Saturday, October 20, 2007

Midnight at Auki

We arrived late into the port of Auki. The ferry slowed and the stern got caught in its own wake, lifted it up and tipping us forward in a slow motion pitch. Initially we could see nothing but eventually a row of lights on the dark water or hanging in the sky (each was not able to be discriminated between) pointed in the general direction. A vague hint of island on the horizon proved to be imagination only – it was simply too dark to see anything. When we finally docked it was midnight and the tide was low – the ramp up to the end of the jetty was a steep climb.

Auki was a revelation. Hot. Dusty. Dark. Shadows flitted under lamps and the laughter of relaxed and drunk people jolted out of the dark. We could hear them but not see them. The lights illuminating the streets were low wattage and few and far between and initially we were hesitant to walk up what looked like a wild west movie set. But eventually thirst drove us into town and we found a shop up a back lane open. Despite the hour – it was now after midnight. He and his numerous assistants were serving warm drinks but with nothing on the shelves to advertise whether he was a hardware store or a food store. We bought our softdinks and some for the others and wandered back through this strange ghost town to the wharf. A melee still kept us from unloading our gear but eventually the crowd cleared enough for us to get our truck out. And another one in to pick up the extra hospital beds. None of the locals were in a rush. And clearly the arrival of the ferry was a big deal, the cause of much laughter, lots of greetings and some singing. But what a strange town Auki is at this time of the night. Ghost town. Wild West set. A strange orange, hazy glow hung around the itinerant street lamps but most of the place is in darkness, the deep velvet outside the main street only broken here and there by the soft, weak glow of a turned down wick of a kerosene lamp. And each of those signals a crowd sitting around laughing and talking. Smoking and drinking.

April 2003


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