As a certified photo instructor, David Cothran knows how to get the shot. He just returned from expeditions in Europe and is newly energized by the continent and its richly varied offerings, which he believes are best viewed through the lens.
National Geographic Orion anchored in the calm waters of a remote Polynesian paradise. Swaying palm trees and fragrant Alexandrian laurels shaded an idyllic white sand beach on Alofi Island, overlooking the alluring azure seas. In the space of one day, we enjoyed the sights of dazzling reef fish, abundant and native birdlife, fun with kayaks and standup paddleboards, and a traditional feast prepared with warmth and hospitality by our friendly hosts. All this colorful majesty was captured brilliantly by our talented videographer, Eric Wehrmeister, who chronicled the adventures with aerial quadcopters, capturing the memories of a lifetime.
Today, we enjoyed the stunning island of Taveuni, both above and below the water. In the morning, it was all about the rainforest and waterfalls. A gorgeous hike led to an incredible viewpoint and a massive waterfall. The water was refreshing, and a nice jump into the pool was enjoyed by many. In the afternoon, it was all about the ocean. Whether by snorkeling, diving, or tours in the glass-bottomed Zodiac, we experienced a beautiful reef with clouds of fish. Sunny skies and calm seas made it a perfect afternoon. Soon, however, it was time to head off and say goodbye, or “moce,” to Fiji.
We continued our course from Tristan da Cunha to St. Helena. Today is our last sea day before we reach the island. This morning, we awoke to the southeast trade winds, which appeared right on schedule at about 20˚S latitude. Blowing from the southeast at about 20 knots, these steady winds were the reliable force that allowed sailing ships to make the passage from Africa to South America. The northeast trade winds, which we will encounter after we visit Ascension Island, provided the force that carried sailing ships from Europe to the New World. We are continuing to use our time at sea very well with presentations on Napoleon, who spent his final years in exile on St. Helena. We are carrying Governor Nigel Phillips and his wife Emma home to the island, so our National Geographic guest lecturer Andrew Evans organized a discussion about St. Helena along with two guests who have lived on both St. Helena and the Falklands. The Governor has responsibility for three Central Atlantic islands, St. Helena, Tristan da Cunha, and Ascension, as they are all British Overseas Territories. Later in the day, Andrew continued his writing workshop, and we had a talk on island biogeography. After dinner, the staff organized a game of Pictionary to cap off the day. We are all eagerly anticipating our arrival at St. Helena tomorrow morning, our fourth island on this Atlantic transit.
The first day of our expedition in Fiji was spent at the island of Beqa. In the morning, we visited a small village and were expertly guided by some of the locals. It was fascinating to experience life in a small village and view the local crafts for sale, including tapa cloth made from the bark of the paper mulberry and various intrinsic wood carvings. In the afternoon, we returned to Lawaki Beach House, a small resort. We were welcomed with the amazing singing of a colorful community choir. This was followed by a beautiful performance by members of neighboring villages on the grassy area in front of the resort. First, women performed a series of dances accompanied by music and singing. Then, six men came out and gave a spectacular performance depicting their origin in the islands and their defense of them. This was certainly a very dynamic performance that included a mock battle. After the men performed, everyone joined in the singing and dancing and had a lot of fun. It was great to see guests, staff, villagers, and children all join hands and dance in a conga line! After a short break, we moved to a different part of the shaded lawn to wait for the firewalkers. Tropical rain came and went as a group of men came out to remove huge logs from a fire that had been burning all day. They wedged the burning logs out with long pokers, revealing the hot rocks below and eventually arranging them to be walked upon. Then the real action began as one after another, the men walked slowly across the rocks, yelling ‘Bula’ every time. It was a mesmerizing performance. After each man walked across, the crowd erupted in applause.
It has been three days since we have seen land. The wind gods have granted us calm seas, temperatures in the mid-70s, and a deep blue ocean. There is something special about calm days at sea; a certain peace of mind tends to roll across the ship. Between lectures and meals, each of us stakes claim to a place on the ship to take in the vast ocean view–some writing, some reading, others enjoying a siesta or a long chat on the bow with another passenger. We are so far from land, but all of us settle into ordinary moments in the most extraordinary setting. As I sat on the sun deck, I began to poll my fellow passengers as they trickled by: “How would you describe the blue of the ocean right now?” Most paused, struggling to find the right descriptor. No one felt great about their answer as they listed, “So blue,” “deep blue,” “indigo blue,” “Atlantic blue?”… On days like today, the ocean is impossible to describe by characterizing the hue of blue; it is a feeling, a state of mind. As we watched the day go by, the blues changed until evening when we watched sunset. We gathered for the “green flash” as the sun dipped behind the Atlantic Ocean.
Joining us on any expedition means signing up for adventure; and the reward for your curiosity is inevitable—the most exhilarating experience of pure discovery possible.