The island of Mangaia is reputedly the oldest island in the Pacific Ocean. It has been 18 million years since this ancient coral reef rose from the ocean to become one of the most forgotten places in the world. Home to only 700 local people with a mere 50 tourists who visit this place every year, Mangaia is the island that the people forgot and yet so much history lies here. Untouched and unchanging for the world to see.
This morning we ventured into the caves in the inner part of the island which were once entirely underwater. Shrouded in darkness we marveled at the sparkling minerals which make the stalagmites and stalactites shine in the dim torch light while we heard the stories of the ancestors who lived there and delicately worked our way through the maze. There is no better way to feel like a true explorer than driving down an old track where you have to stop to remove the foliage that has grown over the path and then hiking through the dense tropical forest to a cave entrance that feels like it hasn’t been seen in years, and yet this morning we did just that.
After the wonder of the caves and the history we were exposed to in this rarely visited place we returned to our more than comfortable accommodations for lunch and rest. Now as the sun is setting Dave has been asleep for 6 hours – a combination of struggling with jet lag and generally going too hard – and I am witnessing the other side of being an explorer. This is the side that the movies don’t tell you about. The part where your body resists the time differences and sometimes just won’t let you do any more.
As I reach for the insect repellant to try and stave off the onslaught of mosquitoes that I know are coming I consider what it is like to be a true explorer, from both sides. There is good and bad to every job but no matter how many mosquitoes there are or how much daylight one must lose out on in order to get themselves right again I know that there is no better way to be. There is no job more satisfying or challenging. The life of a true explorer is not all wilderness and discovery. There are endless flights in cramped economy seating and language barriers and illness too. But nothing could ever change the wonder I have when I look at the world.
So as the sun is setting on another glorious day in the Cook Islands I am finding a new appreciation for the undiscovered places. The only thing I can hear is the sound of the waves crashing as the tide goes out, I can feel the sun on my face and I know that there is a sensational home cooked meal on its way and I feel incredibly lucky that I get to have this experience that so few people get to have, even if it does have its downsides. The only hidden treasure in the life of this explorer is to find the treasure of experience that is hidden in every destination – good or bad, and to enjoy it.