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- TopDIVE French Polynesia
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|FRENCH POLYNESIA 2005, MARCH 27 - APRIL 28, 2005|
Seb Bertaut and a feeding grey reef shark
April 07 , 2005 - Los Angeles International Airport
In the last three days, I've had two travel evenings involving only two hours of sleep each, followed by comatose periods on short flights (the kind where you fall asleep before the plane takes off and wake up as it lands). It's not the optimal path toward healthy living, but I suppose it goes with the territory. My phone rang two hours after I went to bed, and through tearing eyes I managed to decipher the clock next to my bed: 5:06am. Groggy confusion ensued. I could have sworn that I had booked the airport shuttle for 6:15am...
It took me a moment to realize that the one clock in my place I hadn't updated after the time change was, in fact, my alarm clock! I was in the shuttle by 6:19am, and had plenty of time to sit around feeling like crap before my 8am flight.
April 07 , 2005 - Sheraton, Papeete, Tahiti
During my layover, Rosa Yan picked me up from the airport in Los Angeles, and we drove out to Manhattan Beach to eat at a Cuban restaurant called Versailles. I always enjoy seeing Rosa; she seems to have lots of things going on, and has a great outlook on life.
Flying business class on an international flight is a real treat. The guys who checked me into the Air Tahiti Nui flight gave me a premiere lounge invitation, so I spent an hour in there before check-in eating fruit and working on my computer. I don't need this sort of luxury, but I can see how one might become accustomed to it! On the airplane, my seat had adjustments in dimensions that my brain struggled to comprehend, and after I figured out all of its features, I was able to watch movies and sleep comfortably during the 10 1/2 hour flight from Los Angeles. A beautiful, young Tahitian woman sat next to me during the flight. We only exchanged a few smiles and words (love that French accent!), but it made my flight more pleasant than it could have been (I was once hermetically sealed into my window seat by a "dimensionally challenged" passenger -- and his even-larger wife).
Lucien Schmidlin, my gracious host and the owner of TOPdive and Bora Bora Dive Resort, was at the airport in Papeete waiting for me with his business partner, John. Unfortunately, I missed meeting his girlfriend, Rita, by twenty minutes -- sad, because I have heard about her for years and wanted to meet her. Lucien has always been very supportive of me and was involved in my first forays into the world of underwater photography. I met him out in Palau in April of 2001 during my (and his) first liveaboard dive trip ever, which was also my first experience with an underwater camera. A few months later, I flew out to Bora Bora to see Lucien and to build the first website for TOPdive (which involved underwater photography as well).
Lucien and I plan to go to Fakarava tomorrow, which I hear is amazing.
April 08 , 2005 - Maitai Dream, Fakarava, Tuomotu Islands
I spent the morning at eTahiti Travel's offices with Lucien and team. Manu had managed to procure a few eclipse glasses, and just after 9am we walked out onto the balcony and looked up at the sky. In Tahiti, the eclipse had about 40% coverage. I hear that Pit Cairns was the best place to be this time around. Despite not being in the optimal location, it was still really neat to see. I even tried to take some pictures with my little Canon point & shoot. :) Out on the balcony was a guy by the name of Bernhard, a photographer who once assisted David Doubilet while he was out here on a project.
Fakarava is the second largest atoll in French Polynesia after Rangiroa, and only hosts a population of about 450 individuals (humans, I mean)s. We arrived too late to do any diving, but we're going out on a dive boat first thing tomorrow morning. I've heard a lot about the diving here, and am excited to get in the water!
I spent some time this afternoon with four travel agents from Los Angeles (from Tahiti Legends: Marisa, Allison, Noy, and... ?), and am enjoying my time here.
April 09, 2005 - Maitai Dream, Fakarava, Tuomotu Islands (Dives 1-2)
Lucien: "Someone asked me today, 'Is the Japanese guy diving today?'"
Yes. The Japanese guy is diving today. And tomorrow, too. The Japanese guy likes to dive.
We dove today with Serge and Carine, the couple who runs the Fakarava Dive Center (which you can book through TOPdive). Our first dive was on the reef just outside of the northern pass, on the right side. It was a typical hard coral garden of the area, and we saw -- as usual -- a bunch of grey reef sharks and schools of fish. As we approached the pass, it was easy to see the murky water of the lagoon shooting out in the outgoing tide. At this point, we turned around. :)
The second dive (afternoon) was a drift dive in the pass, which can be complicated because the currents here do strange things. Indeed, on the surface one can see areas of extreme chop, indicating strange swirly currents below. But by the time we dropped in, the current had died quite a bit. There were still large schools of fish around, but it wasn't quite what I would have expected from a high-current area (this was confirmed by Serg, afterward). Tomorrow, we're going to try to hit the pass when the current is stronger.
