Regarding a "travel adventure" to an off-the-beaten path location, It's easy to think of only the good side...the fascinating, the unusual, the beautiful, the exotic; and maybe moments of peace, freedom from the stress of civilization, being among a kinder, more generous people than what it seems that modern urban Americans have become.
And if we weren't expecting to obtain some, most, or maybe even all of those good things, we'd just as soon stay home and lose ourself in our own residence and maybe reconnect with some of the charms of our home area (gosh, don't people come HERE to Los Angeles for vacation, whereas we who live here can't wait to get away from here!). I was surprised, for example that a short while after I had come home from a vacation to Kauai, I found a MUCH better beach for swimming only a couple of hours away in Encinitas (in north San Diego County) than I had experienced in the whole of the island paradise of Kauai. The Kauai beaches were more beautiful to look at, but with the constant and ever-present warnings about how dangerous the beaches were everywhere there, actually swimming in them wasn't really all that much fun.
Apparently a dark secret about travel to Hawaii is how many visitors there drown in the ocean, and among drowning deaths in Hawaii, Kauai is the champion. This, it is explained, is due to the changeable and extremely powerful currents that sweep by the edges of this island, so the tourist is cautioned to only swim in the beaches that have lifeguards and, best of all, beaches that have artificially-created rock barriers that turn the swimming areas into something akin to wading pools for toddlers.
But, the other side of that story is that supposedly the most dangerous beach of all in Kauai was Hanakapiai Beach, about two miles into the Na Pali wilderness. People are cautioned to not even soak their toes in this killer beach, because by standing so near to the water's edge, a rogue wave just might come up, grab them, and haul them off to their watery grave. And there ARE such rogue waves at least SOMEWHERE. I know somebody who lost a friend by such a rogue wave up at Point Reyes, in Marin County, California, and he had been unable to save him. (Many years later, I happened to visit Point Reyes and saw government signs warning visitors about the dangers of the rogue waves there.) But, regarding Hanakapiai, in 1983, I went to Kauai and spent an entire day swimming all by myself in the water at Hanakapiai (completely naked, I might add, as I had read in a guidebook that the whole Na Pali wilderness area was "clothing optional," so I had taken advantage of that throughout my day there in the wilderness) and, well, this is not a ghost who is sitting here writing this. While the waves were certainly powerful (body-surfing them, particularly body-surfing them naked, was a never-ending thrill, which is one reason why I stayed out there in the water so long; I wanted it to last and last), I never once felt the slightest hint of danger. Maybe I was just phenomenally lucky? But I don't remember there being any warnings at all in those days, but now, there is nothing BUT warnings.
And I do remember being at a beach resort in Fiji and hearing a woman who had gone out beyond the rocks screaming for help. It was horrifying to hear the sounds of somebody who really was in danger of dying. The lifeguards at the resort were like Keystone Cops in their efforts to get their various speedboats rounded up, started up, and headed out into the correct direction. The woman had been silenced before they managed to make their way out there. Her silence was even more chilling than her screams had been. And we were told later that day that she had indeed drowned out there, and the resort management reiterated their rule that swimmers were not to go beyond the breakwater of rocks. Remembering that event in Fiji spoiled my swimming fun in Kauai.
Now, with my upcoming trip to Palau, up until a few days ago, I had thought about nothing but of the pleasures that I expect to have. Oh, I knew there were going to be SOME inconveniences, it is a third world country and doesn't have much of an economy (but that doesn't mean that the people there are stone-cold impoverished; most of them are "subsistence farmers," which means that they live the way Pacific Islands have done forever, eating fish that they catch, fruit that they pick, and vegetables that they grow, which, as civilization either collapses all around us or is just interrupted for a while, just might be the safest and most secure lifestyle of all). Other than receiving aid from the United States, their economy mostly is based on tourism...tourism from Japan and Taiwan. While the residents of Palau can speak English, I'm not so sure about most of the visitors, such as those who might be along on at least one activity I have booked, a day of boating, kayaking, snorkeling, swimming, hiking, and having a picnic on a hidden beach in the Rock Islands. Of all the touring companies who responded to my request for information, the one that responded the quickest, answered all my questions the most thoroughly, was the most polite and friendly, had the best, most comprehensive tour of the things I wanted to do at the best price, and was the one that I booked this particular tour with and paid up front for, I later learned in a guidebook "is for the Japanese." I do kind of take that description with a grain of salt. Five percent of the visitors to Palau are from the United States, and of all the other visitors, the vast majority are about 2/3 Japanese, 1/3 Taiwanese, so it might actually be accurate to say that EVERY touring company is "for the Japanese". And why shouldn't they be, if those are their main customers? Japanese visitors that I have seen elsewhere (such as in New Zealand) are among the most joyful and enthusiastic travelers, so if there is any way to communicate with them at all (if only with a smile and an excited-sounding voice), I can hardly think of more enjoyable people to experience things with. (I just only hope that the tour guides will remember to at least say some things in English, which I guess they will, since they, themselves, live in English-speaking Palau.)
It was kind of interesting reading all the TripAdvisor reviews of lodging, eating, and activities in Palau...many of them (and in a few cases, ALL of them) were written in Japanese. I had never experienced that before, always kind of thinking of various websites as always being "American" when, of course, they are not. The only time I had ever seen Japanese was occasionally checking out a link to an anime site or whatever. TripAdvisor had gone to the trouble of providing with a click Google translations of the foreign language reviews, but whereas those in Italian or German (there were some of those, too), were reasonably-well translated, those that had been written in Japanese absolutely were not. After a while I gave up on clicking on those at all, because the English versions that resulted from them were incomprehensible.
And no wonder...I bought for myself a beginner's Japanese language book, called Japanese Demystified, and oh my God, I just might have finally come across a subject which I am absolutely unable to learn. (Organic Chemistry kind of approaches that, but so far, the Japanese language far outshines that when it comes to difficulty.) I bought it because my trip to Palau goes there by way of the Tokyo airport and my return flight has a six-hour layover there, so I have planned to use that time to visit the cute little town of Narita that is about a fifteen minute train trip away (Tokyo, itself, is too far and is not recommended for those who don't have time for a whole day). The train, fortunately, leaves right from and returns to the airport...very efficient.
I have always been very worried about going to an Asian country, because it wouldn't be like pulling out a Berlitz French or German phrase book and reading off to somebody the question as to where there is a bathroom. Just to read a road sign would require pouring through thousands of "squigglies"...how could anyone actually do it? This reluctance, if not downright fear, of putting myself into an Asian country, has created a big hole in my "global travel map", but this miniscule wetting of my little toe in Asia by having my flight go through Japan just might be the very baby step that I need to overcome that "reluctance". After all, I am sure that I could find my around the international airport (English will probably be as abundant as Japanese), but a little beyond the confines of the airport, well, it's like going through some kind of curtain...what shall we call it, the "Rice Paper Curtain"?
