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Our flight from Rarotonga to Aitutaki was very short, only 20 minutes. We got there early in the morning so we had a very nice view from the plane. The travel package from NZ included transportation between the airport and the hotel. So we thought that we would not need to rent a scooter again, but even though the island is very small, we still had to carry all our diving gear, so we rented again.

Our room fronted the beach -- and what a beach! Blue water, very promising. We unpacked and went snorkeling right away. The water was a bit nicer here than in Rarotonga, many coral heads and some nice shells. The only thing we hadn't expected was the absence of a diving center willing to rent lead belts, so we used a very thick coat of sunblock and went snorkeling wearing shorts and T-shirts. Our skin is very white, and the idea of getting sunburned after many days of snorkeling was not appealing. But that was the only way to collect since our wet suits without lead belts made us too buoyant.

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The outer reef was about 600 meters from the beach, but I swam all the way there to see if I could find something nice. The waves and the current were very strong, but I did find some nice small shells: Trivia, Columbellidae, Cymatiums, Cypraeas. On the way back I found some beautiful Haminoea cymbalum -- I had never seen this species before and I took several pictures of it. Incidentally, I used my underwater Casio camera a lot; I regret that I didn't have it on previous trips.

We had a quick lunch and took a nap so that we would have extra energy for snorkeling at night. At night, the water was a bit cooler, but not so bad that we couldn't stay for a few hours. I was thinking about our sunburn problem and started to look for something heavy to attach to my belt so that I could use my wetsuit in the next day.

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Luckily I found a heavy metal piece of engine of some sort, which I might somehow attach to my weight belt. I went to show Carlos and when I looked down, guess what I found? A 3-kilo piece of diving weight! I thought that a genie had given me magic power and wished to find a similar sized piece of gold. But I had used up my one wish on lead.... well, in this case the lead was like gold for me (kinda), and I was able to wear my wetsuit the next several days. Carlos used a lot of sunscreen; hey, what can I do if he doesn't have my magic power?

We still had the same weight restrictions for traveling back to New Zealand and those huge Tectus niloticus were very tempting. Although I’m a shell dealer, I still love to collect beautiful shells and those monsters were very attractive. I couldn't resist and took one, which is sitting next to my desk right now.

One curiosity about the island is that there are no dogs, and no one is allowed to bring one to the island. They say they killed all dogs in the 19th century when they had a leprosy outbreak and blamed the dogs for it. So, leave Rex home in case you travel there!

We found some nice Cypraea maculifera scindata, large Cypraea caputserpentis, turrids and other small shells. Again, we saw many beautiful Tridacna all over the place. Someone told us to visit the Ministry of Marine Resources where they raise them. They had specimens from very small to medium size, which they release around the island from time to time; they seem successful considering the quantity of Tridacnas we saw.

It was time to go back to Rarotonga and we were concerned about our weight limit. We had left two pieces of luggage in New Zealand; two pieces in Rarotonga; and we had two more with us. Our major problem would be passing through Auckland customs with all those smelly shells -- what would they do? Confiscate again? Well, I guess I still had one wish left: when I was checking my luggage in Rarotonga, I asked if they could tag our luggage through to our flight to Brazil which was 12 hours after arriving in Auckland. They did it, so we passed through customs with just two backpacks, no shells inside! Better yet, we had to do another check-in with the two bags left in the airport and they did not have access to the other pieces so we did not have to pay overweight! Then I wished for a free upgrade to business class but again I had used up my only wish.

We left Aitutaki on Monday afternoon, arrived at Rarotonga and took a flight to Auckland at 3:00 a.m. Tuesday. We arrived in Auckland on Wednesday (we lost a day) and our flight to Brazil was at 5:00 p.m. Fourteen hours later, we arrived in Brazil on Wednesday at 9:00 p.m.! Confusing? Yes, I am glad I don't have to work in a travel agency near the international date line!

Thanks to John and Jeanette Wolff for the translation from Archaic English to Readable English .
Visit their shell club Cenn Penn Beachcombers at http://mysite.verizon.net/vze7m3zq/CENPEN/p2.html

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