Monday, August 31, 2015

Day 5

I got up at 7 AM, and Simon cooked bacon and eggs for our breakfast.

After breakfast, I went on a walk into the island's interior.  I walked by a large garden where Vaine Peu was tending to some vegetables.  This was his garden where he grows rows of cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, among other vegetables.  He told me that he shared these vegetables with the whole island.

I later went to his house where he has a more personal garden.  In this garden, he grows papayas (which the islanders call pawpaw), passion fruit, and sour oranges, among other things.

He invited me in for a cup of tea.  His house was a bit rustic with concrete floors, but otherwise pretty ordinary.  He served me some tea along with some fruit from his garden.  He also served me bread with honey from his beehives.  He told me that he has 36 beehives on the island, the most out of everybody, and makes good money selling it online.

Vaine is originally from the Cook Islands.  He was a government contractor in the 1990s, sent to Pitcairn to do electrical work.  While on Pitcairn, he married Charlene Warren and made Pitcairn his permanent home.  They now have a six-year-old daughter Cushana, plus four children who had left the island.

He still does electrical work on the island, but spends most of his time in his garden or in the ocean fishing.  He claimed to have the best garden on the island, be the best fisherman on the island, and produce the best honey on the island.  He told me that he liked outsiders moving to the island because they have a different perspective.  He was relieved when Simon and Shirley moved to the island.  He spoke poorly of Meralda, saying that she was the worst racist on the island because she hated outsiders.

He also spoke of the sex abuse trials.  He said that the men of the island had this power complex where they thought they could do whatever they wanted and get away with it.  He said that the sex abuse probably goes all the way back to the mutineers when Pitcairn was a lawless island with no oversight.  In some sense, Pitcairn had remained that way until the trials when the British government actually paid attention to Pitcairn for the first time and required the island to have some outside oversight.  He seemed to conclude that without law and order, man is just an animal.

I later visited the island's jail, built and used by the convicted sex abusers.  The jail is no longer in use, and part of it has been converted to the tourism office.  Shirley was the secretary in the tourism office, and she was working in the office when I stopped by.  I asked her what sort of work she did, and she told me that she mostly just responds to emails from potential tourists.

The rest of the day was uneventful.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Day 4

I got up at 7 AM, and Simon cooked bacon and eggs for our breakfast.

The islanders decided to set up a market in the town square to sell their handicrafts to the visitors currently on the island.  I don't normally buy souvenirs, but I was curious what Pitcairn crafts were like.

Wooden plates
I went to the town square at 10 AM, which is when the market opened.  There were several islanders standing behind tables with their wares.  I saw Betty Christian selling Pitcairn T-shirts and a Pitcairn cookbook that she had written.  I saw Dave Brown selling wooden plates, turtles, and sharks that he had carved.  I saw Meralda Warren selling accessories that she had made, baskets that she had woven, and a music CD of her singing Pitcairn songs that she had written.  These were all things that they sell to passengers on cruise ships.

I bought a small wooden turtle from Dave Brown for $10.  I asked him how long it takes for him to make a carving, and he said a small turtle takes several hours, whereas a larger shark takes a whole day.  He joked that he earned 80 cents per hour from making these things.

After the market, I walked behind the town square to the Pitcairn museum, which the islanders had opened for the visitors currently on the island.  It is fairly small, but has some interesting reading material.  It also has the Bounty Bible, which was the Bible used on the Bounty, and was used by John Adams when he converted the island to Christianity after the murders.

Christian's Cave
After lunch, I decided to hike to Christian's Cave, which is where Fletcher Christian supposedly went sometimes to contemplate his fate and spend time alone.  On the way to the cave, I passed under Big Stone, which is where the mutineer William McCoy produced alcohol in the 1790s that contributed to the murders.  The hike to the cave required scrambling up a steep slope, but the view from the cave was wonderful.

Later in the afternoon, I walked down to the landing to say farewell to some of the visitors.  Some of the visitors had opted to stay on Pitcairn for four days only.  The Claymore was going to take them back to Mangareva, pick up a few more visitors, and then return to Pitcairn.  The Claymore makes these additional trips during every three-month visit in order to give visitors the option of staying for four days or for 11 days.

The tourist from Australia, the tourist from Slovakia, and the tourist from Chicago were all leaving.  Dennis was also leaving, and I wished him luck on his book.  His next destination for his book was Mount Athos in northern Greece, home to some interesting monasteries.  Jacqui Christian was also leaving, and I wished her luck on her new life.

After they left the island on the longboat, I walked up the Hill of Difficulty and went home.  Simon told me that he liked Scrabble, so we played three games.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Day 3

I got up at 7 AM, and Simon cooked bacon and eggs for our breakfast.

The religion on the island is Seventh-day Adventism, a denomination of Christianity introduced to the island in the late 1800s.  One distinction of Seventh-day Adventism is that church service is on Saturday instead of Sunday.  Since today was Saturday, I planned to go to church.  I am not religious, but I was curious what church on Pitcairn was like.

