I'd read about atolls in the book "Sex Lives of Cannibals," but I didn't really understand what one was until I was looking at the Lonely Planet map of Fakarava. It's a doughnut-shaped bit of land with water in the middle-hole. Only the doughnut is really, really skinny in comparison to the hole, which is really the inside of an extinct, underwater volcano full of sea water instead of lava. Now imagine people living on the rim, as if it were an island with a doughnut hole in the middle of it. The people are sprinkles. And not all of the doughnut is visible—some of it is below the water, and is called a pass.
We crossed over into the doughnut across one of these passes, and then our ship, the Aranui 3, was in the water-filled doughnut hole. You can call it a lagoon if you prefer that, or if you don't like doughnuts, or if you're dieting.
We couldn't pull up to shore here, so we anchored in the lagoon and were taken ashore on barges. I headed down to Reception and clocked out with a little magnetic thingymabob, left my dorm key, and lined up to disembark.
When my turn arrived, I walked down the stairs over wide open turquoise water—it wasn't scary—and stepped into a flat metal barge that held 35 people. When this filled up, we roared off to the dock of the main town of Fakarava.
I wasn't really desperate for internet access, having just left Papeete 21 hours ago, and also I'd had SMS ability for the last hour and still would until 2:30 in the afternoon, long after our ten a.m. departure from Fakarava. But nevertheless, I signed on and sent my mail, then draped my scarf over my head and shoulders for a shore-side walk in the sun.
Fakarava has a single paved road that runs along the lagoon-side of the island from the airport past the town. I walked down the shore, where other passengers were snorkeling in the astonishingly clear lagoon. I regretted not bringing snorkel gear. Amanda had told me to, but the time on-shore was so short that I had thought it would be pointless.
I sat down for a few more minutes at the post office, though I knew I was pushing it as the final barge back to the ship was due to leave at ten. But then, I thought, just upload this one photo...
ARRRRRROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! The sound of the Aranui's horn blasted through the harbor. Oops. That was last call, obviously.
I closed my laptop and scuttled back to the barge.
Back to the ship. Back to a day-and-a-half until our first landfall in the Marquesas.