Saturday, December 31, 2011

Aranui Trip Overview

I put together a little overview of the Aranui trip.

If you're on an iPad and can't see Flash videos, try looking at the video here on Facebook.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Newark Sunset

I stumbled off the plane into Newark Airport, two-and-a-half movies and a few hours of sleep after Tokyo, a night and 11 hours on the plane after Auckland, which was five hours on a plane and one hotel night from Tahiti. 

This is definitely a silly route to take home. 

I felt vaguely triumphant as I stood dazed on Terminal C's moving sidewalks, locked inside the enclosed space on the wrong side of passport control, the evening's dramatic sky outside the glass showing off across the departure gates lobby.

A Morning in Japan

I had only a few hours in Tokyo before it was time to head back to the airport.

"What should I do," I thought as I hurried to get my bag packed and down to Reception by the 10 a.m. cut-off.

Last time I did this, in 2003, I'd gone to a temple. Today I decided to go to a temple of a different type—I'd go to a place informally called Fabric Town or Fabric Street.

I knew I couldn't buy anything—I was on a fabric diet, having tons of it at home that I hadn't used yet in my bag-making hobby. Maybe because I'd been so busy making a wooden table and building a robot or baking pie. But that didn't stop me from wanting to look, to see what a fabric district in Tokyo might look like.

And here's how it looked...like a place I wanted to spend days exploring.

But I only had an hour.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Photos of the Marquesas Trip

I've uploaded my Marquesas photos into one giant photo album.

Take a look here.

Overnight in Tokyo

I'd booked my overnights in Auckland (both of them) and in Tokyo by strategically using points off my credit card and banking accounts, along with reviews on TripAdvisor.

Here in Japan, I'd nearly gone to a small Asakusa hotel that I'd been to twice before, once in the nineties and last in 2003. But then I found this one, Hotel Yanagibasi, which is right by the train and has free ethernet Internet, and was in the right points range.

My room is teensy here but it's all mine, and the bathroom is bigger than the dorm one on the Aranui (not saying much). I've got a fridge and a single-cup electric kettle, which means I had coffee in my room this morning without having to venture out in the cold.

But it's time now—to put on every long-sleeved item I have and my socks and Pumas (I threw away my worn-out sandals from Bangkok when I left the Auckland airport hotel)—and venture out into the morning chill.

Monday, December 26, 2011

One Leg Down


I thought I'd have a hard time getting out of bed at 5:30 this morning in Auckland. I'd flown from Papeete and gotten in just before midnight.

A day later. Which is funny, because Christmas just vanished—POOF—destroyed by the International Date Line.

I wasn't doing anything anyway, since I had to sit on a plane half the day.

I had to be back at the Auckland airport by 7:15 a.m. this morning, so that an Air New Zealand check-in agent named Maria could berate me endlessly for 1) being in the wrong line, though I told her the agent had instructed me to go to this line and that the flight was oddly missing from the signs and 2) for not having a print-out of my itinerary for my onward legs. What, she can't just see it on her computer? It's all one ticket.

Apparently not.

Air New Zealand is crap. Every time I've flown with them on this trip, I've had to waiting in a horrible line because apparently they can't work out web check-in, and twice now, someone behind the desk has spent a bit of time aggressive pointing out to me that *I* obviously was mistaken about something. And if I have to watch that Richard Simmons safety video one more time...okay, I'm ranting. Back to the topic at hand.

Which is the sun rising over the Jetpark Hotel in Auckland this morning.

Almost enough to make it worth the detour from Tahiti. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Circling Back

The sun is shining and the birds are chirping here on Christmas morning in Tahiti.

And Santa didn't find me. Was I naughty or does he not read this blog?

Today I travel to Auckland, sleep in a hotel, then proceed on to Tokyo the next morning.

Here is how I'm getting home. I realize it's a ridiculous itinerary, but it's all I could get. Star Alliance doesn't have a partner for the Tahiti-LAX or Tahiti-Honolulu route, so I have to back myself out. And I'm not allowed to backtrack on this ticket, so can't stay more than 24 hours in Auckland or Tokyo.

