Day M2: Fire and Brimstone

29.09.11:

Righty-ho Graham you great big travelling monkey, it’s time to hit the road. Tony called me out of bed at 6am as the PMV (a shared taxi-truck) to Wewak was waiting for me. I quickly gathered up my things and said a hearty farewell and thank you to Tony. He was sad that I didn’t get to see the yams, but next time, my friend, no worries.

The PMV was so like in Africa it was spooky. A ton of people lined up on two benches facing each other on the back of a truck, the floor of which was awash with baskets, cases, bananas, dry goods, sacks, spare tyres, the holy grail, you name it. The guy sitting next to me was an old teacher called Tobias. He and I chatted for much of the four hour drive back to Wewak, and had some awesome stories to tell, including one about his trip to North Korea in the 1980s – not a usual travel destination by any means.

Our discussion was periodically interrupted by a local guy called Ian who was so drunk he almost fell off the back of the PMV at least twenty times (only to be saved by his fellow passengers). Ian had been drinking all night and was entertaining the commuters with his antics and his howling in Tok-Pisin, the only bit I could understand was when he told one of the guys who was desperately trying to pull him back inside the PMV (he was hanging off the back, singing to himself) that he would, like, totally fight him if there wasn’t a whiteman (me) onboard.

To be honest, he looked like if he tried to swing a punch he’d wind up hitting himself and falling over. It was funny reading the expressions of quiet exasperation on the faces of the people sitting opposite me: facial expressions are pretty much the same everywhere in the world. Ian was harmless enough, but when he offered me “protection” when we got to Wewak, I had to politely decline. I’m doing alright in PNG without a crazy drunk local yelling at passers-by that he wants to marry them.

The PMV kindly dropped me off at the Lutheran Shipping office near the port and I exchanged my ticket (for the princely sum of five kina) before heading over to the Windjammers hotel for some lunch before I left. I met the owner of the place — an old German guy with a stonking great big moustache, looked just like Colonel Blimp. I felt inspired to grow my own. I also met a chap called Robert (the local building inspector) who studied Economics at Christ’s Church College back in the 1960s. He thanked me (obviously representing all things British) “for giving him his education”. I was rather flattered and said it was the least we could do – possibly forgetting for a moment that a) I wasn’t even born in the 1960s and b) I’m not actually the Queen of England.

After a lovely lunch (steak sandwich – recommended) I got to the port a good 45 minutes before the boat was due to leave. This time the boat did leave a little late: 2:10pm – if it had left at the same time on Tuesday, I would have caught the damn thing, but then again, I had a great time here in Wewak, so it’s not like it cost me anything – in any case, the ship to The Solomons doesn’t leave until the 6th October at the earliest, so I haven’t lost any time. Although I do really need to change my underwear.

As I selected my bunk on board the good ship Rita, I got chatting to a guy called Toby who was one of the crew. He invited me up to the bridge and you know I’m never going to pass on an opportunity like that. After we pulled out of port I sat up on the wing, waved Wewak goodbye and gazed out at the world going by at ten nautical miles per hour.

Around 8pm we passed the mouth of the Sepik river. By now it was dark, but that just made the show I was about to watch even better. To starboard, a mighty electrical storm raged silently over PNG’s northern jungle… forks and flashes like strobe lights capturing both time and tide. To port, the volcano on the island of Manam was erupting. The white smoke billowing from its summit was lit in turns by bursts of red-hot magma. Ahead: a sea of stars, brighter than I have seen in months, the great constellations and the Milky Way. Here near the equator, the Northern and Southern hemisphere stars meet and fill the sky with the twinkling promise of smooth seas and safe haven.

Above the electrical storm, the narrowest possible crescent sliver holding the old moon in its arms. Above the volcano, the planet Venus outshines the billion stars exploding noiselessly in the firmament.

I’m on my way.