We sail away from Panasia island as planned on Saturday morning and land at Brooker island only a few hours later (love day sails!). We anchor in the main bay thus ensuring we are visible from every single hut in they village (we didn’t want to appear rude by parking in the neighbouring bay) and dinghy up to the beach to join hundreds of locals gathered around the main oval watching their soccer and netball semis. Major culture shock follows.
As we take the dinghy to the beach, a bunch of kids gather welcoming us, all wanting to help pull the dingy out. Our anxiety increases as we realise the village is a lot bigger than expected and definitely a lot bigger than little Panasia. Showing up uninvited and being stared at by so many people at once can -to put it mildly- be somewhat overwhelming. Kids were definitely feeling uncomfortable so that made it even more difficult.
Pressing on regardless, we walk through the crowd. People say hello, welcome, everyone is smiling; we run into a couple of fishermen we met on Punawan and before we know it, we are chatting away to various people and watching the game. One lovely guy Joseph tells us about his travels in Aus in the 70s where he met Slim Dusty. At one point I am sitting on a grassy knoll talking to Merida who tells me we are only the second boat to visit the island this year. Apparently it’s not on the tourist route. As if to confirm this, a passer by screams and jumps as she spots me in her periphery but we all have a good laugh about it after.
Same thing happens when I make eye contact with one of the boys following us and say hello. He panics and starts scrambling up the hill in fear, looking back at me making sure I am not following. I wish I could have filmed it. He is one of the first ones to swim out to the boat in the afternoon, so no permanent damage is done.
After a couple of hours of alternating between scaring and fascinating the locals, Jake is desperate to get back to the boat so we do. In the afternoon, village kids float on various logs and little outrigger canoes towards the boat. We put out the play mat for them and a lot of hilarity ensues. One poor kid in a canoe is the designated log retriever (they kept floating away), Lara and Jake come out and sort of join but stay separate (progress), and they all dutifully leave when we’d had enough (our kids ignore the request and stay).
We then have a couple of adult visitors, more chatting and trading follows. Joseph, a fisherman we’d met a few days prior comes out with his two daughters bringing various fruit. We give the girls a t-shirt each and Graham helps out with stuff to fix his leaky canoe. Merida, my friend from the oval comes over with a fresh pineapple just picked from the tree. It’s amazing to find out what fruit really tastes and smells like.
The next day, Lara and I tag along to the Sunday church service. We get a big shock as we pull up to the beach when we spot a couple of giant turtles swimming in the lagoon with one leg tied to a post back at the beach. They will be eaten so this is sort of like keeping meat fresh in the fridge. It will take some time getting used to this as just a month ago we were snorkelling with them in Qld.
Back to my church story. Now church is not something I’d sign up to on a weekly basis, here or back home but it was a really nice experience. Everyone dresses up in their Sunday best, men sit on one side and women on the other. They first welcomed us in English then the rest of the service and singing was in local language. There was quite a bit of singing, harmonising and even dancing involved. My favourite was a greeting song where you go around and sort of ‘hugshake’ arms with people around you. We felt genuinely welcome as everyone came over to shake and smile. Not sure what sort of denomination they are, but there was an evangelical feel to it, arms in the air Scomo style waving, chanting etc, probably Methodist or similar.
We spend the afternoon entertaining local village kids on the boat. They teach me some local words and we have a great time laughing at my efforts. This region speaks the Misima dialect, but the language is confined to just a few neighbouring islands. As you move further out, every island has its own language, which is why school is taught in English, teachers often don’t speak the language of the village they are teaching in.
We could stay longer but must keep going on our relentless pursue of north. It’s cloudy and raining on the day of departure but as we are real sailors now, this does not deter.