Sunday, November 25, 2007

Papua New Guinea: Rabaul

The weekend after Thanksgiving, I decided to take a little trip to Rabaul.

On the Saturday morning of my flight, I reported to the airport about forty-five minutes early, a perfectly reasonable time to arrive before a domestic flight. When I went to check-in, however, I was told that the plane was overweight. Once the plane was finished fueling and the final weight was known, I might be allowed to board.

I stood around and waited for the verdict along with three other people, all Papua New Guineans. One of my fellow stand-byers was a guy named Edwin. He was somehow related (brother or cousin, I think) to the Papua New Guinean Ambassador to the U.S.

Edwin and I chatted for a while and as frequently happens, he wanted to exchange contact information. As we swapped mobile phone numbers, I doubted very seriously that I would ever call him. Edwin, however, was very much interested in showing me around the greater Port Moresby area some weekend.

At the time that we met, Edwin was trying to transit through Rabaul on his way to Kavieng, where he was scheduled to audit the books of some company.

As we talked and waited, time kept ticking away. Before long, the posted boarding time passed. Then the departure time passed. The flight was late (nothing terribly unusual), but I was still starting to get concerned. Maybe I wouldn't make the flight after all.

There was no need to worry, though. Soon enough, the check-in agent called us over and gave us all boarding passes. By the time we were checked-in, the other passengers had already loaded up and the plane was ready for take-off. In his rush to get us out to the tarmac, the agent quickly hand-tagged our check-in bags and gave us the matching stubs. Then we ran out to the waiting Fokker.

Rabaul is on the island of East New Britain, the largest satellite island of New Guinea Island, and for the entire flight a panorama of palm trees, reefs, sand, and sea scrolled by my window.

During the course of the flight, the weather began to deteriorate, and just as we landed, it started raining.

Like most airports in PNG, the one servicing Rabaul was small. The terminal building was just off the runway, and I waited with the rest of the passengers in the little arrivals room while the luggage was unloaded.

There weren't that many passengers, so it didn't take me long to realize that my bag was not among the others. I pulled out my luggage stub as I set about trying to find someone to help me. And as I read the stub for the first time, I understood why my bag wasn't there: it had been checked all the way through to Kavieng. Doh!

When I eventually did find an Air Niugini employee, he told me that it wasn't possible to retrieve my bag from the plane because its time on the ground was short and it was nearly ready to take-off again. I would have to wait until later in the afternoon when the flight returned from Kavieng.

I had a reservation at the Rabaul Hotel, and I had paid for airport transfers as well. The hotel's driver had been waiting with me while I sorted my luggage situation out, and he offered to collect my bag for me. He would be coming back in the afternoon to pick up more guests anyway.

With the luggage taken care of, we rounded up two other hotel guests and hopped in the king cab of the hotel's pick-up truck.

Rabaul, by all accounts, was a happening town at one point. That all changed in September of 1994, though, when the volcano Tavurvur erupted and covered the town under a thick layer of ash. The ash was so thick and dense that it caused most of the buildings in town to collapse. Tavurvur still fumes today, and because of the threat of another eruption, most people decided not to rebuild in Rabaul. Instead, most of Rabaul's businesses and many of its inhabitants relocated to Kokopo, the next town over.

Rabaul's original airport, which sat just below Tavurvur, was ruined in the eruption. The main airport is now located outside Kokopo, about an hour from Rabaul.

The other two people with me in the hotel shuttle were a couple from Australia. I think their names were Beth and Matt. In any case, they lived in Canberra and worked at the university there. Beth was a biologist, and Matt worked in the IT department.

As we were talking, I noticed that Matt sounded exactly like my good friend Craig, an Australian from Darwin. I mentioned this to Matt, and it turned out that he was also from Darwin. I suck at placing accents, so I was proud of myself on this rare occasion in which I guessed one right.

Beth, on the other hand, was an immigrant to Australia from Germany, but I didn't guess this.

Beth and Matt were hopping around PNG on vacation, and they came to Rabaul specifically for diving. Although not a diver myself, diving and underwater photography dominated most of our conversation.

Shortly after we left the airport, we stopped at a store and the driver loaded up the truck with provisions. Then we continued on.

Only stretches of the road were paved, so there were plenty of bumpy segments of mud, dirt, and gravel. Our driver really babied the truck as we drove through these bumpy bits.

When we reached the hotel, we were greeted by a blond woman who was one of the owners. She told us that our rooms weren't ready and suggested that we have lunch while housekeeping finished up.

We took her advice and went to the hotel's restaurant. The place was basically a Chinese restaurant, but the menu also featured a few pages of Western cuisine. The Western food could be ordered any day, but one night each week (Wednesday, I think), it was the only choice because the chef who made the Chinese food got that night off.

I ordered a few dumplings, spicy squid, and combination fried rice, and without a doubt, that was the best Chinese food I had eaten in PNG. It was a real treat.

That said, a few days earlier I had gotten sick at the potluck Thanksgiving dinner that the Ambassador had hosted for the American community, so I knew that my lunch wouldn't be staying with me for long.

Beth, Matt, and I spent a fair bit of time at lunch, and by the time we finished, our rooms were ready.

I had booked a budget room, and it was nothing really to write home about. Mystery stains on the bedding, cracked tiles in the bathroom, random bugs...

There was definitely no reason to linger there, so I put my things inside and set out to see some sights.

It was still drizzling at the time, so I had to keep wiping down my camera which I was carrying out in the open.

