Sunday, March 1, 2015

Another Day: Another Atoll

Map picture


This morning the ship pulled up to another atoll; this one even more stunning than what we encountered yesterday. The atoll is named Nukuoro Atoll, and is part of the Federated States of Micronesia. In fact, all of the remaining stops on this cruise will be within the FSM, with the exception being, that we will dock at Koror, Palau for our return home. Palau, you might recall from my last blog, is a separate country within the Caroline Island Chain.

On our drive into the lagoon the sun was shining brightly, and the ride was much shorter than yesterday perhaps only 15 minutes in length. Once again navigating the narrow channel into the lagoon was exciting, but I must admit that our ride out of the lagoon approached the level of a white water rafting trip. I don’t think that I explained yesterday that these lagoons are filled with seawater and maintain a link to the surrounding ocean. The naturally formed narrow channels can be quite treacherous to navigate. As the ocean tide rises, then water pours through the channel into the lagoon, while the reverse is also the case. If you go through the inlet at a tidal point, the small channel can become a chute of roiling water.

The islanders had only learned of our “possible” arrival yesterday, so no welcoming ceremonies were planned. What we did find was a warm welcome from the island’s chief, and warm smiles from the few people who were around the dock to greet us as our little zodiacs arrivedP1000581. We were told that we were welcome to go anywhere on the tiny island, and almost immediately a pretty islander appeared and offered to take us around the island. She was a middle aged woman named Rose, who spoke good English. P1000598To my amazement, the island was spotless and it had clearly defined pathways lined with coral stones covered in moss. The main path encircled the island, but there were many intersecting lanes crisscrossing the island. It was so beautifully laid out that you would think you were walking in some exotic botanical garden. As we walked with Rose, we learned that the island is home to around 300 people, but she admitted that the youth are gradually drifting away from the old ways and going off to more populated areas in search of jobs and money so in fact, the population is shrinking. Rose would call out to people as we passed and everyone smiled and all offered us the opportunity to visit their dwellings. Suddenly Lisa and I both realized that in our hurry to come ashore we had forgotten our bug repellent and we were rapidly becoming of interest to the resident mosquitoes.

At an intersecting pathway, we took our leave of Rose and our small group and cut across the island back to the landing site. At one point, we came upon a dwelling in which there was a fire going and smoke rising through the thatched roof. P1000607Just outside was a woman raking her yard. As we went by, we said “hello,” and she quickly dropped what she was doing and ran to her oven to pull out a loaf of bread to give to us. She absolutely would not take no for an answer so after offering profuse thanks, we tried it and it was delicious. It tasted to me like a light lemon cake. Just around the corner were a few young girls who agreed to pose for a quick photograph. P1000610We walked along taking pictures, enjoying the air of welcome, the sheer beauty of the place, and the tranquility.

When we arrived at our landing site, there was no zodiac yet to pick us up, so while we waited, one of the young men nearby ran over and got a chair for me to use and I struck up a conversation with them. It seems that this must be one of the last bastions of native isolation left. I learned that the island has no phones, not even cell phones, no internet, no electricity, and no running water. The people live off what the sea and the island provide; they seemed well fed, healthy, and happy. I did understand that they have a very nice school which is why everyone could speak English so well, but when we cut our walk short we never got that far on our tour. Before too long our zodiac arrived, and we were whisked away to the zodiac snorkel platform that had just been established.

The ship takes great precautions for both their diving and snorkeling activities. Let’s take snorkeling for example. One of the zodiacs is outfitted with a set of stairs which are hung over the sides thus allowing one to fairly easily climb back on board. Another similarly outfitted zodiac is stationed nearby, but in the direction in which the current is flowing. So, if you depart the first platform and just float, you will come up and find yourself at the second platform without having the need to swim back to where you started. Then in addition, there is what I would term a “spotter” stationed on a zodiac who monitors the area constantly to insure that if someone gets into trouble they can respond quite quickly. The zodiacs are positioned at locations which have been carefully scouted out by the expedition team in advance. They are generally positioned right at the edge of the reef, and where the currents are not too great. So as we slide off the zodiac and look down, the reef is right in front of us and we are on the edge which drops off into the deep very quickly.

I was snorkeling for around 45 minutes and the highlight of my experience was the appearance of the bat fish. This fish looked to me like an angel fish, but it was quite large and it kept coming right by my mask from my side and then I would try to follow. This behavior happened over and over again. Meantime, Lisa had the assistance of a member of the dive team for her snorkeling so she got to see many interesting things including me! As I am snorkeling along something grabs my foot, and I just about drowned in a panic. As I surface it was Lisa and her shadow laughing their heads off. Fortunately this did give us an opportunity to have our pictures taken together snorkeling so I do have real proof of my story. 100_0098We both headed back to the zodiac at the same time, and while Lisa seemed to have no difficulty climbing up the ladder for me it was a real struggle. I really had not realized it, but with a left shoulder that is disabled and a left knee that is injured, I could really only pull myself up on my right side which became not only comical but embarrassing. Eventually I fell into the zodiac like a beached whale only to hear a call on the radio instructing the transit zodiac to return to the ship immediately. Lisa and I rushed to make that trip, and it quickly became apparent what was happening. The weather conditions had changed, and our trip out of the lagoon and back across the reef was quite exciting to say the least. Even more of an issue however was the large swells which had now come up around the ship. Unlike the Silver Explorer, which has stairs which are put down along the side of the ship, which makes boarding somewhat easier, the Silver Discoverer has a platform that is lowered from the rear of the ship. So, if the ship itself is pitching up and down, then the rear platform likewise is pitching up and down which is just the condition which awaited us. I am just going to make a wild guess and say that the platform was going up and down around five feet or more. In addition, the current had gotten much stronger so that it took a lot of power from the zodiac just to reach the platform, and some pretty good teamwork from the crew to grab us and tie us tight enough to attempt a boarding.

Back onboard safely, I learned two things. One was that everyone was so proud of what Lisa had accomplished in snorkeling that she was now to be known as “the snorkel queen.” Also, later we learned that not 40ft from where we were snorkeling, another group of people saw a group of large manta rays feeding near the surface. In fact one of the dive team actually got some video of the large creatures. I would have loved to have seen that myself, but it would probably have frightened me quite a bit even though I later learned that the manta ray is harmless to people.

So, all in all an exciting day and now we are speeding towards our next destination, the island of Pohnpei, where we are expected to arrive around at the port city of Kolonia around 11am.


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