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Week 18/19: Rarotonga and Samoa

14-July-08 :: Leaving Bora Bora presented some more wonderful photo opportunities — the silhouette of the island from out at sea is quite spectacular! The weather was calm and pleasant, which kept us all hopeful for an uneventful 2-night passage to the Cook Islands. We were aiming to reach Rarotonga in time for the grandparents to catch their flight home and hoping for wind to carry us swiftly through the Cook Islands. On our first day and night the wind was almost non-existent and we motored most of the time. Our dinner the first evening was uncharacteristically easy, with the table completely flat! That night we all slept very well. But on the second day of the passage, the wind picked up after lunch and the sky turned quite cloudy. We were making good time, but the motion of the boat was affecting all but the most seaworthy. The strong wind and clouds persisted throughout that night, which ended up being a long one for most of us. But late the next morning the sky cleared and the seas calmed marginally. Still, we were all pleased to see land later that afternoon! Rarotonga was considerably cooler than the Society Islands, as we had to come a bit further south to reach it. Going for a stroll in the main town after arriving, it was refreshing to see the signs in English (and to hear it spoken with a Kiwi accent!) after more than a month of French. The small port on the north side of the small island provided an excellent walk-off mooring, but unfortunately the harbormaster was concerned about the height of our mast — the harbor is near the airport and he feared that our mast was high enough to interfere with small planes taking off. Given the alternative, which was to anchor outside the reef and risk another night of poor sleep, we opted to stay on land.

The Pacific Resort, on the southeast side of the island, was a welcome alternative. Arriving at lunch time, the plan was to spend two nights there. The restaurant was right on the beach, so at lunch we were able to see all the activities on offer. The hotel sat on the edge of a large, protected lagoon, fringed by two small islands. Sea kayaks and paddle boats were available to use in the calm water, and the kids were itching to get at them. That afternoon was easily filled, even though the water temperature was not quite as warm as we'd grown accustomed to in French Polynesia! The kids dug in the sand and visited the nearby island in kayaks. Dinner that evening was a special event — traditional Cook islands dishes in a buffet, followed by local dancing! Nobody in our group was very impressed with the food, but the performance was very nice. We had been spoiled by the fantastic dancing on Easter Island, and had managed to avoid attending any shows in French Polynesia, but glad that it finally worked out for us to attend a show on the grandparents' last night. Unfortunately, when the dancers roamed the audience looking for volunteers, everyone in our group proved too shy!

The following day was slightly warmer and Daniel took the boys off for a morning dive with Ian, the dive master from Guildford, back on the north side of the island. The girls tried out the icy cold swimming pool briefly before returning to the warmer lagoon. After lunch the kids once again entertained themselves with paddle boats and kayaks, followed by one last game of Scrabble with Granny before dinner! The restaurant was so full that we could only be seated in the bar area and, although the menu was more enticing than the previous evening's buffet, we waited nearly an hour before being served. What a shame, with the grandparents heading off to the airport after dinner! Saying good-bye was very sad. Sharing our experiences in the South Pacific with Granny and Grandpa was something none of us will ever forget.

The following morning we had breakfast, checked out of the hotel, and returned to Vaimiti at 11am. The crew were ready, so we set off straight away on a 3-night passage to American Samoa! Leaving the protection of the harbor at Rarotonga, we noticed immediately that the sea swell was more pleasant than it had been when we arrived. Still, the wind was pretty strong and we were making good progress, so the kids decided to sleep in the salon, where the movement is a bit less noticeable than in the cabins. The second day was also sunny and pleasant, with the motion of the boat pretty easy to tolerate. By the third night, everyone was feeling pretty comfortable with sleeping, and looking forward to arriving on land the following afternoon. The next day the skies turned dark and the seas picked up, and things were looking pretty hairy as we approached American Samoa. Since the wind was coming from the south/southeast and Pago Pago harbor is on the south side of the island, we soon realized that pulling in there would not be easy, and neither would it provide any protection. Although we were disappointed, we agreed to head around the east side of the island to look for a bay on the north side of the island, where the mountains would give us protection from the wind. To our relief, we managed to anchor in a perfect spot and spent a peaceful night out of the wind.