So it's kind of ironic, but here my vacation will take me to a country that once upon a time had been an American protectorate (now Palau is independent...although as independent as a student who has gone off to college and whose parents are paying the tuition) and therefore English is spoken virtually everywhere, and the currency they use is actually the U.S. dollar...not PEGGED to the U.S. dollar, but IS the U.S. dollar...and yet, because of this six-hour layover in Japan, I have to get some YEN and due to that and the abundance of Japanese tourists in Palau, I figured it wise to learn some basic Japanese!
I had always thought that Japanese (writing, anyway), was basically Chinese with maybe some adaptations, and I had already discovered years ago that Chinese ideograms were pretty easy to learn (but how to SPEAK Chinese, I know nothing). I learned, for example, that the two characters in the name of China stand for "center country" (that's logical, since from their point of view, THEY are at the center), and "center" is shown by a drawing of a square and then drawing a vertical line down the middle of it. I always love seeing the menu of a Chinese restaurant and seeing that square with the vertical line somewhere near the top of the menu, because somewhere they are going to have to use the word "China" or "Chinese". Another of the Chinese characters that I quickly learned was "gateway", that looks like the two swinging flaps of an old western town saloon that the sheriff or the bad guy pushes his way through into the place. I was so excited one time taking a city bus down Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and happening to see a sign on a Chinese restaurant. I recognized the "center" character and then I saw the "gateway" character, and then my eyes lowered a bit and I saw the restaurant's name in English: "Golden Gate Chinese Restaurant". That truly was one of those exciting, "ah ha" moments...so in my view, Chinese (writing, anyway), seems like something a person could actually learn if they only took the time to study it and worked on memorizing all these various characters. They apparently have virtually no "grammar" to speak of; instead, it is all quite poetic in its construction of "pictures". ("Friendship" shows a hand reaching for the moon; "human" is a drawing that shows two legs; "big" is the human drawing with arms spread wide, "mother" is the human sign holding a baby, "sit" is the human sign over a horizontal line that indicates the ground, "autumn" is a combination of the sign for time and the sign for burning, because to them autumn is the "burning time," which I guess means that part of their harvest cycle is burning up that which remains after the fields are gleaned, but to me, I think of burning piles of autumn leaves, "duck" is the combination of the sign for bird and the sign for water...the duck is a "water bird". I have absolutely no idea what combination of signs will yield the result of "Communist Manifesto" but I am sure that whatever it is, the construction of it would be pretty fascinating. It would start with a "worker", I would guess....)
Japanese, though...according to "Lesson 1" in the "demystification" process, seems to combine three different writing systems--"kanji," which has thousands of characters that come from Chinese, "hiragana," that are adapted Chinese symbols that are used to represent syllables, and "katakana" are also syllabic symbols that are used for foreign words that the Japanese now need to use and for phonomines, phenomines, psychomimes...GOT THAT?
No wonder Google translator had some problems...how does it know if what is shown is supposed to be a Chinese-type picture of something or a syllable that sounds out something? And even for Chinese, context may tell a Chinese reader that the combination of the water sign and the bird sign means "duck", but how does Google translator understand that the sentence isn't talking about, say, a bird that fell into the water?
PHONOmimes are sounds meant to imitate things like people laughing, dogs barking, or the sound of rain. (Don't ask me why--I know they would ask the same question about us--but to them, the sound of laughing is not "ha ha ha", but "geragera"; dogs don't go "woof woof", but go "wan wan", but at this stage in my "learning", it is too early to figure out what in this sentence represents the sound of the rain: "Ame ga zaza futte imasu." I am guessing the "zaza" but only because it, like the others, repeats syllables.
PHENOmimes are syllables that describe things like "sticky" ("nebaneba") or "rough" ("zarazara"). (Again with the repetitions.)
PSYCHOmimes are psychological states (again, they have the repetitions), such as "fuming" ("punpun") or "restless ("sowasowa").
I admit that as I write this, unless this whole thing ends up making me "locoloco", I'm starting to find it kind of fun! I may never be able to find a bathroom or order some sushi (that's a joke...sushi IS a Japanese word), but I'll at least watch out for all those repeated syllables so that I will know that somebody is describing an animal sound or what kind of a mood they are in. Is it okay to learn a foreign language by learning all the phono, pheno, and psychomimes first? Here I am learning as much English as I am Japanese!
So I guess you could say that THAT is an adventure.
But in this entry, I am meaning to be headed more toward the dark side of travel. Since life is filled with polarities (the good and the bad), and an ADVENTURE is supposed to be an expansion of normal life, while we want to go on adventures for the expansion over toward the good side, we better not forget that it might be balanced by an expansion over to the bad side. Uh oh, I wish I hadn't thought of that! (Or maybe I will thankful that I DID think of it.)
For example, I learned a couple of weeks ago that regarding travel into Japan (and now I am guessing that the same might be true of ANY foreign travel), that Japan has some pretty strict rules about the DRUGS you bring in (and I'm talking about required medications, not heroin or kilos of marijuana; obviously I'm not intending to be drug smuggler). And from what I have been able to read, that "bringing them in" could actually refer to the fact that your plane landed on their runway and you walked in one gate only so that you could walk out through another one on your way OUT of there! I mean, at first I never really thought of myself as "going to Japan" at all; it was only a place where I had to change planes for my TRUE destination. But no, even if all I actually did was simply change planes, from the point of view of Japan, I did go there and whatever I had with me, either in my checked baggage or in my possession as a carry-on, they view as something I am bringing into Japan. So restrictions and rules apply.
And regarding prescription drugs, we aren't in Kansas anymore. Just as in the United States not every state (or ANY of them?) accepts the idea of "medical marijuana", Japan has its own view of what kind of drugs are actually medicine and what other kinds of drugs are there to rape and pillage the minds of their people. All of a sudden, it now seems to me that that friendly, smiling customs agent or whoever it is whom we have to "pass through" (IF they ARE smiling and friendly) is really about as friendly as a SWAT team crashing through all your doors at midnight because their sources told them that you had drugs in the house. You may think your innocent little amber bottle with the name "CVS Pharmacy" written across the top of it, filled with your heart rate medication is about as "acceptable" as a bottle of Vitamin C, but THEY, apparently, may not even trust the Vitamin C (or the sinus spray or the asthma inhaler)! SOME things they won't let you take in at all, prescription or no, such as, apparently, anything that is a "methamphetamine". Now, I don't know meth from menthol, but I DO remember my mother's very brilliant anti-drug lecture to us all that worked better than any "scared straight" documentary or tour of a prison.
Those who know me or who have read my blogs for a while may remember that my mother had multiple sclerosis and during the last thirty or so years of her life, was completely bed-ridden, utterly unable to consciously control her lower limbs. She had a whole bathroom drawer full of dozens of prescription drugs, many, or most, of which were very powerful pain killers. Because while her motive nerves were not anything she could control (so they were useless for lifting up a leg or even wiggling a toe), her sensory nerves were working like high voltage wires transmitting PAIN. If you got anywhere NEAR her feet, she would scream bloody murder just due to her FEAR that you might happen to brush against a toe and the pain would be enough to knock her out. And there were nights we would hear her crying, if not screaming, due to pain that she felt at the time and had nothing powerful enough that could stop it. (I really don't even want you to attempt to imagine what this must be like for a child to hear these sounds coming out of his or her mother.)
