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A sharing of cultures in Papua New Guineau village - then an earthquake

World travellers on this ship warned that Papua New Guinea was a backwater where there was not much to see or do.

I guess they are people who prefer caviar to culture because, for me, PNG (as it is called locally) was absolutely the most memorable and meaningful stop on our itinerary so far.

We arrived in sweltering humidity but under partially cloudy skies which cut the heat.

Unlike other countries where we have boarded buses to take part in tours, in Alotau (the first of two stops in PNG ... a third was cancelled because of high waves) we were crammed into rickety 11-seat mini-vans.

Virginia and I went on this excursion while Josie, her sister, stayed back because it was her birthday and she wanted to spend the day at the ship's spa. John and Judy from Florida were also in our van with us - the lead vehicle of perhaps 12 that took off along the bumpy road through dense and lush green jungle for the hour-long trip to a remote community.

David, the guide in our van (who stood stooped for the entire drive as he was explained his country and its history and traditions) was the one who arranged this tour. It was a trip to David's own village and, he said, it was the first time the people there had played host to tourists.

I cannot tell you how warm and welcoming they were.

We were greeted by a church choir - it was Sunday.

And then the chief (the taller one standing in the picture below) offered a prayer before we were shepherded from one station to the next, learning how the people lived.

They showed us how they weave baskets with fronds, how they fashion grass skirts, and how the construct the walls and roofs of their grass houses.

They showed us how they harvest and cook their meals.

And they showed us how they weave purses. I bought a colourful pink one that was made by this woman. (Two bugs, one small and one very large, crawled out of it onto our table on the ship later in the day ... but all part of the experience 😊).

I was moved to tears more than once by this wonderful sharing of cultures. The people seemed just as thrilled to see us as we were to see them - maybe that will change as they host more tours of mostly white folks from abroad.

David told us that, before COVID, a maximum of fifty ships has visited Alotau in any one year. This year it will see 100. And the Poesia is the largest cruise ship ever to dock in the port.

He also said this would mean money that could result in significant improvement in the infrastructure. There is no electricity beyond the port community.

But it will also mean change, and I wonder if it will be for the better. Life is certainly rustic here - and subsistence farming is hard - but there're is a closeness of family and community that those of us in the developed world are unlikely to experience.

David talked with some pride about the cannibal culture that existed in PNG until as recently as 150 years ago - disputes with neighbouring villages literally meant an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth. The British missionaries, he said, introduced cricket to let the local people deal with their anger without eating each other. Today PNG is home to the strongest cricket team in the Asia Pacific Region.

On the way back to the ship, we stopped at a second fishing village, which had its own charms.

The dance done by the boys was thrilling - they thrust their spears close enough to us to skewer a tourist or two. But the people were far more accustomed to hosting tourists and it seemed less authentic.

We got back to the Poesia in time to celebrate Josie's birthday. Pande, our wonderful waiter, folded her a basket of flowers out of napkins.

Then, two days later - after the aborted landing at Kirwina in PNG, we pulled into the port of Rabaul. We didn't take an excursion there but we did wander off the ship to stroll the local market and to browse the long road of clothing and trinket stands that the locals had set up for our arrival.

The heat, and the humidity was oppressive. But the many hues of green of the fruit and vegetables at the stalls in the market were spectacular.

I bought a couple dresses made by villagers that I am not certain I will ever wear. But I think it is incumbent on us to spend money in the places we visit as a way of thanking people for having us into their community.

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At the risk of making this blog post too long, I have to mention something that happened on the night after we left PNG and were starting the four-day voyage to Manila.

At about midnight, there was a super loud noise and the whole vessel shook violently. It nearly knocked me out of bed. And then a minute later it happened again. And the ship's engines turned off.

I was pretty sure we had not hit an iceberg - it was sweltering outside - but maybe an atoll. Or maybe we had strayed into that disputed area near China and they had shot missiles at us. In any case, I figured we were going down so I got dressed and grabbed my phone and went out into the corridor and all was quiet. Maybe one or two worried passengers walked the hall. Not knowing what to do, I went back to my cabin, waiting for the call to abandon ship … then the engine started up again, and about a half hour later they broadcast a message saying we had been in an earthquake that had hit PNG - a common occurrence, apparently:

Wild. But also cool.

Let me end with a picture I took tonight from the back of the ship. Manila is on the far horizon.





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Wendy Noble
Wendy Noble
09 mrt. 2023

What an amazing string of experiences. Thank you for sharing them with us.

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gloria139
09 mrt. 2023
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Thanks for coming along, virtually!

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