Thursday, May 18, 2017

Farewell to Palmerston

We spent a wonderful last day on Palmerston Island visiting people and just relaxing. It isn't until you encounter this type of tropical paradise that you realize how laid back life can really be. Edward came out to Flying Cloud and ferried us into the lagoon through the aptly named Small Passage. Edward claims he can do it in the dark but weaving in and out and brushing coral heads just inches below the water, all in a rip current and 20-knot headwind is an amazing feat of seamanship.

This lady, reputed to be the best dancer on Palmerston, lead the kids in song and dance training.

Stephanie was intent on watching the older girls so she could learn the movements to this dance.
Once ashore we gathered some bananas and headed down the "main road" (sandy path) to the island school. We were lucky today since it was Island Heritage Day and a group of school children and adults were sitting underneath a huge mahogany tree singing with accompanying guitars, ukuleles, and drums. The minute the drum beat starts the women, from the youngest to the oldest, start swaying their hips like only a Cook Islander can do. The boys joined in for several dances and sung in both English and Maori.

We had a chance to talk with the two school teachers, American Josh and his South Africa wife Melissa, about their goals educating the local kids and their experiences teaching in various places around the world. They both have the right personalities for this type of teaching, laughing with the kids and still being strict enough so learning takes place.

The New Zealand government sponsored the construction of this modern solar plant that provided power to all the island's homes, and more important to the many chest freezers they use to store the parrot fish they sell to Rarotonga.
We walked a bit up the trail to Will's house. Will is the resident New Zealander, a former airline pilot who wanted a break from the strict formalities of commercial flying. Will truly has a love for Palmerston and has adapted well to the local culture and lifestyle. He is a font of information about the island and its history and gave us a third party perspective to life on a small island where everyone shares the same heritage.

This is utu, a sprouting coconut that was the favorite food of Tom Neale when he lived on Suwarrow.
You fish or you don't eat on Palmerston. Here two islanders cast a net out into the surf and slowly walk towards it, scaring the fish into the net.

The little kids told us they are not allowed to be in the water without an adult. Smaller sharks such as this patrol the lagoon, their bigger brethren are outside the reef.
We next took a nice walk up the deserted leeward side of the island, with just a gentle breeze compared to the 22-knot winds on the other side. Meryl collected shells and I stared out at sea wondering about those boats whose end came on the jagged coral of the outer reef. As I mentioned earlier, the battered fiberglass hull of a once beautiful boat rests on the beach by Edward's house, a grim reality of life in the South Pacific.

Meryl with her adopted grandchildren Charles and Stephanie Frisbee.

Here Stephanie shows us the grave of "Father," William Marsters the Scottish patriarch of Palmerston Island.

Main Street, Palmerston with patriarch William Marsters' house.
As we headed inland we were approached by 7-year-old Stephanie and her 4-year-old brother James. We had met Stephanie earlier at the school dance practice. An incredibly beautiful and engaging little girl, she shares a unique heritage of being one of several offspring of Robert Dean Frisbie, the original inhabitant of Suwarrow Island and author of Island of Desire. Frisbie's book is what inspired Tom Neale (whose son Arthur lives on Palmerston) to later live on Suwarrow.. She guided us through the interwoven paths shaded by large coconut palms to the administrative center where we wanted to say good bye to Arthur Neale. Arthur was kind enough to give us an original copy (now long out of print) of his dad's book "An Island to Oneself" about Tom's time on the Cook Island of Suwarrow. So amazing to be able to talk to descendants of people whose writings I've so admired over the years. Stephanie was so cute as we walked along the path, pointing out "There's my auntie Julianna's house, and there's my auntie Sarenna's house, and there's auntie Caroline's" .... well, you get the picture.

Stephanie and Charles had more patience that I did to help Meryl with her search for seashells. Somewhere out over Meryl's shoulder is Flying Cloud laying at anchor.
The kids accompanied us down the windward side of the island with Stephanie helping Meryl find shells and treasures. Back at Edward's house his son, David served us a wonderful last dinner of rice, taro, and ribs. Edward's brother Simon came over to join us, along with Stephanie and James, and we reminisced about our wonderful stay on Palmerston Island. I was so amazed that here was a environment where a 7-year-old and 4-year-old could freely roam the island, accompany some unknown foreigner's (us), and casually have dinner at a neighbor's house. Truly a paradise on earth and an amazing view of how our lives could be.

We said a sad farewell to Shirley and family and were thrilled by one last thrill ride through the reef and out to Flying Cloud. We told Edward how much we appreciated his hospitality and enjoyed our stay. As one parting gift, Edward gave us a skipjack that he had caught under our boat while waiting for Meryl to get a going away present for him. We will always treasure our short but wonderful visit to Palmerston Island. Tomorrow we sail westward toward Niue and plan to arrive sometime Saturday morning.

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