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Rangiroa, Tuamotu Archipelago

     Early on January 22 the Amsterdam “shot the hole” into the lagoon of Rangiroa.  Actually, it was a little too early, since we had gotten up early to watch this operation, but the Captain betrayed us by getting there a half hour before he had told us we would arrive.  So we felt the ship rocking while still washing sleep out of our eyes and missed it by about 5 minutes. 

     Rangiroa is an atoll, one of the biggest in the Pacific.  It is a sort of circular line of closely spaced, long & skinny coral islands more than 200 kilometers in circumference.  The center is all water & it is big enough to hold Tahiti inside.  A lagoon is the relatively calm water protected from the ocean turbulence by a reef.  the “hole” is a narrow pass between islands and the one we “shot” has constant surf coming in from the ocean side.  It is full of fish, with a strong current toward the lagoon, and dolphins are often seen playing in a ship’s wake when entering the lagoon.  Indeed, we heard from others that there were dolphins the day we were there.  But we were too late for pictures.

24. Rangiroa14a. Rangiroa_stitch

     Coral atolls are created when a volcanic island erodes away beneath sea level leaving only its surrounding coral reef above ground.  Charles Darwin was the first to realize this & he was berated for this theory for many years (it seems there is always somebody ready to berate Charles Darwin).  Many people of a certain age who hear “atoll” think of Bikini Atoll where the Americans tested nuclear weapons in the 1950’s.  Actually, a couple of atolls at the other end of the Tuamotus were the sites of French nuclear tests well into the 1990’s.   But that’s another story.  The current danger to low-lying islands like this is the rise in ocean level that may result from climate change.  You can see from the picture above that it would not take too many feet of rise in ocean level before this island would sink under the waves.  This is a major concern that was highlighted at the recent climate summit.

     We had been scheduled to anchor on the left side of the “hole” (called the Tiputa Pass) in the 1st picture above and tender to the island that contains Avatoru, the biggest town in Rangiroa.  But it turned out that spot had been given to an Oceana ship doing a world cruise, so we anchored off the island on the right side of the pass and tendered to the village there called Tiputa (which you can see in the 2d picture above).  We thought that was actually better, since there is at least a little village on that side, whereas Avatoru would have been several miles away on the other island.

     So by now you may be thinking:  all right it’s a big ocean with lots of water, but where is the sea life?  Well, in the morning Rick went on a snorkeling trip to an area called “the aquarium,” not because it is enclosed by glass (it isn’t) but because it is teeming with colorful fish.  It is located near what looks like a sandbar called Motu Nuhi Nuhi that is a little way inside the Tiputa Pass.  We went out on a small but covered boat, donned our snorkeling gear & climbed down a ladder into the water.  Swimming fins were not provided, ostensibly to protect the coral from damage, but since the coral was on the bottom about 20 feet down there was little danger of that (we were surface snorkeling, not diving).

97. Rangiroa30. Rangiroa28. Rangiroa29. Rangiroa

     As advertised there were LOTS of colorful fish.  I can’t tell you what their names are, but they were great fun to see and swim with.  They came quite close, completely unafraid, though I never noticed any of them touching me.

34. Rangiroa39. Rangiroa35a. Rangiroa69a. Rangiroa40b. Rangiroa42b. Rangiroa59. Rangiroa64. Rangiroa76a. Rangiroa54. Rangiroa79. Rangiroa

     I could see various kinds of coral on the bottom.  And there were also sharks down there!  They were Black Tipped Sharks (I think that’s the name), which are supposed to be harmless to people.  But still . . . kind of creepy to be in the water with sharks.  I couldn’t get a good picture of one, unfortunately, because they were too far away & I didn’t have enough control of my position without fins, but here’s what evidence I have.

89. Rangiroa47. Rangiroa49. Rangiroa50. Rangiroa81. Rangiroa85. Rangiroa

   We sailed back to the tender pier, where Rick took the tender back to the ship to change clothes.  On the way  a cell phone began ringing & our guide/pilot (whose name I have forgotten) took his phone out of a box on the ceiling of the boat & conversed in French.  He told us it was “mama,” & apparently she wanted to know where he was.  He was very good, helping people into & out of the water & towing a large orange float for those who got tired with no place to stand up.  I swallowed a lot of salt water but had a great time.

43. Rangiroa99. Rangiroa98. Rangiroa

     In early afternoon we tendered back to shore in the little village of Tiputa, the second largest village in Rangiroa with a population somewhere below 1,000.  They probably don’t get many cruise ships coming to their village since most ships seem to go to the other side of the Tiputa Pass.  There were a number of handicraft and drink stands around the dock area and a group of Rangiroans was playing & singing in the shade as you exited the tender.  Their music was very sweet sounding.

102. Rangiroa104. Rangiroa

We walked through the village, which really didn’t have many notable buildings.  There was, of course, a church, one of the few buildings notable from the ship.  And we saw the city hall, which had a decoration on the top of its garden walls that looked like a caterpillar.  Later we came across a cemetery, with a lot of flowers on the stone covered graves.  Many of the grave stones had photographs of the people buried there.