I went to the church at 11 AM, which is when service starts.  There were maybe 20 people there, about half the island's population.  Both Dennis and Anneka were there as well.  The pastor is a contractor from Tahiti on the island for a one-year rotation.  We sang hymns, listened to a sermon, and did some praying.  In other words, it was a perfectly normal church service.

After lunch, I decided that I would explore more of the island with Dennis.  Dennis was staying with Meralda Warren, who lives right by the town square.  I walked to her house to see if Dennis was around.

Sitting in front of the house was Mavis Warren, Meralda's mother.  She was doing a crossword puzzle, so I asked if she did a lot of crossword puzzles.  She immediately got defensive, saying that she was doing a crossword puzzle only because it was the Sabbath, and that she was usually very busy and active.

Meralda found me in front of the house and invited me in.  Her house was a bit rustic, but otherwise pretty ordinary.  I noticed that she had a large freezer.  I also noticed that she had a wood-burning stove.  Dennis greeted me, and told me that Meralda was going to take him on a quad bike tour of part of the island.  They invited me along.

We drove by some beehives where some of the islanders produce honey to sell online.  Apparently that's a successful business on Pitcairn.  Meralda told us that the place with those beehives was where Fletcher Christian was murdered in the 1790s.

Highest Point
We drove up an incline and reached Highest Point, the highpoint of Pitcairn Island at 1,138 feet.  There was an excellent view of the entire island and of the ocean.  There was also a nice picnic table.  Meralda said that islanders often came to Highest Point for a picnic.  There was also a sign with lots of places listed along with how far away they were.  It listed Tahiti 2,325 kilometers away, Easter Island 2,065 kilometers away, and the South Pole 15,259 kilometers away, among other places.

We drove to Tedside on the west side of the island.  Tedside means other side.  We drove to the end of the road where we found a jetty being built.  Meralda explained to us that a new jetty was being built to provide an alternate place where longboats can land on the island, in the event that the water is too rough around Bounty Bay.  The jetty project was a big government project that required lots of labor.

Meralda told us that only about 10 guys on the island are young enough to work on it, and that all of them need to contribute.  She complained that Simon, my host, was not contributing but should be contributing.  She didn't seem to like Simon very much.  For some reason, I had mentioned Jacqui Christian, and Meralda didn't seem to like her either, saying that she was an attention-seeking girl.

Gannet's Ridge
On the way home, Meralda dropped me and Dennis off at Gannet's Ridge where we hiked onto a ridge and had an excellent view of the island.  From the ridge, we could clearly see the outer rim of the island's caldera.

When I got home, I chatted with Simon for a bit.  We discussed the sex abuse trials that occurred on the island about a decade ago.  It started when a father complained in England that his 11-year-old daughter had been sexually abused while visiting Pitcairn.  British officials looked into the matter and found that many of the girls on Pitcairn had been sexually abused by many of the men, and that this had been going on for many years.  Six men were convicted and sentenced to jail time.

Since Pitcairn did not have a jail, and since most of the labor force had been convicted, the men who were convicted were ordered to build their own jail, which they did.  Once it was completed, the men did their time.  However, the islanders still needed the men to man the longboats, so the convicted men were often let out of the jail to do their job.  The whole situation was a circus.

Since then, all of the convicted men have served their sentences, and all of them live on Pitcairn.  But the trials divided the island.  Many family members of those that were convicted denied the sexual abuse, and some even said that the girls made the whole thing up for money.  In fact, the islanders elected one of the convicted men as their mayor.  Shawn Christian, the current mayor of Pitcairn, is a convicted pedophile.

Simon explained to me that Meralda denied the abuse, and resented the girls who called out the abusers.  Jacqui Christian was one of those girls, which explained why Meralda spoke so negatively of Jacqui at the new jetty.  Simon also explained that Meralda resented outsiders, and that she was the biggest racist on the island, but not the only one.

As a result of the trials, the British government now sends an outside administrator to Pitcairn on a one-year rotation, as well as an outside police officer and social worker.  This is to prevent corruption, which was rampant before the trials.

After dinner, Dennis came to my house, and Simon, Shirley, Dennis, and I played a game of The Settlers of Catan.  Since we were not playing on a rocking boat, we were able to complete a game.  My goal was to introduce the game to Pitcairn, but Simon told me that he was pretty much the only person on the island who liked board games, so it was unlikely that my goal would be achieved.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Day 2

I got up at 7 AM, and Simon cooked bacon and eggs for our breakfast.  I told him that I wanted my eggs scrambled, but he had no idea how to make scrambled eggs.  So for the first time in my life, I taught somebody how to make scrambled eggs.

