The arrival!

The Claymore journey was pretty smooth, or at least to me. Good to know I haven’t lost my sea legs! I still wanted it all to be over as fast as possible as I was itching to arrive, but it was good to have the couple of days to get myself organised a little, at least in theory.

There were no big seas and it was just plain chugging along at a steady 11/12 knots. We saw some nice sunsets and the skies were beautiful at night, which was an added perk of the nothingness of the sea. I liked being back at sea for that short period… I was never much of a fan of living on a boat, but I really don’t mind boat travel when it’s not your everyday. In fact I enjoy feeling miniscule and insignificant from time to time – partly because living in London can mean you spend so much time chasing after irrelevant things, or expending disproportionate amounts of your energy on pointlessness. It’s easy to loose perspective. Somehow being at sea puts all of that back into alignment – you realise we are just specks more infinitesimal than the faintest star in the sky, and somehow that’s comforting. You could do anything you like and it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day…

Throughout the journey I didn’t see too much of my fellow passengers – Heather was holed below deck working, and Darralyn and Michelle were in their cabins playing cards, social worker Jim seemingly vanished and I spent most of my time with Andy from the RSPB. He could usually be found out on deck with his Swarovski binoculars in one hand and a notebook in the other recording sea birds. Like a more advanced and worthy “I Spy” book!

Chart IMG_4487_1

The rest of my time was spent up in the bridge with the crew, chatting away about life events, where we had travelled on our boat, Fleetwood Mac, and their impressions of Pitcairn and its future. I could hardly believe the amount of new fangled technology that was housed up in the bridge – especially for an old boat (German I think originally, Hamish – the man in charge – said that there had been a whole load of Third Reich stuff on board when it had first been bought). These days you can pretty much press “Go” and wait till you get there it seems. Quite different to the high maintenance sail boat existence! Hanging out up in the bridge was great – looking at the charts, watching the log be filled out, it all took me back. All those sea rituals.

Jane cooked up some great food on the journey and we even had a delicious lamb roast en route, which is much more than I was expecting at sea! Mind you, I suppose the cost of the Claymore II is about akin to going on a 5* cruise! Heather told me en route that the price of the vessel would never go down, despite attempts because the government were using off-island passengers like myself to supplement and offset their running costs. Islanders themselves pay a reduced fee, but it’s still extremely steep and most can’t afford to leave.

Apparently tourism has really tried to appeal about the costs because it’s one of the (many) factors that make Pitcairn so difficult and expensive to reach. Though the service is reliable, there’s not much the islanders can do about cost as it’s under a permanent government charter. As a result tourism is very limited, and mostly comes through the cruise ships, or from special trips like the Norwegians we’d met at the airport.

The Landing

The island needs outsiders in order to survive, but with such high transport costs, only very few ever manage to land on the island’s distant shores. I had heard about the islanders’ suspicion that the government was trying to ‘shut them down’, and it seems that may originate at least in part with the unwillingness to budge on transit costs. Because so few people then book to travel, it makes the interest in Pitcairn appear minimal which means that the Claymore remains the only sustainable passenger route.

Though since I’ve arrived here, many suspect that if the costs were lower the traffic to Mangareva could double, which may in turn create a sustainable future for the island. If outsiders visit, some may settle, creating a much-needed workforce. One of the other issues seems to be the amount of cargo the Claymore can physically carry – some islanders have to wait months or even years for space on the vessel. This makes it difficult for businesses that deal with the outside to survive so most islanders have multiple jobs to support themselves and rely heavily on the souvenir trade with the cruise ships. In a sense their isolation forces a subsistence lifestyle.

I digress.

We approached Pitcairn at night, and there was an air of excitement on the boat. Both Michelle and Darralyn had been away from home for the last three months and were both itching to get ashore to their families and lives. I know how it is – no matter how much you enjoy being away, there’s nothing like your own bed. There were radio calls to the shore, and I sat up in the bridge recording what I could – “first contact” if you will. Sue was the first island voice I heard coming in over channel 16, and it sounded like they’d been having a good night! Sue is married to “pirate” Pawl, who is one of the first islanders you’d have came across in pictures if you Google Pitcairn island.

I tried to see the island as we steamed towards it, and I caught a glimpse of a dark looming hulk amidst the inky blue when I stuck my head out of the polyurethane panels surrounding our eating area. It was a shame to arrive at night so I missed seeing the island loom larger and larger, but c’est la vie.