So yes, she had drugs, prescription drugs, and she showed each one to us and explained to us how they worked and what they did and what it would be like if she didn't have them. She explained how one could need more and more of them in order for them to keep on working because the body adapts and what used to work gets so that it doesn't work as well, and that her fear was that it would get so that she would reach a point where no amount of them would stop the pain, so she never took enough to completely mask the pain, but only enough to tone the pain down to where maybe she could stand it at least for a little while.
"So," she said, "what do you think if you had been taking drugs for FUN, just for the thrill of it...and you know that ALL the drugs that people take for FUN are derivatives of drugs that people need for REAL, or maybe they are actually the SAME drugs, and that the whole time you were playing with the drugs your body was adapting to them so that you needed more and more of them, so that if you had already maxed your body out on drugs for FUN, what would it be like if you got a disease like mine, or any one of all the OTHER disease that people can get that REQUIRE pain killers, but now the drugs won't work for you, how would you feel then?"
None of her children ever played around with drugs. And you wouldn't either. If you ever heard your mother crying in pain, or screaming, and you knew what was needed to make it stop, you would then be CLEAR on what these drugs were FOR. And so if you ever needed them, then maybe they would work for you. But otherwise, no imagined pleasure on earth could lure you into trying them and getting your body to the state in which you needed more and more of them in order for them to be effective at all. It was valuable to know that these things had a serious and very real PURPOSE and that having a THRILL was not what they had been developed for.
So what I am remembering right now is that basically ALL "illegal" drugs can, in some form, have a genuine medical use, so from the point of view of a country like Japan, even prescription drugs are "illegal" drugs if you DON'T have a prescription, or if you have more with you than you need for your medical condition. Being my mother's son, I've had some surgeries and I was given prescriptions for pain killers and I filled those prescriptions, but I only took them to the extent that I genuinely needed them, so I ended up with a lot of them left over. What if I brought into Japan some of those pain killers? I have no medical use for them right now, so from Japan's point of view, they would now be "illegal drugs".
If you are bringing prescription drugs into Japan, you have to also have with you current prescriptions from your doctor, your doctor also has to write a letter on his or her letterhead stationery explaining what conditions you have that require these drugs, and your prescriptions have to be in the bottles from the pharmacy they came from complete with their labels that have information that match who you are and who the doctor is, and you have to be bringing in the quantity that you NEED for the duration of your trip, not, say, an entire three-month supply like I have for four different medications because I buy them in three-months-for-the-price-of-two-months from my insurance company's by-mail prescription drug program. Any failure to comply with these rules just could with strong likelihood get you arrested right on the spot for illegal drug importation. At the very least, if they didn't arrest you for bringing illegal drugs into the country, they could impound and destroy the drugs that you brought in so then you wouldn't have something that you need. You would then have a hell of a time getting those prescriptions filled elsewhere, even in Japan, but certainly you would have problems getting them in some third world backwater.
So, peculiarly, in this suspicious "global war on drugs" age, a traveller can get into extremely serious trouble for simply having a medical condition that requires prescription medication. I have never had to do any of this before despite all the places I have been, but I don't know if it is because drugs laws have gotten way more strict elsewhere, or if it was because I didn't NEED to carry with me prescription drugs; either way, this is a danger I might have never known about or thought before until it was way too late.
As I understand it, it is best to have these medications and the prescriptions and the doctor letter WITH YOU in your carry-on bag. Having something like that in your carry-on bag is a good idea anyway, just because your checked baggage might get lost or delayed. But from the legal point of view, one might think at first that if they put their prescription drugs into their CHECKED baggage, then nobody would think you were "importing" them into the country where you had a stop-over or plane change, since you had no practical access to them. But checked baggage gets inspected, too, so I am not sure what they would do when they inspected your baggage down in some baggage inspection room, found those drugs, and you weren't there with all your letters and whatnot as an explanation of what you were doing with them. I think for all reasons, you must have those drugs and all the required paperwork there WITH YOU in your carry-on bag. Then it ought to be an easy matter to make it through whatever process they have. Since I see four occasions where all this might occur on this particular trip, I plan on having four copies of each paperwork item, in case their rules require them to KEEP a copy of the paperwork as part of their records.
A traveller must also do some research to discover what drugs can't be brought in no matter what. A person in such a situation may want to obtain from their doctor a substitute drug, or figure out some workable alternative, or simply not visit that country.
Another medical issue is what inoculations are recommended (or even required) in the destination where you are going? Fortunately this is something I thought of in time, but it ISN'T something that I have needed to consider for a long time (you don't need inoculations for Key West, Hawaii, or Las Vegas, for example!). It ends up that for Palau, I need to get inoculations protecting me from Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Typhoid. It is also the ten-year-time that I need an update on my tetanus shot. Additionally, where I am going there is a possible danger of getting Denge Fever for which there is no preventative medication other than mosquito repellant (25% to 50% DEET). I HATE wearing DEET, but now it looks like I will have to, at least in the jungle area that I am going. One of the parts of the trip I am most looking forward to is also the most dangerous, disease-wise, and that is that I have rented for two days and nights a beachside bungalow (fortunately, with kitchenette) in an isolated portion of the country with a jungle, waterfalls, a river, and native villages nearby. The beach is supposed to be outstandingly beautiful, white sand and clear blue water with excellent snorkeling and the owners of the place have free kayaks for the guests, to go paddling around in. It sounds like a wonderful place. This is not an expensive resort, but a family-owned facility; their correspondence with me (and traveler's reviews of them) demonstrate that they are extremely friendly and helpful and the place is a peaceful visit to an unspoiled tropical paradise. Even the paved route out to there is relatively new; it used to be just a dirt road that the car rental companies wouldn't even let you drive their cars on.
However, "unspoiled" may also be another word for "uncivilized". And, in a way, "uncivilized" could also apply to some sections of town, where I have now read (if you search beyond the glowing travel information) have sewage problems in that basically, sewage disposal means simply ditches along the side of the roads. I've already been through something like that in the so-called gorgeous (and phenomenally expensive) paradise of Bora Bora. I think it was none other than James Michener who described Bora Bora as having the most beautiful lagoon of any island system in the entire South Pacific. However, I can tell you that its beauty kind of pales when you are walking out in it (it's knee deep for thousands of feet) and human turds go floating by. Yes, from my personal observation, whatever sewage system they have empties right out into the lagoon. And one problem with that lagoon is that the passage through the reef that allows the water to go in and out is pretty narrow, so this beautiful lagoon is like a modern-day toilet that you have flush several times before you can finally empty it.