Simon gave me a walking guide to Pitcairn, which had a map of the island and a description of all the points of interest.  It also had a list of all the Pitcairn inhabitants based on the January 2006 census.  Simon graciously updated the list for me, so here is the current list of inhabitants, grouped by last name:

  • Brown: Len, Dave + Lea, David
  • Christian: Randy + Nadine with children Emile Ryan Adrianna Isabel, Steve + Olive, Shawn + Michelle, Irma, Dennis
  • Griffiths: Turi + Darralyn
  • Jaques: Leslie
  • Lupton: Mike + Brenda
  • Menzies: Heather
  • Peu: Vaine + Charlene with child Cushana
  • Randall: Andrew
  • Warren: Mike, Pawl + Sue, Kean + Daphne, Royal, Melva, Mavis, Meralda, Jay + Carol, Reynold + Nola
  • Young: Simon + Shirley, Kerry

The total count is 42 permanent inhabitants on Pitcairn, plus about 10 outside contractors.  The only mutineer names still present are Christian and Young, from Fletcher Christian and Edward Young (and Simon and Shirley don't count since their Young name is not related to the mutineer).  The rest of the names came from outsiders who married Pitcairners.  For example, Samuel Warren was an American whaler who married a Pitcairner in the mid-1800s.  Some of the names were introduced more recently when Pitcairners left the island for university and then came back with an outsider husband.  Most of the inhabitants are still mutineer descendants even if their name doesn't reflect it.

After breakfast, I decided to explore the island.  I walked by an abandoned house.  With no real estate market on the island, houses become abandoned when an islander dies or decides to leave.

I walked by Flatcher's Cafe, a defunct restaurant on the island.  I also walked by Delectable Bounty, another defunct restaurant.

I visited the cemetery, which is full of Christians, Youngs, and Warrens, among other names.  While visiting the cemetery, I bumped into Vaine (pronounced Wayne) Peu, a Polynesian Pitcairner.  We chatted for a bit, and he told me to visit him at his house sometime for a cup of tea.

I visited the hospital, which is just a small building with a few rooms.  The hospital is pretty basic, and anybody with a serious injury or illness needs to leave the island for treatment, which is one of the biggest obstacles on the island since leaving the island is difficult and expensive.  If emergency medical treatment is required, the islanders will find the closest passing ship and attempt to hitch a ride on that ship to Mangareva.  For non-emergency treatment, islanders take the Claymore and usually get treatment in New Zealand.  Then they have to wait three months to return to the island.  Medical treatment is heavily subsidized by the UK.

I walked by the public notice board at the store.  There was a schedule of all the cruise ships passing by the island.  There was also a notice about the importance of reporting wild goat sightings.  At one time, wild goats roamed the island, which was an ecological disaster since they ate vegetation.  There was a vote to eradicate the goats, but the island was split on the issue.  Apparently many of the islanders had some sort of attachment to the goats.  The goats were eventually eradicated, but it was a controversial decision.  This is an example of Pitcairn politics.

Police station
I visited the police station, which is just a small building with a tiny office and a single jail cell.  The police officer is a contractor from New Zealand on the island for a one-year rotation.  I asked him about his job, and he said the Pitcairners are great people, making his job pretty easy.  He said that he has never had to use the jail cell.  I asked him if he ever gave a speeding ticket, and he said that he hadn't, but sometimes he will tell somebody to slow down on their quad bike.

I then left town and walked into the island's interior on a dirt road.  I walked by a sign that talked about Miz T, a Galapagos tortoise that wanders around the island.  Between 1937 and 1951, five Galapagos tortoises were brought to the island by an American sailor.  Miz T is the only one left.

Saint Paul's Point
I continued my walk to Saint Paul's Point, which is a natural pool on the east side of the island.  I did some snorkeling and saw a number of fish.

I continued my walk to Down Rope, which is a near vertical cliff that leads down to the island's only beach.  The place is named because there used to be a rope that people could use to get down, but now the rope has been replaced by footholds in the cliff.  I carefully climbed down the cliff and reached the beach.  I noticed some petroglyphs carved into the cliff, evidence that Pitcairn was once inhabited by Polynesians before the arrival of the mutineers.

After climbing back up the cliff, I walked home.

At 6 PM, Simon and I walked to the town square for a public dinner, which is basically a potluck.  Pretty much the entire island was there, and Simon introduced me to everybody.  My first observation was that pretty much everybody was white.  My second observation was that many were overweight.  My third observation was that most were middle-aged or older.  There were five children, a couple of young guys, and the rest were middle-aged or older.  The only young woman that I saw was Anneka, the administrator's daughter who had come on the Claymore with me.

The food was pretty ordinary, mostly stuff off the Claymore.  I sat next to Leslie Jaques and Michelle Christian, the mayor's wife.  I made some small talk with Michelle, and then Leslie and Michelle started talking about politics, like if the scientists going to Henderson Island were going to benefit Pitcairners, and stuff like that.  The other people next to me didn't talk much.

I later spoke with Melva Warren and her mother Royal Warren.  Royal, who was fairly old, told me that she kept going back to New Zealand for medical treatment.  Since she had to wait three months each time to come back, she was often away from the island.  Listening to her made me think that being old on Pitcairn was a major inconvenience, and expensive for British taxpayers.

