Little to report (especially since I am some days behind writing this, + one day at sea, especially when viewed in retrospect, is much like another.) The three of us spent quite some time way forward up in the bow – not too many other people congregate up there, it is cool + comfortable, + more or less free of the stink which is seeming to pervade the rest of the ship. I listened to the Walkman up there for a while, + was joined by a young local kid on the other set of headphones. He really seemed to get into The Police. Bad news is that Val seems to have contracted the dreaded eye disease, but she’s doing her best not to rub her eyes + make it worse. Unfortunately, she’s also started a cold – it never rains but it pours, eh?
Oh, we passed by the Tuamotus today… Dave in particular was somewhat pissed off to have missed them, since they are the archetypal South Sea islands, low atolls with an internal lagoon. However, the best we could do was catch a glimpse of one little group as we steamed past, not even close enough for a good picture.
Life passing, pleasantly enough, if a tad unexciting. Boat travel only really becomes interesting when you are close to land, but that’s also when it is at its most dangerous.
Our first full day under sail – or diesel. However, we’re well used to amusing ourselves under such conditions – split the day up, with dice, cards, some reading, some writing, mealtimes – the time passes fast. My knee is causing concern – where the marshmallow burned it has not healed up properly, + we understand it costs $20 to visit the doctor in Papeete. Most of our fellow passengers seem listless – there is some sickness going around, especially an eye-disease, so we must be careful.
A very thin entry, reflecting the lack of anything much to write about, such being life on board. But concerns about our health, and money, where $20 seems an enormous outlay.
Back to Wembley this week, and the resumption of the same old routine. Intrigued to see if attendance would be any better, and though they drifted in rather, in fact we had everyone except Rabar (who is in any case rather nervous about performance.) And instead of him, we had Awen, the Afghan girl who had been too young to come on the trip last week. So, in a way, the full complement.
And so we set about working our way through the play, The Story of Destiny, a Syrian folk tale. It is essentially the same play as the one performed by the Syrian children in Lebanon (then called The Story of Luck and Fate.) I have adapted it somewhat, cutting down on the Narrator, and giving a little more emphasis to those aspects which reference the refugee experience more closely. It tells the story of Youssef, who leaves his home land – well, there you go for a start – to seek a better life.
It is a short play, lasting about fifteen minutes, so we were able to work our way through it all. And bits of it worked well – there is a scene in which Youssef hears four fortune-tellers, all at the same time, all trying to tell him what a wonderful future he will have, and this was effective. Such stylised scenes work well, but there are problems when it comes to simpler confrontations and meetings, when their limitations in expressing themselves clearly in English are exposed. On the other hand, I have done this enough times to realise that such things take time and practice, and that this was the first time for some of the scenes.
In order to break things up a little, we also took time with some improvisations in which people put on a mask… or rather form their faces into a fixed position as though they were wearing a mask. And then we developed this into short scenes in which someone buys a mask… but cannot remove it from their face. Quite a difficult and sophisticated idea, and one which they rose to wonderfully. Especially when language does not get in the way, their progress is obvious.
In the morning we had to contend with the same sort of jostling for position, tho’ this time even worse. Fortunately, Bernadette was about, + was able to acquire a corner for the 5 of us. The Polynesians certainly stick together – naturally enough, I suppose – + would push us out the door entirely if they could. We certainly haven’t yet encountered the laughing, happy, generous people of whom one reads. We are pushed in front of in queues, the cook gives us a worse deal, + we have our sleeping space cramped in upon. But I suppose it doesn’t do any harm for we normally overprivileged WASPS to receive the rough end of the stick for once.
A lot of yachts in Nuku Hiva, + quite a few either Val or I recognise – the cruising world is small. The weather was lousy today, + quite a lot of rain got through – they have [plastic curtains to keep the rain out, but they don’t fit too exactly. However, we braved the rain + went for a walk. Immediately, we dashed into the first shop we could – and then bought 3 loaves of bread in the next. Wandered out to the church (tho’ we later discovered it was a cathedral.) Very impressive – an ultra-modern building of stone + wood, with some fabulous wooden carvings. During this trip I’ve been trying to formulate what I think about religion. My position is a little paradoxical, since I am at the same time atheist yet very fond of the trappings of religion – its art, its buildings, its music, its ceremonies, its mythology. I think that the Church, especially the Catholic church, has been a force of positive evil in the world, yet the loss of the church would be to the world’s detriment. And it’s no good saying we should keep the trappings + dump the feeling, since the former without the latter would be meaningless + lose 90% of its value, an empty can of coke. So I don’t have an answer, not yet. In the meantime, I’ll watch the people praying + enjoy. But I suspect the stones will have to come down.
