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Easter in Rabaul

I can not document the convolutions our prayers and thoughts took in preparation for the trip to New Britain. A very kind fellow had offered to pay for a hard worked missionary family's fare – something that I could not find peace from God in. We had to decline the offer and throw ourselves at the Mercy of God. But the two-week holiday in Rabaul with friends of our children and their father seemed a reality in our hearts, and the faith substance slowly materialized itself into our reality, fulfilling the hopes of our children. God is a careful and gentle Father who cherishes His little ones – I am extremely grateful for that!

The Triumphal Entry
6:30am Palm Sunday, 1999. John Ding and some of his family sat with us in our living room where a home Mass was being held by Fr. Kees. John had very kindly agreed to drive us down to Lae where we would be catching a boat to Rabaul. We were hoping to leave by 7:30 and Fr Kees kindly offered to hold a special lotu for this special day. The connection between the readings (the Israelites on the first Passover celebrating in haste, fully dressed and ready for their journey) and the situation at hand did not escape Fr. Kees' notice. The bus was fully packed the previous night and was waiting in the car park, complete with breakfast to eat on the way. John was bringing his wife's sister, another lass and his 4-year-old daughter Bernadette for the ride, so it ended up a fairly full bus.

Click to go to the maps page This was our first trip to Lae, although we had driven most of the way when we went to Madang [see Our Madang Holiday]. There is a fork in the road just after the Kasim Pass, one goes down the Ramu Valley to the Coastal ranges and Madang, the other through the Markham Valley with its long straights, and then into Lae. It is about 9 hours driving, not counting stops.

This morning dawned foggy, with occasional rain. Visibility was not good through our Wahgi valley, but once we started to climb up at Kirawahgi it started to clear. The road conditions though deteriorate rather quickly as you pass from Western Highlands Province to Chimbu Province: some potholes have grown to such an extent that the complete road surface has disappeared across the full width of the road. Chimbu have since ceased trying to patch these holes (through lack of funds I would presume) and merely grades and rolls them. When a few of these mega-potholes join together, a long stretch of dirt road is effectively superimposed onto the highway. It is very difficult to drive through Chimbu, sometimes there is no warning of the end of the road which results in emergency stopping. On the way home we had a competition to guess how many such breaks in the road there were in Chimbu. I can say with a certain amount of pride, that I guessed the exact number: 140.

Goroka is a lovely town three hours into the trip. We usually stop at the Bird of Paradise for a cup of freshly brewed local Goroka Coffee. Today was no exception. The boys and Bernadette all had milkshakes and the rest either had tea or coffee. There was a slight mix up when ordering, because, not only did we get the ordered tea and coffee from the breakfast buffet, but also, two huge thermos jugs were brought to our table. The two girls rolled their eyes when I said, " yumi mus pinisim olgeta kopi na ti pastaim, behain yumi ken go gen!" I was only joking, but we did our best.

When we went back to the car we discovered that one of the rear tires was completely flat ("I thought the handling was getting a little wobbly around those corners!?") So we changed our first flat tyre in the car park. Thankfully there was a tyre repair place on the way out of town where we could get the tube patched – apparently a nail did the damage. There are usually lots of these repair places along the road, they will patch a tube for K2.00. Most people have at least 5 patches on their tyres before they get a new tube. This repair place charged K5.00 on Sundays for the repair and an extra K1.00 to check the air in the rest of the tyres.

Click to enlargeThe rest of the drive was fairly uneventful, except for dodging potholes and slumps in the road, until Kainantu where we had a toilet stop at the Eastern Highlands Cultural Centre toilets. Two jugs of tea and coffee have to go somewhere I guess. After Kainantu we passed the beautiful Yonki hydroelectric dam and then in a little while the Kasim Pass. A 1,000 metre, sinuous and hair-pin drop out of the sky! We stopped there to have a bite of lunch. Awesome view.

