Samarai Island, PNG

Thu 18 Aug 2016 01:36
10:36.533s 150:39.626E

The conspicuous landmarks are here, just as the chart described them. Palm trees in plenty, with all sorts of other trees, exotic shrubs, bright flowers and ferns in abundance. The steamship wharf is here too but it's now a matrix of piles sticking up out of the water to show where all the comings and goings used to be. Even the "Native toilets" are here as marked: rickety planks leading to a concrete structure built out over the reef, with one corner falling in. Inside a row of 4 holes provide the facilities, along with a sign instructing folk to be sure their waste goes down the hole and asking them not to spit on the concrete.

The town is a beautiful ramshackle shadow of its former glory. It was once the area capital, with warehouses, town hall, library, church and well appointed houses, all overlooked by the Governor's house up on the hill. Now the warehouses are derelict, the houses are shabby and town hall and library ruined. Considered that it was all built back before the '50s it's doing remarkably well but the capital was moved to the mainland and Samarai has become a backwater.

We had a lovely trip up from Ilo Ilo Bay. We were up before light, which was good because as soon as the sun was up the canoes started arriving. One family that we had sent off with a football for the children the day before joined us for a breakfast of coffee, hot chocolate and biscuits. They had brought us intricate shell necklaces as gifts along with papaya, green coconuts and limes to trade with. We traded tinned beef, flour and fish hooks and made gifts of tee-shirts for the children and books for all the family. As more folk arrived we had to apologise that we couldn't greet them properly, explaining we needed to get underway.

By late morning we were at Samarai, anchoring in good holding near the old small ships wharf whilst the tide ran fast past us. By the time we'd caught our breath, put on the sail covers and launched the dinghy it was lunch time on the island so although Felix the Customs, Immigration and Bio-Security Officer had been ready and waiting for us he'd given up and gone home for lunch. That gave us a chance to have a look around and realise quite how run down the town is. The church is simply a facade, a porch and a frontage, through the door all has collapsed. The warehouses are shells or just a supported roof with huge expanses of paved floor underneath for kids to play on when it rains. The old Shell fuel tower is still being used, with creepers entwining the circular stairway that just about manages to cling on the outside of it but has lost its hold at the top.

The people greeted us and came gently to talk with us and welcome us. They smiled their red betel nut smiles showing jagged teeth and invited us to sit in the shade of a tree. The majority of the adults habitually chew the nut, along with pepper and lime. It's a stimulant, rather like caffeine, but the combination dissolves their tooth enamel and stains their gums and lips bright red. They also spit the excess juice all over the place, there's red splat marks everywhere, like someone's been paint gun fighting all over the town.

Soon Felix was ready and he came on board to check us in. It was all very easy: he was happy for us to have ships stores of beer and wine for our personal use and just wanted us to not take any food stuff ashore. We were the second yacht to check in here this year. We still had to fly the yellow quarantine flag as there's no Health Official here so we can't be cleared fully until we get to Rabaul. Felix gave us Port-to-Port clearance so we'll have to check in each major port as we go along.

So we've spent the last couple of days exploring the little island and getting to know some folk. We visited the school and talked with Teacher Simon. We were able to make a gift of some text books that we'd brought from New Zealand with us, as well as giving his black board a new lick of much needed paint. We also painted the one outside the local government offices. If we achieve nothing else at least the people in the islands we visit will be able to use their blackboards! We bumped into an interesting character called Ian driving around in a pickup, the only vehicle we've seen on the island. He was an Australian geologist who's lived and worked in PNG for the last 40 odd years. He looked like he'd just stepped out of a Graham Greene novel. He came aboard for a meal and he proved a mine of information on the country as a whole as well as the local area.

It's been a lovely few days, exploring such an interesting place and meeting lovely people whilst we recovered from the passage and got the boat tidied up again, but the really lovely thing that's happened is Big Ears flew away. He'd been getting perkier and perkier. He started to move around the cockpit, sort of crawling using his wings not hopping. I gave him a shallow dish of water and he sat in it. Then yesterday, just as we were worrying he'd never survive as he hadn't eaten for days, he showed signs of wanting to get up out of the cockpit. Phil put him on the bridge deck where he sat with his wings out feeling the air flow under them before moving to the side deck and launching himself away! Our hearts were in our mouths - would he make it? He seemed to falter, dipping down to the water, then he was up again and alight, the last we saw was a little black dot flying raggedly away.

We miss him. It was great having our 'Discovery Channel' window onto the cockpit and we were used to thinking about him and checking to see how he was doing. But we are delighted that we managed to give him the space to heal and return to the air. Mind you, he may be a bit surprised to find himself in Papua New Guinea.

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