Wednesday, December 10, 2008

From the beginning.....

Air Letter From England, 1961

I get stuck when I write down the places. I can't remember where I went in what years. I have to go to my recent photo albums and read the dates on my photos. Then I remembered it's not just the photos. There are the letter and postcards I wrote when I first left home to travel back in 1961. Those were the days when airmail was an expensive way to communicate - we wrote tight little letters on pale blue, tissue thin, pre-stamped 'aerograms' Each country had their own design, and I delighted in putting as much as I could on its foldup, one sheet page. Long distance phone calls cost a fortune and mothers went mad worrying about their 21 year old daughters wandering aimlessly through Europe on their own, clutching the latest travel guide 'Europe on $5 a Day' to their breasts. And in those post war days it was possible to exist... to eat and sleep and tour around for even less than that.

My solution to 'mother angst' was simple: I would send her a postcard every day. She would recieve them several weeks later, but they would be coming more or less consistently, thus allaying her worst fears. Unfortunately, had I been kidnapped by white slavers, this would hardly be current, but it kept her off my back. My mother, a classic packrat, saved every postcard, and every letter. I found them when I was visiting Winnipeg and rummaging through some old boxes. I was delighted to recall the adventures of the novice traveller.
The challenge is, is to remember where and when, But these early letters express the beginning of what became my dromomania and islomania.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


What a weird bobbly word that is! Until a few days ago, I had heard the word, and knew what it meant, and had even ventured into viewing a few. But it wasn't until I was incapacitated and housebound that I discovered how addictive and self indulgent this can be! I had been looking for a way to record my travels that included some of the sketches, and this week I had the enforced time and leisure to figure it out. It wasn't easy. I rate just above 'luddite' when it comes to doing anything more than Googling, checking mail and using my Publisher programme. It wasn't until five years after I had bought it that I was able to properly use that programme, and now it is the foundation of my card producing, poster producing, and sign producing life!

So I decided to try and list places and years... not so easy as senility sets in:
Tahiti, 2008
Churchill, Man. 2007
Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, 2007
Dominica, St. Lucia, Barbadoes, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, 2005
El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, 2003
Curacao, Panama, Cocos Islands/C.R., Galapagos/Ecuador, Easter Island/Chile, Bolivia, Peru, 2001
Colombia, 2001
Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, 1999
Mongolia, 1998
China kite festivals, 1997
Australia, kite festivals 1997
China kite festival, 1996
Kite Festivals, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Texas, B.C., Alberta, Sask., Manitoba 1990-2000
New Zealand, 1984/85
Cozumel, Mexico 1983
West Coast of U.S. to Baja, Mexico 1982
Antigua and Barbuda, Guadaloupe, 1981
New Zealand 1979/80
Hong Kong, Thailand, Nepal, India, Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Egypt, England 1977
Tours, France - French Immersion 1975
Paris, France - Art History 1974
England, Holland, Germany, Poland, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal 1977
Mexico 1965
England, Denmark, Holland, France, Luxembourg, East & West Germany, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Yugoslavia, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland 1961/62


I am exhausted!

I get stuck when I write down the places. I can't remember where I went in what years. I have to go to my recent photo albums and read the dates on my photos. Then I remembered it's not just the photos. There are the letter and postcards I wrote when I first left home to travel back in 1961. Those were the days when airmail was an expensive way to communicate - we wrote tight little letters on pale blue, tissue thin, pre-stamped 'aerograms' Each country had their own design, and I delighted in putting as much as I could on its foldup, one sheet page. Long distance phone calls cost a fortune and mothers went mad worrying about their 21 year old daughters wandering aimlessly through Europe on their own, clutching the latest travel guide 'Europe on $5 a Day' to their breasts. And in those post war days it was possible to exist... to eat and sleep and tour around for even less than that.

My solution to 'mother angst' was simple: I would send her a postcard every day. She would recieve them several weeks later, but they would be coming more or less consistently, thus allaying her worst fears. Unfortunately, had I been kidnapped by white slavers, this would hardly be current, but it kept her off my back. My mother, a classic packrat, saved every postcard, and every letter. I found them when I was visiting Winnipeg and rummaging through some old boxes. I was delighted to recall the adventures of the novice traveller.
The challenge is, is to remember where and when, But these early letters express the beginning of what became my dromophobia, an islomania.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Rangiroa and the Journeys End

November 12, 2008
A full day of sailing on the open Pacific - endless ocean, endless sky. We are a dot in the middle of the Pacific, slowly moving to another archipelago... the Tuamotos. Rangiroa is the largest atoll in the world. A magnificent, jewel like lagoon, circled by a ring of land with the still clear waters of the atoll on the inside, the very active Pacific on the outside. We entered though a narrow channel, anchored in the middle, and we boarded the barge to go ashore. It was a small, but adequate beach, and all the lucky ones quickly donned their diving or snorkelling gear and headed into the water. Since I could not swim, I was looking forward to the promised trip in a 'glass bottomed boat'. However a large nasty zillion person cruise ship had 'stolen' our previously booked excursion!