LAX is so close. But out of reach. I have to shower and pack, and then at 2:30, Beni will take me to the Papeete Airport, so that I can start this long, hideous process of sitting on airplanes and dragging luggage through immigration points.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Journey's End

"Come to the bar tonight." Earlier I'd promised our hakka-dancing, part-Vanuatuan waiter  that I'd dance with him tonight, but I'd thought he meant at dinner, when the dance class and ukelele classes performed their final routine.

"Uh, bar?" I didn't want to go to a bar. I wanted to pack.

"Sure, come to the bar."

"mumblestall no?"

"Well, if you come to the bar then, I will see you there."

Friday, December 23, 2011

Code Oscar

After our long day of activities on Rangiroa, we all were on the ship, heading back to Tahiti. I'm not sure of the time, but I think I started doing my laundry around 4 or 4:30 p.m. and events unfolded shortly thereafter.

Dance class was happening in the video room, which puts what happened next between 5 and 6. Probably closer to 6 as the French meeting about the next day's agenda began happening in the middle.

Let's start with facts, what I saw firsthand, then move on to what witnesses told me.

FACT: I was in the laundry room, which is several flights down from where the dormitory is located on the restaurant deck. I was using the dryer—which takes forever—when something odd happened outside. Water sloshed all over the porthole. Here's a quick video of what the window looked like moments before the water sloshed all over--odd, I thought. The sea was still. Rogue wave? I wasn't sure. I shortly learned that the ship had made a tight, sudden turn to loop back to where we'd just been.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dare

I saw awkwardly on the little desk in the corner of the Aranui 3 dormitory. I couldn't have done this a week ago when my power strip had still been working and the desk had been covered in phones and cameras, but now with the power strip busted, there was plenty of space. I was waiting on someone to show up to repair my locker door, which had fallen off in my hands this morning. My French dorm-mates and I all had a good laugh over it, and now I hoped someone would show up to fix it before the day started.

Today we were all "swarming out" (as German guide Jorg likes to say) to various activities on the Tuamotu atoll of Rangiroa. We were now out of the Marquesas, having spent all yesterday at sea covering the distance from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus. I'd slept for a bit of it (I'd been up late the previous nice doing karaoke, which is not my thing but everyone had been so astonishingly bad at it that I hadn't been uncomfortable, plus I made 15-year-old Martin sing a duet of Summer Lovin' with me—at least I didn't make him do the Olivia Newton-John parts). I'd also sat around bullshitting with others for more hours than I should admit, given that I still have deadlines.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Maybe You Had to Be There

Here's the video proof of our silliness on Polynesian Night.



Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On the Way Back

On our last day in the Marquesas, the ship woke up late.

We'd been docked back at Taiohae, Nuku Hiva since last night, and after Polynesian Night's festivities, I'd sat on the starboard side of the ship in the still night, grabbing the pay-ManaSpot hotspot signal that is strong on this quay, singing along quietly with the karaoke I could hear going on late upstairs on the pool deck.

By late, I mean we dragged ourselves out of bed between 7 and 8. My idea of late had changed—the sun is up early here and the day begins between 5 and 6.

Some people walked into town and some caught the bus. I got some work done in the lounge, but lots of others had the same idea and I ended up joking and chatting and did very little in the way of work.

"I'll go to the post office in Ua Pou this afternoon and use their signal," I told someone who asked if they were distracting me. The ship was sailing from Nuku Hiva to Ua Pou over lunch. That's the town where we had seen the bocce game. Kids play on the anchor rope in Ua Pou. It's a friendly place.

Polynesian Night

How had this happened? How had I ended up standing in front of the whole ship's passengers and crew on the Aranui's "Polynesian Night," ad-libbing into the microphone to introduce our parody of Jingle Bells? I don't even know how to deal with other people, remember? I live alone. I travel alone. I don't even like people most of the time.

But here I was, bullshitting my way through an introduction speech, then jingling my keys along as we sang an Aranui-themed version of a holiday classic.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Stupid Ship Tricks

Everyone on the ship, including the guides, was up and out on deck at six this morning.

We were all dressed and gawking with our cameras—the Aranui was performing a cool party trick this morning and no one wanted to miss it.