After dinner, one of the Pitcairners asked me if I was going to the party at Andrew's house.  I asked him about the party, and he said it was a disco party.  I didn't really believe it, so I had to see for myself.  I didn't want to go alone, so I asked Dennis the German journalist to join me.

The two of us hitched a ride with Mike Lupton.  Mike is originally from the UK but moved to Pitcairn when he married Brenda Christian, a Pitcairner who had spent some time in the UK.

Andrew's house is at the top of a hill in the island's interior with almost a 360-degree view of the ocean.  When we stepped into his house, Dennis and I were blown away.  There really were disco lights everywhere, along with giant speakers and a big screen TV showing American music videos.

Andrew Randall was born on Pitcairn, but had a father not from Pitcairn who died and left him with a lot of money.  Andrew used the money to build a big house with lots of toys, and now hosts disco parties.  He is one of the two young guys on the island.  He is also the only gay person on the island.

Disco party
Andrew was standing behind a bar counter with shelves full of alcohol behind him.  With him was David Brown, the only other young guy on the island.  Sitting at the counter was a middle-aged woman who I started a conversation with.

Her name was Jacqui Christian.  I had briefly met her at the landing when I first arrived on Pitcairn.  She had asked why I was visiting Pitcairn, and I told her that I was inspired by The Bounty Trilogy.  She responded by saying that people who are familiar with the Bounty story are usually much older than me.

Jacqui was born on Pitcairn, went to Australia for university, got a pharmacy degree, and started a successful pharmacy business in Australia.  She got married and divorced a couple of times and went back and forth between Pitcairn and Australia.  She did some traveling around the US and had even visited my hometown of Sacramento, California.  She also spent some time in Europe where she did some council work for the British Overseas Territories, of which Pitcairn is one.  On Pitcairn, she was editor of The Pitcairn Miscellany, which is Pitcairn's monthly newsletter.

Jacqui told me that she was moving away from Pitcairn on Sunday.  She was going to the UK to do some pharmacy work, but to also try to do more council work for Pitcairn.  She was concerned about Pitcairn's future, with its aging and declining population, and wanted to do something to get the population back to a healthy and sustainable level.

I later pulled Dennis into the conversation, and the three of us had a nice chat together.  When I looked at my watch, it was past 10 PM, but the disco lights were still on and the speakers were still blasting music.  Apparently Andrew has his own generator that he can use to power his house beyond 10 PM when the rest of the island loses power.

At around 11 PM, Dennis and I left the party and hitched a ride back to our homes.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Day 1

Pitcairn from the Claymore
I got up at 7 AM and went to the upper deck where I saw Pitcairn Island in front of me.  It was a glorious sight.  The Claymore had anchored maybe half a mile from the island late the previous night, and we were now waiting for a longboat to take us to the landing.  Pitcairn has no harbor, so ships must anchor in the open ocean, and the passengers must then take a small boat to the island's landing, oftentimes when the water is rough.

At around 8 AM, a longboat came from the island, and we were greeted by Heather Menzies, a Pitcairner who handles the island's tourism.  I had exchanged emails with her before, and she was the one who arranged my trip on the Claymore and my accommodation on Pitcairn.  Pitcairn's only police officer had come onboard as well, and so had Pitcairn's administrator and his wife, who were excited to see their daughter Anneka.

Landing at Bounty Bay
All of us boarded the longboat and were taken from the Claymore to the landing at Bounty Bay where we were greeted by maybe 20 people.  The mutineers had arrived at Pitcairn at Bounty Bay as well, and remnants of the Bounty can still be found in the bay from when the mutineers burned the ship.

There was a lot of commotion as most of us tried to find our host families.  Pitcairn has no hotels, so all visitors stay with a Pitcairn family that is arranged ahead of time.  The host families greet their visitors at the landing and bring them to their house.  I was staying with Simon and Shirley Young, and I eventually found Simon at the landing.  He gave me a warm welcome, and I was then driven up the Hill of Difficulty on a quad bike.

To get from the landing to Adamstown, the island's only settlement, one must climb a steep hill since Pitcairn has steep slopes all around.  That hill is called the Hill of Difficulty, a reference to the Christian allegory Pilgrim's Progress.

Most of the islanders own a quad bike to get around.  Simon and Shirley were one of the few who did not own a quad bike, so we hitched a ride with Jim, Pitcairn's social worker.  We drove up the hill and then through town, where the road was paved.  At the edge of town, we continued on a dirt road and arrived at Simon and Shirley's house at the end of the road.

View from my porch
Their house sat near the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean.  It had quite a spectacular view.  Their garden was quite lush, with coconut trees, banana trees, and breadfruit trees.  The house itself was a bit rustic, but had all the modern appliances that one would find in any developed country.  The one thing that was more primitive was the indoor plumbing.  My bathroom had a sink and shower, but the toilet was in an outhouse overlooking the ocean and was simply a drop toilet.  But to my surprise, it had no smell and was actually quite pleasant.

