by Cristy Trembly
I have been writing a girl in Pitcairn Island since I was 11 years old, and have tried on and off for 12 years to visit her. Pitcairn is a small island, 2 square miles, of 48 people, where the settlers from Mutiny on the Bounty went. It is between Tahiti and Easter Island and they have no air service of any kind of course, nowhere to land, and only boats every few MONTHS, so even if you can get there, maybe you can't get out!! So I have often tried, but of course with a job it isn't easy to just leave town and not know when you're returning!! I never wanted to go on a fancy cruise ship where you can only spend a few hours there; it's just not enough time. But I found a cargo ship that is going to Pitcairn and they have a cabin, and it's only $500!! Most ships are more than that a DAY!! So I flew to Auckland, New Zealand, got on this ship, for 6-7 days, which was VERY far and dull, though I brought stuff to read and then left the books, magazines on the island, and I was able to get some seasick patches, which you can't get in the US anymore, as well as many other countries I tried, but I was only seasick 1 day each way thank goodness!!
Anyway, when I first arrived, first saw the island from the ship, it was an incredible feeling, what a thrill after so many years!! I actually wept when I got off the longboat and saw the "Welcome to Pitcairn" sign!!
To see how the water looks, how the houses are, how the people are, is really overwhelming. It's their supply ship, so they work hard, transferring everything from wood to food to boxes of supplies to gasoline, everything, tractor parts, EVERYTHING has to be slung over the side of the ship into the rough water below in the longboat. It is also very dangerous work, because you have to predict that waves and not to let things fall to far, not to hit the guys who work the boats, it's really something to see. Then, for us, you climb down a Jacob's ladder, which is swinging against the ship, down pretty far and when the waves are just right, one of the guys grabs you and pulls you into the longboat, then it's a rough ride 15 minutes to the "harbor" which is not really sheltered as we'd think!! Big ships have to anchor quite far off, and you have to be careful when you climb down the ship, because if you climb too far, the waves will come up between the 2 boats and crush your foot, if you drop too close, the waves will drop and you will step off into nothing!!
So I was pretty scared to do it, but you have no choice, like my friend's Dad said (he was at the top helping me onto the first step, while his grandsons were at the bottom ready to grab and pull me into the boat), "you have to do it", I said, "no I can't do it", he said again "you have to" so I took the first step!! And I did it!!
They have a very modern life, no broadcast TV but everyone has multi-standard VCRs and movies from all over, they have large houses with regular bathrooms, kitchens, microwave ovens, electricity, hot water, bathtubs, no telephones or faxes but you have ham radio...imagine a place with no bills, mortgage payments, never a need to dress up, no schedule, no boss, it's incredible!! There's no crime, no gangs, no drugs, no poor people, everyone takes care of everyone--they have very little disease, which is fortunate since they have a doctor but can't really do surgery there, they have x-rays and can set broken bones etc but can't really do big operations, so the #1 cause of death is appendicitis!! No one has used the jail since 1922 (except for storage!!) and there is no airport of any kind. It's also too far for helicopters to fly. They have a "downtown" area with a store, post office, government office, each open 2 nights a week for one hour. Most people, though, have many freezers and they don't go out to buy groceries--they order everything they need for 3-4 months on the supply ships and have things they need. Every family gets fuel, gasoline and diesel, for their home generators and ATV vehicles, which is what they use instead of cars since the roads are dirt roads and can be muddy!!! There are 16 children in the school, ages 5-13, then they do high school through correspondence with New Zealand, and then can get scholarships to go to university in New Zealand if they wish.
They never see the news, a newspaper, current magazine, and they don't care about it, and you don't either when you're there. We're so addicted to CNN and information, overloaded with it, and they said "what can we do about it in Pitcairn, when you hear about it, it just worries you" and that's true...
I ate the best food there, they have big family dinners with cousins and lots of people, and everyone brings something--I gained weight there, now I have to lose it!! I even cooked once, which was fun, learning about how to use things in their kitchens, and how to cook in a Metric oven (their ovens come from New Zealand but they measure in our measurements mostly). It's interesting, depending on what ships pass, where they get stuff from, like in any cupboard there's a mix of US and European and New Zealand products in all sorts of languages, it just depends where the stuff started.
