Notes from Puzzle Palace

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Rangiroa, Papeete, Moorea French Polynesia

 We have been in French Polynesia since the 25th of January.  I already posted about our time in Nuku Hiva so now I’ll attempt to describe our last 3 ports.  

The first place we landed was Rangiroa.  This was a small island of about 3000 people if our driver was accurate.  We decided to forgo all ships tours for our time in the South Pacific and just go Scuba Diving.  For our first stop, we booked with the 6 Passengers Dive Center.  They were absolutely amazing!  We set up a pickup time of 10 am and right on time we had a driver waiting for us.  

When we got to the dive center, we bought a Te Moana Pass.  This is good at 13 different dive centers on 9 islands.  10 dives cost us a whopping $720! I really recommend this pass. The people at the 6 passengers sent us a list of other centers with phone numbers and emails, and over a morning I was able to set up 12 dives.  I know, 2 more than the pass, but it’s so much fun that we didn’t mind buying an extra day.  

After paying, we met our dive master, Lucas, and were fitted with weights and given tanks.  They were a bit surprised that we brought our own equipment, but that really was no issue.  We hopped on a Zodiac and off we went!

The ride was very choppy.  The waves were massive to me-probably about 3 feet.  You can laugh at me, I am laughing right along with you.  But in all honesty, it was very choppy seas that day.  As we went out, we dropped off two other groups of divers.  George and I were alone with Lucas and it was a good thing. I have a bit too much body fat and am a very good floater.  To dive you can’t be a floater. I went down with 5 kilos of weights and Lucas had to give me another kilo of his just to get me to stay below the surface.  Not only that, but I have never fallen out backwards and I was terrified.  I would be lying if I said I wasn’t about to cry.  But once I fell over the edge, all was well again.

This was my first dive post-certification and boy did we pick a good one.  The dive we went on was called the "Tiputa drift".  It is in an incoming current.  All I have to say is this thing was hard!  The entire time we were below the water, I was trying to see the fish, and enjoy the ride, but I found myself struggling just to stay afloat and in a forward facing direction.  I had no idea what we signed up for.  When we finished, I told George I never want to do that again.  It’s just so much work! 

When we got back to the ship, we ran to the spa and jumped in the hot tub for a while. Then we took a hot shower and retired to the room.  That night it was room service salads and a cheese platter.  We were both exhausted and didn’t have the strength to even dress for dinner.

The next day found us in Tahiti.  Here I had booked 2 days of diving with the same center.  But first, a walk to the local market and the pearl shops.  I love shiny things and thought, we are in Tahiti, why not get some pearls?  I also love funky clothes from other places around the world so I thought I’d check those out too.  

This place reminded me of every outdoor market I’ve been to in Asia.  They had a section for cooked food, a section for fruit, veg, a mini wet market, and the inevitable places selling pearls.  George and I wandered around for a while looking at the jewelry, the wood carvings and the wet market.  That was a shock!  The tuna!  There was so much fresh tuna it wasn’t funny.  If I were able to get that home, I would have purchased a lot of it.  And the prices.  Unbelievable!  I can get 3 2-ounce tuna steaks in Boca for the price they were selling of kilo of fresh catch at.  Needless to say, there have been quite a few tuna dishes on the menu this past week.

Enough with the fish.  We wandered up to the second floor and I found a coconut bra that fit so why not?  It will go well with my Brazilian knot bikini.  You've got to laugh at yourself and enjoy life.  I'm doing a pretty good job of it now.  This is something that took a long time to learn to do.  Life is so much better this way. 

As we were about to leave George mentioned the very pretty green and white bracelet I saw.  I had hemmed and hawed over it in the shop and was having a bit of regret that I didn’t buy it.  So we went back.  I’m not sure what type of shell it is from, but I was intrigued by the way they carved off the exterior to get to the shiny bit underneath.  I bought that, a ring, and a necklace as well.  Why not?  It was inexpensive enough and I like sets. 

I decided to forgo the pearls,  TBH, I have quite a few strands that I have purchased in various places, and I really don’t need another.  Besides, I had just bought a strand and a couple of rings a few days prior.  So, back to the ship it was for us.  This time we decided to eat some lunch before heading out to meet our driver at 1:30.  

And at 1:30 on the button he was there to pick us up.  We had to wait for 3 other people but then we were off to the Eleuthera Tahiti Diving Center.  Here we handed over a couple of the dive tickets and met our guide Nicolas.  We were to be diving in a group with the other 3 people that were picked up at the same time as we were, but they wouldn’t have it.  They went of on their own and once again, we had a guide to ourselves.  

