania de Jesus, the Jesuit church & school. In the late 18th century this became the first college in Panama.  It functioned until 1767, when the Jesuits were expelled from all of Spain’s colonies.  The pope had decreed before the Spanish reached America that Christians could not be enslaved.  This was a problem, beginning with Columbus, who wanted to convert the indigenous people but also wanted to enslave them.  Apparently the Jesuits became more & more adamant against keeping African & Indian Christians as slaves until the Spanish authorities had had enough & removed them on the theory of out of sight, out of mind.  Our guide said that part of the section on the right may have been rented out for use as the first Synagogue in Panama. The building was later destroyed by fire & earthquake.

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     We passed what is left of the Iglesia y Convento de Santo Domingo, a Dominican church & convent built in 1678.  It is known for its “flat arch,” visible just behind the door, which is about 30 feet high & 45 feet wide, with no keystone or external support.  It was cited as evidence of Panama’s geological stability during the debates on where to build the canal.  It collapsed in 2003, but has been reconstructed.

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     Given 30 minutes of free time, we walked through a flower covered walkway onto a street along the city’s old walls.  There was a great view of downtown Panama & there were a number of Kuna indians with booths selling the molas they make.  Molas are very colorful needlework, in which there are several layers of different colored fabric & pictures are made by cutting through to the various colors.  There was also an artist at work next to the wall.

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     We returned to our bus & drove back to the yacht harbor on Fuerte Amador where our tender picked us up & took us back to the ship.  Later in the afternoon we set sail for Nuku Hiva, an eight day trip with nothing but water to see beyond the ship.  It will feel good to step onto land again after that.

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Panama Canal

     The Amsterdam entered the Panama Canal at 7:30 on the morning of January 9.  This is our third time through this canal, so we were not planning to be up that early to be outside before reaching the first lock.  However, the Panamanians provide guides to narrate the passage of the canal & ours began broadcasting on the ship’s loudspeaker system at about 6:30, and since one of these speakers is on the deck outside our window that was the end of sleep for us.  Still, we took our usual time to shower & dress before wandering outside, so by the time we got there the ship was already inside the first lock at Gatun.

2.  Panama Canal

     While we will post a lot of pictures here, for a much more comprehensive review of a Panama Canal transfer take a look at that episode of the blog from our 2016 world voyage here:

That posting also has a link to the episode recounting our first Panama Canal passage, on the Grand South America Voyage in 2012.  So, if you are interested in the canal there is plenty to see in addition to what is set out here.

     In contrast to the beautiful morning sun on our last visit, the weather was gray & overcast as we entered the Gatun locks on the Caribbean side of the canal.  The weather proved highly  changeable during the day, moving from cloud to sun to rain repeatedly & often very quickly, so that folks outside taking pictures had to run for the doors.  We followed the Azamara Quest through the canal, passing the Gatun control building with the help of the “mules,” a sort of tractor on rails that helps keep the ship on a steady course through the tight space between the canal walls.  The bow of the ship was opened to passengers for the transit of the canal & in the morning coffee & delicious “Panama Rolls” were served there.  Interestingly, the massive gates between levels of the locks are all still the originals, installed more than 100 years ago.

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     After leaving the Gatun locks we sailed across Gatun lake, a body of water that is probably the largest segment of the canal.  It passes through dense rainforest, but is pretty uneventful. So we went to breakfast, then we went up to the Crow’s Nest for most of the transit.  The Crow’s Nest is a multipurpose room on the top inside deck, a venue for parties, for reading, for activities such as Zumba in the morning and a disco at night.  It has a bar and a panoramic expanse of windows across the front of the ship.  Many passengers seem to spend a lot of time up here.

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    As we sailed through the lake we passed a huge container ship coming the other way, called the Houston Bridge, we think.  This is one of the world’s largest container ship with a capacity of some 11,000 containers, each of which is the size of the payload of a tractor-trailer truck.  Until last year ships this size could not use the Panama Canal, but a little over a year ago they completed a new, larger set of locks on each side that can accommodate these giant “Panamax Plus” ships.  These ships still use the central portion of the same old canal, but enter & exit through the new larger locks.  The Panamanians charge by weight to traverse their canal; a ship the size of Amsterdam pays about a quarter of a million dollars for one passage, so these new ships must be paying a lot more.  We also passed several dredges, employed to scoop muck from the bottom to ensure the canal does not fill up with silt.  This is, we were told, a never ending process.

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     Following us through the canal was a strange looking armored ship.  We were told that this is the Pentagon’s newest intelligence ship & the extra plating includes stealth technology that obscures it on radar.  It is too wide for the original locks & instead passed through the new locks.  We speculated that maybe it is headed for the waters off North Korea. At one point a tugboat pulled around & pushed us for awhile; no idea why.  Soon we came to the Centennial Bridge, built (guess when) in 2000.  This area is known as the Cut,  It was blasted out of solid rock during the building of the canal, perhaps the most difficult & dangerous part of the project.  The walls are terraced to help keep debris from sliding down into the canal.

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    On the Atlantic side the Gatun locks raised the ship three levels.  On the Pacific side the Pedro Miguel locks lower it two levels & the Miraflores locks lower it one more level to reach sea level again.  As we approached the Pedro Miguel locks we could see the new larger version to our right.  On the left was a tree dressed in bright yellow that we were told only blooms for three days a year.

