Friday, November 18, 2011

Strong nerves and sure feet get you across the road in Port Moresby

by Geoffrey Heard

In a town where most people are on foot, there is remarkably little consideration given to pedestrians in Port Moresby. Everywhere in this city, you will see pedestrians diving through traffic to cross roads. There are few traffic lights or pedestrian crossings and particularly in the case of the latter, these are more honored in the breach than otherwise.

In fact, rather than catering for pedestrians, when the vast majority on foot have found their own way through the actively anti-pedestrian vehicular morass, the traffic policy makers have gone out of their way to place hurdles in their path -- literally!

Take the situation between the outward bound and inward bound PMV (Passenger Motor Vehicle -- minibus) stops at 4 Mile/Boroko, a busy shopping and gathering area for the many and an important bus interchange. Boroko is on the southern side and 4 Mile on the northern side of a major road, the Sir Hubert Murray Highway, four lanes of tearing traffic with a half meter (2 foot or so) island in the middle.

If you wish to cross the Sir Hubert Murray Highway to shop, go to the bank, take your child to school, visit the clinic, reach your house, change bus direction, or whatever, you can choose the only pedestrian bridge in Papua New Guinea or dash across the road through the traffic.

Most choose the dash through speeding, patently unfriendly car, bus, and truck traffic for three reasons. The first is that much of the time, the bridge is simply far too narrow to carry the traffic -- it is just wide enough for two people to pass in opposite directions. The second is that it is a favorite haunt of pickpockets, bag snatchers, muggers, and other low lifes ready to take advantage of any crush developing (a bunch of suspects lurks at the 4 Mile end of the bridge; I’ve spotted a couple on the Boroko side too). The third problem is inconvenience; the bridge takes you a block out of the direct way to most destinations.

To take their chance on the road, people step over the bus stop crash barrier, climb down to road level using one of two footholds* in the stone retaining wall, then dash to sanctuary on the narrow dividing island when there’s a break in traffic. They then make the quick dash through a break in the traffic in the opposite direction to get to the other side.

People have been making this death defying dash forever. So sooner or later, the authorities had to do something about it. They might have provided a secure pedestrian crossing (i.e. one with traffic lights) or built another, wider bridge. But instead, last year (2010) they built a fence along the middle of the traffic island to try to stop the pedestrians!

What the hey? Where are they supposed to go? Queue up to be mugged on the bridge?

Fortunately, however, the anti-pedestrian forces suffered a reverse due to their own incompetence -- the fence is too low to stop many pedestrians. They can step over it, albeit with a little difficulty for the shorter legged members of the community or ladies in skirts or laplaps since the top of the fence is somewhat spiked and you could catch your clothing on it or do a nasty injury to yourself if you slipped halfway. So the less able, including mothers with toddlers in hand and school-age children in tow, are seen sidling down the median strip to the end of the fence with traffic roaring past at 60+ kph (35+ mph) within touching distance.

They do it, though, because they figure this is safer and faster than the bridge.

The same disregard for the needs of pedestrians an be seen throughout Port Moresby. One intersection with traffic lights on Waigani Drive (six lanes, three each way) offers a marked pedestrian crossing from one side to the median divider -- but nothing beyond that! One speculates about the fate of the law-abiding pedestrian trapped on the island. Will they ever reach the other side? Tune in tomorrow for an update! :)

There are the occasional zebra pedestrian crossings; the wise walker waits until the road is clear before crossing (as s/he would if there was no marked crossing there) because most drivers seem to regard them as legitimate prey.
It’s the darting dash or nothing.

I’m told this anti-pedestrianism s not just a Port Moresby phenomenon but in the islands, Rabaul/Kokopo and Kavieng, car, bus, and truck drivers have a much more friendly attitude towards those of lesser perambulatory means. Six lanes of traffic grinding to a halt for a lone pedestrian on the zebra crossing to the main market in Kokopo is routine while an inebriated cyclist I saw wobbling along the wrong side of the road in Kavieng was in more danger of skinned knees from falling off than of being run down by a truck.

So what is it that makes Port Moresby so anti the person on foot? Maybe it’s just the big town environment where people are strangers. Maybe it’s the ubiquitous street crime; drivers who stop for pedestrians at the zebra crossing in Koki have found themselves the victims of armed hold-ups. Or maybe it’s just a tough town where everyone is scratching for an advantage and once they get it, hold on to it grimly. Perhaps those who have got off their feet and into a motor vehicle don;t actually wish to inflict body harm or worse on pedestrians but are are simply making a point about status.

