Birthdays and beyond…

As promised, here is one of the blog posts that you are owed! Long overdue – this should have been posted in April….I haven’t put many photos on this post to save bandwidth, but I’ll add some extras when I can….

So it was my birthday last week, and like most of my birthdays it made me feel slightly melancholy. I’ve never been one for birthday parties, and bar a couple of small birthday dinners, one surprise dinner thrown by an ex, and a 10th birthday spent at a water park in Trinidad with a Super Mario cake, I’ve mostly managed to avoid having parties where I have to be the centre of attention. Though many of you might not think it, I don’t really like being the centre of attention. I like being detached enough to slink away, and I prefer doing something low key.

On this one, more than most, I spent most of the actual day reflecting on life and what has happened so far, and also the situation I have found myself in. I suppose my Pitcairn trip was planned as much as a documentation of Pitcairn as it was a cathartic experience for me. It has brought many things to the surface for me, and being so cut off from everything familiar for such a prolonged period has made me realise what is important and what isn’t. It has made me look at my relationships, with friends, with family, my romantic attachments, my decision making processes. I have disassembled much of my life block by block, and I can see it all with more clarity than I thought possible. Though at times being here has been incredibly stressful, sometimes you need to take yourself so far away from your own life to see it clearly. I know that when I get home and back to civilisation, many things need to change and evolve.

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The day before my birthday, Sue and Pawl held a quiz for the April birthday roll call. It was Sue’s birthday in early April, and Pawl’s a couple of days before mine, so they organised one of their quiz afternoons. Quizzes at Sue and Pawls are always a guaranteed headache for those who aren’t sure of the answers – you can swap a correct answer for a whale’s tooth shot (almost a Pitcairn rite of passage). Pawl has a collection of carved out whale’s teeth which are the same size as a shot glass, and somehow the fanfare of drinking out of one supersedes the reality of drinking shots at 3pm and logic goes out of the window. As a result I wasn’t quite sure if we had won or not, or whether the quiz master just took pity on our team as we had more birthday boys and girls on our team than anyone else’s [edit 17/05/2015: we did win, as I just discovered from the latest issue of Pitcairn’s miscellany newsletter. Vaine tells me that in the 20 years he has lives here he has never made it into the newsletter and that me making it in is an achievement of sorts]. At one point I was presented with a birthday cupcake board, decorated with snakes and ladders sweets as vines, and sliced marshmallows as petals on the cupcake ‘flowers’.

It was an impressive effort, though it was partially (actually, forget ‘partially’) made to tease a certain male (also in attendance) who had been coming into my room and leaving flowers in my bedroom almost daily for a time. Once news gets out on this island you can never live it down. For instance I once enthusiastically declared how much I “love roast chicken” and then the whole island was in on the roast chicken joke – teasing the same aforementioned male about when he would invite me home for roast chicken. Every time he and I were within the same space, chicken recipes would be exchanged by anyone within earshot or spying distance. I’m probably going to go off roast chicken for a while!

I do remember leaving the birthday quiz feeling rather despondent (despite an ensemble Macarena dance for additional points) after a very matter of fact telling from one guest that I was now “past it” and that my “eggs were drying up” so I had better get my figuratively ‘get my skates on’. I don’t particularly dwell on any of these things myself, preferring just to live life and take it as it comes, but having everything put quite so bluntly on a day of so-called celebration did feel a little unnecessary. Naturally I went home feeling a tad melancholy which carried over into the next day and my actual birthday.

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On the Monday morning following my birthday I received a welcome phone call from Daphne, Pawl’s mum “How are you?” she asks enthusiastically. She lives upstairs from Pawl and Sue in a quite separate home with her husband Keane. Though they share one driveway, the two floors really are worlds apart. Daphne has been one of the few islanders who has always welcomed me with open arms. I’ve enjoyed my time with her chatting about her family, going through old pictures, or talking about Elvis and her visit to Graceland. She always has the time for me, there is always a cup of hot coffee waiting, and usually some homemade breadsticks or some other baked delicacy. She was one of the first people to agree to have her photograph taken by me, which really helped in more ways than one.

I have spent many hours watching her weave her baskets with fingers dancing between the strands with quick precision. Weaving is one of the few traditional crafts that still exist on Pitcairn, with many of the older generation producing baskets for sale on the cruise ships and for their own use. It’s a laborious process, of gathering palm fronds from both a pandanus and the common palm tree, followed by preparation – stripping spines, washing, dyeing, drying, and cutting into strips.

