Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Onboard the Aranui 3 - Part 4

(Be sure to check out Onboard the Aranui 3  - Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 if you haven't already.)
Going through my notes ... here is list of misc items I made note of:

I was glad I had insect repellent high in deet. Two of the islands have no-nos, a type of gnat that leaves a nasty bite. One passenger did not listen to the crews' advice and went to the beach with no repellent on. He fell asleep, got over 200 bites and was sick with a high fever for a couple of days. (We also had a pair of long pants and a long sleeve shirt to wear on these islands.)

I was told clothing on board was extremely casual and it was. Also glad we brought clothes that we didn't mind getting sweaty, wet or muddy.

We both had footwear that could get wet and we practically lived in them. Some pax had not only sandals that could get wet but also water shoes to wear in the water ... which turned out to be a smart move because most of beaches had rocks ..both on the beach and in the water.

The Aranui brochure mentions "jeep" tours. Actually these are 4-wheel drive pickup trucks that hold 4 pax each. I would guess that everyone on an island who owns one of these stops whatever they are doing and takes advantage of the additional income from providing pax transportation. What amazed us were the number of late model vehicles, like Dodge Rams and Ford Rangers. We learned that not only is the cost of the vehicle subsidized for Marquesa residents by the French government, but the loans for the balance have very friendly terms.

I was sorry that I dragged my binoculars along. I knew this wouldn't be a place for bird watching but I thought maybe we'd see some ocean life like dolphins or whales. While we did see both, the experience was extremely brief.

Anyone want a Polynesian tattoo? Here's your chance to get one. One of the crew members is a tattoo artist and, off the top of my head, I probably saw new tattoos on at least 10 percent of the passengers.

The Aranui definitely serves an important purpose. As one passenger said, "someone has to deliver the mail." Cargo was not only delivered from the islands to Tahiti, but also island to island. For instance, we saw huge bags of gravel being loaded. They were coming from an island that had a quarry to an island that was building a new road. Open crates were filled with packages being sent from island to island and to Pape'ete ... when we arrived in Pape'ete, people were lined up at "ticket" windows to claim packages they were waiting for.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Onboard the Aranui 3 - Part 3

(Be sure to check out Onboard the Aranui 3  - Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven't already.)

On our first day we had a safety meeting and a lifeboat drill. In the afternoon we had our "Life on Board" meeting, where I learned some things I wish I had known earlier, like the request-a-meal in the dining room.

In no particular order we received information about meal hours, reception (which is not manned 24/7), the boutique and the infirmary. (BTW, the boutique was mobbed early in the cruise with the correct assumption that selection would be significantly lower by the time we headed back to Pape'ete.) Money could be changed into French Polynesian Francs (XFP) at reception between the hours of 5 to 6. Lousy exchange rate and pax were encouraged to use ATMs on the islands that had them. We were told not to expect credit cards to be accepted on the islands (except in shops selling pearls) and that the only currency accepted would be XFP. (I used ATMs on three of the islands and they are worked just fine, with English as a language option.)

It was at this meeting that we received a handout with our overall itinerary. As you can see by my corrections, whoever did this was either half asleep or had finished those meal time leftover bottles of wine. :)

We also received a brief rundown about the islands we would be visiting, what we would do there and what crafts were the best to buy there. I took notes and I'm glad I did as having a clue about what lay ahead was very helpful to us. For instance, if we knew the next day would have an excellent beach for swimming and relaxing, we pushed ourselves physically on the current day.

Basically our day was breakfast (served 6:30 to 8:30), barge to shore and then lunch either on board, at a local restaurant or a beach BBQ. Typically if we had lunch ashore, there were options for the afternoon such as hiking, shopping or swimming. If lunch on board, it could be because we were docked and pax could come and go as they pleased. Or we would weigh anchor and head to another island.

Some afternoons we had a lecture. Our on board lecturer was Michael Koch and we thoroughly enjoyed listening to him. Other afternoons were a movie such as National Geographic's The Lost Continent of the Pacific. One afternoon we had a drum lesson. That's me on the right.

