In Memory of Keane Warren

Keane Warren, Seventh Day Adventist church, Pitcairn Island, 2015

Keane Warren, Seventh Day Adventist church, Pitcairn Island, 2015

I’m very sad to say, that this week, one of my favourite Pitcairn residents, Keane Warren passed away. You will have seen images of him on this blog, and Keane was one of the few people on the island who I could truly call a friend and never judged me or questioned my motivations.

Keane was the stand in pastor while I was on island, and was married to Daphne. He is also “Pirate” Pawl’s father. He and Daphne lived upstairs from Pawl and Sue in fact, so I’d often make double visits. Popping in to say hello to Daphne and Keane before heading downstairs to Pawl and Sue.

In my first weeks on Pitcairn I got quite badly sunburnt after an impromptu fishing trip left me somewhat unprepared for the hours in an open topped boat. The next morning at around 7:45 am, I emerged bleary eyed from my room at Big Fence, to find both Daphne and Keane perched expectantly in the living area bearing their respective cures. Daphne had Avon moisturiser, which she swore would be the fastest path to relief. Keane poo pooed her product, instead wielding his own concoction of homemade coconut oil.

The pair looked at me with such expectation, I felt as though I was having to choose a favourite child or something. Unsure of what to do in the midst of their bickering over whose was best, and not wishing to offend either of them, I chose the path of diplomacy. I pulled over a chair, accepted both gifts, and then announced it was going to be a competition.

I put Daphne’s Avon cream on one arm, and Keane’s coconut oil on the other, and vowed to do the same until one of them “won” the race. I thought by that point, both would have forgotten all about it. A couple of days passed and it was clear that Keane’s product had won hands down – I suppose you can’t really argue with nature.

I didn’t really want to bring it up, so the next time I saw the pair together I managed to avoid it, but later on, I saw Keane driving his quad in the road and stopped him. I congratulated him on his wonderful coconut oil and conspiratorially whispered not to tell Daphne. He tapped his nose indicating it was our secret, and grinned broadly, pleased with himself and enjoying the banter. His face always reminded me somehow of a baby’s – wide eyed, open… innocent somehow. He had a childlike, slightly mischievous, quality that somehow seemed to transcend his years, and in part reminded me of my late grandfather.

There were many other island moments with Keane I could go into, but I’ll mention just a couple….

Firstly, I loved his outfits. Fishing Keane was a favourite – vest top (or “singlet”), ragged shorts, and a knife belt. Somehow the whole look conjured up images of an ageing Bruce Willis in some future incarnation of Die Hard. Then there was his church look – which resembled a cowboy or a town sheriff. Usually a vertically striped shirt tucked into dark slacks, with a Western-esque belt strapped tightly around his girth. The look would often be completed with a pair of dusty Crocs (the Pitcairn footwear of choice) which always made me smile. Smart, smart, and then oh ok, cowboy, and then ….hmmm. Crocs. Keane had his own sense of style. I don’t know that he realised it, but he did.

I also have to thank Keane again, for his last church service, and for arranging the Sweet Bye and Bye. I’ve mentioned it before, and I mentioned it on Radio 4, but I’ll say it again. Many people thought Keane was very forgetful, but he didn’t forget his promises. It was the most touching of moments, knowing that at least one person on island was willing to publicly display their friendship with me like that. Most people could be nice in private, but publicly didn’t seem to want to have much to do with me. Keane and Daphne were the first people to really buck that trend and make an effort and I considered both to be true friends. They ignored public opinion, and made their own decisions, and in that way were very ‘un-Pitcairn’ about things.

In fact, I have had little contact with the island since I left – a few Facebook messages here and there, but I had phoned Daphne and Keane twice since my departure. I saw them as surrogate grandparents and I missed them. Keane was always so genuinely excited to hear my voice, and it was partly their enthusiasm that made me feel that my stay on Pitcairn hadn’t been in vain.

I was very sad to hear of his passing – and it is times like this where distances feel so vast. When I last spoke to them, they were excitedly prepping for their trip to New Zealand – going off for medicals, but also to see family – a rare opportunity when you live on Pitcairn. While away in Wellington, Keane suffered a fall, and ended up in hospital in an induced coma, and never recovered. I wish I could have been closer, as I’d love to see Daphne and give her a big squeeze, and I also feel for Pawl – still marooned on Henderson island, who didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to his dad. I’ll be thinking of all of the family – most of whom I never met, but heard so much about that I feel that I know them, and I’ll also be thinking of everyone on Pitcairn – for losing one of your number in such a small place has a huge impact, and even those who had their differences with the family will feel his loss.