Because the rain came down again, we headed back to the boat to unload the bread + get some lunch, tho’ we did stop for a while to chat with some yachties. They were talking yacht tho’, + I’ve had enough of that particular dialect. Dave has now become Dick the Mennonite – the former because a drippy American girl came on the boat + called him Dick, the latter because his heavy beard gives him something of that appearance. Don, from the Bonnie Lass, also came on board. All those people seem really nice – he hasn’t jumped ship tho’ – he was just there for a chat. Braved the weather again after lunch – meat + rice – + back into town. Posted letters, strolled round to another beach, + then went to find the man who’d done the carvings in the church. Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford what he had to offer, tho’ it was good stuff. He would have carved us a small piece, but that would have taken 5 hours, + unfortunately we didn’t have that time to spare. So we had to be content with 2 more loaves of bread, + back to the boat, + prepare to take off. The Taporo III is much fuller now, so I suppose we’re fortunate to have a place indoors, even tho’ it’s very cramped, + our neighbours are unfriendly + seemingly determined to restrict us as much as possible. We’re carrying quite a bit of livestock on board now – lots of goats, a couple of dogs, a pig, + their smell, together with the powerful ripe Roquefort smell of the copra, is making the deck somewhat odorous (+ slippery.) Val went down + joined some singers + guitarists in the evening, when we were underway, but I just read (I finished “A Passage to India” – a fine book) + then tried to sleep.
Apologies for the rather pompous moralising about religion. Not that I feel the need to backtrack on my comments particularly, but I was on my high horse rather. Good to have some company at this time, but not to feel beholden to anyone else.
This time we did leave overnight in time to arrive at Ua Pou, the next island of any size up the chain, + immediately start work, unloading the goods. Not that we played any part in this of course – we simply had to get up, grab some breakfast (a cup of coffee + a piece of bread) + wait for the boat to take us ashore. A few people left the boat here, but if anything we lost space rather than gained it, since plenty of people were waiting to move in from the less comfortable quarters arranged on deck, + they weren’t exactly considerate.
In any case, we rode ashore, + went for a walk. At first, we were guided by Angela, a girl we’d met on the boat. She had lived on Ua Pou some years before, + was now searching for her brothers, but she was only 14 now, so she wasn’t a very reliable guide. However, with her help we did find the home of some local craftsmen, where Bernadette bought a basket, + Dave a ukulele. However, once she’d found her young brothers, she was rather preoccupied, so we walked on. A pleasant, tho’ undramatic, stroll. The island is dominated by some wonderful needle- like peaks – they even feature on stamps + bank-notes – but the village is unremarkable. We bought some oranges from one lady, some huge grapefruit from another small farm – where we also had quite a chat, fixed a young lady’s bike chain, bought ice-creams… then just got back to the boat in time for lunch. Tho’ I don’t know why we bothered. The meals are tedious in the extreme, the same for every lunch + dinner – rice with stewed meat. Oh, sometimes there are a few noodles too. Sometimes I can barely touch mine, but Dave is always around + he rarely refuses any extras. We left Ua Pou in the afternoon and arrived at Nuku Hiva by 8 o’clock – I was more or less asleep by this time, but was vaguely aware of street-lights outside – for once we were tied up right next to a dock – + of much movement all around me, but I ignored it all, as best I could.
Barely a chance to see Ua Pou properly, but then I don’t think there was all that much to see. But good to get off the boat for a couple of hours; our nervousness at it sailing off without us prevented a longer look around.
One great big nothing of a day. We had meant to leave overnight, but hadn’t for some reason. In any case, they were still unloading the boat for much of the day. Had we been told we’d be spending the whole day in port, we could have got off + done something with the day. As it was, knowing nothing, we just lazed around, expecting to be pulling out at any moment. Played 10,000, the Quebecois game that Rob had showed us – Dave is fun to play against. The boat is old + interesting too. There are none of the petty restrictions restricting passengers to certain parts of the boat. We can wander round as we please – we just have to be careful we don’t get our heads knocked off.
