French Polynesia

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

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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.

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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!

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

 

 

 

Look at that tail!

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One of the prettier lemurs, I think, is the Black and White Ruffed Lemur. Like the Gray Bamboo Lemur, we saw only one and only on the Lemur Island sanctuary near Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. They are supposed to be quite loud, but unfortunately we didn’t get to hear its call. Or maybe that might be fortunately we didn’t. One of the guidebooks compared this lemur’s calls to “agonized screaming.”  Ha! Black_White_Lemur1

Call of the Indri

IndriiOf the many animals you’ve ever seen or heard in a zoo, you would never forget the Indri. If you could find one in a zoo, that is. They do not survive in captivity and are critically endangered with population numbers estimated to be well under 10,000, possibly as low as 1,000.

We were fortunate to see and hear a handful of these magnificent creatures (largest of the living lemur species) in the Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. I did not succeed in getting a very good recording of their beautiful, haunting voices, so I’ll link you to a Youtube video posted by Tribes Travel. Just click on the Malagasy name for the Indri, Babakoto, and you’ll be whisked away to the Madagascar rain forest (for a couple minutes anyway).

But today, I wonder how many of those voices have been silenced in the intervening months. This February, Madagascar authorities arrested Jean Yves Ratovoso, one of the leading wildlife officials whose duty it was to protect the Indri. They also seized the carcasses of 11 dead lemurs (10 Indri, 1 Diademed Sifaka). From the description of the location, I don’t believe it was in the exact same part of Andasibe we were in, but was nearby. Our guides names were Jacque and William, so likely we never met Jean Yves Ratovoso.

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Guides Jacque and William

I could sit here in the safety and comfort of my middle-class American existence, and denounce Ratovoso via my keyboard. But can I ever understand what he did? Poverty is rampant in Madagascar, even for those who earn a relatively reliable income from the tourism trade. Their resources are dwindling. Their society is changing, Fady (taboos) against killing or eating lemurs are no longer the deterrent they once were. Organized crime is there. And so, too, are foreigners willing to pay for a chance to eat a “forbidden” delicacy. As the natural habitats suitable for each species of lemurs are increasingly fragmented and encroached upon, their population decreases and their voices fade away. And even those who are sworn to protect them will violate that trust.

If you’re thinking of visiting Madagascar to see the lemurs, you should go soon, before the call of the Babakoto is only a fading echo.

My favorite Madagascar photo

GrayBambooLemur1This little guy (gal?), a Gray Bamboo Lemur, charmed me right away. Banana in hand, looking straight at me, little pink tongue sticking out – you can’t get much more photogenic than this.

Our encounter took place on Lemur Island, near Andasibe-Mantadia National Park on the eastern side of Madagascar. It’s a small preserve, home to a variety of rescued lemurs. It requires a canoe ride to reach it – about a 60 second canoe ride – so that adds to the entertainment value.

Many of the lemurs are habituated to humans and are easily persuaded to come check you out. The Common Brown Lemurs were the most social, while some were a little more reserved (like this guy and the Black and White Ruffed Lemur). This Gray Bamboo Lemur the only one we saw of its species on the whole trip.

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You may wonder what he/she is doing in this photo. Seconds before, the guide smeared some more banana on the tree trunk, so the lemur is licking it off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here, the guide is offering him a fresh green bamboo shoot, which he spent a few seconds thoughtfully chewing on before deciding we humans weren’t that interesting anymore, and leaped away in small bounds from tree to tree.