I said in my last blog post that I felt that the Pitcairn I left will never be the same again – and it’s true – I can’t imagine Pitcairn without Keane, he loved it there and always wanted to show off the best of the island to anyone who was willing. Pitcairn could do with some more advocates like him.

It’s time to sign off – but I’d like to thank Keane for making me feel welcome, and for showing me love against the odds. Though oceans separate us, I’m thinking of all of Keane’s friends and family, but particularly of Daphne and Pawl.

Keane, or the “Captain”, – we salute you, we miss you, we love you.

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Tahiti Part 1

Ia Orana! It’s been a while since I’ve had any internet so catching up on my blog- I’ll do a batch post of all of the rest once I arrive in Pitcairn (I leave today!)… but here we go back in time for a little catch up. There is a lot to say about French Polynesia, so I’ll have a few more posts on the subject to follow…

After the events on the plane, I was feeling rather emotionally drained. But arriving in Tahiti was great – I was hit immediately by a wall of humidity and heat, and the sweet floral honeysuckle-like scent that follows you everywhere. I arrived at night, and had been wearing a jumper on the plane and almost had a panic attack from suffocation the instant I exited the plane and walked down the gangplank. I couldn’t strip fast enough – particularly because my army bag was on my shoulders and it’s nearly impossible to lift on and off without some kind of nearby seat or wall to set it on first. I survived till I reached the terminal, expecting air conditioning when there was none, and was surprised to be greeted by some Polynesian dance and their equivalent of the three amigos playing instruments. A little like arriving in Disneyland! Only instead of children I was surrounded by adults in their latter years mostly heading off to join a cruise of some description, or a few honeymooners…

And now with my 4, yes 4, suitcases, I was even less mobile then before I left Los Angeles… after collecting them in the very small arrivals hall, I was relieved that everything was in one piece, no missing wheels, etc. I ate something on the plane that didn’t agree with me very well and felt rather off, so went to try to find a toilet to splash some water over my face, and then realised that the toilets seemed to be upstairs. Not the most practical for an airport… but because I looked so pitiful and confused by myself, I cajoled the airport security man to guard the huge luggage trolley (free, incidentally – two fingers to you, USA!) and wait for my return. Then he was a gent and helped me wheel the trolley that seemed to have a mind of its own down to the taxi rank. I met a lovely female taxi driver, who overcharged me spectacularly to travel the few hundred metres up hill to the airport motel. If I had been feeling stronger and more indignant, I might have used to storage facilities and trudged my suitcases one by one up the incline, but it was too late for stubbornness, and even I sometimes need to admit defeat.

So I stayed the first night in the Tahiti Airport Motel, and after a little confusion at check in where they had thought I wanted two rooms and that I was three people, and then telling me they didn’t have space for me despite my booking, before finally realising my key was there along with a printed invoice right in front of the receptionist’s nose….I managed to leave my luggage in the lock up downstairs, forgetting clean underwear in my suitcase which meant another late night hand washing session, and settled in for the night.

The motel is a simple affair, but air conditioned (actually too cold and I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off!), with a large bed, French TV, etc. I watched some Popeye in French (you don’t miss much, but they have Olive Oyl’s voice all wrong), and then watched what seemed to be dubbed CSI. Very amusing how the French insist on dubbing everything., I can’t quite understand it. We just don’t have a dubbing culture… Americans don’t dub or do subtitles, they just remake everything, and the French and Spanish love to dub… I’d find it completely unwatchable if I were French, I’m sure.

I woke up ridiculously early – all the different time zones really have started to get to me and I have no idea what day it is or what time of day it is. It’s all turned into a blur… but then somehow spent a long time on the computer trying to figure out where I was and what I was going to do now, and where I would be staying for the next while, and whether communication would now be impossible (I have no 3G now). I was getting ready to leave the room for the 11am checkout, when at 10:55 they were already calling me.

I know what they mean about the culture loving rules here and not being willing to bend them. I told the receptionist I would be down, and that maybe she should wait till 11 to start haranguing me, and then headed off rather grumpily to the luggage store to leave the rest of my backpack, and packed a daybag with some cameras. I hung out in the reception using the wifi for a while, and realised there was no bus service on a Sunday, so decided to be brave, take my bottle of water, and then walk the hour and a half into Pa’peete.

