The rhythm of the cruise is (not surprisingly, I suppose) like that of a safari: Early breakfast, a few hours of critter watching, a long mid-day break over lunch, and then a few more hours of critter watching (and/or other activities) in late afternoon. Rather than boarding a Land Rover, we instead climb into the Zodiac for our wildlife excursions, however, the real difference is on land: Here we can walk freely among the wildlife – as long as we stay on the path!Like a full-service safari lodge, the ship provides various options for our free time. There are lectures on wildlife, climate, and geology; marine animal watches (for the first time ever I actually see whales); various demonstrations (today is towel folding, yesterday was drink mixing); a well-stocked game room (Monopoly anyone?); a naturalist’s room and library; boutique; hot tub; etc.
While these diversions are tempting, the comfortable seating on a small deck just below the hot tub and out-door bar is too idyllic to leave. Here I can write, watch the passing scenery, or nap in perfect contentment.
For the afternoon, our itinerary promises:
Later sail to spectacular Darwin Bay where you may observe magnificent frigate birds. Just behind the beach, explore tide pools frequented by wandering tattlers, whimbrels, lava gulls and fiddler crabs. You may also encounter yellow warblers and swallow-tailed gulls swooping around the cliffs.
We begin by a landing at a sandy cove.
The beach itself is a light, almost white, sand composed mostly of broken bits of shell.
Although there are few large shells visible, there are colorful pieces of smaller shells scattered everywhere.
The soft light sand contrasts brilliantly with the ragged dark rock that provides a frame.
We begin our tour with a walk along the beach, sharing this sandy cove with the ever-present sea lions.
The sea lions are undisturbed by our arrival and cooperatively “pose” with other members of our group. (Not with us, though, we’re not much for posing for pictures — no matter how friendly cooperative the natives may be!)
There are few birds on the beach when we first arrive, but plenty of tracks left by boobies and other birds, evidence that they have been here recently.
A short walk takes us to a tide pool where a marine iguana gives us a swimming demonstration in the shallow water.
There are frigate birds here too, including young ones still in the nest.
Red footed boobies sit on the beach as well as on nests tucked into a small patch of leafy green trees.
A variety of gulls swoop and land all around us, as they must have done for earlier visitors.
We are reminded of the presence of those visitors by the marks early sailors left on a sheer rock face – turning it into an oversized bulletin board that announces their arrival here.
At the end of our brief tour we are given the option of a.) staying here to snorkel, swim, and lay on the beach with the sea lions or b.) go out for some deep water snorkeling. We opt for the deep water snorkeling and board the Zodiac.
We enter the water at the base of the steep cliff near Prince Philip’s steps. The water is warmer than I expected, although not tropically warm. Visibility is good in the sun near the Zodiac, but most of the fish are in the shady areas at the rocky base of the cliff.
The snorkeling here is ok, but not amazing. There are some fish, almost all of which are large and colorful, but very little else. I recognize yellow-tailed surgeonfish and something that must be a type of harlequin fish, but there are others — enough to keep me looking for more of them
Unexpectedly I find myself just above and almost within a large school of good-sized fish. I see Mark is down with them, quietly swimming along the edge of the school as the fish swirl lazily between us.
Almost immediately this serenity is broken by shouts and splashes as a group of kids tries to dive down to the fish. They swim into and flail at the school, chasing the startled fish that bolt in all directions. Most of the kids are lousy divers, their flailing occasionally resulting in hitting both nearby fish and humans. Like the fish, I decide it is time to flee.
After about an hour I have had enough. The water is pretty cool and, after snorkeling in Fiji, it just seems a little dull.
(That’s not to say there is nothing to see. Eric Cheng has some wonderful underwater images posted on his website.)
Once in the Zodiac I realize I am both a little dehydrated and really, really nauseous. Almost too nauseous even to enjoy the clear view of the blue-footed boobies hanging out on the wall above us. Almost, not not quite!
The nausea is a familiar problem, but it is really a nuisance. Despite being prone to sea sickness, I actually feel much better after sitting in the bobbing Zodiac waiting for the rest of the hardier snorkelers to call it a day.
Back on the ship we gather at dusk with Mark, Kathy, Nico, and Monique by the outdoor bar.
It is a cool, beautiful evening and we take turns taking pictures of each other and the sunset.
I am also looking forward to celebrating our last dinner on board together. However, when we arrive in the dining room, our usual table is already occupied. The ship has an open seating policy, but since the first evening the six of us have shared a table tucked in the back corner of the dining room. Here we have talked and laughed while our ever watchful waiter Pepito has ensured we have a steady supply of beverages to go with our meal. It has made for a pleasant end to the day. But now, on our final day with Nico and Monique, our table has been taken. Pepito gives us a distressed look, clearly indicating there was nothing he could do.
Oddly, the ship has few tables large enough for six and none are available. However, there is both a table for four and another for two nearby. It will be a little cozy for us, but there clearly is room to create a table for six out of the way against the wall. Yay! We ask the waiter who has that section of the room if we may move the tables together. He says NO. What?! I protest, but he turns and walks away.
We up split between the two tables, my buoyant mood deflated.
To add insult to injury, this waiter provides crappy service.
After the surrounding tables have finally left, we pull extra chairs up to our table and the six of us talk over wine and coffee. It’s nice, but it doesn’t make up for dinner.
Meanwhile, our waiter for the evening continues to glare at us each time he passes by, as if willing us to leave.