The next day was not much better, so we decided to proceed to Samoa (previously known as Western Samoa), about 70 miles away. We sailed nearly all day to get there, plowing through huge waves while black clouds threw intermittent rain down on us. To our relief, the main harbor of Apia is located on the north side of the island and offered protection from the wind. By the time we managed to get on land (finally, after not leaving the boat for 4 days!) the sky had cleared somewhat and we had a very pleasant walk around town. The harbormaster directed us toward Aggie Grey's hotel, where we arranged an outing for the following day, and a cash machine to withdraw some of the local money, called tala. Our anchorage in Apia harbor that night was very still and we all slept well. The next morning we met our guide at Aggie Grey's and headed off to explore the eastern side of Upola, the smaller of the two main Samoan islands. We drove through many well-kept villages, stopped to view waterfalls in the mountainous terrain, and admired the beautiful scenery. Lunch was provided at a beach on the south side of the island, where the wind continued to blow strong. The beach was not very inviting as the sea was churning and the sky had once again clouded over. We passed through some rain on our way back to Apia, but the town and the harbor remained dry. That evening we set off for Sails, a well-known harbor-side restaurant with interesting architecture that uses sails for part of the ceiling and the wall.

The next day we ventured to Vailima, the landmark residence of Robert Louis Stevenson during his time here in Samoa. The house is picture perfect, in a lovely setting, and offered an informative tour. We passed on the 45-minute walk up the mountain to view his grave, and instead headed off to a beach resort for lunch and a swim. Samoa boasts a huge number of churches, and it's not surprising that most things are shut on Sunday. We were ambitiously hoping to arrange a flight to Savaii, the larger of the two main Samoan Islands, for an overnight stay. We were disappointed to discover that flights don't seem to run on Sunday either, so we will have to leave Samoa without seeing the other island. Perhaps this afternoon we will manage an outing to another waterfall or a beach, if we can find a taxi. Tomorrow afternoon we set sail for Tonga — fingers crossed for slightly milder wind and seas on this 2-night passage.

Take a look at a YouTube
video of sailing toward Samoa.

Click on any picture below to launch a gallery of pics from Rarotonga and Samoa.

Or check out some more pics at Flickr.

Week 16/17: Tahiti and Society Islands

30-June-08 :: After retrieving the grandparents from the airport, we spent an uneventful weekend in the Taina Marina outside Papeete, in Tahiti. The crew needed time to reprovision the boat and get some laundry done for all of us, plus empty the rubbish! We kept busy by playing Scrabble while on board, and ventured onto land a couple of times. We visited the town where Daniel found a pair of sandals to replace the ones he lost on the dive boat in Rangiroa. We also had a look at the market, where we bought a couple of gifts. Lunch in town was not exactly memorable, and it was an easy decision to head back to the boat for the rest of Saturday afternoon. Sunday we had a taxi pick us up for a ride along the west coast of the island. Fifi, the taxi driver, had become a friend over the short duration of our two stays in Tahiti, and she took pride in showing us around. In fact, we noticed that many of the taxi drivers were ladies, and they all took pride in their appearance — a pleasant change from other places! Fifi took us to see a botanical gardens and a small park with a waterfall, both of which were a nice distraction from the marina. Sunday evening we had a pleasant dinner at one of the restaurants in the marina — La Casa Bianca. We had hoped to move on to Moorea on Monday, but had to postpone for one day while the meat we purchased was frozen sufficiently and delivered. So Monday we took the kids back to the Intercontinental Hotel for the day to play in the pools and have lunch — our last day on land for awhile!

Tuesday we headed off as scheduled, and the trip to Moorea was a short one (only a couple of hours). We anchored in Cooks Bay and went for a snorkel off the back of the boat and at a few other places just inside the reef. After that, we moved further into the protected bay for the night, and the next day we got out the toys — both kayaks, the laser and the bic! The wind was a bit inconsistent, so the sailing wasn't very satisfying, but the water was perfect for the kayaks! Later that afternoon we moved around to Opunohu Bay, stopping off at a beach for awhile before settling in for the night. We had a very peaceful night, with dramatic mountains protecting us from the wind, and very little in the way of settlement on that part of the island. Although we barely managed to get onto land, we had a great impression of Moorea!

Early Thursday morning we lifted the anchor and headed north to Huahine, a sail of about 10 hours. We watched the dramatic, mountainous silhouette of Moorea gradually disappear as the sun came out and the moon set. We reached Huahine late in the afternoon and found a spot to anchor in Cook Bay, near the town of Fare on Huahine Nui. The boys went ashore and found some fresh milk at the grocery store, so they were happy. After that Daniel convinced the kids to kayak ashore nearby and try some snorkeling — all I could see was a goat munching on the beach nearby! That evening we got everyone to bed early — sailing always seems to make us all tired!