At the bottom of the pass we had to change the spare tyre we had put on in Goroka, and then it was a straight run into Lae (apart from dodging potholes at full speed). We (all 9 of us) were staying overnight with Jeremy, a Nazarene volunteer we know through the Radcliffes at Kudjip: A courageous lad indeed. We did some shopping, buying provisions for the boat trip: fruit, crackers, cheese, etc. We all put together for some Red Rooster chicken and chips, fruit from the markets, and that was tea. Bodies everywhere, some on beds, everyone asleep (except Jeremy who was doing some school work on his laptop).

MV Rita
The boat was to leave at 4pm on Monday. We picked up our tickets that morning and had to be back to book in by 3pm. On our return at 3pm we found the terminal (a tin roofed and wired in structure) crowded with people all waiting to board the Rita, which wasn't to be seen anywhere. It was very hard to know what to do, the line for depositing one's baggage didn't seem to be moving. When our turn came we had to poke our suitcases through a small hole in the wire barrier. The fellow insisted on charging me K10.00 for extra baggage. I was a little upset and I tried to explain to him that there was a sign above his head that said that each passenger was entitled to carry one suitcase and one bag for free, but the communication gap just seemed to grow. K10.00 didn't seem too much, so I poked our 3 bags and rolled mattress through the little hole, handed over the money and sat back down and waited.

Click to enlargeFinally the MV Rita slid up to the dock. Once a dazzling white (probably at the beginning of the last trip), but now brightly stained by the slanting betel nut spit marks. There still was no move to get us on board. The other passengers were getting more and more restless, shouting out abuse at the dock workers and asking why they couldn't get on board the boat. At one stage I thought there was going to be a riot. The dock workers relented their silence and told us that we had to wait until the Rita was refuelled before we could board. The fuel truck finally came and we boarded at 6pm.

At the height of the pushing and shoving to get the mass of humanity through the cattle race and narrow gate—I had given up hope of pushing my whole family through, so was patiently waiting at our seat—a fellow beckoned me to pass our hand luggage through to him. I objected that I'd already given them our bags (I didn't want to pay even more!) But his insistence won over. He said he'd run on board and save 5 bunks together. It was very kind of him; though, I was trying to remember if anything important was in those bags I'd just handed over to a total stranger.

The Rita is about the size of a Sydney ferry, although a little taller. 1st class upstairs, deck class down stairs. Everyone in 1st class had a bunk: a narrow bed with a vinyl covered foam mattress and 6" sides to stop you rolling out (or being rolled out by the seas). Deck class passengers were on a first in first served basis for the few bunks and chairs there. We carefully climbed the near vertical stairs to the upper deck, and there smiling before us was the salvation of our family togetherness. The bunks (two pairs and another below) were right next to an internal wall, which effected a modicum of privacy. We stowed our bags and boxes under the beds and took our positions next to windows to wave to, well, no one in particular: Jeremy who'd taken us down to the docks had had to go back to give another class.

The 1st class area – one big room for everyone – was completely enclosed: no deck space. This room was meant to be air-conditioned, but the air-conditioning units looked as if they had broken a long time previous to our journey. This meant that 1st class was actually much hotter than deck class. The windows (which were meant to be closed) stopped a lot of the cross breeze.

Anita and Mongens (pronounced Manz) were identified as Geologists by the lady occupying the bunk next to mine across a walkway. Her intelligence was a little askew. Anita was in fact an environmental scientist working for ADRAC (The Seventh Day Adventist Aid Agency) as an AIDS educator. Mongens was a zoologist doing his doctorate at Sydney University and holidaying with Anita. Anita was off to a little island North-West of Kavieng to put together an initial study for the island – apparently badly affected by the levelling and runway construction of the American Sea Bees during the Second World War.

Mongens taught us a card game that had been in his family since the 15th century – a little like Up And Down the River. Though the calculations to determine the winner were a little complicated and necessitated the use of a calculator!

The floor next to the funnel – which is what that internal wall turned out to be – became quite hot, almost too hot for bare feet, shortly after our setting sail. It melted our 1kg block of cheese. The boiled potatoes we took were off by the first morning. It warmed our drinking water. It warmed the beds – I'd wake up in a pool of sweat. Sandi couldn't sleep in bed, but managed on the steel floor at the front of the cabin amongst the chairs.