*I have a foolish little vanity that I am the only white person in Port Moresby who knows about those footholds and routinely uses them -- small things amuse small minds. That;'s my inverted status symbol, I suppose. :) ###


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Bride price -- it’s a clan affair not a store purchase, dammit!

By Geoffrey Heard

The traditional marriage settlement in Papua New Guinea is usually called “bride price” in English and is crudely characterized by most outsiders as the purchase of a woman -- often the forced purchase -- as a chattel, a slave of her husband whose only value is to produce children and produce food as a garden cultivator.

There are cases of this, of course -- there are hundreds of different cultural groups in Papua New Guinea and very large variations among them in respect of marriage settlements and the position of women in society. In addition, as in any culture, there are brutes of men who abuse their wives and children, regarding them as chattels or worse.

But by and large, the simplistic outsiders’ view is wrong. While it certainly happened and some pretty vile practices have been recorded, it obviously doesn’t stand up in the many areas where women are the stewards of land and inheritance is matrilineal (land is the very foundation of life in any subsistence farming community), it doesn’t stand up in the many cultures which include courtship rituals which allow a degree of individual choice in marriage partner, and it doesn’t stand up in most cultures I know where men are dominant -- at least not today and not for a long time.

The chattel story is one of the white man’s nasty little fictions which ignores his own recent and pretty unsavory history of repression of women (the suffragettes in England are remembered, when that can’t be avoided, in connection with voting; all too often the depth and seriousness of the repression they were fighting against has disappeared into the void) while putting down others of a different skin color and different culture.

In most cases, Papua New Guinea marriage settlements are a payment from the husband’s family to the bride’s family. A friend from southern Bougainville once described the two-way settlement system in his area -- there were bride and husband prices, as it were, with the bride price being higher. In my experience, this is an exception.

Another failure of understanding by many outsiders is the complexity of the system. They tend to see “a man”, one side, paying a huge sum for “a woman”, the other side. But typically, there is no such thing as an individual making a marriage settlement, the settlement comes from the husband’s clan and goes to the wife’s clan. And then some!

Marriage settlement contribution and distribution is part of the mutual obligation system which Papua New Guinea is built on. You contribute to a marriage settlement; you will receive proportionately from the next one your clan collects. Everybody knows who owes what to whom and why -- and the debits and credits can span multiple generations and take on byzantine proportions.

Rules of contribution or distribution of the goods and monies might be quite strict according to nearness of relationship to the couple or they might be quite open with an expectation but not a rule. Needless to say, any branch of the family which fails to contribute to rule expectation can expect appropriate treatment at distribution time!

When my family, who are Tolais from the area near Rabaul, was preparing a marriage settlement, they sent the word out along the clan lines. It is almost impossible to calculate how many would have been involved in contributing, but my daughter-in-law was once talking about people three or four times removed from her and they, in turn, would have relied links that went even further if they didn’t have the “ready”.

The complexity can become byzantine. Very often, individuals both give and receive through different ancestral lines, and even more often, where a husband is paying out, the wife is receiving, and vice versa.

Among the Tolai, marriage settlements -- mostly made up front at the time of the marriage -- are regulated by local government councils who restrict both the currency and the amount. Four hundred param (fathoms) of tambu, traditional shell money, is the maximum allowed in my family’s area. The restrictions do not remove all difficulties -- the tiny cowrie shells used to make tambu have been fished out in all the near areas and have to be bought for cash from locations hundreds of kilometers away -- but the rules have helped in keeping the marriage settlement custom alive and well. That’s important, not just because of its economic impact, but because of its enormous impact on social cohesion. See

In Karai Komana and many nearby areas in eastern and central Papua, the marriage settlement is made years after the couple has married and produced a family. It is a celebration of their marriage and the contribution the wife has made to the husband’s family and clan. Normal practice is for a payment, the Bole, to be made to the wife’s family a year after the first child is born. It used to be some piles of peeled yams but today might be about K4000 plus some pigs and lots of yams (peeled, of c0urse! But why? Nobody knows). This is a statement that the child (and subsequent children) belong to the husband’s clan, an assurance of continuing marriage, and a promise of complete settlement later.

The settlement I saw, for Kurona’s wife, Nigona, was four children (the oldest is 16) and the best part of 20 years into the marriage.

If that first payment is not made, traditionally the marriage might be annulled at that point, the wife returning to her family -- taking her child or children with her.

An ungenerous payment will be seen as an insult, as a rejection of the wife and of cocking a snook at her clan, and might also lead to termination of the marriage. Better to make no payment at all than to offer up a spavined pig and K20!

The initial payment points to the universal recognition in subsistence communities of the value of children. They are loved for themselves, of course, but they are also a subsistence family’s health insurance and old age pension. The parents (and aunts and uncles) will support the children when they are young and the children will reciprocate when the parents and grandparents and possibly the odd uncle or aunt, are old, infirm, and unable to pull their weight in the gardens any longer. The cost of raising children is an investment.

In the industrialized west, there is no expectation that children will reciprocate so parents see the cost of children rearing as an expense, not an investment, which reduces their ability to make financial provision for their own future. They might very well make the decision not to have children -- a decision which would be the greatest folly in a subsistence community.

The escalation of the marriage settlement payments is no problem so long as the system is closed -- the medium of exchange -- fruit, veges, handcrafts, pigs, shell money, and whatever produced in the villages or traditionally traded -- goes round and round, and it doesn’t come out. People grow their own money, in effect. Knowing that a settlement is coming up, they plant extra crops for their contribution. Knowing they are going to receive a settlement, they take it a bit easy. In most parts of Papua New Guinea, the productivity of the environment is high enough for people to be able to work several days less than a full week to subsist, so cultivating an extra garden for marriage contributions is no problem at all.

But when people are living in a cash economy, the money doesn’t go round and round, it goes in and out and participants working regular jobs get regular pay -- they don’t have the income elasticity of their country cousins.

This can lead to financial disaster. Most of those working in the cash economy, even the those who might be described as middle class, are relatively poorly paid -- they are generally worse off than their country cousins put a day or two a week into cash crops. The perception, however, is the other way about so the town dwellers are expected to stump up big time when a traditional obligation is to be fulfilled. Failure to meet that expectation will result in loss of face and loss of standing within the clan. This is very, very serious with long term ramifications.

As a result, townies can be driven into the clutches of the moneylenders with personally catastrophic results. In Papua New Guinea, legal small short-term non-bank lenders charge 20-40 percent annual interest rates. At these rates (expressed in terms of months to repay rather than percentage of loan capital) borrowers can dig a deep, deep financial hole for themselves very quickly. Recently PNG’s biggest bank, BSP, Bank South Pacific, has been attempting to help borrowers find their way out by offering bank loans. However, it’s rumored bank employees are among the non-bank lenders’ biggest customers.

This kind of financial peril along with the move away from village life, and the high number of mixed marriages -- people marrying outside their traditional boundaries -- is leading to the old marriage settlement traditions breaking down. Often, no marriage settlement, bride price, is paid at all.

That’s sad -- as I found in Karai Komana and as I’ve also seen among the Tolai, the marriage settlement is a time of fun, togetherness, and vital reinforcement of family and clan links.

The day the last marriage settlement is paid in Papua New Guinea will be a sad day indeed -- it will mark the loss of a key unifying factor among the nation’s peoples. ###


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

Karai Komana marriage settlement -- color, noise, extravagance, fun and family links

By Geoffrey Heard

“We are people who like to have fun!” Laeko Bala, Lavui’s mother, rasped on Sunday morning, as we settled side by side into the back of the Toyota for the trip down the mountains and back to Port Moresby.

She was hoarse from a day of prancing and dancing, hooting, hollering, chanting, and singing in recognition, thanks and praise for contributions from the many branches of the family who gave to the marriage settlement for her eldest son, Kurona -- Lavui’s big brother. (She was deputized for the role by her aunt, the woman clan leader, whose voice had faded too much to lead the celebrations.) Then there was the subsequent night of feasting, singing, dancing, talking, general fun, and exhausted sleep. How she kept it up, I don’t know. I’d fallen over before 9pm -- and I was just a spectator!

Laeko was speaking the truth though. Her clan had stretched its resources to the limit to put up a good show for Kurona and Nigona, his wife, presenting her extended family with K30,044 (about $13,000), six pigs (about K6500 in total), one cow (K1500), a wall of locally grown produce -- including yams, sweet potato, bananas, pitpit, pandanus, and betel nut, 60 10kg bags of rice, 230 traditional hand woven string bags, and to top it off, a carton of two minute noodles! This was an expression of the high regard in which Nigona is held in her marriage clan and of thanks to her birth clan for giving her up.

