All posts by Vaya con Gringos

Sweet Suva

Feb. 1, 2018:

Near midnight after sailing out of Pago Pago on Jan. 29th, we crossed the International Dateline, which made Jan. 30th disappear. Woe to the poor passenger aboard whose birthday was Jan. 30th! No cake for her!

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We sailed into our next port of call; Suva, Fiji; on Feb. 1, 2018. We are on the big island of Viti Levu, which is home to both the major towns of Suva and Lautoka. We had a fairly late arrival in port this morning (about 10:00), but we were able to put together a dive excursion for after our arrival with several other passengers. The dive operator, Aquatrek, took us about a half hour up the coast to an area known as Pacific Harbor, which is where several of the resorts are located. Their dive operation is run out of one of those resorts, which has open water access from a kind of bayou area. There were six of us from the ship, and the pick up at the harbor went fairly smoothly.

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James and Gina, 2 of our dive companions du jour

Our dives today are going to take place just off the coast near a small island called Beqa. Many of the dive operators in Fiji are located on the outlying islands, or operate from live-aboard dive boats. In fact, this was the only dive operator I could find close to Suva on the mainland. However, what I didn’t know was that the currents come up pretty strong on this side of the island in the afternoon. This made for a couple of very strenuous dives, and resulted in a lot of particles in the water. However, we saw some great things (even if the photos don’t do them justice).

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Blue-banded Angelfish

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Bullethead Parrotfish
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Green Sea Turtle
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Thick-lipped Wrasse

 

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Common Lionfish
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Wedge-tailed Blue Tang

This area of Fiji is known for two things: brilliantly colored soft corals and plentiful shark life. The dive we selected was the coral dive, and I was really looking forward to trying to continue improving my camera skills underwater. We were also excited to learn that there were tons of varieties of reef fishes that we had never seen before. I didn’t even have a “fish finder” to tell us what we had seen! The corals were every bit as spectacular as advertised. We even saw a sea turtle! This is definitely an area to which we must return.

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Soft red coral and Spangled Emperorfish?
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Orange Fan coral

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Golden Damselfish in red coral

Poking Around Pago Pago

Jan. 29, 2018:

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After a couple more days at sea, we pulled in this morning to a hot a steamy day in Pago Pago (pronounced “Pango Pango”), American Samoa. It rains an incredible amount here, so everything is lush and green, but also amazingly humid! Given that it rained tons yesterday and is supposed to rain again later today, stepping outside our cabin is like stepping into a sauna.

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We don’t have a very arduous day today of excursions; just a bus trip up the coast a bit to visit some local viewpoints, a memorial to the victims of the 2009 tsunami, and a Samoan cultural show featuring a “kava” ceremony.

Notwithstanding the fact that Pago Pago is an American outpost, and fairly developed by the US military, things are decidedly laid back here. A prime example are the busses. Each “bus” is built on a car or truck chassis, and then an open-air wooden box with bench seats is built on top. Each bus is lovingly painted (and frequently named). In our honor, many of the busses have been decorated with fresh palm fronds and ginger blossoms.

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American Samoa features tall volcanic cliffs and valleys, which wind up almost immediately from the coastal area, and those hills are all heavily forested with tropical rain forest vegetation. The tree canopy is lovely, and there are some trees blooming in bright colors. Many Samoans make or supplement their living by farming in villages up in the hillside areas, and the ground looks so fertile, I imagine you have only to stick something in the ground to make it grow.

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Our entire group of busses set off up the coast for our first stop; a tiny islet lying just a few feet off the shore known as the “Flowerpot”. You have only to look at it to see why.

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The Flowerpot

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Further on, we stopped at a park for some awesome views of the coastline and the hills surrounding it. There is actually a US National Park located here (the 59th), and it takes up about half the island, and two outlying islands. It encompasses all sorts of terrain, including some awesome beaches and rainforest areas, but we couldn’t find anyone offering a guided tour (or a dive excursion, either).

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We made a brief stop at the one and only golf course on the island, and then continued on to the tsunami memorial.

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The Golf Course Clubhouse
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The golf course

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The Tsunami Memorial

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Shelly: Another one for you!