This time I decided to take the camera along with me. I had such a wonderful time in the lagoon just taking photos of all the fish I saw.  I was much calmer today.  But then too, so were the seas.  This place had a sandy bottom and George was right.  I could just sit down and the fish came to me.  We saw a ship wreck and an airplane that had missed the runway. Our guide found the tiniest of worms and a number of crabs and shrimp for us to look at. George tried to hand me a sea cucumber, but I wouldn't take it.  I've touched these in Hong Kong.   

But the funniest thing was the MacBook that was underwater.  I just love this photo of the fish inspecting George's work. 

We were intended to stay down for only 45 minutes, but it was well over an hour before we surfaced again.  Our guide was fantastic and took the time to blow rings under the water, to show us a tiny worm, and to use his octopus to play with the Nemo fish.  I got a big kick out of the fish he was boxing with.  This little thing would run up and 'attack' him and he would pretend to box with it. This went on for a good five minutes before we had to call an end to the dive.

We left our gear at the center and only took our skins back to the ship. We wanted those to dry out a bit and there was no were for us to do that at the dive shop.  That night we ate dinner alone in the main dining room, full of conversation and smiles about the day we had just had.  

I will take a brief detour here. In Tahiti at the pier next to us, there was another cruise ship.  The World.  George and I had seriously considered buying an apartment on this ship when we first got together.  He had looked into buying one in 2005 but his ex-wife vetoed it for selfish reasons.  We thought it would be a good way to see the world, we had no commitments, were both retired and up for adventure.  Had our house not found us, we would have been on that ship.  In hindsight, I’m very glad we didn’t go through with it.  We love our homes, our club, and the friends we have made in Florida.  We can still travel and see the world.  Heck, we are on this world cruise and are signing up for the 2024 one as soon as it goes on sale in March.  (The 2023 itinerary was not as interesting to us as we’ve already seen South America-besides, we should spend a bit of time at home.)  So instead of having a lifetime at sea, we have a lifetime to be at sea as we choose.  And I’m not sure where we would put all the puzzles.

On to the last day in Tahiti.  The bracelet I purchased the day before turned out to be big enough to fit around my upper arm.  We woke early in the morning to go get our latest COVID test-negative-done and then I went across the road to get the bracelet made smaller.  The lady in the shop was so nice, she removed a shell AND turned it into a necklace for me.  Now I have 2.  She refused to take any payment for my mistake so I purchased a pair of earrings for my youngest daughter.  

I returned to the ship for lunch before heading out to go for our final dive in Tahiti. This time we had a different guide.  We were on a full zodiac that held 14 people. There were 3 groups of people who went out today.  This time we were with 2 other people. A nice lady from Germany and a young man who was finishing his advanced dive training.  By now I’ve figured out how to fall out of the Zodiac and did not feel any nervousness.  

We all defended to a maximum of 74 feet. This time we were along the edge of a ledge that just dropped off.  I later learned that the maximum depth is just over 1200 feet in that area.  Today the coral was darker and not as exciting.  So were the fish for that matter, but we didn’t come here to see the fish.  This time we were after turtles and we saw plenty of those.  George brought his camera along this time so we were both able to get some nice shots. A few in here are from him as well.

Towards the end of the dive, we entered a tube like area.  The current pulled us along for a while then pushed us back.  It was another horrible experience for me. I couldn’t work out how to navigate this and having never had experience with it before I did everything wrong.  After we got out the lady with us told me to rush forward, then grab something and hold on while the current was against you.  Easier said than done I think but we shall see.  If I am ever in that situation again I’ll remember her advice.  

At one point in this tube I was pushed agains the edge and now have a nice scratch on my left wrist to show for it.  As I looked down, I saw sea urchins everywhere.  I was saddened that I didn’t get a photo, but I felt as though I was fighting for my life in that current.  Photos were not important to me at that time.  Overall, it was a nice experience.  We returned to the ship, had a dipping the hot tub and went to a very pleasant dinner with some folks from New Zealand, and our new friends Rod and Merry.  If you haven’t been reading their blog as well, I recommend it.  They have a different perspective on the places we’ve been to.  It’s great to see what others see that I miss.  You can find their home page here.  

When the dessert menu came, I realized I had forgotten my cheaters.  We had previously discovered that there are a variety of different levels of cheaters in the main dining room and the waiter dutifully brought me over the box to meet my needs. 

January 30th. Today my beautiful lover turns 77.  As usual, I had gave him a new batch of monkeys. I found these at various stops along the cruise. It is so hard to hide a purchase from him, but it worked.  They now reside on top of the tv. 

We had no excursions or dives planned. Instead, I had looked up hiking paths on Moorea and decided we would go on one.  We ended up walking to Magic Mountain and climbing that.  I say climb, because that really is what it was.  At the base, we were told we could go up the long easy way to the left, or the short hard way to the right.  We opted for the long hike.  When we got around 2/3 of the way up we took a break and had a lunch of a beer and sandwiches made of fresh baguettes, ham and camembert that we found in a local grocery.  This to us is heaven.  Just us and a picnic on a hike.  