It took me rather longer with the midday sun, and it was exhausting. I quickly realised that wearing make-up in the heat isn’t a great idea, as it started to gather in my creases and I looked like a congealed sea monster. The locals looked at me with some pity and some intrigue. I don’t think many tourists walks through the Fa’aa area – mostly they whizz past in taxis, and never stop to see it. I actually didn’t take any pictures, apart from a few on my phone. I’m not quite sure why, as I’m rather regretting it now, but I think I sometimes need to get my head into a place and acclimatise before I can think about photography. I was also too exhausted to think at all…

I found myself some food at a little seafront place ¾ of the way to the “city” – and had my first Mahi Mahi (dolphin fish) of the trip. The food seems to have a very heavy Asian influence, with many Chinese and Japanese items popping up on most menus, which is then mixed with bizarre additions like steak with Roquefort, or things withy heavy cream sauces which would surely curdle in the heat. The French influence is felt everywhere – it’s actually surprising.

Of course I knew it was a colony but it has really come as a shock that it feels like a tropical France. The supermarkets are filled with brie and pate, and everyone you meet seems to be from France itself. It’s disconcerting. The British colonies I have visited hardly seem as British as this distant and alien land feels French.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t a huge undercurrent of bitterness from the Polynesians themselves. It seems few of them are employed in the better professions, and many are overweight owing to poor diets because the cost of good food here is astronomical. The supermarkets are controlled by the French and prices are high, only a few staples have controlled pricing and everything else, including fish is costly. The French control the infrastructure, and own the hotels that bring rich tourists that go on French operated tours, and eat from restaurants mainly owned by the French. It’s a monopoly of sorts, and I feel that the Polynesian culture has suffered greatly because of it. You will hear the French here complain about the Polynesians, calling them lazy, and many will say that Polynesians have taken the best elements of French culture and left the rest. But when you really look, I don’t think they are better off – they may have access to join the French military, or to be educated in France, but I wonder how many of them would just prefer their country back.

In any case, it is a beautiful place. All verdant greens and dramatic skies, I wish I were here longer, and I really wish I could drive! It would give such freedom, and I’m now kicking myself a little! I really should have found a way to have taken that test again before I left… so many times on this trip I wished for my license – I definitely need to sort that out when I’m back…. Then I could have happily avoided the bus fiasco that I suffered three days in (more of that in part 2 or 3!)….though I suppose it’s all part of the adventure!

The elusive Tahitian bus

bus

So I’m playing catch up again. Blogging is difficult without consistent internet! I’m on Pitcairn now (yes!), and Tahiti has been and gone, but as promised I’d fill you in.

Where had we got to?

After my walk into Pa’peete, I headed back to the airport motel and hung around to wait for Pascale and Julien, friends of friends, who had very (very) kindly offered to let me use Julien’s empty apartment in Puna’auia. They were flying in from another island where they’d been for a long weekend, so I had headed back to the motel to make use of the internet while I still could and wait to be collected.

Cat

The woman in reception saw me sitting there for an hour or so and then came out and pointed to a sign saying in effect, “no loitering”. I couldn’t quite believe it, particularly as I was sitting there with my huge 4 suitcases, etc.

I told her that I was waiting to be picked up, and she complained about how long I’d been sitting there saying the owner allowed guests to stay 30 minutes after check out. The reason, allegedly, is that the owner doesn’t like you using their wifi after you’ve checked out, which is a bit tight. I’d paid around £110 to stay there, and had only been in the room 12 hours due to my arrival time, so I argued it and told her I would have been using wifi from the moment I checked in till check out which could potentially have been 22 hours of usage. Nil Points for customer service. She did eventually back off, but spent the nest hour of waiting glaring at me through the reception window.

One thing you learn quickly about French Polynesia is how they are sticklers for rules (however illogical), and it’s a bit tedious. As I mentioned in the last post, that morning they had already been calling me down to check out before the actual check out time, they’re that eager… anyway – be warned. Tahiti Airport Motel is strict on everything, so be prepared for an argument.

Pascale and Julien arrived after a while and we couldn’t get all of my luggage in their car, so Pascale went and smoothedthings with the reception lady who then allowed me to put some luggage in the store (for a fee) till the next morning. We headed out to Puna’auia – Julien’s apartment is great. A two level place, with large bedroom, kitchen, excellent shower, balcony and landscaped gardens in a gateddevelopment opposite the Museum of Tahiti. It’s a 10 minute walk to shops, supermarket, a few restaurants, and the food vans that pop up all over Tahiti of an evening. It’s also a short wander to a stretch of beach – not the most amazing bit of beach, but access to swimming all the same. There is no internet in the apartment, so that evening I wandered the complex seeking out a wifi network, and found one on the ground floor which didn’t require a password. It means basically sitting on someone’s doorstep to get signal, and being eaten by mosquitos on the stairwell, but still. Beggars can’t be choosers.

