Alotau, Monday - I was fortunate to awake early enough to catch a first shrouded glimpse of the Papuan coast 30 years after taim igo pinis in 1976. It was a sentimental moment which recalled my first arrival in TPNG in 1963: a mysterious and misty coastline holding promise of great adventure. Promise, I hasten to add, which was fully redeemed.
About an hour or so later Ingrid and I were breakfasting on the aft deck as Orion entered the China Strait, cruising within hailing distance of little villages and passing abeam of diminutive Samarai with its massive copra sheds.
We berthed at Alotau, the Milne Bay provincial capital [left], at 11 am to be greeted by a local singsing group belting kundus like there was no tomorrow. An hour later Ingrid and I were ashore walking around the dusty streets of what appears to be a poor and run down township. The prominent presence of guards around any building related to banking, petrol and beer evidenced security concerns although the people retain a customary friendliness.
As I happened to be passing by, I called in at Radio Milne Bay and said g’day to assistant manager Milela Gisawa, 27 years in the service of the National Broadcasting Corporation, which I’m proud to say I helped establish in 1973. That's me posing at the station entrance.
The main road through Alotau, the boat harbour and the market were crowded with purveyors of betel nut, leaf and lime – seemingly a staple of life and a driver of the economy.
After an hour we ended up at Napatana Lodge, on the edge of town, where manager Edna honoured her claim to “serve the coldest beer in Alotau” and I quenched my thirst on my first SP brown in three decades.
We trudged back to Orion with the afternoon heat starting to stake its claim. Along the road we encountered a few interesting signs [left] and scores of warm and welcoming people. The sweetness of the welcome lingers. The dust washed easily off my shoes.