Musket blong piccaninny

(rough pidgin translation: child’s gun/speargun).

Current position: 2 degrees 28 South, 141 degrees, 52 East. Second day on passage to Vanimo, we’ve been lucky to pick up on what looks like SE tradewinds (albeit strangely close to the equator), and we’re having a lovely downwind run in brilliant sunshine with 10-15 knots of wind plus a small favourable current, flying the gennaker all day and coasting along at 6-8 knots. Lovely calm sailing. Looks like we’ll make a nighttime landfall tonight.

If there was ever a place to make you re-evaluate your over-protective parenting style, it’s here in PNG. 3 year olds nonchalantly wander around with huge bush machetes, hacking at things with apparently all digits still intact. 4 year olds happily climb 20 foot coconut trees without an upward glance from their Mums, and on the water not a lifejacket or buoyancy aid in sight. Nor a parent, most of the time.

Gabriel, always keen to catch fish, has been an eager accomplice on spearfishing dives, and we’ve got into a pattern of Fred and Gabriel going off spearfishing together. So it’s only been a matter of time before we’re faced with the question…how old should you give a child a gun? On Gabriel’s tireless insistence, we’ve tried making some type of bermuda spear from an old fishing rod and bungy cord, but two or three attempts later and it still doesn’t work. Along came our village friends.

Necessity being the mother of invention, it’s amazing what the villagers living in remote islands come up with. The spearguns used here are made so: the stock is carved from hardwood, copper piping is used for the release mechanism and guiding barrel, thick steel wire for the spear, wide rubber tubing for loading,and the trigger is steel fashioned from parts of, well, anything really. This one came from an old refrigerator. All held together with fishing line. They look like an classic old 19th century musket (in fact, pidgin for speargun is musket) with a strong hint of the Smith & Weston rifles from cowboy films, and they work amazingly well.
One of our new friends at the Hermit Islands asked Gabriel whether we had a spare set of goggles, and offered to make him a speargun as a trade. So now both older boys are the proud owners of a speargun each, plus various other weapons including a bow and arrow, slingshot and assorted projectiles. These boys are fully tooled up. I mean, they’re packin’. Not sure what their first victim will be a fish, a bird, a bat, or perhaps more likely each other.

But we probably all remember wanting something so badly that when we finally got it, we couldn’t leave it alone, stop listening to it , look at it all the time, sleep with it. I do. I remember being so thrilled by my first waveboard (windsurfer) I positioned it at the end of my bed so I could go to sleep looking at it. Well, Gabriel is the same with his speargun, caressing it lovingly at every opportunity. No doubt he’d sleep with it if we hadn’t banned the rusty old steel spear from inside the boat. So it looks like the hunters’ initiation is complete – bar the first blood.

Hermit Islands rebel

From a straight geographical viewpoint this is the most remote island we’ve visited, lying more than 100 nautical miles away from anything resembling a mainland. But they’re strictly Seventh Day Adventists, and appear to run a very organised village. Abundant gardens, regular community workdays, a satellite dish driving a phone, limited bettlenut chewing meaning a village of pretty together individuals, and a daily religious schedule that involves morning prayers at 5:30am and evening at 6pm, all heralded with the village bell. Yikes.

But the remoteness means that replenishing basic supplies either awaits the 6 monthly supply ship, or involves a 100 mile ocean passage to the nearest town (on Manus Island), which they regularly undertake in one of their 18 foot open fibreglass banana boats, typically powered only by one tatty old 40hp outboard. No-one in their right mind would undertake a voyage like that in NZ (other than my friend Conrad, perhaps), but what choice do these guys have? So of course you hear stories of villagers lost at sea, but remarkably few given the distances they cover. Our guide told us almost in passing that he’d completed this journey with only a 15hp outboard. It took him 3 days (in an open 18 ft dinghy).