The truth be told that I actually hated Bora Bora. I very MUCH loved Moorea and Tahiti, but Bora Bora really was a shit hole. Even if it hadn't felt like swimming in an incompletely unflushed toilet, the water was SO SALTY (due to that same phenomenon of the all-but-closed up lagoon), that it made my skin crawl. All I wanted to do there was take a fresh shower. And my poor traveling companion contracted encephalitis, there. She thinks it was the mosquitos that flew in through the spaces in the thatched walls of where we slept; I don't know where encephalitis comes from and she's probably right, but I vote for whatever disease you can get from swimming in sewage. On the Carnival Cruise that I went on with my sister and her two children a couple of years ago, I got too sunburned the first day on the ship, so I stopped wearing a bathing suit and didn't want to go into any water. When we were at the beach in Ensenada, Mexico, I stayed under shade on the sand while my sister and her children went swimming in the ocean. All three of them got sick, but I did not. I remembered back to when I first did film extra work and had been envious of some of my fellow extras who had been in the movie The Titanic, that had been filmed a few months before I moved to Los Angeles. They did all their scenes down in Ensenada where James Cameron had built a movie studio in the water that had a workable scale model of a sinking Titanic ship. I thought it would have been fun to get a free trip to Ensenada and be in such a popular and well-loved movie. But no, they all said, I would have hated it. The only thing they liked about it were all the Coronas they got to drink in the evenings after the filming quit for the day. Otherwise, it was nothing but floating in the water all day, because they were playing drowning passengers. "Besides," they told me, "everybody got sick from being in sewage water all day...Mexico, you know...." Humm.
Thank goodness, though, concerning Palau, nobody writing any reviews for TripAdvisor or any other site ever mentioned getting sick in the water there (or from any other thing), and anyone who went out to any of the more isolated places just raved about the beauty of the water and the beaches and the friendliness of the people. None of the places where I am going in Palau is tightly surrounded by a Bora Bora type of reef, nor are they as heavily populated as northern Baja, so if THEY do empty sewage into the ocean, most of it must be quickly swept away by the tides. I hope so.
I wouldn't need one of the Hepatitis shots if I weren't going out there; the key to whether you needed it or not was whether all your meals were going to be eaten in urban restaurants (such as if you were a business traveler staying in town), or were you going to be eating in local areas. The place with the bungalows advertised that one could buy delicious meals from a neighbor to the facility if you gave them 24-hours notice. I told the owner that I would be cooking my meals while I was there (she told me where to find groceries in the main town before I drove out there) except for the first dinner, and for that, I would like to order from the neighbor. So that one "cooked by a neighbor in an isolated area" meal makes me have to have an inoculation for Hepatitis A or B, I forget which one of them it is.
Also, I probably wouldn't need the insect repellant if I weren't staying out there "in the jungle". But then, if I were that touchy, I shouldn't be going anywhere at all except to Disneyland.
Throughout all of Palau, one should only drink bottled water and not get anything with ice. I already went through all that in Mexico, TWICE during the three months I was vagabonding around that country (in the mid-80s). Despite my being as careful as I knew how, two things got me--the ice for a margarita (and at an elegant, Americanized hotel in San Miguel Allende for rich American tourists!), that was chipped from a block of ice (hint: block ice is filthy, whereas the cubed ice is made from bottled water and therefore safe), and lettuce that had been put on a tostada (that I took off and DID NOT EAT) made by a nun at an orphanage in Mexico City. All it took was for that lettuce to TOUCH the beans and I got Montezuma's Revenge. It's funny how in Mexico where I got sick was in the "civilized" places, but going into the tiny villages and mountain towns, I could even get tamales from street vendors with no problem. I think the difference was that if it LOOKED nice, I'd let my guard down. Can't do that.
But I can't but be unhappy over having to get the shots. I can tell my rational, intellectual self that I already have proven over and over again that shots don't really hurt, or if they do, they hurt for the tiniest fraction of time. They probably hurt less than all the times I had to have my blood drawn (every three months for several years); they probably hurt less than even getting my finger pricked (at a minimum of once a month, sometimes more frequently, for years and years) to check my blood coagulation levels. So why am I suddenly upset over having to get these shots? One of the hepatitis shots is even in a series of THREE (I hope BOTH of them aren't), but the Typhoid, that could be a shot or it could be pills, the doctor decides based on, what, I don't know.
I hate the idea of getting these things to the extent that as an adult, I did not keep good records because I wanted to put the while IDEA of them out of my mind. A Tetanus booster very ten years? Yeah, right! I felt much better "ignoring" that and therefore skipping the record-keeping, so instead, I never knew when I needed one and when I DID need one, I had to guess when the last time I had one was. Very bad, I know. Stupid.
Fortunately for this time, I DO have a record of when I had the last Tetanus shot, and it was exactly ten years ago. I had cut my hand on a sharp metal edge of a paper towel holder in a bathroom at school where I work and had to taken to the ER for eight stitches. That was a worker's comp injury, so my own personnel file at work had the date of that incident. I remember when the ER doctor gave me that shot, which further proves what a stupid fool I had always been about that subject. As he was talking to me, he reached in through my shirt and kind of lightly slapped his hand between my upper chest and shoulder. He seemed to have in his hand something like a round flat metal disc, but he did it all so quickly I didn't really "see" it. All I felt was a quick touch of his hand on me, I didn't even ask him a question, but I maybe looked at him quizzically; anyway, he simply said, "Oh, I just gave you a tenatus shot." There was NOTHING about it that was anything like a shot...no obvious syringe, no sense of needle, and certainly not even the feeling of a prick. Just his hand touching my body for a quick moment.
So why on earth do I feel queasy over all these inoculations? My father, who was in the Navy, had two rows of vaccination "circles" across his bicep (maybe 9 or 10 or 12 of them, like I have ONE of), like a row of military medals or maybe Boy Scout merit badges. Interesting that where he was a commanding officer of a naval base during World War II (Okinawa) is not too terribly far from where I am going (Palau); both were Japanese-controlled regions in the Pacific theater. I imagine there were a lot more diseases to watch out for in the 1940s but whatever devices were used to innoculate him and all the other naval officers and sailors were sure no "round flat metal discs" that were administered with a gentle slap of the doctor's hand. So for sure I can be brave like my Daddy, right, who truly NEEDED to be brave, when I have it easy, right?
But I understand the fear. Childhood traumas are likely to stay forever. I remember the polio epidemic and in 1955 when I was in first grade and we lived in Raleigh, North Carolina, North Carolina was one of the hardest hit. My oldest living relative, my father's first cousin, who is now in her 90s and in a nursing home, got polio back then. The woman I travelled with to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and French Polynesia (the one who got encephalitis in Bora Bora), someone I knew "my whole life" because her parents were best friends with my parents, her birth mother got polio and was in an iron lung. My mother was always so sad about my friend, because she would say to me that whenever she would see her, she would remember seeing her playing on the floor next to her mother in an iron lung. And then after her mother died (after only a few years), her father married his wife's sister, who always remembered that she had been "number two", and from then on, and especially after she had two children of her own, her adopted daughter, my friend, was the "ugly stepchild." So my mother always had a special place in her heart for my friend who never was lovingly mothered like she (and any child) should have been.
The first person I knew who was my age who died was a girl who had been GIVEN polio by accident (so the story went)...she was given either too many polio inoculations, or too much in one inoculation; at any rate, the shot that was supposed to create an immunity to the disease ended up GIVING her the disease. She lived all the way through (with withered, damaged legs) to her junior year of high school. She sat next to me in class every single day from our freshman year until she died. I felt the loss of her very deeply.