A visit to a pearl farm had been arranged, and the drive took us along a road that often had the lagoon on one side and the ocean on the other. The pearl farm was interesting, and of course there was a shop where we could purchase indvidual pearls or finished jewellery. I finally got the single pearl stud that I was looking for, and we returned to the beach where we had a picnic lunch.

We were on the last leg of the journey, back to Papeete. That night at dinner there was a special dance performance by members of the crew in the dining room as we sadly said goodby to many newfound friends.

We arrived back in Papeete around breakfast time. Goodbyes were said, luggage scooped up, taxis hailed, and Sophie, Pierette and I headed back to the Ahitea Lodge. Our original plan was to stay there overnight, and head to Moorea the next day. Pierette was leaving at 11 that night, and she came to leave her luggage with us, and to accompany me to the hospital to have my leg checked by a surgeon.

We didn't have to wait long at the hospital. The surgeon came, looked, and told me I had to head home for surgery and a skin graft. We left the hospital, went straight to the Air Tahiti office, booked the flight, and returned to the Ahitea where we tried to use the phone to call my insurance company.

And the rest can be read, back at the beginning this blog.

Farewell to the Marquesas

November 12, 2008

Sadly we had to leave these magic islands. I stood on the deck and watched them disappear as I sketched as their craggy peaks fading into the mists. People came up to the top deck, wearing their flowered 'crowns' or leis, leaned over the edge and tossed them into the wake.

While I would have loved to bring my lovely bright green leaf 'crown' home, I knew it would never get past the eagle eyes of customs at LAX, so I joined them, and tossed it overboard, with the wish of a speedy return.

Nuka Hiva, again...

November 11/2008

We return to Nuka Hiva for a brief stay, as the Aranui picked up the now empty containers, and goods to be sold back in Papeete. The bus tookus to town, and dropped us off by the craft shops. Today is a holiday, we call it Rememberance Day in Canada, and everything but the craft stalls were closed down. Many stayed on board, and others chose to walk to town, so I was able to go into the markets pretty much on my own. But just as I was making up my mind to buy something, the hordes arrived. In the end, I preferred to sit outside and sketch the old jail.
I was quickly surrounded by kids, and after 'tattooing' them all with Canadian flag tattoos that I always carry with me, I was finally left in peace. Except for a charming young man named Gustav, who was 7 years old, and proudly counted to ten for me in English. He and his small cousin were delightful, and we engaged in rudimentary 'two year old' (me) French conversation. This was our last stop in the Marquesas. I wish I had more time to spend on this island, as there were many places we passed in the bus that warranted visiting.

We returned to the ship, and set sail back towards Tahiti. We sailed all afternoon, and all the next day. It is always great to be able to lie in the sun, read trashy novels and dip occassionally in the pool.... except of course I had to stay dry (sigh).

It was on the evening visit to the doctor that I found out that things were not going well with my leg, and that I would have to see a surgeon in Papeete. Sophie and I had made contingency plans for the remaining two weeks that took into account that I might not be able to swim, but I was having serious concerns about my ability to continue.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ua Huka

It was pouring rain as we entered 'Invisible Bay'. Aptly named, the bay is accessed through a narrow space between towering cliffs that the Aranui3 could not sail through. The ship anchored outside the entrance to the bay. We got up early to watch an amazing maenuevre as the whaleboat sailed first to the left and then to the right, trailing massive cables attached to ship that they attached to permanent 'stakes' embedded the rock walls in order to stabilize the ship so it could be unloaded.

It was a difficult, but thankfully dry landing. Islanders were waiting with leis and/or beautiful seed necklaces for everyone. It had become a given that there were always flowers to tuck behind our ears at every landing, but the necklaces were something new.

The fleet of 4x4's were waiting and took us up to a small museum (and shop of course). Many of the drivers were women, as were the musicians. This island has a history of a matriarchical society, and the recently retired mayor of over twenty years was a woman. According to the French lecturer, while this is one of the most remote islands, it has been the best managed.

Again, according to him, the economy of this island has been badly battered by international exploitation. Copra had been the main export, until the marketers and health food types 'discovered' the magic of the 'Noni' fruit. Touted to be the end all cure of everything, a large Amercian investor encouraged growing and farming of this fruit for production and sale via a pyramid like sales campaign in the U.S. The island had a growth in its economy that allowed it to build better roads and facilities, but it proved to be too expensive to raise the product in French Polynesia. So the seed, and business was moved to South East Asia, leaving the islanders with little more than the poorly paying copra to sustain their economy. The visits of the Aranui, with its approximate 200 tourists contributes a lot to maintaining the economics of the island. In addition, these islands are famous for their large, beautiful wood carvings that they regularily ship back to Papeete to sell.

The island is also known for its freely roaming wild horses and goats. Unfortunately, free roaming grazers have seriously depleted the undergrowth, and the islanders are now actively engaged in reforestation. There was an opportunity for passengers to continue by horseback, and many did, meeting up with us at the next stop which was an arboretum. It had been raining, and there were sporadic showers. The paths were slippery and muddy, so I chose to stay behind and sketch some of the tikis that resided at the entrance to the gardens - one with and one without a penis. Church people don't like penises, and in the past had the habit of chopping them off!

