Pitcairn Islands

Reporting April 24

 I promised you Pitcairn a few days ago but time and the satellites (and the Wi-Fi) and the seas were against me.  But we are back on Sea Days now, facing the inexorable ending of our cruise.  Proceeding a little more slowly now so as not to arrive too early, that is, before our booked reservation of a mooring, we will arrive at Callao, the harbour for Lima, some time after midnight on April 28.  My plane does not leave for Dallas until 12:05 a.m. on April 29, so I have time to put in. It’s not Easter Island, of course, and I will be out of Wi-Fi communication then, so I had better make up for it now.

This is the joy (?) of modern travel, putting in the time between destinations.  You already know what I call it: moving one's body through time and space.  Time capsules would be ideal, or ruby red slippers with clickable heels. I have no idea what that would cost.

Anyway, Pitcairn Island – a real revelation.  From our Currents magazine (the on-ship nightly newsletter):

 “The Pitcairn Islands, officially named the Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands, are a group of four volcanic islands in the southern Ocean that form a British Overseas Territory. The four islands are spread over several hundred miles of ocean and have a total land area of about 47 square kilometres. Only Pitcairn, the second largest and measuring about 3.6 kilometres from east to west, is inhabited…”

..by 45 people!  Pitcairn is the least populated jurisdiction in the world. There is no decent harbour for a ship the size of ours, so the entire population of Pitcairn, less three, came to us. (The three were a 99-year-old woman, her caregiver and someone to help the islanders’ boat back to the dock on its return.) They brought with them piles of T-shirts and tchotchkes to sell: shell necklaces, honey, spoons and bowls and trays, etc. made of burro wood, the local tree.  The tourist ships are a valuable financial source for the community.  The minimum/maximum wage is ten dollars an hour for any activity, so the Mayor told us, a woman in her sixties (my guess), born on Pitcairn who married and lived in Alaska until she returned 6 years ago.  She also edits the local newsletter and rakes the weeds on the side of the highway.  I sort of gather that this money comes from the U.K. or the U.N. – not sure?  The United Nations Committee on Decolonization includes the Pitcairn Islands on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Five school children came along too, of course. I mean, who would be there if everyone was here? They are taught by a teacher who comes for a year, as does the local doctor. After elementary school, the children have to go to New Zealand for the rest of their education and few of them return.  The average age of a Pitcairn inhabitant is 57, beyond childbearing age. Unless some young adventurers choose to come here the population may soon die out.

Everyone has a telephone and Internet access but no television.  A supply ship comes every three months from New Zealand bringing in the necessities and everything else, for a price.  The mayor told us she loves to be free and to be the mistress of her own destiny. She says she goes fishing on Bounty Bay to catch her dinner and grows her greens in her garden, beholden to no one.

 After the sale, the islanders enjoyed a big buffet lunch as guests of the ship and then they gave us a gift before they left.  They all sang, from the five schoolchildren, the youngest of them about five years old, I would guess, to the thirteen-year-old boy who will leave for N.Z. next year. There is one church on the island and I suspect the congregation comprises the choir we heard, with beautiful, polyphonic harmony.  They sang “In the Sweet Bye and Bye” – you know, that ends in “till we meet on that shore”?  Lump in throat time and a beautiful, memorable highlight of this odd, truncated cruise.

 I count my blessings.