It would be impossible to tell you everything I want to tell you about my seven months at sea, so instead I’m going to do my best to hit the highlights and give you a glimpse of the places I visited, the interesting people I met, and the things I experienced.
I’ll start with the first semester, which began in Tahiti, French Polynesia and ended 80 days and 4,367 nautical miles later in Cairns, Australia (1 nautical mile is about 1.1 miles). Some of our ports of call included Moorea, Huahine, Roratonga, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, and Townsville. For me, one of the highlights of this journey was French Polynesia. As if the culture, food, and sports (they are very competitive outrigger canoe racers) weren’t enough, French Polynesia also happens to be a diving paradise. These islands now top the charts for best diving/snorkeling destinations in the world (at least in my book).
One of the most memorable experiences happened on a random rainy day in Bora Bora when the students had a free afternoon. Many of us decided to jump right off the boat and explore the coral heads that were only a short swim away. Almost immediately we were approached by giant manta rays – some of the largest I have ever seen! I would say the average wingspan was 8-10 ft. across! These enormous creatures also happen to be incredibly graceful and glide through the water effortlessly. I was swimming my little heart out just to keep up, but it was definitely worth the energy. I felt like I was in another world as I swam alongside these massive creatures.
When we arrived in Tonga a few weeks later, we were greeted by Alofi, the island’s self-proclaimed tourist entertainer. Alofi invited us to his home for a barbecue and music, to which we gladly accepted. We spent the evening listening to guitar music, eating fresh fish, and chatting with locals. I questioned whether things like that actually happened anywhere else – that is, inviting complete strangers into your home for food and entertainment. Even the local market in Tonga was an incredible sight. It was filled with vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables, woodcarvings, jewelry, and paintings. The easy-going, laid-back pace of life is something I miss and is often hard to find in the bustling cities of the U.S.
One final highlight from the first semester had to be the numerous sightings of humpback whales off the coast of Australia. As we approached our final destination in Cairns, Australia, while also hitting record speeds for our journey, we were entertained by a group of breaching whales (this is when the whales jump straight up out of the water. There are many different theories for why they do this). It was almost as if they were welcoming us to Australia after our final 7 day passage at sea.
Other highlights? Petting kangaroos at the Billabong Sanctuary in Townsville, Australia, scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, watching a local outrigger canoe race in Bora Bora, and mountain biking the coastal highway of Roratonga.