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Small World

October 3, 2014

About fifteen years ago, Mrs. Chatterbox and I flew to Tahiti where we boarded a ship for a cruise through French Polynesia. We weren’t particularly thrilled with Tahiti and its dirty congested capital, Papeete. And the famous black beaches were beautiful, but the sand heated up to nearly two hundred degrees, making it impossible to walk barefoot into the surf. But many of the surrounding islands were unpopulated and beautiful, giving us the “Gauguin” experience we were looking for.


Our most eastern destination was Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, the farthest destination from home we’d achieved at that time. A typhoon had preceded us to the island and the locals weren’t expecting us as they busily cleaned up in the storm’s aftermath. Still, the island was beautiful and the beaches, while littered with downed palm trees, were pristine and empty.


Having conquered my fear of sharks while snorkeling in Hawaii, I decided to explore the shallow waters off the Rarotonga coast. Mrs. Chatterbox told me to have a good time and settled on the empty beach to watch me walk out into the surf. It was low tide and the water was still and shallow for a quarter of a mile. Giant sea slugs, the size and shape of croissants, littered the sea floor and it was difficult navigating through them.


With water finally reaching my thighs, I was considering the fact that sharks often attack people in three feet of water when something dark raced past me. I let out a shriek, believing it to be a shark. I turned around and saw that I was so far from shore that Mrs. C. looked like a speck on the beach. Escape was impossible. My heart was jack hammering in my chest when the creature in the water leapt up and licked my face—it was a black dog, peculiar looking as most Polynesian dogs are, but very friendly. In my defense, everything was a blur; I was wearing a snorkeling mask and had left my glasses on the beach with Mrs. C.. A distant whistle drew the dog away.


I’d had enough. As I started the slow trek back to the beach I noticed a woman cautiously wading through the water, heading my way. At first I thought it was Mrs. C., but when she neared I could see it wasn’t. Travel has a way of bringing complete strangers together and when the woman was near enough we introduced ourselves and began chatting.


I told her where I was from and she did the same. She wasn’t from the Cook Islands or French Polynesia. She wasn’t even from Hawaii. There, a half mile off the coast of Rarotonga, the farthest I’d ever been from home, with giant sea slugs creeping over our toes, I met a woman from Portland, Oregon. In fact, she lived only a half mile from us. Unfortunately, we didn’t have anything to write with and by the time we returned to our ship I couldn’t remember her name or address. Mrs. C. and I were unable to connect with her back home.


All my life I’d heard people use the expression: It’s a small world. In spite of the fact that Mrs. C. and I were spending a fortune in an attempt to prove otherwise, at that moment it did seem like the world was a small place. 




Black sand on a Tahitian beach.




Bora Bora





 Fish seen on a submarine ride on Moorea




 Locals on Huahine. No wonder Gauguin thought these Islands were Paradise.





