Thursday, 27 November 2014

French Polynesia, Bora Bora - 26/11/14

We've been here for a week and done nothing. It's fantastic. We forked out for a mooring at the Mai Kai Marina, which is a rare luxury for us. But I'm really glad we did. There's wifi, actual showers with running water and a really nice outdoor area with an infinity pool to relax in. They always have funky music going during the day, with a live band playing and happy hour in the evenings. It feels like we're staying in a resort. Probably because this place used to be a resort. They're friendly and relaxed here too, not really caring what time you drop in and out. You can pay for a week and then come and go whenever you want, just coming back occasionally to use up another day and check up on the Internet. If you stay for an hour longer than you were meant to they're not going to come running out to charge you for another night. So it's just been really nice chilling out like real people.

There was a young couple parked next to us last week, so we went ashore to have a drink with them during happy hour on Friday. It was so nice hanging out with people close to our own age! We ended up having a really great night, as drinks turned into dinner and we chatted all night long. We didn't get to bed until midnight! Which is very unusual for us. Mark and Liesbet led us through town in search of a local food van, which we probably wouldn't have attempted on our own without being able to speak the language. Some had menus and some didn't, but the menus were in French. Liesbet speaks French quite well and did a lot of the communicating for us. We found a little van in town that was more like a restaurant, with menus and a waitress to take our order. It was set up on dirt in the middle of a parking lot, but it was a really nice place to have a cheap meal. The plates were huge as well - Garth ordered steak and got a whole plate of beef. I tried the poisson cru, which is a more traditional Polynesian dish - it's essentially raw fish cooked just in the acidity of lemon or lime juice, then mixed in a coconut sauce. I'm not sure how I feel about raw fish, but it tasted good.

On the way home we walked past a hall that was pumping with music. Liesbet led us inside to see what was going on and used her French skills to discover it was some kind of church group celebrating something. We think it was kind of like a YMCA. We stood in the doorway for a while, entranced by the energetic voices of everybody inside. Then somebody motioned for us to sit down so we headed in to enjoy the show. Everybody on stage had such huge voices. The whole hall was shaking from the noise, it was amazing. Then in between acts while the stage was being organised some people sitting in the audience gathered in a corner and broke into song. I want to say it was cheeky kids from the church but there were adults crowding around the spontaneous circle as well, jumping up and down and clapping along. The circle got bigger and bigger, then louder and louder as more people joined in. It must have been a well known song. People walking past us on the other side of the room were singing along quietly to themselves as they went about their business. After a while the performers returned to the stage for the next song and just stood there waiting. Eventually the lady who seemed to be in charge of announcing each act got on the microphone and told them to stop. Then she told them to stop louder. But the song just kept going round in circles, getting louder as it was repeated over and over again. The clapping and jumping and dancing just got more energetic as the lady pleaded with them to cut it out, obviously angry at being ignored for so long. Then the group on stage slowly joined in, swaying in time to the music and laughing at the distressed lady. There were no microphones and no order or organisation, but that random collaboration of voices produced the loudest, most beautiful music I'd ever heard. It was spectacular!

Other than that impromptu night out we've just been relaxing. We went for a sail around the island over a few days, stopping at a new picturesque location each night. It's stunningly beautiful here, as you'd expect. Hopefully I'll get used to it eventually but right now it's frustrating - as soon as the water gets shallow and turns that beautiful shade of turquoise blue, I have to stand on the bow watching to make sure we don't hit any coral. But I just want to take pictures of everything. The water is still stupidly clear, which makes sailing stressful. I always think we're going to hit everything. Even when we're kayaking it looks like we're about to beach ourselves on the sand underneath, but when I stick the paddle in to test the depth it's over 2m to the bottom.

This mountain looks like it should have a castle on top

We went snorkeling in the coral gardens on the south east side of the island, which was really nice. The fish are obviously well fed outside the resort where all the tour boats gather, and they just swarm around you. There were two guys balancing on the coral (I suspect one was from a tour boat, so I didn't tell him off. But he should know better). One of them was standing on one foot, waving the other around as he tried to keep his balance. There were so many fish hovering around their legs it looked like he was trying to kick them off like flies.

We went swimming in another spot round the corner, but there was hardly any coral so I just played in the water taking selfies. Which is obviously the only thing to do when you're bored with a camera on a long pole. The water was really pretty though, with light refractions dancing all over our skin and along the bottom of the ocean. It felt like we were playing in a swimming pool.