Along the way, I found a beautiful ripe mango and just couldn't help myself.  It was delicious!

After our lunch, we carried on the rest of the way to the top of the mountain.  It was a hard slog, but the view was worth it.  This is a truly beautiful place.  The mountains all around the lagoon that we are in are breath taking.  Our ship has only one anchor down so we are floating in the water and drifting around.  I have been able to see the entirety of the inlet view.  

While we were walking, we wondered at the bounty of the fruit trees around us. 

Upon our return to the base of the mountain we were given a plate of fruit and another plate of a variety of different chutneys to try. I liked the papaya and mint, and the green tomato the best.  We didn’t buy any because what would we do with it for the next 5 months?  Store it under the bed?  But we did order 2 smoothies, passion fruit and mango and something called a mountain  magic.  I have no idea what was in it, but I won.  It was delicious.  By now my belly was full to bursting and it was time to head back to the ship.  

When we got back, we both took a cold shower to cool down and then passed out. There is nothing else I can call the way George fell asleep.  As for me?  I began to type this up and just enjoy the view from the veranda.  It’s such a lovely day to be here.  Tonight we will open a bottle of champaign in Toscana to celebrate another trip around the sun for my lover.  Here’s wishing he has many many more.

Tomorrow we are headed to Raiatea and then we have 2 days in Bora Bora.  Yes, we’ve booked three more dives.  We are really making the most of this trip.  

Until next time.  I wish you happy puzzling and calm seas. 

Friday, January 28, 2022

Coral Reef

Today’s puzzle is again brought to you by Smart Games.  It was made by Raf Peters. This one is a magnetic puzzle game with only 48 challenges.  The game is again for only 1 person.  This one is set for younger players starting from age 4.

We bought this one in Maui Hawaii at a toy store on the main strip. We went in looking for something local and came out with something fishy.  As it turned out, this shop was very good for us in terms of puzzles.  We were able to pick up quite a few puzzles I had been looking for. They were higher priced than I expected to pay, but beggars can’t be choosers.  We had initially planned to purchase many of these when we hit Asia but that was not meant to be.  

The object of each puzzle is to put the 4 coral pieces on the game board so the sea creatures are covered except for the animals in the challenge.  There is only one solution per challenge as usual.  With this one, there are also 4 different levels with 12 challenges per level.  Each challenge only gives you one photo of the animals that are to remain uncovered.  The four pieces are each a different shape and have magnets attached to the back so the puzzle is self contained.  

I can’t help but think that this is a new take on an old version of a puzzle made by Smart Games back in the early 2000’s.  At that time there were a large number of "hide the" games that were made.  If I were at home, I could check the books, but I’m fairly certain I’m not wrong on this one.  

Since we are on sea days, I decided to sit down and finish all 48 puzzles in one afternoon.  But before I did that, I gave George the challenge of putting this through burr tools as well.  I watched him sit and stare at the game board for the better part of an hour.  I know his wheels were spinning trying to work out how to solve this puzzle.  Note: 3 hours later he had completely programmed in all 48 puzzles.  I can’t wait to see how this one works.  The burr tools solution can be found here.  He found a total of 3072 solutions.  I'm sure you will see his thoughts on this puzzle in a future CFF.

On that sea day afternoon on which I decided to play with this game.  I discovered that there really is no difference in the difficulty level as I moved through the puzzles.  I solved all 48 in the box within about 2 hours.  The earlier puzzles took no more than 1 minute each, some of the more difficult ones took around 3 minutes.  All in all though, it was an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon.  I would gladly give this box of puzzles to a new puzzler, or a child.  

One thing I really like about this puzzle is the fully enclosed metal tin. The other magnetic puzzles we own that were produced by this company are all in a snap close book.  This is not ideal as the pieces easily fall out and can be lost.  I hope that in future Smart Games keeps this format.

Until next week, Happy Puzzling.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Nuku Hiva, Marquesas, French Polynesia

Today we sailed into Nuku Hiva Marquesas.  This is billed as being the most remote place on earth.  We anchored in Taioha'e bay.  The town here is located at the edge of a volcanic crater which has since fallen into the ocean. This is a relatively large island with very few people. If wikipedia is to be believed, there are less than 3,200 people here!  Still more than eight times the population of the town I grew up in.   Given the size of the island, you could probably go for days without seeing another person if you wanted to.  