Generally, back on board was anywhere from 3:30 to 5:00. At 6:00 pm (if you got to the lounge early enough, you might find some leftovers from the cookies put out around 4:30) we had our meeting about the next day where we learned about the island we were visiting, received the day's agenda, saw slides about where were going and what we were doing, and had a chance to ask questions. If appropriate we would also be given a map. Samples of both are below.

Dinner was at 7. While the Aranui Band played at the bar after dinner, and there was karaoke some nights and movies other nights, we were in our cabin by 8:30 and asleep by 10.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Onboard the Aranui 3 - Part 2

I left off on Onboard the Aranui 3 Part 1 promising more about getting to and from shore. It turned out to be a lot more difficult than we anticipated. We were given specific instructions over and over to follow the crew's direction. We were also entertained with horror stories about pax who did their own thing and got either very wet, or even worse, hurt.

Here's a video of boarding the small boat with a ladder. Note the number of people who almost lose their balance ...

Concrete steps when embarking and disembarking barge.
Remember that the pax barge is moving up and down with the waves.

Expect wet feet.
All that being said, we had a great trip. We did lot, we learned a lot and we experienced a lot. And isn't that what travel is all about?  :)

So..... back to life on board.

Initial boarding onto the freighter was quick and easy. As we made our way out of the harbor and started to rock, it was then that Jerry reminded me that freighters don't have stabilizers like big cruise ships. Uh oh! (Seriously though, that was never a problem. Basically the seas were calm. We did have some hours where you did want to hold on while walking around but it really wasn't a problem. To the best of our knowledge, nobody missed any meals.)

Which brings me to our fellow passengers. Not surprisingly, most were French. I think the number of English and German speaking pax were about the same. We met a lovely couple from Switzerland, another from New Zealand, and a gentleman from Germany who is traveling around the world. We had very little interaction with the French pax and what we did have was mostly unpleasant (although one very nice couple loaned me their water shoes so I could go into the water on a rocky beach).

I felt that early communication of information to passengers could be better. For instance, we had two bottles of water in our cabin and I went to the Reception to find out if there was a charge. They were free and I was told to refill them at the water fountains around the ship. Do not to drink the water from the tap or the shower. Would have been nice if there had been a sign to that effect in the bathroom!  :(  Also, I didn't find out until latter that I could make a special meal request.

Actually, the brochure does specify letting the company know if you have any dietary restrictions. I don't have any "restrictions" so didn't think to say anything. However, I don't like fish and when the lunch or dinner choice is take it or leave it (and the take-it is fish), I'm not a happy camper. Yes, there is absolutely no choice once you sit down at lunch and dinner. So after speaking to Reception and then again to the woman in charge of the dining room, I got chicken or beef whenever fish was served. It didn't turn out to be a big issue but I wish I had known for that first night on board when the main course was fish.

As long as I'm writing about food, breakfast was a buffet -- with plenty of options -- and lunch and dinner were three courses, such as:
tuna tartar, duck with broccoli, a hash brown potato patty and a cream puff for dessert
slice of brie on toast on top of a green salad, roasted lamb chops with veggies, ice cream
quiche, turkey with vegetables and chocolate mousse

Tables in the dining room were set up for 4, 6 or 8. Tables for 4 had one pitcher of water and one bottle of wine. Larger tables had at least two of each, the wine one white and one red. We sat at a table for 4 and only had the luck of the draw whether we had a bottle of white or red. We soon became friends with whoever sat at the 4-person table next to us (who had the other color wine) and we shared back and forth.

Dining room service was excellent, friendly and efficient. The food ranged from stuff I couldn't eat (tuna tartar - pass an extra piece of bread, please), to very good to excellent. To the best of my knowledge, nobody went hungry.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Photos on the Blog

Just want my subscribers to know that my posts about our trip to the Marquesas have pictures and video in them.