10. Rangiroa116. Rangiroa117. Rangiroa115. Rangiroa121. Rangiroa120. Rangiroa125. Rangiroa127. Rangiroa

     We walked out to the ocean (not a long walk as the island is quite narrow).  There were sand beaches with a lot of coral and crashing surf.  We were warned not to walk into the water here without sandals or shoes with good soles, because the coral is sharp and hard and can do a lot of damage to your feet.

130. Rangiroa131. Rangiroa157. Rangiroa159. Rangiroa147. Rangiroa151. Rangiroa158. Rangiroa

143. Rangiroa

        We walked back toward the lagoon.  The atoll is small but quite lush, with lots of palms and other trees.  One tree had fruit that looked like a ball of twine (or maybe worms).  Another was the Noni tree, whose fruit is said to have miraculous healing powers.  Of course, this is a tropical island so there were plenty of beautiful flowers.

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      We walked out along the shore toward the Tiputa pass.  We saw many people swimming, especially local children.  We were given lemonade on the tender pier then returned to the ship. When the ship left we went up on the aft deck to take another shot at seeing the dolphins, but no luck.  However, the shore looked nice in the setting sunlight & we watched the Oceana ship shoot the hole behind us as we sailed away.

165. Rangiroa166. Rangiroa171. Rangiroa173. Rangiroa169. Rangiroa182. Rangiroa184. Rangiroa

     As we sail off toward the Society Islands we will leave you with (of course) some towel animals.266. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands3. Rangiroa

Taiohae, Nuku Hiva

     After 8 days at sea with nothing to look at but water everyone was glad to finally reach the beautiful island of Nuku Hiva on the morning of January 20.  The sail-in was under gray cloudy skies and it was foggy in the beginning.  The island is quite lush & green & is topped by craggy mountains, so it’s quite a sight.

15a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands_stitch

     The front deck was opened again for the sail-in, with coffee & Nuku Hiva rolls (same as the Panama rolls) served.  There was also a traditional welcoming ceremony from the Polynesian group that had been on board since Panama, teaching the music, language & dance of the islands.  We had seen them perform previously, in colorful costume.

1. At Sea to Polynesia8. At Sea to PolynesiaDSC035043. At Sea to Polynesia5. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands13. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands9. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands8. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands22. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     Taiohae is the main port & biggest town on Nuku Hiva & is the capital of the Marquesas Archipelago.  It is the second largest island in French Polynesia, a vast area comparable to the size of Europe but with a small scattered population in what is mostly ocean. Nuku Hiva was settled by Polynesians more than 2000 years ago, and it was explorers from here that discovered & settled Hawaii & Easter Island. The island originally became well known in the West during the 19th century, when it was claimed by several western countries & ended up French in 1842.  During the war of 1812 an American ship captain claimed it for the United States, but when stories made it back about the island women’s (shall we say) extremely welcoming attitude toward the sailors, Congress refused to ratify the claim.  Herman Melville’s book Typee (more on that later), based on his experience as a guest/captive of a tribe of cannibals on Nuku Hiva, contributed further to its notoriety. 

     Back then Nuku Hiva was a lively place with a population of about 80,000 divided into warring tribes.   Ultimately, as with most, if not all, Polynesian islanders, some 90% of the population was wiped out by diseases brought by western sailors (and by some slaves returned to the island by order of the church because they had become Christians).  Today the population of Nuku Hiva is only about 2,600; there are more Marquesans living on Tahiti than on Nuku Hiva.  As we sailed into the harbor the distinctive landscape come more into view.

24a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands_stitch29. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands30. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands32. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands34. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands38. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     The Amsterdam was anchored in the bay, just beyond the many yachts near the shore.  We were part of a small group that had arranged for an island tour, and we were on the first tender to the port.  There were local drummers and handcraft vendors near the dock, and a nice view across the shorefront of the bay.  We saw a man bathing his horse in the water there.

249. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands40. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands60a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands44a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands_stitch

     We piled into the van and headed up into the mountains.  Our guide, Jocelyne, spoke English well, with a heavy though understandable French accent.  She moved here from France some 20 years ago when the roads were unpaved and you could count the number of cars on the island on your fingers.  She told us that Nuku Hiva receives about 15 cruise ship visits a year.  Our first stop was on top of a mountain overlooking the bay (Mount Muake?), where we could see our ship anchored among the yachts in a fairly spectacular view.

