Monthly Archives: April 2018

Moorea’s stingrays are soft and friendly. They are like sentient roombas searching for the best things to eat. Their excellent sense of smell guides them to what they love most: food.

Snorkel with a fistful of sardines and they will quickly identify you as an object of love. They show their love in a physical way: by gently roomba-ing your entire body in search of the source of that delicious smell. Place a clump of sardines into the wrinkled, smiling food port located on the bottom of their body and watch them erupt with affection. Now they snuggle into your arms, rub against your back, and swirl around you, excited for more sardines.

Food = love to a stingray.

Most people who visit Stingray City on Moorea’s north coast do not feed the rays. Tour operators bring fish and dole it out to the excited rays while swimmers snorkel nearby. Wary Blacktip Sharks join the party, too, but are not interested in taking food from people.

The stingrays are happy to receive pets from swimmers who don’t feed them, but will snuggle up to the ones with food. We noticed this during our first visit, and decided to bring food for them during our next visits. We wanted to feed them and see if they would cuddle with us, too. Magic was anchored near Stingray City so we could visit the rays as many times as we wanted with our dinghy.

We arrived with several cans of sardines and found out why the tour operators were the only ones doing the feeding – the rays bite! They don’t have teeth, but their mouthplates can deliver a startling nip which sometimes breaks the skin. They don’t mean to hurt you, they are just eating and your fingers get in the way. Initially, a couple gentle love bites would not deter us. We learned to keep our fingers away from their mouths. We accepted the nibbles as the price of admission.

We returned to Stingray City three more times, each time getting better video footage and photos of the sharks and rays. Our dinghy became greasy and sardine scented.

We didn’t care. We would never forget our cuddly “Roomba Rays”, so friendly and food motivated, always ready to star in another video and brighten our day by climbing into our arms and searching our bodies for treats.

Tips for feeding the Roomba Rays of Moorea

1. Keep your feet on the ground. The rays cruise along the bottom, following scents, and when they find your feet they know to swim upwards and investigate.
2. The rays love canned sardines. Fill your fist with sardines and hold on tight. When you swim in the water the rays will smell the sardines and come over to give you love.
3. Once you have their attention, break off small clumps of sardines and put them into their strange little mouths. You see, it’s difficult for them to find the food because their suctioning mouth is on the bottom of their body while their eyes are on top. You can make feeding easy for them by placing the food directly in their mouths. They will love you for it.
4. To avoid getting bitten, feed them larger clumps of food and keep your fingers away from their mouthplates. Hold your fingers together tightly and don’t allow them to munch on your thumb.
5. Bring at least three cans of sardines per person. You will go through the first can quickly learning the best feeding techniques.

Stingrays are wild and unpredictable creatures. As the name suggests, they do have a stinger which they will use to defend themselves. Feeding stingrays is not a risk free activity, but Moorea’s rays seem to genuinely enjoy interacting with snorkelers. And it sure is fun when you muster the courage to stuff food into their mouths, and they cover you with gentle roomba kisses. It’s such a sweet reward.

It was a cold winter day at the Salt Lake City International Terminal. Brian’s brightly colored board shorts and my strappy tank top spoke volumes: we were headed someplace warm. Plus we were toting around a giant surfboard, which was attracting a lot of attention.
“Surfing the Wasatch?” joked a friendly businessman, dressed to the nines. I gave him the hang loose sign and we both grinned.

We were indeed going someplace warm: to our sailboat in French Polynesia, near Tahiti. We sailed across the Pacific last year so this would be the first time we would fly to the South Pacific to reunite with Magic, our sailboat. This would be the most complex international trip either of us had ever taken, and the “learning experiences” started right away.

Each of our four checked bags was slightly overweight. We were allowed 50 pounds each, and our scale at home had not been accurate. We formed a plan. I had some new sheets and picture frames I was willing to part with, and the lady at the baggage counter was excited to take them off my hands. With each bag now weighing exactly 50 pounds, we continued on to the next counter, where a smiling man spent a lot of time on a phone and then delivered some stunning news to us. We couldn’t take our surfboard.

