I’m going to skip forward a little while now, because there is so much to write, and perhaps all isn’t quite so important. I’m sure most of you are more interested in the Pitcairn leg than any of the preamble, so I’ll be quick…
I took a few days out to regroup and left Tahiti, ending up staying on a little motu (coral island). Staying there meant I didn’t have to worry about transport, or food etc, and I could just wander along and enjoy myself and figure out how to get the most out of the technology I was taking, etc.
The motu was great, a boat ride from the main harbour across a stunning lagoon. The water was postcard colour, and every underwater movement could be seen as the boat glided over the prominent coral heads. Guest accommodation consisted of wooden huts with thatched roofs and tiled bathrooms. It was simple, and allowed in more mosquitoes than I liked, but it felt very homely.
The guy running the place was a Frenchman, and a Hasidic jew – he no longer wore the full gear, but honoured Shabbat and many of the rituals, or had adapted them to match his current motu lifestyle. The locals called him Jesus or Robinson Crusoe (very similar to what my Dad used to get called! that and Chuck Norris, I remember!), and you could see why.
When I met him, he was wearing full white – an outfit he’s bought from a Hare Krishna place somewhere in Israel. Initially, he was great. All smiles and good cheer, but I rapidly felt that good hosting wasn’t the only thing on his agenda. I was the only guest at the time, and had a couple of days until the next guests arrived, and I very quickly started counting down to when he’d have a distraction. His colleague, a younger guy born and raised in French Polynesia was great, he made me feel comfortable and it was much easier when he was around. As for Robinson, he started asking me if he could give me a massage and started encroaching on my personal space too much. So much for my quiet time away from it all. Normally I’m good at handling this, but I just felt irritated by it this time… it was the opposite of what I needed.
I took to waking up early and skipping breakfast, and heading out around the motu on walks, shell hunting, and wandering through the coconut groves and attempting to avoid the mosquitos until I ran out of water. Robinson would prepare dinner in his well stocked kitchen hut, and the three of us would eat together. I did my best to avoid the innuendo, and did what I could to deflect attention. Robinson did have some nice friends, and I met a lovely Ukrainian/French couple who were great and came over to the motu for lunch (poisson cru – a kind of raw fish salad withcoconut milk), and we all went to the yacht club one night where I met a sweet lady who made up a little toy and sweets package for the little girl on Pitcairn. I also met a couple of sailor types who were all interested in my Pitcairn trip and it was refreshing to meet some people that actually knew where it was!
I took a kayak out on one day, exploring neighbouring motus and collecting shells. I stuck the GoPro on the front and had an explore, and as I was paddling past a beautiful island owned by an extremely wealthy cosmetics man, I encountered one of the men from the yacht club who was project managing work on the island. He allowed me to land and stop for a few minutes and have a quick chat – that island is usually off limits, with cameras everywhere and high security so I felt a bit privileged! I saw some amazing sea life, and a ray came up and paddled in the water one day, which was a rare treat.
After 3 nights I was relieved that an American father and daughter were to arrive, with his other daughter following the next day as she had missed a connecting flight. They were great – all belly laughter and joviality. It was like popping your ears and relieving the pressure. We would all eat together, have a drink together and talk about everything – the father, Rhys, was really interested in hearing about Polaroid and the trip, and his adult daughters were great – interested and in tune with the world. If only they’d been there since day 1. Rhys came with me to the airport for my departure and we had a couple of drinks waiting for the plane back – it was such a quick ride back and more convenient that the ferry. There was no airport security or scanning, so it was quite a pleasurable experience!
Once back in Tahiti I had to face the nightmare of repacking again, because I still had excess luggage – I’d had to make all sorts of deals with Air Tahiti and make a special luggage delivery flight and all sorts of complicated and convoluted arrangements. But despite it all, my bags still ended up being over what I’d booked, I think they must have put on weight with the in-flight meals or something! Anyway I got through it after a bit of reshuffling, but it swallowed the whole day of the 9th, meaning I missed out on seeing much… I had planned on visiting the Tahiti Museum seeing as it was opposite but a French minister was over and I saw the pomp and ceremony and motorcade from the road leading up to where I was staying, so it was a no-go anyway.