70a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands73b. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands75. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands72. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands80. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands234. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     Next we went to the Taipivai valley.  This is where Mellville spent a month after jumping ship from the whaler on which he was a crewman.  He and another deserter fled into the mountains to avoid recapture & ended up with the Tai-Pi tribe (whom he called Typee). They treated him well, nursed him back to health & he even had a girlfriend (called Fayaway in his book).  But they wouldn’t let him leave and, suspecting he might soon be on the menu, he managed to escape (at least that’s how the book portrays it).  This valley became famous all over again in 2002 as the site for a season of the TV show Survivor.  Jocelyn told us that the show’s producers occupied all of the island’s tourist facilities for several months, and the best part of it for Nuku Hiva was that they established cell phone & internet facilities on the island for the first time.  Today the people in this valley cultivate coconut palms.  We stopped on the side of a mountain overlooking the lush valley.

86. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands101. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands102. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands85. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands93. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands99. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     We drove on through the mountains to an overlook of the bay where Taipivai valley lets out into the ocean.  While here we also saw a green pigeon, a beautiful bird that is bright green with white head and breast and bright red on its belly.  I couldn’t get a picture while it was flying, but managed one of it sitting in a tree (a bit fuzzy because it was quite a ways down the mountainside & I used a long lens & then enlarged it several times).  Throughout the mountain roads we saw cattle, horses, pigs & lots of chickens, most roaming free but some horses tethered.  Jocelyn told us that the rule with the chickens is: if you can catch one you can eat it. 

103. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands105. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands109. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands108. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands127. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands3. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

       After viewing this spot we tried to re-enter the van, but the door was stuck.  It turned out that a seatbelt had gotten entwined with the handle; after 10 or 15 minutes someone climbed in through the back & freed the door.  As soon as we all got back into the van the skies opened up & there was a downpour.  It was over by the time we reached our next stop, so luckily we did not get wet.

      Our next stop was overlooking beautiful Hatiheu Bay.  It is distinguished by tall basalt spires & shining white sand beaches.  This was one of the favorite spots of Robert Louis Stevenson, who spent the last part of his life in the South Pacific.  On the way there we passed some very tall waterfalls.

113. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands138. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands114. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands129. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands131. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands121. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands120. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands126. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     We went back down in the valley (possibly Taipivai) and visited a Marae, a sort of platform made of stones that the ancient Polynesians used as temples and meeting places.  This one was reconstructed, possibly on the site of an ancient one, as a venue for the Marquesas Festival.  Held every four years since the 1980’s, the festival is part of an effort to preserve & revive the ancient traditions of the islands.  I don’t know if any of the tikis (carved stone idols) here are old.

141. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands149. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands154. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands146. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands148. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands153. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

Notable here was a huge banyan tree.  We had seen several around the island.  We were told that these trees were planted on the outskirts of each village, and the skulls & bones of people sacrificed (& eaten) were placed inside its many trunks.

145. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     That was the end of our trip through the mountains & we headed back to Taiohae.  So this is a good place to show some the variety of beautiful flora we saw in the mountains.  As usual, we don’t know their names but thought these worth seeing.   Jocelyne told us that Nuku Hiva was pretty much barren when the first people arrived, & all the animals & most of the vegetation (including palm trees) were brought here by settlers & conquerors.

81. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands82. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands88. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands110. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands97. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands89. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands90. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands135. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands132. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands133. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands136. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands98. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands137a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     Jocelyn dropped us off at the cathedral in town.  It is a modern building on the site of earlier churches; the entry gate was part of an earlier one.  It includes stones from all of the Marquesa islands & is notable for the beautiful wood carving, notably in the entrance, the pulpit & the stations of the cross, where religious symbols are adapted with Polynesian faces & occupations.

177. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands160. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands164. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands168a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands162. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands165. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands167. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands166. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands175. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands176. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     We walked along the waterfront to the elaborately carved wood memorial to Herman Mellville & his book Typee . . . the only one of his book that had substantial sales during his lifetime.  It was erected in 1992, the 150th anniversary of Mellville’s stay in the Taipivai valley in 1842.

200b. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands_stitch

     We walked back to the tender dock along the waterfront, most of which was a nice park with stone sculptures.  We saw kids swimming in the surf, a kayaker & the city hall for the Marquesas.

190. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands259. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands260. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands194. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands246. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands256. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands231. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands232. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands239. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     There was additional flora & fauna in town, including several kinds of birds and more beautiful flowers.  And with a selection of those, we will leave you until next time.

192. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands171. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands195. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands186. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands188. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands182. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands196. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands255. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands198. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands251. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands254. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands261. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands245. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands247. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands263. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands228. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

Taiohae, Nuku Hiva

     After 8 days at sea with nothing to look at but water everyone was glad to finally reach the beautiful island of Nuku Hiva on the morning of January 20.  The sail-in was under gray cloudy skies and it was foggy in the beginning.  The island is quite lush & green & is topped by craggy mountains, so it’s quite a sight.