This is definitely my favorite island. It seems different from the others - perhaps due to the matriarchy! It is very bare in parts, but the reforestation has been successfull, and there seems to be a balance of lush greenery with the more arid parts.

Everyone arrives back at the entrance with muddy feet, and slightly damp. We head off again through some amazing hair pin curves, and many stunning viewpoints to the town of Hane for another excellent buffet lunch. After lunch, we visit several craft stores. The vehicles disgorge another feeding frenzy of shoppers into the small buildings and I am again totally overwhelmed. Despite seeing several small items that I might want to buy, the clutching and grabbing and constant babble rendered me powerless to spend money. I gave up, and waited outside.

We then headed to beach, where we would be returning to the ship by whale boat. It was definitely a wet loading, and despite wrapping my leg up, the bandages got wet. It was one of those boardings where the giant polynesian sailors grabbed you and tossed you on board... rather scary!

I had the dressing changed, and then dressed up in my new pareau, lovely crown of leaves that I had recieved earlier in the day, my temporary tattoo, and headed to the Polynesian evening.
This is the main 'gala' of the voyage, held out on the deck around the pool. Everyone is encouraged to 'dress Polynesian' and since by this time we all seem to own at least one pareau or, for the men, a wildly flowered shirt, it isn't difficult. It is an evening of good food, drinks, lots of entertainment by the staff, but after a long day, I didn't stay til the end, and headed to bed early.


Nov.10, Sunday: Tahuata
Dry, easy landing, and a short walk to the small town. The island has a small population of about 650, and no air strip or regular connection to the nearest main centre in Hiva Oa. Small private boats do the trips daily, and it is sometimes possible to get a ride over in them. It is the smallest of the Marquesan islands. It was the island of first contact between the Polynesians and the Europeans, back in 1595 (Mendana)

Since it is Sunday, everyone is heading for the Catholic church, mainly for the singing. The town is a pleasant place, with a small stream running through it. I pass a small, simple wooden church on the way to the Catholic church, but when we get there, I am totally overimpressed with its size and pomposity! The Vatican provided the money, and it is built of concrete, covered in rock, built to last a zillion years. It overlooks and almost overpowers the small village.

People slowly arrived for services, the women in white muu muus, flowers in their hair. In the background I could hear the children singing in Sunday School. Most of the people from the ship arrived, and entered the church. Some were turned away for being dressed inappropriately, despite being reminded to dress respectfully. All I can think about is the small, modest little Protestant chapel down the road. So I headed back down the road to sketch it.

I had barely started when it started to rain. A group of women sitting nearby motioned me to join them out of the rain, and I limped over. It turns out they are the craft vendors, and they invited me into the traditionally built building where they had tables of their wares set up. For a change I was the only customer! I was able to look at the carvings at leisure and without 'the hordes'. I quickly spotted what I wanted: a pair of carved bone earrings, with a tiki, combined with the traditional fish hook design.

The rain stopped, so I returned to finish the picture. As I worked I was joined by parishoners leaving the Protestant Church, including the Minister. They laughed and pointed to the people sitting in front of the church, included in the drawing. Francoise, the French lecturer came by with his wife and they talked to the minister, translating for me. The small church is old, and riddled with termites, and it will soon be torn down for a new one. The minister is happy I am painting it, and I will send him a copy of the picture.

When services end at the Catholic church, we return to the ship. They have off loaded the cargo for this village, so we sailed to Hapatoni where we had lunch. As we walked up to the place where we will be eating, there was a long line of tables with large and small wood and bone carvings. Everything was so tempting, but either too large, or too expensive. Sophie succumbed and found a pair of bone earrings. Each table was being swarmed, and I felt very happy that I made my purchase for the day.

There were all kinds of small finger foods and goodies waiting for us, and another wonderful lunch, this time provided from the ship. The men put on the best performance I had seen so far, but most people were charmed by a five year old who held centre stage whenever it was empty.

Some people headed off for a hike, but Sophie and I returned to the ship. I found a lovely private, quiet spot away from everyone up on the stardeck. I stayed up there, and watched an amazing sunset before heading to the obligatory 'information meeting' with 'The Hun'.

The Hun was a tall grinning German young man, whose English really wasn't up to presenting the next day's programme. Every third word was 'yah', used like those maddening people who fill their sentences with 'like' or 'fuck'. His presentations were done with a huge grin and lots of hand waving. He was well meaning, but rather ineffectual and sometimes maddening.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Hiva Oa

Nov. 8/08
We returned to Hiva Oa. Places are beginning to blur together, but I think we landed at a different place. We boarded the four wheel drives and headed up to an archeological site where there are some significant tiki ruins. They stood on pae paes almost covered by the jungle's growth. They appeared be sprung full grown from the earth, not made by man. I sat and started to paint them, when the French guide and group surrounded me. The English lecture was being given further away, so I decided to stay in the midst of the French and was able to paint in relative peace... since I didn't understand a word he said.

A large, massive ovoid Tiki was of the Butterfly Princess. She was much beloved of her sculptor husband and when she died in childbirth, he sculpted this massive piece to commemorate her.