We dove today with a Canadian guy staying with his wife at some guest-houses down the road. After the second dive, he complained of headaches, and we found out later that he had been evacuated via private jet for treatment in a recompression chamber (!). This shows the extreme complexity of decompression sickness; we all did the same profile, including an extended, 10-minute safety stop on the way up from 90' on the second dive. I hope it was a false alarm! There's nothing like a visit to a recompression chamber to disrupt a vacation.
And speaking of discomfort, I lost my three scoops of ice cream (2 chocolate and 1 vanilla) over the edge of the boat after surfacing from the second dive. It wasn't motion sickness that coaxed the half-digested glace from my stomach, though. I think I probably shouldn't have had a plate full of oily fries at dinner...
April 10, 2005 - Maitai Dream, Fakarava, Tuomotu Islands (Dives 3-4)
Where do all of these tiny little ants come from? Whenever I'm out on a Pacific island, groups of tiny ants decide to hang out inside my notebook computer -- which scares me because I'm always expecting one of them to short out something important. Some of the little buggers creep out occasionally onto my keyboard, which perhaps is like the tiny ant version of Russian Roulette, except that instead of death by a bullet, they face death by large, fleshy hammers from above. More strangeness: there is a bottle in the bathroom that has written on it: "shampooing shampoo." It's a good thing, too, because that's what I used it for.
I spent some time reclined on a sculpted seat on the beach earlier today, watching a white seabird of some sort flit about above the flatness of the lagoon. Each flap of her wing was a flash of turqoise, her white underbelly taking on colors from the various hues of blue from below. I left the serenity of my shaded seat only because I had been called for the afternoon's dive.
We've also been blessed by daily rainbows. I continue to find myself at the most amazing honeymoon destinations -- alone.
Anyway, in the morning, we dove outside the left-hand side of the northern pass. A healthy hard-coral garden extends out virtually forever near the pass, and it was another typical dive here in French Polynesia, with schools of snapper, bannerfish, and dozens of grey reef sharks. In the afternoon, we drifted the incoming tide of the pass again, this time opting for an earlier departure for a stronger current. At 100', there was a slight thermocline, and there was a squadron of at least 100 grey reef sharks hanging in the current. Many of the sharks were fairly active, at times flipping completely vertical in order to move up or down. One small reef shark had a pilotfish on her nose. I love it when sharks have pilotfish accompanying them.
I had another "it's a small world" moment this morning (not the Disney version, but rather, the el mundo es un panuelo version); as we sped out to the northern pass, I saw the Akademik Shokalskiy anchored near the right-hand side of the pass! This is the ship I will be on from the 14th to 27th of April, and on the boat currently are at least four people I know. Unfortunately, everyone was still underwater when we stopped by to say hello.
I went outside past the reach of lights this evening. The night sky here is unbelievable.
April 11, 2005 - Maitai Dream, Fakarava, and Hotel Kia Ora, Rangiroa, Tuomotu Islands
There is something about French Polynesia that slows me down, in a good way. I notice that I breath more deeply, and that my heart beats more slowly, and that I take more time to enjoy the beauty around me. It must be some combination of the heat, ocean breeze, vibrant blue gradients banding up and down from the horizon, and, perhaps most importantly, lack of internet access...
Shoooot. It's many hours later (I'm in Rangiroa now!), and I seem to have internet access again via a dialup account Lucien has graciously offered to let me use. !!!! I *think* my bungalow was just hit by a falling coconut. Everything in here resonated with its boom, which sounded like a small detonation. Needless to say, it scared the shit out of me, and I'm glad that I am under a sturdy roof to protect my fragile, large head.
In the afternoon, I sat around on the lagoon's edge with Lucien (just outside of his bungalow), and as the sun set off in the lagoon's flatness, I saw, for the fourth time in my life, the green flash. This was different than the one I photographed in Galapagos two years ago; just before the top of the rounded upper curve of the sun dipped below the horizon, it turned into a pinprick of searing green so bright that I almost want to remember it as being white.
