Huahine diving

Maitai Lapita dress code – “A minimum dress code is required at the restaurant and we ask you not to appear shirtless.”

Monday 5/26.

Heading out from Fare and towards our first diveWe had arranged the day before to go out with Pacific Blue Adventure diving.  They were a small dive shop in downtown Fare (having said that, I’m not sure Fare is even big enough to have a downtown).  Michel was the captain and he took us out on our dives.  Normally Jenni, who works with Michel, would have lead the dives but she was suffering from a head cold and wisely opted to stay with the boat while the rest of us were under water.

A little bit of nervousness which vanished once we were in the undersea worldI remember when I took my dive training classes, our instructor would emphasize safety and tell us stories of horrible things that had gone wrong when divers did not take all sensible precautions.  We were told that if a diving situation didn’t seem right or if there was a failure of equipment you should just scrub the dive.  It’s not worth risking your life!!

Dot & Dash Butterfly fish and Pyramid ButterflyfishBut it’s hard when you get down to a beautiful place like French Polynesia after months of diving dreams… it’s hard to say “No, you haven’t followed all of the correct protocols – I won’t go diving with you.”

Divers feeding the Titan Triggerfish, Black Triggerfish, and Pyramid ButterflyfishMichel’s dive shop was a dingy messy hole in the wall at the end of a long industrial style building by the sea.  We got our gear there and boarded his boat, a medium sized boat with room for 10 divers, although on this trip Sandy and I were the only passengers.

Michel began putting our gear together, I told him that Sandy should do her own for practice, so he explained what he was doing as he hurried through the process of strapping straps and connecting hoses, a cigarette dangling from his lips as he turned the tank on to check the air.

Maybe an Island Goatfish?He got our weights out and put them in the pockets of our BCDs.  I asked about weight belts and he said they weren’t needed because the weights were in our pockets.  A Triggerfish of some sort (not in my book)In case there is any confusion, I’d like to emphasize that I don’t mean integrated weight pockets with bright orange tabs sticking out so you can grab them and dump your weights in an emergency.  Noooooooo… any weight dumping here would involve reaching into the pocket and grabbing the individual weights and pulling them back out.

So this is the point where we should back out, right?  The boat hadn’t even left the dock.  For the record let me tell you that both Michel and Jenni were incredibly nice. They were very patient with Sandy who is still new to diving with only seven dives under her belt and some anxious memories from the dives she had done before.  Maybe a Spotted Unicornfish?And at the end of the first dive, when Sandy’s loosely buckled dive computer slipped off her wrist and began it’s slow meandering descent to the 45 foot bottom, Orange-lined Triggerfish (although the diagonal lines don't look that orange to me!)Michel didn’t hesitate to dive back down from the surface and retrieve it. And afterwards Sandy got lessons on how to properly secure a dive computer.

So of course we went out.  And we had a wonderful time.  Sandy had a little angst at the beginning of her dive but soon adjusted and was diving like a pro.  Actually, a slight revision. Sandy just reminded me at the beginning of the first dive she was a little stressed floating on the surface and wanted a minute to calm down before we began the descent.  Peacock GrouperPerhaps Michel’s not quite as patient as I remembered because he just told Sandy “let’s go” and started down.  Yellowtail Coris - Intermediate PhaseBut in the end all was good. Oh… Except for Sandy’s buoyancy problems at the end of the dive as her tank became lighter and Michel had to slip another weight into her pocket to keep her from floating up to the surface.  But other than these little mishaps everything went great and Sandy ended her first post-certification dive a much more confident and happy diver!