On approach to 'Ua Huka's bay of Vaipaee—which is rightly named Invisible Bay since it has a narrow mouth and doesn't really look like a bay until you're right up next to it and can see that there's a narrow passage between the cliffs—is too narrow to navigate the ship through. So the Aranui sits just outside of the inlet and sends cargo and us passengers in on barges. But 1) the ship has to get out of there later and 2) the ship could drift into the cliffs without constant vigilance, so the crew perfoms a fancy 180-degree turn first, effectively reversing into the bay, nose out. Then, to keep the Aranui in place between the cliffs, one of the crane operators wanders up into this cage as two crew members dons safety harnesses and hop into one of the green-and-white whaleboats.

Lessons from Susan

I've surprised myself with my ability to exist in a dorm and interact all day with other people. I'd even taken to joking with one French man about him running around the dorm in his underwear, whereas before I'd just pretended not to see.

The sole limit to my tolerance seemed to be breakfast. I'd choose a table where I could be relatively alone at for my morning meal—picking one where three of the four place settings had already been used, or taking one next to French-speakers that didn't mix with others, of which there were a few though not many—and down a few liters of the ship's weak coffee before pleading with one of the staff for a bit of yogurt. I'd cut up whatever fruit—which would change depending on the output of whichever island we were near—we were given into a bowl on top of granola, and then douse it in yogurt and voila, a decent breakfast. I passed up the eggs and bacon every morning. I'd had quite enough eggs in the earlier part of MariesWorldTour.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Souvenir Hunting in Tahuata

On Sunday morning, one of the French women called my attention to the dorm's power strip, which was actually my power strip.

"Marie, it isn't working."

I'd bought the power strip in Papeete for five bucks at the local equivalent of a dollar store, and didn't plan on keeping it, but its resignation was five days early, and now eight of us would have to recharge our cameras and phones from a single outlet.

I shrugged, apologized for my feeble piece of electronics, and tossed it in the trash (then hilariously, a few minutes later, a different French women retrieved it to take to Reception to demand a new one—results TBD). I'd wondered why my camera battery had stopped charging early last night after our our afternoon excursion to Vaitahu, Tahuata.

Tahuata, just 4 kilometers away from Hiva Oa, is the smallest populated island in the Marquesas. The main village, which we had anchored next to, is called Vaitahu, and like most places we'd seen, it's a small village set against dramatic craggy hills carpeted in green foliage and trees. This shoreline was dramatic and rocky, and more importantly, this island featured a pig on a leash.

Puamau, Hiva Oa

The English and German-speaking guests disembarked by barge at eight this morning for our excursion to the Iipona archeological site above Puamau, Hiva Oa. The French passengers were told to be ready for 8:30. At least Aranui had halved the swarms of people all descending into a small harbor at one time.

SUVs whooshed us up the hill to Iipona (admission 300 francs, pay at Therese Snack Bar, please—included on Aranui trips), where we were left in a mossy clearing in the woods. Five tikis surrounded us, including a frog-like woman tiki and also the largest tiki in Polynesia. The female tiki—Tiki Maki Taua Pepe—is said to represent a woman who died during childbirth, and was carved by her partner as a way to sooth her spirit, so she would protect the community rather than torment it. An animal is carved into the reddish base of the tiki.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Marquesan Festival Day Two: Dancing

"They are not prepared for tourists," groused one of the ship's passengers, an expat from New Caledonia. "They should have this set up for tourists, but they are only doing the dancing for themselves, to show off to other islands. This whole thing is for locals, not for tourists."

"That is why I'm here," I thought, then edged away from her. You can't find the holy grail of non-beaten-paths and then complain that it's not touristy enough.

We were standing under a tree, cowering from the brutal sunlight with 35 other Aranui passengers as we tried to figure out where we were supposed to go to watch the morning's dances here on the second day of the Festival of the Arts of the Marquesas. We'd been told there was a covered place for us, but no one knew where that might be and the ship's guides were still transferring the other passengers by bus from where the barge had dropped them on the beach to the Tohua, the outdoor stage, which was a grassy square surrounded by a couple of lean-tos and one pavilion for VIPs.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Marquesas Arts Festival Opening Ceremony

Men in traditional dress pounded on drums while each island's delegation walked, shimmied, or hakkaed onto the grassy football field on the edge of Taiohae. This was the Festival of Marquesan Arts, which happens once every four years. Like Leap Year, but with drums.