The next morning Daniel took the boys off for a dive along the reef. They were very impressed with the local divemaster, who removed numerous crown-of-thorns starfish from the reef in an effort to protect it. The rest of us went into town, which consisted of a grocery store and a couple of trinket shops — not the most charming side of the island. After they returned, we moved to Bourayne Bay just south of the previous anchorage. So far this has been our favorite spot — we immediately got on the kayaks and headed toward the south entrance to the bay! The snorkeling there was a bit disappointing, so we decided to brave an approaching squall in order to see if the snorkeling would be better near the motu (small island) in the middle of the bay entrance. After being pelted with rain, we were rewarded with some of the best coral and variety of fish we'd seen yet! Once the squall passed, we were also treated to a rainbow.

The following morning we set of rather early, in search of the "City of Coral", which required us to take the inflatable through the channel separating Huahine Nui from Huahine Iti. After about 45 minutes of bouncing around in the small boat, we reached an area that looked promising. We could see that there was coral, but we also noticed that the current was rather strong. Everyone was a bit nervous about being washed into some coral and getting cut, so that was a short snorkel, but we saw lots of sea anemones with clownfish, just like in Finding Nemo! After that we noticed a resort that had been mentioned in the guidebook, only to discover that it was abandoned! We swam on to shore to have a look around, but some local people had taken over a few of the bungalows on the hotel property and were not too happy to have us there. Until they found us, it was a very strange experience to wander around an abandoned resort like that. So we returned to the boat, rather disappointed in our outing. In looking at the guidebook, it turns out that we hadn't gone far enough — "City of Coral" was on the other side of the resort, between the reef and the shore! But we were happy to go back to the motu near our anchorage later that afternoon. In fact, snorkeling a bit later in the day meant that the fish were much more active, and we spotted a couple of octopi!

Sunday morning we lifted anchor and had a leisurely sail to Ra'iatea, just north of Huahine. We entered through Te Avamo'a Pass, arriving in time for lunch, and anchored in Faatemu Bay, but our post-lunch snorkel plans were interrupted by a very large black cloud overhead. We have become accustomed to short squalls, and were happy to wait it out. But this one turned out to be more of a weather system than a squall. A few hours later, a small patch of blue sky emerged, and we took advantage of it by heading for the nearest snorkeling spot. Motu Nao Nao is unique because it is one of the few places where a sandy beach faces out to sea — most of the sandy beaches face into the lagoon of the various atolls. In spite of the odd sprinkle, we enjoyed our stroll along the beach and were rewarded with another rainbow. We also enjoyed the snorkeling, but grew tired of battling the swell. That anchorage was not suitable for overnight, so we had to move again to Faaroa Bay, which is very protected.

Monday morning we set out early again. This time we were headed up the Faaroa River, in search of crabs that crack coconuts with their claws for food. The rainy weather had not left completely, so we experienced a few showers along the way. We saw quite a few crabs, but it was an effort to spot them on the river bank, camouflaged in the tree roots! There were coconuts everywhere, even a few broken ones, but no real evidence that the crabs had anything to do with them. Still, the river made an interesting change from our usual activities! Later that day we set off north to the island of Taha'a, which shares a protective reef with Ra'iatea. Captain Philippe took us up to the northwest side of the island, where the silhouette of Bora Bora is very prominent to the west. In spite of the strong wind, we gamely set out in the inflatable to find some snorkeling, with the kayaks tied on the back. Daniel set off in one of the kayaks paddling with the current, but we could see him struggle as he turned to paddle against the current and the wind. Finding a suitable snorkel spot proved tricky as well, since most of the lagoon was too shallow! So we gave up and went back to Vaimiti for a cup of tea.

After finding a protected anchorage for the night, the next day we returned to the same section of the lagoon and hoped for the wind to die down. No luck in the morning, where another snorkel outing ended in disappointment. Fortunately, we were all happy to have a break and play Scrabble and cards for a bit! Later that day Daniel and I decided to have one more try, so we snorkeled along the edge of the shallow water, just where it drops to 35 meters or so. That was beautiful! The wind was still blowing quite hard above and the surface was pretty choppy with white caps, but under the water none of that was in evidence — the fish were everywhere, enjoying their coral home! That evening we moved to the west side of Taha'a, where the yacht club is located. Captain Philippe took the grown-ups into the bar for a drink before dinner. That was our first public outing in over a week!

