Sunday, February 6, 2011

Swimming with sharks, petting sting rays

Yesterday I swam with sting rays and black tip reef sharks on the island of Moorea, next to Tahiti!  The sting rays rubbed up against me and let me pet them.  They feel exactly like cooked portabello mushrooms!  The sharks were small, and although they were literally right next to us, and I could look right at them with a snorkel on (my first snorkeling experience - thanks to Lasik!) our guide said that they have plenty to eat and are not interested in biting humans. 
I also got to snorkel over a coral reef, and I saw lots of tropical fish, sea anemones with fish swimming among them just like Nemo, and lots of sea creatures that I can't identify.  Since it's my job to report on the voyage, I get to go on tours for free at most of the ports.  And I'm lucky it's free, because Tahiti is VERY expensive!  A can of beer at a convenience store costs US $4, and my dinner of raw tuna in coconut milk, and no beverage, cost $17!
Today we are back on the boat heading toward South America, and our next stop will be Callao, Peru on February 17.  Onboard there is lots to do and I seldom have any down time.  During the first segment of the voyage, we had a conference onboard which brought together survivors of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Tahitians fighting to get compensation from France for the health effects caused by French nuclear testing in French Polynesia, and Aboriginal Australians fighting the uranium mining that is destroying their home and their health.  As a reporter, I have a chance to interview all of the interesting guest speakers who come onboard. I especially enjoyed getting to know the Australians and writing about their issue, which is devastating their communities.  My article about them will be posted on Peace Boat's website in a couple of days.
In researching the article about the Tahitian nuclear test site workers, I learned that France conducted 46 atmospheric and 137 underground nuclear tests in French Polynesia between 1966 and 1996.  Before 1966, France tested nuclear weapons in the Sahara Desert in Algeria.  The local workers, working next to the mushroom cloud, had nothing but army-issued shorts and T-shirts to protect them.  The U.K. and the U.S. conducted even more nuclear weapons tests. The U.K. tested nuclear weapons on Aboriginal land in Australia, and on Christmas Island, and the U.S. did nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands, which the ship passed a few days ago, as well as New Mexico and Nevada. 
Local people are still suffering and dying because of this, and the environment is forever destroyed.  What makes some countries feel that they can test nuclear weapons in places inhabited by people they deem less important?  Many of the tests were done not to gain scientific information, but merely to show off might.  It's nuclear colonialism and nuclear racism, and it continues to be perpetrated to this day.  Countries that buy uranium from Australia are causing Aboriginal people who live near the mines to become sick and die.  We need to stop using nuclear power as well as eliminate nuclear weapons!
But not everything is serious on the ship -- the weather has been beautiful and tropical for the last couple of weeks, and I usually eat breakfast and lunch outdoors on the pool deck.  I have a nice spot for practicing yoga in front of windows looking out at the sea, but I haven't yet been able to do balance poses on the moving ship!  Dancing is more difficult, but fun, on a ship too.  When I'm in my room, which is on the 4th deck, just above the water line, I can hear the waves crashing against the outside of the ship.
We crossed the International Date Line last week, and so January 30 was 48 hours long for us. I haven't seen my email in almost two weeks, but I'll try to check in and answer them soon!  I hope that you are healthy and happy and staying warm!
The photos above show me swimming with a sting ray, sting rays and sharks swimming where I swam, and me at the beach in Moorea.  The water was an amazing turquoise!

No comments: