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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Temotu Part 3: Cruzin’ Santa Cruz

Mystery surrounds Temotu, almost as if every story you ever heard about the Pacific got its whispering start from here.  The French expedition in the 1700s that was missing for more than thirty years; apparently the wrecks survive of the coast of the Reefs, an adventure for the truly brave diver.  Stories of castaways, slaughtered missionaries, missing boats, the wild man of Lata (half beast, half man) are whispered amongst the locals.

Let me expound on the wild man or men of Lata.  Tina gets me up to speed about them.  Apparently, these fellahs creep around at night and either outright attack you or cast black magic on you.  As Tina explains quietly, they go through your body, into your heart and “spiritually” kill you.  However, some people manage to walk home only to die a few hours or days later.  The men are described as half beast/half human.  The shops close in Lata at six so everyone gets a chance to go home before dark, just to avoid the wild men.

There are also rumours of a cow up in the hills from Vanuatu.   The one goat in Lata is no myth; she munches happily outside the office, as do 10 little black and white spotted piglets with their large and mostly grumpy mother.   

On our morning walks, we stop by the market to pick up greens, which we didn’t have much of in the Reef Islands.  A few heaps of green tomatoes, some wrinkly small eggplant and a few bunches of slippery cabbage are all that are available from the market. 

We eat a breakfast of chilli and onion corned beef and rice and a coconut.  The driver gets up an hour late or so but driving here seems a ridiculous exercise.  There are only about ten or so cars in Lata and the roads don’t go very far.  What works well here are motor bikes; there are few very old ones, probably from the 1960s or even older that the locals have kept in good nick. 

The ute we pile into is beat up and old with large dents but manages to take us the 500 metres to the boat. It’s warm by 8 a.m. and the water is clear. We board the boat and are told that we are going to circumnavigate the whole island, as it is about the same distance to the communities. 

The sea is calm as we make it across to the windward (read: windy) side of the island.  Large, lazy swells come up and I get my first sight of some really amazing breaks.  One area has a reef that is a giant semi circle; huge white waves come in and make a bit of a whirlpool effect.  There are few villages on this side of the island.

The cliffs are covered in trees that look almost like pines.  We see dolphins, flying fish and sea turtles.  I am totally charmed by this side of the island, which surprises me.   As we go to the south part of the island, the water gets chopping and the front of the boat continues to smack down loudly.

As we head over to Lord Howe Island, the water gets significantly rougher.  We try to make it to one of the villages but the sea is far too rough; large waves come crashing down on the beaches.  After 30 minutes of trying various beaches, we decide to call off that visit to the village and continue to the next one.

The next three visits are a bit of a blur; not much stands out.  I try to hold a baby boy, who shares the same name as one of my exes.  Babies up to a certain age, say three or four years old, don’t wear clothes in Temotu and this boy decided it was time to pee.  On me.   He laughs, his mother looks slightly mortified and I have no choice but to just go with it.  I take a quiet moment to wash my shirt in the sea.

The day turns out to be beautiful on the other side of the island; completely calm.  The sun isn’t too bright for once.  We go through another large mangrove area, skirting our way through cut pathways.

The day ends too quickly and we make it to our guesthouse happy with the field visit.  Tina has purchased a bunch of clams or mangrove shells, as they are called locally.  I get worried for a second; I know what people do in the mangroves here.  But I decide that even if I get gastro, well, that’s all a part of the adventure.

So I cook up the clams in a nice coconut cream sauce.  Now, I actually scrapped the coconut flesh myself and made the cream, which was a first for me. 

It is surprisingly easy and satisfying exercise and one I hope to do again soon when I return to Honiara.
The next day is spent at the office, chatting with staff and enjoying the last of the Temotu experience. Tina and I continue our morning walks; we talk about our dreams from the night before and share funny stories.  We visit both markets; one is on the main grounds and has a small variety of greens, tomatoes, taro, and fried breads.  The one down by the wharf is small, only five or six vendors and it’s mostly beetlenut.  I am lucky to buy a little yellow fin tuna and some white clam shells to make a bouillabaisse that night.  We eat with the members of our guest house and enjoy a quiet last night in Lata.    

The plane arrives on Saturday morning right on time.  Check in was quite hilarious; two men who looked slightly drunk weighed our luggage and hand wrote our boarding passes.  Mr. Mark Brian Sara makes it through all the security checks, of which there are none.    

The plane takes off quickly from Lata and I look down, marveling at the reefs and the multitude of different blues below me.

After we leave, no other islands are underneath us; it’s just the open Pacific, yawning out for miles in all directions. 

I sit back, watching out the window at the water, waiting for a glimpse of sunny sand with green foliage below, signally to me that I am back home.