People kept saying I'd get bored, because I always pack as many countries as possible into the shortest time available (I am a TCC member, after all...) but I didn't at all, even though it's a small island, there are many little roads and scenic places to walk and things to explore. I walked every day, and some places are very steep and not easy. There is only a small sand beach, and you cannot walk around the island--too rocky!! They make money from selling their wood carvings and souvenirs, and each family has a duty of public work, like on the roads, or serving on the Island Council, picking up the trash, working in the post office, whatever, and make money that way too. Of course they buy everything cash so they don't need money like we do!!
I also enjoyed searching through the family records, talking to people, because their genealogy is so fascinating, from Fletcher Christian. They don't marry closer than 2nd cousins (people ask about that a lot), and don't have birth defects or problems, they are a unique group...and to do the research personally was incredible--I want to put all the family history stuff on charts. Someday when I get the time (maybe while I'm on jury duty...) People on the island are interested in "outside world" as they call it, but they can't imagine the hectic pace or answering to anyone else, and while they love to visit, they mostly want to stay there. I understand why!! They're also very practical, I didn't see lots of emotion among the people, a simpler way of life I guess; people didn't seem openly affectionate either, definitely not in public, though they are certainly loyal and caring.
I could live there, but I would miss the fax machine, daily mail, milk (they have no cows so they use UHT milk but I like regular milk). The trade you get is a life of peace, no stress, no problems, it would be very nice...I like the negotiation of my job, the people contact, making deals, and there's just no need to do that there. I am not strong like them in fishing (they sell these HUGE fish they catch to passing ships in trade for Coca Cola, food, whatever), or climbing, or driving longboats, I have different skills they'd never need either...they can't imagine having a choice of items to buy (no stores, no competition), or making a deal, whatever...
It's also unique with some funny adventures--one day I was sitting on the porch (people are great, they just drop by, no house is ever locked, most don't even have a door) and I hear gunshots!! This isn't something you'd expect on Pitcairn!! So I go out to investigate, and they're shooting breadfruit out of the trees!! Breadfruit trees are quite tall and people don't climb them much anymore, so they shoot the fruit down!! Of course, you may remember the breadfruit was the whole reason for the mutiny trip, because they were going from England to Tahiti to get breadfruit to feed the servants in the West Indies, but the breadfruit plants never made it back to Europe!! Anyway, I have great video of shooting up at breadfruit, quite a surprise!!
I was lucky to participate in major Pitcairn events--the supply ship, 3x a year, a public dinner (everyone comes to the town hall with food and people visit), a social event there, and Mother's Day Church Service, I even sang a song for them!! I have seen all these things on video, and to participate myself was thrilling, incredible. The Mother's Day service is a big deal, something like our Christmas Eve service, everyone goes, brings their cameras, and I was glad to share it!!
They are used to being patient, waiting months for things, like goods, food, mail, while of course we're used to going to the store or faxing!! That would also be very difficult for me as I am not too patient in waiting...
There's so much to tell, but when I left, they always sing, and I had seen it on the video often, then they did the songs "In the Sweet by and by" which is their traditional song when you leave, and I was crying a lot!! I made it back up the Jacob's ladder onto the ship and was very sad to go, even they cried and hugged me--they say they might never see you again because you can't just fly there for the weekend, true enough, it was very emotional, even when I watch my video I cry... This is the one time they are emotional, when people leave, and I would love to go back.
I now talk to them on ham radio now every few weeks, and sent them a satellite dish which they asked me for so they could try to see outside television. When I was there, I was VR6CT (they let you have a ham radio call with your initials!!), and I talked home to the US every day I was there, something I've never done before on a vacation, but it is amazing to look out at the ocean and know there's only water for hundreds of miles and you can't leave anyway!!
I had a fantastic time, it was like a pilgrimage for me, and I would encourage you to visit this last piece of paradise. You can either take a big cruise ship and spend the day, or contact the Pitcairn Island Administration in Auckland for other types of ship travel, a permit to land, and other information.
Pitcairn Island Web Site: http://www.lareau.org/pitc.html
Mutiny on the Bounty Web Site: http://www.lareau.org/bounty.html
Lareau Web Parlour Genealogy Page: http://www.lareau.org/geneal.html
Pitcairn Islands Government Website: http://users.iconz.co.nz/pitcairn/
Friends of Pitcairn: http://www.egroups.com/group/FRIENDSofPITCAIRN
Photos by Cristy Trembly
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