We temporarily split our group up today so that the plane could actually get off the ground. Our first group left the Rarotonga Airport at 9am and the second group flew out at 10:30am. A mere 40 minutes later we touched down on Aitutaki. The island looked so amazing from the air with water so blue and clear. As we emerged from the Aitutaki tarmac we were warmly greeted by our hosts who promptly bedecked us with ei’s (the Cook Islanders’ version of a lei).
We are staying at the Reef Motel. Such a nice place! Our hosts made us a great lunch of sandwiches and local fruits. As our food was digesting, we took a quick tour of the island as either Dr. Anderson or Steel as our guide (depending on which car you where in). We stopped at a beach near one terminus of the runway (adjacent to the Boat Shed at Popoara Ocean Breeze Villas) that harbored all kinds of coral sub tidally and on the beach itself. We explored for about an hour and got one additional introduction to plants, reef flats, etc. Then we piled back into our cars to head to another beach (at the opposite end of the runway) to snorkel…where I saw A LOT of sea cucumbers. I also saw a good sized moray eel and crown-of-thorns starfish! Two animals that can cause serious harm if you get too close. After that we held a formal class welcome to Aitutaki and shared what we were thankful for. Our brief ceremony really helped make this trip feel a lot more real and relevant to my academic training. I am very excited to see and experience all the adventures and stories that I am sure are to come in over the next few days.