Survivor Aitutaki…and Beyond

Hello
again from the Big Blue!

Just
down the road from us is a house with a giant aluminum catamaran in the front
yard. Prez and I have often chuckled at this monstrosity and wondered how on
earth they are ever going to get it into the water from its present position.
Everyone gawks at this boat. How could they not, it’s monstrous. About ten feet
away from that leviathan, however, is a much more interesting boat, one that
you’d never give even the slightest glance, unless you knew its history. On
this beat up, little red boat, a Tahitian fisherman drifted, lost at sea, for
over five months. 

Five
months! Think about that for a moment. Consider what you have done for the last
five months. Try to feel the weight of time, the length of days and nights
strung together. Now imagine spending all of those days and nights lost, with
little chance of rescue, on an ocean, which can, at times, rise up and take you
on the most terrifying ride of your life. Most of us can’t begin to picture
what life lost at sea would be like, nor can we conjure up the kind of mental
fortitude and determination one would need to survive such an ordeal.

Survival,
that’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. For those of us in the civilized
world, it is a word with little meaning. Even the poorest among us can find
food, water, clothing, and shelter, however meager. Survival is not a matter of
figuring out how to make life better, it is a matter of figuring out how to
make life continue. 

Gruesome
as this may sound, I often think about what Prez and I would do if there were
some sort of catastrophe and civilization disintegrated. If our surroundings
let us, I think we’d fare pretty well. On the morning of 9/11, after staring
wide-eyed at the TV screen for what felt like forever, Prez said, “I’m going
to go fill the truck with gas and pick up some water.
” Though that day
would not turn out to be the end of the world, many people later commented to
us on what a good idea that was and how they’d never even thought of preparing
for a disaster.

In Port
Coquitlam, or Nelson, even in Baja, planning for disaster is relatively easy.
Gas, water, food, tools/weapons, clothing – those are your main concerns and
can usually be found in abundance. But what about a place far out in the middle
of nothing…like Aitutaki?  

Yesterday,
during our evening cool-down swim & cocktail, Prez and I watched the supply
ship being unloaded. I love the supply ship. I’m not sure why; every month they
just bring more of the same old crap I always complain about. But maybe, maybe
this month will be different! Maybe this month they’ll bring Barbara’s Bakes
organic cheesies! Or Bengal tea! Or corn on the cob! Or a David Suzuki veggie
burger with fries and rosemary veggie gravy!!!! Anyway, as the sun began to set
and the barge unloaded shipping containers full of disgusting sausages and
flats of Coke, I wondered what would happen if the supply ship stopped coming.

Disgusting
sausages and Coke is bad. No disgusting sausages and Coke is worse. 

Without our
dear supply ship and the daily flights from Raro, (which occasionally bring
eight dollar heads of broccoli), what would happen to this island? We’d be OK
for water as most places have rain water collection. Power would eventually
stop once the diesel generator ran out of fuel. We could fish but that would
have to be done the old fashioned way, in an outrigger vaka, once the
petrol stopped flowing. Mornings would be quieter – buh-bye roosters. Pigs
would once again be valuable currency. Fruit, no problem. Vegetables, so-so. We’d
have a relatively comfortable existence until things began to break down and no
replacement parts came in, or until a few good cyclones pounded the heck out of
the island. In a very short time, I think we’d be back to skewering each other
with spears.

And how
would I make out in the Tahitian fisherman’s shoes? (Not that he had any). With
Prez along, I might make it. Alone? Probably not. One day someone would find an
empty boat with several scribbled notes, such as: “Day two: chocolate has
run out, situation desperate.
” 

I’ve
been reading Adrift by Steven Callahan, the true, first hand account of a fellow
lost at sea, in a rubber life raft, for seventy-six days. Seventy-six may seem
short compared to the more than one hundred and fifty of our Tahitian survivor
but it’s still nothing to sneeze at. I’m at “Day 27” of his ordeal and he’s
already had four ships pass by without noticing him, even when he shot off
flares. His muscles are atrophying and he’s feeling the effects of vitamin
deficiency. At night his raft is head-butted by Dorado and the occasional
shark, during the day temperatures rise above ninety degrees Fahrenheit,
converting his raft into a floating steam room. In less than a month, he’s gone
from a happy-go-lucky sailor to a near skeleton, clinging to life and sanity by
his fingernails.

But he
survives. He must because he wrote the book. Unless of course the last page
ends like: “Hey, look! A friendly dolphin coming to play! Oh wait, no,
that’s not a dolphin, it’s a sh…
  

This
amazes me about humans – we survive. People often confuse Darwin’s notion of
survival of the fittest with survival of the strongest. By “fittest” he meant
those who best fit in their environment. To quote Dennis Miller, “If you
dropped a lion, the king of the jungle, at the South Pole, then he’d just be
some penguin’s bitch
”. But here’s where humans get interesting, we change
to suit our environment. Too cold? We kill furry things and make coats out of
them. Too hot? We run around naked, get really good tans, and build nice shady
huts. Too dry? We learn to find water and keep it in handy jugs. Too wet? We
leave Vancouver and fly to Mexico for two weeks to dry out at an all inclusive
resort.

I
mentioned in an earlier Coconut Chronicle about how small islands change
people. I’m sure Darwin would have much to say about that. I no longer hear the
roosters. When I can go to bed at night without an ice pack, I comment on the
“cool” weather. Dreams of food grow less intense. I’m practically Evil Kneivel
on my scooter. And I’m afraid one day I’ll see a non-pirated DVD and long for
the occasional camera movement or background voices which sound vaguely
Russian.   

The
Tahitian said he passed several islands before reaching Aitutaki, but none were
close enough that he felt he could safely swim to them. By the time he washed
up on these shores, his family had already had his funeral. If he were Canadian
or American, he’d already have a book deal, a movie, and a Barbara Walters’
special. I’m not sure what he’s up to back in Tahiti but I’m guessing he’s
still fishing.

Yep, us
humans, we’re a crazy species. We are often at our best when things are at their
worst. Each day I read the news headlines and I shake my head. On top of
growing environmental problems, and escalating financial worries, there’s also
a whole peck of conflict brewing around the globe. Is this ship still sailing
true? How long before we need to take a serious look at our life rafts? As much
as I hate to end on a note of doom and gloom, looking out from my tiny,
almost-deserted island, the seas seem to be growing stormy and clouds are moving
in. And even here, where gillnets slowly squeeze the life from this lagoon, I
have to wonder, how long can we survive

QUESTION:
How long…

OK, OK,
I won’t end on a gloomy note. That was mean, especially on Easter, that joyous pagan
celebration of shagging and fertility (oh come on, what did you think the
bunnies and eggs symbolized?). So, some good news, for me anyway. Do you recall
that short story I sent off, non-express mail, back in January? Well, it is
being published in the next issue of Storyteller. Yippee! Yes, the
world may be going to hell in a hand basket but all is well in my little corner
of it!   

QUESTION:
What would you want in your life raft? 

Until
next week, barring the end of the world, I hope this finds you healthy, happy
& lovin’ life!

The
Princess 

p.s. No
photos this week as we have already exceeded our bandwidth limit. Still haven’t
adapted to the stupid, slow internet here.

This entry was posted in Travel. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Survivor Aitutaki…and Beyond

  1. Cindy says:

    Diet Caffeine Free Mt. Dew and at least one book …
     

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