Went out with a few of the local lads for a spearfishing session, more to learn how they do it than anything, the lads led by Pop’s son Johnny. They were on a fish gathering mission, preparing for the Sabbath (Saturday, in the case of 7th Day Adventists) which involves a big cook-up after lengthy church. Gabriel had to come along, of course, as our resident fishing enthusiast. These guys are super efficient at spearing fish, altho’ I guess if this was a survival rather than recreational activity, so would we. They operate with handmade wooden gun barrels, steel shafts and large rubber bands, and rarely surface without a fish in hand. Mind you, there’s no suggestion of size or bag limits, and they’re taking fish that in NZ would draw immediate fisheries concerns. It’s a little horrifying seeing the small size of fish being speared, but not ours to judge. What was interesting was their utter disregard for the sharks, which appeared many times during the morning. The boys continued happily swimming around with a long line of dead fish floating behind them, and at one point when I mentioned that there were 6 sharks immediately below us that seemed to be feeding, they looked at me with a “whatever” look and carried on.

Decided to give the 7th Day Adventist church on Saturday morning a go, so off we trotted for the 8am service, the boys complaining bitterly about the imposition anticipating a 2 hour service in an unintelligible language. I hadn’t mentioned to them that I’d be told that the service was almost all in pidgin and lasted 4 hours. Ha! That’ll learn ’em. Maybe help catch up on their backlog of church attendance thought I. At it turned out, the kids had a separate (shorter) service, so I was stuck with the grown-ups in the grown-up service which did as forecast last until midday. Doh. It went on so long that they include an intermission, when we can walk around outside for a few minutes and limber up. I was the first to arrive, and the service started with an endless series of hymns which lasted an hour and it became evident that in fact this was simply the warm-up, the congregation arriving at any time during this session.

Anyway, the family we’d been fishing with the day before then invited us to join an extended family lunch, with a table groaning with pumpkin, paw-paw, sago, fish and other island foods. The men and guests eat first, which was awkward as there were only a few of us, and a host of women sitting there watching us. Formalities soon dwindled as we started telling stories, they about local Hermit Island legends and us trying to match this with Maori tales, with much cackling and merriment from the women folk as their tales encompassed some of the saucier side of island life. Good fun. One of the stories they told was of a jilted lover who took revenge by cutting away half of the island, which continues to float around untethered. Various tales involve this mysterious island, including the strongly held view that if you’re in trouble on the sea, you can call it’s name and it will come to help you. At least two of the family gathered for lunch insisted they’d seen this island, one as recently as only a few months ago, and it brought to mind an incident for us on passage from Kavieng (in a similar part of ocean as one of their sightings), when Rebecca insisted she could see an island on the horizon, and I remained equally insistent that it must be a raincloud or other optical illusion, as there was nothing charted there. Actually, I was quietly thinking it did look worryingly like an island, and spent some time rechecking my navigation to try to explain it, to no avail. Dusk fell, and in the morning no island could be seen. Spooky.

On our last day here yesterday, we asked one of the family if they’d guide us to the famous Manta Pass, which supposedly was full of manta rays. Johnny, the eldest son, took on this role and brought three other brothers, so off we set for a day’s outing on the yacht. An interesting character Johnny a early thirties guy with 3 young kids, it became increasingly evident that he was the local rebel. He initially explained to me that he was Catholic because his wife was, but as we got to know him better he told us with a wry smile his (and possibly his wife’s) catholicism was simply a ruse to avoid having to do the Adventist thing, and allowed them to chew bettlenut, drink, and generally avoid the gruelling regime imposed on the rest of the village. Nice guy, with a definite and quite endearing rebellious streak about him, Lord knows what the other villagers make of him. Sadly no mantas to be seen on this trip, so we’ll have to return and find them another day.

This blog is sent on the first night of our last PNG passage to Vanimo to clear out, so this was our last remote island stop before Xmas. Current coordinates 1 degree 51 South, 143 degrees 50 East. We’ve have a great week here, but there’s a underlying sense of girding our loins for our next steps, which will involve 3 x back-to-back passages between mainland ports to reach our Xmas hook-up with my sister’s family in Sorong, Indonesia. Not a passage plan that fills us with joy, but Xmas with Jules and her lot will be fantastic, and will herald a transition from the gruelling travel schedule of the last 2 months, into a more relaxed plan with lots more stopping and smelling the roses. Bring it on. Do they have roses in Indonesia?