But while the underlying intention was serious, it was also all about having fun. As we drove down the mountain, members of my host family were talking about the fun they had had and eagerly looking forward to more getting together with more fun, feasting, singing, dancing and general roistering, at another marriage settlement in December when the Bala family and its clan would be on the receiving end instead of being the givers.

They were expecting a pretty bounteous haul -- virtually a refilling of their coffers -- but the actual total and the amount each clan member would receive weren’t in the forefront of their minds in the financial sense. The first interest in the size of what was to come seemed to be how the other clan would “score” in a sporting sense. The record cash component for a karai Komana Dava is a bit over K31,000 -- but that was when virtually the whole village was contributing to settle for a woman from outside the area. Would the giving clan in December be able to match the Bala family’s total? Or would they outscore them? Would they come up with some cunning ploy, like driving several live cows up the mountain and dramatically slaughtering them on the spot (the Bala family delivered their cow ready-slaughtered but the pigs were all alive)?

Anything was possible and it would all add to the fun.

Still, refilling the coffers was not something to be taken lightly because of escalating marriage settlements in Karai Komana and many other communities in Papua New Guinea where people now live in a mixed economy. Those who live in the village mostly live by subsistence farming with a little cash income from trading excess produce. A few go for money, focusing on cash crops. One man has a betel nut (areca palm) plantation -- betel, buai, is a high value crop and can return a good profit despite the remoteness of the village. But today a large number of people live and work away from the village, living in a cash economy, as nearly all Lavui’s family does and, in fact, most people from Karai Komana do.

Expected to contribute big time to the Dava but lacking the income elasticity of their country cousins, the townies can find themselves on financial trouble if they don't get substantial a pay back from the system quickly.

So yes, they are in it for the family fun but perforce they must keep a close eye on the figures. ###


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

Return to Karai Komana

By Geoffrey Heard

“My brother’s Dava -- that’s our name for marriage settlement -- is happening in the village on October 29. Like to come?” said my mate, Lavui, on the phone. Would I like a return to Karai Komana in the Rigo mountains east of Port Moresby? And for a Dava too? Would I what!

I visited Karai Komana, Lavui’s home village, last year (2010) for a quick in-and-out trip during the night. See May 2010, I Break Out!

I hadn’t really seen the place, let alone the magnificent scenery of the area. That the scenery was magnificent was made clear by the hair-raising seven hour b0uncing and jouncing trip up and down the mountains to get there and back. Whenever the road, um, track is as precipitous and rough as that, you know the scenery is magnificent even if you can’t see it!

My Tolai son confirmed it. Despite being from Rabaul right on the other side of Papua New Guinea, he knew the area, having walked through it in younger days. “Wait till you see the places where the track is running along the ridge and there is nothing but space on both sides of the road,” he chuckled when I told him where I was going. Cheeky wretch; I brought him up on the Bougainville mine road in the early stages of its construction and the then notorious Chimbu sections of the Highlands Highway. There were times on both those roads in the wet season when we had to tailgate a bulldozer cutting a path through a mud and rock slide, with the mud closing up behind us. If the mud caught us, we would be over the edge of a 300+ meter (1000 foot) drop. Instant death and instant burial. How dare he try to scare me!

We would be staying in the village for two nights so I shopped accordingly. One 2 inch foam mattress, sheet, blanket, pillow, towel. I packed a change of clothes including long pants and a jacket; while Port Moresby was sweltering in doldrums heat and humidity, Karai Komana is at a considerable height and it could be fresh during the day and markedly cool at night.

The trip to the village started with the usual chaos of any extended family holiday journey; people popping up from all over the place with items to take (particularly contributions to the marriage settlement) and/or looking for a seat in the back of the Toyota Landcruiser 4WD truck (or ute as we call it in Australia). Lavui had to take a firm line to maintain an appearance of legality (in PNG, that means everyone sitting down within the confines of the truck and no arms, legs or bits of cargo sticking out the side) and a modicum of comfort for the closest family members. We only had one truck, we could have used a small fleet!

First stop was the pig farm where we purchased pigs to contribute to the bride price. Thankfully, Lavui was able to hand those off to his brother to take in his big truck so they didn’t have to come with us. I like pigs -- we used to have a few on the farm in my youth -- but I have never had a burning ambition to share passenger space with them when we’re bouncing up a mountain. Odd, that! :)

Then it was round the city making last minute purchases and collecting passengers and luggage before we finally hit the road in the gathering cool of the evening.