15a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands_stitch

     The front deck was opened again for the sail-in, with coffee & Nuku Hiva rolls (same as the Panama rolls) served.  There was also a traditional welcoming ceremony from the Polynesian group that had been on board since Panama, teaching the music, language & dance of the islands.  We had seen them perform previously, in colorful costume.

1. At Sea to Polynesia8. At Sea to PolynesiaDSC035043. At Sea to Polynesia5. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands13. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands9. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands8. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands22. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     Taiohae is the main port & biggest town on Nuku Hiva & is the capital of the Marquesas Archipelago.  It is the second largest island in French Polynesia, a vast area comparable to the size of Europe but with a small scattered population in what is mostly ocean. Nuku Hiva was settled by Polynesians more than 2000 years ago, and it was explorers from here that discovered & settled Hawaii & Easter Island. The island originally became well known in the West during the 19th century, when it was claimed by several western countries & ended up French in 1842.  During the war of 1812 an American ship captain claimed it for the United States, but when stories made it back about the island women’s (shall we say) extremely welcoming attitude toward the sailors, Congress refused to ratify the claim.  Herman Melville’s book Typee (more on that later), based on his experience as a guest/captive of a tribe of cannibals on Nuku Hiva, contributed further to its notoriety. 

     Back then Nuku Hiva was a lively place with a population of about 80,000 divided into warring tribes.   Ultimately, as with most, if not all, Polynesian islanders, some 90% of the population was wiped out by diseases brought by western sailors (and by some slaves returned to the island by order of the church because they had become Christians).  Today the population of Nuku Hiva is only about 2,600; there are more Marquesans living on Tahiti than on Nuku Hiva.  As we sailed into the harbor the distinctive landscape come more into view.

24a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands_stitch29. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands30. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands32. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands34. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands38. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     The Amsterdam was anchored in the bay, just beyond the many yachts near the shore.  We were part of a small group that had arranged for an island tour, and we were on the first tender to the port.  There were local drummers and handcraft vendors near the dock, and a nice view across the shorefront of the bay.  We saw a man bathing his horse in the water there.

249. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands40. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands60a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands44a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands_stitch

     We piled into the van and headed up into the mountains.  Our guide, Jocelyne, spoke English well, with a heavy though understandable French accent.  She moved here from France some 20 years ago when the roads were unpaved and you could count the number of cars on the island on your fingers.  She told us that Nuku Hiva receives about 15 cruise ship visits a year.  Our first stop was on top of a mountain overlooking the bay (Mount Muake?), where we could see our ship anchored among the yachts in a fairly spectacular view.

70a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands73b. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands75. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands72. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands80. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands234. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     Next we went to the Taipivai valley.  This is where Mellville spent a month after jumping ship from the whaler on which he was a crewman.  He and another deserter fled into the mountains to avoid recapture & ended up with the Tai-Pi tribe (whom he called Typee). They treated him well, nursed him back to health & he even had a girlfriend (called Fayaway in his book).  But they wouldn’t let him leave and, suspecting he might soon be on the menu, he managed to escape (at least that’s how the book portrays it).  This valley became famous all over again in 2002 as the site for a season of the TV show Survivor.  Jocelyn told us that the show’s producers occupied all of the island’s tourist facilities for several months, and the best part of it for Nuku Hiva was that they established cell phone & internet facilities on the island for the first time.  Today the people in this valley cultivate coconut palms.  We stopped on the side of a mountain overlooking the lush valley.

86. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands101. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands102. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands85. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands93. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands99. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     We drove on through the mountains to an overlook of the bay where Taipivai valley lets out into the ocean.  While here we also saw a green pigeon, a beautiful bird that is bright green with white head and breast and bright red on its belly.  I couldn’t get a picture while it was flying, but managed one of it sitting in a tree (a bit fuzzy because it was quite a ways down the mountainside & I used a long lens & then enlarged it several times).  Throughout the mountain roads we saw cattle, horses, pigs & lots of chickens, most roaming free but some horses tethered.  Jocelyn told us that the rule with the chickens is: if you can catch one you can eat it. 

103. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands105. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands109. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands108. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands127. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands3. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

       After viewing this spot we tried to re-enter the van, but the door was stuck.  It turned out that a seatbelt had gotten entwined with the handle; after 10 or 15 minutes someone climbed in through the back & freed the door.  As soon as we all got back into the van the skies opened up & there was a downpour.  It was over by the time we reached our next stop, so luckily we did not get wet.

      Our next stop was overlooking beautiful Hatiheu Bay.  It is distinguished by tall basalt spires & shining white sand beaches.  This was one of the favorite spots of Robert Louis Stevenson, who spent the last part of his life in the South Pacific.  On the way there we passed some very tall waterfalls.

113. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands138. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands114. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands129. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands131. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands121. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands120. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands126. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     We went back down in the valley (possibly Taipivai) and visited a Marae, a sort of platform made of stones that the ancient Polynesians used as temples and meeting places.  This one was reconstructed, possibly on the site of an ancient one, as a venue for the Marquesas Festival.  Held every four years since the 1980’s, the festival is part of an effort to preserve & revive the ancient traditions of the islands.  I don’t know if any of the tikis (carved stone idols) here are old.

141. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands149. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands154. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands146. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands148. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands153. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

Notable here was a huge banyan tree.  We had seen several around the island.  We were told that these trees were planted on the outskirts of each village, and the skulls & bones of people sacrificed (& eaten) were placed inside its many trunks.

145. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     That was the end of our trip through the mountains & we headed back to Taiohae.  So this is a good place to show some the variety of beautiful flora we saw in the mountains.  As usual, we don’t know their names but thought these worth seeing.   Jocelyne told us that Nuku Hiva was pretty much barren when the first people arrived, & all the animals & most of the vegetation (including palm trees) were brought here by settlers & conquerors.

81. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands82. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands88. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands110. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands97. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands89. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands90. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands135. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands132. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands133. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands136. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands98. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands137a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     Jocelyn dropped us off at the cathedral in town.  It is a modern building on the site of earlier churches; the entry gate was part of an earlier one.  It includes stones from all of the Marquesa islands & is notable for the beautiful wood carving, notably in the entrance, the pulpit & the stations of the cross, where religious symbols are adapted with Polynesian faces & occupations.

177. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands160. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands164. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands168a. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands162. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands165. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands167. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands166. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands175. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands176. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     We walked along the waterfront to the elaborately carved wood memorial to Herman Mellville & his book Typee . . . the only one of his book that had substantial sales during his lifetime.  It was erected in 1992, the 150th anniversary of Mellville’s stay in the Taipivai valley in 1842.

200b. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands_stitch

     We walked back to the tender dock along the waterfront, most of which was a nice park with stone sculptures.  We saw kids swimming in the surf, a kayaker & the city hall for the Marquesas.

190. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands259. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands260. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands194. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands246. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands256. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands231. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands232. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands239. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

     There was additional flora & fauna in town, including several kinds of birds and more beautiful flowers.  And with a selection of those, we will leave you until next time.

192. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands171. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands195. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands186. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands188. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands182. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands196. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands255. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands198. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands251. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands254. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands261. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands245. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands247. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands263. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands228. Nuku Hiva, Marquesa Islands

Panama City, Panama

     We had to wake up early on Monday, January 11 to catch the 6:45 tender for a 6 person tour of Panama City arranged by a fellow passenger.  After rising so early the day before to catch the entry to the canal it was really hard to get out of bed so early again.  From the ship the city looked impressively large.  Edwin, our delightful guide, told us that most of this has been built in the last 10 or 15 years and we saw quite a lot of continuing construction underway throughout the city.

129b1. Panama Canal_stitch

   We met up with the other two couples on the excursion and caught a mostly empty (most folks were probably still asleep) tender to shore on Flamenco Island, where we had to wait about 40 minutes for our guide to arrive.  Our tender passed a striking rock island bathed in the warm rising sunlight. HAL always sets up a nice tender station at the dock, with mats to step out on & cold lemonade to greet you on your return.  This cruise has special mats with the voyage logo.  The dock was at a yacht harbor with a nice view of the city in the morning light.

0. Panama City, Panama2. Panama City, Panama1. Panama City, Panama

     Our first stop was supposed to be the Ancon Hill, the highest spot in the area featuring interesting wildlife and overlooks of the city and the canal.  Unfortunately, after we drove up there it turned out to be closed that day.  Phooey!  So Edwin filled the time by driving all the way across the city, in brutal traffic, to the ruins of the first settlement here, Panama Viejo.  Built in 1519, this was the first European town on the Pacific coast of the Americas & was a major transit point for gold & silver from Peru & products from Asia.  A sizable town, it was sacked by the British buccaneer Henry Morgan in 1671, after which the town was moved about 10 miles east to what today is the far left of the town as seen from the sea.  We didn’t have time to walk through the ruins, which include a famous bell tower from the original cathedral, but we got one decent picture from the window of the moving car.  Driving across the city was impressive not only for the oppressive traffic, which Edwin told us is normal here, but also for the density of the very tall buildings.  Notable among them is the Revolution Tower (which Edwin called the “twisting tower”),  the Trump Tower with its curved sail-shaped top, and the Hard Rock Hotel.  It seems to us that it would be a conflict of interest for a President of the United States to have such prominent financial interests in other countries.  Edwin also told us that Panama City has a number of ethnic communities, each with its own area of concentration.  He pointed out the Jewish area called Punta Paitilla, which looks like an area of high-rise buildings on the shore. We have read that many of the luxury apartments in these towers are empty & may be serving as money laundering investments.  There are kosher groceries and a synagogue in this area.