The next day was our much anticipated botanical tour, including a vanilla plantation. Our guide, Alain, met us on his dock at 8:30am Wednesday morning — much to the girls' delight he had a big dog named Wolfy with him! He started out by showing us various plants in his garden and explaining their history, for instance when and how they arrived in the islands. We had seen many of the plants before — hibiscus everywhere(!), guava and passion fruit in Galapagos, and basil! But we were introduced to a fruit, which is known as "cow's udders" due to its shape, and I think it was my first time seeing lemon grass in the ground. And, of course, there were the vanilla beans on the vines. We were surprised to learn that the flowers only bloom for one day. Also, the bees which pollinate the flowers live only in Mexico, so the flowers have to be hand-pollinated anywhere else in the world! Talk about labor intensive ... The morning outing was really enjoyable — we drove to a kind of factory where they lay the vanilla beans (they look like long, green beans) out on tables in the sun to sweat until they dry out and get wrinkly (about 4 months). Then they package them up to send elsewhere to be pressed into vanilla extract or sell them by the kilo! Vaimiti's chef, David, was with us and purchased several kilos. We have enjoyed fresh vanilla ice cream since then ... The highlight of the trip was a drive up a muddy, bumpy road to the highest point on the island for a panoramic view! We felt relieved to have made it to the top in a 4WD vehicle, until we saw a bunch of young guys on bicycles at the top — some of them barefoot!!

Later on Wednesday we repositioned the boat further south again, on the west coast of Ra'iatea, for our final night there. The next morning we visited our second pearl farm. We were not expecting any surprises, since we'd been to a pearl farm in Rangiroa, but we couldn't have been more wrong! The divers picked us up before 8am and told us to bring our snorkel gear along (?). We discovered that we were being invited to jump in the water with the divers! From Vaimiti, we had noticed a small hut built over the top of the water — it turned out to be the location of the pearl farmers' workshop and retail space! Between Vaimiti and the workshop were dozens of small, floating buoys, which marked where the oysters were hung. Donning our snorkel gear, we hopped into the water to see a spider web of ropes, all connected beneath the water, with oysters hanging from them! We watched as the divers unhooked rope after rope of oysters and attached them to the side of their launch. Fascinating! Then we swam back to their workshop and watched as fish came along to clean off the oysters' shells while they hung alongside the building in the water. Inside, we watched as one of the farmers pried open the oysters, harvested the pearl, and planted another irritant into the oysters which had produced beautiful pearls. What a different experience to our first pearl farm visit!

After returning to Vaimiti, we brought up the anchor and set sail for Bora Bora, exiting through the Teputiare Pass. The sail was about 2 1/2 hours, since the only entrance to the atoll is on the west side. As we entered the lagoon, we were amazed at the colors. Even compared with all the other islands we have visited, Bora Bora is the most impressive visually. Captain Philippe found a place to anchor the boat and the rest of us piled onto the inflatable with Maxime. We headed for a spot which is known as "Manta Pass", located next to "Eagle Channel", in the hope of seeing some rays. After being in the water for just a few moments we spotted over a dozen rays off in the distance in the deep water near us — amazing! Admittedly, the distance strained my poor vision, so I was grateful when two spotted eagle rays decided to break away from the pack and swim past us at a distance of about 5 meters. Then we dragged ourselves back into the inflatable and raced back to Vaimiti, since Captain Philippe wanted to move to our anchorage at the yacht club while the sun was still shining.

Friday morning we were picked up at 8:30am by Leon and Joseph, two Tahitian brothers who we found to give us a tour of the lagoon. First stop of the day was nearly the same spot where we'd snorkeled the previous afternoon! They were feeding the fish and diving down to a coral cave and trying to coax out a moray eel, but to no avail. Still, it was a nice gentle start to the day. Our second stop was in some very shallow water (we could all stand) to snorkel with stingrays. It feels a bit freaky when they brush up against your skin! The rays were very friendly, especially to Leon, who was feeding them. The food attracted a couple of small black-tipped sharks too, which added to the excitement. After that we left the lagoon and stopped outside the reef where the depth was about 30 meters, in search of more sharks. This time Joseph got into the water and Leon stayed on board with the food, attracting about a dozen black-tipped sharks. The kids were very excited and swam confidently around them — far below the surface we could see the more menacing lemon sharks (about 3 -4 meters long) swimming around. Granny was a bit hesitant, but was finally convinced to get in the water for a look. Our next stop was the lagoonarium, where the animals are kept in place by a net. We saw a few sea turtles, but they don't like people to swim with them. We then swam with some more stingrays and sharks, before moving to another spot for a picnic lunch. After lunch we had one more snorkel spot to hit, known as the "Coral Gardens". There were lots of fish and clams there, as well as huge sea urchins, but nothing too exciting. Just as everyone was getting out, someone started shouting excitedly — a moray eel had been spotted! Even Leon and Joseph were excited by its immense size. I decided it was worth getting back in the water for a look. Usually an eel will poke just its head out, but this one surprised us by leaving the safety of its cave and swimming around! For the rest of our stay in Bora Bora we have a few dives scheduled, but it will be tough to beat our fantastic day out with Joseph and Leon.