Barrcouda bites boatie

1 degree 32 South, 145 degrees 03 East (Luff village, Hermit Islands)

Aaahhh, the joy of stopping. Made a good landfall after 3 nights at sea sailing from Kavieng into frustrating headwinds most of the way. This boat, like many cats, doesn’t like heading straight into the wind, and you can consume a lot of diesel trying to motor that way. Diesel’s not easy to replenish out here, so careful use of the engines meant a slow passage. At one point we encountered 25+ knots head-on, and elected to heave-to (stop altogether and drift) rather than consume loads of precious fuel going nowhere fast. That lasted about 6 hours. Frustrating, and for awhile there it was looking like we’d be spending another night at sea. But the winds finally veered just enough for us to motorsail, and here we are.

At 1 degree South we’re now around 100 miles or so from the equator near what sailors call the doldrums, characterised by very little wind and occasional rain squalls that can pack quite a punch. Reading these squalls as they approach is an art we’re still learning. Sometimes a dark cloud bank simply brings rain and 15 knots, others can raise the wind speed to over 40 knots (i.e. storm force) within minutes, and one such squall hit us on the 2nd day out just as we were landing a nice tuna. Fred was filleting it on the back step when it hit, and had to work feverishly to finish while Rebecca called out rapidly increasing wind speeds. We were carrying one reef in the main (i.e. most of the sail up), and by the time the wind exceeded 35 knots you could feel the left-hand hull just starting to lift – not a sensation you want to encourage in a catamaran. We needed to drop sail rapidly. Altho’ on this occasion we were abit slow to respond, tied up as we were with fish guts and blood all over the deck, it’s good to see that we are getting slicker at quick sail reduction and we had the situation back under control within a couple of (admittedly, slightly hairy) minutes. Our boat handling is definitely improving, and each time we go thru’ an incident like this, we learn more about what the boat can handle.
On our last morning of the passage we were keen to catch fish we could offer as welcoming gifts to the Hermit Island chief. The fish life in these waters is impressive, as is clearly known by the 5 or 6 Phillipine tuna ships we passed in the night. In the space of just 24 hours we passed several work-ups, dolphins, many seabirds and a pod of whales, and caught tuna and spanish mackerel. We hooked a large barracouda that morning, which then bit me while I was trying to deliver the coup de grace. It sank two sharp fangs into my thumb, and I reluctantly offered it’s freedom in exchange for my hand. Ouch, those critters can pack quite a bite! This time the blood was mine, and I felt quite aggrieved to have been bested by this nasty little creature.

But we’ve arrived at the Hermit Islands unscathed if completed knackered, and have received the usual reception, a village elder bringing his canoe out to welcome us, and a rapid onslaught of visiting canoes offering us fruit and veg. This elder Poplis a brawny guy with a military bearing, no doubt very nice but with abit of a sense of humour bypass, takes us for a guided walk through the 200-people village, firmly setting down some guidelines for our visit. It all seems abit formal and slightly scary, most unlike other PNG islands we’ve visited, but more is revealed the following day when we meet the chief (a relaxed and charming old guy with ear-to-ear smiles) and several other villagers, who barely conceal casting skyward eyes when our guide is mentioned. Mmm, there’s clearly some village politics to negotiate around here, and we’re relieved to find that Luff village is as relaxed and friendly as every other.

We’re told there are crocodiles in the mangroves around the corner, but so far none of the villagers have been dined upon. They hunt crocs for their skins, and proudly show the boys a young croc they’re breeding. This thing is held under a fishing net in an old dinghy, which once lifted takes one startled look at the assembled white folk and lunges wildly at Luca, causing much merriment amongst the villagers and no doubt a lifetime of tall stories for the lad. Anyway, the immediate bay seems safe from crocs and sharks. No need for the famous Nolan dinghy re-entry procedure here!