As before, lack of information – the constant complaint of the traveller. I wonder if it is different now – I doubt that the internet has changed things all that much in the Pacific. I certainly showed a young person’s disdain for such old people concerns as health and safety, but there is no doubt that this was a more innocent time.
Up bright + early, time for breakfast, then down to check on the Taporo – that’s the copra boat. It looks quite pretty, especially at a distance, with a red hull, white decks, + a high bridge + cabin area at the stern. Val stayed packing while Bernadette, Ingrid + I went down to check up on space – we met Dave down there. Forgot to take my money down tho’, so when we received the good news that we could get on, I had to make an extra journey. However, we weren’t allowed on board till 5 pm, so we had plenty of time to finish packing, + then go into town. We got a lift from one of the gendarmes, + joined the crowds milling around – the Taporo had dumped quite a few tourists onto land, plus there were lots of yachts in – Rob the Aussie among them. The bad news, once again, was that there was no bread, but we bought a few other goodies, + then got a lift back with the other gendarme – nothing like a bit of symmetry to make you think the universal architect knows what he’s doing. We collected 3 coconuts in the afternoon, had a swim, a shower, + then back to camp, where Bernadette had started the fire. There weren’t any tents up any more of course, but it was still a marvellously comfortable camp-site, with water available from the house (plus occasional entertainment), plenty of wood for fires… we even had stools set up. There was a pleasant breeze, which blew away the bugs (all except the ants – they were the one drawback to the place – they got everywhere), + the place was perfectly safe. All in all, I feel rather pleased at the way things worked out, since the last few days have marked the happiest time I’ve had for ages. The main thing is that we’re free of the demands of others – I’ve had that for the last 4 months, + am heartily sick of it. Bernadette had discovered that they weren’t going to feed us tonight, so for the last time we cooked a meal on Hiva Oa. Sausages, peas, + potatoes – you can’t complain about that.
We lugged our gear down in good time, but clearly they weren’t ready for us yet. Still, it was entertaining to sit on the rocks + watch the people working. The Taporo was anchored out a way, + all the goods had to be ferried in on a barge made out of a platform slung across 2 small boats, + then heaved off manually onto the shore – back-breaking work. And then, without any signal that I was aware of, all the passengers waiting around charged forward + climbed up onto the platform. Dave, Val + I were all considerably overloaded, so this was no mean task. Even more difficult was the job of climbing the ladder up the side of the ship. But we made it.
The next task was to find a place to sleep on. The cabins, if there were any available for mere passengers, were all taken, + there was precious little space in the other designated areas, so, open-air rock concert style, we had to grab what we could, + hope to enlarge on it later. Fortunately, tho’, one large gentleman with an excess available, removed his mat (+ consequently renounced his claim), + we were able to move in. People certainly had done themselves proud – the majority had actual mattresses to sleep on. Fortunately, Dave came to our rescue again, + lent us his sleeping-bag to sleep on. We managed to get a meal too – the cook didn’t seem too sure about things, but he read our ticket, + then dished out plates of rice, meat + a piece of bread. A little later, we settled down to sleep – I for one was exhausted.
As ever, the problem was of getting good information. But in the end, despite theproblems actually climbing up a rope ladder with a heavy pack on your back, we found ourselves comfortably established.
So, time at last to say goodbye to the Alma, and to its owners. Not that we did say goodbye, but it did seem that they would be a part of our lives no longer. And actually, my feelings now are not all negative. Most importantly, we continued our voyage, and had found ourselves somewhere we never could have imagined we would be. And now that it seemed we would have no trouble travelling on to Tahiti, it was another adventure, travelling by tramp steamer.
Today was Sunday, so we decided to go to church, mainly to hear the singing, about which we’d heard many good reports. So, all up early, so early, in fact, that with the help of a lift into town, we had plenty of time to kill. The church was attractive, with big windows open to the elements. And the singing was lovely – beautifully harmonised, tho’ there really weren’t enough people for such a big church, so the sound was not as rich + full as I would have liked. And the service was otherwise boring, the more so, I suppose, because we barely understood a word.
Went for a short stroll afterwards down to the beach, + then to a house where they dried bananas, + where we bought some. Then we bought some expensive ice-cream, + walked back. A lazy Sunday afternoon – Val did some mending, Dave + I collected a small mountain of wood, + then we went for a swim, Val staying behind. I find it takes quite a bit of my courage to dive in off the breakwater, since it’s higher than I would like. But I do enjoy conquering my fear, nonetheless – diving in is much more fun than just floundering about in the water.