Finally, we went to the Samoan cultural show. Tribal life is still a very important and ever-present part of daily life here, and the local civil police authorities and courst system share jurisdiction with the tribal chiefs. The Kava ceremony we saw was a demonstration of an old custom where the special kava drink is prepared according to ritual and then shared with important guests. For those of us that didn’t want to sample the bitter brew, there were chilled coconuts to drink, followed by a dancing exhibition. Two of the more elderly men in the group were named honorary chiefs for the day, which required them to strip off their shirts and don the traditional tapa cloth skirts.

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The honorary “chiefs”

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Preparing the Kava

 

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Chief drinking kava

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Then it was time to go back to the ship. As Jim and I headed up to the top deck to enjoy sailing out of harbor, we all clustered at the rails to watch our poor seamen try to get our gangway unstuck so it could be brought aboard.  We all took turns coming up with expressions to match the looks on the captain’s face. Finally, disaster averted; we sailed out of port for New Zealand.

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The stuck gangway
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The Captain overseeing the “snafu”

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We Want Mora Mora Bora Bora

Jan. 26, 2018:

Of all the Tahitian islands, I think Jim and I agree that Bora Bora is the most stunning! We thoroughly enjoyed our morning sail in, and we are really looking forward to another great dive day! When Jim and I visited here four years ago, we thought the snorkeling was possibly the best we had ever experienced, and we swore to return when we could both dive. Here we are!

Today’s dive mission is all about rays; both little rays and the giant Manta rays which populate the Bora Bora lagoon. Our dive provider today was not one of the PADI 5 star operators because none of them were available on our port schedule. However, Jim found a dive operator called Dive n’ Smile operated by an expat Frenchman named Patrick, who had really good reviews on Trip Advisor. He turned out to be a really friendly guy about 10 years younger than we are, and he met us at the tender dock and then walked us just a few feet to his “dive boat”, which was a small “Rigid Inflatable Boat” (RIB) moored at the Vaitape tender pier. Being already sunburned from our previous days diving, I was not crazy to learn that there was no shade on the boat, but off we went.

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Patrick took us out to one of the open water channels through the reef into the Bora Bora lagoon. The idea was to go to the outer side of the reef and hang out in the channel created by the tides to see flocks of Spotted Eagle Rays, which congregate in this area. These rays are extremely shy, so you have to lie flat on the sea floor, and then let them swim close to you. This was harder than it sounded as the current was quite strong, and the three of us kept kicking up sand so the visibility sucked. Suffice it to say, there are no pictures of the sighting. Nonetheless, we got a good viewing of a moray eel and I seem to be zeroing in on how to light my camera rig.

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We found Nemo!

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Moray eel

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Giant clam

For our second dive, Patrick took us over to the far sided of the Bora Bora lagoon. This is the area where all the resorts have “over water bungalows” and the whole area looks like a postcard from Paradise. Although most of the lagoon is fairly shallow, there is a deeper channel which cuts through the coral atoll and the motus atop. It is in this area that the giant Manta Rays come to feed and get cleaned by the cleaner fish. Fortunately, the tidal currents are not as strong here, but there is also a sand canyon in the channel, so the visibility today isn’t the greatest. Like with the smalledr Eagle Rays, the idea is to get down on the floor of the channel and let the Mantas swim over you. Folks; we’re talking silent giants 6 to 8 feet across! They are awesome, and we immediately saw them starting to come into view. The remoras which clean them flitted in and out of view, and occasionally, you can see them attached to the Mantas doing a deep clean.

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Manta Ray
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Puffer fish

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Manta with remora

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After watching the mighty Mantas for a while, we swam into shallower waters and admired the reef ecosystem before ending our dive. Out time underwater seemed to speed by all too quickly, and then Patrick gave us one last treat; a trip round the rest of the island on the way back to the tender pier. What an awesome day! The only thing that could top it off was an incredible sunset sail away. Next stop; American Samoa!

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Weird starfish-don’t know what kind

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Moorish Idol

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Lagoon views

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Sail away
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Bora Bora lagoon

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Two Can Tango with Sharks

Jan. 25, 2018:

We awoke to another clear sail in this morning as we steamed past Moorea off the starboard side. We pulled into Papeete harbor just past 7:00 a.m., and docked next to a gorgeous yacht.

