Island Travel: October 2007 Archives
I just returned from 2 weeks in Indonesia and what a trip it was. I went there to visit five Seacology projects, check out the diving in Raja Ampat and sample the culture in Bali. The trip started on the island of Sulawesi.
Once called the Celebes, this has got to be one of the oddest shaped large islands in the world (right). It looks as if you put a jigsaw puzzle piece in an electric outlet. As a result its coastline is enormous.
From the northern Sulawesi city of Manado the Seacology group took a short boat ride to the striking, cone shaped island of Manado Tua. One look at this island and there is no doubt that it is of volcanic origin. We got there at low tide and so we had to hike the last 30 yards to shore. The trip had barely begun when a new site presented itself. Several pigs were grazing in the water on the low growing sea grass. Yes, we really did see pigs grazing in the ocean, and no we were not drinking.
I ran across this tidbit while cleaning out my inbox; corals have been added to the IUCN Red List for the first time. The coral pictured in this news item from National Geographic is the Floreana coral - one of ten corals found near the Galapagos Islands that have been added to the list of threatened species. A startling fact also mentioned in the above item is that coral reefs in the Indian and Pacific Ocean are vanishing faster than rain forests.
I was lucky enough to visit the Galapagos when I was 10, the summer between 5th and 6th grade - too young to fully appreciate where I was, but old enough to still think it was pretty cool. My aunt, my mother's youngest sister, lived on the Galapagos for 13 years and worked as a herpetologist for the Charles Darwin Research Center. Her love was, and is, tortoises - the giant tortoises of the Galapagos being the subject of her Ph.D. thesis. So not only did I get to visit these incredible islands, including a week long boat tour, I had a member of my family as an expert guide.
Balinese dance captures one's attention immediately as the dancers move to tell ancient stories through physicality and props. The picture below shows a young Balinese dancer in her costume with a flower-covered headdress and expressive fan. This photograph hangs in the Seacology office, taken in 2002 during an expedition to visit a Seacology-funded wastewater garden at Tirtagangga Water Palace. Every time I walk past the picture, I am captivated by the young girl's seriousness, her eyes so intent, her motion captured like that in so many Indian sculptures.
Balinese dance, music, and ceremonies are offerings to Hindu deities and tell the ancient epic stories of the Hindu religion. As a former hula dancer, I enjoy art forms that pass along stories, be they through oral history, art, music, or dance. The combination of message and movement is fascinating to me and so important to passing along traditions to future generations.
Seacology receives updates from our island projects weekly. Here are a few from the last couple of weeks. In Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia, Seacology funded the installation of a solar power energy system for the Utwe Walung Marine Park community center in 2000. The solar system had not been working for some time due to the lack of current community member training on the system's maintenance and the harsh weather conditions on the system's batteries. A cement building has been built to house the batteries and Seacology is providing a second grant to repair the system and provide a training session. Work is scheduled to begin in late October.
On Atiu Island, Cook Islands, an opening ceremony was held on September 21st for the brand new geriatric house for community members. This housing was built with Seacology funds in support of the community's decision to establish a 297-acre wildlife sanctuary and five mile restricted fishing zone on Takutea Island for twenty years. Two hundred members of the community attended the event as well as a member of Parliament, the Atiu Mayor and the Atiu Secretary. Field representative Allan Tuara spoke on behalf of Seacology and had the honor of turning the key to declare the building open.
New Guinea - these are odd words to begin an item about Fiji. But that is where i am as you read this; on a dive boat visiting Seacology projects in the Raja Ampat section of New Guinea. I'll be back in time for my next entry and fill you in on this trip. For now let's focus on Fiji, one of the largest nations in the South Pacific. Fiji's 300 islands are located 1,300 miles north of New Zealand. I have been to Fiji over 10 times, mostly to visit some Seacology projects there.
Is Fiji a great travel destination? You bet it is. Fijians are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. The first time I was in Fiji the people were so friendly I thought they were putting me on. I was born and raised in the suburbs of NY and was not used to such overwhelming hospitality. And Fijians LOVE children. If you are thinking of taking your kids to a beautiful island this is the place to go. Of course diving, snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, swimming and relaxing make this a wonderful place for adults to visit. Unlike a lot of exotic locations there are accommodations for every budget from backpacker hostels to high end resorts.
When leading a Seacology trip we stay at the Jean Michel Cousteau Fiji Island Resort. Yes, its on the expensive side but if you can afford it, it is worth every penny. The setting on the island of Vanua Levu is wonderful, the food is great, the children's program is fantastic and this is one resort that really cares about the environment. The Cousteau Fiji Resort has received many awards from travel publications throughout the world and was recently recognized by the readers of Trip Advisor as the number one environmentally friendly resort in the world.
Jonny Hogg has written a very interesting article regarding the tension between the environment and tourism development in Mauritius. It's a good snapshot of how the Indian Ocean island nation is caught between economic sustainability and conservation - a dilemma facing countless islands throughout the world.
I traveled to Micronesia in June and July of this year to visit Seacology projects on Kosrae, Chuuk, Yap and Palau. I was struck by the fact that those islands are relatively unspoiled largely due to their remoteness - especially after overnighting in Honolulu, which was particularly depressing and full of island development "don'ts." After the decline in tourism from the US and Asia, Micronesia is struggling to attract visitors to its natural wonders. So far, for the most part development has been slow and careful - too slow for many. However, Palau, with its proximity to Asia, has a fairly thriving tourism economy. The Palau Conservation Society, our project partner there, has worked to help create responsible tourism standards and have trained numerous guides regarding environmentally friendly ways to expose visitors to the nation's marine and terrestrial wonders. This sort of successful collaboration between private tourism and conservation organizations is an ideal way to safeguard the natural treasures of islands.
- We go to places that are off the beaten path,
- We are treated by the locals like family and not like tourists,
- Our trips are meaningful and rewarding in addition to being fun.