3. Panama City, Panama4. Panama City, Panama13. Panama City, Panama6. Panama City, Panama12. Panama City, Panama135a. Panama Canal35. Panama City, Panama

     Our first stop was back at the Miraflores locks.  This time it was us who were in the observation building watching the ships go by.  There was a fashion photo session being conducted on the side of the canal below us & in the distance we had another view of the construction site for the new docks.  We saw a 10 minute movie that was just a promotion for Panama & the canal & then we went through their “museum,” which didn’t take long because there wasn’t much to see (mostly displays and few artifacts).  If going again, we would save the exorbitant $15 per person admission fee ($2 for locals), at least if you have come through these locks already.

18. Panama City, Panama15. Panama City, Panama19. Panama City, Panama23. Panama City, Panama22. Panama City, Panama

     Next we drove to Casco Viejo, the old section of the city that was founded by the survivors of Henry Morgan’s raid.  To get there we drove through a run down area called El Chorrillo, which was badly damaged by the U.S. invasion to capture Noriega when hundreds were killed there. Today it is a dangerous area housing drug gangs. Edwin told us that the local authorities are trying to move the inhabitants out for renovation, but the residents apparently realize that once they move they won’t be invited back so they are resisting this effort.

El Chorrillo26. Panama City, Panama

     Traffic was very bad in the narrow streets of Casco Viejo, and we had to wait in line to enter the parking lot until spots opened when cars left.  We walked up the Paseo Esteban Huertas along the top of a sea wall. Partly covered by a canopy of bougainvillea with Kuna vendor stalls selling molas and other colorful craft items.  The sea wall has very fine views of the city, and we could also see the Amsterdam at anchor and the Bridge of the Americas near Miraflores locks.

28. Panama City, Panama32. Panama City, Panama39. Panama City, Panama34. Panama City, Panama37. Panama City, Panama40. Panama City, Panama31. Panama City, Panama

     At the end of the Paseo is the Plaza de Francia.  It is centered by a memorial to the approximately 20,000 people who died during the unsuccessful French effort to build the canal.  Ferdinand de Lesseps, who had been responsible for building the Suez Canal, led the French effort to build a canal without locks.  The Suez could be build that way because it ran through flat sandy land, but Panama is mountainous so this approach never had a chance.  It ended in scandal as many in France lost a lot of money through fraudulent promotion of the canal company.  Most of the people who died here were killed by Yellow Fever.  The Americans were able to eliminate the Yellow Fever plague by (literally) killing all the mosquitoes in this part of Panama.  Mosquitoes are back, but not the Yellow Fever, as far as we are aware.

    The monument consists of a tall obelisk with a rooster (apparently a symbol of France) on top.  Around its base are busts of some of the leaders of the French canal effort, including de Lesseps.  Also in this square are several small metal sculptures of various kinds of workers and a wall of large doors to what was once a Spanish prison.

41. Panama City, Panama43. Panama City, Panama45. Panama City, Panama44. Panama City, Panama

     We walked around the crowded streets of Casco Viejo.  It is in process of renovation & right now is a mix of dilapidated old buildings, gentrified restored buildings and construction projects involving gutting of the interior of a building while preserving its façade.  Edwin said come back in 10 years and it will be beautiful, which may be true but it will no longer have the feel of an “old town.”

46. Panama City, Panama74. Panama City, Panama53. Panama City, Panama55. Panama City, Panama56. Panama City, Panama52. Panama City, Panama66. Panama City, Panama67. Panama City, Panama73. Panama City, Panama

     We visited several churches, which are often the most interesting buildings in Latin American cities.  The convent of the Compania de Jesus was moved here from its original location in Panama Viejo after Morgan’s raid.  It is known (we are told) for its lengthy flat arch, which extends straight across the church with no capstone.  This was reputedly cited during the debates in the U.S. Senate over whether to build a canal in Panama or Nicaragua, with Panama eventually prevailing in part because of its geological stability as opposed to Nicaragua’s many earthquakes & volcanoes.  The arch collapsed just after the celebration of the centennial of Panama’s independence from Columbia in 2003, but has been restored (using noticeably newer bricks rather than the originals, unfortunately).

47. Panama City, Panama49. Panama City, Panama51. Panama City, Panama48. Panama City, Panama51a. Panama City, Panama

     There is a wonderful story we have read in numerous places about the Iglesia de San Jose, which contains a huge carved altar covered in gold leaf.  It seems that just before Henry Morgan’s raid a clever friar saved this valuable altar by secreting some of its parts in the ocean nearby & painting the rest of it black.  When Morgan asked where the gold was the friar told him the altar was still under construction & asked Morgan for a donation.  An amused Morgan said “This friar is more of a pirate than I am” & ordered that the donation be made.  Thus, the friar’s chutzpah saved the alter, which was moved to the new location in Casco Viejo.  Unfortunately, there is a sign next to the altar that says none of this is true: the altar wasn’t built until the 18th century & it was only covered in gold in the 1920’s.  But it’s a good enough story that it ought to be true, & the altar itself is pretty impressive no matter when it was built.

