Journey to the Sinking Lands

A witness to the world's first evacuation of an entire people due to climate change

Safe and soaking wet

Back, back on the mainland, and pathetically grateful for it. I really did not enjoy that boat ride. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best idea to chance it and run the gauntlet of a tiny gap of good weather between two storm fronts. Not that I was thinking that at the time. No, all I was thinking on the ride itself was ‘If I get out of this alive I’ll be a happy man’.

The boats they use here are just not built for bad seas, and they handle them badly. They call them banana boats; about 10 metres long, low to the water but crowded high with luggage, a single outboard engine, out of sight of land, with no radio and only one lifejacket between nine of us. Every time we hit a wave we took off – I swear we were completely airborne at least once – before crashing down, hard. It was all up to the skipper, if we hit a single one of those crowding waves at the wrong angle, I think we would have flipped over. And the worst part was, these weren’t even big waves. About 1 metre I reckon (measured from the back) and I knew the sea could do better than that. If it had, I wouldn’t have fancied our chances.

But we made it. Our skipper stood resolute throughout, one hand on the outboard, the other braced with a rope to help him keep his feet. I bought him a bottle of whisky afterwards to congratulate a job well done. A ride like that puts a lot of things in perspective. For a start, the boat I was travelling in is the same the islanders use for medical emergencies. Imagine it; you’re sick, maybe malaria, or a difficult labour. You need to get to hospital but your only chance is a three-hour boat ride and no idea if you will make it at all. And that’s if the weather allows you to even set out.
Still, for now, I’m back in Buka. And I’m going to have some fruit, wash myself, wash my clothes and have a beer. Not necessarily in that order.

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1 Comment»

  Ken Taylor wrote @

This is “the journey of a lifetime” from which you made two BBC documentaries and on which you based a series of public talks and you were there only two weeks? This is not enough to even settle in. You can’t learn about a place and culture that quickly, you can’t get past your initial prejudices, you can’t learn how people think and you can’t absorb the atmosphere. I read a lot of your posts before I discovered the blog entries from the days at the Carterets and it was not what I expected.


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