French Polynesia

A year ago today, on the lovely island of Makatea. #SouthPacific #FrenchPolynesia #PenguinAboutTown

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The Staff of Ra. Oops, um, I mean the Staff of (the) Orion

That’s a Raiders of the Lost Ark joke. (If you’ve ever seen a short woman walking by with her cell phone ringtone blaring the Indiana Jones theme – that was me.)

Anyway, in addition to wonderful crews, Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic is also known for having fantastic and knowledgeable staff members, ranging from from photographers, naturalists, wildlife biologists, cultural specialists, divemasters, etc.

Meeting new ones has been as delightful as the reunions with those I’ve sailed with before, like Christian Moreno Gonzalez, who was a naturalist on my 2015 Baja expedition. staff6This time he was one of the divemasters in charge of the scuba divers so I didn’t see him very often. And Jay Dickman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning National Geographic Photographer who was also on the Baja trip as well as my 2012 Antarctic expedition. I’m actually cheating here a bit because I only encountered Jay in the tiny Rangiroa airport as he was leaving and I was arriving. staff10Funny story: in 2013 as I showed Antarctic photos to my Denver relatives, before I could identify Jay’s photo, they all said “oh, we know him.” Turns out my younger brother was an Eagle Scout with Jay’s youngest son, pictured here.

You’ve already seen a picture of Doug Gualtieri,  one of the naturalists, in a previous post – he rescued my socks from a mischievous puppy. Other naturalists aboard included Tom Ritchie, who’s been with Lindblad for decades. staff9 In fact, he has his own zodiac named after him. Elise Lockton, who spends most of her time in Denali National Park (Alaska), is seen here wearing a leafy headdress given to her by one of the Marquesans.  staff3And this is Ian Strachan, the naturalist who led several of the hikes I went on, including the infamous “march of mud” up and over the island of Fatu Hiva. (We were looking for the Fatu Hiva Monarch, endemic to this island only, but never found one because of the rain.) staff11  It was a hard hike, and the group could’ve made better time without slow poke me, but it was worth it. The vistas, even in the rain and clouds, were gorgeous. In the photo Tim is standing near Ari, a guest, at one of the summits.

Adam Cropp, seen here drying off after our second visit to the grotto on Makatea (in the Tuamotus) was our expedition leader.staff5

Chris Cook, better known as Cookie, was one of our undersea specialists. He was out there snorkeling, scuba diving, etc. He also specialized in keeping the atmosphere light-hearted – he loved making faces. Staff2

Our cultural specialists were Heidy Baumgartner-Lesage, an archaeologist who’s lived and worked in French Polynesia since the 1980’s, also pictured at the grotto. Staff1

Alex Searle Pineda, from Chile, and Tua Pittman, a traditional master navigator from the Cook Islands, were the other cultural specialists. They’re pictured here with Cookie, and one of the guests, Larry Jackson (ever hear of Loudmouth Golf Clothing?) I know the photo is a little dark – I have more photos to share, I promise. And I’ll try to upload my little video clip of Tua doing the Haka. Stay tuned! staff8

 

The Orion crew

One of the joys of traveling on expedition vessels like the National Geographic Orion, is the crew. Because of its small size (the Orion’s total passenger capacity is only 102), you receive more personal interactions with everyone, from the other guests, to the Lindblad staff, to your cabin steward, to the head chef, and even the Captain.

The crew, primarily Filipino, works several months in a row, continuing on from one expedition to another, before enjoying an extended home leave. Many have worked on board the same ships for years, including multiple generations. We had at least two father/son duos, like Teddy “Without” and Teddy “With” (hair, that is). You can probably guess which one was the bald one. Yes, Teddy Without introduces himself by that nickname.

Crew1

The galley crew

While I’ve loved the crew on all my other trips with Lindblad/National Geographic, I think the Orion crew may be my favorite. They created such a joyful atmosphere it was infectious. Then there was “Crew Night” where they put on a musical review show for us. (I got to see the show twice since I was on two back-to-back expeditions). The housekeeping staff danced to “Hands Up” (the 1981 disco hit by Ottawan) and the Galley Crew did “YMCA” for us. Most of the passengers got up and danced too. There were more performers, of course, including Cookie, one of the staffers, who got up and sang in front of a crowd for the first time ever in his life. (We provided lots of encouragement.)

Looking through my crew photos I’ve realized that most of them worked the bar. Hmmm. What does that say about me?