I cowered under a scarf while a woman from Tahiti explained to me what was going on. "Now that's the Catholic priest doing a prayer. Now they will sing hymns. Now there will be speeches."

At the speeches, a low groan went over the crowd. Half the people left, so I did too, to head downtown to walk around and see what handicrafts were on offer.

In the afternoon, we went to an event that showcased traditional tattooing, basket and hat-weaving, and wood carving.

The Ua Pou delegation was demonstrating the wood carving. One of the Aranui passengers bought an exquisite piece with an ax-head on one end and what looked like a giant tusk on the other (sort of like a huge wooden bottle opener) for 25,000 frances, which is roughly $250.

I'm jealous. I might have to buy a piece too, though the carver told me he couldn't sell them until after the dances tomorrow. The team is using the pieces in their dance.

A French man was documenting the Ua Pou delegations experience here as part of a larger project, and he translated for me as I asked questions to the carver about when I could buy a piece from him.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On Safari in Nuku Hiva

The ship had pulled into Nuku Hiva's port of Taiohae sometime during the night, but apparently the wifi signal doesn't work until "someone goes into the gas station and turns on the router."

Lots of people desperate for news from home were giving me the hairy eyeball in the the lounge. I'd positioned myself by the window, where I could grab the paid signal with my username and password I'd purchased while in Tahiti. I was starting to fear for my safety when I realized it was time to disembark for our "safari."

We all disembarked by walking down the portable stairs to the dock. There, dozens—maybe 50 or 60—of Land Rover, Toyota Hiluxes, and any 4WD the island of Nuku Hiva could dig up waited for us. Every vehicle came with a driver, decked out in a yellow button-up shirt.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Atuona, Hiva Oa

For once, I didn't wake up frozen in place by the knowledge that 7 people were bustling about right where I had to perform acrobatic moves to descent from my bunk via a small ladder.

That's because we were due to have a wifi signal in the lounge this morning and it was only five a.m. I was determined to get online and send my outgoing mails before the signal rush.

I spider-shuffled my way down the berth—ouch, hell, what was that? Oh, so THAT's why the sprinkler head at forehead-level was duct-taped with padding—and flopped down the ladder. I pulled on my clothes in the one large bathroom, grabbed my laptop, and headed upstairs to the lounge.

Where the wifi signal was slow but reliable until too many people joined the network. It slowed down, but was still working until one couple came in and sat down.

I didn't notice it was off at first, but then Judy's MacBook Air wouldn't go online. It wasn't her. See if you can identify the culprits here.

Fatu Hiva

"Oh god, they're still out there."

I peeked out of the curtain on my top bunk in the dorm on the Aranui combination freighter/passenger vessel. We were almost to Fatu Hiva, and I had to find my way out of bed. More importantly, I had to pee.

But the other dorm residents were standing under my bed in the tiny corridor, shuffling back and forth to begin their days.

Again I was faced with the issue of crawling out of the top bunk while avoiding the sprinkler hub with the ladder being by my feet, people just below, and no way to get out gracefully due to the shallow depth of the berth. My feet had to go first and I'd been scooting/shuffling out for a few days.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Day at Sea

I awoke in my top bunk and stared at the ceiling for a while.

What the hell am I doing, I thought. 15 days in a dorm, stuck in a shallow top bunk with no privacy retreat on the whole ship! I live alone. What made me think I could do this? I didn't even want to go to breakfast. There would be other people at breakfast, all crowding around the buffet table for dibs on salami, weak coffee, and cheese.

Ugh.

Eventually, my body rebelled against lying prone in the top bunk—I'd taken my Kindle to bed early last night, coincidentally reading the first of Jack London's South Sea Tales the night we'd gone to Fakarava, setting for his hurricane and pearl story, and there's only so much time you can lie down in a confined space—and made me scrunch my way to the bottom of the bed where the ladder lives.

