My Dolphin Adventure In Tahiti

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Thirty-four days after arriving in Mo’orea, I let out a sigh and look over at Riley. She’s sitting with her chin propped up in her hands, gazing through the window at the still, turquoise waters encompassed by those unreal jagged peaks. Twenty-two other students sit quietly, their eyes glazed over, spirits low. We’re in the tropics, but I swear I can feel the room getting cold.

I sit and reflect on the past five weeks. We came to Mo’orea on a research expedition, but, in truth, we did little research. The mornings were spent underwater admiring the vibrant colors and sea life; afternoons, we would lose volleyball matches to the locals. In the evenings, well, we’d all chip in for a few bottles of the cheapest Tahitian rum we could find — Rhumba, or as we liked to pronounce it, “Room-bah.” Around midnight, we would somehow always find ourselves wading into the water.

And today was our last day.

My journal is filled from cover to cover with adventures and memories. I’m not one to keep journals, but I felt it was necessary. I didn’t want to forget hitchhiking on the back of the Tahitian chef’s scooter, dodging box jellies as I snorkeled, or even the fact that my research partner didn’t know how to spell saliva. For five weeks, my smile had not left my face.

Our bags are packed and we await our departure. We have three hours to kill and I don’t want to spend them hung up on the incredible days that will soon end. As if answering my thoughts, Riley asks, “Want to get out of here?”

Without answering, we both jump to our feet and step outside into the humid air. I’m not wearing bug spray but I don’t care. Let the mosquitoes feast, I think to myself. We walk over to the faded pink kayak and haul it to the shore. A few small fish dart away as we disrupt the still water.

Riley and I hop in and start paddling, not entirely sure where we’re headed, but relieved to have left the depressive atmosphere we felt just moments ago. It’s probably 85 degrees out as the sun beats down on me. We paddle across the bay as Riley chatters away about spinner dolphins. “Tim saw a whole pod a couple days ago!” she exclaims, “Somewhere over there.” She points toward the curve of the shoreline.

An ancient Tahitian man, no less than 70 years old, paddles past us in his outrigger canoe. His whole body is still with only his arms moving to propel himself along. He reminds me of those Hawaiian surfers you hear about in books and movies — the ones that everybody respects because they’ve been surfing since the sport was created. “Où sont les dauphins?” Riley shouts.

“Il,” the ancient man replies and points off in the distance. Unlike Riley, I hadn’t taken French in high school so I just gaze in the same direction, unsure of what I’m looking at.

Riley tells me she asked about dolphins and that the old man had just seen some a little ways ahead. We’re close. We start bellowing a very out-of-tune rendition of “Part of that World” in hopes that dolphins like The Little Mermaid.

The clouds slowly start to roll in and I feel light drops on my skin. A minute later, the temperature drops to a chilly 75. Suddenly it’s pouring and we battle the wind through gray, choppy waters. We continue singing anyways and almost miss the old Tahitian man’s excited cries. “Regardez! Regardez!” We glance to our left and spot a silvery fin just as it ducks beneath the surface.

Encouraged, we paddle with all our might toward the fin. Another fin appears, then three more, then at once our kayak is surrounded by fifty spinner dolphins. I laugh out with joy while Riley squeals. I’ve seen dolphins before, at SeaWorld or on the horizon at the beach. Never anything like this though. Never this close. Never this many.

We watch the dolphins swim by for several minutes, rhythmically rising and falling as they breathe. Riley and I are euphoric, taking in every bit of the unbelievable scene around us. Once the pod passes, we embark on our journey back across the bay, this time singing “Under the Sea.” Mermaid sisters, I thought to myself and smiled.

For the next 24 hours, I am running on a natural high. I don’t even mind leaving Mo’orea, the hours waiting at the airport, or the red-eye flight back into LAX. I’m lovingly greeted by my parents, hug my mermaid sister goodbye, and set out to tackle that infamous Los Angeles traffic.

By Michelle Ciesla

[French Polynesia by Jason Broersma/Flickr]


About the Author

Michelle Ciesla is a tri-lingual, coffee-loving barista from the seaside town of La Jolla, California. Half beach-goer, half snowboarder (depending on the season), she spends most of her free time outdoors. She is passionate about travel, writing, marine biology and knows far too much about algae.

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