And (the worst omission ever), I have no photo of Teddy Without. What?? How can that be? Not only was he our waiter many nights in the dining room, on Apataki (an atoll in the Tuamotus) he loaned me his flip flops! I had been snorkeling in the lagoon and, when tired, I mistakenly exited the water on the wrong part of the beach. If you’ve never been on a coral atoll, some of those beaches are covered in rough, broken up coral. Talk about pain. My water shoes were several yards away on the other beach, so Teddy Without, seeing me gingerly trying to cross the beach without killing my feet, ran over and offered me his footwear. (Yes, they were too big, but they worked.) What a lifesaver!

Of course, you know what this means. I just have to go back and do this trip again!

Penguins and Paddleboards

When traveling with Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic, there are always a number of daily activities you can choose from. Being ship-based, these include snorkeling, scuba-diving (for certified divers), swimming, kayaking (which I’m pretty bad at), and stand-up paddle-boarding (SUP). This is the first expedition I’d taken since they added SUP as a choice and, never having tried it, you know that I had to when we reached Takume Atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago.

Here’s another of my infamous foot pictures! You might be asking what’s with the small stuffed penguin – I think it’s been a while since #PenguinAboutTown has made an appearance in my blog. Paddleboard3 He’s a King Penguin that was an impulse buy from a little green-roofed gift shop in Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands, on my to Antarctica. He’s since traveled with me to several states, Europe and Africa. (He was quite pleased when he realized his dream of being a #PenguinOfMadagascar.) He’s even found himself in the jaws of a T-Rex skeleton. I didn’t intend for him to be a traveling companion, but on my Baja expedition I discovered a couple from WSU carrying their stuffed Cougar mascot and a young woman from Malaysia carrying a stuffed elephant, all for photo ops. I realized this is a thing, so now #PenguinAboutTown climbs into my camera bag whenever I start packing.

Paddleboard2

You might surmise from my lack of kayaking skill, I wasn’t all that great at SUP either. (I really need to work on more upper body strength.)  One of my very first acts was to have to throw myself off the board backward in a vain attempt to not run over a snorkeler. I was really at the mercy of the winds and currents, and kept ending up going in directions I didn’t want to. (This should sound familiar to Sandy, my Antarctic kayaking partner.) I even ended up stuck on a sand bar. If I remember correctly, it was Expedition Leader Adam Cropp who helped me off that and directed me into a more sheltered area within the lagoon.

Here’s my wonderful friend, Bobbie Prees, Paddleboard_Bobbieutilizing the wiser method of kneeling on the paddle board. I tried that too, but it just wasn’t as fun as falling off, getting wet, climbing back on, repeat. Even my iPhone took a brief dunk in the lagoon while tucked inside my life vest (it survived). The only thing that stayed dry the entire time? The Penguin.

Paddleboard1

 

Sharks and puppies

No, nobody was feeding any puppies (or other cute little baby animals) to sharks. (I was, however, tempted to title this blog posting as “Pippin! Pippin!” to see if anyone picked up on the reference.)

Doug_puppyThis little guy here being held by Doug Gualtieri, a Lindblad naturalist taking a break from his usual work on their Alaska expeditions, was the culprit who tried to run off with my socks that rainy day on the atoll of Fakarava. The girl in the wheelchair is a local resident in the atoll’s main village of Rotoava. The puppy may have belonged to her, but many of the dogs were “community” pets taken care of by everyone.

After my long photo walk with photographer Chris, I luckily happened upon this small stretch of beach where a local man had befriended a couple of nurse sharks. We’d been told we might have a chance to watch him feed the sharks, and possibly pet them as well. So I pulled off my footwear, stuffing my socks into my hiking shoes. Unknown to me, as I waded out into the water to wait for one of the sharks to approach me, the puppy decided my socks made great toys and pulled them out of my shoes. Doug intercepted. (Thanks, Doug, for saving my socks!) And he loves dogs anyway, so he was quite happy to have a puppy to play with.

Alas, the sharks did not like me and wouldn’t approach. (I really wanted to be able to say I had petted a shark. Dang it.) But a couple others in the group did get lucky, including Marc, my drinking buddy. (The middle two bar stools at the bar in the lounge aboard the Nat Geo Orion became “ours.”) I didn’t time my photo right, so you don’t get to see him actually petting the shark – sorry.  Marc_shark

 

Sneak Preview

I know I’ve been away from my blog for far too long. Sometimes real life really does get in the way.

Enough of excuses. I’d rather show you some vacation photos from my August trip to the South Pacific. It’s the first time that I’ve ever flown west of California, and long overdue.

It wasn’t the typical tourist lounging in Tahiti or Bora Bora (although I do have a hankering to spend a few days in one of those over-the-water bungalows). We boarded the beautiful National Geographic Orion NG_Orionand set sail for the Tuamotus and the more remote Marquesas. Our days were filled with snorkeling, hiking, meeting the locals, history and cultural lessons, and, of course, zodiac rides (the latter which, by the way, are even more fun at high speed while listening to Hans Zimmer’s “The Barbarian Horde” on your iPod).