I crashed out and slept like a log,finally feeling that I had a few days to gather myself and sort my luggage out in one place before heading off on the next stage of the adventure. I’m relived that everything had gone so well so far (touch wood) – and that I made it with all bags to Tahiti. It had been such a stress standing at every carousel, praying that my luggage shows up with wheels intact, and voila – only one more luggage ferrying trip, then the Claymore II and before you know it, I’ll be on Pitcairn!

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So the first day in the apartment passed – bags were collected from the motel, supermarkets were visited for provisions, explorative walks were made. By the end of the day, I’d decided I didn’t want to feel hemmed in, so decided to be brave and take the bus around the island the following day. I read up a little about the Tahitian bus service (terrible, by all accounts) but thought I would probably only be in Tahiti once, so I should just go for it.

At 5pm the next day, when I’d been waiting for a bus for more than 3 and a half hours I cursed my decision. It started off easily enough, I walked up the road to where the shops and garage were located, asked a petrol station attendant about where to wait for the bus, he vaguely pointed to the supermarket, and I made my way towards it. As if by magic the bus appeared in front of me, so I skipped to make it, paid my 400 XPF to the end of the line, and sat. I felt rather smug about all this being so easy, but it’s very true what they say about never counting your chickens.

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We headed off round the coast which was quite a fun drive, and helped me to get my bearings. This way I could see enough of Tahiti not to feel as though I was missing out on too much. The trip took about an hour and a half to reach Taravao – the last village on the route, which is also where you can change buses to go into little Tahiti, or “Tahiti Iti”. I got there at about 11:00, and decided Taravao didn’t look very interesting – there was a huge McDonalds sign which immediately put me off, and a supermarket and a few other eateries etc, but it seemed just to be a bit of an “end of the road” hub. It had the energy of a place in transition, people getting on and off buses, drunks hanging around, everything felt a little grab and go.

McDonalds

Taravao possibly has more going for it, but first impressions weren’t that positive, so I decided to board another bus before really knowing where it was going which looked like it headed into Tahiti Iti. Turns out it did, so I caught it in to Tautira, the end of the line on one side of Iti. It was a more picturesque drive – that side of the coast was more rugged, with beach breakers and locals bodyboarding and surfing. It was sleepier and more provincial feeling. I suppose more what you’d expect when you think of Tahiti maybe 20 years ago.

Small roadside tin roofed “bars” would occasionally appear, and the roads were rougher – the chain restaurants and large supermarkets vanished and there were no other cars on the road we travelled down. People walking along the road or tending to their business stared in at me sitting on the bus, and a few waved. I think if I were to go back to Tahiti itself, this is where I’d head. For want of a better word it was more “authentic”. Once I’d reached the end of the road in Tautira, I stayed on the bus as it turned around and headed back to Taravao, as local advice had been that the buses are irregular and schedules often don’t match up, so the best plan is to take a bus when you see it. I’d done my window shopping, and Tautira is tiny anyway – there wasn’t really anything to do per se, and so few people about to photograph. At Tautira I met a Belgian guy who boarded the bus – the only other passenger. He has been living there for a few months teaching in a local school, figuring out what he was going to do next. We had a nice chat, and at Taravao he kindly asked the bus driver what time the next bus going the other way around the island to Pa’peete was leaving and from where. The driver said 1:30, so I took the opportunity to grab some (disappointing) lunch and then wandered up the road to where I thought the bus stop was. I was standing there by 1:10, and was already congratulating myself on a successful sojourn. It was not to last.

1:30 came and went, then 2:30, and 3:30. I decided to start walking in the direction the bus would travel so I could catch it further up the road, and wandered down a hill, past a construction supplier and a few industrial businesses to what looked like a small marina. I waited there sheltering from the sun under a large tree.

By this point frustration and lack of water was starting to get to me. I’d tried hailing every bus that had gone past carrying a school bus sign, in the hope that one of them might have forgotten to take their sign down but to no avail. I waited till 4:30, optimism ebbing quickly, and a local who had cycled past me about 10 times as I’d be standing there so long said it would be very soon. It wasn’t to be.