The lady in the next bed was married to an Englishman and lived in Kimbe. She spoke with a very refined English accent. In fact, the four daughters all spoke in identical accents. All stunning in their beauty with exquisite olive skin.

The crew looked after us, letting us out into their space on the decks. It was wonderful to feel the wind in your face on those hot days. On the forward deck, just a narrow passage really, we could also look over the rail and see the multitudes of dolphins playing in the pressure wave off the bow. We could see them come from a long way off, play for a while, then lurch away again. Flying fish, scared into flight, glided across the water. Not a very big fish. Sometimes, as they were getting to the end of their glide, they would dip their tail into the water and give a little flap which would send them on their way again.

Fr Fabian – a Franciscan from New Britain – suggested we take all our food and water: Which we did. We didn't need to though, Lutheran Shipping supplied both breakfast and lunch. Breakfast, served about 7am (usually after a restless night's sleep), consisted of syrupy tea or coffee (very reminiscent of the village coffee we were served in Rempi Village) and Navy biscuits. A crewman would also sell boiled eggs @ 50t each. Lunch, served somewhere between 2pm and 4pm, was boiled rice and bulli beef.

The toilets were a revelation. Fr Fabian had said, in his experience, that they were less than hygienic and not too aesthetic. Although there was no graffiti, no magazines to while away the time, the toilets were quite acceptable. The fresh water shower was small and extensively used. Often there would be a queue waiting.

One morning the crew asked us up for breakfast. A huge piece of fried fish and half a loaf of buttered bread. It was a real concern that we had already had a good breakfast because we didn't want to insult them. So Sandi and I managed the fish and some of the bread. Delicious fish it was too!

The whole trip took three days and two nights: Leave Monday late afternoon and arrive Wednesday midday.

Click to enlargeSailing around Tarui Point into Rabaul the active volcano gave a little display, a courtesy puff, just to let us know that we were close to the scene of its destruction. It may have hinted at our proximity, but not to its extent. It would be another week before we would see it first hand, stand with it under our feet, but from the boat it looked grey, dead and cancerous.

The poor captain had a hard time docking. Wind and currents kept pushing him the wrong way. Third time was successful, though we hadn't spent the time doing nothing: the boys had identified the Clark Kids on the dock and were waving madly. They either didn't see us, or we'd changed so much they didn't recognise us – life at sea does that, you know.

Rabaul, at least since the eruption in 1994, is a very dusty place. Volcanic dust was everywhere. It got into your eyes, up your nose, blackened your feet and stained your clothes. The docks were covered in it, dust rose in little puffs as you walked along. Thankfully though we were treated to a typical tropical downpour on the way to Sonoma College, unfortunately for the 10 people on the back of the ute and all our luggage, everyone and everything was saturated. Playing cards are never quite the same when they have been bonded into a single mass.

It is about a 30-minute drive from Rabaul town – where the docks are – to Kokopo, where most of the business district has moved. All of Kokopo's main roads have been dug up and are being replaced to cope with this upsurge in use. It is possibly more dusty than Rabaul, certainly more bumpy. Kokopo, an ill or non designed place, is not nearly as beautiful as what Rabaul would once have been with its German designers.

Mongens and Anita were at a loose end: they had no plans where to stay or how exactly to get to their island. We suggested to Alan that maybe he could drop them off at a cheap hotel? Alan in fact organised a house for them to stay in on Sonoma, and a lift back to the banana boats in the morning for a ride over to New Ireland.

Sonoma College
Sonoma is a short and picturesque drive from Kokopo, about 10-15 minutes through cocoa and coconut plantations. It is a Seventh Day Adventist College training pastors, agriculturalists, builders, secretaries and teachers: all on one campus. Alan is a teacher teacher, he has been there for 3 years. He married Rovin last year as the numerous wedding photos on the walls testify. Rovin, a Papua New Guinean national, was born on the St. Matthias Group of islands North West of Kavieng. Alan's 4 children from his previous marriage visit him every 2 years. They are the well-loved Clark children who lived on the same 5 acres as us at West Pennant Hills. That is the why of our holiday in Rabaul.