59. Panama City, Panama57. Panama City, Panama61. Panama City, Panama64. Panama City, Panama65. Panama City, Panama

     We walked to the Plaza de la Independencia, where independence from Spain and later from Columbia was proclaimed.  There we visited the Catedral Metropolitana, with its distinctive façade of brown stone, some brought from Panama Viejo after Morgan’s raid, flanked by white towers.  Its large altar is made from seven types of Italian marble.  Edwin, whose first communion was here, says that it is scheduled for renovation soon and from the looks of the interior it needs it.  From the steps of the cathedral is a nice view of the plaza, with a band shell in the center standing in front of the reconstructed Hotel Central, once the ritziest in Central America.

72. Panama City, Panama68. Panama City, Panama69a. Panama City71. Panama City, Panama

     The Plaza Bolivar is an especially nice square full of greenery & nicely restored buildings.  Particularly noticeable is the Palacio Bolivar, which now houses the Panamanian Foreign Ministry, a reddish colored hotel on the other side of the square, & a lush roof garden on one of the buildings lining the square.  We don’t seem to have a picture of the statue of Simon Bolivar in the center of the plaza, which got its name from a unification conference he called that was held here in 1826 (but which Bolivar did not attend).

82. Panama City, Panama77. Panama City, Panama79. Panama City, Panama

     We returned to the parking lot, passing two imposing buildings that are currently closed for repairs.  The 17th century Iglesias de San Francisco de Asis apparently has been closed for some time & the Teatro Nacional, opened in 1908, was recently closed after part of the ceiling fell during a performance.

75. Panama City, Panama83. Panama City, Panama80. Panama City, Panama81. Panama City, Panama

  We drove back along the causeway to Flamenco Island and the tender port.  The spires of the churches in Casco Viejo could be seen from a long way, an interesting contrast with the modern buildings towering over them from the new city.  On the way we stopped at the colorful new Museum of Bio-diversity,  (I think that’s the title). Opened very recently, this building was designed by American architect Frank Geary (who we were told is married to a Panamanian).  We had seen it before while cruising out of the canal & it certainly stands out against its surroundings.  It was closed the day we were here.

90. Panama City, Panama93. Panama City, Panama92. Panama City, Panama123. Panama Canal

     That’s all from our day in Panama City.  We saw a lot, but also missed a lot that we will have to see on our next visit.  We sailed away in late afternoon, with the islands and Panama city lit by the setting sun.  It will be more than a week before we set foot on land again.

97 Panama City (man made islands)98. Panama City in late afternoon

Panama Canal

     We spent Sunday, January 10, transiting the Panama Canal, a true wonder of 20th century engineering.  We had done this once before, almost exactly 4 years ago during our 2012 South American cruise, which is memorialized in this posting:

https://baderjournal.wordpress.com/2012/01/11/panama-canal-2/

We had to get up early in the morning because we were set to approach the first set of locks at Gatun about 7:30 AM.  The bow of the ship was opened for this transit (it is usually inaccessible to passengers) so we went there to watch.  The crew dispensed coffee there, along with “Panama Rolls,” tasty sweet rolls with a sort of peach filling that we were told derive from a Filipino delicacy.  As we approached the first lock we saw another Holland America ship, the Zuiderdam, already inside the first lock in the other lane to our right.

3. Panama Canal42. Panama Canal32. Panama Canal23. Panama Canal41. Panama Canal10. Panama Canal

   The lock doors are massive.  They swing open from the center & are flush with the side wall when fully open.  A handrail across the top for pedestrians folds down when the doors open.  Like much of the equipment here, they were manufactured in the United States (Pittsburgh) more than 100 years ago.  We were told that 90% of the original equipment is still in use after more than a century!

18. Panama Canal15. Panama Canal19. Panama Canal21. Panama City, Panama90. Panama Canal

     Several kinds of birds flew around the ship as we entered the canal, alighting on posts & taking off again.  We are told that crocodiles also live there and are sometimes sighted from the ships.  The Captain announced a sighting of one just before we entered, but we did not get to see it.

11. Panama Canal8. Panama Canal86. Panama Canal29. Panama Canal

    Along the top of the walls of the locks are railroad tracks for the “mules,” vehicles resembling small railroad engines that have no trouble climbing the steep walls as they rise from one level to the next.  They are attached by cable to the ship, one on each side in front and another pair in back.  The ship powers itself through the lock and the function of the mules is just to assist in keeping the ship aligned in the center without rubbing against the walls.  Not easy, since there is very little leeway between the ship & the wall of the lock.  The current mules are the third generation; we passed one of the first mules preserved on display.

