The island of Bora Bora in French Polynesia is really a “never forget” location made famous when the American military constructed a runway and built a base days after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. The island was to be a staging location for aircraft and ships in the war against Japan.
The anchorage is entered by way of a narrow and shallow cut through the outer encircling reef. Once inside there is no wind and one can drop the anchor in a totally protected lagoon. The anchorage is popular for cruise ships and sail boats from around the world. Like the Americans after the war, many visitors do not want to leave.
For our tour we elected to take a shuttle bus around the island following the coast. Lush vegetation, beautiful vistas and the world famous condos that are built on stilts in the water make you want to stay longer. The condo cottages rent for one thousand American dollars a night and do not include food or liquid refreshments. A famous restaurant and bar on the coast is Bloody Marys and is adorned with many photos of the rich and famous having their signature drink.
We are now off to Tonga, another island paradise on our way to New Zealand.
At breakfast today we entered the beautiful harbour in Papeete. On one side the lush tropical hills and on the other, the commercial port. The cruise terminal is essentially at the centre of town making it easy to walk to anywhere in downtown.
Papeete is a historical treasure based on the early travels to the island of Tahiti by Captain Cook, and latterly by the American author (James Norman Hall) of Mutiny on the Bounty and the filming of three versions of the book. Each version of the movie became more difficult to film as more and more buildings were built along the coast. Some scenes (Marlon Brando version) were moved to the adjacent island of Moorea as the sand there is white while the beach in Papeete has black sand. The epic musical South Pacific was also filmed here and shown in the theatre on board. Amazing to see the movie and then the scenes first hand.
The lighthouse built in the mid 1800’s still stands marking both the harbour entrance and a runway beacon for the international airport that runs parallel to the harbour. The father of Robert Louis Stevenson was the designer of this light. A pearl market occupies a major spot in the centre of downtown as does the fruit, vegetable, flower and fish market. It was an easy walk from the ship. The vegetation is lush everywhere and for the first time on the trip, rain fell off and on all day but with temperatures in the high eighties, it wasn’t a problem.
I am constantly amazed at the stunning differences as we move further west across the Pacific. By the weekend we will be in Tahiti. One day no internet and the next day service!
In Arica, Chile the markets are piled high with fresh produce and prices that are cents to our dollar. A week later we are dropping off eggs to nine families that have lived on Pitcairn Island together since a mutiny centuries ago. On Easter Island, the world’s most remote location, there is a modern runway for jet aircraft yet hundreds of horses run wild across the island and down the streets of town. What is normal you might ask.
We’ve moved from the world’s most remote island to the second most remote–Pitcairn Island.
It was here that the mutineers from the HMS Bounty sailed their captured ship and burned it in the harbour to avoid detection by the British navy. In 1957 the remains of the Bounty were discovered by a National Geographic expedition.
The original settlers were able to survive by farming and fishing but their were serious tensions among the settlers. Today Pitcairn Island is inhabited with less than 60 people from nine families. This makes it the least populated jurisdiction in the world and the last remaining British overseas territory in the Pacific.
With no dock on the island we could only anchor offshore and have all the residents come aboard for a few hours to tell us their stories and sell us some souvenirs. As is the custom, our ship both sold and donated a variety of supplies to the islanders.
For power a diesel generator runs from 6:30 in the morning until 10 p.m. at night with hot water provided from a communal wood fired boiler. Contact with the outside world is via a freighter that comes from Aukland, New Zealand every three months.
It makes our ship the Amsterdam seem like a palace.
Wild horses roam the island including the streets of the only town on the island known Hanga Roa. Similarly the cattle can be found wandering the roads along with roosters as every house seems to have a chicken coop.
Pineapple, tuna and honey are exported back to Chile. Problems around the world for bee populations do not apply here. Bees thrive due to the isolated island location and the honey is highly favoured for its pure taste.
After five days at sea, with no internet, finally arrived at Easter Island. Easter Island is is the furthest inhabited island from anywhere else in the world. In any direction you are thousands of miles on the open Pacific Ocean to the nearest dock or port. On our last trip around the world we could only see the island from the ship’s deck. Rough seas prevented us from tendering ashore. This time we got off and what an experience it was.