R’s thoughts on the Boys

One encouraging feature of our trip is watching how the kids have changed their behaviour. Now we’re not talking about them having turned into angels, no chance.. But it is good to see that they have stopped complaining about what they don’t have on the boat (Wizard 101, TV, scooters etc), and spend endless time concentrating on fishing, sailing tasks, creating new games/toys, making silly movies on Luca’s camera and just larking about and having a laugh together. At supper (which is now a family meal every night at the ridiculous our of 5.30pm – who would have thought it?), we sometimes find ourselves telling off the boys for making Jacob laugh so much that he can’t concentrate on eating his supper. Not such a bad problem really..

Gabriel announced the other day that when he got back he was going to get his scooter back (groan…) so that he could sell it to buy a fishing rod (yipeeee!) Luca has really taken to snorkelling in these beautiful warm waters. He admitted that he really is having a good time. His only reservation was that he had to admit that Fred and I had been right and he had been wrong when we left NZ with him full of protests about how we were ‘ruining his life’ by taking him away on this trip. He still misses his friends, but not quite enough to manage to send them emails very often.. Jacob is almost tying bowlines, jumping off most parts of the boat, swimming like a fish and laughing at every opportunity.

All the boys are brilliant at introducing themselves to people now. They bravely put out a hand to shake and tell people their names loudly and clearly. It’s great to watch. Of course Jacob steals the show by doing the same, much to the delight of the locals we meet who then can’t help themselves but play with his golden locks. He has even learnt how to tolerate that without getting upset.

And as for my Big Boy well he has lost his corporate love handles, given up the idea of growing his hair (it was touch and go for a while..) and although he’s still go, go, go it’s definitely at a more Island pace..

All generally good for the token girl’s blood pressure..

Kavieng and onwards

Well, we’ve left Kavieng and we’re on the road again, pushing NW to make Xmas in Indonesia.
You may be getting the impression that we give all these towns pretty short shrift, and you’d be right. For us at least for now, we’re seeking remote islands and villages, not the hubbub of busy towns; and each time we get to a port we find it abit of an adjustment to see cars, electricity, lights on at night, people-thronged markets, and the standard Pacific banana boats zooming around carrying islanders from place to place. These ports tend to be a bit dirty, very hot, not great swimming for the kids, poor fishing (an instant no-no for Gabriel), and some carry security issues, thus we treat them as rapid turnaround re-provisioning destinations only.
But Kavieng was actually pretty nice, and I think we could have stayed there longer to explore outlying islands and get to know the place a bit. The township itself is basic – a couple of food stores, a bank, post office, hardware store and numerous small Chinese cornershops, splayed across several dusty unkept blocks on a hill overlooking the harbour. No great shakes. But the waterfront has a colourful market from 6am every morning where you can buy pawpaw, nuts, grapefruit, banana etc, plus smoked fish, crabs and coconut bread. Bettlenut is sold hard from most stalls, and homegrown tobacco is sold dried in strips, or rolled in newspaper (for immediate smoking…euch). Although a lot less remote than some of the islands we’ve visited, even here we seem to attract attention as a rare white face in the crowd, and bettlenut-stained red mouths grin and smile at us as we wander through. Our boat and dinghy draw interested onlookers, and the boys also, especially Jacob who continues to be our diplomatic ace in the hole. It may be the blonde curly locks, but women cannot help themselves but touch him – something he’s now getting used to. Let’s hope this doesn’t set an expectation for later in life back home, eh?