Hamish made arrangements for the longboats to arrive at 8:30 the next morning, so we anchored up outside Bounty Bay as the weather was conducive and not too rough. We had a few celebratory drinks in the bridge – and I sampled some New Zealand Tui beer (a new one for me!) – I also got to meet Bob the engineer properly for the first time. He’s been to Pitcairn more than 50 times, and is a big collector of artefacts and motorcycles. He’s also the only crew member to go ashore these days.

I woke early to head to the bridge to record the radio communications for the BBC programme, and got myself packed and washed. I had a brief breakfast of Jane’s delicious freshly baked muffins and amazing Pitcairn passion fruit, and filled out the Pitcairn landing forms.

landing card

I’d inevitably left some of the important things (like film!) in one of the other suitcases in the cargo deck, so had to go and retrieve and as I was doing so, all of a sudden the longboat showed up. I still hadn’t finished in my cabin so I had to dash downstairs and sort that out, and run back upstairs again. There wasn’t much of a chance for recording the process as it all happened so fast. Brenda Christian (the island police officer) boarded the boat first and sorted out passport stuff and seemed to orchestrate our transfer.

luggage on claymore

longboat

Pitcairn from claymore

The longboat transfer is something that I can see would be really awkward for those unsteady on their feet. The crew are deft and efficient, and grab you to get you on the boat. But the rise and fall of the longboats is very pronounced and all of a sudden its deck can drop below the ship’s gunnel and you could have a meter to fall. It’s all about timing. Even in the calm (ish) seas we arrived in, the longboat was surging up and down, and bucking and grinding against the Claymore’s hull. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience, but I can see how some of the ageing Norwegians might not have been quite so thrilled at the prospect! Once you’re on the longboat, no time is wasted getting you ashore, and before you know it the ropes are cast off and everyone is waving you off. The longboats have little to hold on to, and the gunnel is only around 6” above the deck, so I can imagine it would be quite easy to fall off if you didn’t have your wits about you and a decent dose of common sense.

The best part is coming into the landing, where the longboat slows just outside and the cox watches the swells, timing the surge so that the boat doesn’t overshoot and plough straight in. When the waves are right, the boats moves in and before you know it you’re being tied off and offloaded and you’re standing on the concrete landing. Your luggage is hefted off onto the dock in a matter of seconds it seems, and your hosts are there to welcome you. It was all such a rush. I met a whole raft of people in the first two minutes of being ashore but probably only caught 25% of the names flying around. Melva Evans came up to me and put a necklace made from shells and seeds around my neck, and then my hosts Steve and Olive Christian made an appearance.

All of a sudden my luggage was loaded onto their quad bikes and little 4 wheel drive and we followed the procession of quads and the cloud of red dust up the steep hill from the landing as I was whisked up to Big Fence, their sprawling home at the beginning of Adamstown.…

Many of you have asked me along the way why the title “Big Fence” – well, now you know. When I was searching the crevices of my brain for a working title for this project, I remembered the name of Steve and Olive’s home. Big Fence seemed apt for several Pitcairn specific reasons, but also because I liked the parallel between the house name and the Pacific Ocean. Surely the ocean is the biggest fence, or hurdle, when attempting to reach Pitcairn.

big Fence sellotape

big Fence

I won’t be permanently based at Steve and Olive’s (as the plan has always been to move around), but because it is in the centre of ‘town’ and I’ve heard that they are excellent hosts, it seemed a perfect place to start. I hear they’ll give me a taste of the true Pitcairn lifestyle, and Big Fence is where I will call home for the next period.

But, I’m here! I’m finally here… and thanks to everyone who has helped me along the way!

Sambo

Mangareva and Beyond

Girl, French Polynesia

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.

Clearing

Sunset

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.

Shabbat

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.

Visiting ray

Hermit

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!

Polaroids

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…

Leaving Tahiti

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.

Flight to Gambier

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.

Claymore

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.

Claymore II

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!

Dog cross

Rikitea

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.Cathedrale Saint-Michel de Rikitea

After school, Mangareva

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!

Mangareva kids

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.

First meal, Claymore II

IMG_4475_1

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.

Sunset leaving Gambier

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….

Overweight

me and bags

So I’m gearing up to leave LA, currently sitting down to a much needed rock’n’roll bottle of water. Making my army backpack look light and swinging it onto your back as though it’s as light as a feather isn’t so easy when it weighs around 20kg!

Needless to say that relief moment of dropping your bags at the check in isn’t such a relief in my case! In the states it means one thing: no more luggage trolleys.

