Thursday, December 7, 2017

Polynesia/Micronesia 6-24 Novemer 2017

Several friends thought this a most un-Jo trip ever.  Three weeks Tahiti to Easter Island  including the Marquesas, Tuamotus and Pitcairns, aboard  the 100 passenger Caledonian Sky, a most comfortable ship. Plush, even! More so than the so-called  expedition ships I've experienced in the past.  Though  neither  a diver or snorkeler or birder, it was the opportunity to visit the Pitcairns that tempted me;  Then there was Paul Gauguin's grave and museum. Jacques Brel's  grave and airplane was an extra. 

Zegrahm calls their tours, Expeditions, in an effort to make them sound a bit more adventurous than most.  This trip was in conjunction with Stanford University's Educational Tours so
passengers  were well educated and affluent.  Most of the gray haired set.  Eighty two customers  and fifteen staff plus the ship's crew.  Two worlds operating concurrently -  the gleaming brass of the passengers' quarters, with entries into  the coexistent  working  crew's bailiwick. Separate and not equal.

It started with a flight from San Francisco to Tahiti, via Honolulu.  I got in the night before the tour began, so camped at the airport until morning, rather than pay $450 for an extra night at The  Intercontinental.   There were some six of us sleeping out.  A young Japanese woman and I comandeered  several benches at the coffee shop for the six or so hours of  relatively sound sleep.

The tour began at Papeete's luxurious resort hotel - one night there to prepare us  for the lesser comforts  of the Caledonian  Sky.  My roommate, with whom I have traveled five times before - in more challenging circumstances - arrived that night.Out of the hotel, we toured Papeete the next day, before boarding the ship.  A beautiful area, I left with the impression the French had learned little about how to manage overseas territories since Vietnam.  Superimposed rule with little regard to local tradition.

First stop was Apataki in the Tuamotus, where the divers and  snorkelers were briefed.  As there was little of interest to me on the island,  chose to stay aboard.  Two days later, we arrived  at the first of three stops  in the Marquesas.  There were petroglyphs, hikes to heights of unbelievable views, local dance presentations. On Hiva Oa, I visited the cemetery and museum, honoring Gauguin and Brel.  On Fatus Hiva. I made a stab at the Long Walk (5+ miles return) up to a scenic spot - did 2/3s going up before hitching a ride.  But the view was worth any effort. 

Back to several stops at the Tuamotus Islands,one inhabited by one hundred residents, who put on a show for us; they don't get many visitors.  Divers dove; snorkelers snorkeled;   birders  scrambled ashore to chase down various species.  The rest of us settled for Zodiac rides around the island.

Then, Petcairn Island, inhabited by less  than sixty inhabitants, most descendants of
the original mutineers of Bounty-Bligh days.   Great Britain has governing responsibility with New Zealand  the source of services and supplies.  My roommate and I arranged a ATV ride around Adamstown and the Island  - it was a bumpy ride but we did get to see outside the town:  the  Landing,  the cemetery, St Paul's Pool, the old radio station, the Highest Point.  Views were exquisite.  But the population is isolated with cargo ships providing necessary supplies.  The doctor, who is there on a two year contract, is limited in what he can do for patients:  anything serious requires a boat trip to another island where air transport to New Zealand is available.  I saw one spot that could be used for a helicopter pad. but they are not there yet.

We next made stops at two uninhabited island, Henderson and Ducie.  Henderson is an UNESCO Heritage site as a result its pristine condition - undisturbed by introduced species, per  staff's description. Divers, Snorkelers and Birders were out in force.    Then onto Easter Island, which meant two days at sea!  Time aboard was spent with films and lectures by Zegrahm staff, all expert in the geology, archaeology  and wildlife of the area.  From the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Germany.  An impressive lot who could also manage the zodiacs with great skill..  For once we left Tahiti, all landings were via zodiac.

We had two days at Easter Island, where  tourists fly over from Santiago.  And there were tourists about to view the Moai, those stone statues of an early time. A doomed civilization?   We traveled about the island:  marveled at  its  breathtaking scenery and ever present statutes. A photographers delight! I visited the museum  and a rather unique church before leaving.  Much of the population is mixed race though there are a number of Chileans resident.  Chile provides all services.  Their frigate in the harbor staked their claim.  Easter Island was more sight seeing  than the earlier part of this trip, which was more experiential. 

End of journey with flight to mainland and home!

Meals:  Ever present aboard ship.  Breakfast, lunch, tea and Dinner.  Choices of venue:  a formal dinner room or on an upper deck.  I was overwhelmed with the amount of food and did skip some meals - if it weren't for the yoga class in the AM, I would have waddled  off the zodiac and onto the aircraft.  My roommate did an early morning workout in the ship's small gym.  She was less impressed with the meals. 

Flights:  Came over on Hawaiian Air with connecting flight at Honolulu:  $1849.  Latan/Aeromexico Airlines: Santiago-Mexico City-SF:  $4743..  The Mexico City connection was a disaster:  you have to enter Mexico and then depart to move from terminal to terminal.  Time consuming and confusing - almost missed my flight home.  Since I purchased tickets late in the game, double the price quoted originally.

Accommodations::  Zegrahm does it up first class. The ship was much more elegant than those used by Quark (both Russian:  Orlova and Fifty Years of Victory) or Poseidon (Sea Spirit).  Ship's staff was excellent.  Cabin was spacious.  Only problems were wifi which was all but non existent and the too efficient air conditioning.   Cost was $19980, all inclusive.

That's it for the year and likely, 2018, for I have to  move plus I'm running out of money.  Oh well, it's been grand - there are no regrets!