On the phone Daphne mentioned that she had something for me, and to “pop up” when I was passing. Later that morning I stopped by and Daphne presented me with a homemade basket, with ‘RHIANNON’ woven around the lid in navy blue and natural coloured strands. After the time I had been having, it was such a genuinely thoughtful gesture that it almost brought me to tears. I gave Daphne a big squeeze which she seemed to receive happily enough.

It’s something that I have noticed about Pitcairn…. That there is very little physical affection shown anywhere. Not between brothers and sisters, parents and their children, husbands and their wives, or between friends. In London, life is not so matter of fact, people greet each other with a hug or a kiss on the cheek. People hold hands or will casually squeeze their partner around the waist when passing. Small shows of affection, nothing ground breaking, but present all the same.

Pitcairn has to be one of the least outwardly loving places that I have ever experienced and I think it’s one of the things I have struggled with in being here. People are happy to tease, or joke, but shows of real affection are rare. The people often move with a kind of bluster and purpose that almost seems to paint affection as time wasting. It feels very loveless and that practicality and necessity have taken precedence over the small encouragements that make life seem bearable. It’s almost as if everyone has to stay busy all of the time just so that they don’t stop and think and dwell on the relationships that they have and how they operate. Perhaps behind closed doors, things are different. I hope that they are different, and that at home when I am not there, love thrives. But I have a sneaking suspicion that things are not that different in private, and that life has now become about toil and the hard graft, a constant wheel turning relentlessly that everyone can rely on in a place where relationships can be fractured and fragile.

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While here I have often wondered about community and what it means. Whether community is always good, or whether community can sometimes stifle goodness. I now know that ‘small’ and ‘close knit’ do not necessarily mean “strong” when talking of community – that a community’s small size can stop the individual from flourishing and in turn create barriers, reluctance and anger. There is no outlet. Even the roast chicken joke could be included in this – an island wide joke that spread via Chinese whispers. It was mostly harmless, but I did feel that instead of giving gentle encouragement or advice, the ribbing can lead to isolation of a kind. I never thought that feeling isolated would be possible in a place of only 40 people, all of whom are around you continuously, and I’m sure I’m not the only person that feels this way. I often feel I need space here, but by that I mean mental space away from the cacophony of gossip and negativity towards me. Pitcairn can be an exceedingly lonely place despite being the most claustrophobic place I have ever experienced. It’s not so much the physical position of this island that causes loneliness, but the dynamic of the people together.

The legal turmoil of the last decade has taken its toll, with divisions arising between families and even within families. No one has been untouched by that past, and here I still feel that tension all around me. It may have abated somewhat but the rifts are visible everywhere and it is going to take mammoth efforts to reunify and change attitudes.

As I mentioned in my last blog, I have felt this more than most – I am travelling with a camera and a recorder and I have been placed into a box by many islanders. No one has independently asked me what I am here to do, though a small handful of the community – the council members – had read my application in order to approve it. However all islanders have made assumptions and drawn conclusions that have embedded themselves and spread throughout this island like a kind of deadly poison. I have never been to any small place with strangers, where people have been so disinterested in me, even personally. They don’t really want to be friends with me and hold me at arms length – as I say, it’s lonely.

I am trying desperately to make this project work, to fight against the tides, to talk to people, to show my work, to show who I am, but it seems all too often that once a decision has been made it is unshakeable, and then the negative media released from Pitcairn is itself a self fulfilling prophecy. The positivity is drowned out by the past, yet again. A quick Google search will reveal pages and pages of bad press mostly to do with the trials, but when the community doesn’t seize opportunities to divert that image towards the positive angles, then how can Pitcairn really hope to survive?

I feel perfectly comfortable about saying this here because I have had this same conversation with many islanders. If you don’t dilute the negativity with some new content all that will ever be remembered is the recent history. How can anyone move on without presenting and being proud of a different side? Despite the recent history, there are good people here, there are good stories to be told, there are things to be proud of. But the world is unlikely to ever see them, and instead the overwhelming impression is that Pitcairn seems intent on wallowing under a shroud of darkness. I feel often as if I am watching the end – an island on lockdown. Nothing in, nothing out.

It makes you wonder about repopulation plans – it begs the question of if the island is ready for newcomers. Whether change from within can happen fast enough to save this small lump of rock for the ‘community’ that lives here. I may be generalising here, and I know that not everyone feels this way, but there seems to be an end point that certain islanders are striding towards rapidly by their own reluctance to engage and take ownership of their image. In a sense they are reconciled to the fate that awaits and as a result they have become complacent to an extent, and are defensive of that position, preferring not to draw attention to themselves and vanish quietly.

