18 August, 2011

Water, Water, Everywhere ...

This post is overdue. I offer my apologies. I have been busy trying to make arrangements for my homecoming, plans for my last weeks here on island, and some sense out of the spin cycle of thoughts and emotions that are swirling around inside me. Thankfully, my great and powerful Sister has been providing me immeasurable help on the rental-seeking front. The thought of getting to see her again soon also helps boost my excitement about returning to Durham. Although, I really must admit, that I am looking forward to feathering a new nest for a while and welcoming in the approaching change in seasons. I may have a nomad’s wanderlust, but I also have a Southern Daughter’s inexplicable love of the American South. Of course, I romanticize it in that dreamy way that most Southern Daughter’s do, too. Anyway, I digress. Let’s see … we have some catching up to do, don’t we?

I think I left you stranded with unseen falls, a tragic fall, and the promise of a trip to Ant Atoll the following day …

Well, as it happened on that Saturday, our Sunday trip to Ant was also canceled … but not before we arrived at The Village all smiles and gear and eagerness to make the trip. The other folks scheduled to go turned yellow bellied at the arrival of rain that morning. The rain, incidentally, that was gentle and soft and that lasted about twenty minutes, max., after which the sun reemerged lighting up the blue island skies for miles. Oh well. C’est la vie! Dad and I decided to have breakfast since we were already at The Village, which suited me just fine since it’s my favorite breakfast joint on the island. After filling our bellies and rousing our spirits we singed up for the next trip to Ant Atoll (a week later), and rented two kayaks for a paddle out around Mwand Island. This course was recommended to us by Patty. (She’s one of the proprietors of The Village, and a stand-up lady, to boot.) It was a lovely day out on the water: Father and daughter just paddling along on a clear, salty sweet island day. The ocean was smooth and still. There was a soft breeze in the air. The scent of wild ginger would waft by us occasionally reminding us of the paradise of which we are blessed enough to be a part.

Like most of the small islands surrounding Pohnpei, Mwand is surrounded by a large skirt of coral reef that billows out all around it like a clog dancer’s petticoats. We just paddled around the hem of this skirt with our heads poised to take in the underwater marvels around us. We were given quite a show right there from our kayaks. Among the treasures we witnessed were gardens of cabbage coral in a rainbow of shades; a sizeable gathering of blue starfish; a stingray; a leopard ray; and a couple schools of fish that skidded and bounced over the water gaily before disappearing back beneath the surface. It was so beautiful. It wasn’t all so shallow, though. The passage to and from Mwand took us through a hopscotch of deep ocean and shallow reef. Gossamer ribbons of sunlight danced around nimbly in the deeper waters. And we could see the dreamlike blue-green outlines of the reef walls as we passed from shallows to deep and back again. All in all it was a pretty nice day.

My weeks here on island are not nearly as exciting as my weekends. Mostly I spend my days watching old movies or Murder She Wrote episodes with mom, or play board games or cards with mom, dad or both, depending on the time of day. The rest of the time I usually go online in search of rental possibilities and the like. I have been a little desperate for something to read since I finished my last book and exhausted the one magazine I brought here. But, to my delight, Mom discovered a little stand outside the supermarket with a couple bins of used books for sale. I got two: Bastard Out Of Carolina, and Memoirs Of A Geisha. I greedily sped through the former, and have just begun the latter. I hope I manage to find a few more books before my long flights home! I also managed to talk Mom into joining me for a paddle around the bay earlier this week. As we were just starting to paddle out, we happened upon our neighbor, Ben. He towed us out to his sailboat while telling the story of how he and his wife, who aren’t sailors, sailed from Hawaii to Pohnpei. He then set us loose to paddle our way around the bay. Mom was tentative being on the water, but I think she enjoyed it. I certainly did.

This past weekend, we had two fun family excursions on the books. I am happy to report that we actually got to do them both: No Cancellations! Hooray! Saturday, the three of us went back out to Black Coral island. Mom got to go this time. It was an overcast day, which worked in our favor keeping us from getting too sunburned. There were several different varieties of fish in the channel this as compared with the previous trip. The cloud cover may have played some part in that. It may also have been due to the fact that we were there under slightly different tidal conditions than last time, but I don’t know enough about such things to make a definitive statement. Of special note, we got to witness a school of long, slender needlefish lazily meandering through the channel. What a treat! Mom, feeling happy to be healed of those yucky old fever blisters, worked through her trepidations and did a good deal of snorkeling in the shallows. For those of you who don’t know my mother, this was a feat of near miraculous bravery and derring-do. She got to see some sweet, colorful tropical fish and numerous varieties of coral. And I think she even had a little fun in the water! In fact, we ALL had a fun time.

Sunday marked our journey outside the “big reef” to Ant Atoll. Mom wasn’t really too stoked about the trip, but decided she was going to go anyway. Turns out we were going to be making the trip with a group of Tuna scientists who were in town for a series of meetings. This was their day off, and they were going diving. There were nine of them, if I remember correctly. We were the only three snorkelers.

We loaded into two separate motorboats for the ride. It takes anywhere from one to two hours to get to Ant Atoll depending on departure point and weather conditions. I’m not really sure how long it took us, but it felt like maybe an hour and fifteen minutes or so.