Titan Triggerfish

And we saw some great stuff on this dive. Probably the most memorable for me was the beautiful Titan triggerfish of which we saw several.  FrenchPoly_20140526_1011_55_700

FrenchPoly_20140526_1125_66_700After an hour break on shore we set out for our second dive.  Now that sandy was feeling more confident we had to throw a new challenge at her. This time we’d be swimming with sharks.  We motored south(?) about 20 minutes or so to a spot that would have made a great shore dive. We anchored less than a hundred yards off shore. Christmas Tree WormsThe water here was 30 feet deep and our dive maxed out a little over 50 feet. And we saw sharks!  I counted 10 black tip sharks by the end of our dive. Blacktip reef sharkWhen we surfaced Sandy’s first comment was “they’re so small”, apparently these 4 foot reef sharks did not measure up to her imaginations of great whites snatching divers out of the water column and taking them to depths far deeper than our recreational certifications allow.

Flame Angelfish and Pacific Half-and-Half ChromisWe motored back to shore, snacking on minature 3 inch bananas and talking about the dives. They were wonderful dives although when Sandy and I were talking later we both agreed that we saw a greater variety of fish snorkeling the reef just off our hotel beach. Celebratory beer after a successful dive!Not to say anything bad about the diving but more a testament to how incredibly good the snorkeling was for us.

Snorkeling paradise

Eagle rayThe ocean just off of our resort is protected by a long reef several hundred yards out which absorbs much of the wave action coming in from the open ocean.  I had snorkeled on our arrival day but it was now Sunday and Sandy was taking her first opportunity to come explore with me.  The sea was gentle and as we began our swim the sandy floor gave way to occasional rock and coral clusters and eventual to a reef.  Scribbled Rabbitfish and Convict SurgeonfishThe sea went from a few feet deep to more than twenty feet at the far end of the reef.  In towards shore, the visibility was a little obscured by sand that was kicked up by the slight waves which lapped against the shoreline.  By the time we reached the far end of the reef, the visibility was much improved and we were able to see off into the distance.  This is how Sandy was able to spot an eagle ray on our final snorkel Tuesday morning.

Picasso TriggerfishWe snorkeled each day, making five trips altogether into the water.  And we saw a wide variety of sealife.  The first fish I saw were convict surgeonfish and picasso triggerfish.  The picasso triggerfish is appropriately named, a true work of art, and I think one of the most beautiful fish I’ve seen on this trip.  I couldn’t believe my luck when I first saw one.  Although I soon learned that no luck was involved… this is one of the most common shallow reef fish and we see them quite frequently.

Ornate Butterflyfish

 

There are more types of butterflyfish down here than I have ever seen.  Saddled ButterflyfishPyramid butterflyfish, saddled butterflyfish, ornate butterflyfish, big longnose butterflyfish (not to be confused with longnose butterflyfish), and double-saddle butterflyfish to name just a few.

 

 

Network PipefishWe also saw octopus (it was too fast so no picture), eel, pipefish, cornetfish, lionfishClearfin Lionfish (a different species then the invasive one we find in the caribbean), damselfish, and so much more.

 

 

One of my favorites were these three-spot dascyllus whose juveniles would swim Three-spot dascyllus juvenilles hiding in the anemone.around in the sea anemones while the adults would guard the perimeter.  They seemed to have no fear and when I approached too closely they came at me, these inch long dark colored fish charging me and Three-spot dascyllus chasing off the invader (i.e. me!)veering off at the last moment.  When that didn’t work they charged again, this time nipping at my hands or at the front of my camera.  It didn’t hurt but it did startle me each time I felt a little bite.  After getting a few photos, I let them win and slowly swam away from their home.

Three-spot dascyllus nipping at my fingers

Lemonpeel AngelfishThis is a spot where I wish we had a couple of scuba tanks.  We could just go to the far side of the reef and dropdown to 20 or 25 feet, swimming along the reef, peeking in holes and underneath ledges.  I did do some freediving which I’ve gotten pretty good at.  FrenchPoly_20140525_1234_102_1000But it’s not the same as being able to slowly drift along, taking your time and exploring.

 

We finished the day up with a dinner of cheese and bread and wine that we had bought earlier in the day at the local store.

