It’s a fine (International Date) line, and we just crossed it to Cook Islands

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April 20th 2019
Published: June 3rd 2019
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‘Don’t listen to what they say…go see’– Chinese Proverb

(I know we’re not anywhere near China but I don’t know any Polynesian proverbs or sayings!!)

Yesterday was a strange day. Not the best we have experienced in all the years of cruising; with the heavy rain, the cancelling of the tender for two hours, stranding us on the island not to mention the somewhat underwhelming excursion. Unfortunately, we had to relive this day again as we crossed the international date line. The international date line is not, as it sounds a world-wide telephone pick up service!! It is an imaginary line that runs from North to South. By crossing this line, one will either gain or lose a day depending on whether you are travelling east to west or vice versa. We were travelling west to east. Today was still 18th April!! When we flew out, we were flying from west to east so were ahead of the UK. In Singapore, we were +7 hrs ahead of the UK; in Sydney +9 hours. Crossing over to Auckland we were +11 hours in front of the UK.The clocks even went forward on the first day at sea so we were 12 hours ahead of the UK (13 hours ahead of GMT). Now, by crossing the International Date Line, we have slipped to 11 hours BEHIND the UK. This extra day was spent at sea. The sea state was rough despite blue skies. The winds on deck reached up to 41 knots. This was 8 on the beaufort scale (Strong gale). As the ship cut through the water, the pitch was quite deep as the water broke 30-40 feet off the bow. It was another day of clutching on to the handrail in between staggering around the ship! This didn’t bother Roisin and I but it must have been a hindrance to some passengers as there were sick bags dotted around the Maasdam, usually to be found nearby the elevators. Speaking of which, the happiest crew members aboard at this moment had to be the Elevator Carpet Modification Operatives otherwise known as the men who changed the mats in the lift (on a daily basis) as today they could have a rest day because it was still Thursday!! However, we were advised that we didn’t actually cross the International Date Line until 03:15 in the morning. So, technically we had 3 ¼ hours of Friday. I wonder how efficient and conscientious these specialists were. Did they change the carpets for a few hours then change them back? Probably!

We approached an island, sailing past at about twelve nautical miles off our portside. This was as close as we got Niue. It was like the Captain was rubbing salt in to the wound. ‘On your port side just to the right of that container ship in the distance is Niue. A fantastic tropical island with fantastic people. But you don’t need to know that!!’

The Maasdam, like most cruise ships has a promenade deck. This is a deck that wraps around the ship so it is possible to walk one lap without interruption. On this occasion, four times around the ship is equivalent to one mile. My problem is that after about two laps I tended to lose count!! ‘…was that three or four laps I’ve done? How many times have I passed that bloke with the hanky on his head, the rolled-up trousers and the sandals with long socks? It has to be three!!

A few days ago, the headline act in the theatre was a finalist from Poland’s Got talent (I’m sure there is an oxymoron in there if you look hard enough!!) This evening was the turn of Paul Stepien who was only a semi-finalist in Poland’s Got Talent. Does that mean the standards aboard are slipping? Well not necessarily (unless there is an act who had been a finalist in Britain’s Got Talent!!) There seems to be a plethora of multi instrumentalists in this Eastern European State as Paul was also handy with more than one instrument. He started by playing Earth Song by Michael Jackson. This was swiftly followed by Thriller and then Smooth Criminal. I saw a pattern developing here. Someone must have bought him the Complete Michael Jackson songbook for his birthday! Finishing off that segment of the show he thenproduced a gizmo called the ewo. This is an electronic wind instrument that looked like a space age clarinet but could allegedly reproduce any musical sound. This was an entertaining part of his performance as Paul demonstrated the versatility of the ewo by playing a piece for banjo then immediately thereafter reciting a passage from Bach written for the church organ!!

Despite being pretty much full to capacity, The Maasdam has felt anything but overcrowded. There are always seats in the theatre, the lounges are never packed, sun recliners (even in prime locations such as the pool area) are always available and when it comes to eating in the main dining room, we have what’s called ‘freedom dining’ meaning rather than eating at set times, we can go to the dining room for dinner at anytime (within the opening hours of course – we couldn’t just rock up at 2am and expect to get the chef out of bed to cook us a shepherd’s pie!!) On previous cruises ‘freedom dining’ meant either queuing up for lengthy periods then receiving a pager only to find it is an hour’s wait. Scrub that. On the Maasdam, the head waiter made a note of our cabin and we were shown immediately to a table for two. There are plenty of tables for two and they are not close together as on some ships.

