Luf Ladies (and Bento)

Sun 2 Oct 2016 07:56

Luf was an absolute haven. No worries about security, an astoundingly beautiful location, and wonderfully friendly people. We felt we could relax, take some time out for a few snorkel trips, catch up on some chores and re-build our energy.  We arrived on a Saturday and were greeted by Ben, who was paddled out to us by Cedric, who’s about 10, a lovely lad who had a great time spying on the community through our binoculars, delighting in the feeling of seeing without being seen, whilst Ben helped us find a place to anchor. Which was easier said than done. 

The only bad thing about Luf was the anchoring. The bay has coral all around the shore and is very steep to, rising up from over 50m in the centre to nothing. It was very hard to find a place far enough away from the reef yet shallow enough to anchor, and hard to get the anchor to dig - there is sand there but it’s between coral bommies so basically you drag the anchor along until it hooks on a bommie- not very secure because if the wind changes and you pull the other direction it will unhook. We found a patch about 35m deep and put out 95m of chain. I don’t think a night passed when we weren’t up once or twice as squalls and thunderstorms came through, whilst we watched to be sure the anchor didn’t drag. The reef felt uncomfortably close and we had almost all our chain out so couldn’t drop more if we dragged. However, we didn’t drag, so that was ok!

The island is completely Seventh Day Adventist (except that Lois and Robert’s son, Reeves, is a Rasta but he still attends church) so, as it was the Sabbath,  we were able to leave our trip ashore until Sunday morning, taking a nap to recover from night watches and then following Cedric’s example as we watched the life of the village from on deck. It was good not to have to field traders quite yet, we even managed to have an anchor beer. Next morning we were keen to go ashore with the gifts Tom and Susie on Adina had asked us to bring - crockery and cutlery, along with a selection of useful items from ourselves, to the Ladies who were going to start a restaurant. As you can imagine, Freda, Lois and Nancy were delighted and didn’t mind in the slightest that we were a year late with the delivery. We arranged to return for the grand opening the next day: we were to be the Sea Breeze Restaurant’s first customers.

Bento showing us around.

Bento, and of course a posse of pikaninis, took us around the village to show us the sights. It’s a well cared for place with the best elementary and primary schools we’ve seen all through PNG. It had resources for the students, reading books and text books, and excellent wall displays. Clearly they had good teachers who organised their classrooms well and a community that supported the schools. However, I was a little concerned to read one of the school rules. Clearly prejudice against redheads is not restricted to more developed countries! 

The village doesn’t have a clinic, however, so we arranged to come back in the afternoon to treat some people’s sores and infections. It turned out Freda and Bento were the next quarter’s Health Officers for the church so we were able to leave them plenty of medication and medical supplies. The ladies spent some time showing me how they cook sago and we made arrangements for them to come out to Lochmarin to see how we cook some of the local foods.


Next morning Ben came with us out to one of the reefs for a snorkel. It was very beautiful, with giant clams over four feet across and many varieties of corals and fish. There were some rather nice cone shaped soft corals and plenty of the white branching corals I’m particularly fond of. 

Soft “cone" coral imitating a cuppa and a rather colourful clam.

Blue star fish and the f’ish hotel’ branching coral.

These ones are home to a surprisingly large number of little fish, who all manage to hide between the branches when one gets too close. Most of these corals are sort of little bushes, about three feet across at most, but we came across a huge one, 20 feet across and 25 feet high, with a big chunk fallen off it at the side. From afar one could see a number of fish around it but when you got in close you could see there were hundreds, maybe thousands of fish living there. I took a little video (very badly) so you can see for yourself. Remember the scale, for example the two big fish in the opening half minute are Spade Fish, about 14 inches across.

It was a good job we’d developed a hearty appetite. There was an absolute feast for lunch, and all of it delicious. In addition, the ladies had decorated the restaurant with craft goods - baskets, shell jewellery, little pots made of shells, and hung the walls with paintings by Reeves. He is a good artist: some of his abstract work is very original and accomplished. He also paints scenes from traditional stories, capturing the feel of the PNG we’ve grown to love. His difficulty is that it’s very hard to get his work seen when he lives on a little atoll 200 miles from the mainland. He is going to get himself set up with email when he next makes the trip (in a 23ft open boat, not a small undertaking), and we’ll put a page of his pictures up on this blog so that more folk can see, and perhaps buy via mail order, his paintings. Needless to say, there’s no internet or phone signal on The Hermit Islands.

Sisters Freda, Nancy and lois in their Sea Breeze Restaurant.

We spent a week on Luf, getting to know the folk on shore, eating with them, trading with them, going to church and just chatting and sharing ideas with them. The ladies’ day on Lochmarin was a great success (Phil and Bento went fishing on the outer reef), they enjoyed tasting and seeing prepared my take on sago (cooked with honey and lemon juice), bananas cooked in lemon juice and brown sugar, shaved coconut sprinkled with soy sauce and pineapple chow, Trinidad style, with herbs, garlic and salt and pepper. We finished off with a treat they can’t make, not having a freezer or mains power: banana “ice cream”. It’s bananas frozen in chunks then whizzed with a hand blender along with a little vanilla and a handful of fresh grated coconut, you whizz it quick then eat it before it defrosts. Delicious.  There’s plenty of food in the Hermit islands, with gardens up on the hill tops, but everyone wants a different way to prepare things now and again. Whilst we were there a local MP (currently suspended) came in a 25ft boat with an outboard from the mainland. He was travelling around the constituency, to raise support but also, in the case of the Hermit Islands, to hunt for deer. The German planters who used to live there had introduced them and there’s plenty roaming one of the islands. We let him have some epoxy to fix a leaking tank and in return he told us he’d give us some venison when he caught it. He caught two, we heard, but we didn’t see any of the meat - politicians: full of promises they don’t keep the world over!

On our last day two special things happened. The first was the island heard the news that the Government plans to build a High School on The Hermit Islands. This will mean big changes: of course the young people will no longer have to go to the mainland to study but also there will be a big influx of people, other students, teachers, carers, as the students will board. Phone reception and 3G will most likely come too. Big changes for the close knit, church oriented, Luf community.

The second special thing was rather more personal to us: we went with Ben to where the mantas live and snorkelled with them. Ben knew just where to look. There were two when we first arrived but more came and went, with seven there at one time. There was one particular bommie that they were playing chase around, sometimes with the tail of one manta in the mouth of the next. And they were simply superb. From about 12 up to 16 or 18 feet across, they were massive and awe inspiring and breathtakingly beautiful. Ben is a really good free diver (my ears bother me after a certain depth) and he seemed to be friends with one of the smaller ones. He’d drop down and hold on to it and stroke its back and it would just sit there enjoying it. I think he thought Bento was some sort of big cleaner wrasse. I didn’t take a camera, we’d got photos of them in the Marquesas and I wanted to be able to enjoy simply being with them rather than looking through a lens, but I have no doubt that the sight of those beautiful creatures all around us will never leave our memories. 

A  Luf Island ‘smolhaus’. You’d have to watch your step in the night...