Friday night we had dinner at Bloody Marys, the restaurant at the yacht club. Apparently it's quite famous — there are a couple of walls bearing the names of celebrity diners there. Just inside, it looks like the meat and fish counter in a gourmet grocery store — everyone had to choose their starter and main course from that selection! The floors are completely covered in sand, and the diners sit on very heavy, polished tree stumps. Unfortunately, one fell on Grandpa's foot as we arrived at our table and were being seated. After that I was worried about them falling on the kids, so it was hard to relax and enjoy my dinner. The food was delicious, and since we ordered upon arrival the food arrived shortly after we were seated.

Today is Captain Philippe's last day, as he is being replaced again by Captain Jean Luc. We will really miss him!

Click on any picture below to launch a gallery of pics from Tahiti and Society Islands.

Or check out some more pics at Flickr.

Week 14/15: Nuku Hiva and Tuomoto

17-June-08 :: Our first impression of Nuku Hiva, which is the main northern island of the Marquesas, was from the plane after an early departure and a 3-hour flight from Tahiti. Dusty, rocky, hot and clearly not the lush tropical paradise (see the National Geographic "Islands of the Pacific" article
here). we were expecting. But apparently the only place to situate an airport was on the arid northern side of the island. Ahead lay a 2-hour bumpy ride across to the south side and the main town of Taiohae, where Vaimiti waited.

A steep climb to a pass at a height of more than 1200m meant we were treated not only to cool, even chilly, winds but a spectacular view south towards verdant valleys. As we dropped down to a plateau, we found ourselves amongst fir tree forests more reminiscent of faraway Vermont than the Pacific. Several photo opportunity stops later we were in the sleepy administrative town of Tahiohae, with 1700 inhabitants, and shortly thereafter back onboard our home away from home.

After breakfast the next morning we raised anchor for a leisurely 3-hour sail to a quiet bay on the north east corner. A herd of Electra dolphins accompanied us past some impressive cliff faces before arriving in Anaho Bay with majestic steep sides and deep anchorages. The bay proved very quiet with only a handful of yachts and the small resident population scattered in several structures across the broad bay. The boys and I were quickly in the water (the anchorage the previous night was off limits to swimming due to sharks ...) and immediately saw a large manta ray glide majestically beneath us! Unfortunately the coral was not of the mythical legend and we later learned that the last major El Nino had bleached the majority of coral throughout French Polynesia — quelle dommage! However, on the positive side the famous NoNo's (Olympians of the sand midges) were subdued throughout our stay in the Marquesas.

The following day we retraced our sail south and paid homage to Daniel's Bay, which unfortunately was not suitable for an overnight anchorage. We practiced our kayaking skills, however, and also found a lagoon fed by a fresh water river before nipping back around the corner to Taiohae Bay. Sunday was spent quietly onboard, highlighted by an excursion ashore for dinner which, due a sudden down pour, resulted in us enjoying an unexpected steak frites and rice at a roadside stall for shelter.

With the prevailing winds from the southeast the southern island of Hiva Oa in the Marquesas would have to remain unexplored. After breakfast the next morning we set sail for Ahe in the Tuomoto's, 600 miles distant. With the wind blowing a helpful 20knots from a friendly quadrant we made good progress and, two relatively restful nights later, arrived inside the pass to the island atoll. Known for pearl farming Ahe treated us to a relaxing day and two nights before setting sail for the largest atoll in the Tuomotos, Rangiroa (a mere half day's sail to the east). Passing through the Tiputa pass was highlighted by dolphins following us in on the 5-knot current. Following a snorkel expedition to a nearby a moto (one of the small individual islands that collectively form the atoll) we planned our next three days of diving. The boys and dad were first up for the "sunset" dive that evening — a gentle drift through the pass into the atoll in order to see sergeon fish "breeding". A heart stopping hour of clinging to coral in the strong current later the boys had completed their first recreational dive and so the die was set.

Two days and 3 dives later we set sail across the atoll for the "Blue Lagoon" and the home of a breeding site for black-tipped sharks. Time for the girls to enjoy themselves in sparkling shallow waters. Only one more day was left in the Tuomoto's before setting sail for Tahiti and the much-anticipated arrival of the Grandparents from the U.K. That final day was spent experimenting on the dinghies in 15-20 knot winds, something the boys had been wanting to do for awhile. After 24 hours at sea, the peaks of Tahiti were a welcome sight! Time to pick up the grandparents at the airport and replenish the supply of food onboard.

Click on any picture below to launch a gallery of pics from Nuku Hiva and Tuomoto.

Or check out some more pics at Flickr.