I'm not sure if Alan and Rovin were ready for this invasion of their comfortable home: eleven people in one medium home can be quite intimidating. It didn't seem squashed though. Nathanael and Lindsay slept in the living room, Michelle and Cherie had their own room, Jesse, Alastair and Keren were squashed into the sunroom (which, incidentally, was completely flooded with water from the laundry one morning), Sandi and I slept in the room vacated by the two Clark boys and of course Alan & Rovin kept their own room. The Clark kids had organised a cooking, washing, drying and supervising roster for lunch and dinner. It turned out to be an amazingly efficient system.

Thursday: day one. What can we do, we still feel exhausted? Well, we washed, we unpacked, we generally mucked around home. Titanic found its way onto the video (which made us realise there were a few things we managed to miss out on on the trip across). We went shopping, and also bought some inner tubes to go floating down the river in. In the evening we watched Happy Gilmore on the video.

Pigeon Island
Sitting in the lounge room Friday morning we were all rocked and rolled by a huge earthquake. One of the biggest I have ever felt. We were preparing for a picnic, packing eskies and filling drink bottles at the time.

Click to enlarge Pigeon Island is a 45-minute banana boat ride from Kokopo. A little island which takes about 15 minutes to stroll around. The banana boats are long dinghies that sit quite low in the water. When the little outboard motor gets it going full speed, the wash splashes well above the sides. We swam. We frisbeed. We floated about on tubes. We walked around the island. We collected sea shells. We picnicked. We slept in the shade. We all got sunburnt (even Rovin!). We saw a couple of pods of dolphins strolling past the island. It is just amazing to see their rhythmical surfacing as they make their way to wherever. We were standing in the water watching them when suddenly one jumped right out of the water and did a complete somersault! "Did you see that!" Then another one did one too. Not long after that one of the dolphins jumped right out of the water and did a roll. It is the first time I've ever seen anything like that!

How can we worship God in a strange land?
Saturday is of course the Adventists' day of worship, and as we were staying on an Adventist college, we did as the Adventists do. The kids all go off to Sabbath school while the adults have a time of praise in the church. Here it was in barber-shop quartet harmonies. The choral traditions of the Toli people of New Ireland are famous. Then we broke into small groups for a bible study. Today it was "Being Made in the Image of God". It threatened to degrade into an anti-evolution debate ("If you believe in evolution you can't be a Christian!"), which would have missed all the beautiful positives associated with that topic. Then the kids came back from Sabbath school and joined us for church. The hymns were Eastery, all in English, old-fashioned but quite nice, the sermon on the Lamb of God was forgettable unfortunately. Three hours is a long time to spend in church unless the Spirit of Jesus is there too.

On Sunday we went into the church at Vunapope. Alan and Michelle came with us as well. The Mission station is huge (schools, convents, hospital), full of MSC priests and brothers, much like our area is full of SVDs. The church itself was an old aircraft hangar they bought from the Americans for £1 after the war. Fr Norbert told us all about it. I would have liked to talk more at length – these missionaries who have been on the field for 30 or 40 years are a wealth of wisdom and stories – but the kids were on the back of the ute waiting in the sun.

It was a Pidgin Mass with all the Hymns sung in Tokples, i.e. we couldn't understand a word! The harmonies though were heavenly, something like the sound track of The Mission. It was like spending an hour singing in the Spirit, soaring with the angels around the throne of God! Peaceful. Glorious. Exhilarating. Full of Light. I found it very reflective and meditative, though Sandi said she found it hard to connect with God.

The second weekend was very similar to the first, except the students who were taking the service at Sonoma organised it as an airline flight, complete with stewardesses, pilots with ears muffs and the sound of planes passing overhead at random moments in the service. The bible study threatened to be a SDA drum beating session of we're better because we follow dietary laws, but the sermon was an impressive exposition on being filled with the Holy Spirit taken from an obscure part in the Old Testament.

On Sunday I was so worried about Sandi meeting, or not meeting, with God, I was quite distracted during the service, praying for her, entreating God to fulfil his promises to meet with His children. After the service she said she really enjoyed it, she found it really prayerful. I felt like I still wanted to go, like I'd sort of missed the boat.