In advance of coming here, I did a little bit of internet searching to see what there is here to do. My searching ended up with some hikes, horseback riding, and a tiki to hunt down.  When we came into the bay, George and I headed up to the deck with a pair of binoculars to scope out the roads.  We were told at the destinations counter that we probably wouldn’t be able to scoot around because of lack of roads.  When we looked, we saw some roads, but decided that the 'town' was so small that we could very easily do it on foot, and besides, after 4 days at sea I wanted a bit of a walk.  

While overlooking the tender operation from the tenth deck, I happened to see a sting ray in the water.  I thought it looked to be about 6’ across, but was later told from our height it was probably more like 12. I wish I could have gotten a better photo of it. It was truly a spectacular creature.  It was not bothered at all by the ship being in its waters. I wish my photo was better than just the shadow you see here.

When we pulled into the port, we saw another ship here.  This one is a local Tahitian cargo/cruise ship.  It holds a maximum of 230 passengers and just travels between the islands.  

When the tender docked, we were met by a local 'band' and a few ladies handing out flowers.  I don’t know the name of them, but they are often sold in small bags in Hong Kong to place in cars as air fresheners.  The men were all in costume and the music was nice.  We listened for a while and set off in search of that tiki. 

We headed off up the hill where we found the entrance to the Tiki I wanted to see.  It was a gentle stroll to the top.  Along the way we were greeted by many others as well. Tiki Tuhiva was built in 2016 for tourists. Wow!  It stands around 12 meters high. I don’t know the back story of this so I’ll just tell you what I saw.  From the front it is a fertility goddess, from the left side it is an alien from outer space, and from the rear it is an elephant with a man kicking its leg. As many of my friends will never come here, I will post a few photos of the sculpture.  Note the conch shell.  The other couple we were there with enjoyed it as much as we did. 

We next found a spot to sit and call our bank.  On a sea day George’s card was used to connect to a Samsung Pay account. Thankfully our bank new that we were in Hawaii just prior and put a block on the transactions.  This one was added to an account out of LA.  I wonder if it got hijacked when we were shipping there.  No harm done, we just need to swing by the LA branch and get a new card when we get there in February.  Sorry Marti, we need a slight detour before we can buy lunch. 

After we wandered around for a while and took a live video for the folks back home, we decided to head up the roadway to see what was there.  We walked on for a few miles before we came to a construction zone. It was literally the end of the road for us so we decided to turn around and walk back. The road we were on was very busy.  There was no sidewalk so George kept pulling me into the ditch whenever a car would pass. I was busy looking around at the scenery.

I was fascinated by the fruit trees that we saw.  Mangos, breadfruit, grapefruit, bananas, pomelos.  I’m sure there are many I missed.  They were just growing everywhere.  I wish I could get my fruit trees to bear as much as some of these did.  Give them time I guess and I’m sure they will.  

We wandered past a tourist shop but found no puzzles inside-as expected.  We then decided to try and go for a swim at a white sand beach that we saw from the large tiki. We were unable to find a way down there so we then opted to go to the brown sandy beach instead.  Turns out it is a boat dock.  I decided to pass and we headed back to the ship.  

We ordered room service and had sandwiches and some of the beer that George bought in Hawaii.  It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon.  We sat on the veranda overlooking the bay.  Mother Nature is a wonderful thing isn’t she?  The island is not the lush green I was expecting, but rather a greyish brown.  The trees and plants seem to just find a spot and start growing.  It's truly a marvel.  

I watched the clouds fall on the rocky island and marveled at the beauty of it.  While we sat here we watched a few sail boats and a couple of skips go by.  The only sounds around are the crashing of the waves and the bleating of goats.  I wondered as we were walking around what the animals were on the island. We found lots of evidence that one had been around.  Goats never crossed our minds.  

For the rest of the afternoon, I have just sat on the veranda overlooking the ocean  it sure is blue and vast.  I could get used to this sort of life.  

Tomorrow is a sea day. I think I will refrain from writing about it. I know you are not interested in my trials of finding diving boats for the remainder of our time in French Polynesia.  Wish me luck all, we are looking forward to a weeks worth of dives.  I was unwilling to book anything earlier because of the uncertainty of even getting here. Now I am simply trying to convince these places that one dive a day is enough for us.  Most are telling me the maximum is three per day.  We also have the added problem of George being an Advanced diver and my being brand new to the sport.  I’m sure it will all work itself out in the end.  Hopefully I can give a report on the undersea world of the islands in my next postings.  

Until then, happy puzzling and fair winds.

While I was sitting typing up this blog post, I was overlooking the ocean.  I happened to glance up and see a rather large fish coming towards the boat.  I jumped up and grabbed my phone to see if I could snap a photo.  This time I was able to take a few very nice shots.  Once again a sting ray came out to say hello. A short while later another came out, slapped it's wing against the sea and there were two rays waving goodbye to us.  What a wonderful way to leave this island.