Sunday, August 26, 2007

Palmerston Atoll

In 1862 an English whaler named William Marster convinced 3 women from the northern Cook island of Penrhyn to move to a deserted atoll in the southern Cook Islands named Palmerston. He had 3 separate families with a total of 26 kids. He died in 1899 and is buried on the island. He has over 5000 descendants. Only 68 live on the island. The rest have immigrated to NZ or Oz. Those 68 are the most welcoming and hospitable people I believe I’ve ever met. Get this – when you arrive, they race to be the first to reach your boat so they can “host” you. There is no airstrip so the only way to get there is by ship. Their supply ship comes once every 3 months and this time it was over 3 months late. So if you’re getting the picture that they crave human company, you might be getting close to the fact. They are bored out of their minds and they’re all related to each other in at least 2 ways. Lots of wonky eyes, stutters and signs of inbreeding. “Hosting” – means they come out in their launch to bring you in to their island whenever you want. They cook large extravagant meals, play the ukulele and sing songs for your entertainment, do your laundry, give you ice, water, filleted fish, whatever you want and wouldn’t even think of asking for money in return. They really just want to hang out. Now – if you are a little too jaded to believe that, fine – I can give you the rest of the story. Yes – they want your expertise. I don’t have any, but some of the other cruisers know how to fix stuff and can jury rig two capacitors into 1 or can compute the structural load on the next community building. They want your education. Of course they’re happy to take a little fuel and some provisions if you can spare it, but they will never ask. They speak English but the accent is really hard to decipher (it’s even harder here in Niue).

We had a wonderful time. I wanted to believe that places like this still existed. That people will give without taking. That I can stay some place where everyone is much poorer than I, and never once try to sell me anything. It won’t last. Some of the cruisers were suggesting they start selling t-shirts. Believe me; I know first hand – once you start selling t-shirts, your soul rots and you end up driving an orange Tracker.

Now let me tell you about the whale. Our first night in Palmerston we were utterly exhausted after fighting the savage ocean for 48 hours, but I was awakened by this rude enormous mammal blowing air about 5 feet from my head. We got on deck and watched her rubbing up to Barraveigh. She was sleeping. One little nervous startle and she could have crushed us. Finally she bumped her nose and swam off. Exhilaratingly scary. They next day she was just lying on the surface about 100 yards away from the boats. I went in the dinghy with the Mexicans off the boat next to me and we rowed over to her. We slowly got in the water and I took the most amazing video. I’ll post it on my website when I get to civilization. She turned around and faced me. We were nose to nose. That thing is bigger than Barraveigh. Turns out she was pregnant. She had her calf on our last night right next to the boat, and then the next morning they took a victory lap around the anchorage to show off a bit.

Oh the things I’ve seen!

Why aren’t the rest of you buying yachts and learning to sail? You can’t get this stuff on the Discovery Channel my friends.

Captain Bob

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