Stephane, the dive instructor here at TOPdive Rangiroa, and Natalie, a visiting dive instructor from Montreal, came to pick up Lucien and me for dinner this evening. We drove a few minutes down the road and ate at a small restaurant with a local feel to it. French Polynesia is a small place; Lucien seems to know people everywhere we go.
April 12, 2005 - Hotel Kia Ora, Rangiroa, Tuomotu Islands (Dives 5-7)
There was a huge, scary, eight-eyed spider in my room when I woke up. I caught it.
The tide here in Rangiroa has been doing strange things. We decided to get out on the water early to try to catch an incoming tide for a drift dive (people have died in outgoing pass currrents here in French Polynesia because there can be tremendous down currents), but the water for some reason was already going out, so we were limited to a "normal",s outside wall dive. Lucien and I were alone, and no other divers were in the water. The first thing we saw was a female hawksbill turtle eating sponges off of bits of coral and rock. She completely ignored us, so we were able to observe her from literally inches away. A manta ray buzzed by up in the shallows, and just up from the turtle, I found two large Napolean wrasses hanging vertically above a clump of rocks above what was clearly a cleaning station. When we first arrived, the Napoleans moved off warily, but after about five minutes of patience (clinging to rocks as the strong surge pushed us back and forth), they moved back in and allowed themselves to be cleaned right in front of me! It was very cool. A titan triggerfish moved in to dig around in the rocks for a bit. The larger of the two Napoleans made a loud whoomping noise and darted in, scaring off the titan, and then suddenly, all of the fish disappeared. Just as I started to look around, Lucien started screaming through his regulator. A large great hammerhead -- at least 4 meters long -- was cruising by on the wall just below us! She didn't give us a chance to get close, but it was exciting nonetheless.
During our second dive (at around 10am), we found a school of thousands of jacks whirling around in a tight ball. Also in the depths were four fairly large silvertip sharks -- a first sighting, for me. I like seeing new species of sharks for the first time. :)
Our third dive was less eventful. The currents were doing really bizarre things, pushing us around in seemingly random directions. Our bubbles swirled around us before heading out into the ocean when they reached the shallows above. We ended up in the murky water of the pass itself (during an outgoing tide at a time when it should have been incoming), where we tried to amuse ourselves for twenty minutes before finding our friend, the friendly female hawksbill. The surge was quite strong, and she frequently found herself pushed nearly upside-down -- a funny sight, for us. :)
In the evening, I ate surgeonfish, out of curiosity. It was a steaky fish -- very good, actually! I'm surprised we don't see it on menus more often.
April 13, 2005 - Sheraton Hotel, Tahiti
Lucien took Manu and me out to a restaurant called "Casablanca" last night, where we had a wonderful meal complete with French caviar, Bourdeaux wine, steaks, ice cream, and espresso. I've really enjoyed his hospitality while I've been out here, and diving with him has been great as well. He sort of acts like a photographer, except that he has no camera.
April 14, 2005 - Akademik Shokalskiy, French Polynesia
I had a nice surprise in the morning at the Sheraton: Susan and Chip Scarlett knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to grab an early lunch before leaving on the bus. Chip showed me a slideshow of their time aboard the Shokalskiy over the past two weeks, and the images look very exciting! Whereas Lucien and I dove the passes of Rangiroa and Fakarava to observe the scores of sharks hanging in the current (read: I didn't get any interesting photos), the Shokalskiy dd the same dives with tuna heads and fish carcasses (read: they got great photos). You know it's going to be exciting when you see a dense, squaline ball with only the faint glow of a certain person's tacky, yellow wetsuit showing through the cracks between sharks -- a tacky, bright-yellow wetsuit that could only belong to one person. Can you guess whom?
We're now aboard the Russian research vessel, Akademik Shokalskiy. I wonder if I can get a crew member to say, "nuclear wessel."
It's not a normal liveaboard, -- and the guests are *definitely* not the normal liveaboard participants I commonly see during my travels. The Shokalskiy is stationed for most of the year down in Antarctica, and escapes the harsh polar winter by cruising to Vladivostok for service. Every year, Deep Ocean Expeditions takes the wessel to a new location and runs a couple of dive charters for what is mostly repeat customers.