Easter Island has captured the world’s imagination with its giant moai, 887 human-faced statues created by the Rapa Nui people. Where the island’s inhabitants came from and how they got there has been a mystery since a Dutch ship discovered the island on Easter Sunday in 1722. The statues date back to 300 AD and are all volcanic, similar to the island’s core. How the solid rock structures were carved, moved and erected is an unanswered question to this date. Wild horses roam free throughout the island as do the cattle. The shoreline is spectacular and the 8000 or so inhabitants seem quite content with their isolated existence and lot in life. Modern health care as we know it is non-existent.
After two days in Lima, Peru and a day in Chile, we are off to Easter Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in the southern hemisphere. As we head due west, there will be five days at sea with limited internet capability. It is no surprise there is no connectivity as there is absolutely nothing here except sea and more sea. We are travelling at 30k and the depth under our keel is over 12,000 feet. Wind continues at about 20 mph.
Chile was exceptional as it was such a surprise after Peru. Chile was crowded, traffic was horrendous and poverty was everywhere except in a very small area on the coast. Peru with much less population was not crowded, very little traffic and fascinating to see how the civilizations have developed. In Chile we visited an olive plantation where some of the best olives in the world are grown. I also learned that the only difference between green and black olives is the length of time they remain on the tree. Green olives are picked first and black olives much later. Within a year after picking and storing in acetic acid they are ready for bottling and export or sale.
We also went to a local market and saw amazing stands of fresh fruit, vegetables and spices. All this produce is cultivated in valleys that run up from the coast into the Andes mountains and are fed by either underground rivers or man-made channels coming down from the mountains.
Tonight is another formal night and this means a jacket and tie for me and a dressy outfit for Susan. Formal nights are always on sea days and pictures are always taken. Menus for dinner reflect the culture of this country.
For the past two days we have been docked in the port city of Callao, Peru. Called a city it really is a suburb of Lima. Lima is truly a city of contrasts. Not only is the contrast between civilizations evident, there is a marked difference between Lima under communisn and now under democracy. Under communism, all imports were banned (sound vaguely familiar) and many of the large corporations in Lima went bankrupt. Their huge buildings and plants remain empty and derelict
Many of the churches date back more than 500 years and reflect both Spanish and Italian influences. We sampled a Peruvian buffet restaurant that was absolutely first class. Once again the disparity between society classes is very numbing. Up until a few years ago only 4% of people paid taxes in Peru. This year less than 17% of Peruvians pay any tax. No wonder the schools, hospitals, and roads are appalling.
I am having trouble deciding on which pictures to post. The pic of a mother and her two kids selling trinkets is special.
The transit of the Panama Canal is really something to see and experience. We entered the canal from the Atlantic side and approximately 12 hours later were entering the Pacific Ocean at Panama City or more correctly Balboa. The canal is busy with freighters and cruise ships going in both directions and without a lot of clearance. In the locks we had less than 30 inches of space on either side of the lock wall. Four locomotives pull each boat through the locks yet it is still two men in a rowboat that come out to meet the ship, attach the tow rope and row it to waiting staff on the lock wall edge.
The target you see in the attached photo is a real piece of trivia. Annually dock hands along the canal compete in a contest to determine who is the best line thrower of all the canal staff. The winner each year has his salary increased by 100%. The target you see is to determine accuracy in throwing the line to tie up the ship and the high bar represents the height of most ships going through the lock. Accuracy is one measure and strength to get the heavy lines up to the deck of the ship is another. Each lock has a practice area and a range.
Another surprise was the high end nature of Panama City. The skyline is full of skyscrapers and the harbour filled with beautiful yachts. We anchored out in Panama City and took a tender into the city. There we found the largest mall in the world!
Tonight (Tuesday) we cross the equator as we head south to Peru. In contrast to the first week, the Pacific is relatively calm and smooth sailing.
Today (Saturday) we are at anchor in the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama. This is a chain of 365 different islands all clustered together and have been inhabited ever since the first explorers of Central and South America arrived.
There is no electricity, no running water and with rising sea levels they will all be soon washed into the sea. Houses are constructed of bamboo and bathroom facilities are each located at the end of a narrow walkway out into the ocean with a little privacy fence.
The contrast between the luxury of the ship’s facilities and the poverty of these islands is staggering. To get to one of the islands we anchored out and were taken ashore in the lifeboats. Narrow streets with no vehicular traffic are lined with children, kittens, puppies and women selling colourful sewing. If you take a picture they ask for “one dollar”. If a family has four kids and two kittens, the price is “six dollar”.
Overnight we move on to the Panama Canal. We enter the mouth at 5:00 a.m. for the day long transit to the Pacific Ocean. Not sure if we are taking the old canal or the new one.