Monday, 23 February 2009

Day Forty Four: Rabaul – an active volcano

There are an awful lot of people on this ship asking the question, “Why on earth did we stop here?” We are on the northern tip of Papua New Guinea and the only claim to fame that this part of the island seems to have is that it was occupied by the Japanese in WWII and they proceeded to down a lot of US aircraft on the island, kill a lot of Australians and built a load of tunnels. Certainly the tours offered by P & O did not appeal to us but we thought that we would go ashore and see what the town had to offer.

The run in to Rabaul was pretty good even though the ship was late, due we are told to one of the daughter engines having to be dedicated to air conditioning, a strange explanation for if you looked at the TV screen which shows the ship’s running statistics we were doing 25 knots in the final approach and that is pretty much maximum speed, we usually run closer to 22 knots. We planned to get up early to do the laundry now that the Australian regulations have expired, but with one thing and another we missed the early time slot and Hilary didn’t get there until close to 8.30am and the place was heaving. Hilary got a washing machine fairly quickly but driers were a different matter entirely. I went for a leisurely breakfast of course while my wife was slaving away but we did meet up and I helped by waiting around for a drier to become available and offering moral support until someone said that the Rabaul volcano was erupting and then I went off to photograph it. By the time I got back we had acquired one of the precious driers and it was Hilary’s turn to go and get some photos. The whole washing/drying experience lasted the best part of 3 hours, just in time for us to hear the captain’s announcement that we had cleared customs and could go ashore whenever we liked.

It was interesting to see how they berthed this long ship against the tiny wharf as the boat overhung each end of the harbour wall by 60 metres each end. Instead of the little man throwing his ball and line over the side they had to send a boat from the harbour to pick up the big hawsers and then tow them 20 yards or so to the shore for three men to pick them up and loop them over a concrete post. They did this four times for the two forward and stern lines but the forward and aft springs were attached to the dock in the usual way. One of today’s pictures should show the little boat that they used for the lines.

One good thing about the berth was that it is right in the middle of a commercial harbour, but that is the only good thing to say about it for this is a dirt poor area that is constantly under threat of a volcanic explosion. The locals told us that it has been erupting like this for 14 years and everywhere we walked it was on a carpet of volcanic ash. We did eventually go ashore and walked past rusting boats, rusting cargo containers and general disrepair until we got to the exit gate of the harbour. Here there were about a hundred or so local people with their pitiful array of goods for sale, some clothes, some fabric, some shell necklaces, some shells, a lot of carved idols, masks, phallic symbols, a lot of wooden dinosaurs and a few purses and bags. We had already planned to use some of our Australian dollars in an attempt to help their economy and Hilary bought a hand made string bag and a beaded purse. The bag she chose was a pale green on the outside and darker green on the inside – at least this is what we thought until we examined it, for what appeared to be light green was actually dark green covered in volcanic ash. The bag has probably been hung on the railings and offered for sale for quite some time. The people are very poor here and I have no idea how they make a living, it can’t be easy, we made no attempt to haggle over prices, just looking at the obvious state of their health made us aware how lucky we are. On our way back to the ship we watched a number of children jumping around in the water, very happy and totally unaware that just yards away from them were broken and rusting hulks and I have no doubt that the water that they were playing in was terribly polluted.

We were in desperate need of a good shower by the time we made the trek back to the ship and in our cabin we could see how we were covered in a fine layer of volcanic ash pretty much all over our clothes and exposed parts of our skin. I chose to wash mine off with a swim in one of the ship’s swimming pools followed by a shower to get rid of the chlorine while Hilary used the shower in our cabin to not only wash herself but also to clean the bag and purse that she had bought by taking them into the shower with her. Good idea but she then discovered that the bath (our shower is over a bath) was dyed green which could only be removed by using one of our precious Persil tablets! With that I will pass you over for Hilary’s comments on the day.

Tiz I. That green dye took some scrubbing and then I had the problem of what to do with the dripping green dyed bag – how was I going to dry it where it would not drip and stain what ever it dripped on! Solution a plastic bag over the window sill and the bag placed, very carefully, on top of it. It has been a day of washing! The volcano was amazing, I never expected the ash to travel so far and be so fine – it gets everywhere. Sam is right, when I saw the conditions of the people I knew that we had to spend some money in the community to help the peoples economy. The bags are pretty now they are clean – the green one has darkened a lot without the dust on it – even the postcards I found with the tourist group were sticky with the dust. I will not be sending any cards from here, I have no idea where the people buy stamps or how to get there. The only form of mass transport I saw was an old ex army truck with seats in it – it was full of people going somewhere. The ship usually has a form of transport for us to get to town but today they had nothing – I believe there is none. So we have only seen the harbour area. Behind the harbour the island is set on a non active volcano and the village rises up about one third of the way to the summit. The hillside is covered in tropical trees and plants. Beyond the poverty is the most beautiful island in a beautiful setting but under constant threat of the active volcano (on an adjacent island) blowing out its deadly ash, smoke and lava. It has been hot and humid and dusty but I am so pleased that we washed up in this beautiful place. Now a message for Marlene. What is all this about moving back to Plymouth? I did not know that you were thinking of that. Give yourself time to really think through what you think will be the best long term move for you and Tara. Of course we would love to have you back but take your time before you make a decision. I’ll be back in just over a months’ time and I’ll be hoping to see you then. OK it is now 6.15pm and I have to be ready and down stairs (6 flights of stairs) by 6.30pm – I had better go. Take care, God bless.
What could be better than deep fried brie with cranberries, red mullet with shrimp sauce and bananas smothered in toffee and ice cream? I only mention this as Hilary and I both chose this for dinner tonight – it has to be better than Tesco kippers boiled in a bag doesn’t it? We are missing the theatre tonight, it has a classical pianist – very good I am told but not my cup of tea – and the cinema which has Mama Mia again. While I am up here writing this drivel in the CyberStudy on deck 13, Hilary is in our cabin sorting out the scrapbook photos and also putting all the ship’s photos in an Oriana album that we purchased tonight. With that I will wish you goodnight, we have 5 days at sea before we reach Hong Kong so we have the chance for some serious lecture listening and some sunbathing and swimming.


Jessica said...

Wow. That volcano is magnificent!
I have applied for Monday off, it's in the hands of the administrators now.
Please let me know what time you'll get into HK so I can try to plan accordingly. If I can't get Monday off I'll have to leave at 4pm on Sunday, if I can, I have to leave at 4pm Monday. Madness.

samw7 said...

Just a thought. Can you confirm with Jess the day (Saturday or Sunday) you actually arrive in the China calendar.I woke up last night wandering if the international dateline makes a difference as to the day that you are actually in port.Glad you got to see the volcano. Sounds as though those folks can use some financial assistance. Glad you could help.
Love to you both, sam

Sharon and Georgia said...

Hi Aunty and Uncle,

I bet the community on the Island of PNG enjoy and look forward to the 'travellers from around the world who visit on the big ship'. I am sure it adds to their excitement and to their survival. It must have been fascinating to have experienced the volcano.

Much love xx