My algebra I teacher had had polio and he had lost a lung. When he taught, he would speak only on the outbreath, and would pause mid-sentence to breathe in. I loved him, and got As in his algebra class.
My sophomore year was geometry, then my junior year was algebra II.
For some reason, I was afraid of my algebra II teacher (a different math teacher from the one who had had polio) who was mean and cruel. As a result, I couldn't learn a thing from him and ended up with a D at the end of the school year. I almost always got As, so that D on my report card was a shock, particularly when I had gotten nothing but A's in algebra I. So I had to repeat algebra II my senior year, but fortunately, my teacher this time was the nice one from algebra I. He knew that I was learning the subject now and felt that I had a special knowledge because I also knew the pitfalls in the subject, where it wasn't clear, from having nearly flunked it the year before. Our class was in the last period of the day, that meant our teacher by then would be very tired from having had a day of speaking only on the outrbreaths with one lung, so he would ask ME to teach the class when he would get too tired to speak! Here I had gotten a D the previous year and now was taking over as the teacher! The other students loved it, because they really could learn it from me and I think a valuable principle in education is that often a course is taught best by someone who had trouble learning it. Maybe if it was easy for you, you can't understand why somebody would have trouble and therefore you can't teach it very well.
All this is to say that polio was a reality in the life of the people of my generation and the generation before us, and we understand the value of the polio vaccine. But oh what a trauma it was to have to get those shots, at least it was, in my experience (what a blessing it was when they came up with the oral, "sugar cube" medicine!).
I still feel in my bones what it was like to be in the first grade in Raleigh and to get that first polio shot, AT THE SCHOOL. All the students were lined up across the playground, waiting to move into the gymnasium where the shots were being given. Of course we were scared, we had no idea what it was going to be like inside those doors. Our fearful imagination would run wild; I am sure we had already had had some other shots by then, so the concept itself was horrifying, but this was so much worse because it was so PUBLIC, at the school, not quietly and privately in a doctor's office or maybe when you were sick in bed in your own bedroom in the days when doctors made house calls.
So those were the factors: "fear", (expected) "pain", and "public".
The addition of "public" as a traumatic factor may surprise some people, but as I write this, I realize I now have a greater understanding of that. North Carolina is the only state I ever went to school in that had corporal punishment. I think they still have it even today, even if most other states have outlawed it in the schools.
I never received corporal punishment in school, partly because I never deserved it (if any student does), and partly because (I later learned) that my parents had gone to the schools where I was enrolled and forbade them to do it. They instructed the teacher or principal that if I ever did anything that called for that, they were to tell THEM and they would take care of it. Of course, nobody never needed to report to my parents anything bad.
But I definitely believe in the concept that to witness a trauma is to suffer it yourself; you don't have to actually be a direct victim of it for it to affect you (maybe not as deeply, but you are traumatized by it, too). Such as with child abuse, maybe, as sometimes happens, only one child in a family of several children actually suffers regular child abuse. The others are left alone. Yet they suffer from it, too, anyway.
Some wise tribe in Africa, maybe several of them, have a saying, "To beat a child is to offend its spirit; the spirit goes away and it takes a lot of work to lure it back." Some people say that the spirit is what connects the soul to the personality, so that if the spirit is offended and goes away, it is as if the person has no soul. Yes, they have a soul, but there is no communication between that soul and the person living here on Earth. So this is a very serious thing. You have to be very careful with how you treat a child, you may actually damage their connection with their soul.
The first school I ever went to was a private school that went from kindergarten all the way up to graduation from high school, and also had a nursery school. I was in the nursery school, and the girl I described above whose mother had been in the iron lung also went to that school. She was older than I was, so she was one or two grades beyond me.
For some reason, I really liked her teacher, whether because of that connection with my friend she had a special importance in my mind, or simply because of some quality that I saw in her, herself, that made me like her so much, but whatever the reason, I developed the habit of going over there every lunch and giving that teacher one of my Graham Crackers (it was like a gesture of extreme affection). I wouldn't really visit her or play with my friend, I would just go ever there, say hi, and give her a Graham Cracker, which I imagined she received very graciously and joyfully. I work in an elementary school, now, myself, and I can tell you it means amazingly much if some child knows my name, says hi to me when I walk past, or writes me a thank you card or letter in response to something I have done (such as I read a story in the class or helped them on a field trip). It's the most precious thing ever.
However, one day I had gone over there to give that teacher a Graham Cracker and when I entered the classroom, to my great shock, I saw the teacher sitting down on a chair with my friend held down across her lap while the teacher violently beat her butt with a paddle. I don't remember there being any sound at all, no slaps from the paddle or shouts from the teacher or screaming from my friend, because I suddenly was thrown deep into myself as if I had slipped into a diving bell under the water; all my senses were muffled inside the helmet of my skull and I instantly slipped out of there and ran back to my own classroom. I never told anybody about it or asked anybody about it, I don't even know how much I understood about it or how aware I had been about my friend's situation in her home life which might have led to her acting out in some way or made this teacher's response to her particularly inappropriate. Only as an adult can I process how horrible this was, that this poor girl whose only connection with her mother was to play on the floor in the hospital next to her iron lung and then she died, and the step mother who took over treated her like she was an enemy to resent instead of a child who needed care and love. But children are phenomenally aware and sensitive in a spiritual way even if they maybe don't understand the facts, so on some level I must have viewed it as unimaginable that any possible behavior could have come out of my friend that deserved that treatment. And to me, the worst of it all was that somebody, anybody, could come in and see it (as I did, and then wished that I could disappear from it), that this painful, unjust thing was not private and hidden like the shameful thing it really was, but there on view to anybody.
Yes, beat a child and the spirit is offended and goes away and to witness the trauma is to feel it yourself; I could feel the feeling of my own spirit retreating into the silence that was inside my head, but of course living in a loving home like I did, the good atmosphere easily brought me back out again and it maybe even had been by own pre-school teacher who had brought me comfort, I don't know, but one thing I do know is that I never ever again went over to that teacher to say hi to her and to give her my Graham Cracker. I never laid eyes on her again and whether she felt the absence or not, I can say with assurance that that sweet, precious, generous, loving spirit that I represented was so offended that I permanently went away from HER!
And I later learned more about this kind of thing in other classes at other schools, particularly in the class of one second grade teacher who used the paddle every chance she could get, not only for behavioral problems, but as a public punishment for those who had trouble learning. She publicly paddled those students who would miss more than five words on a spelling test, and she'd take that paddle with her to every reading circle and she would paddle any student who would misread three words in the reading group. I wonder how many, if any, of those paddled students ever read for pleasure when they grew up.