We spied some dark clouds on the horizon as we began our journey. As the clouds started getting closer and larger, Mom started getting more nervous. It did rain on us. It rained quite a lot on the way to Ant, actually. And it was a hard, pelting rain that stung as it landed against our flesh, our eyes, our mouths. Luckily I had my rain jacket with me, so I was pretty well protected. Mom and Dad weren’t so lucky. They got soaked. (I offered my jacket to Mom, but she declined it, already soaked after a moment of rainfall.) Our intrepid guides/drivers moved us deftly through the choppy waters with very little disturbance despite the fact we were in a little motorboat traversing ocean peaks of growing intensity.

Before the rains came, we did get to see some schools of dolphins in the distance. I wish they had been closer, but I took it as a good sign, nonetheless.

As we arrived at the first of the islands we were to visit, the clouds parted and the sun smiled out at us. The sea settled down, and we forgot the little storm as quickly as it forgot us.

The way this trip worked was as follows: Dad, mom and I would be dropped off on a beach so that we could snorkel, relax, mosey, as we desired. Then the boats would take the divers out to the channel and stay there for the duration of their dive. It worked out well. We were gifted with our own private island to explore as we wished. And Ant Atoll is famous for its beautiful sand beaches as well as its diving and snorkeling.

On the first island, the beach was phenomenal, but the snorkeling was lackluster. It was mostly sand-bottomed ocean with patches of reef. The patches did host some lovely smaller marine life. This was a great place for mom to snorkel. She got out in the water and snorkeled all over the place … even by herself! She couldn’t be bothered to wait for us slow coaches! It is impressive how comfortable she is getting in the water. I think it helped her to have the sandy bottom because she could see the ground at all times and be certain of where it was, rather than looking through the maze of reef nooks and crannies. In any case, she certainly made excellent progress in the water.

Next, the whole crew was taken to another sandy beach on another little island for lunch. We ate, napped, lolled in the water and relaxed. (It was a full moon that day, so I was fasting.) This beach played host to hermit crabs of all shapes and sizes. I felt like I was at a hermit crab convention. One of the guides gave us a treat when he went in search of, and then produced, a couple of coconut crabs. Coconut crabs are the largest of the land crabs. Their claws are so strong and so sharp they can cut through coral like it’s melted butter. They use these claws to help them shuck coconuts and peck them open allowing the crabs access to the sweet meat and water inside. Fascinating creatures. One has to be very careful when approaching, and, especially, when snatching a coconut crab. One careless move could easily result in one less digit! We had a lively show and tell session with these crabs. I even held one for a while. Though, after a few moments of fascinated observation I began to feel really sad for the crabs having all these humans pawing at them and lifting them and shaking them about like toys from a Christmas cracker.

The third island we visited didn’t have a sandy beach. It was a thin strip of island with a beach made of coral and shells. Walking from the beach into the water, there were a few little white sand patches, but those quickly gave way to reefs. The reefs extended about a good city block (or two?) out from the beach where it then dropped off into the channel. As it did so, it created one of the beautiful reef walls for which these islands are famous. These reef walls are a snorkeler’s paradise. I explored the shallower reefs for a while, taking in the sights of the smaller reef fish and the abundant corals. I was planning to wait for Dad to swim out to the wall with me, as the deeper waters are more likely to contain sharks, and are therefore more challenging for me. (Read: I was feeling chicken.) But, in the spirit of Mom’s newfound bravery, I decided I was gonna go to that reef wall all by myself! And I did! And it was gorgeous!

The water in the deep channel was so clear and blue. The sun illuminated the underwater scene creating a soft, ethereal, watery Shangri-La. I could see the sandy floor way down below me. That put me at ease. The reef wall was amazing and teeming with all kinds of life. I had snorkeled a reef wall at Mwand Pass that first trip out with the manta rays, but had been so panicky that day that I didn’t really get to look around much. This was different. I was actually seeing this reef and all the fish swimming in and around it, and the intricate textile of shape, color, pattern and texture that each individual entity brought to the whole. It was like watching a beautiful symphony some to life in images. Floating out there in all that beauty I realized that I wasn’t even afraid. Not even a little. I even swam out into the channel so I could get a better look at the wall as it delved deeper toward the bottom. Mostly, though, I would just float at the edge and take it all in with awe and reverence and the most sublime joy. Once I even spied a large shark swimming around at the bottom just beneath where I was floating. Instead of feeling fear, I felt exhilaration. Everything about this experience was amazing. I took a few photos of the reef wall, and of dad, with the underwater camera we bought from The Village, but there’s no place to develop the film on island, so those photos will have to wait until I get back to the States. I’ll try to post some of them as soon as I can.

The ride home from Ant Atoll was a little rough at the start – no rain, just some rough, choppy waters. Once we re-entered the “big reef”, though, it was smooth and glassy again. The big surprise of the return trip was the double rainbow that followed us most of the way back. The lower rainbow was quite strong, but a second bow arced faintly above it like a wispy reflection of its brighter twin. It was the perfect end to a wonderful day!!

Let’s see … I think that pretty much brings us up to the present. Today is Mom and Dad’s wedding anniversary, so they will be spending next Saturday at The Village for a romantic celebration. On Sunday, though, we’ll be going out for a hike along Sokehs Ridge and to explore some of the old WWII relics with friends of Mom and Dad’s. Should be fun. Here’s to having wind in your sails and the sun at your back until next we meet!

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