Clearing in took some time, much of it spent locating the Customs and Immigration office. No-one seems to know where it is, and when finally located turns out to be a small hut down a sidestreet with no signage. My heart sinks as I’m informed that the generator has gone down and the customs man has gone home, but I wait in the shade for half an hour or so and am relieved when he returns. Forms upon forms are strictly completed, but when he suggests that the visa charges are the equivalent of $100 per person I politely protest that this seems a little steep, and he happily agrees on payment just for me and Rebecca. You’ve gotta love the bureaucratic flexibility!
We anchor across the harbour in front of a resort known for solid security and yacht-friendly owners. Turns out to be a secret holiday haven for Aussie surfers and big game fishermen, the latter being predictably large, loud and to be honest bloody nauseating. Conversation is dominated by “mate, ya’ shud have seen the maaarlin that got away from us this ‘avo”, for some reason rugby seems to be off the agenda. Aside from some dodgy patrons the place is great for the kids, hosting several tame toucans, a talking parrot, a massive whale skeleton, an impressive range of local carvings and a spot right on front of the bar where they fillet the gamefish they’ve caught that day. We shout the boys burgers as we sup a cool beer, and Gabriel is in heaven.

Internet access, as ever a rarity out here, we track down via local advice to a friendly South African couple running a dive operation, who’ve installed a satellite dish in their garden and charge 35 kina (about $17) per hour for its use. It works intermittently, not when it’s raining, and Rebecca ducks the showers to use up a couple of hours downloading hotmail emails, checking bank balances and other admin. Incidentally, for anyone reading this.. we continue to try to post photos (we’ve now got one on, yippee!), but are hampered by poor internet access. If you’ve posted a comment, be reassured that we do eventually pick them all up, even if we can’t reply. We love them, by the way, so don’t stop!

Water availability continues to dominate our thoughts, and we’re constantly planning our next refill. This was possible off the main wharf in Kavieng, where the wharf manager – a portly part-Indian/PNG man – sat me down to arrange refuelling. He assures me the town water supply is chlorinated and safe to drink, and by way of demonstration pours water into a dirty teacup and drinks it in front of me. I watch with some caution, waiting for early symptoms of cholera or at least a two-step “excuse me” dash to the toilet, but he seems unharmed and so we agree to fill up there. Once alongside, we’re presented with a full-sized firehose and the assembled crowd of wharf workers watches with great amusement as we try to control the flow down our little 1/2inch hose into our pre-tank filter, both of us getting soaked in the process. The water is bright yellow initially, but the general process of controlling the flow (i.e. spraying the deck and soaking all helpers) seems to help clear it.

So now we’re passage-bound again, this one a 4-day route to the Hermit Islands that we hope lives up to its reputation as a remote paradise. We encountered 20knot headwinds on our 2nd day out, and after burning precious diesel getting nowhere fast, elected to “heave to” and sit it out for half the day…all of which will have cost us some travel time and may now mean another night at sea. But with luck and a fair wind, landfall tomorrow.

Neglectful Parenting Lesson Number 432

Neglectful Parenting Lesson Number 432 (the other 431 available on request) – written by Rebecca who is NOT taking full responsibility for this complete failure in safe parenting..

Having been extremely vigilant about Jacob wearing a life jacket at all times out the cockpit, he soon started reminding us to find it for him when he wanted to go anywhere. Meanwhile, swimming around the boat has been glorious in most bays, with the boys bombing off every part of the boat, and Jacob, in his lifejacket, joining in happily. Us parents had become pretty relaxed with this set up, assuming that the lifejacket (usually tied on with a long rope) meant that Jacob couldn’t come to too much harm, unless one of the boys did a bomb right on top of his head..

So there we were, carrying on with our usual routine, when I glanced out to where the boys were swimming to see Jacob climbing out of the water WITHOUT lifejacket/arm bands/ ring/anything resembling a flotation device. Cries of various sorts came out of my mouth as I leapt over to save him from a miserable death by drowning, only to have Luca say to me Oh I’ve been teaching him to swim Mummy, he can do it on his own now.

Jacob proceeded to agree, and immediately jumped back into the water and swam happily back to the steps.

So, there we are. Who needs all those bloody swimming lessons anyway? Lifeguards pah!


Cor, I quite fancy your bird!