I have heard it mentioned by a couple of people that they almost look forward to being the last person to turn the lights out. It seems to me that this foregone conclusion acts as a barrier itself, as though by admitting failure one eschews ‘defeat’. This in turn comes back to their reluctance to engage with my project – I don’t know what I will leave here with. If the islanders don’t believe in preserving their present because the future is uncertain – it’s the “I’m not going to be here so what does it matter?” sort of attitude – then my efforts are almost thwarted before I begin. What most don’t seem to realise is that by letting me in, they might have a better chance of starting to change that image, but being open, openness spreads.

As someone who is fascinated with stories and by people, I find this all very puzzling. Especially in a place which superficially trades on its history to the extent that Pitcairn does…. That famous Bounty history that is seen everywhere – on hats and t-shirts worn by the islanders as an unofficial uniform, to the replica Bounty models in homes, to the paintings of the Bounty, and bookshelves overflowing with Bounty stories and Pitcairn related titles.

There is, outwardly, an obsession with the legend, but yet history in the real sense seems to slip through my fingers at every turn. As an artist, or a photographer, you are, effectively a historian. A record keeper, an observer, looking at the present as though every moment is an opportunity to capture an underlying essence or truth about the time we live in. But when so much seems to be smoke and mirrors, when people are closed, that kernel of truth – the truth that can sing out from an honest portrait or a simple detail is hard to find.

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The dust never settles…

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It’s been another eventful week on Pitcairn. Most people probably think Pitcairn is a sleepy place, but far from it. With so few people and so many jobs to do, everyone juggles a number of responsibilities so there is never a shortage of action. One could say the dust never settles…

For me personally, time has zoomed in parts and at other times has seemed endless. As I write this, it’s my first rainy day on the island. I ventured out earlier, using my miniscule umbrella for the first time (whoever told me opening umbrellas indoors was bad luck now has to answer for the fact I’ve bought an umbrella that would suit a 7 year old better) and managed to end up rather soggy and muddy in the two minute walk to and from the Post Office. I’ve completed a stint of postcard writing – and have now got a case of severe hand cramp. It’s at times like this I wonder why no one really forced me into holding a pen properly as a kid, as I’m sure the way I hold a pen will land me with carpal tunnel or something later on in life!

I’m sitting at the front of Steve and Olive’s home, Big Fence, looking out onto the white horses that are dancing across the surrounding Pacific Ocean and nursing a cup of Yorkshire tea and a treasured McVitie’s chocolate digestive. The skies are a flat grey, and almost resemble that milky colour of London skies, only I’m thousands of miles away and there are oceans between us. The tint of Steve and Olive’s windows gives the outside world a lightly lilac hue

I can hear the wind and constant rumble of the waters breaking onto the rocks a couple of hundred metres below me, and as far as the eye can see is water. Water, water, everywhere. When I look at the sea like this it brings home quite how far away Pitcairn is, and it also makes me think we were crazy to cross oceans in a boat. The waves are so relentless and unforgiving, and we were so small. I can almost smell our boat’s interior right now, and that salty dampness that never seems to go away.

I was meant to be having my quad bike test today, but it got rained off. Kevin very kindly (see previous post!) took me on an island ride and got me reversing around a makeshift course up at the radio station. Managing the quad wasn’t too difficult, but every time I sit on one I think of all the accidents I’ve heard of, and how being in a car with airbags is bad enough! Still, it would be nice to have a little more independence and be able to get places a little easier. In the sweltering heat of midday, a quad would be very welcome. The thing about Pitcairn is that it’s naturally all hills, so for every nice downward slope you have a steep incline to climb minutes later. There is very little that is flat! I am glad of some respite from the heat though, and even though the roads have turned to mudslides from the downpour, at least it has meant to dust has been patted down for a bit!

The day before yesterday two yachts arrived and landed on the island – a French boat and an American boat. The Americans had been to Pitcairn previously, and so decided to come in on their own tender. They weren’t quite as skilled as the locals in negotiating the landing entry though, and they timed it rather badly, shooting in on a big wave with their small 15hp outboard with the kids screaming in unison. Jay Warren picked up the others on the French yacht with his small boat, and as usual entered with speed and panache and made the whole journey look easy. I think they key is to be decisive, quick, and have some proper power behind you. I can see how it’d be nerve wracking doing it by yourself though, so all power to them for giving it a go! I’d be petrified of leaving my boat at anchor here though, there’s no real shelter and you have to be pretty damn sure of your anchor technique. I’ve heard that a few boats have come quite literally unstuck, so I’d be wary. I’ve watched how rapidly the weather here can change.

yachts

Each one of the yachts had a few kids on board, which was great for the little girl here. A few of them spent the day with her at the school, and then later on they were all swimming at the landing and egging each other on to jump in. It was nice to see her have some company.

