The Value of Getting Away

I just returned from a trip to French Polynesia. I’ve been to Polynesia before (Easter Island and Hawaii) but this is my first trip to French Polynesia. I stayed on three islands: Taha’a, Bora Bora and Tahiti. The water I saw there is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. There are so many shades of blue – some are so bright they look like they can’t be real.
The colorful waters around Taha'a

The colorful waters around Taha’a

As the airplane flew over the islands, I noticed from the window that just about all of the islands I could see had a “ring” around them protecting them from the open ocean. Some of these rings are quite far from the islands, but they surround each island almost completely. Inside the rings is where you find all those gorgeous blue colors. I later learned that these islands are the result of gradual sinking of volcanic islands that have cooled and left an open crater in the middle section of the island. As each island sank, the surrounding part of the island fell beneath the surface of the water, and coral grew around the fringes creating a barrier reef. So each of these islands (except 2, I was told) have barrier reefs protecting them from the rough ocean. Thus, the water, or lagoons, around the islands is clear, calm, and full of fish and coral. You could see the bottom clearly even 20 or 30 feet below. It was the most delicious water I’ve ever swam in – for sure!
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From the plane you can see the barrier reef. The faint white line is the breaking ocean. The island is on the right, just out of frame.

I got to do and experience things I can’t do in my day to day life. I snorkeled every day getting to see fish and coral I’ve never seen before. I swam with stingrays and a huge school of reef sharks (the guide I was with fed them before we got in the water – I don’t know if that was to make me feel safer or not, but it worked). I got a chance to see the Southern Cross, and to see stars at night like I’ve never seen them before. Being so remote and with so little electricity in the area, you could see thousands of stars all very bright. It was pretty amazing. And I would watch the moon rise at night, and it was so bright I literally felt like I needed sunglasses. The people I met there were very, very nice. One of them, who worked at my hotel on Bora Bora, paddles his canoe to and from work every day. Quite a different lifestyle than I’m used to!
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A glimpse of the amazing underwater world I dove in each day.

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I took this while snorkeling. There were so many sharks and they were so beautiful (and a bit scary).

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Me, with stingrays to my side and sharks circling behind me.

I’ve travelled a lot in my life, and I hope that continues. Whenever I visit another place (even places less remote and more like Los Angeles, where I live), I find it so valuable in many ways. We get so used to our environments that life becomes routine. For the most part we become blind to the world around us. Life becomes about appointments and to-do lists, and work, and things. The fact of being alive on a planet in the middle of a solar system gets lost, along with perspective and what is truly important. I know what may seem important to one person is different from what seems important to someone else, but I think one can boil things down to two universal things of importance: on a personal level – being able to experience life; on a grander level – protecting our planet so we can survive. Both of these points seem to have become difficult. “Modern life” is mostly geared towards results and not often, if ever, about experiencing living. There is certainly little attention paid to the larger world – nature, the earth, the planets, etc. – of which we are a part. Humans have a trait wanting to separate ourselves from everything else. Feeling that we are somehow more important or more intelligent than the rest of life. And I believe to go through life just “looking forward” and not “looking around” leads to an empty life. As for protecting the planet, the human quality of greed has distracted many people from being able to look at the bigger picture of the planet. A worry about jobs or profits blinds people to being able to see the long term damage they are doing to the planet, and thus to all living things – including themselves.

So for me a vacation is a way of forgetting my routine, my goals and my so called modern life. It is a chance to “look around” while being alive. It reinvigorates my connection to the planet and other living things (including people), and it helps me remember that I am part of a bigger thing. I’m connected to the sharks, the mountains, the oceans, the trees, the mosquitoes, the birds, the people who paddle to work, and the stars and planets that shine so brightly over the earth. It grounds me, and gives me a break from the mundane and stressful. I can’t think of anything I can recommend more than taking a break and putting yourself in a new environment – even just for a day or two. It doesn’t have to be across oceans, it can be an hours drive away. Just someplace where your eyes can find new things to gaze, your nose can find new smells, your mouth can taste new flavors. A place where your mind can clear and where you can become one with this glorious world we live in.

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