If it's mountains you're after then Fakarava is not for you...but if light houses are your thing!!!

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Oceania » French Polynesia » Fakarava
April 27th 2019
Published: June 24th 2019
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i‘lTravel, in the younger sort is a part of education, in the elder, a part of experience.’– Francis Bacon

Another day and another tender port. This morning we dropped anchor of the coast of an atoll called Fakarava. This is much smaller than the previous atoll with only a population of 837. This is more of a rectangular shaped atoll than the circular Rangiroa, with a length of 60km. There are two gaps in the atoll leading to the lagoon (known as passes). The Massdam used the pass known as the Passe Garuae to enter the lagoon. The first Europeans didn’t arrive on the island until as late as 1820. This was the Russian Explorer Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen; a Baltic German by birth but he joined the Imperial Russian Navy where he rose to the rank of admiral.

Roisin had already surveyed the sea state in the confines of the lagoon and had given it the green light! As the majority of guests had left the ship by now, tender tickets were no longer required and we were now in a period of what is known as ‘open tender’. This means when you are ready to go ashore just head down to the tender. We descended the stairs down to deck four, passed through security where we had our cruise card scanned ‘out’. This is how the ship control the passengers as to who is on board and who is still ashore. We then tookour place in the line. There were only about half a dozen people in front of us so when the next tender arrived, the queue moved quite rapidly. As we moved forward and approached the pontoon, Roisin noticed that the tender was bobbing around as the crewmen tried to tie it up. ‘I can’t do this!’ Roisin exclaimed as she went to turn around and head back in to the safety of the ship.

Look!’ I pointed out. ‘If that old lady in the wheel chair with the oxygen mask on her face can do it…’

‘No, I can’t. You go. I’ll see you later’, and with that Roisin headed back to the interior of the ship.

That old lady in the wheel chair with the oxygen mask on her face couldn’t do it though. Roisin and I never ask to join a trivia team although we’re happy if anyone asks to join us or if we want to join a team. About a week ago, it had been several days and we had still not been approached by anyone so I decided to break with tradition and ask an English lady and her husband if they wanted a few extra brains. ‘I’d rather not. We’d prefer to play on our own’. They always sat in the same seat but last night I noticed they were missing for the first time in two weeks. Now I knew why. That old lady in the wheel chair with the oxygen mask on her face was on anything but a sight-seeing excursion. She was accompanied by the ships nurse who led her down the stairs to the pontoon and helped her on to the tender. When the boat arrived at the quayside, two crew members were waiting to assist the, what I assume was, a very sick woman. A fact confirmed by the two crew who both wore bandanas covering their nose and mouth and I don’t think they were playing the Outlaw Josey Wales!!

The main activity, or I should say, the ONLY activity on the island was snorkelling. Snorkelling and walking!! I chose the latter as I hear there’s sharks in these here waters!! I had decided to visit the only attraction on the atoll; a lighthouse that could be seen from the ship, the design of it was very unusual and not your standard round, red and white structure. This looked like it was built by the Aztecs or the Mayans as the lighthouse was of a stone stepped construction.

I walked along the road that ran the length of the atoll. Only after a few minutes I approached a number of trees decorated by a number of small colourful buoys. This was the Havaiki pearl farm, one of two pearl farms on the island. Although this pearl farm sold all types and grades of pearl, the USP in these parts of French Polynesia is the elusive black pearl although from the ones I’ve seen, these are more of greyish-purple with a mother-of-pearl lustre. Next door to the pearl farm a detached bungalow in very lush and pleasant grounds. One feature that caught my eye was a coral decoration used to cap both brick gate posts. I doubt the owner bought those from B & Q!!

I’d been walking for just over forty minutes and had lost complete sight of the lighthouse I was aiming for. I asked a couple who were walking towards me and pointed to a coral dirt path one hundred and fifty metres up ahead on the right. This path led me off road. Wow! With the swaying coconut palms and the gentle roar of the ocean in the distance, if there is such thing as a desert island, I imagine it would be something like this. The path led me in to some dense undergrowth then without warning opened up and there it was. I felt like Indiana Jones having just discovered some long forgotten ancient ruins if it wasn’t for the four-wheel drive Toyota and the family of French Tourists who were taking selfies in front of the lighthouse!! This was the Phare de Topeka. Built from giant slabs of coral limestone rock, standing almost fifty metres high and nearly one hundred years old it remains one of the tallest and oldest lighthouses in French Polynesia. It looks more like a prop from a Mummy movie, closely resembling an Egyptian pyramid or some alien construction rather than a structure for warning mariners about the perilous reefs!!

Dawn and Bill are a couple from Florida we had befriended and are an integral part of our evening trivia team. On the way back to the ship, who should I meet coming towards me? Bill is 6” 1’ and Dawn is a slender 5”1’. The previous evening, we had joked about being disappointed in not finding any mountains to hike in order to acclimatise to the thin atmosphere for our forthcoming trip to the Peruvian Andes. As Dawn and Bill approached, I shouted, ‘You won’t find any mountains down that way!!’ As they neared even more, I thought, ‘Blimey! Bill has grown a beard overnight!!! And Dawn has changed her ethnicity! She’s turned Oriental!!!! It was at that moment I realised I had just shouted a completely arbitrary sentence to two totally random strangers!!!

