In my diary I wrote of an incident that happened to me personally, and it only added to the mystery and my bewilderment of the place:
I got quite lost one night. It happened after most people had gone to bed. I went to the beach for business purposes [a beach area is designated as bathroom facilities in each village].
Following the usual trail, which was about 100 meters from the beach, I somehow wandered off without realizing and was walking for a short time through some brush, which I later found out to be a Marou plantation, of a neighbouring village.
I kept on, convincing myself that I wasn’t lost since I kept finding narrow trails. I followed several for a short while, until they suddenly ended. I turned around to see if I could retreat, but everything looked the same in all directions. I had to continue to make my way through the brush, which was sharp and very thick.
I was getting scraped and scared as I went on ducking my way through, guided by the dim moonlight and my headlamp. I imagined what would happen if my headlamp went out, and I’m sure I would have panicked. I was as close to panicking as I have even been in my life as it was.
Finally, admitting to myself that I was lost (and talking to myself out loud at this point), I stopped and could hear the sound of the Pacific waves nearby. The tide was coming in. I decided to go for the beach and find some bearings to guide me back to where we were camped.
I came out in a small cove I didn’t recognize, and considered sleeping right there until daylight, since I didn’t know where to go. But then I saw some lights across the small bay.
I started for them, relieved that I had finally found my way. After a few minutes of walking though, I thought the lights might just be fireflies luring me into the darkness of the forest so again I stopped. Then I heard human whistling. What a wonderful sound! I guessed it was someone from our camp or some villagers at Makia [the village we were in] realizing I was lost, so I started with renewed hope and energy.
To my surprise, it turned out to be five children, about 12 years-old and younger. I asked them what the name of the village was, thankful that I had learned Pidgin by that time. "Marau," they replied. I had no idea where Marau, was and I said I was headed for Makia.
"Iu savy now how fo go lo der?" they asked.
"Nomor!" I replied.
To my great appreciation, they offered to guide me back. It took close to a half an hour. The next morning I had to think a bit, and re-orient myself before I could believe that the entire episode wasn’t just a bizarre dream.
I was reluctant to tell anyone about my adventure, but when I did I was told that another guy in our group went to the beach earlier that evening and ended up in the same place trying to get back.
I talked to him about it, and he felt as disoriented as I did and said it might have something to do with a magnetic pull underground that would cause you to lose your sense of direction, like the Bermuda Triangle effect. I have no idea about the truth to that, but I do know I lost all sense of orientation, and I had a very uneasy feeling about the area from that point on, yet I was intrigued by the experience.
Another occurrence that represents the culture more suitably happened one evening when we were getting ready to cook.
Fred had told me that he could start a fire with sticks, which I knew was possible but had never seen. He went to look for a certain type of stick and came back a few minutes later. Margaret went to gather large sand crabs while I got some firewood together.
Inside the leaf hut, Fred knelt on the ground and held the stick between his two open hands. The bottom of the stick rested on another piece of wood. He started to turn the stick back and forth like he was rubbing his hands together. He was at it for about 10 minutes when I suggested stopping. He said no; some dust had gathered on the soft wood.
A moment later, a thin stream of smoke rose. He gently blew on it as he continued turning the stick. More and more smoke rose, until there was finally an ember of light. He fed dried leaves to it and started the fire.
In the meantime, Margaret had come back with crabs she had found on the beach, and some coconuts. I cracked them as she told me to do, and poured the coconut water into a pot. She put the live crabs in the pot and put it over the fire. The meal also consisted of cassava pudding and was simply delicious! And Fred and Margaret didn’t even need a single match to cook the wonderful meal.
Read Part 4