Penhryn - Part 3

Pacific Bliss
Colin Price
Mon 2 Jul 2012 03:05
Te Tautua Village -  Farewells
We know we've been here a month now because we missed White Sunday by a day when we first arrived.  This is the first Sunday of the month where everyone wears only white, and, for those special folk , communion of Coconut water and utto is performed -  it is a beautiful spectacle.  Colin, having nothing white to wear, has arranged with Tamu to borrow a pair of trousers which would have been a major distraction from the assethetic, given lovely Tamu is 5' 4", short legged, and a little rotund around the middle.  After much hunting we manage to find a pair of white to greying cords and avert any embarrassement.  After the service we went around the village and took some photos of everyone looking their best
Food experience includes Tern eggs - Zinnia, little Rio and Skipper Lily venture down to remote Motu to collect a bucketload   
 and Pokki which is a boiled coconut cake, not sure about it first time round, but sliced served warm with honey and syrup puddings on the boat don't have a look in any more
Most cooking is done outside on stoves made from oil drums    In fact the humble oil drum gets put to many uses including, making charcoal, ovens, and BBQ.
 A typical afternoon scene of people sitting around with each other .
The power station  which is run each day in turn by the 3 men of the village. It runs from 6am-2pm then shut down and then on again 6pm - 11pm 
Good snorkelling in the pass  spotting diner
Woven Hats, fans and natural golden pearls are the main source of revenue for these remote northern Cook Islands.  We have all been given or have invested in the fine craftwomanship of Penhryn hats. For me I needed one for church each Sunday, for the rest of the family there just too beautiful to pass up.  These added to our white sunday getup helps to make us a mighty smart yachtie family.  Given each hat takes between one and three days to produce they are, for us, a much prefered titfa than the renouned Panama.
Zinnia and Cosmo have both found their adoptive families here.  Zinnia with Rio's family, and Cosmo with the schoolmaster's.  They variously, invite themsleves (brazenly - read Cosmo),  or are invited by the families to stay the night.  It is futile to resist.
Zinnia is determined that she will return here one day, marry 'little Rio', and be the schoolteacher - well you never know!  Poor Little Rio has been teased by his peers mercilessly over the past week and having complained to his mum about it, she told him 'they're only jealous'.  A day later she over heard him say to his mates, ' Well, you just jealous, cos I've got a white one and you've only got a dark one!', Zinnia on the other hand in her words is definetly going to be marrying 'a dark one'. 
Cosmo is so taken that he has decided that he wants to go to Rartonga with 'his' family when their tenure here ends in five months, and it is only through quick thinking we escape the abuse. Having been here over 31 days we have now overstayed visas, and so we tell him that the Cook Island Government will not let him stay.   One time, Cosmo invited himself for a sleepover to Nikki's and had a wonderful adventure of killing eel's with sticks and then feeding them to sharks.  He returned to the boat with a list of things he was going to pack before running way with Nikki to Raratonga, mostly toys. 
Both the kids would now rather stay on the land than with us on this difficult, hard to get to, home on the water.  If the decision of departure was left to Z we'd be here a life time.  For the first time ever she has become determined in her career choice return to UK get a good Education become a teacher and then return to Penrhyn as an inspired authority on education and teeth cleaning. 
 Cosmo and Nikki   
The kids in Paradise
Little Rio Teika's family have without a doubt become our firm friends and won over our hearts.  In fact after us helping them on the second onslaught of the passua harvest we have been given the very heady honored title of 'family'.  Colin was having breakfast with them one day, when Rio said seriously, "Cora and I have been talking last night, and have decided that you are now 'family'. So, no more paying for anything between us ... OK?"  They are an amazing very closely knitted union.  Cora (read coola) master hat weaver hard working and mighty kind and wise.   Rio an authority on all things Penrhyn is the hardest worker on the land. Lilly, 17 years old and the Cook Islands answer to Lara Croft, only she's exceptionally soft too.  Little Rio, Zinnia's best buddy who when in our company clams up, but when with Z chit chats away,  he is a real delight to have on the boat. Tiana, three years old and like all tiddlers this age rather traumatic. And finally, their adopted son Cina (another anagram of the places all the others where born. C  and I for Cook Island, N for New Zealand A for Australia) When we first arrived Cina would run to Cora the moment we appeared and start wailing. now he only wails if Zinnia leaves or if Cosmo doesn't 'hi 5'.
Back on the Passua, only this time it's my turn to lend a hand, after 2 days of being submerged in water, with lethal killing 'spanner' weapon in hand I'm about ready to flop in to a very warm bath.  But this is not going to happen.  The sun's not set so the days work is not over.  Then we need to de-black bitter sack the clams.  Not very good at it the next two hours sitting in cold water covering any exposed area in a foul smelling and tasting dark excrements,  Oh for the love of the family......  Like Colin, I return to PB after a few days work with Rio 'Brocken'.   
