Up to New Britain, PNGs
Our time in Papua New Guinea has been the apogee of our voyage.
We have been awed by the warmth of the villagers throughout
the country and the glory of the geography - active volcanoes
spewing smoke and sulfur, anchorages inside ancient volcanic
craters, water so pure that the colors are indescribable. We
have been here for 4 ½ months and have cruised most of
the off-lying islands. There are so many, and one could spend
a lifetime here and never anchor in the same spot twice. But
Papua New Guinea is not an easy place to navigate. The charts
are few and most of them are not correct. There are many offshore
reefs and shoals; one must keep a bow watch while near shore
at all times; and many of the anchorages are over 100' deep.
We started in the Louisiades, a beautiful group of islands protected
by a huge barrier reef system. We then went through DeBoyne
Islands, Conflict and Engineer Group, D'Entrecasteaux Islands,
Amphlett Group, Trobriand Islands, then up to New Britain, cruising
the southern and northern coast, before spending three weeks
at Walindi Dive Resort. Then to New Ireland, where we were welcomed
by the locals in the New Hanover Group, and in Kavieng, where
we enjoyed the hospitality and beauty of this small harbor town.
Then briefly through the Admiralty Group, and we are now in
the Hermit Islands.
There have been times when we thought of writing to you and
saying "Hey, you want to feel like a movie star? A celebrity?
Try this!" Often, when we go to a new anchorage and village,
we are the center of attention. And as we become friendly and
interact with the people whose world we have stepped into, we
become quite popular. Sometimes this is simply because we take
an interest in them and their village, sometimes it is because
we have stuff that we give to them, or trade with them. But
99% of the time, it is simply mutual admiration and trust. I
know that this interaction is not unique to this part of the
world, that this feeling can be felt anywhere, but this is where
we have come to learn about it.
It is hard to describe the remoteness and beauty of this untouched
part of paradise. The people are still living a simple traditional
village life with very little influence from the Dim-Dim (white
man). The people really have very little, but they and their
children are very happy, well-fed and healthy, with only occasional
cases of malaria.
We have been so immersed in this region and the local life
that often we forget how different it is from the life we left
behind. Here there are no roads, cars, phones, computers, electrical
power, televisions, radios, refrigerators, and stores. They
use self-built traditional sailing canoes for transportation.
The people we met often have face tattoos and red teeth from
chewing betel nut. Sometimes they wear clothes that are so full
of holes you would not even use them for rags. They rarely have
shoes, they cook over wood fires, and they get their water from
streams or rivers or collect it from rooftops. They grow all
their own food in their gardens and fish for their protein.
They have very little cash, and little need for it. Usually
their biggest expense is school fees for their kids. This they
can earn from harvesting the sea cucumber to sell to the Chinese
trading boats. Other products that they can sell are trocchus
shells (for making buttons) and shark fins (for making shark
Everyone's life is woven together. Relatives are neighbors
and everyone, in your village and the next, or the next island
over, who speaks your dialect (there are over 800 languages
in Papua New Guinea), expects you to share everything with them,
burdens as well as abundance. This is called the wontok system.
We are always welcomed and are free to enjoy the children, hold
the babies, enter their humble homes, speak to the grown-ups
about school fees versus taxes, and if we are lucky, we sense
what they need and do our best to fill that - malaria medicine,
clothes, dive masks, cigarettes, rice and tea and sugar, fish
hooks and line. We always have candy and balloons to hand out
and bubbles to blow and share with the kids (and adults!), and
the greatest invention of the last century - the digital camera
- has given us a popularity that perhaps we do not deserve.
They love having their pictures taken and then to see themselves
instantly on the tiny screen. They usually bowl us over crowding
in for a look. What fun!