02 degrees 35 South, 150 degrees 46 East.
We have arrived at Kavieng, after an uneventful 2 night passage from the Feni Islands. The only thing worth noting was the catching of a skipjack tuna on our first morning at sea, and possibly Fred not over-cooking it (which all tuna-lovers know is an unforgivable sin) that evening. Uneventful passages are what we like, but they make darned boring blog entries, so we shall move on. This blog is going to be about birds, so if you’re not ornithologically disposed I’d suggest you switch off now. Fred has made much of his childhood membership of the Young Ornithologists Club but we caught him out with a mis-identification of a common seabird, so somehow I suspect this entry won’t find it’s way to the Natural History Museum archives. To avoid running short of material (“or, more likely, knowledge” quips Rebecca), we may extend this to insects.

Maybe we’ll start with them, in fact. Sitting on the shoreline chewing the fat with a small group of villagers back at Feni one afternoon, we’re suddenly interrupted by a deafening chirrupping chorus of cicadas from a nearby tree. Weird, I thought, how they all suddenly decide to start up at once, and I mention this to the villagers. One of them, named Fred as it happens, then goes on to explain that although none of them possess watches, the cicadas allow them to tell the time as they always start chirping at the same time each day. “Ah-ha” I say with some doubt in my voice, “so what time is it now?” to which Fred correctly replies 5:30pm. OK, so on further discussion Fred claims that the cicadas always start chirping at 3pm and 5:30pm, quite handy times to alert the villagers in the bush of the need to get supper ready before darkness falls. Very impressed, I then retell this intriguing fact to the boys, and the following day whilst we traipse through the bush on our way to the freshwater creek, I prepare them with much anticipation for the 3pm chirp. Not a sound is heard. My new-found interesting fact is promptly blown out of the water and roundly ridiculed by the boys, and I’m left wondering whether my friend Fred wasn’t just making up stories for his and his mates entertainment.
As it happens, Tonga Moon has a resident cicada which joined the boat halfway through the Solomons. It takes position next to the deck hatch of one of us each night, and then drives us mad by chirping loudly enough to keep us awake, but never for long enough to enable it’s detection. Finding the wretched thing has become a common pasttime, but so far it has evaded us. Technically, we have now imported this creature from Solomons to PNG and should declare it as an unauthorised alien..if only we could find it.

Nevertheless, PNG does have an impressive insect life, as poor old Jacob is discovering each night with a fresh set of bites and nibbles. It is important, of course, to travel with at least one person who acts as an insect-magnet, thereby avoiding getting bitten yourself. We all know this. Generally it’s the one with the fairest skin, but in our case it’s unfortunate that it’s also our youngest, and therefore the one who’s going to bear this burden with the least amount of staunch stoicism (as if staunch stoicism was a common Nolan trait…ha!). The poor little guy has experienced spiders, midges, mossies and various other critters and despite the heat feels it necessary to cocoon himself in his bedsheet for protection, still each morning sporting a fresh set of welts despite our attempts to avoid it. Keeping the boat insect-free is an increasing challenge, and we now accept a more rigorous approach to use of mossy nets as necessary. All three countries visited so far are firmly in the malaria zone, but generally we’re anchored slightly away from the land with some breeze, so the risk is lower. Still, a bout of malaria could spoil the trip for us, so we take pills as a precaution.

I guess the upside of having so many insects, is a beautiful array of birds. Fewer seagulls, but we’ve seen several sea eagles and streamlined terns with long forked tails. Kingfishers, grey and white herons, toocans, the ubiquitous flying fox which come out at dusk, and a range of colourful parrots that make a huge racket in the trees and generally piss off the villagers by eating their pawpaw. One villager asked us if we could bring him a gun when we return, so he can shoot them. Not sure we’ll comply with that request, but the locals here do eat birds and bats (presumably on the rare occasion that they manage to shoot one with their slingshots). I am quietly intrigued to try eating bat. Given the bats’ slow flying pattern and predictable appearance, the boys have spent several evenings trying to hit one with small pebbles shot from their slingshots. Rebecca doesn’t approve, but so far we don’t think the bats have too much to fear. Mind you, once Gabriel’s hunter-gatherer instincts cut in there’s no telling how determined he’ll become.
Clearance into Kavieng has gone smoothly, with a temporary visa granted without any interest in our lack of prearranged visas, nor as expected in the fact that we’d stopped off on our way from the Solomons. So Port Morseby prison avoided, and we can focus on provisioning in this hot dusty little town before heading off, probably tomorrow, on the next passage (this time 4 days) to our next major PNG stop the Hermit Islands.

