Friday, October 22, 2010

Adventures in PNG

Never a dull day in New Guinea. A boat we sailed here with, Ultimate, radioed during the daily check-in saying they'd just been hit by a water spout. Their radio was faint and filled with static, unlike previous check-ins, so the story may not be all exaggeration. Fortunately they were motoring and all sails were down, so their boat is fine and everyone is all right. "It just howled for a little while."
We followed another boat, Westward II, to Woodlark island. Steve used to work in the mines up here, so he knows of a few nice spots. The anchorage we're staying in for the next two days is near a grass airstrip that he flew into 20 years ago and first got inspired to go sailing. There was a lone American yacht anchored in the bay. The owner couple was sitting on the coconut-lined beach drinking a bottle of wine watching the sunset and told him how they had been waiting 8 weeks for a part from the states.
Today started with a discussion of pirates and with the local pastor. Apparently the preacher has many talents. He was the first to see the three boats arrive in the anchorage and paddle out to us in a canoe. He proceeded to reassure us that this end of the island was completely safe. "No rascals here." We find that the preachers in every village say this. Rascals are violent gangs of pirates, young men in banana boats (40 HP skiffs that run between islands carrying passengers, urgent cargo, or chasing fish & human prey). Apparently, at this island they stopped robbing and murdering outsiders decades ago and now just prey on the local trading boats (25 ft, diesel powered cabin cruisers). No trading boats will come to Woodlark island at night anymore. So far Woodlark has been just like the Louisiades, only a bit more civilized. Instead of trading T-shirts and fish hooks for seafood and bush greens, we are trading CDs, DVDs, and books for things like corn, tomatoes, and giant cucumber. The canoes will wait politely, hanging onto the edge of your boat or dingy until you come on deck before asking if you want to trade for their carvings or produce.
The preacher that explained the security situation is also an adept fisherman. He took Steve and Gordon out to the reef where the waves break in 2 ft of water over jagged coral and rock. Lobsters (crayfish) hide just inshore of the crashing surf in the deeper holes and cracks of the rocks. The last time Gordon and Steve were taken on a crayfish hunt at night, they declined to jump into the pitch black darkness and roaring surf with the New Guinean guides who were coming up bloodied carrying lobsters in each hand after minutes underwater with nothing but a flashlight. Even in full daylight, Steve and Gordon decided against the hazards of body surfing over coral to dive into cracks for lobsters, which have fierce claws and razor sharp spines on the side of their powerful tails. Father Matthew didn't hesitate in this daylight trip, though. They gave him a mask and Hawaiian sling, but Matthew preferred his homemade contraption of sharpened steel rebarb with a cleft in the side that made a barb and a small wooden handle. He'd dive down for minutes at a time before coming up with a lobster while Steve and Gordon hung onto the rocks for dear life just over the coral ledge from the raging white water. Fortunately I'm nursing tropical ulcers that turn to gangrene if you get them wet, so I had an excuse to stay out of the water. The really amazing bit of diving that the preacher did was the spearing of fish, underwater, after the bicycle tube rubber on his home-made spear broke. He'd just jab at fish lobster while swimming underwater in pursuit. He didn't even have fins or snorkel, just a mask and this rusty bit of sharpened rebarb.
And the third "adventure" for the day was a deadly sea snake climbing up onto the swim platform of Dragonfly to sun himself. Sea snakes have the deadliest venom of all snakes in the world, but only one or two people have ever died of a sea snake bite, because of the way the venom is injected from ridges deep in the mouth, too deep for anything but a human finger. Apparently Daddy Long Leg spiders have the same deadly reputation--though their venom is stronger than that of any other spider, but their jaws are too small to bite a human. It seems that most of PNG has been like that, a lot of bark, but little bite... so far. Tomorrow's adventure is a ride up to the gold mines. Father Matthew has offered to sit on one of the boats to maintain security while we are away for the day.

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