PARADISE LEFT…

Jun 28 2011

Outside world…outside world… This is a wet and tired person. A wet and tired person. Do you copy?
I was allowed to play VHF operator as we left Fanning Island at 0800 on Friday 24 June, in an attempt to wave goodbye to the school children we had visited the day before. Sadly, they weren’t receiving. We waved anyway.
If you would like a mental picture of the island, close your eyes and conjure up a storybook memory of the quintessential tropical pacific island:you know the one – swaying coconut trees, a lagoon the most vivid aquamarine a human can imagine, friendly islanders, thatched-roof houses. Welcome to Tabuaeran (its Kiribati name).
As is the way of this wonderful world we live in, it is the people we meet whomake the lasting impressions. The island is 14km long with a population of around 2000, inhabiting seven villages. We were made so welcome, with greetings, fresh fruit, bikes to use, a boat for the divers to go back out through the passage to the ocean side, and left with trinkets of shells.
In return, Clive was able to assist Tyrone, the owner of the main export operation on the island. Tyrone is of Irish (father), and half Kiribati half German, parentage (mother), and runs a seaweed export company.
Seaweed is grown in the perfect conditions of ideal sea temperature and water flow, in the lagoon, where it is planted using sticks to grow against. It takes about a month to mature before it is picked, compressed, dried and baled up to be shipped out to China where it is used in the manufacture of cosmetics. I am missing Uncle Google on this trip: all these facts that will be fascinating to expand on.
Tyrone has family living in the UK and needed to send documentation to the immigration office there to assist his youngest son obtain residency. Can you imagine what a feat this is when you live in one of the most remote regions of the world, with the only formal outside contact being the Kwai, a ship which runs between Hawaii and Rarotonga, on a fairly intermittent basis?
The use of hard currency was only introduced two years ago and in fact, many of the islanders live entirely without cash. They fish, have a year round supply of coconuts and grow taro to provide their daily diet. There is no main generator – electricity is by means of solar panels. Life is very simple.
Clive was able to assist by taking a digital picture of Tyrone’s paperwork and emailed it off. A day later, Tyrone received a phone call to say that all was in order. This is a phenomenal achievement, made possible by the installation, only two weeks previously, of an internet and phone connection – and the serendipitous arrival of Sea Dragon.
Life can be a very interesting journey and none quite so interesting I doubt, as that of Monsieur Bruno de Lala. Bruno is a 60-year old Frenchman who left Bordeaux in 1979 to sail to Tahiti and never sailed back. His story could fill an entire book, but briefly, he ran aground on a reef on Washington Island, met Tabita, an I-Kiribati living there, married, had their daughter (17 years old), ran aground another yacht, settled on Fanning Island, had their son (now aged four) and their third child is due later this year.
He made a bashful expression when announcing the impending arrival of the next petite de Lala, and when I made a joke that Picasso was still in the fathering business at age 80, I swear he paled under his deep, walnut brown skin. Tabita is in her mid-30s we guessed.
Some of us had happened upon Bruno at the jetty and were promptly swept off to his home which quite truthfully, could feature in a Home & Garden magazine. It is astounding.
He has built a two-story house, with the bottom level constructed from the smooth, symmetrical stones found on the beach directly in front of his land, on the ocean side. The second storey, which forms their shared bedroom(s) and a deck, is made from wooden shutters which he had shipped in.
If he wasn’t a patient man when he arrived on this island, he must surely be now. Bags of cement from Christmas Island took up to eight months to arrive…
I have photos which tell it all, but I must tell you about our time with this raconteur. He was like a man shipwrecked (again?), who was not dying for water or food, but for conversation with outsiders.
So we sat and listened to his life story and enjoyed it so much, the eight of us returned that night, with BYO food and sat in his exquisite courtyard and listened some more.
The next day was my last chance to dive, so I went out with the A team to the ocean side and had a wonderful time swishing this way and that with the sea surge, having one last underneath-look at the wonder that makes up 70% of our planet.
That night, we prepared for departure early the next morning and had the last decent stretch of sleep for at least a week. We are now into day three of our expected six day sail to Honolulu and the weather has been pretty foul, up until this morning.
All is going well despite the fact the only dry thing on this boat is the no alcohol policy – I’m going back on watch – talk soon.

Cathy Romeyn