Sometimes I look at her and see a little of small me – precocious, surrounded by adults, and craving some contact from her own age group. So it was nice to see her with the other kids and also for the boat kids, some of whom had just sailed from Easter Island and were headed to Gambier, and some had just come from New Zealand and were stopping off en route to Panama. They were all pretty glad of a stop off, a walk, and a swim.

The group who had come from New Zealand were originally from the Chesapeake bay (pretty close to where my Mum and her ex husband had had their boat and settled), and their two crew members were from Kinsale in Ireland (where we’d bought our boat), and from Barcelona (where my Dad lives). Sometimes the coincidences are quite remarkable.

The two crew guys (the Irish guy and the Spanish guy) and I decided to take a wander off to Christian’s Cave. I did the walk in flip flops – and then went barefoot on the rock as we climbed up. The walk was pretty easy really – I had been expecting it to be really difficult given the number of blog posts that I’d read before coming here from people who had given up halfway, or had never made it in time. It doesn’t take long and there’s a nice view of Adamstown as a reward at the other end.

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I would have loved it as a kid – it would have been a great place for sleepovers. Particularly because of the number of goat sculls and bones we encountered on the way up, it would have been the prefect goulish place to freak each other out. Almost as good as the derelict leper colony at Chacachacare, Trinidad.

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christian's cave

The only objectionable thing about the walk was what the locals call “grabaleg”– these small spiky seed pods that bury their way into your skin. They were everywhere, it’s an invasive plant that has taken over the whole area surrounding Christian’s cave, so be warned. When I got back home, I spent a good 40 minutes with the tweezers gently and gingerly easing out multiple spines that had worked their way all across my body, and into horribly sensitive places like the arches of my feet.

I was a little disappointed with the eco trail leading up to the cave though – many of the native plants that had been marked out were actually dead. I’m no horticulturalist (in fact my record with plants probably puts me at serial killer level), but it seems its an area of interest that has been a little neglected, and I’m not sure that the blank CDs attached with fishing line and used as markers and tied around the plants can be that good for them. But anyway, my plant record means I probably shouldn’t comment!

Over the last couple of days we’ve also celebrated two birthdays – the doctor’s and Kevin Young’s. Kevin’s was great – a whole ton of food and what seemed to be half the island turned up at Big Fence – mostly family by one way or another. Most people who know me, know I love food, so this was a rather welcome event! I tried some new things I’ve never had before which is always good too.

This week also included witnessing a couple of public events in the hall – the first one an island council meeting and the second a hearing in an on-going court case. Both of which were interesting because they both involved live video links with the outside world and it was a good thing to see while I’m here as it put some things in context for me. These will probably be the only live public links to the outside while I’m on island (depending on the results of the election in the UK), so I’m glad I attended. The court hearing wasn’t very well attended and I was a bit reticent about going as I didn’t want anyone to read anything into my attendance (i.e. thinking I’m a journalist) but I have never had the opportunity to attend anything of the sort before so for curiosity’s sake I went along. I would have gone the previous day but got rather confused about the New Zealand time zone thing – not quite realising it was a whole day different! Seeing the way the video links work today in 2015, makes you wonder how it would have looked back when Operation Unique was in full swing.

The council meeting was a little different – it was a link with the governor and less formal so was done over Skype. The idea was that members of the public could pass comments on and ask questions, not that anyone did! It felt a little surreal sitting in Pitcairn with everyone in t-shirts and shorts and flip flops and watching this suited official on screen sitting thousands of miles away. The meeting talked over a couple of points that are clearly apparent when you’re here – mostly centring around repopulation and tourism. I was a little surprised that two points that seemed quite obviously connected weren’t mentioned…

council meeting

Namely – the Marine Conservation Area, and the new proposal to amend Pitcairn’s ordinances in favour of the inclusion of same sex marriage. It seems to me that the Marine Conservation Area would be huge in terms of eco tourism, the increased access to various development grants, and potentially would bring longer term visitors and researchers to the island who would help to change the demographic. I can’t see how this would be negative for Pitcairn. The welcoming of same sex marriage would bring Pitcairn in line with the UK and would also stop those who are in same sex marriages and civil unions being put off settlement. So it seems as though that just opens the doors a little wider and takes down another negative barrier. I would have mentioned both of these points myself in the meeting, but felt as an off islander I don’t have the right to pass comment nor whoop in appreciation of both developments.