April 15, 2005 - Akademik Shokalskiy, Tikehau, French Polynesia
At dinner, Guy sat at the table with "the French." Apparently, there was much discussion about the depth at which a man could no longer finish his business due to pressure. By the end of dinner, it was concluded that the magic number was "below about 90 feet." When asked whether this sort of dinner-time topic was normal, Pierre shrugged and said, "we are French."
April 16-17, 2005 - Akademik Shokalskiy, Rangiroa, French Polynesia
A few of us (Douglas, Krissy, Guy, Marty, Patrice, and Locky) went to the bar at the Kia Ora Resort, where we were served all sorts of foul-tasting, technicolor drinks at $15 USD each, arriving occasionally in proper, Polynesian time. On our way back to the wessel, we discovered that the bow was emitting vast amounts of wonderful-smelling smoke! An epic barbecue greeted our return, the chefs cooking up a magnificent feast of beef, chicken, prawn, corn, baked potato, and much more. There was much celebrating in the form of food, wine, and laughter, and after a few hours, we stumbled to our cabins one-by-one for some sleep before the morning's early activities.
There are two orthodontists in the group, and they keep admiring my teeth, which are apparently "very straight". :)
April 18, 2005 - Akademik Shokalskiy, Apataki, French Polynesia
A private jet (Mike says it's a Citation of some sort) buzzed us no fewer than five times on our way back in from our afternoon dive (which was beautiful!). French Polynesia seems like the ultimate place to go waste fuel at low altitude. Maybe he knew Mike.
After dinner, I gave a little slide show in the lecture room on deck 2. I started the show by saying that I was honored to be presenting the work of my past few years to an audience of individuals with so much experience in underwater imaging and recreation, but it didn't quite come out that way. I believe I said something like, "many of you have been scuba diving and taking photos underwater for longer than I have been alive." Uh... oops! While what I said is true, I meant it in the most positive of ways. Collectively, the group here is an amazing bunch, and everyone seems to be at the top of their respective fields -- and, Mike McDowell and Ron and Valerie Taylor were in the audience. It was certainly an honor to have them sit through a showing of my work!
A few folks stayed afterward to see the show again. I wish I had brought a projector along on the trip so I could have run the show with proper narration and interactivity (Chip brought one on the last charter). Doing a show via SVCD on the television makes interactivity more difficult than it is worth; instead, I chose a few songs from Vienna Teng to play along with the slideshow. Some things never change. :)
April 19, 2005 - Akademik Shokalskiy, Apataki, French Polynesia
For tonight's evening entertainment, Ron Taylor narrated over video footage he shot here in French Polynesia last year aboard the Tahiti Aggressor, which included footage of South Fakarava, which we will be diving over the next couple of days.
The grey reef sharks at Apataki school in a particularly interesting manner, moving around as one large pack, with individuals peeling off of the front of the school to join back in further back. Ron says that they are in a passive mode during the day, wandering around aimlessly in high current areas in order to easily pass water over their gills (perhaps). Reef sharks are known to be passive during the day because they actively feed at night. Pierre told us a few days ago that he didn't recommend doing night dives near passes in Tahiti because sharks have been so aggressive during prior attempts.
In the evening, a group of passengers (including Ed, Admiral Rocky, Pat, Kathy, Hal, Chuck, Jenny, Wes, and others) has been playing hearts in the bar/library of the Shokalskiy. I joined in for a bit tonight, and had a great time. Despite a poor showing for most of the evening, Pat surprised us all by shooting the moon during the triple-or-nothing final round, winning the evening's game! It was the most dramatic ending of any evening of hearts I've seen.
April 20, 2005 - Akademik Shokalskiy, Fakarava South, French Polynesia
Since coming to French Polynesia, I have been told repeatedly about the wonders of the south pass of Fakarava, from both Lucien Schmidlin and Valerie Taylor. We arrived at the south pass early this morning. The conditions in the pass make it impossible for a wessel as large as the Shokalskiy to enter from the south. One option is to enter from the north and navigate down the lagoon until we reach the south pass, but the locals have strung pearl farm nets left and right in the lagoon, so navigation through the lagoon takes a long, long time. As a result, we are drifting around just outside of the lagoon. The Shokalskiy starts up and runs in a bit closer every time we need to launch zodiacs to reach the atoll.