There were the usual stops to buy buai (betel nut) at roadside stalls lit only by a kerosene lamp as we rolled down the sealed road to Kwikila east of Port Moresby, then we turned towards the mountains, forded the big river, and started to climb.

The steep, badly eroded track was muddy, slippery and cut up. It had rained in the previous few days and with the marriage settlement about to happen, there had been a lot of traffic -- there would be a lot more before the weekend was over -- with scores of members of both the giving and receiving clans hurrying home from Port Moresby and other centers for the big event.

Several times, Lavui had to backup and tackle a section again as the Landcruiser was brought to a halt by deep, muddy holes in steep sections of the track. Once, everyone in the back had to get out and walk for a stretch while Lavui threw his usual finesse out the window and with a demonic grin and a vice-like grip on the steering wheel, slammed the Toyota up the mountain by main force, the engine roaring, the wheels spinning, the truck lurching and sliding.

We reached Karai Komana at midnight, unloaded our gear, unrolled our mats and mattresses on the floor of the small hut allocated to us, and within minutes, fell into a dreamless sleep cosseted by the quiet breathing of a dozen others similarly engaged who were sharing the room.

Next morning, Saturday, dawned fine and clear -- a little overcast, but with no hint of rain. Good. It was going to be a great day. More people had arrived in the early hours, and our Toyota had gone back down the mountain to ferry up the pigs from the point where the big truck had had to stop.

In the meantime, there was breakfast, and time to walk around the village, get to know new friends, and to appreciate the beauty of the location.

The place was bubbling with the fun and excitement of the Dava in prospect! (See my next post.)


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Inventing the wheel

by Geoffrey Heard

It’s pretty amazing how round a coconut palm trunk looks and how not round a disc cut from it turns out to be. But a couple of coconut trunk discs were still round enough for Lawrence and Faezi to use to invent the wheel for young Bale’s (pron. Barlay) bicycle -- his kokol, as he dubbed it in his three year old nakedness, for some totally unknown reason.

An old bike frame had been hanging around since 14 year old Faezi began messing with it last year -- putting together a running bike from a collection of bits trawled from the middens of his own and neighboring villages. He made it, too, which given his inexperience as a mechanic, his limited number of tools, and the state of the parts he was working with ought to go down in the annals of cycling as a triumph. But the old parts kept breaking so in the end the bits were returned to the midden -- that is, until young Bale toddled down and dragged the frame back up to the house, demanding action on his kokol.

Bale wanted wheels so after appropriate procrastination by Lawrence and Faezi had failed to dim his enthusiasm, they cogitated in depth and came up with a way.
With Bale hovering and providing an unwonted helping hand from time to time, they cut a couple of discs from a coconut palm log and chopped away the bark. Not perfectly round, but pretty good. Then drilling holes for axles -- in the absence of a drill, the fact that the haus kuk fire was burning and there was a steel rod handy meant that the holes were going to be burnt out.

And so they were. Not terribly straight, but as Lawrence pointed out, they would make for a much more interesting ride that way.

Making the wheels and fitting them took an whiled away a pleasant couple of hours, giving Bale his first few rides took about ten minutes, then the whole thing collapsed for want of a second axle (we were using a round file for the front axle), and we all decided it was too hot to pursue the project further. Bale, to my surprise, was perfectly happy with the outcome.

His kokol had been created, he had ridden it, and he had no more demand for it in that form. He continued to drag the wheel-less frame around for a couple of days, seeming to make no distinction between a kokol with and without wheels. The rest of us were perfectly happy too. Lawrence and Faezi had proved their concept and as chief spectator and urger, I was more than satisfied with my morning’s free entertainment. ###


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011. The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

It’s pretty quiet here, but something interesting is always happening

by Geoffrey Heard

The latest local production in the baby stakes is getting ready to walk. I was somewhat surprised to hear her parents say they would make a walking frame for her.

I had a vision of my 80 year old friend with his walking frame… No not quite right, and how would you make one anyway in a PNG village? Your typical toddler “walking” thing in Australia (and a lot of the rest of the world) is a brightly colored plastic vehicle with wheels, flashing lights, raucous sound, and a seat so the toddler can thrash around the legs and at some point, get an idea that they don’t need the machine. Even less likely for village production.

I strolled down to the haus kuk for a cup of tea a little later and saw the walking frame in the final throes of construction.

It turns out to be some sticks garnered from nearby brush cut to the preferred length then hammered into the ground and horizontals lashed to it. Baby was on to it in a flash.

When she’s walking freely in a week or so, the sticks will join the kitchen firewood heap. Too easy.