 Sunset on Raiatea





Chubby Chatterbox on a deserted Rarotonga beach





While I got as far as Fiji and Tonga for a brief time, I do miss the islands! Time is so different there.
By: Tabor on October 3, 2014
We had just bought a condo in Maui. I was visiting with my new neighbors & one of them asked me where we lived when we werenât in Hawaii. I told her we lived in Los Angeles. She said she had a sister there, told me her name & asked if we knew her. (After all, there are only about 3,000,000 people in L. A.) I said I didnât know her & asked where she lived. She told me. Her sister lived EXACTLY one block from us!!
By: fishducky on October 3, 2014
We do live on a small world! What lovely photos- thanks!
By: Kathe W. on October 3, 2014
I find it rather curious that you failed to mention that most of the native women on those islands do not see a need to wear clothes and all of them are well worth looking at. Has Mrs. C taken over as editor again?
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on October 3, 2014
What amazing pictures! And meeting a woman from your hometown is just freaky! I hate shallow beaches. Many of the beaches in the Red Sea are shallow, and since the sand is really tan dirt, you have to wade through mud to get to water deep enough to swim. Thanks for sharing your vacation pics!
By: Lexa Cain on October 3, 2014
OMG... a shriek for fast paced licking black thing. Trust me, sharks don't lick. You did manage to capture some lovely photos and that sunset is exceptionally beautiful.
By: Daniel LaFrance on October 3, 2014
2 ships passing in the day - a million miles from home. :)
By: TexWisGirl on October 3, 2014
I've had three such incidents.. two while traveling and one in my own front yard. I may just have to blog about them sometime. All were far less exotic but interesting, just the same. Gorgeous pics.
By: Hilary on October 3, 2014
It's so terrible that so much of Polynesia is run-down and ugly, but your photos are great and your story even better.
By: Madeleine McLaughlin on October 3, 2014
Phew, a licking shark. What a scare. The world really is small thanks to air travel. The place may have been run down but your pictures show just pure paradise. That sunset was awesome.
By: Akansas Patti on October 3, 2014
your story just shows to go you.....that it is a small world and how lovely that you discovered that in such a beautiful locale. Jelly......
By: omalinda on October 3, 2014
I think I might have walked on water had I encountered an unexpected licking from a dog while preparing to snorkel. A bit of Portlandia in paradise-it makes a great story. Your photos are beautiful!
By: Tom Cochrun on October 3, 2014
It's a small world after all. God, I hate that song. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on October 3, 2014
It's no Polynesian adventure, but I remember going to Disney World the summer after 8th grade & seeing my 8th grade teacher as we walked through the gates. Gah!
By: The Bug on October 3, 2014
Um...that picture of you on the deserted beach? What are you, in the witness protection program?
By: Val on October 3, 2014
Sorry I haven't been around lately. Just lazy. Your travels prove to me that you are a very lucky man. Great story!
By: Catalyst on October 3, 2014
The deserted beach sounds inviting. You can only experience the small world if you are willing to meet new people.
By: red on October 3, 2014
I once ran into a work colleague in New York's Central Park. Not too extraordinary since I was working only about 40 miles (not 4000) miles from Central Park at the time . Still ... one in 20 million!
By: tom sightings on October 3, 2014
Ohhhh I would LOVE to go to Tahiti! The pictures look great. LOVED the dog in the water story----I would have shrieked---LOUDLY!!!
By: Marcia @ Menopausal Mother on October 3, 2014
That is one amazing journey! I was in Europe and the nearest person to me was some guy from Cleveland whose English wasn't all that great!
By: Michael Manning on October 4, 2014
You must be so very organized. You can find photos from a few years ago. I have no idea where pics are from a couple years ago. Nice story though. I like your honest reaction to the "shark attack".
By: on October 4, 2014
In Germany the saying goes, "The world is nothing but a small village." One of my cousins from Germany came to visit me in Buffalo about 15 years ago and also took a trip to Naples, Florida. In a grocery store there she ran into an older German woman who turned out to be from my hometown (also the hometown of her mother). The older woman had lived three houses down from my house and knew our grandfather.
By: Pixel Peeper on October 4, 2014
A great story and indeed what a small world. Big enough for you and the sharks though!
By: John on October 5, 2014
Well, you've got me beat. My "small world" experience happened when we were in Belize. As I was treading water in what's known as the "Blue Hole" (Belize has two of them-I was at the less-famous one in a tropical forest), I met a woman from Philadelphia who also treading water. She was very friendly and remarked that the water was "cold" in her spot. I smiled a wicked little smile and said, "Not where I am." She shrieked and got out of the water. Now we know why it's called the "Blue Hole." It's because they put dye in the water.
By: Al Penwasser on October 5, 2014
What beautiful pics. Funny story about the dog:)
By: Sandra Cox on October 5, 2014
Sometimes it is scary just how small the world is! :)
By: Jenny Woolf on October 5, 2014
WOuld have scared the crap outta me too.
By: Cranky on October 5, 2014
I'm terrified of dogs so it would have scared me as much as a shark! And trust you to be chatting up a woman on the beach! Ha, joking.
By: LL Cool Joe on October 7, 2014
Yes, it is a small world, and I think I can match this story. Many years ago, my wife & I lived in Guernsey (Channel Islands, UK) and were on a driving tour of British Columbia, Canada, which was also the furthest from home either of us had ever been. In a wilderness lodge in the middle of Wells Gray Park, miles from anywhere, we sat down to supper along with the dozen or so other guests. Yes, it was a small lodge. We heard the couple next to us mention St.Peter Port (the main town on Guernsey) and asked what they knew about the place. Turns out they lived there, barely half a mile from our house. On top of that, they were on their way to meet up with another Guernsey couple, who were flying out to Vancouver, and who my wife worked with.
By: Botanist on October 19, 2014

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