28,322 nautical miles on Oceania’s Insignia – more than the Earth’s circumference. Fifty-three ports-of-call and three overland tours. Twenty-five countries visited in 112 days away from home. Weight gained: Cathy zero, Doug one kg (remarkable, given the number of desserts consumed). During our final week the Panama Canal was transited, and we toured the old colonial city of Cartagena by Segway. Our captain altered course twice, once to skirt a tropical wave and then for a dramatic night-time rescue at sea. The sea settled in time for a flurry of packing and sad farewells as we approached our disembarkation port, Miami.
Buenos dias, y’all. Spanish spoken, but US dollars welcome, in our five ports-of-call in Mexico and Central America. Doug was five years younger in frantic Cabo San Lucas, and we saw our first hammerhead shark. In Huatulco, a calmer place, we enjoyed guacamole on the beach after a mountain bike ride. We learned about coffee cultivation in Guatemala and experienced a “steep moment” as we climbed a wind-swept Nicaraguan volcano. Costa Rica was not quite as colourful as we had expected.
Aloha! Welcome to a string of Pacific islands with tropical climate, tropical scenery – and Walmart. Hawaii may be the apex of the Polynesian triangle, but it’s also the gateway to the USA. In four days we visited four islands, viewing tropical flowers and plants, a bunch of waterfalls, and famous movie locations. We surfed in an outrigger canoe, snorkeled with sea turtles, ate Hawaiian shave ice, attended a cocktail party aboard the USS Missouri, and, yes, we shopped at Walmart. Hawaii was followed by five days at sea, and then an all-too-brief, long-awaited visit with our son and his family near Los Angeles.
It’s hard to talk about French Polynesia without resorting to cliches. Craggy mountains with lush moss-green slopes, shallow intense-blue lagoons teeming with colourful fish, atolls with palm trees swaying in the breeze, hibiscus flowers, smiling people: it really does look like every postcard or brochure you have ever seen. Locals tell us this is not – nor was it ever – paradise, but to a visitor, it sure looks like heaven on earth. The major decision was what to do on each of the seven islands we visited: Raiatea, Bora Bora, Moorea, Tahiti, Huahine, Rangiroa, Nuku Hiva. Should our activities be nautique (on or below the water) or terrestre (land-based)? Some days we had time for both.
“Wrap up and enjoy,” says New Zealand Tourism. The month of May, our visit time, is on the “autumn-winter cusp,” but it sure felt like winter to us. Wearing beanies and all our warm clothes, we enjoyed the silver tree ferns and songbirds of the Queen Charlotte Track, the architecture of the world’s Art Deco capital, and the rugged west coast beaches of Auckland. Stormy seas followed us up and over the International Date Line, but we had fun nonetheless, kayaking with friends in Tonga and discovering 550 toads in the jungle in Pago Pago. On sea days Doug scrounged materials to design and build a vessel; his team was runner-up in the Shipbuilding Contest.
A fair dinkum didgeridoo is made by termites, Australians are proud of their convict heritage, and whip-cracking is harder than it looks. These are just a few of the facts we learned during our six port calls in Australia. We visited war tunnels and botanical gardens, snorkelled in the world’s most famous coral reef, sailed in a yachting destination, hiked through a rainforest, saw forty kangaroos in the wild, and kayaked twice: once in Sydney Harbour and again along the coastline of Tasmania. Wow! If Australia is not your bucket list, it should be!
Kayak, water bus, longboat, motor boat – we were on the water a lot in Borneo, where the tropical seas teem with marine life, and the rivers are lined with water villages. On land, ranger-led hikes took us into the equatorial jungle in search of wildlife and waterfalls. Bali’s rice terraces and temples were next, followed by a guided trek in search of Komodo dragons. Bali and Komodo had boats, too.