The end for Rabaul?


Madang, Saturday – Yesterday Ingrid and I disembarked Orion, along with 60 other life-jacketed passengers looking like a seniors invasion force, to ride eight bucking Zodiacs for half an hour through a four foot swell and across a boiling reef. I use the word ‘bucking’ advisedly. Our destination was Watam, a fine example of a traditional village located a few kilometres east of the mouth of the Sepik River.

After such an arduous trip, it wasn’t hard to understand why Watam, a community of about 200 people, doesn’t see many tourists. Entering the small protected harbour we were surprised to see over 30 canoes and banana boats and the village teeming with over 1,000 people and half a dozen police, some armed with AK47s. For a fee of 30 kina a group, the Watam people had invited neighbours for 50 km around to establish a mass impromptu artefacts market. With so many tribal groups intermingling, the police were there for obvious reasons.

Keith_constable_and_arnold I was escorted around Watam by a new found friend, Arnold, from whom I bought some artefacts and who, with that spontaneous generosity of Papua New Guineans, reciprocated by giving Ingrid and me gifts. Spending an hour or so conversing with Arnold allowed me to shake the cobwebs from my rusty Pidgin and, for his part, he seemed well pleased with the dialogue.

With the singsing going flat out, a 14-man pandanus and pitpit ‘dragon’ bouncing up and down at the village entrance and a lapun meri painting everyone’s face with an indelible red mark which will require a skin graft to remove, it took the ship’s passengers no time to get into the spirit of the day.

Manam_island Last night we sailed abeam of Manam Island [left], still in eruption and its population resettled on the mainland, and Karkar Island before entering Madang Harbour at seven this morning. Although its public infrastructure is deteriorating, Madang remains one of the South Pacific’s prettiest towns and it must surely be one of the most prosperous, with tourism and agriculture clearly flourishing. The sweet smell of copra hangs in the air and, despite whelming humidity, it remains the most pleasant of towns to wander around.

Ingrid_captn_peter_greenhowSome 35 years ago Phil Charley ran the radio broadcasting station in Madang after coming from the same role in Goroka. With these two postings, I always reckoned Phil had the best of it and, on visiting Madang for the first time in over 40 years, I see no reason to change my mind. Meanwhile, life at sea on this luxurious expedition vessel remains vibrant, as you can see from this pic of Ingrid with captain and self-proclaimed ‘driver’ Captain Peter Greenhow.


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Richard E. Jones

GREAT to see you and Ingrid passed the bucking Zodiac test with flying colours Keith.
Like Colin, I have fond memories of Madang -- perhaps the 2nd most picturesque PNG town in my memory after Rabaul.
Judyth and I are presently in Cappadocia, amid the fairy chimneys and associated "moonscape" features of this part of Turkey's Anatolia.
The 4th century A.D. Coptic Christians carved dwellings and chapels into the soft rock of the chimneys and other associated pinnacles --- it is staggering to see these at first hand and to clamber around inside.
Last Saturday while you 2 were in coastal PNG, we were 7 levels down in an "underground city" -- again with chapels carved in the form of a cross. The largest on the 4th level could possibly cater for 40 worshippers. The early Christians used these underground assets to escape persecution first from the Romans and later the Seljuk Muslims.
The tunnel system had to be seen to be believed. At one stage the power cut out just as it had in the Citadel area of Ankara a few days earlier. Fortunately the Cappadocian power system came back on relatively promptly. It would have been extremely scary scrambling about in the darkness in tiny tunnels a number of levels underground for any length of time!
Today we're off to Konya, the whirling dervish centre. Compared with Istanbul and Ankara's millions, Konya is a relatively tiny city of just 750,000 souls.
Before the trek ends on Nov. 20 we will also visit Ephesus, Troy and Gallipoli.
It was in Ephesus a few weeks back that Elissa Kesby tumbled off a rock into the Temple of Artemis, no less, while posing for a pic for hubby Dubbo Dave. She recovered quickly it's good to say and was full of praise for not only the travel insurance cover, but also the Turkish medical system at Kusadasi.
A more fulsome report of a month in Turkey will follow for perhaps the Xmas edition of The Mail.
Incidentally while in London in mid-October we embarked on a Jack The Ripper walking tour around Whitechapel with daughter Daria and partner David. Our 27-year old guide Lindsay told us she's onto her 2nd Ripper book (the research is almost complete) and to say her knowledge of the Ripper tale is encyclopaedic wouldn't be fair to her.

Phil Charley

Great stuff, Keith. I was in Goroka in 1970 and my second posting to Madang occurred in 1971. It was a brand new station and I was the first manager. We loved the place - a real tropical paradise.

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