Huahine

FrenchPoly_20140524_0917_10_1000“Doesn’t their throat hurt after a while… with all that crowing?”, Sandy asked.  It’s 5:30am Sunday morning (5/25/14) and Sandy and I are sitting out on the porch of our bungalow listening to the multitudes of roosters crowing off in the distance.  We’ve been here almost a day now and it did seem like the roosters were crowing all yesterday until nightfall and they’re certainly getting an early start on it today.

We now have a solid nights sleep behind us having fallen asleep around 8pm after a long travel day (almost exactly 24 hours from the time we left our house until we reached our bungalow).  We spent most of yesterday trying not fall asleep so we could adjust to the change more easily (French Poly is 6 hours Our gourmet sandwiches along with my coconut water - complete with coconut!earlier than at home).  Maitai Lapita doesn’t really have room service, but they were super nice and when we told them we were way too tired to enjoy eating at the restaurant, the chef made up a couple platters of gourmet sandwiches (basically ham and cheese on foccacia – but gourmet!) for us to take back to our room.  We ate and passed out at 8pm last night sleeping soundly, only occasionally being awakened by the sound of rain pounding down on the bungalow in the middle of the night.

Maitai Lapita is a small resort with about three dozen rooms some of which are garden view and others, like ours, are situated around a small lagoon in the center of the resort.  The rooms are spacious and modern although it feels like some of the seats, like our deck chairs, have an emphasis on style over comfort.  The breezes are wonderful right now as I sit out on the covered porch listening to the palm trees rustle in the wind (and the roosters crow of course).  Sadly, the bungalow doesn’t have screens, and we’re a little too nervous to just open it up because there are a few mosquitoes around (although not the swarms I read about in some reviews).  So we’ve got the doors and windows closed and the ac on inside.

FrenchPoly_20140524_1625_03_1000The lagoon is beautiful, the still water reflecting the images of other bungalows, the mountains in the distance, and the blue sky and fluffy white clouds.  It is filled with tropical waterlilies, they’re purplish flowers opening up during today to add an additional splash of color to the landscape.  Hundreds of small black fish, ranging from an inch or so to perhaps 8 inches, swim about beneath the water lilies poking at the underside presumably on a search for food.  Small ripples from these fish are the only disturbance to the mirror like surface of the water.  At one FrenchPoly_20140524_1627_07_700point, just after Sandy and I had first arrived, we saw something else in the water.  A speckled body, about the girth of a full grown koi, was sliding silently beneath the lily pads only occasionally visible to us in the small breaks between each plant.  At first we thought it was a fish, but as I watched through a 6 inch opening between lilies, the body seemed too long.  I expected to see a tail after 12 or 18 inches, but instead it kept going… 12 inches… then 24… then…. maybe it was 3 feet long in the end, although it was a little hard to tell.  I later learned there are eels in the lagoon and my guess is we had just met one.

Sandy inching her way into the cold pool.  Beach shade tree in background.After settling into our room, we headed down to the beach.  To get there you had to cut through the open air restaurant to the far side where a small pool, surrounded by 14 loungers, was situated just beside the beach.  A wide low tree bearing many clusters of small fruit provided a nice shady spot on the beach but we opted for one of the loungers around the pool.  After taking a quick dip in to wash off a days worth of travel grime we put some sunscreen on and laid down to relax.  There were three large shade umbrellas around the pool which were all being used when we arrived, but it wasn’t long before a family abandoned there’s and we moved in to take their place.  We didn’t really want to get burned on our first day of vacation.

Picasso TriggerfishI had a mask and snorkel and had borrowed some fins from the front desk.  It was time to get into the ocean!  One of the women guests at the pool kept cautioning her son to be careful of the hot sand on the beach.  Moorish Idol and Surge DemoiselleI winced when I first stepped out, prepared for the scalding sensation of hot sand burning at the bottom of my feet.  But I immediately relaxed when the pleasantly warm soft sand worked it’s way between my toes and I walked the short distance down to the waters edge.

