Dispatch From The Sandwich Islands – 2013 Edition

Great pardon is requested on the extreme delay in filing this Dispatch.  As you will read, however, it should be understood that there was an incident that needed to be processed and, with expanse of space and passage of time, can now be relayed to you in a more satisfactory manner.

The mission began in early September of this year, though it was planned for with some care over the preceding month.  The course was set to permit a rendezvous in The Sandwich Islands and pick up the expedition where it was left off the year prior in the search for the edge of the world.  Having discovered its location in our quest up the mountain on our last expedition, we were determined to take a different approach and, this time, find the other side to the edge of the world.  One half of the party would embark from the Empire of Japan – Tokyo City to be precise – while the other would depart from our Imperial Capital.  For my part, the voyage from the Imperial Capital was made all the more interesting as a result of a conversation with the author of an autobiographical political drama.  Her account of growing up among one of the families of power of a Pacific island nation was remarkable.  Harrowing accounts of nighttime raids on her home, of being subject to arrest, and escaping with her life, presented a truly remarkable and colorful history that would make for a captivating motion picture.  Cordialities and calling cards were, of course, exchanged.

East and West arrived on the same day in the islands within hours of each other.  A ritual visit to – and refreshing dip in – the mighty Pacific Ocean was made shortly after touchdown.  The temperatures were mild and the sun illuminating.  After a rest from the long journey, a grand banquet was held to celebrate arrivals near and far, anniversaries of birth, send-offs onto the next stage of life.  Enormous quantities of fresh seafood were provided, along with amazing displays of the living and thriving creatures.  The next day was filled with meetings and a visit to the leeward side at night to find an old resident friend and hear his discourse on those two favorite topics of conversation – religion and politics.  He did not disappoint.

The next morning saw the start of the day of departure for the outer island where we would continue our journey from where we left off the previous year.  We enjoyed a hearty breakfast that included the island’s well-known Portuguese sausage and good coffee.  In the afternoon we had the opportunity to meet up with one of my former students from the university who was now posted in her homeland.  It was a splendid treat to see each other again after many years and travels.  Issues of the day were discussed with full intellectual vigor and local sustenance, and it was a joy.  Finally, we were delivered to the aerodrome where we boarded our French twin-engine turboprop for the voyage over the sea to our destination.

We climbed toward the clouds and could see the ancient, dormant volcanoes below.  A land full of history and ancient culture could still be felt when looking down from the heavens.  Night had not yet arrived when we set down on the smaller, outer island.  We were hosted at the same accommodations as in the prior year, on the southeast corner of the island.  We were immediately welcomed by tropical refreshment and traditional island dance.  It as if we had come home, or as if we had never left.  So appreciative we are of the old world tropical feel of our “home base” with its classic design, wooden shutters, and understated but civil refinement.  Exploring one side of the island later that night led to various and sundry distractions, yet we found that much was quiet in the evening of the town.  Was there foreboding?

In the morning we arose to the crowing of roosters parading in the courtyard below.  Making our way down to the shoreline, an examination commenced of the fauna at the divide between land and sea.  The observations were cut short, however, as the rough waves and wind of the Pacific moved in.  After a hearty breakfast we prepared ourselves for the quest that had brought us half way around the world.

Making our way north, there were a number of majestic waterfalls that demanded a moment to take in their dramatic exclamation point on the surrounding topography.  The beauty and roughness of the land was accentuated by the exotic nature of the flora.  Not only were there remarkable natural sights, but we also came across ancient remains of agricultural activity and, indeed, a religious temple.  The sacred site was observed from its outer perimeter with due respect for the culture that created it.  With each mile new areas were explored and as we moved north we eventually made the rendezvous at the northernmost lighthouse that would serve as our beacon to head west.  At this resting spot there were myriad seabirds whose homes were perched on cliff faces looking out to the endless water to the horizon.  Last sentries before the unknown.

