I had a moment tonight where I realized where I was.
It sounds funny, but it’s easy to take things for granted in our modern era of travel. Had I arrived on a ship I would have been sailing for weeks, even months, to get here. The remoteness surely would have settled in alongside a good dose of cabin fever. Instead I flew with a rambunctious child using my lap as a trampoline. The fact that I was flying over the open ocean didn’t strike me until we were about to land on “The Rock.”
I have been here for four days but tonight I took a moment while Maya was sleeping, closed my eyes, listened to the waves pounding the rocky coastline, and made an attempt to visualize where I was sitting on the planet. I imagined a camera zooming out from where I sat, beginning with the top of my head, going through the roof of Matavai Motel and gradually revealing a forest-covered island sitting amidst the deep seas of the Pacific Ocean, the blue water growing increasingly vast and expansive around it.
Seeing things that way definitely puts things into perspective. I’m pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Ever heard of Niue? I didn’t think so. If you have, please drop me a comment because we’ll have lots of experiences in common.
Maya celebrated her first birthday here on Niue and in just a few short weeks it seems our baby has sprouted into a walking, babbling, mischievous TODDLER. Any parent out there will immediately know why I have used uppercase letters here. Don’t put anything within reach. She’ll grab it. Put her on a nice patch of grass and she’ll run to the closest road or gravel path. Give her a favourite food and she’ll decide she doesn’t like it anymore. Throw a dance party and she’ll rip up the hardwood with tiny stomping feet and mini hip thrusts.
It’s exhausting, but it’s so awesome.
I tell you this because many of these things have developed just in time for our week on Niue. This island is actually the cap of an extinct volcano and is the world’s largest uplifted mass of coral. That means there are limestone deposits everywhere – read: very hard and sharp objects – in the forest, along the road, decorating local eateries and, of course, at the beach. While these former marine organisms are strikingly beautiful, my baby sees them as the best climbing walls ever. I see them as a solid reason to buy travel medical insurance. If I hadn’t grown eyes on the back of my head before I came to Niue, I have surely grown them now.
Negotiating uplifted coral along the sea tracks has also made me into a granny of a hiker. With Maya on my back I take extra caution with each step I take. Twice Paul and I have had to take turns hiking the last portions of sea tracks that got just a bit too adventurous to do with a baby. One led to this incredible oasis at Togo Chasm and required careful steps down a 28-rung ladder and scramble over a coral rock pile. The other led us through a cave system to the Talava Arches by the sea. Both hikes were well worth it, and Maya hung in there just fine.
We also take turn strapping on the mask to explore the reefs. It’s a world I wish Maya could see – one with coral teeming with exotic, vibrantly patterned fish; aquatic plants the colour of a neon diner sign; and sea cucumbers lying lazily in the sand. Instead, she splashes around near the shore, still apprehensive about putting her nose under the surface.
The coral composition of this island means it is incredibly porous – a good thing considering the rain we’ve had the past two days. And I mean rain, the relentless kind that is soothing by night and soaking by day. Where we come from rain means cold, and being wet can be life-threatening. Here in the tropics it is always quite warm, so even Maya hasn’t minded getting soaked while we explore. We will likely only be in Niue once in our lives, so we’re heading out, rain or shine. Plus, our toddler seems to get cabin fever worse than us, with accompanying screams that could shatter glass.
We love bringing Maya along, and it seems that everyone we come across is happy to see her, too. Niueans are lovely people with genuine smiles and personalities as bright as the T-shirts and dresses they wear. Each day we encounter people willing to help us by holding Maya while we help ourselves to breakfast, or pulling out toys for her to play with. Our little girl thrives around other people and we have been thrilled to learn this about her on this trip.
Everyone seems to say you fall in love with Niue. At a glance it’s a simple place, with hidden treasures like arches, snorkelling pools and chasms to explore. And today this is how I feel about Maya. I thought I knew her but she surprises me each and every day. Travel seems to be expediting some of these discoveries, and weaving precious memories for us to hold onto in the years to come.
Just like the life that thrives under the surface of the sea, there is so much more to my little girl than meets the eye.