I tried hard to make you anxious to see what the next stop on our amazing trip is going to be, and I will stop teasing you now. From Saipan we are going to Midway. Located 1,200 nautical miles from Honolulu at 28º12’N and 177º22’W, this archipelago is at the Northwestern end of the Hawaiian chain of islands and is probably the most amazing seabird reserve in the entire Pacific. I will spare you the copy-pasting of the scientific facts that can be found elsewhere on the web and only share with you the impressions from our visit to the island. I think I will not exaggerate if I say that Midway is the highlight of the trip for us.
So, today we will get back that poor day that we lost forever when we flew from Rarotonga to Christchurch. We took off on July 6, and landed in the evening of July 5. Tomorrow we will have another July 6. Try to explain that to your travel agent or, worse, to your company travel office who try to understand what happens only after you send them a stack of receipts from your travels. But never mind them; what we are here all about is today’s flight.
On this 6.5 hour flight we saw it all. It started with the calm blue waters and puffy popcorn cumulus, as appropriate for a self respecting tropical location such as Saipan. We flew over these blue waters, reflecting the white puffs of clouds, raining back into the ocean that gave them birth, for a couple of hours, and then the picture has changed dramatically. At about 22ºN we have entered a large weather front, with associated multiple cloud decks including some at probably 40,000 feet plus, rain showers and finally tall convective towers that reached in excess of 45,000 feet, from our humble estimates. The towers penetrated the lower and middle stratus decks like mighty trees penetrate the fern undergrowth and then the shrubs in the forest, with their tops lost somewhere above us and hiding from view behind the upper cloud decks. A lot of time we flew in the clouds with no visibility, the pilots flying the airplane by the instruments.
And then, without much warning, we came through the frontal system and into the open, and then came the sunset. The puffy cumulus on the Northern side of the front got hit by the incident light from the setting sun, and the clouds lit up along their edges in changing orange and pink colors like fantastic candles. There are millions of pictures of sunsets on the internet, and many are very good, but I don’t think this should stop one from taking a few more that you get to see in person, or even better than that – watching the nature’s great show, performed right in front of us, with eyes wide open and breath held up so that not to miss a single moment of it. Every time we see something this magnificent I think to myself how lucky we are to be on these flights and to see these sights. Yes, we are tired and keep one eye on the instruments even during such sunsets but we have learned to enjoy the short but so memorable moments that nature keeps sending our way.
And then, really quickly, the day ended. Oh well, we will have the same day again tomorrow. The pilots brought the airplane down to Midway from the 45,000 foot final ascent, and landed softly on the dark runway of the island just long enough to accommodate that very runway.
The adventure started right away. We have heard the tower on the radio, and a fire truck came out to guide us to the parking area. All was as usual until we heard “we will stop to move some birds, there are more than usual today”. And we saw the chase vehicle stop, people jump out of it and start picking up large albatross birds from the taxiway and carrying them off to the sides, where hundreds more of the same birds were sitting, resting for the night. Once we could proceed without the danger of running over the birds we parked the aircraft and finished our work.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Reserve Manager and logistics people met us and, navigating between hundreds of albatross sitting everywhere, on the grass and on the roads, drove us carefully to the hotel, where a late meal was awaiting us in our rooms. After a short introduction to the island rules we retired for the night, ready for the major exploration to start tomorrow morning.