Islands of Love

Alex Rust

10 November 2010 | Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea

It was dark as we approached the Trobriand islands. We could smell the burning coconut husk fires of land miles away and closer could see the flickering flames that littered the shore. In the distant skies that surrounded us I could count three different lightning storms. The channel between the two main islands appeared wide and there was a sand shoal we could anchor on away from the reef and in the lee of the swell so we continued in despite the darkness. Going through the channel I grabbed a torch and went up to the bow to look for any object we might come across and was surprised to find thousands of basketball sized pink jellyfish littering the dark water. I yelled for Tree and Ben to come look and we stared in awe as they slowly drifted by much like the ‘dead drift by in Pirates of the Caribbean III’ as Ben put it. We found the sand bank and dropped hook in 12 feet of water right as one of the lightning storms hit.

The next morning we timed the rain downpours to head to land and when we approached the village dozens of screaming children stormed us (actually jumped in the dingy) while the older crowd held their excitement to just wading out and surrounding us. After being convinced by an elder named Kava that our dingy would be ok with some of the kids he lead us into the village and showed us the yam towers that are filled during the famous yam harvest festival that gives the island its ‘love’ reputation. We were on our way to the paramount chief to announce our arrival and had a crowd of 20 kids following us dancing and laughing. The young girls had droopy elongated ear lobes with up to 20 ears rings in each and one took one out and gave it to me as a gift. It was made out of turtle shell. We eventually caught a ride in the back of the chiefs pick up truck and after our presentation of a Honduran cigar he welcomed us warmly to his islands and invited us to stay as long as we like.

Back at the harbor we noticed a train of westernized sailboats flooding in. We went to grab Bubbles and upon entry to where they were now anchored circled them with our music on. There were now a total of five boats in the small harbor (we hadn’t seen this many sailboats for two months since Vanuatu) and it was time to bust open the customs quarantine stickers. They called themselves the ‘orphans’ and were what was left of a 23 boat rally earlier that year that had left from Australia to the Louisiade group of Papua New Guinea. We rocked Capt. Gordan’s Dragonfly the first night ending it with mandatory arm wrestling.

Walking through the local market the next day we saw, along with the normal tropical produce, live sea turtles and shark fins. Going further into town every child we passed would come running up to greet us with a smile and ‘good morning dim dim!’ (dim dim meaning gringo) before turning away and giggling at any response we gave back. We learned from talking to locals that many didn’t know there own age and one who told me he was 28 also said he was born in 1976 then changed his age to 26 after thinking about it. Another said he was probably 30 or 40. We had missed the yam festival where free love reigns but heard from both sexes that it is the female that picks her partners during the night activities and many claimed to have up to 10 partners each night. The Trobiands are famous for their belief that it is ancestral spirits and not sex that causes pregnancy and there are still two small settlements that refuse to believe otherwise.

Meanwhile back on the boat Ben was getting hounded by natives trying to sell him woodcarvings. By the time Tree and I got back there were five canoes tied to Bubbles and it was being overrun by kids. It was fun for the first hour but after a full day it grew tiring and when I was finally done talking to one group of men two more groups would show up. Everyone seemed to be my best friend who now seemed to live on the boat and wouldn’t leave until they had traded at least one wood carving. They would come on the boat as they pleased and one evening after I had asked them all to leave several times I began throwing the kids off the boat into the water. The kids thought this was a fun game and the splashing and laughter attracted even more kids to climb aboard waiting for his turn to be thrown off. In my fury of throwing kids off I nearly picked up an old man sitting in the cockpit and chucked him. He quickly climbed into his canoe and paddled away.

We needed to get more diesel with the lack of wind and with there being no bank (at least no dim dim bank) I had trouble finding someone to accept or trade US dollars. Tree and I spent an entire day withe a police escort (not your normal police) taking us first to the bankers house then to the parliamentarians house and so on until finally we came upon a half dim dim named Abraham who would accept the dollars for a diesel at a rate that equated to 12 bucks a gallon. I was just happy to be able to buy diesel at all.

We set out at sunset with all the other local fisherman who were making the sail back to their respective islands. There must have been a dozen heading home and with each using a single huge square sail they left a pattern of swaying siloettes against the setting sun that a painter would dream about. Each had aboard 8-12 people, mostly kids helping with the market activities, and we sailed close enough to one to score a huge lobster for the equivalent of a dollar. During the activity and afterwords watching the other boats I drifted away from reality and was only brought back by Ben, who was at the helm, yelling ‘Cap, 0 feet beneath the keel!!.’ I yelled quickly for a hard to starboard turn to take us back into the channel but about then I lurched forward to the familiar feeling of running aground. We were stuck solid on a falling tide and with the tide range decreasing for the next week we would only have one shot at getting off or being in that spot for at least the next 10 days…

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