Just inside the pass is a lovely pensione with beach bungalows and a pier. The pier sits in a high-current area, and with each incoming and outgoing tide the water in front of the resort swirls visibly with unknown submarine eddies. A local school of black tip sharks cruises in the shallows, their white-and-black fins sticking out of the water. These little guys will swim around in less than a foot of water! They are very cute. I spent a lot of time snorkeling with them, trying to get that perfect, late-afternoon shot in the shallows. It was nearly dark before I was able to shoot anything interesting, and I still squatted there for more than twenty minutes, giving the other passengers ample time to heckle me from the pier.
For our evening's entertainment, we watched a movie called Deep Blue, which was horrible. Apparently it was the director's cut, which means that they prolong the misery as long as possible.
April 21, 2005 - Akademik Shokalskiy, Fakarava South, French Polynesia
The little resort here at South Fakarava is very cute, and the scenery is amazing. I highly recommend a visit, if you are comfortable in no-frills, beach bungalows.
In the evening, Ron and Valerie presented a documentary about them that was shot in the early 80s. It's been an honor to share a boat with them; they were truly the pioneers of human-shark interaction.
April 22, 2005 - Akademik Shokalskiy, Tahanea Atoll, French Polynesia
Mike and Valerie somehow convinced the local tourism folk that we should be allowed to dive Tahanea Atoll, which is uninhabited and normally off limits. There is a pass dive there with strong current, and much of the coral at the bottom of the pass is broken up, in various stages of being ground down to sand. Unfortunately, it looks like much of the marine life has been fished out. Certainly, there no longer any real shark population here.
April 23, 2005 - Akademik Shokalskiy, Fakarava North, French Polynesia
The evening card games have been heating up! Each night features stiff competition between Kathy "The CFO" Cunningham, Pat "Bottom Crawler" Hamilton, Bob "The Rockster" Spane, Ed "Old Man of the Sea" Callan, and others. Although, Admiral Bob says that he isn't going to play anymore unless he wins (which is perhaps why I see him playing Ed, one-on-one. But I haven't asked who is winning those matches...).
April 24, 2005 - Akademik Shokalskiy, Fakarava North, French Polynesia
There are 4-meter swells coming in from the south, which may affect the strength of the incoming tide. The day's pass dives may be a bit variable.
Pierre, Marti, Hal, Jerry, Chuck and I went fishing this morning at 6am (we fish for food and bait). We did it "the French way," which apparently means that you use your hands instead of a rod and reel. Chuck got a strong bite, but when we hauled the thing in, we discovered that it was a cute little four-foot reef shark. We also discovered that we had no pliers, so we had to encourage the shark to break the line instead of trying to pry the hook out of its mouth. Sad -- but later on we found a lure during one of the dives. We think it was the lure that was attached to the shark, so at least she isn't swimming around with a flashing silvery thing spinning around next to her mouth.
Ed told the notorious "chicken joke" at lunch. He once told the same joke to George Bush Sr. at a Bohemian Club lunch, and said that no one laughed until the former president laughed. Later, Ed wrote Bush a letter about something unrelated, hoping that the chicken joke would be but a faded memory, but in the reply, Bush wrote, "heard any good jokes lately?"
Not long ago, Timothy knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to "jump off of the gangway." I asked if we were allowed to do that, to which he replied, "well, the Russians do it all the time." I suppose that if the Russians do it, then we can as well. And so we did. We also peer-pressured Krissy unto jumping a couple of times, because everything is more fun when a girl in a bikini is involved.
April 25, 2005 - Akademik Shokalskiy, Toau Atoll, French Polynesia
I skipped the third dive of the day to work on my images. I've scheduled the presentation of my slide show for 9:30am tomorrow morning. There are still hours of work I must do before a slideshow of any kind is possible, so I'll likely hole up in my room and crank away at it.
I did, however, take a break with Locky and jump off of the roof of the bridge. I have bruises from landing in the water so hard.
In the evening, we celebrated Pierre's 40th birthday. Patrice sang him a song about a shark that gave up his teeth for love (or something like that). I asked to take a photo of friends and long-time dive partners Pierre and Sebastien, and Pierre gave me a trademark OOH-LAH-LAH!, complete with the requisite "hand on fire" shake.
April 26, 2005 - Akademik Shokalskiy, Moorea, French Polynesia
Well, I finished the slideshow, and it was very well received. :) I'm now being asked for copies of it, which is a bit problem on a boat with more than thirty passengers on it! After my presentation, Curt and Ron each showed a video, both of which were excellent.