After a break in the shade during the hottest part of the day, we journeyed westward through small settlements and sought our goal of reaching the other side of the edge of the world.  We found that the entrance to this enchanted land is marked by an expansive cave – deep and dark.  This amazing natural wonder led to remarkable exploration, but being in danger of beginning our trek too late, we had to continue on.  Eventually the trail’s end was reached, and the march through the jungle began.  The going was difficult with volcanic rocks piled one on top of another in the thick forest.  Further along, the foot trail wound uphill – difficult and hot.  A guide native to the area advised that we should not remain in the jungle beyond nightfall, as doing so could be quite dangerous.  Progression led us up along steep cliffs alternating between thick tree cover and blazing sun.  The surf below crashed into the shore with such force that it sounded like the roar of a ship’s canon close aboard.  With each turn of the coast, high about the rocky shore, we anticipated reaching the promised land.  But each time there was disappointment in learning that there was further yet to go.  We began to mark the position of the searing sun in the sky and calculated the time it would take to return to the trail.  Time points were set for when we would be forced to turn back, failing to reach the objective after having come so far.  Would we have to wait another 6 months to a year for conditions to be right?

At one point, bearings were taken and calculations made.  We could move forward only for another 7 minutes before it would be necessary to turn back.  It was then that we turned the bend of an outcropping and there, before us, stood the high green mountain illuminated in the late day sun.  Below was the river that wound its way down from the heights to the raging surf.  In the fading sunlight, we knew we had reached our destination.

The round volcanic boulders at the mouth of the river were a reminder of an ancient past that spewed forth to both create this island and to then tumble the rocks and lava toward the sea.  To our great displeasure, we could not tarry long as the sun was fading.  We did explore the tremendous surf and we were heartened by the fact that we had made it to our destination on the first of the two days allotted for the attempt.  We were already hot, tired, and sweaty from attempt, and the return would turn out to be the greater challenge due to our condition and the requirement that we move quickly.  The setting sun would be directly upon us on the trail of return.  Sweaty and sore we re-traced our steps in the race against the sun.   Step by step we inched closer back, encountering a big black rat along the way.  Again, with each turn around a bend we hoped to see the shoreline and beach of the trailhead and it seemed that with each disappointment the concern grew that we would not make it back before sundown.  Finally, around one turn we saw our destination down below.  The shadows were starting to grow long, and it was a steep decline that would test the strength of our knees, but a chorus of birds in the bushes celebrated our return and cheered us on.

While we arrived much later than anticipated and could not spend long at the place long rumored – the other side of the edge of the world – there was great satisfaction in having achieved the goal and with pride we exclaimed that noble phrase, “Mission Accomplished!”  Darkness quickly fell and we began to make our way back to the nearest village where we enjoyed guava juice and ice in order to re-hydrate and plates of wonderful pork.  Afterwards, in the moonlight we continued on our way to our home base.  Upon arriving very late we swam in the warm and sandy pools under the stars and moonlight to refresh the joints and ease the sore muscles.  The palm trees swayed in the breeze by the coast, and we enjoyed the soft illumination of torchlight.  Victory for the day.

Dear reader, I could leave you with the success of that day or I could continue on to tell you of our exploits afterwards which included a return to the coffee plantation (certainly!) or venturing into the leeward side with its moonlike landscape, and then our return to the main island and our departure for the Imperial Capital to file this report.  I shall take the road less traveled by, and do neither.  Instead, let me tell to you my remembrance of a brief encounter after arriving back on the main island, which has stayed with me since then.

A few days before departing for the mainland, we had just finished our lunch in a traditional Vietnamese dining establishment and had stopped at a corner.  We were surrounded by the traditional buildings of the neighborhood, that were likely at least a century old, when I turned to look in the window of the merchant’s shop on the corner where we were standing.  A man saw me as he was coming out of the door onto the street.  He was approximately my height with short dark hair and a kept beard.  He greeted me and then immediately said, “That is an interesting cross you are wearing.”  Normally not observable, I do regularly wear a cross that I obtained from the Sretensky Monastery (Сретенский монастырь) in Moscow on my first trip to Russia.  The monastery is one of the oldest in Russia, founded in 1397, and was closed by the communists in 1925.  It was reopened in the 1990s and has been beautifully restored.  The cross is an unusual, highly detailed and modern design in gold and silver.  The cross is small and formed by a triptych of gold with different scenes engraved in silver on both front and back.  When I saw it in Moscow, it was one of those moments when I just knew that it would come back with me as a remembrance of my journey there.  Do not pass those moments by.  Seize them.