Week 13: PADI

03-June-08 :: Our flight to Papeete, in Tahiti, left late Sunday night. Once again we had to pack up our suitcases and check them in at the airport (much smaller than Bermuda airport!) — thank goodness only one more time before rejoining Vaimiti. The 6-hour flight was very comfortable again, but Francesca still managed to stay awake almost the entire time! Although we arrived at nearly midnight local time, Monday morning everyone was up and wanting breakfast at around 7:00am. Ever since we learned that children are able to complete the Open Water Diver course from the age of 10, the boys had been asking about it. Daniel was keen for them to complete it and wanted me to become certified as well, so taking these 3 days while we waited for the boat to reach the Marquesas seemed to be the perfect opportunity. Daniel spoke to the dive master at the hotel and discovered that we could start our scuba diving course that morning at 10:00am, so we got started right away!

The next few days were exhausting — Daniel took Miranda and Francesca to the swimming pool between 10:00am and 4:00pm, while Benjamin, Felix and I learned the basics of diving. The first morning our instructor showed us how to assemble our equipment. Then he took us out on the boat to a diving area known as "The Wreck", in the harbor near the airport. Before I knew it he had the boys 5 meters under the water, breathing from a regulator! So much for starting in a swimming pool. We had a break for lunch and then we each did a second dive that afternoon, at a different location called "The Aquarium". We had a quiz each on Tuesday and Wednesday morning, plus a final exam at the end of the day on Wednesday. We couldn't have passed the exams without all the study help we received from Daniel. In all we did 6 dives in 3 days, learning how to share regulators underwater and clear water from our masks, among other skills. It was all pretty intimidating stuff, but doing it with the boys meant that I couldn't chicken out! We were thrilled when we were told on the final day that we had managed to "pass". Benjamin and Felix didn't even look nervous once—they were amazing all the way through.

Thursday we had another early morning flight, a domestic flight from Tahiti to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas. This was on a small propeller plane, which meant that we flew sufficiently low to spot the various atolls of the Tuamotos on the way — very exciting! Captain Philippe was there to meet us when we landed at one of the smallest airports I've ever seen, with a jeep to drive us and a pick-up truck to transport our luggage (plus the traditional flower necklaces, which were very fragrant!). The kids were dismayed to learn that it would take 2 hours driving to reach the bay where the boat was moored. But we were all awed by the scenery on the drive. The island is incredibly mountainous and beautiful, and we stopped several times to photograph the inspiring views. When we finally reached the boat, the kids were glad to be back in their rooms, and see their belongings. We spent most of the day Thursday unpacking and relaxing, then discussing with Captain Philippe our plans for the next few days. We were all asleep early, still recovering from our manic 3 days in Tahiti.

Click below to launch a pic.

Or check out some more pics at Flickr.

Week 12: Easter Island

28-May-08 :: Our flight to Easter Island (also known as Isla de Pascua) the next morning departed at 8:00am, so we had a taxi to the airport at 6:00am. Fortunately there was a coffee shop in the airport with some muffins for breakfast. The seats on the plane reclined to a completely flat bed, so everyone was very comfortable. Surprisingly, breakfast was also served on the flight. So we arrived just in time for lunch local time, and feeling rather fresh. The brand new Explora hotel was really fantastic. The rooms were simple but bright and airy, and the common areas were beautiful. The restaurant offered a set menu, but the chef was flexible enough to make an extra meal for the children if the set menu was on the fancy side for them. Wine was also included, so Daniel and I attached ourselves to a delicious organic Cabernet Sauvignon which we drank at most every meal during our five-night stay!

One that first afternoon our guide took us to the quarry where the statues were made. We learned that the statues are called Moai and that they were erected in honor of leaders who died. It was believed that the spirit of the leader lived on in the Moai, which stood facing the community and looked after its inhabitants. There was also a bit of competition between clans for who could erect the most impressive (i.e. largest) Moai , making it increasingly difficult to move the Moais from the quarry to the locations where the various clans lived.

On subsequent days we were shown ceremonial platforms where numerous Moais were erected and told the history of the inhabitants of Rapa Nui (as the island is known in the local language). We were lucky with sunny weather on our first and second days, but after that the rain settled in. There was a dry break where we were able to go to the top of one of the volcanoes and see the remains of the settlement that was once there. In spite of the rainy weather, we enjoyed our time on the remote island and learned a tremendous amount.

Click on any picture below to launch a gallery of pics from Easter Island.

Or check out some more pics at Flickr.

Week 11: Chile

21-May-08 :: For those of you who have a password and are having trouble, here's how you access the blogs. In the space where it asks for your user name, type the name of the blog you would like to read, e.g. "family"; then, in the space where it asks for password, type your password. This will give you access to a more detailed description of what we've done!