If you don't see any images when viewing my post (such as in your email account), click on the title to be taken to the original post on the blog.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Onboard the Aranui 3 - Part 1

I've been trying to decide how to post the information about our trip. I took all kinds of notes. Some had to do specifically with the ship and the cruise. Other notes had to do with the specific islands. The notes are day by day and I have, in the past, posted our day-by-day activities. But on this trip a lot of the day-by-day happenings were the same. For instance, we had a meeting every evening about the island we would be visiting the next day. Somehow I think reading daily reports that included "6:00 p.m. Meeting about tomorrow's island" would run stale pretty fast.

So I decided to do a "Life Onboard the Aranui" type post, giving my readers an idea of how we spent our time (when not on an island), what we learned, thoughts about the crew and ship, (and things I wish I had known before the trip), and then write another post with details about the islands. So here goes .....

First, I need to say that this cruise was not what I expected. I had hoped for lots of opportunities to watch the ship "work," loading and unloading cargo while anchored in the harbor. We could not do this AND take advantage of the planned excursions ashore. Yes, we had some time to watch early in the morning before the first pax barge went ashore. But the majority of the work was done while we were away. Additionally, there was really no good place to stand and watch the crew at work. While there were two suitable areas for watching (both accessible by outside stairs), pax were shooed away - for obvious safety reasons - if they were too close to the cargo being loaded and unloaded.

The other thing I didn't expect was how physically difficult this trip would be. I reread the brochure a couple of times to see what I missed. The fact is I didn't miss anything. The brochure could use a re-write. For instance, the brochure says that after lunch on Nuku Hiva we "will travel to the valley of Taipivai. The area is dotted with stone tiki gods and sacred ritual sites." What the brochure doesn't tell you is that to see the archeological site, you have a 20-30 minute uphill hike. Fortunately I found broken branches that we could use as hiking sticks. I wished we had brought our hiking poles and many other pax felt the same way. Between the steepness of sections of the "walk" and the heat, we were exhausted and dehydrated (yes we had water with us) by the time we were done.

The other part that could be difficult was the boarding and disembarking the pax boat. We walked down the gangway and instructed to step onto the black platform at the bottom. From there we were assisted aboard the pax barge. The video below shows how it works in calm seas.

Now imagine doing this in water not quite so calm. There were times the black platform at the bottom of the gangway was a foot or more underwater (YES! underwater) while the pax boat was on the crest of the wave, with the barge entrance 3 to 4 feet above the platform. We soon learned not to time the transfer ourselves but, instead, to leave it up to the very experienced crewmen who would sometimes launch us onto the barge. They knew what they were doing. No one fell. No one got hurt. It truly was an experience.

Our other embarking and disembarking experiences?

At ports of call with a pier, getting on and off the pax barge was by stepping onto slippery concrete steps or right off (or onto) the front of the barge onto the beach. Oh, and lets not forget the time a different boat was used -- with a ladder -- loading pax in the surf. I've got pictures and video showing all this too but I'm going to put that into the next post. (Don't want this post to take too long to load.)

How To Pack a Suit

Monday, October 14, 2013

Details on the Aranui 3

The Aranui 3 is part freighter part cruise ship. Her maiden voyage was January 2003 and she shows signs of having sailed the seas for 10 years. She has rust spots and could use a new coat of paint. But time in dry dock will probably not happen as the Aranui 5 is due to sail in 2015.

The Aranui is owned by a Chinese family. (That is why there is not going to be an Aranui 4 because 4 is an unlucky number to the Chinese.) While the carrying of freight between Pape’ete and the Marquesa Islands is subsidized by the French government, the really profitable part of the business is carrying passengers. Each new Aranui has been capable of holding more passengers. There was no confirmation yet about the number of passengers for the Aranui 5 but the Aranui 3 holds a total of 198 passengers, with 178 in cabins and 20 in a dormitory. On our sailing there were 165 passengers, 25 of whom were Americans.