I walked back up the hill to Taravao with one thought: water. After a quick supermarket sweep where I ended up with about 3 litres of fluid that vanished down my throat within minutes, I used my awful French to ask the local drunks about the bus schedule. The last bus had left was their resounding conclusion. I don’t know how this was possible given that I’d been standing there half the day, but I took their word for it. I asked around to see if there was somewhere to stay, but nope, no accommodation either. Walking was also out of the question, and darkness was soon to loom. I saw a couple of people hitching and decided that was my only option. I’d read about hitching in Tahiti, and that it was pretty common and accepted, so I gave it a go. 4 rides later and I found myself back in the civilisation of Pa’peete having gone the full way around both coasts. We passed the bay where the Bounty first landed, and passed some amazing bits of coastline. It’s much more beautiful and wild down that East side of the island.

I arrived in Pa’peete exhausted but thankful. I couldn’t face anymore hitching and trying to communicate, so I sought out the taxi rank and headed home the expensive way. The traffic was awful as there had been an accident and all I wanted was to get home and have a shower… when I finally got home, I put they key in the door and felt a huge sense of relief to be in the cool in front of a fan, with a sofa and some dubbed episode of an American cop show to relax in front of. Nothing like some bad dubbing to take your mind off of painful feet and sunburn.

Moral of the story: don’t trust Tahitian buses.

After a day like that I’d pretty much decided that after my Mangareva luggage trip (to come) I’d need to go somewhere for a few days to relax that didn’t require a car – so that became my next mission….

The science of Kickstarter!

I wanted to let those of you who haven’t been following the Kickstarter via other channels know that the Kickstarter has been successfully funded, and went way past the mark to 220% funding! It’s taken me a couple of days to compile the detail of this post, so forgive the delay! Thanks to everyone who has contributed and been in touch! If I haven’t responded to you all yet it’s because I’m in a limited internet zone.

There are currently about £800 worth of failed payments – and those of you whose payments have failed should have received an email from Kickstarter to update your payment info. This often happens because you’ve got a new card, or because your bank thinks the payment is fraudulent, and is usually fixable. I won’t know for a while what the final total is though until all payments are processed/not.

funded

At the moment, assuming every payment goes through, and down to my rough and conservative calculations – I’ll be left with around £7300 after postage, fees, and Kickstarter reward costs.

— DISCLAIMER: Read on only if you’re really interested in the workings of Kickstarter – as this might be a little dull! —-

I tell you this partly to be transparent, but also partly because if any of you are considering a Kickstarter of your own, I think it’s good to share the information, and to manage expectations! You obviously have a higher margin on rewards you can create yourself – the value comes from the effort you put into them, or the cost that your work usually fetches in the “open market”, so it helps if you have prices established by some means.

Of course there are hard costs that are unavoidable…

This is my Kickstarter cost breakdown, and this is after having negotiated deals with some suppliers:

Book production is the highest cost – approx. £60 on average including postage, adding up to a grand total of £1380. This is to produce just 23 copies, but for approx. 7k, 1000 copies could be produced This is where economies of scale come in – if you predict a huge number of backers you can offer books very cheaply at lower tiers which make the reward more attractive, but if you don’t meet the minimum order within the tiers to make this possible this can be dangerous as you’re committed to supplying a product you may not have the funds to deliver.

The next biggest expense is the humble postcard, adding up to approx. £1034.

Mystery gifts will add up to another £520 if I keep them conservative

Prints work on a sliding scale, but the 8”x10” prints will cost at £780, 12” x 16” – £198, 16” x 20” – £150, 20” x 24” – £240.

The nautical charts £45 each including postage.

This takes me to £4392 for reward fulfilment, plus I am leaving in 5% contingency = £4611.60 for all 239 Kickstarter backers.

Then you have the Kickstarter percentage – I’m working on 10% of the overall total to be deducetd before we start = £1324.40

So the £13244 pledge total (if every pledge is processed) ends up at £7308 after fees and rewards.

I hope some of that information may be useful to you if you’re thinking of running a campaign of your own.

If there was something that I wished I knew about the process? Well possibly the nuances of postage. Kickstarter asks you to set your postage costs at each reward level. E.g. you might set £5 for within the UK, or £15 for the states, or “25 for Asia. All well and good. I thought the point of them doing this, was so that the pledge total on the Kickstarter page would accurately reflect the amount raised to alleviate discrepancies and reduce the project creator’s risk when it came to shipping (e.g. if everyone backed you in Japan and you’re based in the UK, it’s going to cost you a hell of a lot more than if everyone who backs you is UK based). However, Kicktsrater actually includes this postage amount in your overall visible total. This has the effect of you hitting your target faster than expected, and on a lower reward count if you have a great number of international backers. This can artificially inflate the balance and should be compensated for when you plan your campaign.

