Crew inducted into Pagan society after successful initiation hunt
11 April 2012 | Pagan Island, Northern Marianas
Induction into Pagan society following successful initiation hunt
We arrived and anchored at Pagan at around 6pm local time Tuesday night. We put out the spare anchor and also the small dinghy anchor at the stern. Andrew cooked most of what was left of our remaining vegetable and meat into a pasta sauce and we enjoyed one of Richardfs wines. We were both in our bunks by 8. We woke to find ourselves actually in the shadow of the plumes from Mt Ragan, an active volcano. I slept a full 12 hours with occasional breaks to check we had not moved in the night. It was our first good sleep following 4 nights of 3 hours shifts and it was a little hard to get the body going again. 2 espressos and dive off the back of the boat soon helped solve that problem. We had anchored over jet black sand and the blue water created a surreal marine environment ? clear but yet dark and not a fish in site. The water here is 31 degrees C.
The inflatable dinghy which I reclaimed from the garbage at Shimoda Boat Service was inflated and I prepared to row to shore to tie a line from the boat around a coconut tree to secure us while we spent the day exploring the island. I was not going to have us marooned in case something happened to the anchor. As the wind was blowing from the shore I decided to row out first, tie the line on, and then row back letting it out as I went. We grossly underestimated the distance and also the tangled state of our longest line which had never been used. I got ashore, tied up to a tree and then spent 30 minutes running up and down the beach trying to untangle the 60 metre rope. Andrew filled in his time filling up the tanks from our jerry cans. I then rowed back pulling both the 60 metre rope, and another 20 metres of strong floating nylon chord. Being way short Andrew searched for every spare rope we had and we finally made the distance with some snorkelling being required to get eve rything joined up after what probably took an hour.
Watching all this probably comical activity from the south end of the beach was a man in black shorts. I decided to pack a 6 pack of beer as a potential gift. As we approached the shore he started to walk toward us and I jumped from the dinghy to swim ahead to greet him while Andrew took care of tying things up securely.
Frank, gmy second nameh gave us a big smile and handshake and said welcome. He was in his late 20fs, wore a pig tusk necklace a warrior like tattoo, one home made sandal (which reminded me of the joke about Jimmy) and a big smile. I reached back for the beer and handed it to him to which he said, gGreat, thanks....err, do you like crabh? Not knowing what that could entail I smiled and said, ewe need to be leaving this afternoonf. Frank than walked us past a large lake to the village where his two brothers and sister in-law live. Almost the only vegetation on this part of the island were casuarina trees and a carpet of blechem ferns with the occasional coconut tree. Frank said that here acid rain kills most else. Acid rain?!
They are now the only inhabitants of Pagan. Itfs 100 residents were evacuated, gincluding the mayorh in 1981 when the active volcano erupted. Frankfs eldest brother Sandy was the first to return 8 years ago. Frank returned 5 years later and Chris who just finished a tour of duty as a marine in Okinawa, Iraq and most recently Afghanistan arrived on island 3 months ago. He admitted to be in a constant state of culture shock these last few years.
As we walked the 20 minutes to the village, Frank retrieved his machete from a tree and pointed out various features of the island include many WW2 remnants and where some of his relatives had lived. He told us that we were the first boat to visit this year and only 3 visited last year. As we walked we noticed large animal bones every so often on the path. He explained that his wife is currently living on Saipan with their son and is studying criminology. He then went on to explain that he was born in California as his mother is a good family woman and she moved from Pagan to be closer to her brother on the mainland when he was admitted into federal prison. I did not yet know what to make of these Paganfs. Andrew was quick to point out that his backpack contained some apples for them and also a satellite phone (so we can call for help if need be)!
We arrived at the village to find a menagerie of mangy dogs, about 10 white spotted black ducks, several wild pigs in a pen, goats tied to trees, a chicken who was not scared of fighting off the dogs to protect her chicks, a one legged pigeon and a very thin cow. We met the other brothers and were presented with a rather large live crab, thanked for the beer which they proceeded to drink with great joy. I was proud that from the time I worked on Saipan with Shimizu I could remember some Chamorro words? including some swear words to their amusement. They showed us around the evillagef ? how they collected water, where they generated power, their communal kitchen. The place was both littered with and decorated with animal bones, skulls, tusks and crab shells. I noticed that crab claws were used as utensil hooks in the kitchen.
Andrew and I then explored the immediate area looking at two Japanese shrines and translating what we could of the inscriptions, going for a swim and chilling out Pagan style. The dogs were in a terrible state and we discussed applying some of our medicine to their wounds. One had a terrible gash where it had been tusked by a large boar. The bothers insisted they would be ok with the local medicine of dirt.
We asked where the airstrip was and were invited to join a pig hunt which would go by the strip, a zero one fighter, a B22 bomber and some bunkers. We eagerly agreed and so did the dogs once they realized what was going on.
After a tour of the WW2 relics we reached some small caves in the side of a hill and the hunt began with no weapons. The dogs in no time had flushed out a fully grown aggressive sow and seemed ready to take her down. The brothers however were after her piglets. One by one the week old things panicked and came out of the cave. The dogs still focused on the ferocious mother pig did not see the little ones and several times ran over them as they played dead. They did not escape Sandyfs eye who yelled commands in Chamorro to his 2 brothers to get them. Andrew and I thought this was suicide given the mother was right there. Before long 3 were captured and a 4th ran straight toward Andrew who did not hesitate for a moment to leap on it exclaiming, ejust like rugbyf. With our initiation complete we were now part of the clan as they started to joke about our ecrikeyf, accents ? goh crikey, there is a snake in the grass over there mateh. As we walked back with the catch, we wer e told that the most dangerous animals on the island were the cows and that we should climb a tree if confronted. They did not agree with Andrew that a Crocodile Dundee stare would work. (The hunt and Andrewfs brilliant tackle all captured on video to be upload to utube first opportunity).
The brothers raise their animals and about twice a year have them delivered by ship to Saipan for sale. They are very proud of their island and love their lifestyle which is not as remote as it initially seemed. When we asked why some of the dogs were called Hector, Troy and Avatar Frank gave a big smile and said, eSandy has a laptop and we have some moviesf! eBut we can only watch them when it is sunny, the solar panels donft work when it is raining.
It was getting on so we explained we would go back, cook up the crab and return by boat in front of the village to give them some more fruit.
I can have an allergic reaction to crustaceans so nervously tackled the huge thing. It was so big actually it would not fit in our pot so we had to cook it in halves. After dinner we hauled up the anchors and made for a mooring in front of the village. As we did so it started to rain. gAndrew, are your eyes stingingh? gYeaph gFrankfs acid rain! From the volcanoh!
The brothers wasted no time kayaking out to us as we attached Yarramundi to their mooring. We presented them with another 6 pack ? this time a cold one - and a couple of dozen oranges, mandarin and apples in gratitude for their tour of the island. We should hands very warmly and they paddled back quickly as it was getting dark. We were told next time to tell the mayors office on Saipan that we are coming and they would arrange esomething greatf for us. We rested for a couple of hours, washed off the acid rain and departed around 10pm. What a great place and such friendly inhabitants ? all 4 of them. Would have loved to have stayed a few days and explored the island and live Pagan style for a while.
We are now on our way to Saipan and expect to pulling in around 8am local time Friday. I was lucky to have the sunrise watch this morning and it was a magnificent cloudy red one. This is now Andrewfs last leg so it is a bit sad. It has been great starting and sharing this first part of the journey to Australia with him. We are an excellent team. He has hinted about getting more leave to join other parts of the journey.