Here’s an apt product that I found in a cupboard in the store:

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I know in the UK that the marine area is big news, and is being celebrated across the conservation communities, and really did think there would be more excitement here about the whole thing, but then I read the governor’s letter to the island which was pinned to the public noticeboard and the tone of it was very withdrawn, downbeat, and sceptical, so perhaps that has something to do with it. Or perhaps it has something to do with the general and vague animosity towards NGO involvement and initiatives on Pitcairn. Certain actions such as the cat eradication, and goat eradication have put a few noses out of joint along the way. It did seem to me though that you couldn’t possibly talk about the future of tourism and repopulation on this island without mentioning the marine announcement though, whatever one’s opinion on it. I didn’t feel I could say anything in the meeting, but I’m saying it here instead.

The project is slow going, which is rather what I expected – I’m still trying to find my place here and work out some of the tangled web of connections and who is who, and all of that. I want to create something that accurately captures a sense of place. Perhaps not literally but metaphorically – and in order to do that I need to absorb and understand the place a little better, and for people to be open and relaxed in my presence.

I’m not interested in creating a purely documentary project. Many people will want to see the logistical aspect of Pitcairn – how the internet is received, how the power works, where water comes from, the postal service, the store, the school, the church, the council. So yes, an element of that will be included in this project.

But I want to capture something other – the entanglement, this mixture of old and new, the history and how that has filtered down to the present, the family groupings which may at first seem black and white but are really shades of grey, the small details of everyday life that the Pitcairners themselves wouldn’t notice or take for granted. Many of the old ways of doing things have not been recorded, so I want to show how the old has melded into the new, and to show this community in a state of change. I want to create a thorough and lasting legacy project that shows the intersection Pitcairn now sits at – between the past and the future – drawing out the fragility of the place through the film.

I haven’t shot much as yet but have been testing a few things along the way and taking a few snaps here and there. Here’s a picture of Steve and the black eye he sustained from a bit of an accident. It’s a digital shot I’m afraid as I haven’t got my scanner rigged up as yet, but you get the gist….

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Pitcairn is a difficult place to fit into in some ways, but I hope it’ll get easier. I don’t want to tread on anyone’s toes as it’s not in my nature to do so, but inevitably my very presence will cause suspicion amongst some, and I understand why.

This project is planned to stand apart from the work that has been done on Pitcairn in the past. I came to Pitcairn to find something missing from my past, or to tie up a loose end that has always sat with me. I’m not going to go into exhaustive detail, but much about Pitcairn’s situation mirrors my own, and the more time I spend here the more that becomes both more apparent and also highlights the changes I’ve gone through…. I have to find a way to express this in the project subtly and I may not have found the way yet, but I’m working on it.

Also just before I go, and on a vaguely related note – I’d like to make a quick comment on WordPress and this blog. I’ve encountered some confusion over whether this blog is affiliated with any sort of press organisation, or is filtered through some kind of press directory. I think this comes from the name on the bottom of this site, “Wordpress”. If you go onto http://www.wordpress.com, you’ll see what wordpress is – a hosting site for blogs and websites from people all around the world about everything from knitting to rubber duck collectors to business websites and all those in between. My blog just happens to be about Pitcairn, because that’s where I am and that’s my current focus.

I’d like to say that everything posted on this blog is my own opinion and contains anecdotes purely there for amusement purposes, its a kind of diary for people who have backed my project, and friends and family that would like to follow the progress of the project and read something that contains a bit of my personality, and my own experiences of being here. The content of this blog is my own and cannot be used without my consent. I own the content – it may be in the public domain but it isn’t a free for all. Any details about the workings of Pitcairn that I refer to on this blog are all available publicly elsewhere (e.g. job titles, minimum wage amounts, laws or ordinances, etc).

WordPress is simply the name of a blogging platform, like blogger or even Tumblr. I just prefer the layout of it – it has nothing to do with “the press”. I am not a journalist, for anyone with any doubts, feel free to Google me, it’s all there – you won’t find anything about me being a journalist, and instead you’ll find a whole load of pictures of lighthouses and waterfalls that I’ve taken – I am an artist making a project, and that’s all.

I am not working for a newspaper or the press and am not being paid by any organisation for this project – it is without prejudice or agenda.

There will always be a number of people who may not believe me on this, and I accept that will always happen. This is essentially a crowd funded creative project, and I wouldn’t be being true to my backers if the project deviated from its origins.

I just don’t want there to be any grey area as to why I’m keeping this blog or what it is for, or from what position it is written.

I’ll leave you now with a little snap of last night’s sunset…  adieu!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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

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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