To give a simple example of this in action, if you have 100 rewards at £60 and you’re trying to raise £6000 to print a book, you would think that would be the perfect plan. However, if what you’re looking for after fees is £5400 (this is what you’d get on £6000 at 100%), and you’ve priced, say, the item you’re trying to print at £54 a copy, you’d think the maths was working. Well, if 50 of your 100 backers happen to come from the US, and it is those 50 backers who join your Kickstarter at the start, and you’ve elected to charge a £15 surcharge for shipping, you’d end up with £750 of postage and £3000 worth of backing = £3750 for 50 backers counting towards your total. Meaning it would take just 80 American backers to make you hit your target, but you’d end up being short by £1200, and may put your reward delivery in jeopardy.

Another, more reliable approach, would be to work from the bottom up….

Start with your £54 per copy and the number of rewards you want to offer to reach it. Say, 100. Then work out an accurate postage estimate – for safety’s sake, take the maximum postage for anywhere in the world. Let’s stick with £15 in this case (and don’t forget packing materials!). So our minimum would need to be £54 + £15 = £69. Then take into account the Kickstarter fees of 10%.

To work this out this equation is what you’ll need (remember £69 is 90% of what you need to cover fees also)… so (£69/9)x10 = £76.67 per reward, then multiply that unit cost by the number you need to make your minimum guaranteed £5400 clear, i.e. your 100 units. Instead of £6000, you realise you actually need £7667 including postage to hit your target. Anything over that and you’re safe. I would also add some contingency to this – e.g. 5 or 10%.

This is a simple example as its just one reward, and at one level. This principle can be expanded to other levels, just remember to err on the side of caution. Best not to create items at many levels that require economies of scale to work, or where the reward has a high unit cost associated… basically be cautious!

On a slightly different note, though the Kickstarter ended a few days ago, I have had 5 people contacting me wishing they hadn’t have been too late. Obviously I’m not on Pitcairn yet and there were still rewards available, so if you’re keen and still want a Pitcairn project memento – then do get in touch with me on rhi.adam[@]gmail[dot]com and I’m sure we can sort something out! If i don’t get back in touch straight away it’s because I have no internet!

Airborne…

There was me thinking that flying to Tahiti wouldn’t be eventful enough to report back! Turns out that my flight was nothing but eventful…

We settled in to our rather tropical themed aircraft, all flowers and bright colours, and women in traditional Polynesian dresses with flowers in their hair. All well and good. I had the window seat and sat next to a sweet girl en route to an internship at Le Meridien for 6 months, which happens to be in the area that I’ve just arrived in, Puna’auai, where I’m staying in the Residence du Jardins des Musee, in a rather lovely apartment loaned from a friend of a friend of a friend. Sometimes the world is a tiny and very wonderful place! It beautiful here, very peaceful, and just across from the sea and the museum of Tahiti. You can watch the sun go down over Moorea and watch the men in their canoes paddle over the sparking water that glitters as though their sitting on top of a thousand fireflies undulating in perfect unison.

But back to the plane. There is more to be said of Tahiti’s beauty later…

About 50 minutes out of LA, just as we were all settling in and preparing for the hours ahead, and just when everyone had figured out the entertainment system (better than Kuwait, but not much to choose from!) and was securely plugged in, a young woman, in her late 20s or early 30s suddenly started fitting. The man sitting next to her, who was just a fellow passenger, looked on, ignoring the woman writhing and catapulting herself back and forth in her seat, and swapped movies, issuing a long sigh as he did so. The older American lady sitting in front of me realised something was rather wrong and jumped up to check if the girl was ok, and took one look at her and we knew it was bad…

She started screaming “Doctor, doctor” – as it turns out, one of her friends, sitting just behind me, another older lady (one assumes she was older though it was impossible to tell how old, for her face had been exposed to the knife so many times, she was part sculpture, part Orlan, part Barbie and part Phantom of the Opera), was a doctor. She quickly enlisted help to move the girl, and I stood along with two men, and we carried her down the aisle to the service area and laid her on a hard surface. I have never seen anything quite like it. She was completely purple, like the colour of a bruise and her skin was grey. She wasn’t breathing, and had only the faintest of pulses. The doctor had laid her on her side at first, but quickly realised that she needed her breathing to be restarted, and began to pump her chest and give CPR. Eventually she began to breathe, but not before I’d chewed off every single one of my nails. I’ve never seen anyone so close to death. I have seen dead people, but never been near someone who came so close to death right in front of me. It makes the body seem so delicate, so fragile. Before we had got on to the plane, she had been sitting opposite me at the gate, twizzling the cord of her iPod and guzzling a large bottle of water, and now here she was, tiny, like an empty vessel herself, or a blank page waiting to be written.

