The morning sun found a few early travelers on the bow of National Geographic Orion searching for birds with naturalist Mike Greenlander. By 7:00 a.m. we were within view of our destination. The views of Owaraha Island and the varying shades of aquamarine in the surrounding reef were simply breath taking.

The coral island of Owaraha in the Solomon Islands is a touch over twenty-five square kilometers, with three separate villages and just under 4,000 inhabitants. A very personal feeling of magic was felt – plunging your feet through the water and into the soft white sand beneath as you walk along the beach. We were guided through the village by elders and ecstatic children slapping five and asking our names. The center was lined with wood carvings and abalone shells. We left with more than a few souvenirs.

Our guests were shaded from the sun beneath a shelter and treated to a truly remarkable experience of local heritage. As musicians in grass skirts played vibrant songs, throngs of dancers took center stage. The first songs told stories of butterflies, the collection of food, and life on the island. As the show went on it built to a battle of the mud men, with villagers covered in black mud defeating those in red for the favor of the women of the village.

The two-mile trail over the hill where the school lies leads to the village on the opposing white sandy beach. All along the way, children surround us. Near the water is an open walled sacred structure known as the spirit house. To enter you must climb over a few logs that serve to mark the space. Inside, on opposing sides, the ancestral clans of Turtle and Snake are represented. In those spaces lie the bones of each clan’s chiefs. It is believed that the spirits of these chiefs live within this house.

When we left, the sun was hanging directly over us and the walk back was a challenge. The guests of National Geographic Orion earned the drinks awaiting them on board. There was a playful energy throughout lounge as our freshly showered guests laughed and reminisced about the day and settled in for the journey to Vanuatu.