Tami Islands, Sunday – These islands, situated perhaps ten kilometres east of Finschhafen, are best known for their great natural beauty and across-the-grain bowl carvings which are traded as far south as the Trobriand Islands. Orion anchored just outside the reef and, as we headed to shore, dozens of high spirited dolphins leaped and spun around the Zodiacs in magical display. I write this as we depart the islands and, through the stateroom window, a large dolphin pod is racing alongside the ship as we begin our passage to Tufi.
We waded ashore from the Zodiac to be greeted by a singsing group which was providing a rhythmic counterpoint to another ‘theatre’ group which, in music and dance, told a series of stories about the Tami people in a ‘set’ framed to represent a canoe. In all my years in Papua New Guinea, I’d never seen such a precisely staged or exquisitely danced performance.
Local villagers dragged rough hewn desks and benches from the nearby schoolhouse to provide seating in a natural limestone amphitheatre. The rhythms and melodies were hypnotic. “I think I was here in a previous life,” murmured a fellow passenger.
After the dancing, Ingrid and I inspected the local elementary school, taking in the Grade 6 classroom at close quarters. I thought I’d share a couple of interior shots with fellow ex-PNG chalkies who I know have a passion for such pedagogical minutiae.
Then, accompanied by 20 fellow passengers, Ingrid and I clambered five metres up a rugged limestone sea cliff and picked our way through gardens pockmarked with rocky outcrops of ancient coral. Then down the other side for a flat 20-minute walk along a flotsam strewn path (thongs and parts thereof being the most common items) to a village of about one hundred people.
Here a new Lutheran church was being constructed – the only western material building in the place. “It’s cost 20,000 kina so far,” a villager confided, “and we’ve run out of money.” Alongside it, the old bush material church was cuter, cooler - and cheaper.
Then a walk-and-wade around the island before variously motoring and canoeing to a beach where the galley crew had established on of Orion’s spectacular desert island lunches – rum punch and barbecued tiger prawns. I’ll let you into a secret, travel doesn’t come much better than this!