Fabled Islands of the Indian Ocean 4

Fabled Islands 4

April 10, 2009

Today was a very full day to say the least.

We started the day early with a transfer to the shore of Aride at 0730. The early start was advised due to the significant heat later in the day.

Aride is a privately held island, purchased by Peter Cadbury about 35 years ago as a sanctuary for the birds and wildlife. As such the creatures that live here have little to no fear of humans.

Access to the island and its research station is severely limited. You cannot land on the island directly. Instead, you must rendezvous offshore with a boat dispatched from the island and transfer to their boat for the final landing. This is meant to reduce the chance that a rat or some other predatory or non-native animal would make it ashore and decimate the indigenous populations.

The station is funded through an endowment by Cadbury, and consists of both paid and volunteer staff, who monitor the health of the island bird and reptile populations. The bird population varies with the season, but at its peak more than a million birds inhabit an island that is only about 170 acres in area.

After arrival, we started our hike to the top of the island where a scenic view is an ample reward. Along the way, we saw scores upon scores of birds that seemed all but indifferent to our presence. We could approach to within a few feet before they moved up a limb a few feet, just far enough to be comfortable again.

The guide (a research volunteer) showed us a number of fascinating birds, including one (a Fairy Tern, I believe) that is too lazy to build a nest, so it lays an egg on a branch. The chick hatches and if it’s lucky, attaches itself to the branch with very large claws, remaining in place until it is ready to fly.

The hike was very strenuous; not so much due to the vertical elevation (about 300 feet), but because it was so incredibly hot and humid. I can’t remember having sweat so much with so little cooling effect in all my life! Good thing we didn’t go later in the day.

I returned to the ship ahead of the group to take part in the first dive of the day, a small island, St. Pierre, if I recall correctly; no more than some rocks and a few trees and bushes, which we circumnavigated. The water was a little murky but I did manage a few good photos. A nice spotted eel, and then a huge swarm of fry, that I swam slowly into. Just like in Jacques Cousteau movies, they parted like the Red Sea as I approached. Very cool!

Possibly the best critter spotted today was the sea turtle. He certainly knew we were there, but we didn’t appear to concern him at all. He just kept grazing on whatever it was he was eating.

The coral in all of the Seychelles had a massive die-off in 1998, due to a water temperature elevation, and is struggling to make a come back. Isolated pockets of new coral growth can be seen, but the majority of coral here is dead.

We then up-anchored and moved to Curieuse Island where we dove in the afternoon. Similar to the morning, most coral was dead or damaged but fish we coming back. That apparently attests to some recovery of the coral.

After the last dive we cleaned up then went ashore to join the rest of the guests and crew for a beach BBQ.  Sunset was spectacular!

It’s hard to imagine a more idyllic setting than sitting in the sand with new friends, drinking wine, eating dinner, and watching as the sun dropped below the horizon, just 5 degrees north of the equator.

I could do this again!


Fabled Islands of the Indian Ocean 2

Fabled Islands 2

April 8, 2009

Today I awoke at my usual 5 AM. Even though I am pretty seriously jet-lagged, my internal clock woke me at my usual time…imagine that!

I laid in bed for a while, then got up to enjoy a beautiful sunrise as we were passing between small islands on our way to Praslin. The ship and room is air-conditioned, and the outside air was hot and humid. The difference is so significant that even at 6 AM my camera lens fogged up for 10 minutes or so before it dissipated enough to use.

After wandering about exploring the ship I enjoyed a great breakfast before resuming my shipboard wanderings, glassing the islands that we passed, taking photos here and there.

We had our watersports briefing this morning, with intros to the Zodiacs, the inflatable kayaks, and snorkeling protocols. Snorkeling equipment was distributed to all who wanted to participate, then it was off by Zodiac to the sandy shore of Anse Lazio.

We spent just an hour or so on shore then headed back to the ship for lunch.

After lunch it was time for the scuba divers to meet and review the dive rules and plan. The location today was about a mile & a half off our starboard beam (how’s that for salty, nautical talk?), a small rocky pinnacle with a lone tree on top. We easily reached it in two of the zodiacs. We had a total of six divers and 3 divemasters, an excellent ratio!

After a backward roll entry off the sides of the zodiacs we split into two groups and began our exploration around the offshore “pinnacle.” There was not much in the way of a reef, but we did see a white-tipped reef shark resting on the bottom. Unfortunately, the current carried us a little too close and it scooted off.

Other reef fish spotted included unicorn fish, blowfish, lots of sea slugs and cucumbers, and a wide variety of smaller fish of all different sizes and shapes! Not the greatest of dive site, but not a bad reintroduction after not diving for a few years.


Yours truly!


Fabled Islands of the Indian Ocean 1

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I have a confession: this trip is not an overland expedition. In fact, it really isn’t much of a true “expedition” to most of us who frequent Expedition Portal or write/subscribe to Overland Journal. It is though, a dream come true trip.