There was a bridge tour available during our full day at sea. We learned about the name of the ship: ara means way/road and nui means big/high. Construction was started in 2011 and completed 18 months later. She was built in Romania and is the largest ship to be built on the Danube River in 200 years. (Later in the cruise we had a slide presentation showing her construction and trip to Pape'ete.) Her maximum speed is 15 knots but usually cruises at 11 to 14 knots depending on winds and sea conditions. Most of the time the ship sails on auto pilot because this part of the ocean is very quiet and, while they may see a pleasure yacht or two, have only seen about 2 other ships in the 12 years the Aranui has been sailing.

Overall the ship gross tonnage is about 7,500 ... a far cry from our next cruise which will be on a Holland America ship of about 60,000 gr tns and 1,300 passengers. The Aranui 3 also has freight capacity of 2,500 tons and two cranes, one a 35-ton crane and the other a 25-ton crane.

As expected, the ship is far from fancy. Simple painted walls and metal handrails grace the inside of the ship. Instead of fancy works of art, the walls hold detailed information about the ship’s layout ... perfect for the onboard engineer. For the passenger, though, there was an easy to read ship layout chart on the Main deck.

Our cabin was on the Main deck and we loved the location. It was close to reception and to the gangways. The layout of the cabin was as expected except it had a lot more storage than I anticipated. It had a safe in the closet which we didn’t use because we weren’t happy about the way it was (or wasn’t) working. Other pax also did not use their safe and, to the best of our knowledge, no one had a problem with anything being stolen.

Left half of dining room .. duplicate on the other side of the room.
One level up was the restaurant.

Two levels up was the pool and one of the open sun decks.

Small pool but very nice and it was used often.


On the same deck as the pool was the lounge where our meetings and lectures were held. Coffee, tea and hot chocolate were available here around the clock. There was also a bar here with limited hours. Off to the side was a small room with a very nice library of books left by passengers. (Books on topic - the islands, the people, etc. - were at reception and needed to be checked out.) Also in the library were two computers for passengers to use when Internet service was available. Cost was 5 Euros per hour and pax could sign up and use their own wireless device.

Passenger self-service laundry room.

There were two passengers decks below ours - Decks A and B - with cabins similar to ours plus the dormitory.

B deck had the passenger self-service (not free) laundry room and the gym. Free guest laundry was available three times during the cruise. Pax would put their laundry in a mesh bag (no socks or underwear) and several bags would be washed together in the large machine used for towels and linens, with clothes dried, folded and returned to the cabin. We used the service only once on a really dirty (mud!) pair of Jerry's pants that I was unable to get clean by hand  washing. The pants came back significantly improved.

The gym.

Above the pool deck was another area for sun and sitting plus a bar. Topside was the Navigation Deck with the bridge.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Report on Air Tahiti Nui, Pape'ete and Fare Suisse

Our domestic flight was with United. Having originally booked a 4 pm flight out of LAX on Air Tahiti Nui, we had booked an early morning flight on United, leaving us enough time to meet up with LA friends for lunch and return to the terminal.

Email from Air Tahiti Nui several weeks previous informed us that our 4 pm flight was cancelled and we were booked on its 11 pm flight. Seven extra hours in the international terminal at LAX! Not fun! With the agent counters not opening until about 3 hours before flight time, all we could do was sit around in the restaurant area with everyone else who was waiting to check in.

Traveling with only carry ons (two rolling bags and two backpacks), both of our small rolling bags were weighed by Air Tahiti Nui. (Our backpacks were totally ignored.) They were over the 10 kilo limit for carry ons (about 25 lbs each) and we had to check them. :( While the seats were short on cushioning, we had lots of leg room. Dinner was not great and the warm cabin didn't help with sleeping. Breakfast was a crepe with fresh fruit and yogurt and was pretty decent. Arrival was on time and we were quickly through immigration and customs. And (small world story) the first American couple we struck up a conversation with live about 60 miles from us in upstate New York!