Skipping forward to departure day…
I left Tahiti on the 10th of March – the flights to Mangareva leave early – a 7:15am departure. I checked in, got myself sorted, and then tried to make a last minute phonecall before I lost all signal and internet. I spent a good 20 minutes trying to connect to one of the useless Tahitian ManaSpot hotspots. It takes yonks to go through all the menus and because the wifi was so slow, the windows needed to operate the internet weren’t popping up correctly. That meant you couldn’t disconnect either, so if you wanted more than one device to connect, you couldn’t – so I ended up having to purchase hotspot access for both phone and computer. This was a pain in the neck and ate into the time I had left to do anything.
I grabbed a quick coffee and took a seat and kept my eyes peeled for the Pitcairn contingent. They weren’t hard to spot, but I didn’t go over for a little while, just so I could make the most of my internet time while I still could. Once I’d gotten through the security check and was in the queue to board, I went and introduced myself to two women who turned out to be Darralyn and Michelle, and they pointed out Heather from tourism who I’d been in touch with, and the new island social worker Jim. Once I’d sat down on the plane, I also saw Andy, a British guy also over for the 3 months, looking at sea birds and conservation for the RSPB.
The plane ride was smooth and easy, I was sitting next to Heather who was great company and made the journey so much quicker. I was getting a bit fed up of planes by this point! We stopped off for refuelling at Hao, a coral island in the middle of nothingness, where we disembarked and took our hand luggage with us, and then moved on to Mangareva, flying over some of my most beautiful lagoon island I have ever seen.
The total flight time was just over 6 hours, and we encountered a group of Norwegians who had just been to Pitcairn (adorned with Pitcairn t-shirts and hats) and were headed the other way at the airport after landing. I faced the dire blocked toilets (go on the plane people!), and hung around waiting for my luggage to all find its way to be collected. It took a while and my heart was in my mouth again, but finally got it all together (miracle!) and loaded it onto the waiting ferry which takes you over to Rikitea village (don’t forget your 1000 XPF for this bit!). It’s a nice ride across from the airport, which is on a separate island, and all the locals were fascinated by the Polaroid 180 camera I was wielding as we crossed.
The Claymore II was visible just as we were pulling up to the dock, and the crew were there to greet us and load our bags off the ferry and straight onto the boat. It was all amazingly swift, efficient and seamless. We loaded them in at the cargo deck and I grabbed one suitcase that I assumed had clothes in it, and left the rest in a cargo container with the fruit.
We headed across the vessel to a safety briefing, going over the muster station and life jacket drill, and got the rundown on ship times for meals, etc. Jane – the ship’s cook had laid out a nice spread of welcome food and drinks – I was half starved by this point as you don’t get anything on the plane, so was delighted to see a chocolate cake set in front of me. As soon as we left dock we were to set our watches to Pitcairn time which is an hour different. It was all feeling very tangible now – just one more step on the journey!
The guys hefted our chosen bags down to our cabins and then we had a little while for a wander around the village before having a light dinner and setting off around 5pm. I headed up to Mangareva’s famous old cathedral and took a quick look inside, and then wandered back through the village.
It was just at school tip out time, and I met a group of 4 kids who wanted to know all about my Hasselblad and Polaroid cameras, and were asking me questions about London and tested me on whether I knew who the US president was. I showed them how all the cameras worked (note to self – must learn better French!), took some pictures for them to keep and some for me – it always amazes me how even with all the new fangled digital technology people who have never seen a Polaroid bond instantly with it. In the process of all this, I was rather distracted from the time so I made an unceremonious quick exit and dashed back to the boat with about 5 minutes to spare before I risked being left in Mangareva!
I didn’t have a chance to buy anything or explore the other wide of the hill, which I would have loved, but c’est la vie. Maybe next time, if there is a next time.
Once back on the boat, we had another Jane spread (you’d never starve on Claymore), and I wandered to my cabin to take a look. I had a cabin alone on this rotation as a whole raft of people had cancelled their trips, so I got lucky. It was huge by comparison to what I’m used to boat wise.
There were two bunks, a sink, plenty of storage space, plug sockets, and a table with padded seating. I did ‘a Rhiannon’ and managed to make the place look like chaos had hit instantly as I tried to get organised with my equipment. I went around recording the sounds of the vessel as we were pulling off, then headed up to the aft deck to wave goodbye to French Polynesia and watch the sun go down.
Most of the others vanished to their cabins and Andy and I sat on deck till the light dipped, Gambier vanished from view, and there was nothing on all sides but the vast Pacific Ocean and the endless sky…. We were well and truly on the way.