Ornate Butterflyfish alongside some sort of surgeonfishSmall pieces of bleached white dead coral rolled about in the light surf as I shuffled my feet into the water.  It was not cold at all, the swimming pool we’d just been in was much colder than the Surge Demoiselleocean.  However because of all the sand about I didn’t have a lot of hope of seeing many fish.  On either side of me there were rock jetties that stretched out 50 feet into the water and I thought those would be my best bet for sealife.  But I was very wrong, there were many small piles of stone and some corals scattered about, attracting a wide variety of colorful fish with different patterns and shapes that what I had seen before in my Caribbean trips.  I swam about for an hour in water that ranged from 4 to 10 feet deep, swimming down to look under ledges or in holes and trying to sneak up on shy fish to see if I can get a better look or maybe a picture.

Village of FareAfter snorkeling, Sandy and I decided to take a walk down the beach to the village.  The village was only a five minute walk.  We took in the sights of local life as we strolled.  A house where the family was outside barbecuing something that smelled delicious, children playing in the sand and the ocean, sunbathers enjoying a warm spot on the beach.  We finally made it to the village where we spoke to a woman at the local dive shop about arranging a trip after we’ve slept off our jetlag.

We had passed a small ocean front restaurant on the way and decided to go back there afterwards for lunch.  So many choices....Sandy asked our hostess what sort of wine they had and she immediately made a sour face and said they only had the house wine and it wasn’t very good.

So we had a couple of beers and I had a hamburger and Sandy had coconut mahi mahi while we leafed through a travel brochure looking at some of the activities around the island.  The one that really caught our attention was a private jetski tour around the island with stops at various locations to snorkel, see sharks, hear a little history of the island, and a catered lunch with lobster, champagne, and wine.  All for a mere 80,000xpf.  At first I thought that was a typo… but it was accurate and figured out to around $1000.

A weary traveller finally succumbs to sleepWe spent the rest of the afternoon lazing about at the pool.  The days travels had worn us down so we ordered our sandwiches to take back to the room and finally let sleep claim victory around 8pm.

The Journey Begins

FrenchPoly_20140523_1553_01_400After months of waiting and a week of on again-off again packing we left our house at 3pm to fight the Memorial Day traffic and make our way to Dulles airport.  Fortunately we had a good taxi driver who took us through the back roads eliciting several “I didn’t know you could go this way”s from us and before long we were on the airport access road and then on the curb outside of the American Airlines counters.

 

Check-in was quick and painless but unfortunately we didn’t already have our seat assignments so the best the woman at the counter was able to do was get us into middle row seats one in front of the other.  At least we were in the emergency row though so we’d have a little legroom.

FrenchPoly_20140523_1650_05_400I said, “in just 22 short hours we’ll be there.”  Sandy said, “why do you keep saying that?”  Note to self: Sandy doesn’t like being constantly reminded of how long this trip is going to be.  Keep mouth shut!

So now we had a little time to kill and what better way to do that then a flight of wines and some charactateur (hell… no idea how to spell this one… even spell checker is stumped – we asked the waiter how to pronounce it and he wasn’t sure… giving us two possibilities that he had heard others use).  Yes, I guess Dulles is a little more upscale than I last remembered.  Unfortunately American Airlines is not.  But the flight went more quickly then I expected and before long we were switching planes in LA.

Btw… people at the LA airport – it really wouldn’t hurt to have a few more signs directing pour lost souls such as ourselves to the international terminal!

FrenchPoly_20140524_0148_11_400Air Tahiti was much nicer than American.  I fly American so much that I had forgotten how nice a new plane looks.  Air Tahiti’s color scheme was a pleasant caribbean sea blue.  We had TVs at each seat (I watched an FrenchPoly_20140524_0338_13_400underwater fish video).  Dinner was real food and sparkling wine and red wine.  It had been so long since I had a real meal on an airplane that I didn’t even notice that they didn’t give us any choices as to what we were going to eat (I guess the menu is just to give you something to look at while you wait for the cart to bring your chicken pasta dish down the aisle.

