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Published: January 27th 2016
Jan 22, Friday, Rangiroa
Rangiroa is an atoll; that is, a ring of land barely above sea level enclosing a lagoon. It is volcanic in origin, but the volcano is so ancient that it has been completely pounded down by the sea. All you see is a rim sticking up a few feet, and the inevitable coral reefs that grow when sunlight penetrates to a solid support. The ring is never entirely closed; there are gaps where boats can dangerously maneuver through; here in Rangiroa atoll there is one gap big enough for a cruise ship.
This lagoon is about 40 miles in diameter, so when the tide is falling, lagoon water rushes powerfully out; when rising, powerfully in. Ships have to run through the gap with the current; if you try to oppose it, your forward speed may go negative. For us the best entering current came at about 6 in the morning, and I doubt that any passengers observed it.
When I went on deck for a look about 8 AM, I got confused. I could see the gap we passed through and the open ocean beyond, but the thin
ring of land did not seem to enclose us; it just disappeared in a straight line in the distance. When I looked for it on the other side, it looked like more open ocean. Were we inside or outside? I really could not tell. There was a little town on one side of the gap where you could see two church steeples, but that did not really settle the inside / outside question.
Later, I did a little trig on my computer. At 40 miles, the surface of the ocean is about a thousand feet below the horizon. Palm trees are at most a hundred feet high, and there is just no chance at all of seeing them on the other side, due to the curvature of the earth. Clay, my old Navy officer friend, will correct me if I am wrong about this.
We were taken by tender into the little town, and had a walk around. I could not see how this town manages to exist. There were some breadfruit trees, but no real gardening. There is no road that goes around the atoll; it is too broken by small dangerous gaps. We saw only one truck, and that was for the customs officials. There were no taxis or tour buses, but a fair number of bicycles. Some local guitar and ukelele players came down to the tender dock, playing for free and giving out free flowers and selling shell jewelery in the shade of two enormous trees. There were dogs, including two sleepy miniature poodles, belly down in cool dirt, like the dogs of Valparaiso.
One lady was selling cool coconuts from an icebox for $2. She hacked a hole in the top with a big machete, and inserted a straw for each customer. It was a very refreshing drink; you could make something nice with the coconut meat, but it was just thrown away.
The few snorkeler and skin diver cruisers had a great time. We talked later with a lady who had come with full scuba equipment. It was her 88th dive. They went out to the reef in a rubber boat with outboard motor, and just tumbled over the side for about an hour. They were told not to kick the reef with their fins, but otherwise they were free. She said the marine life was abundant, but about what she expected from diving at Cozumel. No sharks.
We did see something odd and unexpected at the Catholic church. There was a sign telling people they could come and pray for the sick at a certain time with the priest of Rangiroa, Father Daniel Martin. Penny, is this possible? Does our family tree have such an odd fruit hanging from it? An actual French-speaking papist?
We met an American English teacher and about seven students who had come out to see the cruise ship. She is six months into a four year contract, and seemed to be not too happy with the very limited life of this place. This was before I knew about Daniel Martin, so I could not ask about him. Her students were full of mischief, and spoke French, but not yet much English.
As many have noted, paradise can be boring.
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