Luca jumping off waterfall in Asanvari

Pet parrot, anyone?

03degrees 25S/152degrees 29E

Last night was our sad farewell to the Feni Islands, after a glorious week tucked in out of the surf off Ambitle Island. This has been one of those weeks we have sought out and found. The villagers are wonderfully friendly, the sea is clear turquoise blue, the fish life extensive, there’s a fresh water creek within 1/2hr walk for washing, and even fresh water pools at low tide by the beach. We made good friends amongst 3 or 4 families, and depart with a firm intention of returning next year. The kids here share a universal sense of humour, beautifully demonstrated by one cheeky chap standing amongst a group of pre-school kids who chucked a coconut husk at Luca, and immediately pointed to the person next to him when Luca turned around to see who’d done it (the person next to him, a baby barely walking let alone throwing). Feni in their local language means giving, and amidst all the trading the villagers have been very kind to us. On top of all the fruit and veggies, we’ve been offered a puppy, a pet bird, a parrot and a kitten – all hopelessly impractical on a yacht of course. The parrot was the most tempting, an opportunity to take us one more step closer to the look of a true pirate ship, but even that one was vetoed.

This is the first place we’ve been able to offer help, fixing the odd item, providing fish to some families and medical advice and medicine to others. Announcing Rebecca’s doctoring profession is something she’s very cautious about, and this was the first place she done it (having discovered one of our new friends had a nasty septic cut that she could easily fix up). But even here the downside of this became evident on our last afternoon when she was hit up by several villagers seeking pain relief for various sores and aches. Much though we’d like to, we don’t carry enough drugs to be a village dispensary even if that practice was a good idea.

Yesterday we’re sitting in the cockpit, chatting away to Matthew, Angeline and a couple of their kids (this being one of the families we’ve spent time with), and the conversation drifts (perhaps, stutters is a better description, given language barriers) onto the weather, and how we can influence it. I recount how some of the fruitgrowers in the Bay of Plenty fire things (shotguns? rockets? … not sure) into the sky to disperse clouds that might dump heavy rain or hail onto their ripening fruit. Yes they reply here is very similar. If we are threatened by a bad storm or cyclone, we point a magic knife at it, carve it up and send it away. Wow….now that could be useful on a yacht. Further discussion reveals that certain people within the villages can bring on rain, bring out the sun, and calm the sea if needed. In fact, we are told that one of them did just that the 2nd day after we arrived to calm the sea and reduce the size of the waves crashing onto the shore. And the evidence is irrefutable: it worked, and here we are sitting in a calm bay with the formerly 8 ft waves reduced to mere lapping little things. It seems that only certain people have the gift (or are taught it), but these can be old men or children. The exercise of influencing these elements involves gathering and preparing special leaves and some knifework. Of course the cynic in us immediately starts searching for a scientific explanation (or dismisses it out of hand), but these people are smart guys who carry a healthy appetite for cynicism of their own, and a part of me thinks…well, if the results didn’t speak for themselves, sooner or later the practice would be discredited. Maybe it works.?

So it’s on the road again, a two-day passage this time to Kavieng where we will complete our official clear-in and re-provision. We’re both abit unsure how the clearance will go, given that we’re arriving with no visa or cruising permit. Advice seems mixed on whether PNG require a visa prior to arrival, but we’ve chosen a port known for more relaxed government officials, and with Rebecca batting her eyelashes and her most practised blonde look I figure we can’t should be able to bluff our way through. So the next blog will either be written lounging by the bar in one of Kavieng’s cafes with all papers in order, or perhaps behind bars in Port Morseby with passports confiscated. Hoping for the former, but at least if the latter we might finally get internet access.