I was greeted at the house by Shirley, Simon's wife.  Simon left to help unload cargo from the Claymore, but Shirley stayed and got me settled in, and the two of us chatted.

Simon and Shirley's last name is Young, but neither are descendants of the mutineer Edward Young.  The matching last name is simply a coincidence.  Neither of them has any connection to the Bounty mutineers.  Simon is originally from the UK, and Shirley is a half Chinese, half Filipino woman originally from southern California.  They had moved to Pitcairn in 2000 to live a simpler life.  In fact, they are the only married couple with no connection to the Bounty mutineers to ever move to Pitcairn.

After chatting for a couple of hours, Shirley decided to help unload cargo as well.  I wanted to experience everyday Pitcairn life, so I volunteered to help.  We walked through town to The Edge, an area overlooking Bounty Bay where the island's warehouse is located.  Twelve blue containers, each the size of a small bathroom, were sitting outside the warehouse.  They had come from New Zealand on the Claymore, and now around eight Pitcairners were unloading the contents into the warehouse, sorting them into different piles.

The people on Pitcairn can grow their own fruit and vegetables, and can fish in the ocean, but all land meat and processed food comes from New Zealand on the Claymore every three months.  Similarly, all mail is first sent to New Zealand before arriving at Pitcairn on the Claymore.  The islanders buy most of their goods through Amazon and eBay, but patience is essential.

Some of the blue containers contained food and were for the island's only store, but most of them contained personal mail orders.  I helped unload the personal items into the warehouse, putting them into different piles by whom the item belonged to.

Pretty much all of the Pitcairners who were unloading cargo were middle-aged or older, and had trouble lifting heavy items.  Since I am young and fairly fit, I had no trouble with heavy items, and it didn't take long for the Pitcairners to delegate all heavy items to me.  By the time we finished unloading the personal items, the Pitcairners were saying to each other that they needed to keep me around.

Shirley walked back home to prepare lunch while Simon and I walked to the island's only store to pick up some food.  The store was the size of a typical convenience store and carried frozen meat, canned food, dairy products, bread, cereal, cookies, candy, condiments, drinks, alcohol, and some very basic toiletries and electronics.  The store is restocked every three months when the Claymore arrives, and since we were at the end of a three-month cycle and the blue containers for the store had not been unloaded yet, the store's shelves were a bit bare.  But Simon bought what he needed, and we went home.

The three of us ate lunch together.  The lunch was typical Western food, with all of it coming from the store and ultimately New Zealand.  After lunch, we spent most of the afternoon chatting.  I asked a lot of questions about basic life on the island.

Rainwater containers
All running water on Pitcairn is from collected rainwater.  Every home's yard has several rainwater containers.  Drainage from sinks and showers go directly into the soil.  Most homes have a drop toilet that is 35 feet deep, which is deep enough to avoid any smell.  Waste is naturally decomposed, so little maintenance is required.

Electricity is from diesel generators behind the island's store and is fairly expensive.  The generators shut off at 10 PM and start up again at 7 AM in order to conserve energy.  So pretty much everybody goes to bed by 10 PM.

Internet is from satellite and is really slow and expensive.  The cost is something like NZ$100 per month for two gigabytes of data.  I was told that sometimes people wouldn't click a video link until the following month when their data usage would be reset.  Due to the expense, Simon and Shirley had shut off their internet and were going to leave it off until November.

There is one TV channel, which is an Australian channel that has things like world news.  Simon and Shirley don't have an antenna, so they don't even get the one channel.

There is no cell phone network, but every home has a landline.  In addition to that, every home has a radio that can receive public announcements.  Also, everybody is free to make public announcements with their radio.  Throughout the day, I constantly heard announcements over the radio.

The Claymore is pretty much the life blood of the island.  The day that the Claymore arrives with new cargo is called supply ship day, and it's like Christmas for the islanders, once every three months.  The Claymore is also the only reliable way for anybody to leave the island or come back.

The store is open three days per week, for about one hour each time.  When the store is restocked after supply ship day, there is generally a mad rush as people are usually low on food and supplies.

All employment is through government jobs.  Pitcairn is a British territory, so all the salaries are paid with British taxpayer money.  Jobs include things like running the store, running the post office, and picking up the garbage.

Simon had two jobs.  His first job was being the island's quarantine officer, which involved inspecting the cargo coming off the Claymore.  Since that happened once every three months only, his salary was just NZ$100 per month.  His other job was being a magistrate, which rarely required any actual work and paid just NZ$800 per year.  Shirley was the secretary in the tourism office, which required working a few hours per week only and probably paid very little as well.  Most people on the island had multiple government jobs, all with low salaries.  The more important jobs, like the administrator and the doctor, were held by outside contractors coming to the island usually on a one-year rotation.

