Seein’ the Sea Life

We arrived just after dawn into Papeete, Tahiti. In the morning, I wandered into the town to see what I could see, including a welcoming musical performance, street-side vendors, and colorful markets.

In the afternoon I joined what was billed as a Whale Watching Experience. Southern humpback whales are often seen in the waters near Papeete (which is pronounced something along the lines of “papa-ATE-tay”). If you can find whales in the open waters, sometimes they will come quite close to boats filled with tourists who may be able to actually snorkel close by. We didn’t. Our guide, May, and boat driver did find a couple of humpbacks but as they were in the relative shelter of the harbor we had to maintain a respectful distance.

During our afternoon on the water, however, we found numerous spinner dolphins. These small mammals apparently enjoy playing in the wake of boats. May (or maybe it was “Mae”?) was surprised to see dolphins at this time of day, but our little group of tourists certainly did not object.

Also pictured above is a view of the Ovation of the Seas, my home for 19 days and some sailboats we observed (with the island Moorea behind them). My final photo of the day was taken at the end of the day. Both first and last photos were taken from the balcony of my comfy cabin aboard the Ovation.

The evening’s entertainment included a performance by a Tahitian group of musicians and dancers. As energetic as it was, I still found myself dozing — at 7:30 at night! I turned in early, and tonight we set our clocks back one hour. Apparently I need that hour for more rest!

One of the truly enjoyable experiences has been meeting and visiting with a variety of passengers, crew, and entertainers including Fr. Mark, the Catholic priest who welcomed me to Mass on Sunday morning and with whom I had a very nice chat this morning at breakfast.

Bora Bora

(And certainly not boring boring!)

After six days at sea we finally reached land on Tuesday, arriving in Bora Bora in French Polynesia. I had booked an all-day “Lagoon Extravaganza” that delivered great sights and memorable experiences. First, there were only twelve in my group — a good, manageable, and (dare I say) even Biblical number. Our first stop was a place to snorkel and admire the many tropical fish. The day was cloudy, limiting the light under the water. At least that’s my excuse for my little waterproof camera not delivering better shots (note how I didn’t cite “photographer error” as the issue!).

Then we motored over to a sandbar with more fish — especially stingrays and black-tipped reef sharks. We were able to pet the stingrays. The sharks we admired but did not touch. Pretty amazing to be in the water with them. I can now say that I swam with sharks (and I’m not even talking about the days when I was a lawyer…).

The off to a quiet, shallow place for more swimming. A kind lady in my tour group offered to take my photo, resulting in what I’m dubbing my “burial at sea” picture. We then enjoyed a BBQ lunch on a private “motu,” one of the many small out islands surrounding Bora Bora. Even the airport is on a separate motu.

While it was lovely to walk on solid ground for the first time in nearly a week, I mistakenly assumed that the prevailing cloud cover meant I really didn’t need to apply the sunscreen I had brought with me for the day. I was wrong. Quite wrong. And this led me to meet my new best friend, Vera. As in aloe vera, which I have been applying liberally since Tuesday night.

Cruisin’ — on land and in the air

Today, Monday the 7th, is my sixth day at sea. We were supposed to have been in Papeete today but on our first day the ship returned to Honolulu so a passenger who (I am told) had suffered a heart attack could be taken for emergency care.

So what does one do with nearly a week at sea? For me, a lot of reading and resting accompanied by time at the pool, in the hot tub, on the lounger, eating, dozing, and chatting with fellow passengers. Oh, and yesterday I did the “Ripcord by iFly,” a skydiving simulator. This was quite the rush!

Tomorrow we arrive in Bora Bora, and I hope to have some more photos to share after that.

High on the Sea

(And no: it’s not what you think!)

On Wednesday I enjoyed a first full day at sea. This included waking before dawn (what a surprise, right?). Later I took a ride on the North Star, a gondola that is raised over 300 feet above the sea to provide incredible views.

Earlier in the day I heard “Alpha! Alpha! Alpha!” blaring from the Public Address system, followed by additional information, including a cabin number. As I suspected, this signaled a very serious medical emergency as a result of which we turned around and headed for Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Then the captain announced that we weren’t headed for Kona but actually all the way back to Honolulu, arriving at about 3 am to transfer the stricken passenger to an ambulance and the needed medical care.

One of the TV channels displays our progress. The image above from late Wednesday night shows how we’ve done a U-turn. As a result, we’ll be skipping Moorea, one of the islands in French Polynesia. In exchange, we get an extra day at sea. As the cruise already includes about a dozen of these, I think I’d prefer to stop in Moorea. I’m glad, of course, that the captain and Royal Caribbean takes their responsibility for passengers’ health so seriously.

I may not have much to share until our first port, now scheduled to be Bora Bora on Tuesday–almost a week away!

Last Day in Hawaii

Although I boarded the Ovation of the Seas on Monday, we didn’t actually sail from Honolulu until 10 pm on Tuesday. I originally booked a sunrise photographic tour for Tuesday. (If you’ve been reading my posts, you are quite well aware of my fondness for sunrise photos. Someday I’ll remember how to sleep in!)

Then I learned that my tour needed to be cancelled. Seems I was the only one interested in a tour starting at 5:15 am. Weird, right? So I joined a later tour that began at 2 and concluded just after sunset. Only two other people were on the tour, and we had a most enjoyable tour with a local. Ironically (for a photo tour, at least), I was the only one who brought a camera other than the one on a smart phone.

Be that as it may, we saw some glorious sites on the island of Oahu including an unexpected double rainbow. The couple pictured above in silhouette were my companions on the tour. Andrea, our guide with Blue Hawaii Photo Tours, was friendly, informative, and most gracious.