We visited another, lesser site where the last ruler was buried, and while some walked, I of course went to the beach by car, where nearly everyone (except me) went swimming. I wished I had my kite in my pack, because there was a nice spot to fly it, but instead I retreated to the sketchbook again.

Sitting quietly by myself, one of the Germans who had walked down came by, stopped and gave me a nice neck/back massage. I really missed the opportunities to do some walking, past the homes and through the countryside, but it would not have been wise. I was 'willing' my leg to heal as fast as possible. Unfortunately, it didn't work.

Spent the afternoon chatting with new friends, finishing sketches, and fending off nasty European types who looked over my shoulder at the open sketchbook as I worked, and photographed my pictures!!!

Fata Hiva

Nov. 7/08
It looked like a pretty rough landing, and since I do enjoy my time alone on board, I decided not to go ashore this morning to the village of Omoa. This is one of the most remote and smallest islands, and there is no air strip. It is only visited by the Aranui3, yachties, and a small catamaran that runs twice a week from Hiva Oa. This island recently revived the art of making tapa cloth, from mulberry, banyan or breadfruit bark. There are only about 650 inhabitants. Passengers had the opportunity to take a 16k hike from the first village to the second village or return to the ship and sail there to pick up the hikers. Sophie was smart and returned to the ship.

While they were in the village, I painted the towering cliffs, and watched the sailors transferring huge shipments onto barges that were then ferried to shore. These men are amazingly skilled, many covered from head to foot with beautiful blue Marquesan tattoos.It was a short stop, and on their return we sailed to the next town of Hanavave, located on the Bay of Virgins. Originally this was called the Bay of Vierges, (which means Bay of Penises). This was changed by the church people to the more 'presentable' present name.
It was an easy landing, and the crafts people were waiting. I wandered a bit away from the hordes, and found a woman with a small table of interesting carvings hidden behind a building. I found a lovely, carved hair pick with a black pearl on it for Haley, and was tempted by a hand painted pareau, but managed to refrain. Another dance perfomance, this time by the children, who were dressed to the nines with floweres, leaf/grass skirts and shells....

And then hustle, hustle back to the ship for dinner. That night a real treat. We had a Mexican/Polyesian buffet!! We got to make our own fajitas! Beer would have been better than wine. Poor me... no wine, because I am on antibiotics three times a day... I have cheated a bit, if only to counteract the taste of the nasty French medicines! The antibiotics were in a powder form, and had to be mixed with water, and they were awful!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Fakarava and Ua Poa and Feeding Frenzies....

Nov. 3/08
We arrived at Fakarava, the first island, at 8 am. Fakarava is the second largest island in the Tuamotu archipelago. We were told it would be a dry landing, which meant I needn't worry about wrapping up my bandaged leg. But I wrapped it up anyway. I became quite adept at various wrapping styles: the saranwrap wrap: the white garbage bag wrap: and my personal favorite, a bathing cap with a hole cut in the top for my foot, tied up with some long balloons that I had in my backpack.

Most of the islands do not have docksides adequate for the freighter to land beside, so we go ashore in the 'barge' which looks like a ww.2 PT troop landing thing. There are rows of wooden seats, and we go down a ladder/stair outside the ship to get into it, as it bobs alongside. When we get to shore, the front drops down and aided by the sailors, we leap out... sometimes dry, sometimes wet. And sometimes if we are to disembark beside a dock, there are steps inside so we clamber up onto the dock from the barge. There are always a pair of giant tatoo-ed Polynesian sailors on either side to help you up, or in some cases haul you up, and in extreme cases, lift you and toss you up!!!

This day, we landed at a small beach clearing, where there were about half a dozen vendors selling shell jewellery and black pearls. Since this island has a lagoon, many people, including Sophie, head off for some snorkelling. As it is Sunday, Pierette and I head slowly up the road to the Catholic church - her for the service, me for the singing. We found the small, stone church, but as it was very hot inside, I chose to sit on the stone wall surrounding the church, and listened to the beautiful singing, while painting in my sketchbook.

Women and children slowly approached, dressed in Sunday best wearing flowered or beautiful white 'muu-muus', their heads crowned with circlets of fresh flowers. Nearly everyone had flowers in their hair. Two mothers with small babes sat beside me on the wall, and I sketched them both. I wandered away from the services, down to the beach where others from the ship were swimming. More painting as I enviously watched the swimmers, I and ended up back where the vendors were. There was a small band playing, so I sketched some more, before boarding the barge and heading back on board for lunch.

We then sailed on towards the Marquesas. People lay out soaking up the sun, swam in the small pool, spent time in the bar, took books out of the library, shopped in the store... just a generally laid back day. A word about the meals, which were excellent...albeit a bit too much fish of every kind and description. All French style, and meals were accompanied by wine.

Nov. 4/08
We woke up the next morning to mist over the peaks of Ua Poa. Unlike the other archipelagos of French Polynesia, the Marquesas are mountainous, probably more recently emerged from the ocean bottom. The craggy, tower like 'piton' peaks are quite distinctive. It is the only island with towering volcanic plugs like those seen in Moorea and Bora Bora. These treeless, misty phallic peaks loomed into sight as we were sitting down for breakfast, and I quickly caught them in my sketchbook.