Thanks to Valerie's organization and Chuck's satellite phone, my plans for staying in Moorea have now been finalized. Douglas, Krissy and I are scheduled to disembark here before the boat continues on to Papeete. Mike, Valerie, and Ron will join us in the next couple of days.
The Shokalskiy made great time overnight, arriving at Moorea in the early afternoon. The afternoon schedule included a dive with lemon sharks and a snorkel with stingrays, followed by a farewell BBQ.
At the BBQ were two Shokalskiy crew members: Costa, who is #2 on board and also drives the zodiacs (the crew were strange that way in their multiple roles. the Russian doctor on board also cleaned cabins for extra money), and Igor, who was our compressor guy. I saw Igor smile a few times, but his normal look is quite intense. Igor has been on the Shokalskiy for 22 years, and when asked about his time onboard, he pantomimed shooting himself in the head (!). 22 years puts him onboard during the cold war, during which I'm sure the Shokalskiy was busy doing "research."
There was quite a bit of confusion over whether the three of us were to disembark for good in the late afternoon, but eventually we figured out a way to stay onboard until after the evening's celebration. After dinner, we convinced a certain drunken dive master to drive us to shore with an insane amount of luggage. A taxi met us at shore, and after a quick return trip to the boat for my wetsuit, we successfully piled in with our luggage for the transfer. Frankly, I'm amazed that it worked, because the amount of luggage was simply insane (it included dive gear, camera cases, Krissy's bottomless suitcases, and luggage from Ron and Valerie).
April 27, 2005 - Hibiscus / Bathy's Dive Center, Moorea, French Polynesia
Attempting to book space in the Hibiscus has been an adventure. We learned that being told that there is "no room" means that there may be room if you ask again in a different way. Douglas and Krissy have been struggling to extend their tourist visas. In Papeete, the immigration folks at the airport told them that they could get it done in Moorea, so today we rented a car and drove around in a wild chase for someone with a clue; apparently, no one here has a clue, so the two of them have to go back to Papeete today to have the paperwork done. There is only one solution to problems like this, which is to shrug and say, "hey -- it's Polynesia."
At 1400, Valerie and I dove with Bathy's with an excellent guide named Guillaume Vilcot. We went just outside of the pass and dropped in to hang out with black-tip reef sharks and friendly moray eels. The lemon sharks are on strike, for some reason. Guillaume tells us that it's breeding season, and that is the reason they haven't been around.
We're back on land, and I'm being eaten alive by mosquitos and sand flies. I often wonder why they gravitate to me over others. Valerie said that when she was a girl she once asked a cannibal about the taste of various types of humans. He told her that people of Chinese descent taste sweeter. So there you go. Straight from the source.
Douglas and Krissy managed to get their visa issue taken care of in Papeete during the afternoon. At sunset, we all congregated at Ron and Valerie's lagoon-view bungalow for two bottles of wine. It was very pleasant there on their patio, and Douglas asked Ron to be his best man at his wedding, because Ron "is one of the best men [Douglas] knows." Valerie clarified that Ron was most probably the very best man Douglas knows. Douglas and I split a bottle of red wine, and Valerie graduated from a half a bottle of white to what was left of Douglas' very-sweet piña colada.
April 28, 2005 - Hibiscus / Bathy's Dive Center, Moorea, French Polynesia
Ron, Valerie, Douglas and I went out with Guillaume again this morning, and at the shop I met Randy, who used to be president of LAUPS. Small world!
As we were driving out to morning's dive sites, Ron pointed out the reef where he won the 1965 world spearfishing championship by shooting seven fish, one of which was a 57 kg maori wrasse.
Afer the dives, Douglas, Krissy and I hopped into our little rental car and started driving. "Let's find out what's past our hotel," Douglas suggested after lunch (which was overpriced, but interesting. i tried parrotfish for the first time, and a pretty white eel swam by beneath us). We were looking for three things: a boat to rent for the afternoon, frozen calamari to feed to rays, and some tuna. Half way around the island, we finally found some local dudes selling whole tuna, of which we purchased four. When we returned a few hours later, Ron's eyes became very big with excitement, even though he and Valerie must return to Tahiti tomorrow morning to meet with the president and talk on television for half an hour about what shark finning will do to the local tourist economy. He and Valerie gave us suggestions on how to work the sharks tomorrow during their absence.