 

Today, Jim and I are again going diving; this time with a dive operator called Eleuthera Plongée about a half an hour outside of town. This was another 5 star PADI provider, and Jim and I were pleased to see what a professional looking operation it is. Another huge plus is that the dive boat has a cover on it, which is really necessary under this hot tropical sun. Second big plus is that the dive boat actually has a ladder on it, which is also very good for getting back out of the water. Hey, it’s the little things in life, right?!!!

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Black Tipped reef Sharks

 

Papeete-10We had two dives scheduled today. On the first dive, we ventured right outside the encircling reef that guards the coastline around Papeete. The primary purpose of this dive was to swim with the sharks. Boy, were there sharks!!!! As a lifelong diver, I must confess that the sight of ANY kind of shark still makes me want to levitate out of the water. However, with just a moderate increased air intake, we did have a great dive with black-tipped reef sharks, a few grey sharks and a lovely lemon shark.

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Raccoon Butterflyfish
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Grey Sharks

 

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Napoleon Bumphead Wrasse
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Lemon Shark

We also visited a memorial that the area divers sunk in tribute to one of their own who passed from cancer. However, the most hair-raising part of the dive was yet to come, when I surfaced and realized that my camera rig had slipped off my wrist in about 70 feet of water during our safety stop! The dive master and her partner gamely went back down after it. Given how strong the currents were, I thought it was a lost cause, but they were successful. Thank Goodness!!!!

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Our second dive was inside the reef in the Papeete lagoon in an area justly called The Aquarium. It is a much shallower area, with a sandy bottom, which was the primary excavation site for the Tahiti airport back in less ecologically sensitive times. In a bid to re-establish marine life, the Tahitians have sunk a few ships and even a small Cessna airplane. The marine life has obligingly colonized the wrecks, and the big plus was that there was a local spot where the lionfish routinely hang out. I checked my photos from yesterday with the new rig, and have calibrated the lights again, so we’ll see how you think these turn out.

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Jim doing some kind of scuba yoga

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Beautiful anemones, more colorful in real life
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The sunken Cessna

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One of the ship wrecks
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Parrotfish and some Sergeant Majors
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Mosaic Brutterflyfish
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Friendly photobombers
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Cowfish
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Lionfish

Rocking Rangiroa

Jan. 24, 2018:

After another day at sea (where it just poured down rain most of the day), we pulled into a lovely village on the island of Rangiroa, Tahiti. Jim and I have been anticipating this day since we left Los Angeles, as this is the first real opportunity we will have to go scuba diving. Although Regent does not offer scuba diving excursions through the ship, Jim found a 5 star dive operator through the PADI organization, and booked us on two dives with them. Fair warning: the next three posts will be short on text, but hopefully, my dive photos will make up for it. I say hopefully, because today is my first chance to try out the new dive camera setup that Santa brought me. Keep your fingers crossed!Rangiroa-1

Our dive operator today is Rangiroa Plongée, and our dive master is Rapha Ferreira. Although French and Tahitian are the dominant languages here, everyone at the dive shop and in the tiny town seem to speak excellent English. After a very thorough dive briefing, we set off on our first dive just through the break in the island only a short boat ride away. The main purpose of this dive was to see the big fish and sharks and turtles, which gather at the pass to feed. However, there are also some bottlenose dolphins in this area, so it should be a great dive.

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Vlaming’s Unicornfish?
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Starry Pufferfish
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Raccoon Butterflyfish
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Napolean Humphead Maori Wrasse
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Bottlenose Dolphins
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… coming to play

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The “Jim” fish
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Big-eyed Emperor Fish?
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Titan triggerfish
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Sea Turtle

After the first dive, we broke for lunch at a very simple snack shop called Snack Puna, which sits right off the main pier in “town”. We had the local specialty, Poisson Cru, which is the Tahitian version of ceviche, made with coconut milk in addition to the lime juice. As good as the meal was, though, the seaside views were outstanding, and from our seats, we could see all sorts of reef fish and some reef sharks swimming right below us!