It was a hellishly hot day, but a dry landing, as the ship was able to tie up at the recently (1988) built port. The air was redolant with the smell of limes, which we were either loading or unloading, because of course the main point of our stops was commercial. We heard there was an internet (one) at the post office. I tried it, managed to post something to the LonelyPlanet, but none of my emails went through. We then plodded through the heat to yet another church. My walking wasn't quite up to snuff, so it was pretty tedious.

Despite the heat, a number of people chose to go on a 40minute hike to a cross (viewpoint) on top of a bump of a small 'mountain'. This led to a number of emergency calls to the poor doctor, and a trip to the local hospital for an Elderhostel man, who tripped, bashed his head and broke a finger. Another woman collapsed from the heat. Another group were given wrong directions, and ended up trudging though the heat fruitlessly. I am so glad I am 'crippled' and am not even tempted to do these hikes in this heat!

The Catholic church/religion is pretty big out here. The churches are full of wonderfully carved altars and statues done by local artists. It was cool inside, so I hauled out the sketchbook again. We met up with the rest of the travellers at a the Tenai Pae Pae - a flat, large stone platform that had housed previous religious sites, where there was a dance performance. Lots of fluid moves by the women, and lots of grunts and lunges from the men.

We were then driven to a huge outdoor buffet lunch at Tat Rosalie's restaurant. The thing I hated most about the whole trip was this 'mass eating' with 150 of my 'closest, most intimate friends', whether it was in the ship's dining room, or at one of the island feasts. I like a quiet conversation at meals - and sometimes I don't like to talk at all. Sometimes I like to sit and read when I eat. This constant mass eating ritual drove me nuts. With that many yammering people you can't hear yourself think or even converse with the people at your own table without shouting. I especially hated it when we had buffets. The Germans, in particular, would descend on the tables with their cameras for food porn photo ops.... snapping picutres like mad of the loaded platters of food!!

The food at these outdoor buffets was pretty good and interesting... from pit roasted pig, to poisson cru, to something made with 'poi' - sort of a sweet gelatinous stuff. But 'dining' it wasn't. These mass feedings might be fine for people accustomed to group travel... but not me! YUCK. I would have killed to just have dinner with a few of my new friends without being surrounded by a multilingual cacophany.

We returned to the ship, and sailed to another village where the freighter was unloading frieght. There was an opportunity to go ashore, but I chose to stay on board, as it was wet landing and it looked a bit rough. It was really nice having the boat almost to myself. From reports it was a pleasant small village, where they sold something that was unique to the island, called 'flower stones', stones with crystals that looked like flowers, and hats woven from leaves. Another hike for those who were still standing to a coprah platrform, another catholic church. Again,I enjoyed being by myself, and watching the freight being unloaded .

There were lots of activities on board, none of which I participated in. You could learn how to dance and singTahitian style, have a lesson on how to tie your pareau, lectures on history and culture and movies. In the evening there was music in the lounge and bar and entertainment by the staff I had seen the first day. To be honest, by 9 oclock, when dinner was over, I was just as happy to settle with down in the privacy of our cabin with a book.

Sophie and I would often host our friends in the cabin for a pre dinner drink and nibbles.... a quiet time for friendly conversation before facing the noisy dining room.

Boarding the Aranui3

Nov. 1/08
After the trauma of the first day in Papeete, day two was pretty uneventful. I stayed at the pension, ogled the pool, and just took it easy. Sophie went to town, poked around picked up pharmaceuticals for me and instead of going down to the waterfront for dinner at one of the famous restaurant vans and eating by the harbour, we had mediocre deli and ate beside the pool.
Next morning right after breakfast the cab came, and we headed for the Aranui3. The sparkling white freighter was swarming with giant Polynesian tattooed stevedores loading everything from yellow Caterpillar tractors to huge refrigerator containers. They were loading trucks, cars, equipment, food and of course, passengers. Cabs full of passengers slowly trickled up to the ship. People had been arriving since early that morning from France, Germany and LA. I hauled on my rather heavy day pack, and started up the angled, steep gangplank, lost my balance... and promptly tripped!!! I managed to save the injured leg from further injury but incurred some massive bruises on my arm and forehead. Sophie threatened me with dire consequences if I fell one more time. I bravely charged up and into the ship, which much to my relief, had an elevator.

Our stateroom was on the lowest deck, but this was a good thing, as there is less swinging and swaying down there. It was small, but well designed, with twin beds, lots of storage, a desk, and bathroom/shower. We unpacked and went exploring. We checked out the small but lovely swimming pool - which i couldn't use - and the small well stocked shop where you could buy everything from Tahitian designed pareaus and other clothes to Chocolate Tim Tam biscuits from Australia! There was a good selection of books about Tahiti in three languages.

I heard music from the lounge beside the shop, so I peered into the lounge, and there was a group of Polynesians with drums performing and singing. They were terrific, and they turned out to be various members of the crew - purser, wait persons, stevedores, sailors - They all seemed to have dual roles. I did a quick sketch, until I heard we were about to leave port. I rushed (sort of) an upper deck and did a sketch of the harbour in Papeete. There was free welcoming punch, so I had a drink as we left the harbour, headed out to the Marquessas.