To give the man his due, he played along brilliantly; not even a hesitation or an ‘excuse me? He took the whole thing in his stride as he responded with a smile, ‘So, I’ve brought my crampons all this way for nothing??’ I then managed to slightly retrieve the situation by asking them ‘Are you off to the lighthouse?’ It turns out that they were, so I proceeded to tell them how long they had left to walk and explained the path ahead. I expected them to say, ‘So if we see your carer, we will tell him that you’ve gone on ahead!!’ I looked over my shoulder and bade them a ‘Good Luck’ as I hastily made my retreat!!

The humidity was stifling. I sat down on a bench in the shade of the coconut palms watching the ocean enjoying the last of my water when I heard a rustle. I then felt a nudge of my arm then ‘Thump!!’ A coconut had missed crowning me by inches. These were not the type that you buy in the supermarkets. This was the size of a water melon and was now lying on the ground less than a foot away from me. I looked up to see a lovely bunch of coconuts. There were big ones, small ones, some as big as your head….now I couldn’t get that tune out of MY head!! It was time to move on. I think the heat was frazzling my brain!!

I passed some commotion near the waters edge. There were several young boys with sticks splashing at something in the water. A dozen or so adults (mainly tourists from the ship) looked on. A tender had just arrived so I didn’t wander over to investigate but I later learned from everyone from the captain down to the guy who folds the napkins that children were playing with Black Tipped Sharks just as if they were pets (I told you there were sharks in these here waters!!) Fortunately, these fish don’t have the same reputation as their Great White cousins (Hmmm!! that sounds a bit racist!!) I’m sure you know I’m referring to the Great White Shark!!

Thankfully Blacktip sharks have a timid disposition yet a seemingly playful nature. These sharks show a definite curiosity towards humans whether we’re snorkelling, diving or standing on the shore thrashing you with a stick!! Under most circumstances, these sharks are not regarded as highly dangerous to humans (Unless they’re being thrashed with a stick??!)

Back on the tender whilst we were heading back to the ship, I spied a notice clearly displayed on the forward bulkhead. It was titled ‘DO NOT PAINT’ and read: ‘Do not paint any part of the Rocloc gear Never.’ OK! Firstly, what the hell is a Rocloc gear and secondly, why would a passenger be carrying a tin of paint (and paint brush!) with them when on vacation??!

I was back in time for the 4pm Trivia. We arrived in the Crowsnest lounge at around 4:10 where our afternoon team were waiting. Whilst chatting about our day, an announcement was made over the ship’s public address system.

‘Will Mrs Ann Hodgson…’

‘Hey, there is someone on board with the same surname as us’

‘…in cabin 373 report to customer services.’

‘She’s even sharing the same cabin as us!!!’ Wait a minute, Roisin’s middle name is Ann!’ Roisin was already heading for the lounge exit. We were both fearing the worst. What could it be? Has a relative contacted the ship? In the elevator, on the way down to deck 6, a lightbulb switched on above Roisin’s head.

‘I never checked back in’, she said. ‘This morning when we went down to the tender and I decided to give it a miss. I was scanned out but no one scanned me back in. I bet that’s what it is!!’ We both breathed a sigh of relieve. Sure enough, after confirming her identity, security was notified and a message was then sent to the bridge that everyone was aboard and accounted for.

That evening we had a really pleasant dinner with the real Bill and Dawn and then sat through a not so pleasant headline act in the ship’s theatre. They were called Forever Young although there is an argument that they should be renamed: Four Blokes and a Karaoke Machine!! Their opening number was Thin Lizzie’s, The Boys are back in Town. Now a band can be forgiven for singing the first number slightly off key (eh! Madonna?) but as someone mentioned afterwards, it looked like they had practiced the dance routine in a bedroom! The band were all late thirties/ early forties, hence the ironic band name, Forever Young! Their act consisted of telling us their life stories of how they nearly never made it (You're singing on cruise ships for a living, for Pete’s sake!!) The Rolling Stones megahit Satisfaction was performed sitting on stools whilst the song maintained the tempo of the original!!

Queen’s Under Pressure and Billy Joel’s The Longest Time were murdered…and that’s being kind!! Why do artists these days insist on putting the house lights up and walking amongst the audience. We want to be entertained, not part of the entertainment!! Another of their repertoire involved singing the Beatles: ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’. Ringo took the lead on the Beatles version. I didn’t think anyone could ever make Ringo sound like Bing Crosby!! ‘What would you do if I sang out of tune would you stand up and walk out on me?’ Best suggestion of the night, mate!!!

A day at sea then our final island. That evening, the clocks went back another hour so now we were only 8 hours behind the UK– We were catching you up!!

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