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  Field Notes From
Hotspot: Islands of the Pacific



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On Assignment
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From Author

Michael Parfit



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From Photographer

Tim Laman



In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Suzanne Chisholm (top), and Mark Thiessen


 

On Assignment On Assignment On Assignment
Hotspot: Islands of the Pacific

Field Notes From Author
Michael Parfit
Best Worst Quirkiest

    My best experience grew out of my worst (see next column). A scientist and I had spent all day making an excruciating 15-mile (24-kilometer) hike through swampy pastures along the Sovi River in Fiji, but on our way back the villagers built rafts to spare us that misery. They used cane knives to chop down a bunch of bamboo trees about 6 inches (15 centimeters) in diameter and over 20 feet (6 meters) long, then lashed them together with vines. This made long rafts that were not much wider than a canoe.
    The rafts didn't look all that stable, but they were rock-solid out on the river. The villagers also cut bamboo poles to get the rafts through the white water they knew we'd be hitting. Going into the first rapid I thought, Oh, no—we're going over! But we were fine. They had even built a box to hold our gear that needed to stay dry.
    It took us only two hours to float downstream, and we got to watch those horrible pastures slipping past the whole way down.



    Walking upstream along the Sovi River was a nightmare. We had to walk through soggy, mucky pastures that lay between the rain forest and the riverbank. These pastures were actively populated by various four-legged animals, including sheep and cows. With the water table right below the surface; nothing drained away; that made the ground saturated and the mud very, well, fragrant! It had all sorts of interesting organic textures.
    Hour after hour we slogged through those stinky pastures. Needless to say, my shoes had to be retired shortly afterward. They were unfit to be within a mile of human habitation.



    In the Marquesas there was a little island where people went to collect eggs. They would go out there in a skiff, leap onto a cliff ledge, then haul themselves up with a rope anchored at the top. It was a 25-foot (7-meter) climb and you couldn't see how well the rope was secured at the top, but eight-year-olds were zipping right up it—then jumping off the top of the cliff to get back down! We took a pass on the leap: We didn't know how far out you'd have to jump to avoid hitting the ledge on your way down.
    The Marquesans had set aside two islands, both of which had nesting colonies of sooty terns. One of the islands was off-limits to egg hunters, so everyone went to the other one to collect eggs. There we found nests full of eggs and thousands of sooty terns flying around, but since everyone was always taking the eggs, there were no chicks.





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