The first day at sea was spent familiarizing ourselves with our new environment and checking out what would become '150 of our closest and dearest friends'. It quickly became apparent that English speakers were in the minority- I figure there were about 25. There was an Elderhostel group of ten Americans, who were closely shepherded by their leader, and got 'enriched' lectures and 'special' extra cultural excursions . No great loss as far as i was concerned, since I skipped most of the lectures anyway. I had done extensive reading beforehand, and was happy for the 'alone time' when the others were being talked at.

There was a smattering of Canadians, a couple of independent Americans, a few rich Brits who were all in first class, and a couple of aussies. When it came to our daily program lecture, the Danish three and lone Italian hung out with the English speakers. The few Swiss waffled between the French and German lectures.

However there was one thing that 95% of us had in common! we were all Oldies! This was a geriatric special!! I doubt if there were even a dozen passengers under thirty, and the majority were well over fifty. It soon also became apparent that there was something else we all had in common. This was probably the most well travelled group of people I have ever met. Virtually everyone we met and talked to had travelled extensively. The Aranui trip is not a 'common' type of cruise experience, and it seemed to attract an adventurous, interesting lot of people.

This did not suit the couple from Quebec city. I think they were expecting a more 'cruise' type experience, and this was very casual low key freighter travel. There was a robust and hearty Bavarian Group, sponsored by some Bavarian radio station. Then there was a French Group, that included a coven of skinny, giggling French widows, who seemed to travel together in a pack. One of their members also had injured her leg, so they seemed to have a special affinity for me, often trapping me in the elevator smiling and twittering at me in French, no matter how many times I told them (in my only French sentence) that I did not speak or understand French.

Some of the larger groups had large reserved tables and they always ate together. Other groups of friends attempted to 'reserve' certain tables for every meal. It became our goal in life to confound them by constantly changing tables.... which did bother one rather unpleasant French group of friends who could bepretty obnoxious and rude.

Initially, Sophie and I sat at a table for four, where we were joined by two independent women travellers- not together, but both from Montreal - Pierette and Jacquie. On the second day we decided to invade a table for eight, and picked up Joyce and Connie, from Washington and Oregon. I guess you could say this was our 'posse'. It turned out we had all booked through Eldertreks! I guess like minded people attract each other. We would have different people joining our table for eight every night, and that was great. We did attract the English speakers, but because of the Quebecoise, we met many bilingual couples as well. These independent travellers were the most interesting and friendly people on board.

One of the 'stars' at every meal was 'the Italian woman'. She was an incredibly tanned, attractive woman of indeterminate age who wore a different stunning outfit of floating resort wear and matching jewellery to every meal. She looked Cote D'Azur, but was travelling in 'steerage' in the dorms. Her lipsticked red, large white toothed smile could knock you dead! She caused some consternation amongst some North Americans because of her semi nude sun bathing (no top) She would come (late) to the English meetings and could be counted on to be a bit controversial. It turns out she was a grandmother, and a travel writer -at least that is what she said. She took miles of videos, smoked non stop, hung out with the crew and consistently looked amazing.

The other superstar of every meal was Joel, the maitre d'. We didn't realize he was more than a server till later in the voyage. We did know he worked twice as hard at serving than anyone else, and dressed better and prettier and much flashier than most of the women servers. The women servers were gorgeous. Tall, with long black hair, wearing different pareo outfits at every meal. There wore different fresh flowers in their hair every day, and incredible shell jewellery. But Joel was even more spectacular, with his matching floral shirts and knee length pareaus, necklaces and flowers and flower wreaths on in his head. He had a different outfit, every night for two weeks.

I quickly made friends with the doctor, since I was seeing him every other day. He was great looking, about forty ish, silver haired, retired French army doctor. His English wasn't great, so when I needed complex information, Pierette would accompany me and do the translation. He was travelling with an amazing black African woman who now lives in Paris where she has a small specialty jewellery shop. She is from Ghana, near Burkina Faso, and specializes in Tuareg jewellery. The doctor met her when he was working there. The doctor just travels and does fill in work all over the world, and travels several times a year on the Aranui 3. He had his fair share of injuries to take care of. Me. the French woman, the man with coral infections, the Elderhostel guy who broke a finger, the poor German lady with horrible bronchitis, and various and sundry other ailments.

After a full day at sea, we reached our first island - Faka Rava, a part of the Tuamoto archipelago. Faka Rava is the second largest atoll in the Tuamotus. About five hundred people live here. It has a small recently built air strip, and a few black pearl farms. There is a lagoon for snorkelling and diving.

Lounging in LAX

Oct. 30/08
It's hot and humid. I am pretty bored, sitting in Starbucks. Starbucks is the only restaurant/coffee place on this level of this huge, domestic arrivals building, and I am waiting for Sophie. I have a three or four hour wait, so I am people watching.

