Aganoa Beach Retreat & Rainforest reserve - Palauli Village - Aganoa
The birds’ symphony orchestra plays a gentle upbeat classical piece; the geckos finish their night shift with a few heavy slurps and gulps; a slightly cool breeze rustles the mosquito net, with a hint of perfume from the flowers of the rainforest. I absolutely adore mornings in the Pacific. In Europe I am certainly a night bird – a person who never wants to sleep at night and never feels like getting up in the mornings. But in this part of the world I am most definitely a morning person (I even find myself setting my alarm for 5.40am so that I don’t miss the best of the early morning sights, sounds and smells). At 6.30am everything seems good in the world, and the beach, the rolling waves, all look the more stunning in this subtle early morning light as I kick dead pieces of coral in the direction of the shoreline during my fifty yard stroll to breakfast. The coffee might only be instant but damn does it taste good at 7am with these views, the early morning sun light, the birds singing their morning chorus and the waves crashing angrily on the reef. Three mugs of coffee, scrambled eggs on toast, a plate loaded up with fresh papaya and pineapple. You can’t beat this. Especially on a Sunday morning. Life feels good today.
After breakfast I’m off to church. Six villages are attending a Christian Congregational service in one church in Palauli today, about five kilometres up the road from the rainforest reserve. All present are dressed in white colonial cricket whites from head to toe: white lavalavas (sarongs), white collar shirts and, in the case of the ladies, elegant white summer hats. All are immaculately white, not a crease in sight. Some of the young ladies look so pretty in their long dresses. Even the interior of the church is the same virginal colour with white sheets decorating the altar. The only exceptions to the all-blanc rule seem to be a couple of the young preachers and three or four of the old school seniors present. One of the preachers is wearing a Miami Vice (circa 1982) linen suit with black shirt and, yes, white tie. He looks like a Panamanian drug cartel leader (circa 1982) as he preaches hell and damnation. The church is full. I’d estimate that each row has on average 30 chairs, and it must be 40 deep to the altar. That would make it 1200 punters present. Ulrika and I park ourselves outside on the steps as it is chocker inside. I am dressed in a t-shirt and lavalava. Its colour (red) does make me rather stand out in a congregation of 1200 people. I like the lad sat just behind me. He must be in his sixties, certainly with a bit of power to his name judging by the reactions of others to his presence. And there he sits wearing a snazzy pair of sunglasses, chain smoking his way through the service, blinged up like he’s Big Ron, the one and only Ron Atkinson. Even his stripy kipper tie has an air of nonchalance about it.
I reckon a good ten per cent of the congregation are asleep during the latest of many sermons. When the preacher cracks a joke and sends a roar of laughter around the church the chuckles manage to awaken those who were briefly attending Slumber Land. With singing so important to the good people of the Pacific, Ulrika and I were expecting this service to be heavy on the hymns and light on the word of God, but instead it all feels rather solemn; the only hymn during our 45-minute stay is sung exclusively by the 30-strong choir sat near the back of the church.
The vision of everybody promenading out of church in their best whites and legging it for the local wooden buses and taxis is a sight to behold, as too is the procession of white-dressed locals hurrying off down both sides of the main road in the direction of home, like spectators from a sports match just after the final whistle. One thing that fascinates me is how there are so many variations of the same Christian religions around the world. For example, if you take Roman Catholics, you will find the religion to be strict on the details and central to political life in Spain; submerged in nationalism in Poland; conservative to the point of prudish in Germany; engines-a-revving ready to zoom off to the pub to gossip about everybody as soon as Mass finishes in Ireland; enthusiastically singing praise to Jesus in Kenya; intermingled with animist beliefs in southern Mexico; and informal, distant from the Vatican and less dogmatic in England. In the Pacific you’ve got a time warp colonial take on all Christian religions, including Catholicism. Here, the rituals and the dress code, it seems, are more important than they are in many other parts of the world where they practice the supposedly same religion. This is the world we live in. Nothing is quite as it seems and is supposed to be. There is no such thing, as far as I am concerned, as a stereotypical Christian, Muslim, Jew, Pagan or Hindu. In every corner of the world you will find a different take on the same belief systems.
I take back everything I wrote yesterday about being (half) ready to go home. Today, the weather is perfect. The sun is back, the storm clouds have gone, and the sea breeze is like a temperature gauge set to the optimum. I am able to air my clothes and repack those things I no longer need for my remaining days. And no, I really don’t feel like leaving the wonderful Pacific any time soon. Tune of the day: Bring Back the Sun by John O’Callaghan. You can apply the words of this euphoric dance tune to the sun in the sky or the happiness in your life. Either way it feels good – no, wonderful, in fact - that the sun is back today. This feels like the most Sundayish Sunday I can recall in a very long time.