On the subject of luggage trolleys, or “carts” as they say here – why is it that the US seems to be the only country in the world that charges you to rent one? I’ve never known an airport to charge you $6 to move your stuff around.

When I was in New York, I tried to take a photo of the cart payment machine and a SmartCart lady ran up to me and told me it was “against the law”. I couldn’t resist and said “what, charging people for luggage carts?” “No, taking a picture of them, you’ll get arrested”, she replied. I forget about the failure of sarcasm when I’m in the States and it catches me out every time.

I am always amazed when people say “you can’t take pictures because you’ll get arrested” to me as it’s just the most ridiculous argument based on flawed logic. It seems to fall into that category of scare tactics propagated by anyone that wears any semblance of uniform – even a SmartCart uniform. All it makes me want to do is take a slew of pictures and see what happens. If I wasn’t on such a time sensitive mission I’d probably be inclined to push it.

I would love someone to attempt to arrest me for taking pictures of a pricelist and some glinting steel. I wonder how it harms anyone at all, or why someone would even bother wasting their breath telling me off… and the only conclusion I can come to is that they know it’s a rip off and they don’t want anyone to know how much of one… Incidentally I did take the picture, and I’ll post it when I can dredge it off my phone, if for no other reason than an act of protest!

Where were we before my little tangent? Ah yes, luggage. I got lucky again today as it happens. I think check in desks are a little like calling the tax office – sometimes you get a nice accommodating person at the desk, and if you don’t, best to make an excuse, come back and try another person.

My first hiccup of the day arrived when I was told Air Tahiti Nui wouldn’t carry more than 32 kg. So since my 3 wheeled suitcases now weighed 33, 33, and 34 kilos respectively (and there was definitely no space in my hand luggage!), I had to buy another roller bag at airport prices taking my bag count to 4, and repack. I was allowed 2 bags, so removed the excess to take the first two down to 23kg which classes them as normal weight bags, and then got the last one of the three in at 32kg, meaning my new one was at 23.

I was trying to be tactical, bags 3 and 4 increase in price rapidly, and the excess weight fee is huge on additional bags, so it makes a difference which bags you put through first. If you put your heavy bag in as part of your baggage allowance, you pay an excess fee, but it’s lower than if your excess weight bag is an additional bag. So I was all geared up to be sneaky.

But then I had the nicest man who gave me a wink and whispered “don’t worry about it”. He knew how to bend the rules and waived my excess fees and very kindly put bag my heavy bag down as “dive equipment” which is a little loophole with Air Tahiti that everyone should remember if you’re carrying a lot of stuff. There’s no media rate but there is free dive equipment and it can be overweight! He actually tried to put my two extra bags in as dive equipment and did so, but when I got to the gate, they called me up for “a message” and told me I could only put one through as dive equipment, and I had to pay for one after all, but as it only counted as a regular bag and as only one bag over, I got away with a mere $75 charge!

It’s turning into a new kind of sport, this baggage fee evasion. Though I think for it to become a real sport I need to come up with a better name. Answers on a postcard….

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I should also mention, that the one great thing about carrying an army backpack is all the “Thank you for your service” comments you get which tickle me greatly, but also seem to give me a special pass into the inner sanctum of the nation and the special treatment that affords. I’m not usually one to take advantage, but when you’re my stature and carrying the baggage weight that I am, then you need all the help you can get!

In other non-news, LA was uneventful.

I got in, checked into the Embassy Suites (a bizarre place but they had a good offer on – I think the interior was meant to resemble a Spanish courtyard?) near the airport with the grand plan of staying there and taking a cab somewhere and going for food or a drink.

But by the time I got settled and showered and dressed, I decided it would be a bit boring on my own, and it was a long way into civilization and an expensive cab journey for what might turn out to be a flop. So instead I took advantage of the “Manager’s reception” and had a couple of G’n’T’s, before an ever-so-thrillng burger (seemingly the only offering in the hotel’s “restaurant”), and had a little wander around before catching up with some admin and making use of the internet while I could. I’m beginning to wonder how I did anything before I had the internet. I have no idea what the internet situation will be in Tahiti because I’m staying in someone’s unused apartment for most of the time so we’ll see.

Once this LA-Tahiti fight is out of the way though I’ll feel really, really, really on my way. I’ll be among the people that the mutineers fell for, and the home of the breadfruit that set their course to start with. I’m looking forward to the heat, the ocean, and the luscious mountainous landscape. I’m a little fed up of looking at highways, so it’ll make for a refreshing change!

My flight is boarding now – so I’ll see you in Tahiti!

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