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View from Puna Snack
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Sergeant-Major Fish
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Whitemouth Moray?
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Picasso White-banded Triggerfish (moray underneath)
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Black-tipped Reef Shark coming close to check things out
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Black-tipped reef shark right below us and a mullet which might become dinner

After lunch, we went back to the same area, but the tidal pull was much greater, leading to a lot more particles in the water and reduced visibility. Nonetheless, the dolphins did come back to play (although not close enough to photograph), and we saw a couple of huge barracudas. All in all, an awesome day!

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Regal Angelfish

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Barracudas

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To The Tahitian Islands We Go

Jan. 22, 2018:

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After four days at sea, we arrived this morning to glorious sunshine in the tropics. We are docked in the harbor at Nuka Hiva, the largest and most-populated of the Marquesas Islands, which are part of French Polynesia. If you are noticing how behind I already am in posting about our visits, let me tell you that the first two days out of Maui, we saw incredibly turbulent seas and unremitting rain. Suffice it to say that the first kept me from blogging or editing photos, or doing much except creeping around the ship!

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Taiohae Bay

We are anchored in the Bay of Taiohae. The Marquesas Islands form one of the five administrative divisions  of French Polynesia. Probably the best known of those groups of islands is the Society Islands, where Tahiti and Bora Bora are located. Here, however, we are still very remote, and we are about 850 miles to the northwest of the next nearest Tahitian island. The capital of the Marquesas Islands administrative subdivision is the settlement of Taiohae on the island of Nuku Hiva. The population of the Marquesas Islands was 9,346 inhabitants at the August 2017 census, and the population of Nuka Hiva itself is about 4,000 people.

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Two of the more famous visitors to the island were Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson. Melville deserted his ship here in 1841, and was immediately captured by a tribe of natives in the Taipivai Valley (1 valley over from Taiohae). After three weeks of captivity, he escaped to Taiohae, and his experiences on the island served as his inspiration for his book, Typee. More recently, the island also came into the spotlight in 2001, when it served as the site for the reality TV show, Survivor Nuka Hiva.

Although we are in the tropics, the Marquesas are the most dry of the Tahitian islands, and the climate at vegetation at sea-level is pretty arid. However, in the interior of the island, large volcanic mountains rise up and are covered with lush rain forest-type vegetation. In fact, the islanders are experimenting with cattle- raising in these interior valleys.

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As you might imagine, for such a remote place and small population, there are limited excursion opportunities available. In fact, there is only one, consisting of a drive over the high plateau in the center of the island called To’ovi’I to get to Taipivai. The only transportation available to accomplish this task is the personal 4WD vehicles of the villagers. Only one small drawback … most of the villagers only speak French in addition to Tahitian. The work-around for this was that we made several stops where everyone got out and took pictures, and the village spokesman, who did speak good English explained what we were seeing and the local history and culture. Our excursion took us up from the harbor on the only road up and over the ridge to the harbor in Taipivai Valley.

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Our first stop was at the Hakapa look out, where we had some killer views of the harbor, and our ship, Navigator. The Survivor cast stayed up near here in 2001 while they were filming.

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Views from Hakapa lookout

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Our caravan of villagers

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Taipivai Harbor
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Banana Plantation

On the way back, we made a stop at the relatively new community center where we were served delicious fresh local fruits by some of the village ladies. As hot as it is, the highlight of the stop was the chilled, in-the-coconut juice.

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We finished driving  back over the pass and proceeded on to the main Catholic church, Notre Dame, which had some pretty interesting Biblical carvings rendered in Polynesian style. Our tour concluded back at the center of town near the tender pier. While we enjoyed our day, I would say that this is not our favorite Taitian island.

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Shellie: This one is for you!

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Maui, More or Less

Jan. 17, 2018:

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Entering Kahului Harbor

Today we docked in Kahului, Maui. Jim and I opted to go excursion-less today, as we weren’t able to schedule an easy snorkeling or dive excursion for the day out of this side of the island, and we needed to do a little shopping for items we forgot or needed to supplement. Thus, I have virtually nothing else to say except that the Costco here is awesome

Oh, and once we were done shopping, it started dumping rain, so we decided to go back to the ship. Until Nuka Hiva …farewell!

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