The only place that did feel overcrowded was at trivia. In the afternoon sessions, the game was played in the Crow’s nest. This is a large enclosed lounge on one of the top decks, with its own small dance floor. (Although there hadn’t been much dancing in the trivia sessions so far!!) Despite being busy, we always managed to find a comfortable seat. The early evening session was, however, held in the much smaller bar/lounge called ‘Mix’ This is an open plan bar in between the casino and a few of the shops and adjoining the cocktail piano bar and therefore could get quite noisy.

For the first few games we had been averaging 10/17. After a few days, I took the bold decision prior to one particular evening session, to do something uncharacteristic of me and ask an English couple if we could join them: ‘No, we’re OK on our own thank you very much!!’ The first time I had done this and certainly the last time. It was only the following day we were approached by a quietly spoken American couple Bill and Dawn from Florida and before long we were joined by Irene and Anthony from Vancouver, British Colombia. Our evening team was complete. We managed to increase our average score to 13 (our best to date – 15/17) but even then, someone always managed to score one more than us. Perhaps the fact that the quiz master took the decision from day one to trust everyone to mark their own paper!!

This particular evening, we had a history/literature question: ‘With which book did Earnest Hemmingway win the Noel Prize for literature in 1956?’ A consensus of opinion agreed on Hemmingway’s most famous piece of work: ‘For whom the Bells Toll’. In order to influence other peoples’ answer, I spoke in a voice not too loud as to be obvious but loud enough to be overheard. ‘The Old Man and the Sea’, I said with the conviction and confidence of a librarian in charge of the Hemmingway section of a library. This happened to be the correct answer. Due to my cunning plan (that had backfired!!) every team scored a point for this question (except us!!)

The next morning. Bing bong. ‘A very good morning everyone, the time is now a few minutes past 7am and welcome to the Cook Islands. Immigration has just boarded and we are waiting for clearance.’ Déjà vu? No, just our cruise Director K K being a pain in the arse again!!

The name, Cook Islands, has nothing to do with the residents being gastronomically proficient!! It is named after British navigator Captain James Cook who first visited the islands in 1773 (but not with Holland America as it wasn’t on their itinerary then!!) It is now an overseas dependency of New Zealand. There are fifteen islands in the 240 square kilometre area. The main population centres on the island of Rarotonga. The island is surrounded by a sapphire blue lagoon. The skyline of Rarotonga from the ship was one of a vegetation covered rugged volcanic formation with the Cook Islands highest peak, Te Mang (2140ft) clearly visible, taking centre stage. To be honest, 95%!o(MISSING)f Polynesian Islands are vegetation covered rugged volcanic formations so I may be cut and pasting this description of the islands we’ll be visiting in the coming days!!

Like most of these islands, there are no quaysides with a deep enough draft to accommodate even a moderately sized cruise ship like the Maasdam. If not that, then some of the islands are surrounded by reefs which make navigation treacherous. Either way, today we had to remain offshore using the ship’s tenders to ferry passengers to land. Although the ship remained offshore, it was unable to drop anchor due to the depth of the ocean below. Once clear of the surrounding reef, the sea bed drops swiftly and sharply away to a depth our anchors couldn’t reach. To ensure we didn’t drift and stayed in relatively the same position throughout the day, the ships six thrusters had to be employed at regular intervals. Sort of treading water for cruise ships!!

After breakfast Roisin stood on the promenade deck looking across at the outbound and inbound tenders. I was unable to provide reassurance as there was no getting away from the fact that although the ship to shore time was only seven minutes, the tenders were being tossed around as they slowed down on approach to the quay or, as was more visible, came alongside to return and pick up the next batch of passengers. Finally, Roisin made the decision to sit this one out.