Our accommodations were booked with Fare Suisse. Email communication between us and the owner, Beni, was excellent. Beni provides free airport pick up and drop off service. While our flight arrived around 5 am, Beni had told me that airport service doesn't start until 6 am. No problem We'd wait. However it wasn't until 6:30 that his car pulled up. We were beginning to wonder if we'd been forgotten

In the meantime, I went to an ATM to get French Polynesian Francs. Request for 20,000 CFP got me (2) 10K bills. I wasn't happy as I figured they'd be hard to break. How wrong I was! Pape'ete is so expensive that it didn't take long to have occasions to break both bills. And shortly thereafter require another trip to the ATM.

Fare Suisse is a guesthouse. As I look back on the web site, the photos on site are not up to date. That said, while amenities were at a minimum (no shampoo), our pre-cruise and post-cruise rooms were clean and comfortable. Staff was friendly and helpful. There is a kitchen (which can use an upgrade) available for guest use. And it can definitely use a microwave ... it was not easy using the stove and oven.

A continental breakfast is available for 10 Euros per person. Our first morning we passed on it as we headed out to find a small patisserie for breakfast, guessing we could find something less expensive. WRONG! After an exorbitantly priced breakfast of eggs, fruit and coffee at a not too nearby coffee shop, we decided to take advantage of the continental breakfast for the remainder of our stay. It consisted of juice, coffee, fruit, ham, cold cereal, cheese, butter, jam and fresh French bread. For us, it was worth the convenience.

For lunch, we hit the nearby supermarket on our way back from our morning wandering around Pape'ete and picked up excellent french bread, cheese and juice. Looking at prices in the supermarket made it clear why restaurant prices are so expensive. Of course, everything has to be imported. Same brand of orange juice that I buy on sale at home for $2.50 was about $8 in the market. Still, the convenient supermarket made it easy for us to grab lunch Thursday and Friday and then for dinner after our return from our cruise.

Our first afternoon (Thursday) was spent trying to recuperate from 30  hours of travel time. In the evening, we headed into the center of Pape'ete, a 15 to 20 minute walk. Everything was closed including the tourist office and souvenir shops. The only businesses open were restaurants.

Our plan was to eat dinner at Le Roulottes, the food trucks that set up every night in a parking lot near the water's edge.

Jerry had chicken curry. I had a beef brochette. Both were excellent and with bread and our large bottle of soda, the meal came to about $30 ... cheap by Tahitian standards.

Afterwards, we strolled along the waterfront looking at some of the interesting boats anchored in the harbour. We had learned that afternoon that the 2013 Beach Soccer World Championships was being held in Tahiti, in a park three blocks from our guesthouse. It was a nice distraction where we finished our evening with a cappuccino and  fantastic chocolate crepes for dessert.

 Friday morning dawned raining. It delayed us just a bit and then we headed out to find the Le Marche, the central market. I have to admit I was a bit disappointed as everyone was selling the same souvenirs where I had hoped to find large displays of various local produce, fish and meats. While there was some of that, it wasn't enough to keep us interested for long and the pushy vendors only helped expedite our exit. I didn't even take any pictures.

We wandered a bit, did some shopping in one of the nearby shops, visited the shopping mall (with mostly closed storefronts) to stop at the Internet cafe. Then we worked our way back to the supermarket, bought lunch to eat at Fare Suisse and spent the rest of the afternoon escaping from the heat in our air conditioned room.

Late Friday afternoon we walked back to the park to browse an artisan show and tripped over a local fashion show which was kind of neat.

That evening we had more exposure to beach soccer (stadium tickets sold out but we could watch it on the big outside screen). After dinner at one of the cafes in the park, it was time to call it a day.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Just Back From Sailing on the Aranui 3 to the Marquesa Islands

This trip fulfilled two items that have been on my wish list for a long time: freighter travel and the South Pacific.

We flew to Pape'ete Tahiti where, after a few days to adjust to the time zone, we boarded the Aranui 3 for one of its two week sailings to the Marquesa Islands.  As you can see from the map below, the islands are pretty much out in the middle of nowhere. They are approximately 1000 miles from the island of Tahiti and they are the furthest land mass from any continent than any other land mass in the world.

Over the next few days I'm going to start organizing my travel posts. I also need to get through my pictures as I do want to include some in the posts. So stay tuned for more.