I peeked out of the curtain, waiting for a moment when I wouldn't stick my foot in someone's face in the aisle.

There, now's my chance.

I stuck one foot on the ladder. My other foot was curled up underneath me and wasn't going to be able to swing around to get on the ladder. I couldn't lift my body to move my head due to being hindered by something immoveable above me. I pushed it—oh, the ceiling. I needed a new plan.

Pulling my foot back in, I tried again, this time catching on to leverage my weight against my locker to lift my body out of the bunk and onto the ladder.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Fakarava for Breakfast

Breakfast was at six, since we were leaving the ship at 7:30 for a two-hour quick trip to the atoll of Fakarava.

I'd read about atolls in the book "Sex Lives of Cannibals," but I didn't really understand what one was until I was looking at the Lonely Planet map of Fakarava. It's a doughnut-shaped bit of land with water in the middle-hole. Only the doughnut is really, really skinny in comparison to the hole, which is really the inside of an extinct, underwater volcano full of sea water instead of lava. Now imagine people living on the rim, as if it were an island with a doughnut hole in the middle of it. The people are sprinkles. And not all of the doughnut is visible—some of it is below the water, and is called a pass.

Local Living

"Yoyo," said the man in authority to the bartender. "Her drinks are on the house."

I could get used to this, I thought, sipping my mango juice that chased the Nespresso coffee. I'm not a fan of instant, even gourmet instant, but it beat the free stuff in the lounge, and I'm a fan of "on the house."

The man in authority, who might even be ship's captain, or maybe chief engineer or consultant or manager, of even chef, had sat down at my table at lunch.

"Blah blah blah chef blah," said the server who placed the chef at the center of our table.

"Chef," I thought. "Maybe I can tell him I'm allergic to seafood." But of course he wasn't the chef, he was the chief of something—though I'm not sure exactly what. This was all done in French, so I had to catch on that chef didn't mean head cook before I realized someone important had taken me to Yoyo's bar and given me free coffee and juice.

He's Romanian by birth but fluent in English and French as well as Romanian. I think he's more the ship's mascot than anything else. Eventually, I asked if he'd been on-board when my friend Amanda (who we last saw in Sydney, where she was visiting en route to a New Zealand cruise on a work assignment) was on the Aranui.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Departure

I woke up at four and checked the clock in my Tahiti guesthouse. Was I late? I had so many things to do before getting on the ship for the two week journey to the Marquesas.

No, I wasn't late. I was early. But then, I reasoned, I might as well get up. I had a long list of outstanding items to finish up during my last few hours of decent wifi. And anyway, who can sleep when they're worried about spending two weeks in a dorm on a ship, with no refuge, shared showers and toilets, no way out?

I'd finished my Christmas shopping yesterday, ordering presents to my mother's house for late Christmas when I arrived home at the end of December. Now I paid for more phone credit, more French Polynesian wifi credit, and extra SMS-to-email credits. I figured I'd have more chances to use my phone than my computer over the next two weeks in the Marquesas. My job would have to wait—I wasn't getting it done in the next three hours.

Gearing Up for Company

I headed back to Tahiti on the once-weekly flight from Easter Island/Rapa Nui. Leaving felt a little weird, like I'd just started to figure out this little-town-turned-tourist-attraction and then it was time to leave.

My adorable French-Rapa Nui family left me at the airport with some kind of feather charm that mean I was destined to return.

"Je vais rentrer," I said clumsily. They smiled politely. Maybe they understood.

And now I am back in Tahiti, about to board the Aranui 3 freighter for two weeks sailing the Marquesas. I'll have internet intermittently. Like *really* intermittently, and slow at that. In fact, it may seem like I'm dead. But I'll post when I can, and I can post from my phone if I can find a signal.

Check the Twitter feed at the middle right of this page to get my most current status.

Which is probably "miserable," given that this is a ship full of other people, and we all know I don't play well with groups. ;)


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sun Over Rapa Nui

Here are a few more shots from my Easter Island sunrise.



Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Good Morning, Moai

I dragged myself out of bed at 5:30 this morning and headed up to the far end of the island for sunrise...

...and got a hazy, overcast day.

