From Moorea to Tubuai

I’m writing you from Mataura, the capital of Tubuai, the main island of the Austral region and in the southern province of French Polynesia. A sentence that is obviously too long, but I hope helpful to specifically indicate where I am at the moment… The last two weeks have been quite adventurous, but unfortunately the internet connection is reminiscent of Woudenberg in 1995 and thus, uploading messages often takes longer than my patience can bear. I finally found a relatively stable connection and here is a short recap of my past two weeks.


Whereas most tourists that visit French Polynesia tend to enjoy their honeymoon and only travel from their resort to the beach and vice versa, I have been scouring up and down deserted parts of islands, focusing on the trees and undergrowth opposite to the emerald and crystal clear water. Polynesians tend to look quite amazed when they see this ‘China man’ (as I’m being referred to) with a lack of interest for the ocean, but a clear enthusiasm for chasing little lizards across the beach. However, as soon as I am explaining what I am doing, they are very excited and more than happy to share stories about all the lizards they’ve seen. What must be noted though, is that most often when they refer to lizard, they actually mean gecko… When they see my childish excitement as I pull a little brown skink from a tree, they clearly do not share the same interest…

It took a while though before I finally got my first skink, I was quite worried the first few days, while visiting Moorea and the only critters I could find where mosquitoes and crabs the size of coconuts. Moorea is a beautiful place however, basically a gigantic volcanic rock sticking out of the ocean, with a lush and dense vegetation and peaks that are often covered in clouds. The scenery is fantastic, mythical and embarrassingly, I have to admit that it reminds me of Jurassic Park. Alas, the dinosaur I was after, proved to be elusive! Until one morning, when I took a kayak out to a tiny little motu (small islands are locally known as ‘motu’) and arrived on a beach that was adjacent to a densely covered forest. After walking for a few minutes, I noticed in the corner of eye something moving rapidly. Jumping towards where the movement was last observed, as one does when chasing Cryptoblepharus, I managed to nab a little Crypto that looked exactly like some of the species I encountered back in Australia. Filled with joy, and slightly amazed to see the large degree of similarity with the Australian species, I had found my first Crypto of the trip!

That was almost two weeks ago and since then I have been fortunate enough to find and collect the lizards I am after, on every island I have visited thus far. After Moorea, I continued my journey south and took a 2 hour flight from Tahiti to the Austral region. My first stop, Raevavae, was another rock placed in the middle of the ocean and literally a tiny dot in the Pacific; you can cycle around it in 2.5 hours (yes, I’m Dutch, the size of things is measured in bicycle distances…). Seeing this island made me realize once more, how fascinating it is that these lizards dispersed across vast oceans, undertaking a trip that took me three flights and above all, managed to successfully settle there. If their dispersal is human aided, I think that’s equally as fascinating, because I find it no less than miraculous that ancient Polynesian boatsmen managed to navigate such large distances into the unknown and find these volcanic specks in the middle of nowhere. Raevavae is a remarkable place, only receiving around a 1000 tourists a year, I think it still represents what Polynesia used to be before resorts and honeymooners took over. Island life is the motto here and people are among the friendliest I have encountered across all my travels: at the end of most days my wrist muscles were aching from all the hand waving and friendly gestures. Polynesian people are warm, kind and always smiling. I often cannot understand them very well though, because my French is pretty much at the level of a toddler and their strong Tahitian accent is also not very hepful, but we are communicating through laughs and jokes, which is quite humorous and most often gets the point across.

Following Raevavae, I have now arrived on Tubuai, which is about three hundred kilometers to the west of Raevavae. Most interestingly, it seems to be the island of Crypto’s (aka a ‘dream’ destination) and that’s fortunate, because disaster has struck and my laser pointer, the Crypto Capture Device, has decided to quit on me. So the tables have turned and most often the lizards outrun/outsmart me, which is quite embarrassing since I already had three years of practice…
That’s it for now, more to follow as soon as I find the next internet access point that allows me to transfer Crypto stories!

Moos

C. poecilopleurus


More arboreal than littoral…

Moorea

Fieldsite…

Fish are friends, not food… Snif snif…

My PhD: Gene tree, species tree, palm tree!

 

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