Just wanted to share a couple photos to start. Speaking of zodiac rides, life jackets were always required, but where on earth do we park all those things while we’re ashore? The handy, portable, trash cans, of course.lifejackets Believe it or not, pretty much everyone I’ve traveled with has at least one of these photos. It may seem to be a rather mundane photo but it is part of a complete story when one is traveling with Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic.

And to give a hint of the unique culture of the Marquesas, here’s a picture of a tiki statue at an ancient religious site. It’s one that’s been moved several times, but it is believed it’s current prone position is the original placement. Behind the tiki is my traveling friend Bobbie. (I think she’s taking a picture of the sign on the other side.) Bobbie_statue

 

 

 

Dancing in Antarctica (Part II)

Two years ago this week I was in Antarctica, the place of my dreams, stark and cold as it was.  This past week, I’ve watched my trip DVD a couple of times and been wanting to go back. It is a place which possesses a mystical lure that can’t be explained or understood…unless you feel it too.

This week I also took a chance and submitted a name proposal to the United States Geological Survey (specifically, the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names). Yes – you can propose names for geological features (glaciers, bays, inlets, coves, etc.) in Antarctica which do not already have one. But there are rules. And they’re very strict. I knew that when I submitted my proposal. I knew it would be rejected for violating their rules, but I did it anyway. One never knows for sure what the answer is until they ask the question.

So I proposed naming the glacier at Brown Bluff (our last stop on the frozen continent) Turtle Glacier in honor of my beloved cat.  As you can guess though, pet names are one of the big no-no’s on their rule list. But like I said, I tried it anyway. For Turtle.

It took them two days to reject it. So be it. At least I tried.

As I once saw on the internet somewhere: “cats operate on the principle that it never hurts to ask.”  So…kisses to you Turtle. I miss you.

Dance when you can, and always ask questions…even when you know the answer is no.

And now…to a replay of “Dancing in Antarctica – Part II”  I hope you enjoy.

Our first landfall on the Antarctic Peninsula was later the same morning as my first time on the ship’s treadmill.  As I walked back to my cabin, exhilarated for the first time in days, I didn’t think I could feel more light-hearted than I had a few minutes earlier. But when the door closed behind me, my iPod – which I had switched to shuffle mode – began to play “Hey, Hey, Hey” by Michael Franti & Spearhead.

I stopped to listen as the song reached its chorus: “Hey, hey, hey, no matter how life is today, there’s just one thing that I got to say, I won’t let another moment slip away.”

I began to dance. Not a metaphoric dance like on the treadmill. A real dance. I kicked off my running shoes and danced all alone there in the privacy of my cabin. Head bopping, feet tapping, arms waving, fingers snapping, hips swaying.  When the song stopped, segueing into some other tune I don’t remember – I hit reverse and danced some more.

Dancing 1 I think it was the chorus, not just the beat, that struck a chord in me.  Even as I refused to give in to the hope that my beloved pet was still alive and waiting for me, I knew there was nothing I could do. I simply had to have faith, and allow myself to do just what the song said: “not let another moment slip away.” I’d come all this distance, spent all this money. I needed to savor every minute, every second. To that end, I made another decision.

So, after breakfast, when I dressed in my fleece and parka and big ole’ waterproof boots, I put another piece of equipment in my pocket: the iPod. Following a short zodiac ride to shore there at Neko Harbour, I pulled out my iPod, put in my earbuds, and hit “play” to again hear Franti’s “Hey, Hey, Hey.”  And I danced. Yes, right there, in front of the other tourists, the ship’s crew, and…the penguins. With one colony of gentoos on my left, and another up the hill, and who knows how many penguins waddling and tobogganing past me, I danced. I didn’t care if I looked like a complete and utter fool, or if my dancing wasn’t graceful. Hey – it’s not easy dancing in knee-high insulated boots. I certainly got a lot of attention. People took pictures of me; the National Geographic videographer shot some footage. (Yes, I ended up on the final cut of the video provided to the guests – to their amusement or maybe their annoyance – who knows which).

Dancing 2 I didn’t care about any of that. My feet were on Antarctica – the mainland (peninsula), not just on one of the islands which, depending on ice conditions, is as close as some tourists get. I had made it, made my dream come true. I was happy, finally happy.

By the way, no, I’ve never seen the movie “Happy Feet.”

So I kept dancing, for a little while longer, the honking of the gentoos punctuating the musical notes, before I put away the iPod and took out my camera. There were penguins to photograph…even if they weren’t dancing.