More soon…

Feni frends

4th day at the Feni Islands, and our friendship with several families ashore is developing at pace. The boat is groaning with traded fruit and veg. Robert, our big surf-swimming pilot from our arrival, insisted on getting us bananas and turned up yesterday with the largest bunch we’ve seen yet, which we traded for some staple food (rice, sugar etc), having offered him shirts and other gifts as thanks for helping us. We’ve given him a few batteries for torches, with which he wants to go night-time crayfish hunting on our behalf. We’ve also got to know the family who owns the beach we’re anchored off, Matthew and Angeline plus many extended family, whom we’ve provided similar gifts and traded for coconuts, pineapple, sweet potatoes and other veggies. Matthew enjoys long chats sitting on the back of the boat, mano-a-mano of course (this being a traditional men for men, women for women culture), and seemed deeply impressed when we gave him the first fish we’ve caught here – a large trevally caught trolling off the outside reef.

Yesterday he invited us to a family feast, where they were commemorating the recent death of his older sister. We joined the meeting hut to find a whole pig slowing cooking over hot coals, along with green bananas and potatoes. Lots of extended family and friends joined, and speeches were made before a wild looking man took his machete to the pig and carved it up, spitting bettlenut juice to one side as he did.

This has to be the most remote and primitive village we’ve visited so far. Some of the villages wear T-shirts and shorts, others traditional skirts and bare chests, most sporting facial tattoos, beads, hair jewellery and necklaces. Most of the women and young girls have facial tattoos including several dots immediately above their noses, a straight line down one cheek, and other symbols on foreheads. We’re firmly in Melanesian country here, so skins are much darker than our Polynesian friends further South, but the basic part-English pidgin is still spoken. Beetlenut is chewed by everyone. No electricity here, needless to say, but also no LPG so cooking is entirely over open fires. I watch the pig carver hacking expertly with his machete, his wilds eyes flashing in the evening sunset, and immediately decide to stay on the right side of the guy.

Our presence here attracts alot of attention and discussion. A constant stream of canoes visit the boat, some to chat, some to trade, and some just to stand-off and look at us. Every trip in the dinghy ashore attracts a crowd, and there’s a sense of people competing for our time. This has nothing to do with our sparkling personalities or my witty jokes, hard to imagine as that may be, I think it’s more about the opportunity our presence represents in terms of trade or gifts, plus perhaps a dollop of straight friendliness and curiosity. It breaks your heart to see how much these guys need, and despite all the best advice about the cargo cults in this part of the world and the dangers of giving out stuff too freely, it’s very hard not to want to help. So we offer gifts for any assistance provided, or sometimes just because, and offer to try fixing things for them if we can. Rebecca managed to get an old singer sewing machine working for one lady, and I’m repairing my host’s guitar. We may be the world’s most incompetent craftsmen, but we do carry tools these guys dream of.

This morning we visit some people along the beach to offer gifts for the crayfish they caught us last night, and end up spending much of the day hanging out with these families. As we arrive the crowd watching us is even larger than usual, but it turns out that they are actually greeting a group of PNG churchmen from the nearest mainland (some 6 hours boat ride away) who are visiting to spread the good word. The island has only a few hundred people on it, but almost as many denominations and tiny hut churches, all competing for the attention of the same villagers. Silly really, but the sense of denomination seems strong amongst the islanders, who frequently ask us which church we are. Given our recent record of NZ church attendance, this requires a little fast footwork on our part. Before I know it, I’ve been cornered on the beach by two churchmen in what looks like a well-practised pincher movement, to be soundly harangued and preached to. Lord, I’m thinking, here I am miles from home on a remote PNG island, and I still can’t get away from door-knocking Bible-bashers! These guys differ from our usual door-knockers only in the clothes they wear: the wide lapelled ill-fitting suits and dodgy short ties are replaced by sandals and shorts…but the message seems the same. Rebecca, sitting amongst a group of villagers up the beach (all of whom, I notice, are smart enough to keep their distance) watches with great amusement as I attempt a polite self-extraction for the n’th time, and leaves it a tortuously long time before rescuing me. There’ll be no escaping church this Sunday.

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