Days M20-M24: The Papuan Chief

17.10.11-21.10.11: Monday was spent at sea familiarising myself with the ship. Swire take their safety seriously: I’m not allowed out on deck unless I’m wearing a boiler suit and steel toe-capped boots. After a tour of the vessel (a 1991 Miho-Type freighter, 4 storage bays, 3 cranes, 9000HP, top speed 15.5 knots) I familiarised myself with the onboard bar “Ye Pracktickle Navigatore” and got up to speed with some of the editing and writing I’ve been putting off for months as the south coast of New Britain floated past the window. On the Tuesday we skirted around the coast of New Ireland and arrived on the island of Lihir – home of the biggest goldmine in PNG. It’s a privately-owned port and I’d need a two-day induction to even step foot on dry land. A volcanic island located in the Pacific Ring of Fire, the mining…

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Day M19: Exodus

16.10.11: Alex had told me to keep an eye on my phone for the message to head to the port. At this point, The Papuan Chief shouldn’t be leaving until 10pm, but you can never be too careful. Stan returned in the morning with his mum and her friend who was excited about going to the Morobe Show today. I had kept hold of the VIP pass I had borrowed from Duncan yesterday (no photo, all too easy) and was pretty chuffed that I was going to be able to see today’s big singsing. We arrived sometime after 10am and headed into the showground. Hundreds of people in traditional dress - all the tribes the organisers could find - filled the track which led to the main arena. It was a National Geographic photographers’ wet dream. Even with my little two-bit Sony camera (held in my…

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Day M18: The Morobe Show

15.10.11: This weekend is the Morobe Show, an annual event (now in its 50th year) which started as an agricultural expo, but has now morphed into the premier cultural event of the season. If you want to get your photo taken with a Papuan tribe in all their awesome regalia, this is the place to do it. The Papuan Chief had finally come into port at 1800 last night and there was an outside chance that it might sail today: I kept my mobile phone on extra loud ring just in case and had all of my stuff packed and ready to go. But the good news was that I would at least get to see a bit of the Morobe Show. Ben kindly picked me up from Stan’s flat in the morning and we drove over to the showgrounds with his mates: Duncan, Tom and…

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Day M17: The Earth Moved

14.10.11: Friday passed slowly but comfortably, given the odd earthquake. Stan had left in the morning to go to an island off the coast with his family, I stayed behind in his swanky apartment cursing myself for resetting Stan’s modem the night before: Stan didn’t have his welcome letter from the internet provider in the flat, his username and password had been wiped. Oops. Which meant no internets and no blog updates for another week. I hope you can forgive all of these blogs coming at you thick and fast from here in The Solomon Islands Australia (spoiler!), but these things happen, especially if you allow a barely competent ginger monkey prat around with your gear. The earthquake – which measured 6.8 on the Richter scale - struck around midday, and I was as useless as only a none-veteran of earthquakes could be. Cursing the fact…

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Day M16: The Land That Time Forgot

13.10.11: Stan usually works out of his office in Lae, but today he needed to go up to his family’s poultry farm and asked if I’d like to come along. Knowing that it would be a lot more fun than sitting inside and waiting for internet pages to load up, I said yes please. Bumping along the road on the way to the farm, Stan told me something that was as unexpected (but in hindsight so bloody obvious) as it was interesting: Stan’s surname is Leahy. The first white guy to make first contact with the tribes of Papua New Guinea’s Highlands (previously assumed to be uninhabited) in the 1930s was called Mick Leahy. Are they somehow related? You better believe it – Stan is Mick’s grandson. Anthropologists everywhere will hate me, but in Stan’s family home overlooking the farm are some historic artefacts that would…

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Day M15: A Day Off School

12.10.11: Jimmy met me in the morning to take me across the bay to the local school. We knew it was going to be closed today as one of the regional governors died last weekend and the kids were given the day off as a mark of respect. But I still wanted to have a go at paddling around in a dugout canoe, so we went anyway. The canoes in PNG are, quick frankly, cruel and unusual punishment. They’re so narrow you can’t sit in them, you have to sit on top with your legs stuffed inside, one in front of the other. The rim of the carved-out interior digs into your arse and your feet soon get pins and needles. To make matters worse, as there is only one stabiliser, if you lean to the left you run a good chance of tipping the boat…

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Day M14: The Village

11.10.11: As I won’t be leaving Lae until next weekend, Alex offered to take me over to Salamaua, the old capital of German New Guinea. Since its heyday in the 1930s (and its destruction in the 1940s) Salamaua has returned to the isolated village outpost it once was. There are no roads to Salamaua and it’s a good hour journey down the coast from Lae in a banana boat to get there. Alex took me over in Swire’s Taikoo Chief speedboat, whizzing past the mighty Papuan Chief out in the water along the way. Dropping me off at the holiday home, one of a dozen owned by Lae-based companies as a weekend getaway for their employees, I was put into the care of Jimmy, a local guy who had been looking after the Swire house for the last twenty years. As Alex scooted off back to…

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Days M7-M13: The Lae Delay

04.10.11-10.10.11: Well I haven’t gone anywhere but by jingo it’s been a fun week here in sunny old Lae. Ah, it’s not as bad as everyone makes out: the town may be ugly as sin but the guys here at Steamship (Swire) Shipping have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome. Alex here has taken me under his wing and over the last few days I’ve been treated much better than a hapless ginger wayfarer could possibly deserve. There’s only two drinking pits worth mentioning here in Lae -- The Yacht Club and the Golf Club -- and as Swire owns a speedboat at the marina and Alex is the el capitaine of the Nice Walk Ruined, the SP lager was flowing free. Although both places do have a completely irrational anti-hat policy. Grr... During the day, I’ve been at the Steamships offices…

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Day M6: As I Went Down In The River To Lae

03.10.11: In the morning Mums Singin was good enough to pick me up from Katherine’s flat for a quick tour of the museum that she curated before I left for Lae. I said my goodbyes to Katherine, awesome CouchSurf host that she was, and promised that I’d be back here one day – a promise I fully intend to honour. The Madang Museum was a quaint little affair with some awesome cultural artefacts housed within. Damn these PNG guys can carve some awesome stuff. Mums gave me a guided tour and (unlike your average tourist) I was allowed to take photos and film as we went around.  Hence: After the museum, Mums gave me a lift to the bus ‘station’ (a piece of wasteland opposite the main market) and I boarded a PMV to Lae – the city from whence I intend on hitching a ride…

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Days M3-M5: A Weekend In Madang

30.09.11-02.10.11: The Lutheran Shipping ferry slid into Madang port bang on 7am, which was the exact time the captain told me it would arrive. I have to say, I was mighty impressed by all this startling efficiency. Now if only we could do something about the rest of PNG… I headed back over to Divine WORD (not wind, sorry!) University to meet back up with the delectable Katherine, who had kindly said I could stay for the weekend. After dropping off my kit and taking a well deserved shower (it had been five days in the topics without one… nice!) I went for a pleasant walk around town (Madang is nothing if not pleasant) and grabbed some lunch in the Madang Club which is one of these hilarious ex-pat affairs in which every square inch of wall is taken up by rules of entry/dress/conduct etc. One…

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