We soon learnt she was traveling alone, and a quick bag search revealed epilepsy medication. When she came to, eventually, after sleeping it off and being kept under the watchful scrutiny of the doctor and air stewards, she said she hadn’t been taking her meds and had been trying to wean herself off them. This reminded me so much of my friend Octavia, who always felt that being chained to medication somehow prevented her from feeling truly free, and that she would rather face the fate of the cards she had been dealt. I have thought of Occy a lot the last few days, and particularly after that plane flight, and thought how she would think this whole adventure was nuts but that she’d probably have wanted to join despite it all. Though we lost Occy to epilepsy, and though many of us know someone who suffers or has suffered from it, it actually took that woman on the plane and her invisible and intangible switch to flip, before I truly understood the peril Occy faced daily and masked so successfully. I can imagine it feels very isolating and lonely… I really felt for this stranger up in the sky, alone, who seemed to live on the edge of an abyss with an invisible disease following her every move.

When we landed, and after her four further fits, she was whisked off to the hospital much against her will. I saw Occy in that too, where she would brush it off, and say she was fine. Though I don’t remember her name, I will also think of this lady often – I hope she makes the decisions about her medication that make her feel the most in control, even if that means things are out of control. I hope that she gets well, and was treated well…. I wish her luck negotiating the many challenges epilepsy presents….

New York, New York

So where was I when I last wrote?  So I reached Virginia, picked up my equipment and film that was waiting for me, packed another wheeled suitcase, bought a rather large army backpack that’s even bigger than my North Face bag (which happened to be North Face’s largest backpack!), bought Captain Crunch in Walmart to fulfil my special Pitcairn request…

Captain Crunch!

and travelled across the Bay Bridge Tunnel to Norfolk to replace my Mac battery which was on the blink. Better to replace it now than end up on Pitcairn with no computer battery!

Norfolk, VA

Then began the schlep back to New York on the Greyhound. It was slightly concerning as a huge snow dump had been predicted in Virginia, but luckily for me it started pretty much as I left and I got away in time. The ride back was much more eventful than the way there. One arrest, and two people locked in the bathroom. I wish I had recorded the argument that caused the arrest because it actually was quite comical. A woman got on, I think in Wilmington, and was rather shirty with the driver over her bags and was making her displeasure felt as she grunted and puffed down the aisle and took up her seat two rows behind me. The driver took great offence at her new passenger disturbing the peace and waking up those around her and told her she wanted a word outside, which didn’t go down well and an argument ensued where the drivertold her to get off the bus. She refused to move, and then the driver said “ok m’am I have a solution to our problem”… at which point she headed downstairs off the bus and found the state police. Meanwhile our fellow passenger was calling customer services on loudspeaker and trying to cajole those around her to testify to her good character. No one was forthcoming. The state police, who were at a rest stop busy getting their fill of midnight grease, then boarded the bus and promptly handcuffed her and took her away for disturbing the peace. Don’t piss off the bus driver.

exmore

on the road again

The journey was even more eventful because two people got stuck in the bathroom – I don’t think their of them understood the concept of sliding the lock instead of just panicking and punching the door, again, much to the driver’s displeasure. On the first occasion she headed up the bus to give “instruction”, bellowing “is thatachile in theyer? Sliiide, no maaan don’ push that dawer. What part of this cain’t you understaind? I’mona leave you in theyer all’otha way to New York City in yer awn stink”.  Eventually the poor guy figured it out, and exited, and no, he wasn’t a child but a man of around 30 who was about as red as a black man could possibly turn. The lady in front of him loudly berated him for his “stink” which prompted her to take a spray can of deodorant out and blast the bus aisle, which then brought the driver stomping down to give her a ticking off about people’s allergies and made her clean up the slick of coverage that the deodorant had left on the floor.

About few hours passed and then another person locked themselves in the bathroom. The driver didn’t bother this time just shouting “I’ll teyl ya th’same as t’other mayn – sliiiide don’push. Ya’ll know whatodo, ya’ll cain get haim outta theyer. I’mmanot getting involved”. On this occasion, the toilet overflowed, which had to be fixed at the rest stop  – thankfully we were pretty close and it didn’t take long!

