Monday 13th February
I was up early again. This time I was awake to watch the sun push its way into the sky bathing the sea and islands with fresh sunlight.
A new phenomenon has occurred. Bringing the camera from an air conditioned cabin onto the deck means the lens fogs up in the heat and humidity. I have to learn to leave the camera with lens hood off, in the sunlight for 10 minutes.
We berthed at our first landfall in PNG, (Papua New Guinea) at Alotau on the far edge of a long peninsular around the famous Milne Bay where heavy fighting occurred between Australian Troops against the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. The local people sided with the Australians offering food, shelter and advice. Wounded, lost or sick soldiers were helped by the local men and women who became known as the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels. (Fuzzy Wuzzy was the name given to the halo of crinkly hair of the locals.)
Alotau is the local capital where 78,000 people live. (At least that is the number from the last Census in 2010) My observation was that most of them were here walking, riding, lounging, loitering with purposelessness staring at the mostly white people from the cruise ship.
As soon as we left the ship there was a welcoming dance troupe inside the dock area
whilst outside was like a gauntlet of people selling their craft. Within minutes of stepping ashore we could see all these people on mats or tarpaulins or simply sitting on the ground with their goods displayed on a piece of cloth or even banana leaves.
Unemployment is high here in PNG so with nothing to do they do it together. Civic pride is not high on the agenda of anybody it seems.
Chewing Betel Nut mixed with lime powder gives a mild high and a large part of the population chew and spit the red mess everywhere. Actually the red colour comes from another plant which is green about the width of a little finger and twice as long. They call it the lime finger fruit. They dip that in the lime, bite off a piece and chew with the Betel Nut. The whole mess turns red in the mouth. Their lips and teeth are stained red. As one local explained in Pidgin to Wencke …who also speaks Pidgin from living here for four years… the Betel and lime makes me happy…for a short while. Red spit stains are everywhere.
The lime is bought in little plastic bags at the market.
Alcohol is not so readily available but usually villagers join together to buy a carton of beer.
Sweet sugar drinks and sweet foods are popular in the local markets and shops.
Cigarettes are sold almost everywhere and if you are desperate vendors will sell single cigarettes.
I could not help but make comparisons with the Gold Coast. Take a walk along the street at home and we can see dentists, doctors, physiotherapists, chiropractors, solicitors, chemist shops etc are everywhere. Here in Alotau I did not see any health or legal outlets.
The old non air conditioned shuttle bus (no local buses are air conditioned) took us to the Cultural Centre for some local dance troupes and for local artisans selling their carvings of wood, bone, shell and grass. It seems the hundreds of vendors set up a small mat or banana leaf with their wares on display in any bit of shade they could find. Prices of the goods were set deliberately high as they expect you to bargain the price down. Otherwise if the tourists pay full price it is a windfall for them.
The dancers in traditional costume for their area performed their own unique traditional dance routines.
Dance troupes came from remote villages, the highlands and nearby islands.
Each village has a different dance and costume.
I noticed many of the male dancers had a sort of grass jutting out of their backsides. Strangely enough the grass is known as “ass grass”.
War canoes made from hollowed out trees took tourists for a ride around the bay
. A race of three canoes was also performed.
A sudden bolt of lightning followed by a loud bang of thunder and a strong wind and a second lightning strike and grumble of thunder announced it was time for a downpour. The traditional dancers continued to perform on the outdoor stage while spectators and vendors scrambled for shelter.
As quickly as the storm came it was gone, leaving a legacy of water running off the thatched roof, muddy puddles and humidity which became impossibly high.
Next up we visited the local markets where instead of local fruits and vegetables being sold, the prestige under shelter market stalls sold tobacco, betel nut, lime powder and small bunches of raw peanuts.
The next market stalls appeared as a series of under- cover cages selling cheap trinkets and lots of the sweet pastries of sausage mince. For some reason almost every cage sold batteries, cigarettes (by the packet or singly) chewing gum, small torches and mobile phone ear buds.
On the long walk back to the ship, wearing by now, soggy sweaty clothes we said hello or gidday to the hordes of people on the streets. Almost everybody wants to say hello to you.
Incongruously I was bemused by a large sign at the entrance to the secure area of the port. “Beware of Aids” it said in English. Below in Pidgin it said to wear a kondom. I wonder why the sign is at the port rather than in town where the speakers of Pidgin would be more likely to see it.
Dinner tonight was at the Waterfront Restaurant where I selected a table on the Starboard side of the ship which gave magnificent views across Milne Bay towards the mountains and the setting sun.
Tonight’s floor show was a very talented singer and accomplished musician, Hayden Smith and his wife Alexis. They kept the audience spellbound and singing along with the popular songs.
Afterwards we sat at the stern of deck 12 with tea and a cheese plate. ARIA was still alongside the wharf. We were delayed by some maintenance issues. Suddenly all the town lights went out. Only a few backup lights around the jetty and our ships lights can be seen. The town survives on generator power. The generator is turned off at 9pm every night A big silver moon rose above the hillside overlooking the town. It was still hot and steamy on the aft deck.
After a long day of cultural confrontation and shock along with heat and humidity and a long walk back to town we were all tired. Bed beckons.
Overnight, tomorrow and tomorrow night are sailing time. We arrive in Madang Wednesday morning for another bout of culture shock.