Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Back in 'Eua

(This is an edited excerpt from a letter I wrote to a friend.)

I'm back in Hideway in Eua. Our boat is stuck in Nuku'alofa port.

The new ship - a speedboat - that the captain ordered from America arrived last month. It took a week or so to assemble it. But the engine won't start. Repairs will take another two weeks or more. Bummer.

That will only leave us a week or two to explore our targeted sites before the ship returns to Fiji in November for drydocking. Bummer, nothing I can do about it. Meanwhile the captain is going back to Australia to receive awards - very "Steve Zissou". I think he himself is fed up like hell about this year's expedition.

Nothing to do for me - so I might as well get away. No point staying on the ship in harbor.

I'm really enjoying my time here in Hideaway. There is a peace here - a serenity that in Christian parlance - passes all understanding. I feel it. I step into it like a passenger on a train. And enjoy the
ride. I've been too busy worrying about this and that. I forgot to bring the pressurizing pump for my underwater housing and got sick worrying about it. Last week I thought I accidentally deleted 2 days
of shooting - only to realize that I had kept the SD card in a "safe place". My family is very highly strung and prone to an awful anxiety lifestyle living. So coming here is a marvelous way to disconnect from life on the boat. Not do anything. Just be.

Rather than fret and worry about what others are doing - I think its just time for me to relax and be still.

I was suppose to go on a whale swim today. But I had a tummy upset this morning. So I used that as an excuse to not go. It would also suck if I had to do a runny crap while I'm wearing my wetsuit which takes ages to take off. Haha. Imagine that!!! Yuck. But all that worrying about equipment and stuff... ahhhh.... it kills the joy. As my 5 year old niece Aila would say, "Nothing is fun anymore."

So I'm sitting by the dining room here in the resort overlooking the raging surf.The sea like a monstrous beast lashes at the reef with animal like ferocity - like a furious lion reaching for a prey that is slightly out of its reach, slinking away before repeating its attack randomly. Even here in the safety of the land - 50m away from the surf - I don't feel 100% safe haha.

I tried photographing the crashing surf - but my very presence seems  to have a calming effect on the sea. And each time I go there the sea cools down. lol. I should try walking on water today.

I like getting out and walking around. I'm actually naturally very sedentary. I could easily have stayed on the boat with the rest of the crew, and spend my time reading my Kindle and books. But things are getting awkward on the boat. I think being cooped up in harbor makes people a bit irate. One of the crew has stopped talking or even looking at me for months. And its awkward living in a small boat with such a person.

In a way it is a blessing in disguise - because it encourages me to get out and move around. I've met some interesting people like the whale researchers at the backpackers in Nuku'alofa, the Tongan Bank CEO at Pangai, the Geologists in 'Eua, and made friends with the Tongans like Tala the Tongan receptionist at *** Hotel. I meet up with her from time to time and talk to her. She's a hard worker - she has 12 hours shifts 7 days a week - a work ethic which is unusual for a Tongan.

She's an avid reader and since I wasn't  using my kindle much I gave it to her. Rather than keeping it stored in my drawer I'd prefer to see it being used and enjoyed. She doesn't own a computer and it would be very hard for her to get a Kindle in Tonga and load it with 2G of books. On the other hand, its much easier for me to buy such things.

(Trivia: There is no govt. public library and cinema in Tonga)

And I think that is the essence of living  - to enjoy life and to share what you love with people you like. She's read a couple of books already from the Kindle and its wonderful to see her enjoying it. I feel a bit ashamed now that it was sitting in my drawer for so long.

I met an officer of the Tongan Land office here in the Hideaway resort. He's here with a University geologist caving team - assisting them with their project in studying underground stalactites. There is are massive caves here in 'Eua - some of them large enough to house a 747 jet plane. The island itself is thousands of years old. There are quartz veins just a few metres from the surface - the geologists pointed out one from a drainage trench.

They also told me some incredible information. Apparently there is oil in Tonga - on land and in the sea. Oil has been seeping out of the ground, through building foundation and in the sea. Whenever there is an earthquake, the sea floor cracks and oil has been seeping out naturally. Two drilling studies have been done in the 1950s and 1970s by Shell and Texaco but with inconclusive results. A potential massive mineral lode underwater - emanating sulphite - running in the area between Tonga and Fiji. A major underwater study is scheduled for December. The Canadian company Nautilus Minerals and another exploration outfit is competing with each other for the projects. The officer passed me two documentaries on the subject. They plan to use massive robotic vehicles for the task. Wow think Pacific Rim!!!

The mining explorers are seeking for high grade copper-gold-zinc-silver massive sulphide deposits in Tongan waters. Nautilus is the first in the world to commercially explore the seafloor for high grade minerals. It currently hold more than 300,000km of tenement licences and exploration applications in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, the Solomon Islands, New Zealand and along the western Pacific Ocean's Rim of Fire.

The company had apparently applied for a licence to explore for minerals in Tonga in early 2000, but there was no response from government at the time. In 2007 the company filed another application for a licence to explore for minerals but this time the Tongans were eager and swiftly granted approval.

The exploration work would be carried out in the seabed area known as the Lau Basin - 100 kilometres from Nuku'alofa at the depth of about 2,000 metres.

The officer also told me that he is puzzled he hasn't heard about our expedition as it falls under his office jurisdiction. The Land office he claims has jurisdiction over sea wrecks as the wrecks are lying in the bottom of the sea - hence its land - lol. I didn't know what to make of it. But he says that a permit for salvaging should only take a month or so - and not the lengthy time it is currently taking for us. I told him to talk to our captain and assist him if he can.

Our own exploration work is roughly analogous to what the deep sea exploration companies are doing - albeit we are using 2nd hand equipment and are looking for "stuff" in shallower waters 20m not 2000m! I wonder what Nautilus is thinking of our work and whether we are encroaching on their turf? When millions of dollars are at stake - people tend to get a bit paranoid and suspicious.

The Uni geologist team asked me to join them next week when they do caving. Sounds like fun. I could do with the exercise.

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