This nail biting experience, if ever there was one, was being guilded through a mine field of tiny coral heads down to the Southern end of the atoll.  This is no ordinary navigation and not one we would even consider doing if it was just Colin and I.  I'm up the Mast everything firmly clenched and Colin spends his time taking instructions from Rio's hand and whilst considering calling a halt to this fearful activity.  The coral field is thick with heads that would effortlessly remove a rudder if we touch, but there is little wind and a catamaran, though wide, is great at manouvering.  Ever on a quest to be the first, Colin's nerve holds out and we find ourselves in a perfectly magical, unique and remote bit of the atoll where the water is crystal - we gather we are only the second yacht to come here, but it feles like we are the first. The need to go snorkelling is strong, but we're here to work, so once we've got the anchors all set we speed over on the dinghy to start our days toil on a large coral head about 2nm away. 
See the coral heads next to the boat, and Rio on the bow directing   
  Another paradise anchorage
Ohh and what a day it is.  We're sitting on a coral head Rio and Cora are sitting on plastic chairs with water up to there knees and we are dispatched off with large screwdriver in hand to ready to harvest these crustations.  This is heavy manual work and you have to develop a quick technic so you've hoyked the blighters off the coral before there suckers have taken to full strength.  Dispite looking like a prune after 7 hours in the water I have for some strange reason rather enjoyed my day. But with the sun disappearing over the horizon we're now getting mighty cold so we whizz back for a rare warm shower and prep for tonights Kai-Kai, which as ever seems rather pointless as my humble effort of Wild mushroom risotto is totally super seeded by the fish in coconut sauce and everything else.
  Cleaning the passua
'Camp Colin'  - back in the UK we have had a camping party each year for Colins birthday.  A bit late this year, but we camp on a motu with Rio's family and a few others after a day 'on the Passua'.  Its a very cool campsite on the tip of a motu at the far South of the atoll.  We will be returning to the UK with many an idea for Camp Colin DELUX Penrhyn Style. A cut above the norm, here they have wonderful home made ovens with great home made charcoal. Battery assited tube lighting for cooking and seeing in the dark.  Most of their provisions are where they land, so catch some fish, grate some coconut for milk and some soft coconut for Uto bread and a very fine dinner is served.  Not only that, I've managed to collect 2 dozen oysters during my Clam hunt and Colin is given the job of opening them so I can make kororee French style (raw oyster with oil, vinegar and garlic).  It's a massive hit and from now on Lilly dives for oyster every day so she can eat this amazing delicacy.
  Cool campsite
  The ancient churchyard was serene  Zin up to here elbows in slippery clams 
Cosmo shark hunting  
We have been on our own for weeks now, and then suddenly there is another boat, s/v Reality, from the USA who we had last bumped into in Isla Isabella in the Galapagos. Somehow we feel very protective towards 'our friends' and how they will be approached by these new interloppers. Silly really, but thats how it feels.
 Fishing with Vaughn yields lovely 'red fish'
The village is rife with rumours about the impending arrival of a supply boat and it is rather helpful that Colin is able to speak to a 45m Hawaiian sailing schooler, the Kwai -  not a Cook Island boat but this island is relying on an American commercial supply vessel.   We can hear them each night on the short wave radio as they prepare to leave Christmas Island (1000nm to the North - half way to Hawaii), and daily reports and rumours run around on the coconut telegraph about when it will arrive with all-manner of supplies.  Not only is this a supply boat but it's also one of the only ways folk from this island can leave.  If you come to Penrhyn on a holiday you really don't know when you'll be leaving but you shouldn't expect to stay less than 6 months.  Ohh and accommodation on this boat isn't lux, it's deck space only.  So the old ladies in their 70's and the young babies alike are sleeping on the wooden cargo hatches on a very very rusty, rolly old boat under a bit of tarpauline.  This trip down to Raratonga takes about 10 days as on route the boat stops off at two other islands. Each time this happens the passengers have to pack up there stuff disenbark and find some place to stay for 3 days on an island they've never been too before.   It flipping hard core, and not only that, you don't even know until the day you leave if you've actually got a place on the boat.  
The great day arrives when the Kwai finally docks at Omoka and we join the whole village to go across in a convoy of aluminium boats to witness the event ( needless to say, it is a Penrhyn school holiday).  Its amazing to see an old boat like this plying its trade amongst Pacific Islands, having now met the crew we have ultimate respect for this vessel.  The usual crew on a boat like this is hugely rough-and-ready but not on this boat -  They have a lovely Japanese girl, Esky, as chef who has to cook in a ropy old galley where the doors to the ovens never shut and temperature reaches 47 degrees. She is now cooking for 40+ folk, 3 meals a day (and we're told the fodder is jolly good).  Then there's a very pretty French/Kirabati girl who's worked on the boat since she was 16.  The Skipper is a very chilled out 30 something Isreali who was bought up on a kibutz and then there's a scary American Lady, the 'Super Cargo', who deals with all the finance of the cargo.  Along with a very young looking Engineer and five or so Beefy Deck hands with strange hairstyles.   They hold a market on the shore on the second day selling everything from batteries to sunglasses, to rice and flour - but due to customs no smoke, allegedly!