Our meal was excellent once again – fish, rice + peas, after which we had melon with coconut milk, + the remainder of the marshmallows. Unfortunately, I managed to drop molten marshmallow onto my bare knee. Yes, it hurt like hell, the closest I’ll ever come, I hope + imagine, to napalm. Oh, the Taporo arrived.
More rest and relaxation, Sunday being a day for such things (not that any other days are very different.) Apologies for going on about diving. I didn’t notice at the time, not going back to read previous entries, but I do seem to have been a bit obsessed by writing about how much more I enjoy jumping in than just splashing around – I think you must have the picture by now.
The napalm like attack on my leg was stupid, painful, and with an aspect of hilarity, though with consequences to come.
The Taporo, by the way, was the name of the copra boat (and, we were to discover, the generic name for many trading boats in the region.)
Saturday, + time to visit the shops once again. All of us walked in together, + to our horror discovered that only 1 out of the 3 shops in town was open. Most important, this meant we weren’t able to buy the loaf bread we liked, but fortunately were able to purchase an adequate supply of baguettes. One of them we demolished straight away with some pate, sitting in our regular place in front of the bank. We played a couple of games of backgammon, talked (that passes much of our time) + then strolled back.
Dave is in much the same position as we are in – he had to get off a yacht when it unexpectedly turned back + headed for home. And now he’s looking for boats to Tahiti + points west. He’s a really nice guy – about 20, with a great shock of an orange beard. And he has an infectious enthusiasm for life. Spent a good deal of time in the afternoon doing chores- washing clothes, collecting wood. While I was doing the former, Val swam out to the “Alma” – there were a couple of things we couldn’t find (notably my note-books), + they promised to bring them in in a couple of hours. This meant Val had to hang around on the dock for quite a while, since naturally they were late, while we prepared tea. When she finally made it back to camp, it was dark, we’d all finished eating, + she was in a foul mood. This time there had been what are known as strong words, since she didn’t think it was quite right to let them sail away thinking they were the bee’s knees, morally speaking. Jack had said I should have been taught a good lesson when I was 13, + Val said it was a strange way to teach people things by stealing their money – end of conversation. What Val said may or may not affect our chances of getting the diary back, but it needed saying in any case – I’m proud of her. I will also attempt to write some sort of summary of the missing month or so, while it is still relatively fresh in my mind.
While we were sitting by the fire, 2 Australian yachties happened by, + stopped to chat. They stayed, in fact, for about 2 hours, sharing stories, our fire, coffee, the night, + toasted marshmallows (the latter a treat courtesy of Dave. They were friendly people, their names were Jean + John, + they gave us their address – could prove useful.
Another pleasant, relaxed day, not even marred by the absence of our favourite bread – after all, when you’ve got baguettes…
A wonderful relaxed night, then breakfast – bread, jam + coffee (marvellous.) Chatted briefly with Felix, our next-door neighbour, + borrowed a Jimmy Cliff tape from him. We then took the short walk to the point – a great place, huge grey lumps of volcanic rock all stacked up, a cool breeze to keep off the bugs, + patches of grass to lie on. Every so often, a really big wave would come booming in against the rocks, + throw up a huge sheet of water into the air. We sat there, naked, reading, writing, listening to music, + shortly thereafter Dave joined us – we’d told him where we were going. To our surprise (+ delight) he’d brought a lunch of bread + cheese with him, so that was where we spent most of the day. He left sometime in the afternoon to attend to some correspondence – he does a lot of that – + Val + I went down to the breakwater again for a swim.
When we returned, Bernadette was there, along with Ingrid, her daughter. B is a Swiss cum Canadian, + has been travelling round the South Pacific for 3 months or so. In fact, she immediately preceded us in our present camp-site – she’d shown Dave + he’d shown us. She is very adventurous, has travelled much, + just returned from a trip to the other side of the island. Ingrid is 5, + to my mind spoilt + precocious. They too, hopefully, are going to Papeete on the copra boat.
Collected some wood, + then supper, a wonderfully filling concoction of various canned vegetables, + then a tin of pears. After that, we lay around the camp-fire, and sang.
Life certainly did feel good then. Beautiful surroundings, lovely weather, good food, great companions, and freedom.