How did we as Catholics cope in a denomination that has such strong anti-Catholic doctrines? How did they, believing the Pope is the anti-christ, cope with us Papists? I'm not sure, but my experience was a little like this:

A man regularly journeyed to town past a certain mountain. He always observed it in silhouette, the sun rose behind it as he journeyed east. He saw it as a dark, brooding landform, unwelcoming to human travelling, devoid of anything good. One day, he met another traveller coming down the same mountain. The second regularly made a similar journey from town, west to the farms to buy produce. The first questioned the second on the mountain and why he would journey over such a vile place when the road went around its base. The second replied, "My friend, this brooding form that you describe is not what I see. I climb it with the sun at my back and descend with the sun before me: this place is always full of light and life!"

The Adventists – at least the ones I've met – are very head orientated. More than I personally like. The experience at Vunapope was very spiritual. The two seemed to go hand in hand though, side by side, to produce an amazing weekend.

Nathanael becomes a pathfinder
After lunch on Saturday Alan took us down to a waterfall to swim. It was a shortish walk through the cocoa plantation, down into a ravine and along the creek to the waterfall. The cocoa trees really are a beautiful specimen. Not a tall tree, say about 4-5 metres and broad domed offering a shady canopy. The new growth is pink aging to coppery-bronze then mid green. The cocoa pods are born on old wood, nearly sessile and narrowly ovate in shape. Green when immature and bright yellow, red or purple when ripe. The trees are planted close to exclude light from the understorey.

Alan lost his way a little and seemed to lose the path on the decent down the ravine. The sides were very steep, about 70-80° in places. Rovin was already behind us looking for the real path and Alan decided to go back to find her. We continued on, but it quickly degenerated into bush bashing. We stopped to decide if we should go on or not when suddenly the fern Nathanael was leaning on broke and he went falling and tumbling down and over an embankment. It is hard for me to remember what actually happened – it all happened so quickly – but we couldn't see Nathanael the bank was so steep. The next thing I remember, I jumped off the side after him! I remember clearing the edge of the bank and looking down and getting a surprise that the drop was so long. I managed to stay on my feet (I think), I remember seeing a fallen tree as I was sliding, it seemed to be lying at a bit of an angle, and I managed to slide down the trunk to a narrow ledge where Nathanael had ended up. All this happened at break neck speed (pardon the pun)! It was afterwards that I realised the tree was vertical and 3m long! There was Nathanael: lying on his back on a little rocky ledge.

I prayed for him, told him he was OK and then checked that he was OK. When I looked over the ledge I saw another 10 metre sheer drop onto rocks. That frightened me. Once I was sure Nathanael was basically OK, sore, bruised, shocked and crying, I had to get everyone else down the same embankment. One at a time, talking each foot into each hole, every hand to each vine. Although the danger was nerve-racking, I had a deep sense that Jesus and His angels were close: "I will give my angels charge over you, so that you will not dash your feet upon the stone". Rocks and dirt were flying everywhere as the others came sliding down. I had to get Nathanael to move for fear that he'd get sconed by a falling rock. I had to constantly duck and weave to avoid the falling missiles. I was a little nonplussed when I realised that those at the end of the party had no idea what had happened, and were actually throwing rocks down the slope!

We all managed to get down, including the recently returned Alan & Rovin, and blow me down if Nathanael didn't land on the lost path! It was a surprise, which made Nathanael laugh then grasp his side in pain. We climbed down the rocky cliff, then walked down the creek until all of a sudden, close on the right was a beautiful waterfall joining "our" stream. It was only thin, but very high. The kids were in the plunge pool in a flash. I found it a bit cool, and besides, my legs were starting to shake uncontrollably and I wasn't feeling well. I was happy enough to wash the dirt off and sit on a log. The walk back was uneventful in its ease, only, the more I thought about the fall, the more I realised what a fool I'd been. I had done one of the most stupid things in my life: I jumped over an embankment/cliff without looking to see what was there! If Nathanael was lying dead at the bottom of a cliff, I would have been lying dead next to him. Anyway, praise God that He was more in control than I was: Nathanael only ended up with a badly strained arm – which must of got caught on a passing tree – and his back was peppered with bruises from the rocks he landed on. I only ended up with scratches on my feet and incredibly sore insteps.