So that was my journey back to  snowy New York. Once I got into Port Authority, I suffered a mini stumble, and tripped over my suitcase wheels which flipped me onto my back because my army backpack was so heavy. And then I had to roll from side to side to right myself, until a lady came and helped me up. I think it was once of those moments when everyone was too tickled to actually help! Apart from my ego, everything else came out intact.

Then I headed off to my friend Rachel’s apartment (hi Rachel!) to drop offbags before heading out to run some errands like buying a spare camera battery, plus seeing my dear friend Rommel Pecson (a supremely talented instant photographer himself!) who showed me some interesting new kit he’d acquired and made sure I had all the finishing touches to my kit bag. I had great plans of going out for food somewhere, or going for a drink, but once I got back into the apartment at the end of the day, and faced the task of consolidating and repacking my 3 large suitcases, I couldn’t face it and flopped.

New York, Central Park

My flight to LA was at 11:39 the next day and so I spent the evening phoning up Delta airlines trying to get them to allocate my bags as media bags (therefore a cheaper excess baggage rate), which after an hour of being on the phone via Skype seemed successful.

Getting a cab to JFK didn’t prove so easy. I left the apartment at 8:00 as the baggage thing takes so long as each airline has different requirements, and stood on the corner in the bitter cold trying desperately to hail a cab. I now know what Carrie Bradshaw meant about cabs in Manhattan – easy to get when you don’t really need one and nearly impossible when you do.The three that did stop all refused to take me because of the amount of luggage, so before I caught frostbite and missed my plane being frozen like a Medusa statue on a street corner,  I caved in desperation and sat in Starbucks and called a cab which ended up cheaper anyway, and I wonder why I didn’t just do that in the first place. Maybe doing it the authentic way had been part of the challenge…I had a really nice Peruvian driver who couldn’t have been nicer, despite the fact his rather nice Mercedes had cream leather seats and my bags were basically ruining them. He asked me if I’d ever been to Peru, and I said I hadn’t, but then told him about Paddington bear, and that Peru was rather beloved in Britain because of a small marmalade-eating, talking bear in wellies and a duffel coat. He seemed a bit confused but pleased that Peru had entered the realm of pop culture.

cab

When we got there  I was pleased to say that the “here’s one I prepared earlier” media pass did the trick and I paid the media rate for my bags. As an added bonus, that meant I didn’t have an airport repack to do. So for future reference photographer/filmmaker friends – do try and get the media rate with Delta – they’re accommodating and charge a flat rate for overweight bags when you get the media rate, plus they’ll carry up to 200lbs per bag, more than any other airline I’ve come across.

Moral of the story: it’s always worth asking.

some of the filmRight, so my next blog will probably be when I land in Tahiti – I can’t imagine there’ll be much to say about my LA leg, as I’m only there for a day, and judging by current patterns, I’ll be too wrecked to leave my hotel, but if anything eventful happens I’ll write sooner!

Once the LA flight is out of the way, I’ll feel like I’m really on my way, as I’ll be completely on my own. New York never quite feels like I’m on my own, it just feels like an extension of London, but LA is where I’ll start to  feel that it’s started, once i see that first glimmer of the Pacific Ocean.

No more equipment to buy, no more errands to run, just me, and my journey to reach Pitcairn…

Hasta tarde! Rx

P.S.

I wanted to thank my rather lovely supporters – Powertraveller – because as I write I’m plugged in via their rather ingenious power pack which comes with every attachment known to man. Silly me forgot to charge my laptop last night and I’ve been saved from the communication abyss – so thanks guys!

Here’s a bonus pic or two from Virginia…

Processed with VSCOcam with p5 preset

Subway, VA

Corny Ho, VA

 

 

Feeling a little overwhelmed by you all!

So in less that 24 hours, my GoFundMe campaign has already gained almost £1000 worth of support. I can’t tell you how much I thank you all for your help – as well as the funds, it’s even better knowing that it’s not just me that thinks it’s a good project! I promise I’ll make it worth your while.

I’m also delighted to announce that The Impossible Project are supporting me with film for the trip. This makes a huge difference, and I’ll look forward to pushing it to its limits in Pitcairn, and taking Impossible film to a whole new destination.

A few of you have also made offers to lend me equipment and back up cameras – for this I’m most grateful. I thought of adding that option to my appeal but didn’t think anyone would be willing to part with their beloved gear for so long. But if anyone out there wants to loan me equipment, that would be as great a help as finance is.

Thank you all, and do please continue to share the project across your networks. Every little helps!