The first thing we learned about Santiago is that in winter it is often foggy. The fog usually clears by late morning, but unfortunately our flight was not able to adhere to its 5:00am scheduled arrival time, which meant that we spent most of the night in the LAN Chile airport lounge sleeping. Instead of departing at 11:30pm, our flight left at 3:30am, moving our arrival time to about 9:00am. Although it was difficult to drag the kids off the plane and into the waiting taxi, the Ritz Carlton was waiting to welcome us with an early check-in time, which was a relief!

We had considered getting back on a plane to visit the desert in the north of Chile, but decided that we'd had enough of airports and instead rented a car to drive to the Colchagua Valley, home of some of the best Chilean red wines! After a walk around the zoo in Santiago on Thursday morning, we had a delicious lunch at a Thai bistro in the Bellavista section of the city and headed off south. The roads were excellent everywhere we went — a nice surprise, since I thought I'd read that only 20% of roads were paved in Chile.

Our first stop was the Hacienda Los Lingues, a very unique vineyard hotel in the Colchagua Valley which produces its own label. From the moment we arrived, it felt as though we'd been transported back in time. We were welcomed by Cesar, the manager, who seemed over- dressed in a suit. He showed us around the historical buildings of the property, describing antiques from around the world as well as items made from silver mined in South America. Our rooms were also filled with antiques, and heated by pot-bellied stoves! Since we had been unprepared for the chill of the night air, the warm stoves were very welcome. The hotel was home to a number of Scottish terriers, including one new puppy, so the kids were happy to follow the various dogs around. Friday morning Daniel also took the kids horse riding, where they climbed up to over 1000feet , following some rather treacherous paths along steep hills. The food at the restaurant is also worth mentioning, simply because it was quite elaborate. We were also the only guests (it's the low season) so we felt a little strange having the attention of the waiters dedicated to us!

Saturday we moved to the Santa Cruz Hotel, located in the main town of the valley. The restaurant was also very good, and we are definitely lovers of Chilean wine now! Sunday was a rainy day, but we still drove out to experience a vineyard. We visited Vina de Mament, which usually gives a tour of the vineyard in a horse drawn carriage. Unfortunately that was not on offer because of the rain and muddy conditions. So we had to settle for just tasting the wine and having delicious sandwiches in their shop. We attempted to visit another vineyard, but everything closed by 4pm and the rain continued.

Monday we returned to Santiago. The continuing rain spoiled our intentions of visiting another vineyard or two on the way back to the city. We inadvertently came off the motor way in the center of the city in the midst of terrible traffic! Once we had navigated our way out of there, we managed to find the hotel with little trouble and return the rental car. Much to our surprise, we discovered that one of the shopping malls has a cinema showing movies in English! So we watched the latest movie in the Narnia series, Prince Caspian, which was enjoyed by all.

On our last day in Santiago we managed to convince the kids to do some more school work and shopped for some new trousers for the boys, who seem to have grown! We also found a bowling alley, where I impressed myself by negotiating the entire transaction in Spanish. We enjoyed the roof top pool at the hotel one last time and ordered room service for dinner. Once the kids were settled, Daniel and I snuck down to the bar to taste a few more Chilean wines before leaving!

Click on any picture below to launch a gallery of pics from Chile.

Or check out some more pics at Flickr.

Week 10: Onward to the Galapagos

14-May-08 :: We left Panama City on May 1st, after refueling the boat, and headed off toward the Galapagos. The sky was hazy and the sea was eerily calm as we departed, and it stayed that way for the first day and a half. Since there was almost no wind, we ended up motoring for quite awhile. We had the fishing line out to trawl and were disappointed to catch nothing on the first day. On day two we had several bites and finally caught our first fish in the deep sea! It was a relatively small bonito, which we ate as sashimi for dinner that evening — delicious! Catching the fish caused much excitement at the stern of the boat, watching Davide clean the fish and throw the guts and head overboard. Just after the excitement died down, we got another bite — a good sized dorado (it's amazingly colorful, but the color dulls very quickly once it comes out of the water). As a result, our lunch consisted of a terrine of fish tartare with some seaweed. Heavenly!

Day 3 of the passage was a bit windier and rougher (although the sea was not as high as some of our days in the Caribbean), so some of us were feeling quite ill. Needless to say, not much school work was done that day, and not much food was eaten. The sky remained overcast and we got some rain that day and night. By day 4 the sea had calmed down a bit and everyone was feeling considerably better. The wind was still blowing quite well, so we were making good time by sailing. The sky had cleared and it was a beautiful day, but the temperature had cooled down due to the rain! Day 5 was also gorgeous, with a lovely cool breeze and bright sky. As we neared the Galapagos, we began to notice more and more birds. Then the captain spotted 2 small pilot whales next to the boat! We didn't get a great look at them because they went below the water quickly. But then we were more alert and started noticing more and more animals. Two separate herds of dolphins swam across our path, which was very exciting — at first we were watching them through the binoculars, but as we got closer to them we could see about 20 of them just swimming along and jumping out of the water! We also saw a ray sunbathing on the surface, just next to our boat.