27. Panama Canal37. Panama Canal20. Panama City, Panama44. Panama Canal78. Panama Canal107. Panama Canal

   It takes a long time to get through the three levels of the Gatun locks, so we went to the restaurant for breakfast.  We had a great view through the aft windows of the La Fontaine as we passed out of the Gatun locks & headed into Gatun Lake.

48. Panama Canal

     The old map of the Panama Canal below shows that after traversing the Gatun locks on the left you sail across the large Gatun Lake.  This lake was created by damming the Chagres River, which is now the source of the water pumped into the locks to lift the ships.  When a lock is emptied to receive the next ship the water flows into the sea, so an immense amount of fresh water is needed to keep the locks working 24 hours a day. 

Panama Canal map20. Panama Canal85. Panama Canal

     We spent most of the long sail across the lake sitting on deck chairs.  This is a rain forest & the shores of the lake & the large island in the middle are lush with vegetation.

50. Panama Canal54. Panama Canal59. Panama Canal64. Panama Canal

     After the lake comes the Culebra Cut.  This was the toughest part of the canal to build, since it involved digging through rock hills, which were unstable enough that debris kept collapsing into the channel from the hillsides.  Much of the hillside along the Cut is terraced to help stabilize it & in some places there are braces driven into the walls.  One of the hills was known as the Gold Hill because it was promoted in France in the 19th century during the unsuccessful French attempt to build a canal as containing a very rich source of gold.  A lot of Frenchmen lost their pants investing in this fraudulent promotion, for there wasn’t a trace of gold there.

66. Panama Canal72. Panama Canal67. Panama Canal68. Panama Canal84. Panama Canal

     As you approach the Pacific end of the canal there are two bridges and two sets of locks to lower the ship back down to ocean level.  The first bridge is called the Centennial Bridge, which is just before you reach the Pedro Miguel locks.  This bridge is not very old, but we were told that it will have to be torn down & rebuilt because it is too low to accommodate the much larger ships that will begin coming through when the new locks (discussed below) are completed.

70. Panama Canal71. Panama Canal73. Panama Canal

     At the Pedro Miguel locks we saw a container train pass by.  There has been a railway here since long before the canal was built (although it was upgraded during the canal work).  In 1849 the Panama Railway was an important route for adventurers from the eastern United States headed to California for the gold rush.  And many of them died here of disease after they ran out of money and were unable to book passage to California.  Depending on the cargo, some shippers today find it less expensive to unload containers onto the train and reload them onto a ship at the other end than to pay the cost of traversing the canal.  This can go up to almost $500,000 for a ship, payable in advance in cash.  The toll is calculated mostly based on the size of the ship.  The smallest ever was about 35 cents for Richard Halliburton, who swam the canal in 10 days in the 1930’s.

92. Panama Canal91. Panama Canal89. Panama Canal75. Panama Canal76. Panama Canal80. Panama Canal

     Not far from Pedro Miguel is the final set of locks at Miraflores that lowers the ship to the level of the Pacific Ocean.  There is an observatory building here where folks can come and watch the ships pass through the locks.  It has viewing verandas on four levels and, since it was a nice Sunday afternoon when most people were off from work, it was packed with people waving and taking pictures of us as we took pictures of them.  Meanwhile, on the front deck we spotted evidence that there is no age limit for the use of selfie sticks.

99. Panama Canal153. Panama Canal98. Panama Canal

17. Panama City, Panama109. Panama Canal105. Panama Canal96. Panama Canal152. Panama Canal

     Just after leaving the locks we got our firsts glimpse of Panama City on the other side of the hills on our left.  In the distance on the right is the construction site of the new locks being built to accommodate larger modern ships that can’t fit through the current locks.  Several ports on the East coast of the United States are enlarging their harbors in anticipation of these larger ships coming from Asia.  The new locks were supposed to be opened for the canal’s 100th birthday in 2014; now they are saying they will open this Spring, but it doesn’t look ready from where we were. On our left we also passed some old army barracks built during American control of what was then known as the Canal Zone, and some people boating along the shore.

115. Panama Canal117. Panama Canal121. Panama Canal97. Panama Canal

     Just around the bend after Miraflores locks we came to the Bridge of the Americas.  This is part of the Pan American Highway, which extends from Alaska (I think) all the way to Patagonia at the tip of South America.  The canal’s two bridges are now all that connect North and South America, since the canal broke the continuity of the land bridge through Central America.

119. Panama Canal118. Panama Canal120. Panama Canal

    We now had to sail down to the ocean and around some islands to our anchorage for the night off Panama City.  We were told that the islands we sailed around at the mouth of the canal, connected to the mainland by a long causeway, are entirely man-made from debris removed from the canal when it was built.  The causeway, about 3 miles long, was designed to prevent the ocean currents in this area from silting up the mouth of the canal.  The dramatic clouds over Panama City when we arrived soon let loose a downpour, but it was over before sunset lit up the city, a lovely end to a long and interesting day.

128. Panama Canal124. Panama Canal127. Panama Canal

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