Other than government employment, there are a few private enterprises on the island.  The biggest one is making handicrafts and selling them on cruise ships passing near Pitcairn.  Many of the islanders are skilled at wood carving and make things like wooden turtles, sharks, and models of the Bounty.  Simon used to do wood carving but not much anymore.  Others are skilled at making accessories.  Shirley makes necklaces.  Around a dozen cruise ships pass near Pitcairn every year, and a cruise ship day is a really big event on Pitcairn.  Most of the islanders will take a longboat to the cruise ship and spend several hours on it mingling with passengers and trying to sell them crafts.  Simon told me that they usually earn an average of one dollar per passenger on the ship, which will earn them seven or eight thousand dollars in a typical year.

Another private enterprise is hosting tourists like myself.  I was paying $100 per day to stay with Simon and Shirley, which included a room, laundry, and three meals per day.  But Pitcairn doesn't get many tourists.  Simon told me that before my ship arrived, Pitcairn had just 71 tourists for the year.  Most of the tourists come on the Claymore, but sometimes a yacht will stop by for a few days.

There used to be a few privately-owned restaurants on the island, but all of them have since shut down.  Simon told me that the islanders are not very business minded.

In general, the islanders don't exchange money between themselves.  There will be occasional bartering between themselves, like trading fruit for fish.  The islanders will also barter with the passing cruise ships, like trading lobsters for mattresses.

From what Simon told me, most people on Pitcairn sounded rather poor.  In fact, Pitcairn is a liability to the UK, costing British taxpayers about three million pounds (nearly $5 million) per year.  For every dollar that the UK spends on Pitcairn, they get just two cents back from the sale of Pitcairn stamps and the Pitcairn internet domain.  Pitcairners pay no taxes, so all the money from the sale of handicrafts and tourism goes straight into the pockets of Pitcairners.  The Claymore is chartered by the government, and loses money for the UK as freight costs are subsidized for Pitcairners.

At around 4 PM, there was a public announcement over the radio that all letters and small packages could be picked up at the post office.  I walked with Simon to the post office where there was a large stack of mail waiting for him.  It was three month's worth of mail.  We took the mail home where Simon eagerly opened all of it.  It was like Christmas for him.

The rest of the day was uneventful.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Before Pitcairn: At Sea

On the Claymore, breakfast was served at 7:30 AM, lunch at noon, and dinner at 6 PM.  I got up for breakfast and ate with five other passengers only.  Apparently most of the other passengers were too seasick to leave their cabin.  Every cabin was equipped with a bucket.

I had known beforehand that I was prone to seasickness, so I brought seasick pills with me, set a repeating six-hour timer on my watch, and took a couple of pills every time my watch beeped, including in the middle of the night.  This kept me feeling reasonably well.

Open ocean
The boat swayed incessantly throughout the entire day.  We had to adjust our walking, hold onto our dishes at the dining table, get tossed around in the shower, and sleep with the motion.  I spent the morning sitting on the upper deck, just looking at the open ocean.  I felt that the fresh air made me feel better.

In the afternoon, I suggested playing The Settlers of Catan, a German board game about settling an uninhabited island.  It involves collecting and trading resources to build.  I had brought the game with me, and I taught Anneka, Possum, and Dennis how to play.  About 15 minutes into the game, the boat swayed a bit too much, and all the pieces ended up on the floor.

The rest of the day was uneventful.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Before Pitcairn: Mangareva

I got up at 5 AM to catch my flight to Mangareva, which is part of the Gambier Islands in French Polynesia.  The Gambier Islands are in the southeast corner of French Polynesia and are fairly remote.  Mangareva is the most populated island in the group with about 1,200 people.  So why was I flying to this remote island with hardly any people?  Because Mangareva has the closest airport to Pitcairn, about 330 miles away.

Every three months, a cargo ship called the Claymore travels from Tauranga, New Zealand to Pitcairn to deliver goods for the inhabitants.  However, the Claymore stops at Mangareva to pick up passengers going to Pitcairn.  The Claymore can take up to 12 passengers, and the round-trip cost is 5,000 New Zealand dollars (about $3,500).  The trip from Mangareva to Pitcairn takes about 30 hours.

I had booked a spot on the Claymore and was flying to Mangareva to meet up with the Claymore.  My plan was to stay on Pitcairn for 11 days, and then take the Claymore back to Mangareva as it headed back to New Zealand.

I went to the airport with a French guy who was staying at my pension.  He was also flying to Mangareva, but not to go to Pitcairn.  He was going to camp on Taravai, an island near Mangareva with a population of nine people.  He was going to camp there for a week as some sort of experiment.

Our plane was fairly small and had about 50 passengers.  After takeoff, I chatted with the guy next to me.  His name was Leslie Jaques, and he lived on Pitcairn.  He was not originally from Pitcairn, but was sent there by the British many years ago to do some council work and ended up staying there.  I was excited to meet a Pitcairner for the first time.

After three hours, we landed on Tureia, an atoll between Tahiti and Mangareva with about 300 people.  We all had to exit the plane as cargo was unloaded.  While waiting in what was the smallest airport that I had ever seen, I met several other passengers who were going to Pitcairn.  I met Elliot from New Zealand, who was part of the Claymore crew.  I met Max from New Zealand, who was going on business to check up on Pitcairn's only police officer.  And I met Anneka from Australia, who was the daughter of Pitcairn's administrator and was going for a family visit.

