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SEA Currents: SSV Robert C. Seamans
April 25, 2015
Raivavae, Austral Islands, French Polynesia
Course & Speed
All sails struck
Sunny, breezy, temperature in the 80’s (perfect)
Today was the day everyone on the boat has been waiting for since leaving the Chatham Islands 26 days ago and surely dreaming about since signing up for this program - setting foot on a beautiful French Polynesian island. Because there are 35 of us on board and we are still responsible for ship duties even in port, half of the boat was allowed to go ashore while the other half stayed aboard and worked on the ship (deep cleaning, sailing our little boat Gene, and swim calls). Tomorrow we will switch.
My group had the onshore baton today. We started the morning off with a snorkel in the lagoon. The ship's inflatable boats took us out onto a small sand spit, about twenty feet long and ten feet wide - the first solid land we have stepped foot on in almost four weeks! The feeling of having sand between your toes and finally being able to touch that indescribably beautiful bluish green water was absolutely wonderful. We must have looked crazy running around, laughing with joy on this tiny spot of sand. In the water, we were able to see an incredible amount in and around the colorful coral heads: purple-lipped giant clams, a huge morey eel, sea cucumbers, striped and spotted and camouflaged and neon fish of all shapes and sizes. Snorkeling in these picture perfect waters in itself would have easily made this day my favorite day of the entire trip, but we were already back on board by 11am, getting ready to take the small boat onto the island of Raivavae.
The first thing that strikes you when you step onto a tropical (well, about 20nm away from the tropics) are the colors. Suddenly, your vision is filled with vibrant hues of red, orange, yellow and purple settled against a backdrop of intense, deep green. I am from Hawai'i, so returning to this tropical color palette gave me an overwhelming feeling of home. However, it was impossible not to share the same awe as my shipmates at being on this gorgeous, colorful oasis after the snow of the east coast and blue of the open ocean.
Raivavae is quite remote and neither guidebook nor crew seemed to know much about things to do on the island aside from the must-see stone Tiki of Raivavae. So, my group and I turned left from the pier onto the one road that goes around the entire island and started walking in the direction of the Tiki. A few houses down, two locals working in their yard greeted us enthusiastically and offered us slices of pomplemouse, a citrus fruit that tastes like limeade and is the size of a large grapefruit. It was delicious, and it must have shown on our faces, for we were then handed two huge pomplemouses. The Raivavaeans were all incredibly friendly, waving to us as they passed on bikes and in trucks, saying hello as we passed by their homes, and offering us fruit. Lots and lots of fruit.
After about a mile and talking with about ten different people (Leah doing most of the talking since she speaks a little French, with Elle supplementing with sand drawings of a sail boat), our bags were overflowing with pomplemouse and dozens of the tastiest bananas. We walked about a quarter of the way around the island before realizing we passed the Tiki miles ago. On our way back to the ship, we took a side road we were sure the Tiki was on, but came to a dead end at a house having a celebration. We asked for directions and were returned with directions plus a bunch of bananas and three enormous pieces of cake. Cake, bananas, and pomplemouses in tow, we set out for the final attempt to find this Tiki. Unfortunately, we never found the Tiki, even after exchanging half a piece of cake for instructions from a man passing on a bike. However, I don't think any of us were disappointed with our day. We finally made it back to the pier and watched the sunset and ate fruit while waiting for the small boat to return us to the ship.
What an adventurous day and still so many more to come! There is a great energy around the ship now that we are done with our research papers and can really enjoy the amazing places we are visiting. Hello to my family and friends! I don't want to get off the boat just yet, but I can't wait to share my experience with you in a week!