Leaning over, talking intently to each other is a flipflop wearing, yuppy surfer dude and his lady. Dressed in expensive resort casual, they look like they spend a lot time with a plastic surgeon and on the tanning bed.

Then there is the mid Western looking couple in their matching plaid shirts, and matching on board wheelie luggage. They look like they are about to join a cruise or tour group to the Grand Canyon.

People walk around with phones attached to their ears that look like large cellphone parasitic insects boring into their heads.

A group of late teens have commandeered two tables, and are almost invisible behind a mountain of luggage, backpacks and surfboards, playing with their phones, listening to their ipods, using their small computers.

Occasionally I am approached by a sprightly retiree with a fancy hat and blazer, provided by LA tourism or airport authority or something, asking if I need help.

We all sit for hours waiting, waiting, waiting.

Sophie's flight finally arrives and we grab a couple of trolleys and walk to the next terminal. By this time we were starving, and we figured LAX would be best for Mexican food, and we were right. We had to wait until 8 pm to check in.

As the line snaked up to the checkout counter, I could not help but notice a very distinctive white haird woman, dressed in bright, colourful prints, pushing a trolley overloaded with luggage, boxes, and a huge collapsed down dog carrier. I don't know why.... but I asked: 'Are you Barb?' And she said: 'Yes'

I had never met Barb, but I 'knew' her from the online Tahiti Forum. She spends a lot of time in Moorea, and is very helpful for people planning trips. I remembered her story about a dog she had befriended, and it all clicked together. The dog cage was so that she could take the dog back to Arizona with her this time. We got her phone number, and plan to contact her when we get to Moorea.

The flight was uneventful, the seats unusually uncomfortable. A car was waiting for us on arrival to take us to the Ahitea Lodge, with turned out to be in a quiet residential area not far from the centre. Our room wasn't ready, so I sketched and swam, Sophie went to town. When she returned, I headed to town to pick up lunch and had 'The Accident'.

Tahiti.... From the beginning.

October 27/08

It seems like the lead up to this trip was nothing but a foretelling of the disaster yet to come. For a week or so, prior to leaving, my bursitis had been acting up so I was happy I had decided to leave the backpack behind. However I was still having problems dealing with the new luggage. I had been carrying that backpack, and the same accessories for over ten years. Change isn't easy to someone who is in a constant search for the 'perfect' piece of luggage.

Two days before leaving, I set out with Zoe the Wonder Dog (ZTWD) for Saltspring Island, where she was to stay for the month I was gone. The Venerable VW Van had been taunting me with some strange burps and hiccups, but I ignored them.

When it was time to board the ferry, the van just wouldn't start. DEAD. Not even turning over. All the cars passed me, boarded. Realizing I was on a slope, I let it roll, and got it to turn over. But I feared that once I was on the ferry, it wouldn't start again, so I decided to head home, borrow a car to take the dog over. I got within blocks of home, when I had to stop at a red light. It died again. Called the Automobile club, got towed home, met friends on the way who loaned me a car to get ZTWD to the island, rushed like hell there and back, and left the van in the garage until I got back.

October 29/08
The next day, I made it out of Victoria without too much trouble. However it turns out the new roller luggage that I thought was carry on size, isn't, so I will have to trust it will arrive at LAX. It was an uneventful flight, the usual WestJet serving of mini bag of pretzels and a glass of tomato juice for 'dinner'. Tomato juice is my saviour on these foodless flights. On arrival, I called the hotel for the 'courtesy pickup', which turned out to be a taxi.

The motel (not hotel) is over ten minutes, and half of Calgary away from the airport, and has seen better days. They call it the Airport Best Western, but it is nowhere near the airport, nowhere near 'Best', but I guess it can be called 'Western' because it is in Calgary. The staff is all 'Eastern', I believe Thai. The restaurant is Thai, but all I really wanted was a normal meat and potatoes dinner. We were out in the middle of nowhere, so without a car, that really wasn't possible. So I ended up having a drippy hamburger, while struggling with an over fancy, totally non absorbent, synthetic, tacky Thai brocade napkin.

The desk clerks, were friendly and nice. The room was tiny and its decor reminded me of hotels I have stayed in in China and SEA. It is a totally non smoking hotel, but the room was overheated and stuffy. Thank god the it was old enough that the windows opened. Of course the bed was covered with the ubiquitous quilted, ugly, synthetic horror of a bed spread, full of god knows what kind of dirty germs and what not, and probably has not been cleaned in years. It is amazing what kind of accommodation we will put up with when we are travelling, but will not tolerate at home!! For my Best Western buck, I wanted a pristine, cold, sterile, antiseptic NA hotel experience!!!

The spread was immediately dumped on the floor, leaving clean, nice white sheets and a paper thin blanket. Thank god for the body sized pashmina shawl that I always travel with. I couldn't be bothered calling for another blanket - and so to bed...

I am struggling with my choices of luggage. At this point think that I have made all sorts of mistakes. This is the first time in many years that I have have abandoned the back pack and its 'partner' day pack, and small shoulder bag. Everything is 'new' and different and of course i am having trouble adjusting and finding things.

