Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Day of Exploring

What a great day we had yesterday! We went on an all day adventure with Suwarrow Park Ranger "Ants" (Anthony) and a group of cruisers. We had arranged for the trip several days ago and we lucked out with the perfect weather day. You cannot go to other motus or distant parts of the lagoon area without being accompanied by a ranger. Seven of us loaded into the Ranger's aluminum launch and several other boats loaded into their rubber dinghies to follow. We had 19 people total (with an additional five that came over later). We went across the lagoon to Seven Island. That's the name. It was another beautiful island with white sandy beaches, incredible blue waters and palm trees. Another idyllic landscape. We arrived and had to pull the launch over the shallows. Then people spread out. Some went exploring the beach and others (including us) went out to the reefs to snorkel. Some dinghies even brought dive gear to dive the deeper ledges. The snorkeling was in some of the clearest water we had ever seen. The corals are very alive, healthy and varied. The structure was really interesting with a large mass of coral surrounded by lots of coral pinnacles and various sized and shaped structures. There were some interesting fish we hadn't seen before and we really enjoyed the time in the water, We swam/walked back to the island and enjoyed our lunch we brought along (and shared with Ants – the ranger not the insects). Several people then went "hunting." The prey were giant coconut crabs. These are considered an island delicacy and we had never tried them before. They are truly ugly creatures – right out of an alien movie or prehistoric times. They have giant claws and long legs and come in a variety of colors from bright blue to various shades of reds and oranges. They are land crabs that live under the coconut palms and feed on the coconuts. They are strong enough to break open the coconuts with their claws and they eat the meat.

The crew managed to find and catch six very large ones . The smaller that were found and captured were let free to grow up. The large ones were close to two feet long They were secured in buckets (and they had to be secured as they are strong enough to lift off the lids). After our day of snorkeling, hiking, hunting and lunching on Seven Island, we went off again to check out an old wreck on the reef. It was high and dry so we decided not to snorkel around it. So the adventure continued to "Gull" Island. This is a bird rookery and we carefully went ashore. This was a magnificent sight as it is now breeding season. The birds nesting on this island included giant frigates, terns, gannets, two varieties of boobies, the masked boobie and the red footed boobie. Some of the birds built nests in the bushes and trees, others laid their eggs right on the sand under bushes and others simply placed their eggs on the coral rocks. We saw all ages and sizes of birds The baby frigates and boobies were just fluff balls with beaks and eyes. They would just sit there and kind of look awed or stunned. The small spotted terns who were still unable to fly, were running around in the underbrush. The mother birds were flying around us kwacking – surely telling us to leave their island. We saw a frigate that had just hatched out the egg – not even covered with fuzz yet. Some birds were in various stages of learning to fly and would give a leap into the air and try to get their wings to work and land hard on the ground – but they would persistently try again and again. It was a wonderful experience to see so many nesting birds of all varieties on the same island. Hope for the future of the bird populations!

From this spot, we reloaded into the launch and went to seek out another reef and snorkel spot. We found one near the entrance to the lagoon and jumped in (Michael not as gracefully and hit his leg pretty hard against the aluminum boat – it sounded like it hurt! It did!) Again, we had incredible visibility and saw a wonderful variety of beautiful fish including a Guineafowl Puffer (Arothron meleagris), Trumpetfish, more of the wonderful Sailfin Tangs, Longnose Butterflyfish, Humpnose Unicornfish, Moorish Idols, and a few sharks to make the snorkel exciting. It was another nice reef – healthy, varied and colorful.

From there we headed back to Anchorage Island. We offloaded all our stuff and the crabs and paid our debts (it was $5 per person and a little gasoline – a bargain!)

A potluck (which seems to be a nightly feature here) on the island was planned where the crabs would be grilled. When we went to shore, the fire was blazing and the crabs were nervous! The crabs were big enough that one crab would take up the entire grill that covered the fire. Luckily each crab took only about five minutes to cook with "Ants" as the evening's crab chef and handling the crabs with asbestos fingers! He would flip them over with bare hands and remove them to a wooden board where he'd de-claw and crack them with a hammer. Everyone then grabbed a bit and enjoyed this very tasty treat. Some said they tasted just like coconuts – but we didn't taste that flavor. It was a nice white crab – rich and tasty. Along with the crab there were lots of other tasty treats on the table so it was another wonderful potluck meal.

The whales seem to be a regular feature in the lagoon. The other day we saw more whales – this time we clearly saw three whales – one of which was a very small baby. Very cool.

The time here is quite special and though there are lots of boats (a new anchorage record of 19 boats was hit today). The good news is even with all these boats we do have room and everyone is quite friendly, social and interesting. It is an international crowd and we are enjoying meeting new folks.

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