What!? Both of us had researched this beforehand on the airline’s website. But the smiling man told us we can’t believe what we read online, we have to call the airline directly to ask questions like these. OK. So now we have to do something with this surfboard, and we don’t have time to drive it all the way back home and put it in our garage.

I started to think about all our wonderful friends in Salt Lake. I felt grateful and happy when several people sprang to mind who I hoped may be willing to help get this surfboard off our hands. I started making phone calls.

As I looked through my hefty list of contacts, mostly people I don’t ever call, I thought of a recent TED talk I saw online. The speaker mentioned a longevity study, which tried to determine the factors most important for a long life. The top two predictors for longevity turned out to be social, with the most important predictor being the number of people in your life you can rely on. These are your true friends, or as Ann of Green Gables would call them, your “Bosom Friends”. Bosom friends will loan you money, or sit with you if you’re having an existential crisis, or come and get your surfboard at the airport when you can’t take it to French Polynesia.

I started calling, and heard the receptive and kind voices of my friends on the other end of the line. They all wanted to help, so I tried to figure out who was closest and who could be there the soonest. Within thirty minutes Mike and Heather came to the airport with smiles and hugs, then whisked away our surfboard in their SUV. Problem solved. Thank you, Mike and Heather! A million times, thank you!

With our surfboard gone I had plenty of room to pack my discarded sheets and picture frames in the empty surfboard bag. I returned to the first ticket counter and sheepishly asked if I could have them back. The lady behind the counter returned them with a smile. Now I would have an ample stock of fresh sheets for the South Pacific. Laundromats are few and far between.

We also brought a bevy of shiny new camera gear, which Brian gave to me for Christmas. A Panasonic GH5 camera capable of shooting professional quality 4K video, with all the accessories, ports, lights, and lenses to shoot underwater was stuffed into backpacks we would carry on. We could not allow all this delicate glass to get tossed around on the airport’s conveyor belts. I vowed to guard my new camera gear with my life during our trip, and never let it out of my sight.

We also had four laptops between the two of us, which we also carried on. It’s a good thing we’re young and strong! This year I turn 40, and may need to invest in one of those sensible wheeled carriers for my future trips to the South Pacific.

Our trip went well until we went to check baggage for the final leg: a flight on a miniscule plane from Tahiti to Raiatea. My mouth formed a perfect O when I saw the little sign saying we could only carry on 5 kilograms. My international travel brain was sleepy, but immediately realized the consequences: our camera gear would not be able to come with us as a carry-on. Our 5 kilograms would be mostly consumed by our laptops. We padded our sensitive things with clothing and sheets, and then we had to hope for the best as someone else took our backpacks full of camera gear. I had to let go of the outcome. I would not be able to protect these items as I had hoped.

We landed in Raiatea, got our rental car and went to Magic. Brian hauled our heavy bags aboard using a pulley. Magic was in the boatyard, up on blocks, floating in the air in long term storage. We climbed a sketchy ladder to board Magic.

I whooped with joy as I took a test photo with my new Panasonic GH5 and then reviewed it. Everything worked perfectly. I turned on my video light, bright as the sun, then examined all the ports and lenses. Everything was intact. We had successfully completed our biggest air trip and were back at our sailboat. Another sailing season begins!


About the Author

Hi, I’m Lisa. I’m a tall, blonde superhero and I live in a van and on a sailboat with my superhero husband, Brian. I do it all. I rappel big waterfalls, scuba dive with sharks, dodge encounters with bears and wolves, and work remotely as a full time computer programmer.
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About the Van

Hi, I’m Vanifest. I’m a big, 4x4, off-the-grid van complete with solar panel for power. I'm a 2000 Dodge Ram Van and Lisa has had me since 2009. Read more about me here.


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