Everyone here seems to get about on outrigger canoes. But they all have the fancy modern kind made out of fiberglass. They're so racey! The locals make a game about chasing bigger boats, paddling as fast as they can in an attempt to surf the stern wave trailing behind the boat. When the cruise ships are here their little boats zip back and forth between the shore and the cruise ship all day, and a little group of outriggers gather in the middle of the harbour to wait for the next one. They follow it as far as they dare before either giving up or managing to surf along behind.

When we were sailing around the other side of the island we had a kid paddle over to us and just sit there staring as we slowed down to a crawl to check the charts. As soon as we got going again he was off, not even having to try to keep up with our 6 knots. He easily tucked in behind and surfed along for ages before turning around and heading back, probably painfully aware of how far he had to paddle.

It's been pretty annoying not having a dinghy. It was a long kayak to both swimming spots, and there was another one we couldn't get to without a motor. Luckily we've still been able to get out and explore, but it's made it a lot harder to find kiting spots. There's hardly any wind at this time of year and now we're limited in where we can get to as well. It's infuriating. Hopefully we can get our sad little dinghy fixed or replaced once we make it down to Papeete (where Tahiti is).

Garth really wants to feed the rays. They're absolutely everywhere, flying under us when we're sailing or kayaking. They're huge! There's a few spots where the tour boats do feedings, so we bought some sardines to give them which are supposed to be one of their favourite snacks. I've fed them before at an aquarium and they're a bit freaky, sliding all over your hand. So I'm not as keen. There's supposed to be a place on another island were they feed the sharks as well, so he obviously wants to head over there. Sharks are not my friends but I know I'll end up having to play with them.

It's rainy and miserable today, so we stayed indoors. It was pretty icky yesterday too so Garth amused himself by baking bread and cinnamon scrolls. Delicious! We can't really go anywhere without enough sun to light up the water and show us where the coral is. Tomorrow I think we'll head out to Maupiti, a very small island further west. So lots more exploring to come. Yay!

Xxx Monique

Underwater selfies

These little bungalows stretch out forever

The water is so clear, the little drop offs are ridiculously obvious - the depth is only 8m difference

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Rarotonga to French Polynesia (Bora Bora) 13-11-14 to 19-11-14

I have developed a new mantra on this passage: At least it's not cold.

I've been repeating it over and over to myself. It's not helping. We're so ridiculously hot. I'm having trouble sleeping during the day and everything is just uncomfortable and icky. It got so bad that garth actually pulled open the electrical cupboard and installed a fan while we were sailing. It's a computer fan and does almost nothing. But just enough air is being moved around now that we can sleep during the day for short periods of time.

Seems legit...

The other day we gave up and hove to for a swim. The water in this part of the world is body temperature, which was not ideal. But at least it's not cold.

It's been really pleasant sailing aside from the heat. We were going along at a steady pace with light winds and a smooth sea for days, which was lovely. No seasickness. This is the nicest sailing we've had since the trip to Australia from New Caledonia last year. The wind eventually picked up over the last few days, but the waves were still small and we actually managed to stay on a beam reach for most of the way. Yay for not going straight upwind!

Rarotonga disappearing into the distance

Thanks to all the work we did in Rarotonga the boat was a lot more secure this time. We fixed the broken window properly so it didn't leak all over the kitchen as soon as it got splashy or rainy. The net I installed in the bathroom stopped all the junk that usually ends up on the floor from flying around on the floor. It was actually weird walking through the boat and not having to climb over stuff. We're getting better at life, which is exciting. I blame Jerry. He motivated us to actually get off our asses and do things.

The sun setting over Rarotonga

The bilge pump broke on the passage. When Garth's dad sailed with us, he nagged and nagged Garth about leaving bits and pieces floating around in case they ended up in the bilge pump. Which was both amusing and realistic. So after he left I took over the job of constantly picking things up and saying 'Garth! This will end up in the bilge pump!' When it broke, he took it apart and found some slivers of wood rattling around inside. Nobody had to say I told you so. He knows. Though to be fair it probably wasn't really his fault. So hopefully we can fix it, and for the first time we made use of something we bought for our Cat 1 cert in NZ that we wouldn't have bought otherwise: a seriously intense manual bilge pump with pipes long enough to reach from the cockpit all the way through the boat. It's huge and annoying and I'm glad we have it. We're still getting a lot of water in the bilge, so being able to pump it out was important. We're slowly getting closer to figuring out where it's coming from, eliminating one thing at a time. It's not coming through the mast any more anyway!