We eventually got back on the plane, and after another hour of flying, we landed on Mangareva.  From the airport, we took a water taxi to reach the populated part of Mangareva.  While riding in the water taxi, I met two more guys who were going to Pitcairn.  Their nicknames were Possum and Snowy, and they were from Norfolk Island, which is near Australia.

In 1856, Pitcairn had around 200 people, and they were concerned that the population had outgrown the island.  By that time, Pitcairn was a British territory, so the British decided to move the entire population of Pitcairn to Norfolk Island, which was no longer inhabited and much bigger than Pitcairn.  After a few years, some people missed Pitcairn and decided to move back, while others remained on Norfolk.  So today, much of Norfolk's population are descendants of the Bounty mutineers.  Both Possum and Snowy were mutineer descendants, so they were visiting Pitcairn to see their extended family, so to speak.  In fact, this was Possum's third visit to Pitcairn.

As the water taxi approached the harbor, I saw the Claymore parked at the harbor.  It was smaller than I expected, maybe twice the size of a typical yacht.  After we exited the water taxi, I boarded the Claymore with the other Pitcairn travelers.  We were quickly briefed by the crew, and then told that the Claymore would be leaving in a couple of hours.  With ample time before departure, I decided to walk around Mangareva for a bit.

While briefly on the Claymore, I met Carolyn from Australia, who was visiting Pitcairn simply as a tourist.  Carolyn, Anneka, and I walked around Mangareva together and visited the cathedral, the most prominent building on the island.  Afterward, we returned to the Claymore.

As the Claymore left Mangareva into the open ocean, I explored the ship and met the other passengers.  There were actually 22 passengers instead of 12 due to a snafu.  The surplus 10 passengers were three Pitcairners, and seven scientists going to Henderson Island to study wildlife.  Henderson is an uninhabited island near Pitcairn with some remarkable wildlife.  Those 10 passengers were supposed to make the journey a week before, but the Claymore broke down and was delayed a week, so those 10 passengers were combined with the 12 on my journey.

The other passengers were a guy from Slovakia visiting as a tourist, an Indian guy from Chicago visiting as a tourist, a Bulgarian woman from Australia moving to Pitcairn for a year as the island's only doctor along with her husband, and Dennis from Germany visiting as a journalist.  Dennis was writing a book about undiscovered places, and Pitcairn was going to be a chapter.

We all ate dinner together at the long dining table.  The food was actually quite good, to my surprise, given that it was prepared on a cargo ship.  Afterward, we chatted for some time.  When people asked why I was visiting Pitcairn, I told them that I had been inspired by The Bounty Trilogy seven years ago.

We were all given cabins at the bottom of the ship, shared with another passenger.  Dennis was my roommate.  That night, I slept on a boat in the open ocean for the first time in my life.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Before Pitcairn: Tahiti

Shortly after midnight, I flew from Los Angeles to Tahiti.  This was my first trip to the South Pacific, and I wasn't really sure what to expect.

I arrived in Tahiti around 5 AM and spent an hour going through immigration.  Tahiti is part of the Society Islands in French Polynesia, so I had to get my passport stamped, change my US dollars to French Pacific francs, and be embarrassed that I couldn't speak any French.

I planned to spend a day in Tahiti before continuing my journey to Pitcairn, so I took a taxi to my pension, which is what they call hostels in French Polynesia.  The drive was on the main road that circled the island.  My first impression of Tahiti wasn't particularly good.  It seemed crowded and grimy, with graffiti everywhere.  I imagined the Bounty mutineers arriving at a very different Tahiti, a charming island full of friendly scantily-clad women.  The Tahiti that I had arrived at was nothing like that.

I ate breakfast at my pension and walked around a bit.  I noticed breadfruit trees around my pension.  I had never eaten breadfruit before, and since breadfruit was an integral part of Pitcairn history, I felt obligated to try it.  I asked the pension owner if I could have a fruit, but he said that they weren't ripe, so I made it my mission to find a ripe breadfruit before leaving Tahiti.

From my pension, I hitched a ride to Papeete, the urban center of Tahiti and capital of French Polynesia.  I first wandered around the municipal market, which was basically a farmer's market.  I then wandered around the waterfront where I saw a number of large ships in the harbor.  I could also see Moorea, a heart-shaped island 11 miles northwest of Tahiti.

At around lunchtime, I went back to the municipal market to search for breadfruit, which the Tahitians call uru.  I managed to find one that was already cut up and eagerly bought it.  I sat down at a grassy area on the waterfront and ate breadfruit for the first time.  I thought it was dry and bland, but it was quite filling as I had no desire to eat lunch after finishing the fruit.

