As usual in tropical paradise, we work. Since we flew in so late, we start off the work day late too and we are at the plane side by 10:30 am. The day is going to be hot, and humidity is high too. Now, humidity is something typical for Rarotonga and in comparison Hawaii are dry (with the exception of, perhaps, Hilo, which is drenched daily by the rain). When we landed here last night the airplane got so covered with condensation, water was running down the sides of the fuselage and dripping on the ramp. I have only seen one other place that compares in this regard to Rarotonga: Solomon Islands. In Honiara, when we landed there in November 2009, this went further; I have never before felt condensation form on my own hands. I was not dead and cold I don’t think, but after getting out of the airplane there I felt water condense on my hands and face. Granted, it was cold in the cabin but not that cold.
In any case, I would recommend this to anyone, generally speaking: if you arrive to a tropical island by an airliner and it was cool inside, put your cameras and sensitive electronics into bags for a couple of hours or keep your point-and-shoot in a pocket next to your body to keep it warm, or you may find what I found when I excitedly pulled out my wife’s D-40 (on another work day in 2009) on Easter Island: water dripping off the lens. Guess what? The camera does not focus very well when it is sopping wet. Morale: let it acclimate. I ended up keeping photo equipment outside the hotel room actually, since the air conditioning in the room cools it enough to condense water when you carry it outside later.
Back on track. This morning we had visitors to our Gulfstream, who consisted of several representatives of environmental organizations and ministry of marine resources, Cook Islands’ newspaper and television station. Discussion, answering questions and visiting the airplane took a couple of hours but the people were interested and it was a pleasure to answer their questions and tell them what our work is all about. I am always amazed how can reporters jot down a conversation without slowing you down or missing parts of it; now I have the answer, they do miss parts of it for out of our crew of 10 they listed ten people but described only nine, leaving out our irreplaceable mechanic. When you catch these oopses it makes you wonder how many of those are present in every single newspaper article you read daily? I bet, many, and we (sometimes) read them for the truth.
After this exciting social episode was finished and I was parched as a fish that had been out of the water for two hours, I was able to process the flight data, which were anxiously awaited back in the U.S. and drove back to the hotel. The Sanctuary at Rarotongan where we are staying is a very nice adult-only part of the hotel. We initially worried a little about what exactly “adult-only” means here but turns out, exactly that: in the main part of the hotel there are many families with children and the place can get a bit on the noisy side, especially near the pool and during meals. In the Sanctuary it got a bit noisy only when our crew finally descended on the bar in the evening, buying each other drinks and trying to relax after the long day of work.
I had an interesting task on hand of trying to figure out whether or not to fly to Christchurch the following day. It would have been an easy one had it not been for the continuing volcanic ash presence in the Southern Pacific and the Southern Ocean, coming from the Cordon Caulle volcano in Chile. Flying a turbo jet airplane through volcanic ash severely damages the jet engines, and we are not willing to take that risk. However, New Zealand being on the edge of the warning area, plus Air New Zealand flying in and out, plus the ability to go in at low altitudes made the flight seemingly possible. After pulling my hair out for three hours, pouring over maps, charts, live infrared cloud top temperature loops and satellite imagery I finally called the forecast support team in Boulder, Colorado and woke them up. They frantically got to work and another hour later came to the same conclusion I did earlier but wanted a second opinion on: we should not go, the conditions are likely to improve the following day.
Therefore, we are declaring a Hard Down Day tomorrow, meaning no work, just rest. Another day off in Paradise, how is that possible? By the time that decision was reached at 5 pm I was so tired that I didn’t even want a drink. However, that should never stop a person from having one at the end of the day for when you are very tired, a drink can help shrug the load that otherwise can subdue you, so we hung out at the bar and had one or two. Oh, who’s counting. It was all good.