So the gentleman asked me about the cross and how it had come into my possession.  He then showed me his cross, a crucifix, which had the appearance of electroplated gold that was simply too lustrous.  It had been purchased from a local church and he claimed that it was in fact gold.  After inquiring as to my name, he then announced that in fact he was named after the one who mentored and sent Timothy forth.  Paul was his name, and he was Roman by faith.  I explained that I was Eastern in regard to belief.  Two thoughts entered into my mind as we stood on this old street corner in the mid-day tropical sun.  First, he seemed like an interesting and unusual sort and, thus, the kind with whom I on occasion converse.  Second, I was troubled by the sensation I felt.  It was then, without warning, that he made a proposal.  “Let’s exchange crosses.”  Any student of Russian literature would immediately recognize an important scene based on just such a request.  In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel “The Idiot,” written in the late 1860s, Parfyon Rogozhin proposes that he and Prince Myshkin exchange crosses.  In the book, Rogozhin’s cross is gold and Myshkin’s is tin, though the drunken soldier he bought it from told him it was silver (Myshkin purchased it, knowing this was not so).  For those looking for the scene in your home copy of the novel, it is found in Part 2, Chapter 4 (pages 201-205 in the 1956 Constance Garnett translation – which has a depiction of the two crosses intertwined on its cover).  Here is that exchange:

“Lyov Nikolayevich [Myshkin]!” Parfyon [Rogozhin] shouted from above when Myshkin had reached the landing.  “Have you that cross you bought from the soldier on you?”

“Yes,” and Myshkin stopped again.

“Show me.”

Something strange again!  He thought a moment, went upstairs again, and pulled out the cross to show him without taking it off his neck.

“Give it to me,” said Rogozhin.

“Why?  Would you …” Myshkin did not want to part with the cross.

“I’ll wear it, and give you mine for you to wear.”

“You want to exchange crosses?  Certainly, Parfyon, I am delighted.  We will be sworn brothers.”

It was one of those times, dear reader, in which many thoughts go through one’s head very quickly and you search and search for the right response.  Is this person knowledgeable about the scene in the novel?  Is this person a Rogozhin?  I am no Prince Myshkin, but what would be the effect of the exchange?  Was it merely symbolic in the novel, or was a real bond created at that point in the story that caused them to be inextricably linked from that point forward – to their great detriment?  As in “The Idiot,” the crosses were of different material and design; the twist here was that mine was the real cross and his was the fake.   He was persistent and I was curious to see if any hint to the story would come out.  There was the odd sensation that one has suddenly been thrust into a novel in the living moment.  I, however, was very aware of the scene.  I knew that Prince Myshkin’s bond to Rogozhin (and N.F.B.) was his eventual undoing.  I knew that Rogozhin’s desire for brotherhood was so clouded by his own desire and demons that it created a distortion out of everything in his life.  Paul persisted, and I demurred.  The remembrance from the monastery was something with which I would not part; as Myshkin did not want to part with the remembrance of the drunken soldier.  But he did.  And his life was changed by Rogozhin.  Paul mentioned his great abilities to show us around the island, to take us out into the surrounding waters.  By now, however, the image of Parfyon Rogozhin was firmly fixed in my mind and the only reasonable avenue remaining was one of departure.

We took our leave.

Please accept this Report and Observations from the Sammich Islands.
Respectfully and humbly submitted, this 11th day of November, in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Thirteen,
By my hand,
Rdr. Timothy J. Keefer, Esq.