I spent the afternoon walking around Papeete and then took a bus back to my pension.  I watched the sunset at a beach near my pension, ate dinner, and then returned to my pension where I chatted with some of the other travelers there before going to bed.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


Pitcairn Island is a tiny isolated island in the South Pacific, made famous by the mutiny on the HMS Bounty in 1789.  It is a fascinating story that I will try to summarize.

In the 1700s, the British had sugar plantations in the West Indies, and the work on these plantations was done by slaves.  The American colonies provided a cheap food supply for these slaves, but when the American Revolution happened, an alternative was needed.

In 1767, Captain Wallis became the first European to discover Tahiti, and not long after that, breadfruit was found to be plentiful on Tahiti.  A breadfruit is about the size of a child's head, and is like a potato that grows on trees.  Breadfruit trees were found to produce numerous fruit with minimal care, which is why it was chosen to be the new cheap food supply for the slaves in the West Indies.

In 1787, the British sent Captain Bligh on the HMS Bounty to acquire breadfruit trees from Tahiti and bring them to the West Indies.  The Bounty reached Tahiti in 1788 where it stayed for nearly six months while breadfruit trees were collected.  During that time, the Bounty's crew lived an easy life on Tahiti and hooked up with the friendly Tahitian women.  Missionaries had not yet spread Christianity in the South Pacific, so the women were sexually liberal.

In 1789, the Bounty left Tahiti.  It did not take long for the crew to miss their easy lifestyle on Tahiti and their Tahitian girlfriends.  On top of that, Bligh had a foul mouth and liked to insult his crew, so there was a lot of tension on the ship.  The final blow came when some of Bligh's coconuts went missing, and he accused his acting lieutenant Fletcher Christian of stealing them.  Three and a half weeks after leaving Tahiti, Christian and 17 others mutinied, taking over the Bounty and sending Bligh and 18 of his followers on an open boat to fend for themselves.

Mutiny was a capital offense, and once the British learned of the mutiny, they would search far and wide to bring the mutineers to justice.  The mutineers knew this, so they searched for an island to hide away at.  After a failed attempt on an island with unfriendly natives, they returned to Tahiti.  Nine of the mutineers decided to remain on Tahiti and take their chances with British justice.  Fletcher Christian and eight other mutineers decided to once again find an island to hide away at.  But before leaving, they took 12 Tahitian women and six Tahitian men with them, likely through some form of kidnapping.  Nine of the women were for the nine mutineers, the Tahitian men were for slave work, and the remaining three women were to be shared with the six Tahitian men.  A recipe for disaster.

In January of 1790, nine months after the mutiny, the Bounty reached Pitcairn Island, an island 1,300 miles southeast of Tahiti with an area of less than two square miles.  Pitcairn had been discovered by Europeans in 1767, but was recorded on the map 200 miles east of its actual location.  So the actual location of Pitcairn was not on any map.  On top of that, Pitcairn had no harbor with steep slopes all around, was covered with thick vegetation, and was uninhabited.  It was the perfect hiding place.  The mutineers decided to settle there and burned the Bounty to cover their tracks and to prevent anybody from leaving.

By 1800, most of the men on Pitcairn had murdered each other.  Part of the reason was because there were more men than women, and part of the reason was because the Tahitian men got tired of being treated like slaves.  Also, one of the mutineers had managed to produce alcohol, which didn't help.  After a decade, only two men remained – the mutineers Edward Young and John Adams.  Young died of natural causes at the end of 1800, leaving Adams as the only man left with 11 Tahitian women and 25 multiracial children who were fathered by six of the mutineers before they died.  Adams converted the island to Christianity, and the community remained peaceful.

The British had searched far and wide to bring the mutineers to justice, and they did capture the ones who had stayed on Tahiti, but they never found the nine that had settled on Pitcairn.  They had disappeared from the world for 18 years until 1808 when Captain Folger of the American ship Topaz came upon Pitcairn, where he unexpectedly found the island inhabited with John Adams, eight women, and 23 children.  It was after that when the world learned of the legendary story of Pitcairn Island.

The Bounty Trilogy
Since then, many books and movies have retold the story of the mutiny on the Bounty and its aftermath.  Probably the most famous work is The Bounty Trilogy by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall.  It consists of three novels – the first about the mutiny, the second about Captain Bligh and his followers after the mutiny, and the third about the mutineers and Pitcairn Island.

Seven years ago, I somehow came across The Bounty Trilogy and learned of this fascinating story.  Shortly after, I researched Pitcairn Island and learned that people still lived there, most of them descendants of the Bounty mutineers.  I was fascinated and decided that I had to visit this place.  However, Pitcairn doesn't have enough flat area for an airport, so getting there requires a series of flights followed by a long boat ride.  In other words, it's not an easy place to get to.  So I put the idea in the back of my mind.

Earlier this year, I got divorced.  In light of that, I decided to sell my house, quit my job, and move back to my hometown of Sacramento, California where I would start a new life.  But before starting my new life, I decided that it was time to finally visit Pitcairn.

Tonight, I flew from Sacramento to Los Angeles, the first leg of my journey.