Palmerston certainly sounded like an interesting stop so we gladly accepted Bob’s proposal and his pencil drawing of anchoring directions. We were lucky to have fair winds on our trip to from Rarotonga to Palmerton and we sighted land in record timing, only three nights on the sea this time.
As traditional spirit prevails on Palmerston, the first islander to stop a visiting yacht is the “sponsor” of the boat during the boat’s length of stay. As we motored up to the lagoon, Edward Marsters came out to greet us and help us tie up to a mooring. Instead of anchoring in the crystal waters of the calm lagoon surrounding Palmerston and her islands, we were outside of the reef, swaying gently in twenty feet of pristine waters. I jumped in with my snorkel right away to cool off and saw some spectacular (and slightly scary) white-tipped reef sharks. I took to watching them from the safety of the nets until they decided the boat meant no harm and stopped circling their territory.
We launched the dinghy, expecting to motor back and forth at our own free will. However, it works a bit differently here on Palmerston. Firstly, I’m sure they didn’t want strangers landing and exploring by themselves. It was a small island and privacy was well guarded. Secondly, there was quite a spectacular reef surrounding Palmerston and our little dinghy wasn’t quite up to the challenge. It took a special hand and some local knowledge to motor a small boat through the sharp corals of the protective reef and Edward was our expert. He came out every morning to pick us up and was ready to deliver us back to QQ when we finished for the day. We communicated by radio, channel 16, which is what all the islanders used for communication as phones were not present. All islanders carried little walkie-talkies clipped to their belts and everyone monitored the conversations going back and forth.
One word for Palmerston – bizarre
Edward, his wife Shirley, brother Simon and his two little boys were extremely hospitable, talkative, and friendly. They gave us fresh, COLD drinking coconuts, offered a nice walking tour of the island, introduced us to the local school teacher and her 18 students and made a fantastic beach picnic with lots of yummy fish. Every night, Edward and his family trooped into his boat and rode with us out to QQ where they tied up and climbed aboard for evening snacks and chatter. The boys loved fishing off of QQ for hundreds upon hundreds of fish swarmed our keels, drawn by the dim glow from our stern and anchor lights. One evening they caught over 200 parrot fish (which they shared with the rest of the island the following morning.)
The school was more than welcoming. Eighteen students between the ages of six and 17 shared a one room schoolhouse. The yard was bare and sandy, complete with shade trees and a volleyball court. Empty coconuts lined the boundaries of the volleyball grounds and the kids were all experts at bump, set, spike – sometimes a bit too forcefully!
However, there seems to be a bit of an odd, strange, almost eerie atmosphere on the island. We had one island “meeting” with Tere, the administrator/secretary of the island in which we shared our careers, strengths and hobbies (presumably to see if we could help in any way. Wes shared his computer savvy talents and mom had a chat with the island nurse). Other than this , nobody stopped by to say hello the entire time we were visiting Palmerston. We saw shadows walking through the bush every now and then and caught brief flashes of skin as islanders ducked in and out of the low hanging trees. Everything that came into the island was strictly inspected by the island’s “administrators.” There was also a serious lack of young ladies and school aged girls. Upon questioning this observation, we learned that the young girls are usually taken overseas for schooling or sent to another relative for upbringing. With a population of a mere 45 individuals – 18 of those being schoolchildren – Palmerston is indeed in need of some new blood!!
On the other hand, it was certainly a laid back way of life, a place that subsists on the sea and coconut trees, a haven for those wanting to shed the atrocities and stresses of modern-day life. No television news that ranted the horrors of the world, no need to lock your doors against thievery, to hold your child’s hand crossing the street or shield their eyes to teenage pressures, and no threat of poverty. As Tere said, “only a lazy man will starve and not be able to feed his family” as everything is provided free of charge to those eager to find them.
In the end, even though we raised our eyebrows several times and had some lingering questions (for instance, what happens when these teenagers are suddenly thrown into the modern world to seek further education when they haven’t yet experienced the simplicity of the modern world – cars, public transportation….even shopping for food and managing money), the islanders were extremely happy and content. On the last morning of our visit we walked barefoot on the sandy beaches, choosing beautiful shells and savoring the island’s quietness and tranquility.
Edward once again delivered us to a waiting Queequeg and gave huge hugs goodbye, reluctant to leave his new friends. He took our presents, stashed the liters of fuel we shared in his tin fishing boat and stuffed scrapes of paper containing our addresses into his well-worn pockets. We lifted anchor and waved and shouted farewell until his little fishing boat was almost out of sight. Our smiling friend then turned and started making his way back to his tiny paradise in the South Pacific.