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011. The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Kavieng to Rabaul with Solwara Meri

By Geoffrey Heard

New Ireland is described in Tok Pisin as a "masket" -- rifle -- it is a long, skinny island only a few kilometers wide in most parts, lying roughly northwest/southeast, with Kavieng at its northwestern end and the second town, Namatanai, 263 kilometers away (as the Buliminski Highway runs) in the mountainous southeastern end -- the butt of the masket.

New Ireland is coral (unlike New Britain which is pretty much all volcanic) which makes for legendary white beaches, wonderful reefs, cool streams of sparkling pure water running out of the limestone mountain spine, and the sweetest fruit you have ever eaten. Pineapple with no acid after taste? Just dripping sweetness? It's simply not fair!

I call Rabaul and environs paradise and in many ways it is. So what can I call new Ireland? It's paradise too. We have a bit of an embarrassment of paradisiacal riches in this part of the world, actually! :)

It was a huge pleasure to visit Kavieng and be in Medina again, but my time was limited so I had to get on to Rabaul. A call to Solwara Meri (Mermaid) had the next sector of my travel organized in a moment. Solwara Meri runs a "banana boat" -- open 22 foot outboard-powered boat -- ferry service from the west coast of New Ireland near Namatanai across the St George's Channel to Rabaul. Three services a day -- early morning, noon, and afternoon -- with the boats running in pairs for mutual assistance if necessary.

Their own buses were full but I could catch an associate's bus from Kavieng when it came through Medina at about 10 in the morning. It would bring me to Namatanai where I would board their truck for the quick trip to their west coast speedboat base to catch the 3 o'clock run to Rabaul. No sweat.

It went just as arranged -- at 3 o'clock precisely, we were pushing off from the New Ireland beach, next stop Kokopo/Rabaul.

Pushed along by one or two 60hp Yamahas, the boats make the trip in about an hour and a half in the smoothest water -- early morning -- and a bit longer later when the swell gets up. Our trip starting at 3pm took a bit over two hours -- the boats had to drive out quite a long way to the north of Kokopo then come back down to it running south-west to avoid confronting the sea too directly.

Even with a few waves around, the trip was surprisingly dry. Banana boats are pretty clean runners and the skippers are skilled, but even so, you wouldn't want to wear your Sunday best for the trip. And it takes just one tricky wave and…. After cheating the waves for nearly two hours, we got a bit of a splash right near the end of the trip. Nobody was worried though -- after all, this is the tropics, the temperature was still about 28 C, and our speed produced a nice wind. We were all dry within minutes!

Even though the skippers were angling across the swell, there was plenty of kidney beating percussion as the boats bucked over the waves. This (and the bus trip over part of the Buliminski which is unsealed) were definitely BYO cushion situations.

Back in the day I used to be somewhat subject to motion sickness but had never experienced it on a small boat or a canoe. I was fine on Solwara Meri until we stopped towards the end to wait for the second boat (which had veered more widely than we had) to catch up. As we sat rocking in the swell, I suddenly became conscious of my breakfast and lunch. Oh dear! The other boat arrived and we got underway again just in time to save me from disgracing myself!


We had a hilarious moment when I stood (holding on to the wheel-house with a grip like an octopus, believe me!) to take a picture of the second boat running astern of us. The wind whipped off the old straw hat that has been my companion on three tours to PNG and a moment later it was floating
in our wake far astern. We all fell about laughing at the time -- the action was so sudden and so fast we were all totally startled. It actually turned out to be a problem though; a search of the stores in Kokopo failed to turn up a replacement -- and I need a hat to avoid sunburn of the head!


A great day traveling, capped when I arrived in Rabaul by the good fortune to find a bus half empty and about to head out for Vunakabi. I was aboard in a flash and home in Vunakabi half an hour later. I tottered off to bed early and slept like a log.

The Kavieng-Medina-Namatanai bus fare totaled K40 the Solwara Meri truck trip was K2, and the speedboat sector cost K60. A total of K102 or about $40. is that economical travel or what? Oh -- add the K14.95 I had to pay for a crummy cotton hat today!

Certainly, the banana boat/bus run between Kavieng and Rabaul is not for everyone, but for a lot of islanders and visitors looking for something a bit different at economical rates, it's a godsend.

You can book by ringing John and Nelita Tse, who own and run Solwara Meri, on 7136 3764.
Or if you prefer, just inquire where you see banana boats parked on the beach. ###


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011. The opinions and comments in this article are his own.