What a final day it has been! We really enjoyed our last 2 days of tours for diving and the jellyfish lake, but today we got to enjoy a last day of excursions all together as a full group of 18 students. We got picked up from Argo at 8 am, and first, we got to see a traditional outrigger canoe out on the water. It was handmade here in Palau, and it was amazing to see the craftsmanship that goes into building something like that. The main part of the hull was carved from a single tree! Based on the time and care it took to build this smaller canoe, it is crazy to imagine the work that went into building a voyaging canoe that can carry many people over many miles. We also got to see the method used for tacking and jibing, which involves moving the boom to the other end of the boat. After this demonstration, we went over to Paddling Palau to see some traditional tools and learn more about the materials and methods used for building these canoes. We also learned a lot about the history ad culture of traditional navigation throughout the Pacific.
After we learned many new and interesting facts, we got in the vans and drove up to the Ngaptang waterfalls. We had a cool, wet, and refreshing walk through the jungle. We noticed many old railroad tracks crisscrossing the jungle floor and learned that they were remnants from World War II. We even got to see an old locomotive that was abandoned at the end of the war! The first part of the falls that we arrived at was the pocket falls. These were small waterfalls that had formed where a river had carved through the rock, making smooth(ish) slides, small falls, and pools or pockets at the bottom of each small waterfall. Most of us took turns swimming in the pools and sliding down the rocks. It was really fun, even though a few people bumped their tailbones or got a little bit scuffed up in the process. Once we had enjoyed the pocket falls long enough, we walked a few more minutes and over a swinging bridge to a much larger waterfall. This was absolutely beautiful, and we all spent some time shimmying over the rocks to stand in the flow of the falls. Some people even chose to try their will at standing under the strongest part of the falls. It was described as a painful back massage, but some people found it very cathartic.
After we were done enjoying the falls, we hiked back out through the jungle. Now, remember that all of us did a 3-week passage during which we didn’t walk or get very much cardio other than cockpit dance parties. So even though the hike wasn’t very long, it was uphill the whole way to get out, so we were huffing and puffing and looking forward to lunch by the time we made it out. We had a tasty lunch, another beautiful drive, stopped for gelato, stopped for an hour of shopping for souvenirs and gifts, and finally headed back to Argo for a pizza party dinner. It was a long and rewarding day, and our love and appreciation for Palau were reaffirmed once again.
Our final morning dawned clear and hot as usual, and we set to work getting packed and ready to depart Palau and Argo tonight. Hearts were a bit heavy as people emptied their bunk bags and cubbies, packed up their fins, donated some toiletries and tried to fit everything into our duffel bags. We worked in shifts, BA style like we always do, with people in top bunks going first, and then middle and then bottom bunks. While others in our cabins were packing, we went for final swims and finished writing our cards, a tradition on every single Seamester voyage. We write a short letter to each person onboard with memories, inside, jokes, and words of encouragement and friendship. It was such a nice way to reflect on the semester, think about all we’ve done and how far we’ve come, and express to our friends how much we care about them. The students and staff have become like family, and we will never forget all the memories made on our 72 days and 3.923 nautical miles together. The students departed late at night on our final day and flew through the night and well into the next day to arrive safely home. It was a sad farewell, but we know that everyone still has many more adventures ahead.