 The Kwai  Loaded boats leave to sent and receive cargo of fuel and clams
With the arrival of the Kwai another Penrhyn mystery is resolved.  From day one we have all been, especially Z, totally shocked and perplexed as to why the folk of Pehnryn's teeth are so so so appauling.  Four out of the six medical cases that need to be evacuated to Rarotonga for care are those with dental issues.  But if you where honest perhaps the entire population who haven't got falsies need them.  All the older folk are toothless and any child from the age of one up had brown stained nashers.  Due to lack of any sort of supplies all we have seen the folk eat is rice, coconut milk and fish.  However on the day of the Kwai everyones diet changes immidiately to sugar in the form of fizzy drinks, lolly pops and sweets.  Zinnia is horrified to discover all but two childrens lunches the following day consists of sweets and void of anything nutritious.  Given tooth brushing is still a habitual event still to reach these shores it's little wonder now why this is a toothless atoll.
The arrival of Kwai for us is infact the end of a chapter.  Our wonderful friends Rio and Cora at the 11th hour find there's space for them to leave Penrhyn for 'medical reasons'.  So 24 hrs later we're having to make a very very emotional farwell.  We're told the market is being held at 10am so everyone from Tautua convoys over, the aluminium boats are also full of 32 peoples possesions (this is half of the village's population). But like everything Penrhyn at the end of the day nothing happens quickly and it takes until 5pm of ambling around before the ship is ready to leave.  Even though Rio and Cora have had to pack up home in record time not knowing when they're be able to return, possible 6 months they still find the energy to assemble lunch for all the folk from their village.  They are increadible.  Then all in a rush at 4.30 a party is gathered and the minister gives a long and solemn prayer followed by a most emotional humdinger of a song.  I've got tears rolling down my face, looking around I'm not the only one.  Poor Soloman is being clung to by his very cheeky adopted son,  this wife is stoic but still can't fight the tears, they just don't know when they'll see him again and with a problematic heart that's a pretty big when. Others too are having a hard time having to say farwell.  Thank goodness we don't get this attatched to every place we stay, otherwise Zinnia would be an emotional wreck.  She is the most distraught I've seen her, she really loves the Teika Family every single one of them and it's reciprocated.  When Cora musters the courage to bid her farwell she thrusts a bag, filled with very precious gold pearls) into her hand, Z to distraught to look requests we leave it till later.  But as the boat pulls away wonderful old Ma P comes striding towards Z and they share there mutual dispair at seeing there loved ones depart.  This place is all too much. 
Tautua village have a book 'boat record' book starting from the 1970's with every visiting yacht.  We fill out our entry - like all the others - in glowing terms.  A common theme is the generous welcome, having your boat expertly 'emptied' by trading with the islanders, and in the old days a lot of volley ball was played. We also find various entries made by friends of Colin's parents in years gone by.
Leaving has been hard, not least because we had to go and say goodbye to everyone in turn and were variously plied with hats, shell necklaces, huge cowries, fans, golden pearls, and coconuts.  Colin recalls that perhaps one of the subconcious motivations for this whole Pacific trip was that when he was a young boy, he would sleep in the box room of his Granny's house, where there were shelves lined with cardboard boxes full of shells collected by his Grandfather during his time in the Pacific during WW2  - cowries, cones and oysters.  What he didn't realise then, is the folk who's shores those shells came from would be even more loved and beguilling.
But we don't leave Penhryn unscathed Z heart is bleeding I'm just recovering from celulitus, no, that's not a bumpy thigh problem, sadly I'm still suffering from that condition, but serious infection of a cut that requires two simultaneous courses of antibiotics to knock it back.  Colin has eleven and Cosmo has six seperate septic cuts and so are both taking antibiotics to try to knock them out - they just take ages to heal, and every time you think one is healing over it just blobs out some more puss - disgusting.  Given the lagoon water has change from clear blue to thick green over the past few weeks it's little wonder really, it's literally 'alive' and the microbes get into tiny cuts and start the infections.  The islanders are not immune either and many of them have bandages covering up their own wounds. 
Other habits have also rubbed off, Colin might be good at languages but he's also a bit of a camillon too.  So, the Antipodean habit of saying 'eh' at the end of every sentence has taken root.  Not only that, Cosmo has embraced the Cook Island way of eating,  after years of badgering the kids about there table manners I've finally been out foxed with the line 'mum we're in Penrhyn so I'm eating Penrhyn style' this fundimentally mean with your hands, mouth open, burbing and getting up and down from the table willy and nilly, I give up. 
We have ended up staying about six weeks here and our final thoughts on Penhryn are that life here has evolved along very socialist principles, with strong influneces from Orwell's 'Animal Farm'.  Some parts are perfect, and some are not so perfect, but overall, you wouldn't change it because it wouldn't be Penhryn anymore.  Suspect we will talk about the the idiosincracis and working socialist enviroment for the rest of our lives - it is an unique place.  And without a doubt this is why we came travelling.