What sickened me the most, and can almost make me vomit even today just to think of it, is, unlike me who shrank back away from the scene with the teacher and my friend, feeling deep within me that it was almost a sacrilege to have even been there to see it, how many fellow students in that second grade classroom LOVED it when this would happen, CRAVED for it to happen, and would with great excitement struggle there at their desks, craning their necks so that they could get a better view while I, alone among them, slipped down behind the back of whoever was in front of me so I wouldn't have to see a thing and I wished that I could also cover my ears; and when the person being beaten would finally cry out, I, too, would cry along with them. I knew that the teacher would continue beating them until they DID cry, so it was better for them if they cried sooner rather than later, but boy or girl, they held off as long as they could because when they cried their sense of pride was lost and their pride was more precious to them then their body and the need to save it from pain.
So that's why in the traumatic triad of the polio shots there was the "public" in addition to the "fear" and the "pain", because the "public" aspect of the "fear" and "pain" harmed the most precious quality of all, the child's pride. (So there is another lesson for schools...do absolutely nothing that harms a child's sense of pride, but how many schools actually work to aggressively DO that very thing?).
So there we were in line to get our polio shot, each one locked into our fear, and when we got closer to the gymnasium door, it only got worse, because now what we could hear every time the door opened was a torrent of screaming and crying coming from the children inside. I don't see how the emotions could be much different from those felt by cattle being led to a slaughter house.
And I remember once I got INSIDE! There was a long table covered with a (sterile?) white tablecloth and lined up along it were about twenty (I remember them as black and silver metallic) syringes with long needles sticking out of the end of them, and behind the table were several white-uniformed nurses filling these syringes by sticking the needles into the rubber ends of bottles of medicine and next to those nurses were a few more who would take the next child by an arm, roll up the sleeve or his or her shirt or blouse, wipe their arm with a frightening-smelling liquid (alcohol, I guess), and one of the several doctors would pick up one of the filled syringes and jab it into the arm of the swabbed boy or girl who either was already screaming or crying, or mortifyingly did once the needle entered their arm. The doctors would repeatedly say, "If you are good, you get a lollypop", and one of two final nurses standing by with lollypops would hand them out, saying "You get a green one!" or "You get a red one", etc., and the child receiving it would tear the clear plastic wrapper off and toss the wrapper into a wastebasket proffered by the very last nurse and then they ran to freedom out the back door.
I was too numb by all this to cry or scream, I remember for sure that I did not do either, nor could I tell you at all how the shot itself, actually felt, I don't know if I even felt it at all, but instead, what I finally did was vomit into the waste basket with all the thrown out plastic wrappers. I did not get a lollypop and, in fact, I NEVER EVER got "the lollypop" at any inoculation, public or private, because I was never "good". I always either vomited or fainted, and it wasn't until I was a freshman in college having to get some kind of a series of shots at the university's clinic, where at the first series they used a "gun" and I was so happy about that because it wasn't a needle, but it HURT like somebody punched you in the arm without a boxing glove on, so when I went to the clinic for the second dose of the series and you could choose to get it either from the gun or a needle, I CHOSE the NEEDLE and discovered that it didn't hurt at all!
It was ALL FEAR, and the only shot that I can ever say actually HURT me (that I can remember) was a penicillin shot that I had to receive not once, but twice, one in each "cheek", at a free public health clinic because some anonymous person who had gotten syphilis had given my name (along with several others, I imagine) as a sex partner and therefore I was either a potential donor or victim of the disease. The doctor said that it was safer to give me the shot than it was to take the time to test whether I needed it or not. But even in that case, it wasn't the needle that hurt, but the medicine, itself.
So I have since argued that most of the time, shots really DON'T hurt, but here I am, facing up to having to get several inoculations next week and I feel like I am in the first grade again. In the face of repeated past trauma, it is not the rational mind that has control.
Since I've mentioned having to get penicillin whether I actually had syphilis or not, and one of the Hepatitis shots (I was told by a friend) is for unclean food and the other is for unclean sex, for a trip like this, one might as well research the sex laws of their destination, as well. I don't expect to have sex with anybody, and I sure am not a "child sex tourist" (nor is anywhere I am going a place travelers go to with that intention), but this, too, can be a very serious and dangerous business. One needs to watch out for sexual solicitors who may be sex workers themselves, or may be agents procuring customers for brothels, or may even be part of legal "stings" looking to lure people into following them, only to take them straight into the clutches of waiting police officers and a sure imprisonment in hell. Sex is just about the last thing I would ever think to have in a foreign country, unless it would be with somebody I was traveling there with (nobody fits that bill), but even having sex with a partner you know, you ought to know what is legal and what is illegal in the places you are going. As I said, you won't be in Kansas, any more.
All this concept of "adventure" that has excited me these past weeks had come to me when I discovered my new favorite author of all time, Willard Price, which I discussed in a previous entry. I have now read the first four books of his boys' adventure series, Amazon Adventure, South Sea Adventure, Underwater Adventure, and Volcano Adventure. I now have all fourteen of them, but I am "controlling" the reading of them like DeBeers controls the mining and marketing of their diamonds. These books are too precious to me to simply race through them and be done with them quickly, so I am carefully savoring them and leaving some spaces between reading successive ones so that the whole of them will last me longer. I am pretty sure I will feel grief once I have read them all, to not still have more of them to look forward to.
Each one that I have read so far has been amazing. The first one I read, South Sea Adventure, the second book in the series, made me fall in love with the two brothers, Hal (19 years old) and Roger (13 years old) who are the heroes of the series. On the strength of that one book, which had been republished in the same volume with Volcano Adventure (I have no idea how the publisher decided to pair books together and as near as I could tell, they republished this way only six of the books), was enough to get me to buy all the others. While I certainly like and admire both of the boys (and believe that there really are boys like this, and also grown adults that I wish I knew), I have to say that I give a special edge to Roger, the 13-year-old brother, who is more mischievous yet his mischievousness leads to some of their best discoveries. But both of them are amazing, yet it is fun to give a special cheer to Roger's successes, since he is so earnest and what he accomplishes is often so unexpected.
I gave my volume of South Sea Adventure and Volcano Adventure to a boy named Sam who graduated from our sixth grade this year (there wasn't time to order him a good condition copy of that volume, so I explained why I gave him mine and ordered a replacement one for me). I had seen him in action during one of our two-night-overnight field trips, plus throughout this school year, and I felt that he exemplified the adventuresome spirit and moral strength of these books and these characters. He's also very smart and a great, well-rounded student; he will be going to our city's top prep school next year.
The very next day after I gave this gift and graduation card to his mother to give to him, he put in my school mailbox one of the very best thank-you letters I have ever received. He said that he was already on chapter 7 of the book and that he couldn't wait to read more. He told me about a part in the story that made him laugh out loud, and it was a part that had made me laugh out loud, too (in addition to all their other charms, the books are quite funny). He also was excited that one of the characters was his age, which happens to be the appealing 13-year-old. [If he continues reading the series after the second book in the volume I gave him (which will require some work on his part to find them), he will be increasingly impressed by that particular character, that I imagine he relates to.] He told me why he found the book inspirational and how he thinks it will help him be more confident that he will be able to pursue and achieve his dreams. In other words, if I were to write out instructions of how to write a thank you letter for any gift, he would have followed them perfectly: demonstrate that you like the gift by already putting it to use, be specific about something you like about the gift, and show that you understand the thought process that the gift giver had used in selecting that particular gift for you and how that was appropriate. What better way to say "thank you"?