Holy in Honolulu

Monday morning I spent a little time wandering the streets of downtown Honolulu. Not far from my hotel was St. Andrew’s Cathedral. I always enjoy the chance to peek in at an Episcopal church, and the doors of this cathedral stood open to welcome all visitors. This means that as you enter and then look back at the magnificent stained glass you also see the world beyond — in which and to which we are all called to share a bit of God’s love.

Standing before the Hawaii legislature is a stature of Fr. Damien. I like how he keeps a watchful eye over those who approach. Standing in front of the Supreme Court is a statute of King Kamehameha, credited with uniting the islands under a single monarchy. Finally I also saw Iolani Palace, once the royal palace.

Later in the day I boarded the Ovation of the Seas, the ship that will bear me over a 19-day journey ending in Sydney, Australia. But not just yet. We remain docked in Honolulu only leaving at 10 pm on our second day. This will give me an opportunity to join a photographic tour later today. I had signed up for a sunrise tour but was switched to the later tour when apparently I was the only person interested in beginning an activity at 5 in the morning.

Sunday Travels: Hikes and Flights

Sunday I was up before dawn and continued the tour I had started the day before. First stop, sunrise at Koki Beach in Hana, next to which is a hill that is believed to have formed from the bones of Hawaiian goddess Pele.

Later I stopped at Haleakala National Park (which extends from the top of the extinct volcano, where I was earlier, all the way to the ocean). Here I took the Pipiwai Trail (described as “4 miles roundtrip with a rigorous 650 feet elevation gain”) to see a couple of more waterfalls, a huge banyan tree, and sublime bamboo forest. At the end is Waimoku Falls — tall and magnificent and worth a long, sweaty climb.

After a quick (and much needed!) shower, I drove to Kihului to catch my flight to Honolulu. With time to kill before my flight, I stumbled into a Ukulele festival in Kihului where I heard two sisters playing ukuleles and singing a portion of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Never saw that one coming!

Moments before boarding my flight I realized I had somehow left my Kindle in the rental car. I had no time to go back for it, and my phone call to the agency dumped me into voicemail hell in which I learned, in essence, there was no way I could recover my device in less than a month. I said words I shall not repeat here! Bad, bad words…

Fortunately, Honolulu has a Best Buy near my hotel, and they carry Kindles. A stupid expense, but I’ve become very reliant on this device when I travel. The good news, however, is that I seem to have hung to everything else I brought (so far, at least!).

The (Long) Road to Hana

On Saturday I embarked on the Road to Hana, a storied drive famous for its many twists and turns (more than 600!) and numerous one-way bridges (over 50!). Along the way there are any number of fantastic hikes, breathtaking views, and awesome waterfalls. I followed a tour on my phone, using an app called Shaka Maui. This was the third time I used this app, and I found the directions clear and the guidance invaluable.

Specifically, the app told me about all the sights worth seeing, giving me enough information to know whether I should want to stop — or not. Very helpful!

This had the effect of turning a two-hour drive from Kahului to Hana into an all-day affair, and I didn’t even get all the way to the end of the tour! Very worthwhile, yet very tiring. Still, one of the most rewarding exhilarating days of travel I’ve ever had the privilege of experiencing.

Alii Kula Lavender Farm

A much quieter day today. Went to visit the Alii Kula Lavender Farm. While I did get to see (and smell) some lavender, most of the plants had already bloomed for this year. Fortunately, the Farm also features a number of other plants and flowers which I clearly enjoy photographing.

For dinner, I was planning a quick trip down the road to a restaurant that had caught my eye earlier. Nope. A nearby shopping center gets turned into a music and crafts and food fair every month on the fourth Friday. Food was offered by a great collection of food trucks. Dinner for me was from Big Al’s, a large serving of kalua pork and cabbage with a side of rice. Meanwhile a number of arts and crafts booths were set up in the parking lot with live music being offered from at least two locations. Great fun!

Oh, and I did a load of laundry today. Because, you know, dirt. Good times!

Flying High — and Driving Slow

Up at dawn (again!) and found the pod of what looked like four pygmy killer whales pretty much where I saw them two days earlier. This is not the right time to see whales in Hawaii (and usually they’re humpbacks) nor is this really the normal place. Literature was circulated asking folks to keep their distance and advising that perhaps one of the whales may be ill.

At 8 am I was onboard a helicopter for a 45-minute aerial tour of both Maui and Molokai, especially tall waterfalls, dramatic cliffs, and impressive valleys. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Fr. Damien’s inspiring ministry at what was then known as the lepers’ colony on Molakai. I could certainly see how that part of the island is accessible only by boat. (To learn about his extraordinary ministry, visit here.)

After, realizing I still had most of the day before me, I undertook another driving tour using the Shaka Maui app on my phone, this one a loop ride around West Maui. Stops included an otherwise unmarked petroglyph site, a visit to the Dragon’s Tooth Trail (which included a pretty cool labyrinth!), and a visit to the Nakalele Blowhole. Visiting this is not recommended as it can be quite dangerous. A hand-painted sign warns: “Warning. Stay clear of blowhole. You can be sucked in and killed. It is not a waterpark.”

I went anyway. This required quite a scramble down from the parking lot to the blowhole far below. Of course, this also meant that I would have to climb back out. I was huffing and puffing pretty good when I got back to the car!

One of the last stops was at the Iao Valley State Monument, known especially for the formation known as the Iao Needle. Oh, and the drive included a few miles of a twisty, one-lane road that nonetheless still hosted two-way traffic. No way to drive fast on some of that heart-pounding stretch of road!

A great day! I went out in my Teva sandals (bad idea, but both footwear and worn feet survived just fine). I also went out without sunscreen (bad idea, and the back of my neck and the top of my head are glowing a lovely bright red today).