Vinaka vakelevu, NAI'A!

Bula! (Hello in Fijian) It seems like it was only yesterday that we said "Bula!" to the NAI'A. It's strange to think that today we said goodbye.

This has been an incredible expedition. We've written a lot about the science, but the people are also deserving of mention. Without a doubt, this was an unusually smooth mix of personalities. Everyone (team and crew alike) worked extremely hard, and developed deep mutual respect and admiration for each other. With so many different expedition missions, and so many boat-related details, it's a miracle that so much was accomplished, with so much harmony.

The entire 2009 expedition team - Photo by Nai'a Captain Johnathan Smith. From left to right: David Obura, Rob Barrel, Jeff Wildermuth, Greg Stone, Alan Dynner, Randi Rotjan, Les Kaufman, Brian Skerry, Jim Stringer, Craig Cook, Tuake Teema, Kate Madin, Larry Madin, and Stuart Sandin. Absent: Tukabu Teroroko.

Let me paint a picture for you. We were on a pretty small boat, with very few (if any) opportunities to get a moment alone. We shared our lives with ~30 people (expedition members + crew), with little/no contact with friends and family. Truly, despite all of the blogging, email was a rarity and phone an impossibility in the remote Phoenix Islands. Contact was limited to short blog and photo uplinks (readers, I'm just letting you know how important you are!).

At any rate, we had to eat, sleep, and work together in a very small space for a pretty long time. We survived rough seas with respect (if not dignity), and learned to help each other with the intellectual and physical challenges of long field days. No yelling, no screaming, no drama. In fact, as if to celebrate our ship-zen, the seas became glassy calm and we were treated to a beautiful last sunset onboard with a Fijian mountain backdrop.

Glassy, flat calm seas (Photo: Greg Stone) and Fijian sunset (Photo: Randi Rotjan)

Let me introduce you to some of onboard characters and give you a glimpse into our last night. A warm vinaka vakelevu (thank you in Fijian) to the NAI'A staff for all of their help, support, music, and friendship. You helped to make this expedition extraordinary.

Captain Johnathan - getting ready to help us with our customs paperwork (Photo: Randi Rotjan)

YUM! Some incredible food came from this tiny galley. Wally is demonstrating... (Photo: Randi Rotjan)

A toast by Greg Stone; a song from the Crew. (Photos: Randi Rotjan)

In Fiji and Kiribati (and elsewhere), it is customary to celebrate good times with Kava. Kava root is an ancient crop of the western Pacific, and the NAI'A crew treated us to a Kava sing-along party our last night. Kava drink is prepared in a bowl (shown below), and served in coconut shells.

Kava preparation (left); "fish guys" (right) celebrate their successful data collection with some Kava and some fish tales.

Nataune ni gunuyaqona? (Is it Kava time?)

The Kava party in full swing. A special thanks to Moe! (Photos: Randi Rotjan and Greg Stone)

Rabbit ears, and cheers! Everyone had a moment to relax the last night on the NAI'A.

All packed up, no one wanted to leave the NAI'A.

Ni Sa Moce, NAI'A! we'll see you again soon!

However, our story is not yet done. Stay tuned for our brief Fijian adventures, our travels home, and our trip reflections. Because, it ain't over 'til it's over.


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