So far, Volcano Adventure taught me the most about a subject I knew next to nothing about, and made me fascinated by this subject. Amazon Adventure was probably my favorite of the four books I have read so far and every step of the way was utterly fascinating. I really really really must take a trip to the Amazon! Also, it is amazing how the author does not sugar coat anything. I'm sure his books would be considered "inappropriate" by liberal blue nosed librarians these days. Actually, librarians are the people who are tough and fight for our rights, no librarians are into banning books! It is cowardly, weak parents and controlling ignoramus school boards who are the enemies of free speech and honest, empowering books for children.
I love it that these boys have and know how and DO use guns; in fact, I am using the detailed gun descriptions as guidance for myself if I were to ever buy a rifle. They aren't afraid to kill animals for food; they understand that meat is an essential part of the human diet. Since most of their adventures have to do with collecting specimens of animals for zoos and aquariums, they also are quite clear that there are animals that eat other animals. They had collected quite a phenomenal menagerie on their trip down the tributaries through Ecuador and Brazil that led to the mighty Amazon river--a vampire bat, a baby tapir, a boa constrictor (that gave birth to babies!), a rare kind of six-foot-tall stork, two different kinds of jaguars, a monkey, an electric eel, and an anaconda, among other animals; all kept in cages or in water or tied with a leash or via other methods-- and they had quite a job catching food for feeding these animals! (The vampire bat, for example, needed fresh blood. The anaconda was probably the easiest to feed, actually, for once it swallowed something like a deer, it was set for several days, maybe even weeks.) There is nothing in there that I viewed as ridiculous or beyond the powers of boys like them who have knowledge, patience, and courage. It was clear that they had fully studied about the animals they were likely to and hoped to find before they went, so they had good ideas of how to catch them, and then take care of them.
I also liked the plot structure in which the father, who initially led the excursion but certain circumstances intervened that made it so that the boys HAD to go on without him, there was no choice in the matter, this realistically led into the boys amply proving their resourcefulness and success that leads them to the other adventures where they no longer need the father, but there are often other adults, such as the volcano scientist or the underwater treasure hunter that they initially are in the employment of, but who somehow get incapacitated in some way which leaves the boys as the responsible parties, which is one of the main points of these books (another of the main points is to give to readers a love for and appreciation of animals and cultures and natural geographical conditions of the world whether that be an Amazonian rain forest, the Arctic, South Pacific islands, volcanoes, or under the sea, etc.
Another part of the "not sugar-coating" is that there are surprisingly bad people in these adventures, also. These are no "Raggedy Ann" books where those who start out bad get turned into good due to the goodness of the two dolls, Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy, who have "I Love You" candy hearts sewn into their cotton stuffing, which are girl's books in which love and nurturing is the most important ingredient. While certainly the two genders do, or should, share certain qualities, I have taken enough gender workshops to understand that there nevertheless are still fundamental differences between boys and girls, with very, very few exceptions.
Girls are circles and boys are arrows. Girls are embracing and keep a warm, loving hearth. Boys shoot outward and are focused, directed, and deadly sharp. Girls can stay in the center, like a proton, whereas boys buzz around the stratosphere like electrons. Boys have to go off to dangerous places and they have to watch out for and protect society from all the horrible things that want to kill, eat, or enslave us all. It does our society no good to feminize the boys or, worse, to SHAME them for being what Michael Meade calls "inferior or failed girls"; boys aren't girls, inferior or exemplary, but boys, and very good at being what boys are good at being. This particularly happens in school, which is more set up for the nature of girls (sitting in straight, neat rows and quietly listening to a female teacher drone on and on about trivialities) than it is for boys and so the boys are in danger of feeling stifled or bored or out of place in society as a whole. Girls learn by observing, whereas boys learn by doing, so they want to get up, go outside, and DO something! If they can't go do something productive, then they will go do something destructive.
So while there are girls who love these books, too, I think the girls may like them because girls like boys and these boys in these books are real boys the way boys are supposed to be. So far there have been no females in these books at all, other than the boy's mother, and the only sign of her has been one telegram from her back at their home on Long Island, which the father received from her in Brazil. She matter of factly reports that a competitor has set fire to and burned down all their outbuildings and killed their entire stock of rare animals, so the father has to rush home to protect her and leave the boys alone to go hire a crew of Indians to go with them down the Amazon so that they can continue to rebuild their father's rare animal inventory (since without them doing that, their whole family would be financially ruined).
Naturally, there are also agents of this competitor there in Brazil, so, in order to do what they have to do, the boys have to learn that there ARE bad people in the world so that they can be recognized, guarded against, and defeated. The boys in these books have learned that, but they operate with a balance that is kind of like a version of "trust God, but still tie up your camel." They are willing to give a person who their senses warn them may be bad the benefit of the doubt, but they nevertheless are on guard and set up protection for themselves, and when the bad person shows their hand, the boys are ready to act immediately without doubts. They would be willing to die for each other and for their friends, but they will do whatever is necessary to stop a proven enemy.
The more exciting the adventure, the greater the dangers, and for me, so far the scariest of the books is Underwater Adventure and I have been 100 feet underwater and I even have had SOME clues as to just how scary it can be (the fact is that I was nearly drowned in Australia due to a selfish and inconsiderate dive buddy and only careful self-control and a willingness to do what I had to do without utterly panicking saved my life). In fact, for me, the dangers too much outweigh the pleasures. So, some of that book was hard to read because it was just too realistic to even stand comfortably.
Imagine, for example (from the book), that you are on a job salvaging a priceless treasure from a sunken Spanish ship, not for your personal profit, but for the scientific and cultural benefit of a museum that is sponsoring and paying for your expertise. And you discover that somehow that treasure is being stolen, but you have no idea HOW or by whom. So everybody decides that they will have to divide up staying on guard throughout the night, whether they are a man in his early 20s, a boy 19, or a boy 13, and each ones shift lasting as long as the amount of air a typical aqualung (the word they used in the 1950s when this book was written) will hold. Basically, this means that each of the three of them will alternate keeping watch one at a time 100 feet down under water on this sunken treasure ship alone in the dark for an hour while the other two are asleep up above on their ship on the surface. So, if the first hour of being alone in the dark a hundred feet down under water wasn't scary enough, imagine having to go back down two more times that night, and then repeating the whole thing the next night and then the next and then the next! And for sure Willard Price describes all this with his extremely effective writing style; an experience that is about a hundred times worse than being alone in, say, a haunted house, because underwater, the sea creatures are REAL and way more active at night than they are during the day, let alone how wildly your imagination will be running and every single thing that passes, bumps into you, or chews on you will be scaring you to death! Oh, and you can't just curl up and sit there on the deck Indian style...that deck will be covered with very active things like octopuses that come out at night by the dozens and that also can, and will, eat a man...or a thirteen-year-old boy! So you must be constantly on guard in every possible direction.