But the clouds parted just enough for the sun to peek through for a few minutes after I waited a while, so yes, it was worth it. (Though nothing is open at eight in the morning in Hanga Roa, so I went to a cave until nine when I could get a cortado at one of the two town coffee shops.)

Day Tour

I spent Monday in a rental car, driving around and looking at the sights on Easter Island (Rapa Nui).

The shore is rough, rocky, and stunning, but with the occasional swimming hole and a sandy white beach at the far end. Moai are here and there, some having been re-erected by various teams experimenting with different ways that the original inhabitants might have raised the massive granite figures. Most of the Moai are lying on the ground or partially buried, but those that stand are imposing. They aren't so mysterious—they don't seem to come to life out of the corner of your eye or seem likely to have walked themselves from the quarry. They're solid rock, firmly in place unless an earthquake or tsunami happens along to dislodge them.

My host had given me a map and numbered the sights I should see, so that I could arrive at the quarry, with the dozens of half-buried heads visible above the grass, at the best time for photographing.

Which is exactly when it decided to rain.

Here are some photographs, and here is an entire gallery.




Monday, December 5, 2011

Raucous Times on Easter Island



P.S. This is a joke. Actually, this is what local people take their young children to, not what they themselves find fascinating. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Disoriented but Acclimating

I spent my first few days on Easter Island being completely disoriented. How could it be the same time as in New York? How had I been jerked back to real-time exchanges with my own world when I knew damn well I was west of there? And if I hadn't had a map, I had the sun. Time is wrong on Rapa Nui, simply put.

And that just adds to the quirks of this enigmatic enclave, part-worldly tourist hotspot and part family-oriented small town.

Which just happens to be in the middle of the world's largest ocean.

Breakfast with the family that owned my guesthouse happened every morning at 8:45 a.m. Accommodations (and everything, really) are almost all homegrown here, with the hotels being family projects and the guesthouses being in small cabins behind the family home. There is also a hostel/backpackers/campground, but I'd run some calculations and quickly realized that a charming family with a fantastic little room and terrace with included airport transfers, free wifi, and breakfast for $50 a night beat all other options, even though I did get tired of people asking me what I'd done today.

That's like having a normal family back home, isn't it? I've been living alone too long.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Elvis is Everywhere




Hunka Burnin' Lava

Easter Island has its own Elvis impersonator. Who knew?


Giant Heads of Easter Island

Here's a few photos for you. I'm on Rapa Nui, utterly confused about the time and date as somehow, I'm in my home time zone, but the time isn't really that. I can't even sleep at night because my body knows it's not really the time the clock says it is--Chile has arbitrarily put Rapa Nui on its own time for convenience but the sunrise and sunset are just so WRONG in when they happen, according to my internal clock.

On the plus side, I can stay out really late looking at giant stone heads. I just can't sleep once I finish.






Thursday, December 1, 2011

Boarding

I spent the day alternating between working on my laptop and being savaged by mosquitoes while waiting for my evening flight from Tahiti to Rapa Nui (Easter Island).

Ever since I took that anti-parasite medication in Bangkok, mosquitoes have been biting me, though they didn't like me at all before this. The two items probably aren't related but it's tough to fight off the inclination to draw a connection.

Finally, just before my host drove me to the airport, I went into the hotel bathroom.

Where I noticed a big zit right on the tip of my nose.

And here's me with a date with giant stone heads. The horror.

I guess I'll go anyway. Hoping they won't mind.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Island Tour

I picked up a sandwich at the supermarket yesterday, then prepared to go on the round-the-island trip with the tour operator, a local guy named Dave who was originally from Hawaii.

His van was full, and as a bonus, I got a tour of some expensive hotels as he went around and picked up other clients.

Of course, most hotels here are expensive, so it's not like the people staying in them are particularly well-off. They just didn't find any other options when they were looking for a place to stay. I'd found my pension in Lonely Planet, and had chosen it over backpacker digs because it was in Papeete, and I'm a city-dweller who likes to walk or take buses.

Oh. Mr. "I'm Here to Buy A Yacht" was on the same tour.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Papeete Likes You Too

"Where the hell am I?"

