If we used a calendar, May 2nd would have been circled in red since our California departure. We were adding a crew member, more specifically, a woman.
My dad left to go to the airport in the evening, while I went over to my Swedish friend Rasmus’ boat, Dies Natalis, for a drink. His boat has a beautiful white hull with varnished wood trim framing a large deck with no lifelines, making it look and feel larger than it was. The interior was made of wood, warmly reflecting the sunset light while a guitar hung from the ceiling. We had beers in the cockpit before realizing that neither of us had eaten dinner. Rasmus suggested pizza at Tony’s Tappas, a Spanish themed bar near the marina. I agreed but mentioned that I might need to run home early.
The pizza was delicious, I had my first Stella Artois since California, and our conversation was lively. I sent a message to my dad to let me know when he was coming home so I could return. As usual, I received a “home” message 40 minutes later. We closed out and I excitedly scampered back to the boat across the busy main road in Papeete.
After parting with Rasmus on the dock, I walked up to Nor’easter and saw the new crew member sitting on deck. I jumped on board and said, ”Hi Mom, welcome to Tahiti! Where’s dad?”. Dad was taking full advantage of the parts Mom brought and was installing a new fan on the water maker. That was ok as it gave my mom and me an opportunity to catch up since communicating on the high seas with loved ones is difficult. She already heard our three day plan and noted that there would be no rest for the weary – from travel. I agreed.
I booked a lava tube hike the next morning and the shark dive the morning after. Welcome to Tahiti Mom, time for adventure and leaving your comfort zone. The lava tubes are caves formed by volcanic eruptions that started a few feet wide but water eroded them to their current dimensions. We met our Canadian friends at the marina gate – the hike was their idea and they did most of the planning – and walked to the pickup spot. The sky was overcast with ominous cumulus clouds scattered randomly. It started to rain and we joked that we hoped we would fare better than the Thai soccer team a few months ago. They were exploring a cave but heavy rains filled their exit and they spent close to a week trapped before rescue divers could extract them. Although that would be an exciting blog post, we didn’t have a week to spare.
Our guide, Arnaud, muscled his green Land Rover over the uneven rock laden roads. After he unlocked two gates, we finally stopped in mud near the top of the mountain. There, we donned wetsuits, hiking boots, harnesses and helmets, a combination that was new for the entire group, and flattering for no one. The wetsuits were snug, so watching everyone pulling, standing on one leg, and trying not to fall in a puddle was amusing – until it was your turn. Eventually we all dressed and advanced into the jungle.
The trail was narrow, framed by trees with large maroon leaves. Low hanging branches tried to concuss you, and since you had to watch your step on the wet rocks, the helmets prevented more than a few bumps. Eventually the trail led to a river, into which we waded. Walking against the strong current while keeping balance on the slippery riverbed stones was challenging.
The sound of rushing water was deafening as we approached the waterfall. Eventually we saw it, two caves with a cascade splitting them. Arnaud waded ahead through the chest deep pool to check the cave water levels, and after disappearing inside for several minutes, reappeared and instructed us to join. We climbed into the mouth of the lava tube on the left and turned on our headlamps. Arnaud mentioned that there is absolutely no light in these caves, so without headlamps your eyes would never adjust. He instructed us to stay close and we descended into the darkness.
The next two hours were great fun. We climbed ropes, army crawled through small holes into bigger caverns, and my dad and I even jumped into a pool from a 21 foot ledge next to a waterfall. Most of the tubes had rivers running through them, but a few were dry. Many were covered in a yellow fungus that held water droplets and looked like gold reflecting the headlamps. It was the experience of a lifetime. The only things missing were stalagmites and stalactites, which could not grow due to the volcanic caves mineral composition. Eventually we spotted natural light and the mouth of the cave. We settled there for lunch, joined by two friendly, blue eyed eels who lived in the stream. They did not bring their own lunch, but Arnaud was happy to share his tuna.
After lunch we continued our trek back to the car. Since we exited a different cave than we entered, we saw new scenery. The highlight was climbing down and crossing a large waterfall, holding on tightly so you didn’t get washed over the edge by the white water. Eventually we arrived at the car. We took off our gear including the harness that ended up only being for decoration, and remarked that a hike like that would never be permitted in America without medical histories, wavers, and a guide holding your hand. My mom said, “What a thrilling first day, and tomorrow we are scuba diving with sharks, how will you top this?”. Good question.
My mom also mentioned that some of the people back home had trouble figuring out how to subscribe to our blog. I will make it easier. If you want an email whenever we post, usually once or twice a week, type your email in the box below and click subscribe. Thanks for reading, and we love your comments!