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March 2012:

My World Voyage

By Mimi O'Donnell

March 6, 2012

Posted in: News

When I last wrote, I had just toured Buenos Aires and was en route to Montevideo, Uruguay. Another beautiful city but, with such constant touring, exhaustion had set in. The thought of climbing aboard a bus and touring was more than this intrepid, but pooped, traveler could stand. However, I knew I might never get here again.

The next stop was Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. The day was devoted to King, Magellanic and Gentoo penguins. We dropped anchor outside the sound and passengers wanting to visit the island were tendered ashore.

I visited Volunteer Point, accessible only through a stunning and bump-filled ride in a sturdy four-by-four vehicle. This private farm is known to be the largest King penguin colony in the Falklands; the King is the tall, slender bird with the bright gold on the beak and breast. It is estimated that there are more than 1,000 breeding adults at the colony, with 400 to 500 chicks raised annually.

An estimated 1,000 pairs of Gentoo penguins also live at Volunteer Point, with their population in the Falklands at more than 120,000. Magellanic penguins are all over the Falklands, but only from September through April. They migrate a considerable distance to warmer climates in winter months.

The White Continent

Next came three days of cruising near and around the White Continent of Antarctica. It was awesome, thrilling, amazing and striking. We saw hundreds of icebergs of all shapes and sizes: Some bigger than aircraft carriers with flat tops, called tabular icebergs, others small as a bucket with amazing azures. Some were covered with penguins, others crystal blue with snow lines.

Looking out the windows, you would swear that the ship would swipe the underwater portion of the berg, but standing on deck it was possible to see how far away they really were. I spent the day walking from one side to the other and the only thing I could say was “wow,” then “wow” again. Photos cannot do the scenery justice.

Fifty-five mile-per-hour crosswinds made landing our chartered craft on Antarctica impossible. Instead, 47 disappointed passengers began a nice, but discouraging, alternate excursion to the Period Moreno Glacier. It is the most important of the 13 glaciers in Los Glaciers National Park, Argentina. It’s a world-renowned attraction that, despite its fame, is relatively undiscovered due to its remote location.

Easter Island Statues

After several days, we stopped at Easter Island. The island is known in the native language as Rapa Nui (Big Rapa). It is called Easter Island because it was discovered on Easter Sunday, 1722. It is 2,200 miles west of Chile, and it is also in the same time zone as Maryland.

When we got to land, we boarded a small bus or large van (depending on your perspective) and started our adventure on dirt roads. Our first stop was a 656-foot platform with 15 restored Maoi statues. The original statues were knocked down by a tsunami in 1966 and, through a grant, were restored to their original appearance.

Each one was a full torso and one had a headdress. The statues have elongated ears and big bellies to show that they were very successful. Their hands were folded in front of their bellies with long fingertips to indicate that they did not have to work with their hands to make their success.

We also stopped by the quarry, where it is thought that the statues were made. Some were as large as 20 meters and were in all forms and all states of construction or destruction.

The third stop seemed to be in the middle of a neighborhood. Six statues stood (as most of the statues do) with their backs to the ocean. There was one that the natives call the “Maoi with its own passport” because it has been on loan to so many museums around the world.

Water From a Basket

After five days at sea, we stopped at Papeete (pronounced “Pa-pee-a-tee” with an accent on the “a”). Papeete means “water from a basket” and is the capital of French Polynesia in a subdivision of the Windward Islands of the Society Islands. It is the hub of government and tourism for French Polynesia.

It was first settled by the British Missionary William Crook, of the London Missionary Society. In the 1800s, France took control somewhere along the way and made the Tahitian Islands a protectorate in 1842. Herman Melville (author of Moby Dick) was imprisoned here in 1842 ,and Paul Gauguin painted there for many years.

A smaller island, Morea, about 50 minutes away by ferry, was the location of the filming of Bali Hai in “South Pacific.”

Tahiti is known for black pearls and for its black sand beaches. It is made up of two islands, Tahiti Nui (the main or big island) and Tahiti-iti (the little island). In 1958, in a democratic election, the islanders voted to stay under French rule.

We stopped at the home of James Norman Hall, the author of Mutiny on the Bounty with Charles Bernard Nordhoff. The second stop was Point Venus, which was a lovely beach with the only lighthouse on the island. It was named Point Venus because that was where the planet Venus eclipsed the sun in 1769, as it is slated to again in 2014, and then again in 2117.

Island of Ones

Then it was on to America Samoa. The excursion buses were repurposed old school buses made of wood with virtually no shock absorbers (and less padding) in the seats. They were painted brightly in yellow or green with fresh flowers on the sides outside of the vehicle. The windows were plastic and the interior wood was stained and highly decorated with flowered cloth and lots of Chinese lanterns.

We docked in Pago Pago (pronounced “pango pango”) on the Island of Tutuila — the largest and main island of American Samoa in the archipelago of Samoan Islands. Tutuila is a fairly small, narrow island measuring about 25 miles across and a little more than three miles from north to south at the widest point. Our guide said American Samoa was an island of ones: one Burger King, one hospital, one community college, one jail (but two McDonalds).

We first stopped at a flower pot island. They are rocks in the ocean that look like cylinders rising out of the sea with a crop of trees on top — just like a flower pot.

We ended up at The Village, a privately-owned native Samoan village that reminded me of the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii without the Disney-fication. We were entertained with native music and coconut tossing, slicing, grating and tasting. The family had built four little huts where members of the family demonstrated various crafts from native Samoans, including weaving with coconut fronds and bowl making, as well as mat and wreath making.

Then there was a pavilion where they provided banana leaves and samples of cooked tuna in coconut milk (fabulous), spinach, chicken, poi (paste) and bananas that were cooked in their peel.

Missing a Day

We went to sleep on Sunday night and woke up Tuesday morning as we passed the International Date Line. On top of that, it was Shrove Tuesday and Mardi Gras was all around. The entire pool area was converted to a New Orleans street scene and the party began with a Mardi Gras parade.

I guess the crew prepared the party on the Monday that didn’t exist.

You can read more about Mimi’s travels on her blog, www.mimiod.wordpress.com.

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