Friday, February 28, 2020

February 26th – Stepping Foot on Pitcairn Island

Today we achieved something very rare – we actually got ashore at Pitcairn Island, one of the most remote inhabited places on the planet. We had a fantastic day meeting the islanders (many descended from the Bounty Mutineers) and exploring this beautiful little tropical island. 

Pitcairn isn’t exactly on the way to many places, so they don’t get many visitors here – plus, the strong swell of the Pacific means that almost all cruise ships that anchor in Bounty Bay just can’t get ashore. Fortunately the waves were fairly kind to us, plus we had the ship’s highly manoeuvrable zodiacs, so we were able to clamber ashore and experience an island that’s home to just 50 hardy islanders.

The thing that strikes you immediately about Pitcairn, is just how mountainous it is – there’s very little flat land, and from the pier you’re greeted by the appropriately-named Hill of Difficulty, a very steep road that takes you to the island’s one settlement, Adamstown. On a hot and humid day, we were dripping with sweat by the time we got to the top, but the thrill of visiting one the most unique places in the world made it all worthwhile.

The islanders are a friendly bunch – I got the feeling that they were just glad to have some outsiders to share their little haven with. We had some great chats finding out what it was like to live in a place where everyone knew everyone (and was probably related to everyone), where they have to be largely self-sufficient, and where they have to deal with the intense isolation – they tend to get a supply boat every 3 months.

They only have 15 hours of electricity a day, from 6am to 9pm – “we tend to go to bed pretty early here”, we were told. There’s a school on the island, but once it’s time for secondary school they are sent to stay New Zealand – I was surprised to hear that they often go away for 5 years without coming back once in that time! One young lady who had just returned from New Zealand told us, “until I went away, I thought Pitcairn was big. Then I went to New Zealand and it was massive!”. It was fascinating to hear the different perspective of the islanders.

We went for a hike to visit Fletcher Christian’s Cave – the spot up in the hills where Christian would scan the horizon checking for Royal Navy ships on the hunt for him and his fellow Mutineers. The trek was rough but beautiful – we passed through thick forests, wild and rocky landscapes which looked like something out of Jurassic Park, and open cliff-faces. It can’t be easy to grow up here, but when you have a playground like this it can’t be too bad.

Somehow the islanders managed to cook a lunch for the 200 or so passengers who came ashore here – really tasty and a cold beer has never tasted so good. Before it was time to go, one of the kind islanders offered to take us up to the highest point of the island on one of their ATVs. Looking down on the island, it felt bigger than I’d imagined – so much space for such a small community; but it also brought home how small their world was – this was the only land (apart from some uninhabitable islands) for hundreds and hundreds of miles. 

To deal with this complete isolation, the islanders have developed a unique community spirit, and they have put their well-documented troubles behind them. I absolutely loved my time on Pitcairn, and had a real sense of poignancy as we took our boat away, as I wondered how will this precariously small community cope in the coming years? I wish them all the best – unique places like Pitcairn deserve to survive.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

February 22nd & 23rd – So Near, But Yet So Far on Easter Island

Never has a distance of 500 or so metres seemed so far. That’s as far as we were from Easter Island for two tantalising days, but that was as close as we got.

This is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world, which means that the Pacific Ocean has thousands of uninterrupted miles to build up some very heavy swells. This, combined with the fact that there’s a very narrow entrance to its little harbour, means that cruise ships unfortunately have quite a lot of difficulty getting in here.

It had all started off so promisingly – the sun was out, we could see some Moai in the distance, and initially the seas didn’t seem too bad. Then we took the stabilisers off, and we could feel the ship start to roll. With every roll, the tender area would get badly flooded, and the tenders (and zodiacs) would bounce about. It was simply too dangerous to load up the boats from the ship.

In spite of having two days here (two days of rolling as it turned out), and the flexibility of zodiacs, it just wasn’t meant to be. We will have to wait until the 2021 World Cruise for another attempt to get a closer look at those mysterious Moai.

But, as one positive, a troupe of local dancers did manage to get onto the ship – the poor things had to climb up precarious rope ladders up the side of the ship. Maybe the adrenaline rush of their bumpy boat ride across to us inspired them to give one of the best and most energetic local shows that I’ve ever seen. From the handsome male dancers, there was more suggestive hip-thrusting than a Tom Jones concert plus more buttocks on display than a nudist beach, while the women were equally attractive and athletic. We may not have got onto their island, but at least we had some of the exotic atmosphere of Easter Island brought to us.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

February 17th – Castaway on Robinson Crusoe Island

Robinson Crusoe Island is a surprise to many people. 

Firstly, people are surprised that there’s even a place called Robinson Crusoe Island – well, there is, and it’s a small and isolated volcanic island about 600kms off the coast of Chile.

Secondly, Robinson Crusoe was never shipwrecked here. That’s because Robinson Crusoe is a fictional character who never existed. But, a Scottish pirate called Alexander Selkirk was shipwrecked here (or at least marooned here) in 1704, and his story was (probably) the inspiration for Daniel Defoe’s castaway character.

Thirdly, this is not a tropical desert island surrounded by white sands and swaying palms. Instead we were greeted by rugged mountains and stark cliffs.

Fourthly, this remote island has a higher proportion of endemic flora than anywhere else on the planet – it’s known as “The Galapagos of Plants”.

Fifthly, it’s actually quite a nice place to be castaway, at least for just one sunny day when you know you can get back on your 5-star cruise ship at the end of it!

So, we had a lovely day here on RCI. We started off with a bracing zodiac ride around is stark coastline, observing the striking layers of volcanic rock in its sheer cliffs, and being entranced by the antics of a colony of the endemic fur seals sunning themselves on the rock.

Next, we decided to hike up to La Plazoleta El Yunque – a 2-hour hike up a steep and muddy path up into the forests that dominate this mountainous island. As we climbed, we could see how invasive alien plantlife had taken over the lower slopes of the island – the ubiquitous brambles have strangled so much of the endemic species. However, once we had struggled up to La Plazoleta, then we got to experience this unique island at its best.

There was no noise at all up there, apart from a few bird calls, and we did a walk through some of the amazing plantlife that you can’t find anywhere else on the planet – some of it has been around since the dinosaurs, and it looked like it. Plants with leaves the size of golf umbrellas rustled in the wind, prehistoric-looking palms sprouted bizarre fronds, while colourful humming birds buzzed around – it was magical.

Coming down was certainly much quicker than our ascent, and at the bottom we wandered around the town, wondering what life was like for those 850 islanders on this remote speck of rock. They certainly seemed quite happy and friendly, and their town was undergoing a big facelift after recovering from the devastation of a terrible tsunami that pretty much wiped it away in 2010.

This is the beauty of cruising – you’d never normally head to places like Robinson Crusoe Island unless you were on a cruise. This place isn’t on the way to anywhere unless you’re heading to Easter Island, but those of us who got here were only too happy to be castaway.


February 15th – Returning to the World Cruise

After a three-week break from the World Cruise while it went around Antarctica and South America, we had a long flight to re-join the World Cruise in Valparaiso. 

Even through our jet-lag and sleep-deprived haze it was wonderful to be greeted so warmly by so many passengers and crew – in many ways, coming back to the World Cruise is like coming back home.