But even with an upcoming adventure like mine, that compared to these things is as tame as tame can be, I could nevertheless find myself caught into something truly horrible. For example, the leader of this expedition gets killed simply by walking across a lagoon. He gets set up by a very bad person who trickily engineers this whole thing, but it realistically could happen to anybody simply going on vacation today. Without going into much detail, basically what happens is that during this trek across the lagoon, which is more like swimming rather than walking, but the water over the reef is shallow enough that a person could stop and stand there and rest for a while, the victim gets lured into doing just that and he happens to step right inside the open shell of a large clam (that the bad man knows is exactly there) and the clam instantly clamps shut like a bear trap and the man's leg is stuck in there. Unfortunately, the tide is in the process of coming into the lagoon, so if the man isn't freed from the clam, the water will soon be over his head. There is a way to be freed from such a clam if you have somebody with you who knows how and is willing to do it. They have to wedge their knife (if they have one) into a certain place (which takes some inspection with goggles to find where that is) and they have to cut their way in to where they can find a muscle deep inside the clam that operates like a hinge. They have to courageously stick their arm inside the clam, sever that hinge-muscle, and then the shell can be opened. This is all but impossible for the one caught to do by himself, and if the person with them actually wants the person dead, well...what a perfect murder for the one doing it, as this looks like a reasonable accident.
Palau is known for not only having huge clams everywhere, they even have a program of reseeding the reefs with clams that they start out as babies in a kind of fish hatchery, and then when they are big enough to survive in the wild, they are taken and "planted" all around on the various reefs and where they dig in become a permanent fixture. So this is particularly something I now know to watch out for, to not ever simply put my foot down without looking underwater to see just exactly what is under there, even when I am close to shore. The place where I am staying in the beachside bungalow, they say that there is amazing snorkeling right off the very beach (no need to go boating out to some special spot). Well, if the snorkeling is so marvelous that means that right off the beach is coral and an abundance of sea life and who knows what all (large CLAMS?), fantastic to look at, but probably not something to simply stop and stand on, or in, right? Right?
I am going to end this entry on the subject of "the dark side of adventure" by putting in a little excerpt from one of Willard Price's adult books that I am also reading. This is from his wonderful book, Adventures in Paradise: Tahiti and Beyond, published in 1955. (Remember, he, himself, traveled to 77 different countries.) Would somebody today experience traveling misery like this simply by taking a ship in a third world country? Well, maybe not any more on a journey to Bora Bora (nowadays, if you go to Bora Bora, you simply fly there from Moorea or Tahiti or some other French Polynesian island) but how about if you book passage from, say, Port Moresby, New Guinea (apparently these days the most horrendous seaport in all the world) to Bangladesh, where nowadays is one of the places old ships finally go to die? It's where ship-wreckers salvage whatever they can literally by cutting entire ships up into pieces by hand (there are few things more horrible in the world than dead ships ready to be cut up for scrap). I saw a documentary film on the subject and then later used Google maps to take a satellite look at the region. I was astonished by the immense number of dead ships, hundreds and hundreds of them, clearly seen in the satellite photo, waiting to be torn apart for scrap. To think that such ships would be in worse shape than this one described below, which was, after all, still taking human passengers instead of being used as independent ("mercenary") cargo carriers by pirates who had stolen them:
Here, by Willard Price:
"Make the Best of It--It's Terrible," says Mr. Noordman about the Benecia, the schooner we shall have to take to Les Isles Sous le Vent. And our Chilean friend, Carlos Garcia-Palcios says, "I don't think there's a lousier boat in China."
Nick Rutgers (James Norman Hall's son-in-law) went last week. The boat, scheduled to leave at 5 PM, left at ten, and instead of arriving at Bora Bora at five the next evening, got there forty-eight hours late. Adverse winds.
For another sailing, Mrs. Hall's chauffeur went to board the ship on Monday. Sailing was postponed to Tuesday. On Tuesday it was postponed to Wednesday. On Wednesday it was postponed to Thursday. Each day all the passengers were on hand at five PM and sent home again at eight or ten.
Anything can happen during the passage. Its not uncommon for a piston to go out and the ship wallows for twelve hours or more in the trough until repairs can be made, or a day or two until new parts can be brought from Papeete.
Danielsson says the vessel has holes in her bottom; the pumps have to be kept going continually. Nick says she also has holes in her top; the deck passengers are soaked with rain.
Dr. Wurfel, who chartered the boat for a medical trip and had it all to himself, found all the cockroaches on board concentrating on him. His cabin walls were black with them. They would get up his sleeve--he would try to pull them off--out would come a leg only. He didn't sleep a moment all night.
A ship on this run was lost a few years ago. Fuel was rationed and only enough was allowed for fifteen hours. Contrary winds came up. The ship was never heard from again, must have sunk with all on board.
It doesn't sound too inviting--but over against it is the irresistible lure of the islands so romantically called "the isles under the wind," Raiatea, Huahine and Bora Bora.
It's All That It's Painted. We were aboard the Benicia and find that our friends did not exaggerate.
We were fortunate to have a cabin. Of course we don't have it to ourselves and the occupants are of both sexes, but the women are allowed to undress first.
One of our companions is perpetually seasick--in an airless cabin! Door and window must be kept closed to keep out the sea which thunders against the bulkheads at every roll of the ship. So far the rest of us have refused to patronize the buckets for lost dinners that are hooked to the berths, but when we may succumb, who knows?
The bunks are very narrow--an advantage, because you can wedge yourself in. Still, a Pan-American pilot who sleeps up forward says he has had to tie himself into his bunk.
Of course all this is first class.
Up a muggy companionway are the third-class accommodations. They consist of simply the hard deck. This is jammed with seasick Chinese and Tahitians together with their dogs, cats and pet pigs, crates of chickens, strings of fish, bundles of food.
Eating and throwing up both go on continuously, and the smell of food before it goes down and after it comes up is hard to bear.
The Chinese are the worst sufferers. They eat a tin of corned beef, throw it up, immediately eat another tin, and keep this going ad nauseum.
Still, third class is preferable in one way to first class, because the deck, though roofed, is open at the sides and therefore well ventilated, at least in theory. In practice, the fumes from the engine and the fug of food have a way of lying in stagnant pools behind the forward bulkheads in defiance of any breeze that happens to be blowing. It's worst, of course, when the breeze is with the ship and can't quite catch up.
Leaving Papeete at eight PM (only three hours late) we spent a night that seemed approximately five times as long as usual and arrived at Huanine in the early morning. We went ashore to the Chinaman's for some black coffee and bread. (Benicia serves no meals.) The beauty of the island revived us. Huahine had everything--high mountains, deep bays, islets, irregular coast, blue lagoon, barrier reef. Everything but food.
It was three in the afternoon before we reached Raiatea and staggered into a Chinese restaurant. The town, Uturoa, is pretty though thoroughly Chinese. After lunch we got a car and drove out to a marae, native temple, reputedly nine hundred years old and made of twelve-foot stones. The heads of thousands of victims sacrificed to the gods were deposited here.
Back to the ship, and now we are within sight of the great Gibraltarlike rock of Bora Bora, silhouetted against the sunset.