I should mention that the SDA equivalent of Boy Scouts is called Pathfinders, which amused me no end when I put the two together.

Haus Guria
We had a great visit to the haus guria, the earthquake and volcanic observatory. We saw the waveforms of the two recent earth tremors we had felt. 5.6 & 7.1 on the Richter Scale: real beauties they were! The scientist who was showing us around said that Rabaul harbour was formed about 800AD when the volcano had a huge eruption and blew a hole in the side of the island. The actual observatory was perched on the lip of that volcano. It was breathtaking, and a little revealing of how small we really are, to realise we were standing on the lip of a volcano that had excavated a 42km2 hole in a twinkling!

One interesting point was that most of the volcanos in that area do not expel molten rock (as shown in all the movies). The viscosity of the molten rock stops the gaseous rock from escaping, and upon the sudden pressure release that occurs on exposure to atmospheric pressure literally atomises the molten rock into dust and pumice.

Videos, Games, Games and more Videos
I don't think I've watched so many movies in my life! Alan has a cupboard full of them – with an incandescent light on all the time to stop the mould and mildew. Some were really great (My Fellow Americans, Where Eagles Dare), some left us wondering why we didn't turn the thing off.

Pictionary was a great hit, as were various card games. Lindsay loved playing Cluedo when he could con someone else to play with him.

Blue Lagoon
An hour's drive on a dirt road, up steep hills and then down into valleys with little streams at the bottom. All 9 of us on the back of the ute, when not hanging on for dear life, were trying to get comfortable. The bush was awesome – still amazed at how few people there are compared with the Wahgi Valley.

Click to enlargeBlue lagoon is situated on the East coast of the island. New Ireland seems very close, but we couldn't see the Duke of Yorks, which are around the point more. The first and second strongest impression is the colour of the water. The strongest impression was the warmth of the water. It made you reach for the cold tap before you realised that it wasn't actually a bath.

We unpacked eskies onto the white coral sand, stripped down to swimmers and "the last one in is a raw prawn!" Beautiful clear water, the deeper parts being much cooler. The kids all donned the masks and snorkels David and Jillian loaned us. We floated around on our gumi.

Not far in we found some coral that looked suspiciously like fire coral (which had burnt us so badly in Madang): but it did have 3 or 4 types of beautiful fish swimming in and around it. Black and orange stripes (I'm sure I had a poster of this type when I was a boy), orange with blue tails, black with a white dot.

The boys found what they described as a WWII jeep, in about 5-6m of water. Jesse sat in the driver's seat – albeit momentarily. Ears ached with the sudden pressure change. Other vehicles were found too.

Sandi, Rovin and I floated out to the reef on some tubes, taking some masks with us. The lagoon was very deep, the water turning a deep blue. We dragged Lindsay and Nathanael with us. Then, all of a sudden, the floor rose to meet us, and the coral bloomed in all its glory. The highly branched coral with blue tips. The masses of fish. We lay around for what seemed like hours. Lindsay didn't wait long, I think he was a bit scared, after a while and a bit of shouted coaxing, the others paddled out for a look.

Lunch was a picnic. Rovin had grilled some fresh fish, which didn't last long among the flesh-eaters with our appetites. We opened some green coconuts. We ate some of Rovin's tapioca cake (made from grating tapioca and mixing with freshly grated coconut and condensed milk with a cheese topping and baked – it's my sort of stodge!). This is truly conforming to my ideas of a tropical paradise!

The beauty of the day, the rejuvenating aspects of the location, the sheer joy and exhilaration of the marine magnificence meant that the occupants of the ute tray were treated to an impromptu performance of heartfelt and out-of-tune praise to Almighty God. There is nothing like singing out at the top of your voice with the wind in your face as you're bouncing along on a tube over a dirt track! Why do teenagers get embarassed with their parents? We found a muddy river to rinse the salt water off and quench the singing. We were glad to finally reach home: two hours of bone jarring potholes does exhaust one.