FrenchPoly_20140524_0456_27_700We tried to sleep and I suppose we did sleep some but it was hard to get very comfortable.  The flight was a little longer than 8 hours.  We were scheduled to arrive at 4:45am which is 10:45am Arlington time.  When we finally did arrive we were greeted by a dancing Polynesian accompanied by a couple natives strumming ukuleles (?) or some similar stringed instrument.  I wonder what they think about their job, having to get up a 3 or 4 in the morning to try and entertain a bunch of grumpy tourists marching bleary eyed through the maze of airport bureaucracy.

We made it!  We’re in French Polynesia!!!  The excitement is somewhat curtailed by the thought that we still haven’t reached the island where we’re spending our first nights.  We have a three hour wait before our little island hopper will take us from Tahiti to Huahine.  Our next job was to get boarding tickets and we made our way to the ticket counter where we encountered a very long line of tourists also traveling to one of the dozens of other islands that Air Tahiti will take you too.  Herd mentality had driven everyone to the same long line waiting to get up to the ticket counter.  However, no one had really noticed the three unused automatic ticketing kiosks that sat off to the side of the line.  Sandy and I went up to one of the kiosks and in a few short minutes we had our boarding passes.  We dropped off our baggage and went off to where the three gates for intra-island flights would depart from.

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We were a bit thirsty so Sandy went off in search of some water.  To buy a bottle of water she had to wait in a line that although it wasn’t long, it moved exceptionally slowly.  Yes… I guess we were on island time now.  By the time Sandy got to the counter she said to herself, “After all this waiting I’m going to get more than just water…”  And that’s how we ended up sipping Coronas at 7am as we waited for our flights.

 

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And then it was time to board our final flight.  We walked out on the tarmac and marched to where our plane waited.  It was only about a 30 minute FrenchPoly_20140524_0833_58_700flight and I gazed out the window until Huahine came into view.

The feeling was wonderful when we finally touched down.  The airport was very small, the tower consisting of a one story building that had an observation FrenchPoly_20140524_0843_63_400booth attached to the roof, and the terminal itself was a small building with a four peak roof and a one single door for arriving and a separate door for departing travelers.

The hotel had sent a taxi to meet us and it wasn’t long before we were on the final leg of our first day’s traveling.  We reached the hotel almost exactly 24 hours after we had left our house.  Official check-in time was not for several more hours but fortunately our room was already available and we were able to check-in right away.

We left the lobby and walked over a long bridge that took us across the lagoon and then before we knew it we were here!

View from the porch of our room across the lagoon

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French Polynesia

Our next trip is to French Polynesia.  We’re spending 3 nights in Huahine, 2 nights in Moorea, 2 nights Raiatea, followed by a week sailing from Raiatea in which we’ll visit Bora Bora and Taha’a.  We’ll wrap it up with a night in Tahiti before heading back home.

I will try to keep up with my blog… but no promises… I might opt to spend the afternoons diving and snorkeling instead!   🙂

View French Polynesia in a larger map

Technology

Technology is a word that describes something that doesn’t work yet.

–Douglas Adams

Does technology really make our life better?  Of course without technology I wouldn’t be able to do this blog.  Even just 20 years ago this would have been next to impossible (okay… maybe a more primitive set of tools were available, but since none of my dozens1 of readers were online it would have been pointless anyway).

But damn does technology frustrate.  I could have gotten up yesterday and read a nice book but instead I spent several hours trying to figure out how to get Windows Live Writer to successfully pull posts of this very blog so that  I could write my posts when I’m offline (like my upcoming 14 hours of flight time as Sandy and I go off on our next adventure).

But I finally had some success thanks to Pioneer Valley Web Design who kindly offered insight when I posted my problem here.

1 I may have exaggerated the number of readers I actually have