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Journal Entries for 2014-05 Spice Islands & Coral Triangle Expedition

OVERALL SUMMARY: After two and a half weeks on the National Geographic Orion on the Papua New Guinea and Micronesia Expedition (see Album below, 2014-04 Papua New Guinea & Micronesia Expedition), we had a transition day in Palau between one expedition and the next. We were already accustomed to the Orion's "open door policy" were we never locked our door and, therefore, didn't have to take our room card everywhere we went, especially out snorkeling. We loved our two-bedroom cabin. We were used to our mini-balcony, which was only a step wide. It was convenient to put our wet gear outside to dry.

The routine was the same on this expedition. When we had a morning or afternoon (or both) At Sea, there was always a presentation or a photo workshop with the photography staff. At the presentations we learned about the Raja Impat, the Coral Triangle, coral reef fish, aboriginal rock art, WWII in the Indo-Pacific, photography assignments for National Geographic, expedition photography, the Spice Islands, expedition stories and fisheries. The presentations were given by the National Geographic staff, which included David D (NatGeo Photographer) and his wife Jennifer, Ron (Cultural Specialist), Mike (Undersea Specialist), Tom (Naturalist) and David C (Naturalist/Photo Instructor). Tim and his wife Linnea were the Expedition Leader and Asst Expedition Leader. Justin and Ian were the divemasters. Richard is a Naturalist and Jim is a videographer. There were about 100 guests, 13 Expedition Staff members and 54 Orion crewmembers.

There were two eating areas, the Outdoor Cafe and the Restaurant. Breakfast and lunch were always buffets, with dinner mostly being gourmet type fare from a menu. Most meals were at the outdoor cafe, unless it rained or it was a special occasion, like a Captain's Welcome or Farewell Dinner. In addition to the daily meals, we had sunset celebrations, cocktails on the beach, special dinner invitations, special presentations and entertainment by the crew.

When we were not At Sea, we were kept busy with land based tours or water activities. The water activities included diving, snorkeling or the glass-bottomed boat tours. We always did snorkeling since we're not divers anymore. We wouldn't have qualified (25 or more recent dives) anyway. There were about 18 divers, with only two divemasters, so they had to have "experienced" divers. The glass-bottomed boat was great for those who didn't either dive or snorkel. The expedition staff was very proud of their new glass-bottomed zodiac. They had this specially made and it really added value to the cruise for those guests who didn't snorkel or dive. Sometimes we were able to snorkel off the beach, but most times they set up a snorkel platform. This was a metal platform, about two feet below the water surface that was suspended between two zodiacs. We'd scoot from the shuttle zodiac to one of the platform zodiacs, get ready with our gear and then use the platform to enter the water. This worked really well.

They kept really good track of us at all times. When we went ashore via the gangway (which was rare), we had a card to swipe. But, when we went by zodiac shuttle, there was a Tag Board. We would turn the tags for #510 (we each had one) from blue to white. When we returned, we would turn the tags for #510 from white to blue. This way they knew who was on board and who wasn't. They also kept track of us on the snorkel platform. In our rooms we found snorkel bags with our room number on them. We used them when we went to snorkel. We'd keep all of our stuff in the bags and leave them on one of the platform zodiacs when we went into the water. If there was a bag left (and a lifejacket) the crew knew that somebody was still in the water (and who it was).

We started off the Coral Triangle and Spice Island Expedition with a helicopter cruise over the Rock Islands of Palau (Journal #2), followed the next day by a return to Cemetery Reef, the Big Drop Off and Jellyfish Lake in Palau (Journals #3-#4) for three snorkels.

After we pulled up anchor and left Palau, we stopped at Wayag Island (Journal #5), Waigeo Island (Journal #6), Kabui Bay (Journal #7), and Gam Island (Journal #8) in Raja Impat, and Kokas and Arguni (Journal #9) in West Papua, all located in the Coral Triangle during the first week, with only two village visits and the rest water activities, such as diving, glass-bottomed zodiac tours and snorkeling. We did a lot of snorkeling. After the Coral Triangle, we went to the Moluccas or Spice Islands, stopping at Banda Neira (Journals #10-#11), Banda Run (Journal #12), the Lucipara Islands (Journal #13) and the Barat Daya Islands (Journal #14). We went snorkeling nine times (12 including Palau) and visited four villages on this 14-day expedition. Then we crossed the Timor Sea and docked at Darwin, Australia in the evening. The next day we had a City Tour in Darwin (Journal #15) and then we were dropped off at the airport. This was the second part and the end of our trip.

We were on our own now. We flew Virgin Australia from Darwin to Sydney on Mon, May 12th, 4hr20min. We stayed overnight in Sydney and then flew from Sydney to LAX on Tues, May 13th, 13hr50min. We were finally home! What an awesome expedition -- and we have the pictures to prove it!!

0262-Map of Palau to Darwin, original itinerary.jpg

0084-Orion in Palau Marina from air, Micronesia.JPG

0096-Our cabin, bed & sitting area, Orion.JPG

0097-Our cabin, work desk area, Orion.JPG

0098-Our cabin balcony, Orion.JPG

0456-Snorkel platform, Alyui Bay, Waigeo Island, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.JPG

0487-Fan & feather stars, Alyui Bay, Waigeo Island, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.JPG

0711-Corals, Alyui Bay, Waigeo Island, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.JPG
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