A bit about our tour around the island: Douglas drove like a maniac, and with my directions from a crappy tourist map we managed to find ourselves in the middle of the island on a muddy road, surrounded by disassembled mopeds and locals who looked surprised to see us. It was quite an adventure. After we acquired tuna, we drove back to Bathy's to stash it in their freezer; Douglas managed to find a way to drive all the way to the Bathy's Center at the Inter-Continental Resort by going past a few signs that clearly indicated that we were doing something wrong. :)
At 6:45pm, we met for wine in the Taylor bungalow, and then left the hotel to have dinner down the road at Hotel Les Timpaniers. We celebrated Douglas' early birthday with lots of tasty desserts, and then returned to the hotel to say goodbye to Ron and Valerie. I've only known them for 14 days, and already I know that I will miss them when we part. But such is the way it goes when you establish new friendships.
Mosquitos should all die horrible and itchy deaths.
April 29, 2005 - Hibiscus / Bathy's Dive Center, Moorea, French Polynesia
Do not go to Le Iguane Cafe (or whatever it's it called) in Moorea. The service is bad, the food is mediocre and expensive, and we had to attempt to eat while a swarm of gnats consumed our flesh. The best part of the meal were the chickens running around in the yard. I fed one of the chickens a wood-oven cooked version of one of his brothers -- a sick satisfaction satiated in place of a good meal, I suppose.
In the afternoon, we snuck over to the Sheraton, ordered a few piña coladas, drank champagne, and wallowed in luxury in the pool at sunset. It's expecially fun to do something like that as a third wheel. Or, I should say more accurately that it was a lot of fun despite being a third wheel. :)
After the horrible lunch, we decided to go back to Les Timpaniers to have dinner. We've had enough of bad, expensive food.
April 30, 2005 - Hibiscus , Moorea, French Polynesia
I am stranded in Moorea. I tried to get to Tahiti today, but I couldn't find affordable accomodation. Our expedition group has a ridiculously low rate at the Sheraton Tahiti, but they were fully booked when I finally managed to speak to someone who knew about our special rate. Well, I suppose that Moorea isn't the worst place in the world to be stranded...
Douglas and Krissy left this morning, hauling their mountain-and-a-half of luggage (plus gaff and fishing rod) onto a bus that presumably was to take them to the airport for their flight to Bora Bora. I hope they make it there. :) After they left, I moved into their room, which is air-conditioned and more comfortable for working in front of a computer. I have started the laborious process of IDing and tagging all of the images I took during the last three and a half weeks, but it will take many more hours of work.
In the evening, Guillaume came and picked me up in his station wagon, and we drove to the Inter-Continental Resort with his good friends Sandi (sp?) and Pef. Pef also works at Bathy's, and Sandi is visiting from Tahiti. Their friends Guillaume (#2), Allette (sp?), and Chloe were performing as a jazz/latin trio at the resort, and it was really nice to hear live music again, especially from someone I was newly connected to. I also met Nico and Renaud (local underwater videographers), Renaud's mother, and Mahiti (sp?), a French-Tahitian graphic designer living in Papeete.
After a couple of drinks, we all adjourned to Guillaume's home, which he shares with Renaud and Pef. I was (as usual) struck by the incredible appreciation for life that the French have. There we were, sitting around a patio under fluorescent lighting, the table littered with pizza boxes, beer, vodka, juice, and cigarettes. A television flickered in the corner with footage of sharks and other marine life, and the three girls danced around to American music from decades past. On one end of the table, Guillaume, Nico, and Sandi chatted about their extensive experience in the Polynesian ocean while passing around old copies of Fathoms and a book from the 80s signed by Ron and Valerie Taylor. I had a discussion with Allette (nurse by day, singer by night) about photography, painting, music, dance, and their relationships to each other, and during the entire conversation she was animated, eyes sparkling, trying to find words in English to express her profound appreciation for each of the art forms. Mahiti was the same way when talking about her photographer friends and time spent in San Francisco and New York City.
Eventually, I had to go home and was sent off with handshakes, kisses on cheeks, and a "have a nice life!" from some that I will probably never see again. It was a short glimpse of one particular slice of young French life in Polynesia -- fleeting, perhaps, but something that I will always remember fondly. Thank you, Guillaume.
Dives with Fakarava Diving Center and TOPdive Rangiroa
Dives aboard the Akademik Shokalskiy, and with Bathy's Club at Moorea
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