ANYWAY, there were Austinites on two of the boats, and one boat full of Kiwis (our buddies from New Zealand). Together, we set sail among the 171 pristine islands that make up the Kingdom of Tonga. Specifically, we sailed among the island group known as Vava'u. Look it up on Google Maps. Go ahead. I'll wait.... You see those dots that look like someone spilled crumbs on a blue rug? That would be the Kingdom of Tonga.
I liken the whole experience to camping at sea. We took military-style showers, woke every morning to witness the sun rise, and ended each day watching the moon climb into the night sky. My boat mates and I morphed into sun-kissed creatures (I heart being tan!), and we lived in our bathing suits. None of the women bothered with makeup or their hair. Our days were filled with good conversation, good eating (thanks to my bunkie, Allison "Party Pants" Waddell), world-class snorkeling, gratuitous napping and sunbathing, sarong wrapping, vodka mixing, anchor lowering, anchor raising, dinghy beaching, rum drinking, making jokes, making toasts, collecting shells, reading maps, reading books (thanks, in particular, to Natalie for her excerpt readings from Chelsey Handler's "My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands"), beer drinking, applying and reapplying sunscreen, drinking coffee, boat bacon!!!, laughter, and nicknaming. (It seemed we all earned nicknames before the week was over. I was dubbed "Geez Louise" because I exclaimed these words upon spilling plastic cups and dishes all over the deck.)
Yes, it was a one-of-a-kind adventure, hands down my best impulse buy of 2010. I brought a journal and recorded some moments in writing. These, I'll share with you here:
Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waiting for a train
And I's feeling nearly as faded as my jeans!
It rode us all the way to New Orleeeans!
Nothing don't mean nothing, honey, if it ain't free
And feeling good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues,
You know feeling good was good enough for meeeeee,
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee!
I start giggling and I hear Deb, wrapped in her blanket a few feet from me, giggling too. Judging by the passion and conviction with which these partiers are belting out the lyrics, I don't think the night will be silent for some time. I continue to listen to the string of serenades coming across the water -- everything from John Denver to "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." Miraculously, I eventually fall asleep, anyway.
I collect shells and pieces of coral of all colors, textures and sizes. The farther I walk, the pickier I get about my collection. I start swapping out previous finds for better ones. I'm meticulously combing the sand and pebbles under my feet, but intermittently I stop to look up and assess the view in all directions. There are times when I'm the only human in sight. I bet it has looked this way for hundreds - maybe thousands? - of years. The thought sends a tingle up my spine. I must never forget this moment! I'm on a thumbprint of an island in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. Pinch me!
I eventually reach the point where I began. I slurp down the last few sips from my Camelbak thermos and join the others. The guys have noticed that the wind is changing direction; we need to get back to our anchored boat. I toss my two handfuls of shells into my empty thermos for safekeeping and follow the others into the dinghy.
The Big Race