Penjuku Day Two
05 December 2008 | The Western Province
As I walked along the deck last night, just looking about, I saw a log drifting in the water off to port. Hmmm. It was a big log. It was also moving against the current. After grabbing the binoculars I zoomed in to the distinctive profile of a crocodile. He was a big fella. Just silently moseying from one little island to the other across open water.
We have learned that there are 1,000 people in Penjuku, and another unknown several hundred small children. It is amazing that the little ones don't run afoul of the Salties more often. The kids play in the river and paddle about in their canoes unrestrained though. I suppose jungle savvy just comes with the territory.
We had some big thunderstorms and a lot of rain last night. It is nice being adjacent to a tall mountain when the lightning is going off. It is hard to imagine anything more disabling than a lightning strike on a yacht. I know of several yachts that were hit in Panama and very little in the electronics category survived. The rain is always nice though. Our decks are now squeaky clean.
We were set to visit the village at 9AM but some clatter at the back of the boat woke us up around 6AM. It was some fishermen. They were out at 3AM and apparently assumed we would be up and at 'em at 6. They did have an impressive catch displayed though. They had every kind of reef fish you can think of, some huge squid, and of course a selection of lobster. We told them we already had lobster coming and they offered to sell us more lobster but at a better price. We ended up buying four lobster for $1 US each. I didn't want to take advantage but they really wanted us to buy something. Cash in hand, they happily went on about their way. For reference, the going rate for lobster (crayfish as they call 'em here) is 30 Solomon a kilo but no one has a scale...
It is unfortunate that many of the locales who come out to visit you see yachts as a general store, or all purpose consumer. You are a bad guy to some of these people if you don't buy something. They often believe that because you have a yacht, which is a fabulous contraption to them, you must be rich. I know that many cruisers are budgeting their wits out to ensure that they have enough money to finish their life's dream. I wish that you could explain this to these folks, but I'm not sure it is possible.
We have been leaving the dinghy up so that we can take off quickly when it is time to go. To make getting around possible we have left the kayak inflated. We got the kayak into the water at around 9 am to head to the village and several canoes had already come out to make sure that we were coming. We dutifully paddled to the village and up the little river to an area where the carvers had set up shop. We didn't really know what to expect.
The village is lovely. It is primitive, mostly leaf huts on stilts with no running water or power but picturesque in its own way. There's not too much trash on the ground, which was nice to see, and the little paths have flowers and vegetable gardens along side. You can find orchids growing in coconut husks affixed to things everywhere.
People live on both sides of the river and there are two tree trunk bridges you can use to cross. The kids laugh and play on the bridges, splashing into the water below (crocks be damned). In fact you have to be careful crossing, especially when the kids are running around, or you might end up swimming as well.
The main buildings in the village are the school (first through sixth grade), the church (they are all Seventh Day Adventists here) and the infirmary. Most everything else is leaf huts and copper roofed huts, almost all on stilts. Most families have a sleeping house and a cooking house separate. Even though the village is large, everyone seems related.
The carvers were all close kin. I was surprised that there were only three guys with things to show. Kamatoka was the best English speaker and the lead business man. He had some impressive big stuff. Frank, Kama's brother, had many beautiful bowls with incredible inlay. Ricky Jim (Frank and Kama's brother in law) had many decorative bowls carved to look like fish and other things.
I had not expected the caliber of craft work that appeared here in the middle of no where. I don't think you could find anything so fine in a normal store in the USA. A specialty import shop maybe. The Marovo Lagoon is the place most famous for carvings in the Solomon's, and perhaps in a much larger area.
We were not prepared for the prices. These are some savvy carvers. They were charging market rates. You could haggle (and they expected it) but they haggled right back. In the end we bought a lot of amazingly beautiful stuff for a fair (not cheap) price. We are glad we bought it direct though. Shops are great and serve an important purpose but they, of course, buy things from these guys at half what we paid and then charge more.
Our buying spree apparently warranted a call to all carvers on the radio. Kama notified his uncle, Mike Charlie, from the other side of the island via SSB. No doubt the message was that some good marks were in the lagoon. Soon Mike Charlie was motoring our way. We told him we were full up, but one thing lead to another and we bought a couple of small things. Then Calabus came by, first cousin of Billy Vena, Frank and Kama's father. At thins point we were trading ball caps and fishing gear but still picked up a couple little things. I need to go check our waterline...
Later in the day another crew came by and we had a nice chat with them for a few hours but avoided buying stuff. I tell you, you will not be lonely in the Marovo lagoon.
It is Friday night. Thank goodness for the 7th Day Adventist missionaries. We will now have 24 hours of peace. It was wonderful visiting the village and with 1,000 plus people, the vast majority are happy just to see strangers and maybe visit a little. You just need to get through the carving posse to get things to settle a bit.
If you are good at managing local visitors, particularly the soliciting kind, I would recommend this anchorage. If not, you would not be happy here. We have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We only bought things we liked and wanted for ourselves or for Christmas gifts, but we did buy a fair amount of stuff. I hate to say it, but I think this was a big part of our acceptance here. Our boat is the biggest many of them have seen, which didn't help much. I could imagine the high pressure sales might be easier to deal with if you came in company of other yachts.
We are now having a lovely salad that Hideko traded a hat, soap and towel for, served in our spectacular pearl and rosewood inlaid Karosin bowl (hard cash for that one I'm afraid), with a side of lobster ($1 each thank you very much). Life is good.