Just one more river to gumi
Yes! We had a great gumi on a local river. About 20 of us altogether. Had a nice lunch on the riverbank, then hit the water with gusto. A large river with some quite fast and sometimes shallow bits (where rogue rocks can do nasty things to your bottom) and other relaxing, calm parts ("Pass me a cocktail George, will you?") Sometimes the river split into two forks and we were left wondering which one to take?

About 3 hours floating in all. We emerged looking like albino prunes and a little cold.

Mautin i pair
Click to enlargeAlan took us to the destroyed part of Rabaul. On the drive down it gave a huge display. I was a little apprehensive about our destination, but thankfully the wind was in a favourable quarter, and it blew out to sea. All black and hard set: it has been 5 years since the eruption and very little vegetation has started growing. Someone said infertile, I tend to think lack of soil structure. In any case, barren is the best adjective I can think of.

We found some pumice: gave it the float test. Found some hot springs: and half cooked my feet. Found what was originally 8 foot high chainlink fencing extending 6 inches out of the ground. Found the tops of the telegraph poles below our knees. Found buried outside toilets looking more like wells with the roof lying on the floor. Found the old airport, not unused.

We heard one story of a man who went back to try and salvage some of his possessions. He found it very difficult to locate his house, until he finally realised that he had parked his car on top of it! The government has basically decided not to do anything with the area. The town is now strangely divided, with most businesses moving to Kokopo.

Home James, and don't spare the gas&
We had a slight heart flutter when the Rector phoned us to say that John was not picking us up as planned. Maurice was coming down, and did not know any of the arrangements (John was meant to bring Jeremy back down to the coast so that we could all stay in his house again). PNG phones being what they are, we were never sure if the information was received or not, if anyone would meet us or not?

Click to enlargeThe farewell threatened to become an emotional event, but it was suddenly over. I was struggling to finish Ice Station Zebra for the boys. We drove into the Markets (me reading all the way), bought some supplies for the journey back, picked up our tickets and generally killed some time. Before we knew what had happened, we were on the boat and the Clarks were on the dock.

The trip back was much cooler on the boat this time: I even managed to get a cold. Jesse and Keren ran ahead to secure our bunks away from the funnel. Didn't see any dolphins on the way back either. We stopped at Kimbe (see the map of the journey) and got a PMV into town to have a look.

Maurice wasn't there when we left the dock in Lae, so we jumped into a PMV to go to Jeremy's place: maybe we could sit at the neighbour's house until he came? I asked how much it would be to go to Jeremy's street. " K25.00" I couldn't believe it, " Prais i antop tu mus, mipela bai lusem yutupela." "K20.00?" " Nogat. Mipela bai go." "K15.00?" "Nogat." "10.00?" "OK" I accepted K10.00, although it still was a little more than we should pay. To our surprise, Jeremy was home. He and Maurice arrived about 2pm (when we docked), Maurice dropped him off and went to the Catholic Mission planning to pick us up at 4pm from the dock. We sorted everything out with Jeremy, then at 4pm, went to pick Maurice up from the docks.

We left for the drive home the following morning. Maurice drove well, although the potholes had a nasty and sneaky habit of moving under our wheels at the last moment. We stopped for coffee at Goroka at 3pm, which meant we had to negotiate the Chimbu roads at dusk. I already mentioned the competition – we had to count by feel toward the end, which was not that hard. Making tally marks in the dark in a wildly bouncing bus was considerably harder. My formula for success? A guess of 75 either side of Kundiawa (Provincial capital and about in the middle) and minus 10 for the exaggerated effect the rough ride has on the memory!

We received a warm welcome back at Good Shepherd College. How could three weeks disappear so quickly? I was dead on my feet, which I wasn't on for long. My cold had really knocked me. We had hoped for a huge 3-week pile of mail on our return, but unfortunately a local tribal dispute with the post office has curtailed mail deliveries from Mt Hagen to Banz. The few letters that were waiting were all the more precious!