We pulled into Academy Bay at about 9pm and shortly after we anchored we received a visit from a sea lion. They love to climb onto boats in the marina and have a nap! The anchorage in Academy Bay is not very calm, so the boat swayed back and forth all night long and none of us slept very well. On our first full day, we took a water taxi (this is the normal mode of transport) onto land and walked around town. We visited the Charles Darwin Station, where research is conducted on local animals. Giant tortoises are bred in captivity and released to their natural environment once they survive their first couple of years. Since there are several islands in the archipelago, each island has a slightly different tortoise and much care is taken to keep them separate from each other. The town is very nice, with quite a few restaurants and small hotels, plus T-shirt shops galore! Later that day we took a bus with our guide, Luis, to the center of Santa Cruz Island to see the giant tortoises out in the wild. They are enormous! After that, we walked through a lava tube, which is a cave that results from the lava hardening after it leaves a volcano. Then we headed back to the boat for dinner.

Wednesday, several members of the crew and Daniel went diving at Gordon Rock. They left at 6:10am and had 2 dives out at the rock formation — they saw hammerhead sharks and fur seals, among other things. The rest of us went to the beach at Tortuga Bay. A small boat dropped us off in a calm, sandy bay, from which we could walk to a beautiful beach that closely resembled Horseshoe Bay in Bermuda! This was probably the first beach we've seen on our trip that rivals Bermuda beaches, except that the sand was not pink ... There is also a huge difference between low and high tide, so the beach with the waves was only safe during low tide and as the tide came in. There we saw the famous marine iguanas as they came in from the sea after feeding and swam ashore, then walked up the dunes to lay in the sun. We also kayaked in the calm bay and watched for turtles, rays and baby sharks. At the end of the day, we snorkeled in the calm bay and came across a giant sea turtle — a very exciting find, and we followed him for awhile.

The next day we caught a small boat out to a small island near the mainland, where sea lions were sunbathing. We waited until they got hot and wanted to splash around in the water to cool off, and then we got in the water with them and played! The surf was pretty wild there, so it was a challenging spot to snorkel, but everyone did very well. Being in the water with the sea lions was amazing! They are so curious and playful — we watched about 8 of them swim down to the bottom of an underwater rock formation, go through a hole, and come up on the other side — they did this over and over again, just like a toddler at a playground! After that we drove around the bay, watching blue-footed boobies dive for fish and enjoying the scenery. We got in the water again and saw another sea turtle, a marine iguana swimming, and an octopus hiding in a rock! That was a great morning. In the afternoon the boys went fishing — although they didn't catch any fish they had a surprise encounter with false orcas! Even our guide, Luis, was shocked to see them so close to land. He was the first one to dive in, and the boys followed in their underwear. Hopefully one of their photos is on the website as well.

The next day we moved to a hotel. After all the swaying of the boat in the anchorage, it was a treat to get a good night of sleep! Vaimiti will sail on to the Marquesas without us — after our passage to Galapagos, we decided that there are better ways to use 15-20 days. So we planned an extra day in Galapagos, staying at the Royal Palm Hotel (which was absolutely lovely). We took another boat trip on Saturday, to see Daphne Major and Minor, plus Seymour. The sea lions on Daphne were amazing — they saw us swimming and decided to come in and play with us! Daphne is basically just a big rock sticking up out of the ocean, and very close to Santa Cruz island. After lunch we snorkeled around Seymour, where we saw a couple of white-tipped sharks swimming around! The surf was pretty strong there, so it was a challenging swim. We also saw a golden ray and lots of beautiful fish.

Sunday we caught a flight to Guayaquil, where we stayed at the Hilton. There is a great Japanese restaurant in the hotel, so we enjoyed sushi for dinner that night. Monday we took a tour around the city, which is quite nice. There are some poor areas, but not as much as I'd thought. And the city has made a real effort to beautify itself by creating a lovely boardwalk area along the river. We walked along and the kids played on 2 playgrounds, plus we walked through a beautiful garden with local plants and trees. It was a nice way to spend the morning, followed by a swim at the hotel. We then visited a local shopping mall with a games arcade, so the kids were in heaven.

Click on any picture below to launch a gallery of our voyage Onward to the Galapagos.

Or check out some more pics at Flickr.

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