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     The Miraflores locks only drop one final level, but as you go through on the left is a building housing a museum that always has hundreds of people on the balconies welcoming you.  They wave & take pictures of you while you wave & take pictures of them.  On our right we could see a big ship going through the new channel & locks, but we couldn’t see the locks themselves because there was a hill in front.  We noticed that the Panamanian flag was at half staff all day & learned later that it was a holiday. Martyr’s Day commemorates a student uprising in 1963 against the Americans for reneging on an understanding that the Panamanian flag could fly along with the American at schools in the Canal Zone (if I have this right). Some 21 students & one toddler were killed as students tried to shimmy up a flag pole with a Panamanian flag.  The next day we saw a monument to these students.

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     After finishing with the locks we sailed on to Fuerte Amador, a group of connected islands off the coast of Panama City, near which we anchored.  The islands are connected to the mainland by a causeway on top of a huge breakwater that was built with rocks & dirt removed when digging the canal.  In this last part of the canal we could see some of the towers of Panama City beyond the hills, above an old American military barracks.  We passed under the Bridge of the Americas, which connects North & South America, completing the Pan American Highway that extends all the way from Canada to Patagonia. And on one side was the modern ecological museum designed by noted architect Frank Gehry. It looks a little like a brightly colored building that has collapsed into a heap.

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     Tenders were running to Fuerte Amador during the evening, but not many went.  We had a full day in Panama City in the morning (with yet another early wake-up call) so after dinner & a show we retired for the evening. We heard later that those who went found there was nothing to do, so it was just as well.

Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

     At 7 AM on January 8 Amsterdam backed into its berth by the dock in Puerto Limon, poised for a fast get-away I guess.  We have been here several times, most recently on the 2016 World Cruise.  On that occasion we explored the town, which you can see at:

This time we took an excursion for a treetop gondola ride in the rain forest.  This is a good example of why returning to a port you have already visited is not redundant (unless you have been there a dozen times, as a number of people on board have). Our experiences on these two visits to Puerto Limon couldn’t have been more different . . . city vs jungle.

     We had to get up very early to make it to our 7:15 meeting time for this excursion (we agreed that next time we will pay closer attention to the departure times of excursions).  It was overcast in the morning but got increasingly sunny as the day went on.  It turned out that there had been six straight days of rain here & our visit brought the turn to good weather.  The bus ride to Braulio Carillo National Park took about 2 hours & our guide, Marvin, talked the whole way about Costa Rica & the flora & fauna of the area.  Driving up into the mountains we passed an impressive volcano & scenic forests & rivers.

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     Once there, before the tram ride, we had a walking tour.  We saw a mother Tapir & her offspring, who was mostly interested in eating.  Tapirs are related to the rhinoceros & are delightfully ugly.

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     We saw a 3 toed sloth high in a tree above us, with a hairy face like Oscar the Grouch, & we walked through an orchid garden.

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    We toured a butterfly reserve.  There are several thousand species of butterfly in this area; they built a large caged structure to ensure many of them would be here together & they feed & care for them here.

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   Walking back, we saw a Costa Rican Robin, the national bird, a large spider in its web & a Toucan (very cool).

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    From there we walked to the tram terminal.  It worked a lot like a Disney World ride, in that the gondola would come to the platform, let out its passengers on one side, move around to the front and stop for us to climb in.  Passengers, six to a gondola, were carefully arranged by weight to ensure the gondola was balanced.  They move along a cable held up by very tall metal poles.  To build the tramway, the poles were brought in by helicopter so that the ecosystem wouldn’t be disturbed unnecessarily.  The gondola was built of open caging on the bottom so you could look down at the floor of the forest.

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     The ride through the treetops was really fascinating, but I don’t think it will really come across in pictures.  A photo can’t capture the vastness or the complexity of it all.  But here are a few anyway.

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     We could see several small rivers winding through the floor of the forest under the branches.

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      Tree trunks and branches were covered with mosses & lichens vines of amazing varieties.

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    Our guide pointed out “Broccoli Trees.”  If you are familiar with broccoli you will see why.

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     High in the canopy were a lot of bromeliads (we think that’s the name), plants that attach themselves to tree trunks but do not attack the trees in any way.  Some of them send very long tendrils, which are like roots, down to the floor of the forest to obtain nutrients.

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     Perhaps the best things we saw were the ferns, in great variety with sizes from small plants to large trees.  They are lush & graceful in design & they stand out from the other greenery around them.  The perspective from above is also somewhat different than usual.

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     We also saw fauna in the forest canopy, but they were too fast for my camera.  There were tiny flying creatures looking like flies and bees that would hover like a hummingbird within reach right by the gondola.  But they are really wasps, we were told, & if you try to grab one it will sting your hand & it will really hurt.  We saw two umbrella birds, undistinguished looking to our eyes but our guide said that bird fanciers come to Costa Rica just to catch a glimpse of one.  We saw hummingbirds as well & other birds I can’t really describe to you (which translates as I don’t remember).  Our guide was really good at identifying birds; he had a bird book & would quickly open it to the page for the bird we had just seen & show it around.

     After the ride through the treetops we had a “typical Costa Rican” lunch of chicken or beef with red beans & rice, but the meat portions were pretty poor.  Then we made the long drive back to the port, where we reboarded the ship.  102.  Puerto Limon, Costa  Rica

Dinner on the ship was, to say the least, much better than the lunch.  We went to bed early because we were due to enter the Panama Canal early the next morning.

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