For many years I have kept old brochures in my bedside table, travel “catalogs” for group excursions and adventures from Lindblad Expeditions and others. As a young teen, I heard about these exotic trips to Egypt, Africa, the Galapagos Islands, and the Antarctic from family friends. One day, I thought, I too, would be able to go on trips like that.

Life, though, had different plans. All of the dreams were put on hold for college, training, family, and job. It wasn’t until I was into my forties that I realized the dream of doing medical mission work in Africa, took a number of short safaris in the Serengeti, and began to experience some of the places I had only heard or read about in the past.

But, life stepped in last year again, when a friend just a couple of years older that I, developed an inoperable cancer and died within 6 months, never seeing some of his dreams come to fruition. That was the turning point. I decided I had to have a bit of a new mantra: “Have a blast while you last.”

So when the National Geographic Society announced a joint venture with Lindblad, and a series of new itineraries, I was very excited when the brochure arrived in the mail. Included, was a trip called, “Fabled Islands of the Indian Ocean,” that included not land exploring in the Seychelles and Madagascar, wildlife viewing, a bonafide National Geographic photographer on board as a resource, plus scuba diving. I was in!

So here I am, sitting in my cabin aboard the “National Geographic Explorer” a small ship carrying fewer than 120 passengers, heading for the island of La Digue, the fourth largest populated island in the Seychelles.

It was a long couple of days getting here. In fact, it is rather a blur at the moment. It took 24 flying hours and gobs of layover hours to get here from Tucson; it feels like it’s been nearly a week on the road. After arriving just after sunrise we had a nice hotel for a half day, time to eat, shower, and nap. A tour of the island lasted a couple of hours but felt like all day! The zigs and zags up and over the island center were particularly trying for a jet lagged brain and body.

Finally after what seemed an eternity we boarded the ship. More on that later, perhaps.

My cabin is actually much larger than I expected. I was afraid that it might be a tight squeeze for my two bags (one scuba gear, the other clothes and space for future souvenirs no doubt), but in fact it is very roomy. The bathroom is huge compared to some of the hotels I’ve experienced in the past. It’s very impressive.

So after a blur of a trip to get here I am enjoying the amenities aboard, getting ready for our first excursions starting tomorrow. And hopefully getting some much needed rest tonight.

I will attempt to post a “blog” entry every few days at the Overland Journal website blog. I’ll send out a message once I get that going. Though maybe it should be an if. There’s a lot to do here. We shall see how good I am at blogging.



Star Trekking Weekend

For me, anything taking less than a week of planning and preparation is a spur-of-the-moment thing. So when I decided to take off for an overnight of camping & star gazing (what I call a “Star Trek”) last Saturday morning, that was a real spur of the moment decision.

First order of business was the essentials: the telescope, mount, eyepieces, laptop, cables and other astro-items.  Next, the food: a quick look in the fridge for easy leftovers. A couple of hot dogs, a chicken breast, some bread, drinks, eggs, hash. I’m all set.

My trusty FJ40, Rocinante, and trailer are always ready; they just had to be hooked up and I was off. Except…dang! I had a show to attend. No getting out of it. It was a Christmas gift for a friend, after all.

So right after the show ended at 4 PM, I headed home, hooked up and hit the road. You might say I blasted out of there, but then, this IS my FJ40 with trailer. Blasting is relative, so a mighty quick pace is 60 to 65 mph.

I was headed to southeast Arizona about 75 miles away from home, where I could count on some nice dark skies. Celestial objects don’t take kindly to all the light pollution around major cities, and I am afraid Tucson has become just that.

My timing was only fair, as I arrived after sunset and my first two choices for campsites were already occupied. So I set off along another little used track, finally finding a nice flat area about a half-mile away.

No problem. I set up camp very quickly (the Horizon Adventure Trailer with RTT makes that really easy), then set up the telescope and laptop. An hour or so after sunset the stars were out in force, and I was rolling. My scope is an 11” Schmidt-Cassegrain, which gathers a lot of light and allows me to see some very faint objects. Right now my particular favorites are galaxies and galaxy clusters.

This night though, I was on the hunt for the Messier objects (see: http://www.seds.org/messier/). I had a list I wanted to see and was making steady progress for a couple of hours until the night temperatures dropped below 45Ëš. Then my laptop battery pooped out and shutdown.

Not to be deterred I pressed on using the onboard computer within the scope base and managed to knock off a few more. As the temp dropped, I called it quits for a few hours and crawled into a nice warm sleeping bag.

At 4 AM I was up again and observed for another hour and a half before crawling back into bed until after sunrise.  What a crazy feeling to not be up well before sunrise!

I spent the day sitting in the sun, reading an old Sci-Fi novel by Heinlein.  I was planning on a second night star gazing but the wind started to pick up, actually lifting my awning off the ground at one point. The very fine powder dust that was swirling about is no friend to an optical instrument so I simply packed it up and headed home around sunset.

It was a most excellent Star Trek.

Now to start planning for an extended Star Trek to southern Utah later this year…