Obligatory passage sunrise picture

We arrived in Bora Bora early this morning and found a cosy anchorage outside the main town. We're moving onto a mooring buoy tomorrow for the free wifi - it's around $55AUD for a week and you can break the week up by leaving and coming back later on. Which is awesome. If you just come into town for a night and buy a meal at their restaurant you can stay on their moorings for free, which is really nice. Especially considering you get access to toilets, outside showers and an infinity pool as well as the wifi. But if we didn't need Internet access I'd be happy just anchoring like we always do. The anchorage is straight in front of a supermarket, just down from where the moorings are. It's a lot closer to town when you have to row, but we'll unload the push bikes tomorrow and everything will suddenly be a lot easier.

Bora Bora

Our anchorage

Customs here is amazing. We didn't have to radio anybody or stress about anything. We just headed to shore when we were ready and found the police station, where they did all the paperwork. Total cost was $1 to post copies of our forms to Tahiti. We were done in less than half an hour.

Bora Bora sunset

We just explored town today, and spent a lot of money on French cheese, French chocolate and French bread. We also acquired some cheap French wine. Life is good.

Xxx Monique

The sun setting over Rarotonga

Watching the reef as we entered the harbour

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Cook Islands, Rarotonga (Island Night) - 12-11-14

We finally gave in and went to an Island Night. They're definitely the main tourist attraction here, providing an evening of local food and traditional dancing. It very much seems like a case of putting on a silly show for the tourists. I get the same feeling as when I look around at all the decorations people put up for visiting cruise ships - seeing the before and after is like watching props being made for the theater. It's all fake. You can almost hear the locals giggling as the tourists throw money at them. I think I probably got this idea because almost all of the Island Nights are held at resorts. There are two stand alone shows that are supposed to be less touristy and more traditional, but they cost $100 per person. Which is definitely out of our price range. I love island food, so rather than not go at all we opted for one of the cheaper ones ($49 each for dinner and the show). We could have just gone to watch the dancing for $10, but I wanted food. Of course I wanted food.

It was actually spectacular. I was expecting a cookie cutter show with nice dancing, and a half decent meal. It far and away exceeded my expectations. We chose to go to the Islander hotel, mostly because it listed everything on the menu instead of just saying 'island food,' and it was a short walk from the boat. We got there early for happy hour and actually had a really lovely evening together just talking and being a normal married couple. There was very little boat talk. No epoxy, sanding or problem solving. No route planning, which is our go to conversational topic after we move past ways of fixing things. We just talked about life and the universe while drinking ridiculously fancy cocktails at half price. It was lovely. We had waterfront views of the magnificent storm raging outside and the pool had awesome blue lights in it. It was nice to drink something with flowers in it next to a beach and a glowing blue pool. They even had a live band going. This must be what it's like for normal people when they go on holiday.

Then there was the food. It was fabulous. Much better than I was expecting from a resort buffet. They had all the traditional dishes covered, except they served pork belly in lieu of sacrificing a whole pig every night. Which is fair enough. I reached the point were I definitely couldn't eat another bite, which was when they chose to bring out cake and a huge Bombe Alaska. So I was happy. I'd already had a great night.

The dancing started the second everybody had finished scoffing down dessert. The dance troupe were just magnificent. There was a drumming group to provide the music and they were fabulous enough to have handled the entertainment all on their own. They instantly filled the whole hotel with multiple levels of sound, transporting us to another place and time. The ambience was amazing. Then there were the dancers. They told a loose story, with the drummers narrating in between acts. There was a dance to represent each island in the Cook Islands and they were all very unique. The girls moved in a similar way to belly dancers, in that their hips seemed to have a mind of their own. They wore the most beautiful costumes and for the faster dances the girls had a solid ledge of feathers sticking out behind them which you couldn't even really focus on because they were moving so fast.

By the end the dancers were all dripping in sweat and visibly exhausted. It was obviously hard work. I was absolutely delighted by the whole thing. I've seen traditional dances before, but this really was incomparable to anything else. So again, one of the highlights of our trip was a food experience. I shall refrain from pointing this out to Garth.

The list of island nights held on Rarotonga is massive, with almost every big hotel putting on a show. We originally decided to go to the Staircase bar in town, who put on a basic show twice a week. I'd read that the food was really average so it was better to just turn up for the $5 show. We got all gussied up on a Friday night and ventured into town, only to find that they were closed for a private function. Rude. So we wandered into Trader Jacks, which is the old cruisers bar before a cyclone washed away the harbour along with all the cruisers. Then we actually sat down and had a drink like normal people.

That was how we met Sarah and Yvette, on their last and first night in Raro respectively. They were both lovely, and thus began a really fun night of drinking, dancing and Rarotongan night life. We had an absolute blast! The drinks weren't that cheap once we left the pub environment, but they were ridiculously strong. I suspect this is because juice and soft drink costs so much here its cheaper to fill half the glass with vodka. Because it was Yvette's first night in town, we then had a familiar face floating around for the next week. It was actually pretty cool being parked in the middle of town - she could zip past on her scooter and just yell out to see if we were home.

