July 21st 1982

posted in: Innocents Abroad | 1
Our good Samaritan

Today’s the day.  But later, later.  Into town again in the morning.  However, Don + Louise had told us last night of a guy living on the beach who was planning to take the copra boat to Tahiti, + we spotted him, so went over for a chat.  His name was Dave, + he seemed a nice guy.  What’s more, his news was encouraging – he thought the copra boat only cost $100 or so, + was coming in Monday.  Val + I rushed off to catch up with J + A, who’d walked on, as we did so trying to work out what we were going to do in the light of the new circumstances.  By the time we’d reached town, we’d decided to leave, if we could – now we had to see how much money we could get back.  We finally found them, + told them of our decision, + they were surprisingly good.  Not only would they return $150, they would also wait till Monday, so that we would still have somewhere to stay, + wouldn’t be stuck if there was no room on the boat.  Of course, this still meant they made money out of us, but it was far better than we’d expected – we thought we’d be camping on the beach tonight (ha, ha.)  We still had to check that it was OK with the gendarme, but he presented us no difficulties, + didn’t even seem to mind when we told him we’d buy our exit ticket in Papeete.  So now we were officially signed off the Alma de Libertad.  What’s more, he was even more encouraging about the copra boat.  He told us it only took 5 days, that we would be fed + have a cabin, + that there would be no problem about getting on.

Met Dave again – he was about to set off for the farm.  So we obtained permission, readily granted, to go with him.  Once again, quite a walk, hot, but pleasant, with good views, + the farm was interesting.  They didn’t have much to offer tho’, so all we bought was lettuce, cucumber, + a pineapple – then the long walk home.  I was weak with hunger by the time we arrived, since I hadn’t even had anything for breakfast, + it was now 4 o’clock.  Jack rowed out to pick us up in the dinghy, + seemed a bit tight-lipped, telling us he wanted to talk to us when we got back, but he’s often like that so we didn’t think too much of it.  We scrambled up on board, + Jack immediately told us to pack our things + get off.  Why?  It seemed the sneak had decided to take advantage of our absence + read my diary, + then hadn’t liked what he’d read.  They say people who listen at keyholes never hear good of themselves, + such was the case now.  As a consequence, he decided to play Mr High + Mighty.  Didn’t like it that I’d called him a chickenshit, his wife a lazy cow, threatened to sue me for libel.  And he’d poked his nose into someone else’s private diary!  This gave him sufficient grounds, it seemed, to withhold all the money we’d given him, + her the right to hang on to her “evidence” – my diary.  (Aha!)

Nothing to say really, especially when it became obvious their pride was too badly dented to let them listen.  I was annoyed with Val at her lack of support – they seemed to regard her as goody two-shoes + me as the big bad wolf, + she said not one word to discourage this view.  However, we packed up our stuff + left – we didn’t really have any choice.  Jack rowed us ashore.  Bit of a shock tho’ – all of a sudden we were homeless + without some vital funds.

We went to see Dave, + I must say he was an absolute Godsend, out-Samaritanising the feller in the Bible.  He supplied some much-needed food, +, equally important, a sympathetic ear.  What was more, he was able to show us an excellent camp-site up on the hill above the new dock – + then get our fire going, as well as provide the food for a meal – sardines + rice – a real fucking superstar.  Our campsite was next to this really nice house, with music from their stereo.  We sat + talked + started to feel like human beings again.  So there we go – in the morning we were fully paid-up crew of the Alma de Libertad.  By evening we were homeless + considerably poorer… but much happier.  Except for the loss of the diary – that rankles.  Alma has said she’ll send it to my mother, but somehow I rather doubt she will.

And, of course, she didn’t.

So now you know. All seems a bit anti-climactic after that big build-up. And it was only when I came to re-read the diaries, a year or so ago, that I discovered that one of our go-to stories from the trip – the one where we got thrown off a boat, marooned on a Pacific islandwas in fact not true. Or at least a big exaggeration. We might have been ordered off the boat, but it was one which we had arranged to leave in any case. Though the loss of the money hit us bad at the time; only later was it the loss of the diary. Though, if there had to be one chunk of our journey that I would cheerfully have unrecorded, it was those weeks on the journey from the Galapagos. Which was mostly very dull, though we did find that increasingly we were treated like slaves, and then criticised for the standard of our work. Mostly my work, it’s true.

As for the contents? Mostly mundane – read this book, ate this dinner, played this game – interspersed with darker passages related to my thoughts at the time. Well, you can pretty well guess it – you know a couple of the more memorable epithets, and can probably guess at the tone of the rest of it. If you’ve read the diaries up to now, you know the sort of stuff I indulged in.

Anyway, the actual row was quite a humdinger. There was definitely a reference to a gun at one point, to re-inforce the message that he wanted us off straight away. And, bizarrely, at one point in the middle of it, Alma praised the quality of the writing, much to Jack’s incomprehension and fury. And then Jack had to row us ashore. (That’s two different rows in the same paragraph.)

But now we were off, on our own again, and hugely the happier for being so, after months of having to dance to someone else’s tune. And we had Dave, wonderful, kind, funny, generous Dave. Not that we knew all this at the time, and I am in danger of plot-spoiling here. So I’ll shut up.

  1. Pamela J Blair

    What a story! All the horrible things you said about Jack were evident in his response to you–he kept your money, which would be the hardest part, if I were you. Losing your journal reminded me of a story about a journal I lost–or rather had stolen. I traveled through the most difficult part of Africa, mostly alone (from Alexandria, Egypt to Dar es Salaam), and kept a full journal of all the amazing things I saw and that happened to me during that four-month trip. When I got to Dar it was hard for me to find a job, and when I did I wasn’t provided with housing, which most expats were. Finally, right before I was about to leave Africa (a year later), my boss let me stay in the house he’d been provided with, since he had a little cottage out on the beach, north of Dar. Before that, I’d been housewarming for people who went on three-month home visits. I was thrilled. The first day I moved in, an old man came to my door and asked if I’d like him to guard my house. I said no, since my tiny salary was that of a local, not an expat. The next day I went out to buy some things for my little house, and when I came home I realized I’d been robbed, mostly of long skirts I’d made myself, a requirement for women in those days. I was without clothes. A friend loaned me her sewing machine, and while some friends from the States were visiting, we went out to a movie, and when we came back, my friend’s sewing machine was gone, as was the Nikon camera my US friend had left in the house. (Theft #2) Needless to say, I was getting anxious to leave Dar. The night before I was to leave, I took all the new skirts I’d made and almost everything else I had and put them in the pantry, where the light was out–I figured they wouldn’t find anything in there. When I came home, I was happy to see that they hadn’t found my clothes, BUT the old letters and my journal (in English, something they probably didn’t understand) were gone. I lay on my bed and kicked my feet up and down and screamed for about a half hour, and then realized they’d given me a good lesson in letting go. If I could accept that I’d never see that journal again, which felt like a part of me, then I guess I could accept anything. Whenever it’s hard for me to accept anything, I think about that journal and it makes it easier. So I think I know how you feel, even though the circumstances were very different in your case. I can’t wait to read what part “Generous Dave” will play in your future adventures!

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