I woke up and saw crisp, white sheets. An air-con remote control. White, fluffy pillows. Wha..?

Nothing sprung to mind.

I started to panic, then woke up enough to remember I was traveling.

But where? 

Tahiti. I was in Fare-Suisse, a great-value small guesthouse in the land of French and high costs, Papeete.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

On to Tahiti

I twisted around to get a look at my back. Ugh. A linear bruise where I'd hit the hotel shuttle door as I dramatically exited it on my ass at Auckland's airport.

"I think your shoes are slippery," offered the driver.

"I think I was stepping over the luggage you just piled in the doorway," I shot back.

Stupid, I thought. Should have waited for him to move the bag, but more interestingly, what was up with all this immediate blame-volley of the last few days? At the Air New Zealand counter yesterday—after the first of two incredibly long hellish waits unlike any I'd seen since they invented online check-in, take the hint Air New Zealand—the check-in clerk had said she couldn't check me in without a paper printout  of my ticket.

"Can't I just show you my receipt number on my phone," I'd asked, perplexed. Clearly, I was in the computer and she had my name up on the screen. I'd been around the whole world without showing paper to the airlines. E-tickets are supposed to stop all that paper.

"It's New Zealand," she'd explained. "You need a paper printout of your ongoing ticket to enter the country."

Preparing for the Pacific

Using my Australian Vodafone SIM card instructions and a water glass, I carefully removed the giant brown spider from my shower this morning. I temporarily left him in the trash, where he hung out until I finished showering. I then placed him back where I'd found him, leaving the decision on what to do with the spider up to the hotel.

Or maybe he just crawled back down the drain he'd presumably come up from.

I didn't want to smush him. For one thing, he'd leave a huge gooey blob. But for another, in Australia, you're supposed to stand back and admire scary animals. Put a snake in between an American and an Australian, and the American will be searching for a shovel to decapitate the snake while the Australian says "Crikey, that's a beautiful incredibly poisonous snake" while looking for a camera.

I headed out to the front of the hotel five minutes before my airport shuttle was due, and there it was, ready to spirit me off to the Sydney Airport's international terminal.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Parting Gift

I've been out and about for four days here in Sydney, and I've just ended up wondering how people with social lives aren't completely exhausted all the time.

This morning I got up to shower before flying to Auckland, where I'll stay one night in an airport hotel before heading to Tahiti.

And found this. Yikes.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Penguins!

Remember the penguin tour I mentioned that I went on in Bicheno, Tasmania? I didn't dwell on it because we weren't allowed to take cameras along.

The little penguins don't have eyelids and are genuinely harmed by camera flashes. Now, I know how to turn my flash off and so my first instinct was to demand to take my camera along anyway. But they said that too many people think they know and screw up, causing permanent damage to wee penguin eyeballs. But they'd send us jpegs if we requested them by email.

I requested the jpegs as soon as I got off the bus.

And heard nothing back.

A few days later, I sent a second email. And again heard nothing.

I was pretty sure this wasn't a diabolical plot—though their website is all in annoying Flash which leads me to believe that maybe it IS a conspiracy—and that my emails were hanging out in some spam filter. So I telephoned.

And got these photos ten minutes later.

Here they are, the little blue(ish) fairy penguins of Bicheno.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Oopsy

How did this happen? I only took off a few days, and now I'm a deadline nightmare.

The tour guide had dropped me off at my Hobart hostel on Monday night. I'd immediately raced out for Thai food and a walk around the harbor at Salamanca before falling asleep early. On Tuesday, I'd done laundry, gotten my hair roots colored (well done, Anarchy Hair in Hobart!), gone to the post office, sought out a replacement for my ten-year-old mini Mag-lite which I'd somehow misplaced between Bali and Perth, and eaten more Thai food. On Wednesday, I'd caught the Virgin Blue flight from Hobart to Sydney, hurried over to King's Cross to my budget hotel, and met my former near-in-laws for a dinner cruise around Sydney Harbor.

On Thursday, I met Amanda and D early—they'd flown from Seattle to Sydney with my Marquesas freighter cruise ticket. I'd handed off my camping gear to them for a trip to the Blue Mountains.