The fishes loved Yvette

I wanted to go snorkelling again, so we spent a day at the beach together when Garth didn't feel like doing much. Which was fabulous. We headed to the same spot as before on Aro'a beach, but the journey was much more fun from the back of a scooter. I can see why everybody cruises around on them! Slightly nerve wracking with no helmets or protective clothing, but that's definitely the norm here. We went to the dive shop at Aro'a, who were really rude to me when I went in to ask about the cost of scuba diving a few days before. The younger people were really lovely and I'm guessing they're the ones actually doing the diving. But the lady they directed me to for a price enquiry was ridiculously rude. I just wanted two prices - the intro dive and the three day course. She sat me down and insisted on giving me a huge long spiel, which I sat through patiently. But every non-rehearsed word she said to me came across as rude and arrogant. She even got huffy at me when she asked what day we were leaving and my answer was 'probably later this week.' If I could have read her mind I would have found out that you're not supposed to fly for a few days after diving, and would have let her know we weren't flying anywhere. Unfortunately I can't mind read, and she snapped at me for withholding valuable information. If they were the only dive shop on the island (there's many others) and I really wanted to go diving, I still wouldn't give them any money after being spoken to so consistently rudely. She could have just been having a bad day. But worst customer service I've ever encountered. In conclusion, there are other dive shops.

Straight out the front of their shop is supposed to be the best snorkeling on the island, so Yvette handed over a few bucks for snorkel hire and we headed out. There's apparantly octopuses lurking out there but I suspect photoshop was involved in the octopus pictures posted in the dive shop, because we found none. There were lots of interesting fish though. The highlights were a weird boxy spotted guy and an angry eel. We even managed to get selfies in amongst all the fishes. They all seemed to be eating this time, which must be related to the tide. We chased big schools of fish that were jumping from one bit of coral to another, swarming around it and gorging themselves before rushing off to the next one. It was a lot of fun!

When I was there with Garth we found heaps of interesting fish as well, including another eel. He didn't seem to enjoy having a gopro pole stuck in his face and eventually ran away into some coral. Garth chased him and watched as he went through one hole after another, ending up wound all through the coral at once.

We also found a puffer fish, who made me very happy. He was hiding under a rock peeking out at me. You could see his little spikes all flattened down and I swear he was smiling. Happiest puffer fish ever! The coral was pretty average but the fish there are awesome. There was one weird looking guy who we kept trying to chase. He looked kind of like a Wrasse, but he swam with fins on his top and bottom instead of using the little ones on his sides. We also came across a crazy feathered fish hiding in the rocks. It was really hard to get a picture, but I tried anyway.

There were thousands of yellow and white stripey fish that were just everywhere. As always, they followed Garth. Everything follows Garth. I've even got a sequence of pictures where they're minding their own business, he swims past, and they all turn to watch him before trailing along behind. They were all milling around us and were so much fun to play with.

When I stand up to fix my mask or look for Garth, I always check the ground to make sure I'm not going to stand on coral. Then I drop the gopro, which is attached to my wrist and just hangs down near the ground. When we were going through the pictures I found these. I'd obviously just stood up, but this fish was so well camouflaged I didn't even notice him next to my feet. I have no idea what it was, but it's totally flat with one eye on top looking up to the world above. I saw another one when I was swimming with Yvette and watching them move was hilarious - they ripple along the bottom like a weird kind of stingray.

So Aro'a beach is the place to go snorkeling in Rarotonga.

It's costing us a fortune to stay here - $2.70 per metre per day for the parking space. I'm assuming they're going to round us up to 11m. Plus the food is really expensive. Although I have found a few low hanging coconut trees on public property that I can climb easily, so at least there's coconuts. They're selling them cut open with straws stuck in for $4 at the markets, about 20m away from the trees. No thanks. The markets here are really expensive and seem to just be a big tourist attraction instead of a place to buy veges. It's a big affair on Saturday morning, with food vans and souvenirs and a huge assortment of other things. A lot of the shops in town seem to have stalls there, so in a way it's a nice compact little sampling of everything in Rarotonga. They do have a few veges though, and we found some green oranges after Jerry told us they were amazing. They were amazing. And after getting some on the first Saturday we were here, I can't find any more anywhere. I should have bought more and just gorged myself!
I think we'll head out tomorrow, en route for delicious French foods in Bora Bora.

Xxx Monique