Breakfast was included, in one of those truly awful 'buffet' rooms. A long counter full of nasty, just about stale white sugar coated 'stuff''. There was even a 'do it yourself' waffle thinggy. The room was full of businessmen talking to themselves on their cellphones/blackberries/iphones.

I had a bad English muffin and rotten coffee.

Cab arrived to take me to the airport, wearing one of those phones on his ears, and talked non stop in Punjabi all the way.

Onward to LAX... pray for my luggage

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tripping in Tahiti


I am a clumsy person. I know I am a clumsy person. my knees bear witness to over 60 years of trips, falls and scrapes. But this time is wasn’t my fault!!!

Sophie and I arrived in Papeete at about 6 am, but our room wasn’t ready. So we sat out on the patio, by the small pool, in the lovely garden. Sophie decided to go to town. I stayed behind to sketch and have a swim. When she returned, I went to town to pick up some information, go to the market and get some lunch for us. It was very very hot and humid, and as I left the market, I contemplated taking a taxi back to the pension. As I stepped up to a curb, both my legs were seized with cramps, and I crashed to the ground.

I have no idea what exactly happened but I had a huge tear on my right shin. I sat there in shock, as people gathered, a woman called an ambulance, and an English speaking man, who turned out to be a doctor, got me to lie down, and checked for broken bones. The ambulance came, took me to the hospital emergency room, where I only had to wait about ten minutes before being wheeled into a small surgery. An English speaking nurse and doctor appeared, told me I was going to get stitches and stayed by me through the worst, which was the needles for the freezing.

I had them call Sophie at the pension, and two hours later I was stitched up with 8 internal and 30 external stitches. The good news was that it wasn’t broken, and that since the freighter had a doctor on board, I was good to go… he could change the dressings every two days. So I was released with a prescription for antibiotics and painkillers and dressings for the wound.Poor Sophie had been sitting in Emergency, knowing nothing. They finally let her come in, we called a cab and returned to the pension, where our lovely poolside room was ready.

I was not in pain, and was walking comfortably, so I just took it easy that day and the next before boarding the boat. Sophie found a super marche and bought a roll of saran wrap and masking tape and plastic bags so I would be able to wrap up the bandage when I showered and we forged ahead..

This is merely a health update. Trip reports will follow. Despite the injury the trip on the Aranui was fantastic. So I couldn’t hike… big deal.. Instead I sat around and filled my sketchbook. The hardest thing to deal with was that I couldn’t swim, and it was so damned hot. The Marquesas are not known for their beaches. Like Dominica they are volcanic islands. Other island groups in French Polynesia are known for their idyllic lagoons, snorkeling, diving etc. but not the Marquesas, so I did not feel totally deprived.

The French medical system produces the best looking doctors and male nurses in the world. This I discovered in the hospital, and it was further affirmed when I met the doctor on the ship. While his English wasn’t the greatest, it was adequate for the job of changing the dressing every two days. After ten days, he took out every other stitch, but he was having some concerns about the state of the wound. The evening before I got off the boat he was supposed to take out the rest, but he didn’t, and he told me that the wound was necrotic (I now had Pierette, from Montreal accompanying me on my visits providing translation services) and he wanted me to see a surgeon at the hospital as soon as I got off the boat.

We got off the boat on Friday morning, checked back into the pension, and Pierette and I headed to the hospital. More good looking French doctors, and I finished my French medical experience with a consult from a nice surgeon who told me to pack it in and get right home. I would need some simple surgery to clean up the wound and probably a skin graft. The nurse phoned Air Tahiti, made reservations for us to leave that night. Sophie insisted on leaving with me. Pierette and I met her at the Air Tahiti office to pay for the changes, but they were unable to confirm an onward flight to Victoria. All Air Canada flights were booked and they couldn’t access Westjet… so we said we would chance it in LA to get a flight onward.

LAX is a piece of cake if you can navigate it with a wheelchair and a garrulous Venezuelan-American attendant! We eased through customs and security, changed buildings, and headed for the Westjet counter because I knew their one flight a day left in three hours;. We flashed our French medical emergency letters from the doctor (which of course they couldn’t read since the counter staff were Americans) and they really came through, getting me on a full flight, with an up front aisle seat. We flew to Calgary, another three hour layover, and then to Victoria, arriving at about ten pm. Patricia took me directly to the Royal Jubilee Hospital.

Saturday night is not a good time to land in emergency, but after they took care of all the drunken fight injuries, it only took two hours before I was seen, the wound cleaned, and i was admitted. They are waiting for the infection to go (I am on intravenous antibiotics) which may be a day or two more. Then surgery for the skin graft and then I will have to have my leg ‘suspended’ for about a week while the graft takes. I might have to stay in hospital, since my house might be too difficult to manage, and I haven’t really got anyone to take care of me…. AAAAARRRGGGHHHH …. And if I am stuck here, there will be no internet to amuse me!!!! No mail to read and answer!!! I will go stark raving mad. It was bad enough in the Marquesas…it is so isolated there that there just ISN”T any internet on most of the islands.

I ended staying in hosptial for about two weeks, before being sent home with a wheelchair and instructions to keep my leg suspended, and turn up for dressing changes twice a week.