We wandered about Sydney in the rain, took the Manly ferry, got pedicures (D sat that one out), met my old pal Sean for dinner, and then I raced off to see Cate Blanchett perform in a completely weird German play, before getting lost trying to find my way out of The Rocks area of Sydney.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Leaving Tassie

I'm leaving Tasmania for Sydney, but we can still look at all the photos.

Here are photo galleries of the last week in Tasmania on this group tour. 


Monday, November 21, 2011

Day Six: Tasmanian Tour

Part of our group had been chastised for lateness yesterday morning, and so everyone was up early today in Strahan, ready to go well ahead of our six a.m. departure for Hobart.

I couldn't wait to get back to Hobart. I'd booked my own room at the hostel there—the one I was staying at was as ordinary as the others we'd been to but had free wifi. And I'd booked an en suite, so I wouldn't have to traipse around the halls in my pajamas.

Plus, I really needed to do laundry.

We made stops en route to Hobart, seeing waterfalls and chilly beaches. By the time we turned off to the last stop, I wanted to say "Do we have to?

Our driver let us off at something called the Tall Trees Walk.

"Walk down and I'll meet you at Russell Falls."

Obligingly, we all started hiking into the rainforest.

And were glad we did. This forest turned out to be stunning, moss-covered, and grand.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Nearing the Finish Line

On Sunday afternoon, we'd headed to the small town of Strahan after leaving Cradle Mountain.

That's pronounced "Strawn" in these parts.

We looked for some whales that had beached themselves, but didn't find anything aside from a really windy, cold beach, and so headed to town to a mediocre backpackers lodge. None of the backpackers/hostels in Tasmania have been particularly noteworthy, though some have been better than others. The Bicheno one was the worst, with only two old, chilly showers and toilets for 16-or-more women. I don't know what the situation was in the men's room. But the Bicheno lodge had been spitting distance from a delicious bakery that opened at stupid-o'clock and was near a caravan park that featured wifi, so even that hadn't been so bad.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Tales(ils) of Tassie Tigers

On Sunday, I headed to a resort to something called the "Wilderness Gallery." I'd seen billboards and brochures advertising a Tasmanian tiger exhibit.

And I love me some Tasmanian tigers.

The first time Turbo the Aussie told me about Tasmanian tigers, I accused him of bullshitting me. He was always saying silly things, and I barely believed him about the giant-sized kangaroos and emus that had once inhabited Australia (these mega-fauna were confirmed by a museum in Queensland within the month). Why would I believe there had been a tiger in Tasmania?

Because there wasn't, not really. The Tassie tiger wasn't really a tiger, not like the tigers in Nepal or India. They were more like lean dogs, or small marsupial wolves, but with striped lower backs.

I remember going to the slow, rural dial-up Internet in Crystal Creek, NSW, to search for proof that Turbo wasn't putting me on.

On to Cradle Mountain

Our driver and guide, Ian, has left us, and a madman has taken over.

The new guy has a few nice touches of his own—this morning, for example, at Cradle Mountain, he got up at six and laid out our breakfast foods for us. But then he also provides constant commentary on the PA in the bus, yakking on about whatever crosses his mind while interspersing this with actual details we need. The chatter goes something like this:

"The man who owns that farms still makes those Dutch shoes, what are they called, clogs, today. Does anyone here wear clogs? Oh look, the sky ahead is blue. So maybe it isn't snowing tomorrow. We need to leave at eight but just to go down to the visitor's center where you can catch the shuttle bus. You know, no one can make you feel inferior. It's your own choice to feel inferior. Think about that."

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tasmania Tour

I signed up for a six-day Tasmania tour when heading down here, because I was afraid it would be too cold to camp. Plus, Intrepid had a 15 percent off sale on an already cheap trip, so by going with them, I'd actually save money over going alone with a rental car or with buses and local day trips.

Of course, it's cheap because you have to sleep in dorms. Ick. I really really hate dorms. I have serious problems with other people in my space, and if you've read for a while, you've probably laughed at me on more than one occasion when I was wigging out that someone was in my apartment. Well, I'm no better at being a guest than at having guests, and sharing with 6-7 others *really* makes me crazy.