A ship usually has three or four tenders in operation in order to transport guests from ship to shore. Each tender holds approximately one hundred passengers. When a tender is required to transport people from ship to shore, a strict ticketing procedure is adopted to avoid massive queues or a surge. One then waits in a lounge until one’s ticket number is called. Surprisingly, K K (remember her? Our cruise director?) had the job of announcing the ticket numbers. By the time I was ready to go ashore, all the excursions and the ‘early birds’ had been gone some time so tickets were no longer required.

Avarua is the capital of Cook Islands and is the largest town on the island of Rarotonga. Its name means ‘two harbours’ in Cook Island Maori. I walked through a reasonably sized market. This seemed to be as much for the locals as it was for the tourists. The vendors were selling everything from fruit and veg to local crafts. However, having recently retired from thirty eight years’ service, it wasn’t this that caught my eye but the Custom House located adjacent to a large souvenir store. If it wasn’t for the large sign, I would have walked straight passed this innocuous excuse for a shed on stilts. Measuring no more than 4m², this blue wooden structure looked out across a palm tree lined shore to the sapphire blue ocean beyond. Not a bad view at all. I could think of worse locations to work from!! There was no activity coming from within but you don’t have to be an island outpost to witness a lack of movement. Have you been through Liverpool John Lennon Airport recently?!!

I walked down Ara Maire Nui, the main street that runs along the coast of Avarua. The store fronts and buildings are no more than two stories, many built in the colonial style whilst others have been designed to fit in with a more traditional Polynesian aesthetic. It has been a week since we left Auckland and, in that time, we have not had access to Wi-fi or any News feed. The only news channels on the ship’s TV are CNN and Fox so it’s been wall to wall US Politics. Is the UK still in the EU? Has Theresa May finally managed to get all the MP’s on side and agree a deal for Brexit that is pleasing to all? Who cares? I’m more interested in who won Master Chef or the race to be the English Premier Leagues top goal scorer!! We had both started to get withdrawal symptoms but soon I hoped to be reunited with 4G. There are no cafes or pubs that offer free wi-fi on the island but it is possible to buy data and then use one of the many hotspots to connect. I found the telecommunications store without difficulty and after a short wait, purchased 500mb of data for $NZ5 (£2.50) I keyed in the password and waited to be connected. Success!!... Or not?? An alert popped up on my screen ‘Battery too low, phone will shut down in thirty seconds!!’ I lifted my head and looked at the sky. They say the ‘Noooooo!!’ could be heard back on board the Volendam...and she was currently somewhere in the Mediterranean!!

I decided to head inland to explore the residential part of the town. Just past the cenotaph, an ANZAC memorial, I turned down a small well tarmacked road. Not having Google maps, I was now just following my instinct. The flora and fauna that grew either side of the road had been well looked after to almost Chelsea Flower Show standards. There was no overgrowth, just a pleasing array of shrubs and trees. Mount Te Mang was looming in the background, not over powering, just adding to the overall beauty of the island.

Passing through an open gate I found myself in the grounds of a theological college. This was Takamoa – the first theological college for the training of indigenous missionaries. I didn’t realise there were still missionaries in the world today. I thought they were an extinct species. Those that weren’t eaten, died off naturally. Here was the proof that Missionaryism was alive and well in Avarua on Rarotonga, Cook Islands. And there was not a cooking pot in sight (despite being called the Cook Islands!!) The idea for a training institution for missionaries came from the Rev. John Williams but he did not live to see his plan come to fruition as he was killed at Erromanga, Vanuatu in 1839. And it’s on record in the Museum of Vanuatu that very tasty he was too!!

That evening back on board in the main restaurant, I ordered the Peter Crouch cake. I thought it was strange naming a cake after an ex-Liverpool soccer player. Luckily, I pointed to the dessert as the waiter then said: ‘You mean the Pear Crunch cake, sir?’ If there was a Specsavers on board, I definitely would have paid a visit!!

Tonight was David Copperfield’s second show and it was just as zany as the first. Now aware of the format of his shows, most of the audience were sitting further back trying to hide in the shadows. The first three rows of the theatre were left empty. Roisin and I tried reverse psychology and sat near the front. It didn’t work!! Nor did sitting further back as one of David Copperfield’s catch phrases is: ‘Can We have the house lights up please? Now, let’s see who we’ve got here!!’

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