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.

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