With no particular plan in mind, I started walking down the street. Within two minutes, I was being shadowed by a crew of little kids. They all had names like Solomon, Jonah, and Zachariah. In fact, in this group of six or eight kids, there were two Jonahs.

In the area of town where the hotel was, there was not much else. As the kids and I walked down the deserted street, I inquired about some horses that were grazing on a fenced-in soccer field to our left. As all of the kids shouted out information about the horses and their ownership, I couldn't understand anything through the clamor.

In addition to all the shouting about the horses, a few of the boys also showed me some faults in the fence in case I wanted to go inside for a closer look. I didn't.

Just past the horses, we came to a church. There were a lot of people milling around, so I think that we had arrived at the tail end of some service or function.

The people outside the church included several young people, and these youngsters were particularly excited to see me. They rushed over and asked if I wanted to see the bunker. They were talking about the bunker of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Fleet during World War II and the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor. (Rabaul was actually the last place to see Yamamoto alive; the Americans shot him down in April 1943 as he flew east from Rabaul toward the Solomon Islands.)

When I told the group of boys that I would like to see the bunker, we moved over to the site en masse. The bunker was painted white inside, and the boys led me up and down stairs, through corridors, and into rooms. The younger kids were unable to contain their excitement, and they were jumping all around. The older boys tried to make them settle down with very little success.

Some of the older boys also ran ahead to make sure the lights were turned on for me.

As the guys were leading me around, the thought crossed my mind that these tunnels would be an ideal place to jack up a tourist such as myself. My guides had no ill intent, though.

The highlight of the tour was a visit to Yamamoto's map room. The maps, which were painted on the walls and ceiling, were still in great condition.

As we worked our way out, one of the boys told me that his family lived in the bunker. I may have misunderstood him, though, because I didn't see any sign of habitation down there. In any case, it wouldn't be a very comfortable place to live; aside from the lack of fresh air and sunlight, much of the floor was flooded with rainwater.

Once we were outside the bunker again, I took a group shot of the mob that was hanging around me. Then I headed off.

I was alone as I walked down the deserted road, and before long I noticed a young man following me at a distance. He may have just been walking the same direction as me, but I kept a close watch on his movements all the same, lest he should succumb to the call of rascalism. He never did move to close the interval between us, and nothing untoward ever happened.

A few blocks from the Rabaul Hotel was the Travelodge, and just past the Travelodge there was another hotel. These three were about all that remained on that side of town.

A man would later tell me that before Rabaul was devastated by Tavurvur, the Travelodge had held the record for having the highest occupancy rate in the entire Southern Hemisphere, Australia included. The Travelodge had supposedly remained at or near capacity year-round.

At the hotel beyond the Travelodge, the name of which I forget, there was a woman selling beetle nut on the steps. She was talking with two men and with a woman who was crocheting. Everyone was chewing beetle nut.

The rain was now falling with more intensity, and I was getting a little worried for my camera. I asked the group if anyone could spare a plastic bag so I could cover it up. The beetle nut seller gave me one.

Of course, I didn't just take the bag and leave without having a bit of discourse. We went through all of the usual questions pertaining to my stay in PNG, my visit to Rabaul, my job, and so forth. Then we moved on to other topics.

One of the men was named Robert, and he went into the story of Rabaul's ruin. As he reminisced about the glory of Rabaul in the days before the eruption, he got lost in nostalgia for a moment. Then he came back to the present.

“You know what really killed Rabaul?” he asked me.

And then he answered his own question.

“It was the government,” he said, “not the volcano.”

In the Lonely Planet guidebook for PNG, the chapter on Rabaul tells the story of how the Rabaul Hotel was saved during the eruption, while nearly every other building was destroyed. Basically, the staff at the hotel stayed on 24-hour alert and swept the ash off the roof around the clock. They didn't allow it to collect and the weight of the ash was never enough to collapse the roof. Lonely Planet uses the example of the Rabaul Hotel to imply that the whole town could have been saved if people had only put a little effort into combating the ash.

Robert, however, had a counter-argument to the somewhat judgmental analysis by Lonely Planet, and I found it to be compelling. According to him, in the last couple of major eruptions in 1878 and 1937, many people had perished. When the volcano began to spew again in 1994, the government decided not to take any chances. An evacuation was ordered, and most of the townspeople obeyed the directive. As a result, not a single person died in the last eruption. Also as a result, the town was deserted, looters picked it clean in short order, and tons of ash crushed virtually all the buildings in town in a matter of days.

As we shot the breeze, Robert asked me what I planned to do the following day. I told him that I was considering hiring someone to canoe me over to Tavurvur.

Robert thought this was nonsense.

“It only takes a minute to see it from the harbour,” he told me. “As a matter of fact, I will take you in my boat in the morning, free of charge.”

Robert was part of the crew of a large ship called the MV Manus that was docked in Rabaul's Simpson Harbour. I assumed that our tour of Tavurvur was going to be by dinghy, although I never did confirm this. Robert told me to meet him back at the hotel at 9:00 the following morning, and I agreed.

We talked a bit longer about various other things, and then Robert asked what I was going to do for the rest of the day. I told him that I might just continue walking down the road to Tavurvur, which was a few kilometers away.

He thought that this was a bad idea, that the road was too dangerous. The other man in our conversation, who I think was named Martin, disagreed. He thought the road was perfectly safe. They debated this for a few moments before I told them that I would just go to the market instead. Not much interested in all the drama, I planned to come back and walk down the road later when Robert wasn't standing watch.

When I mentioned visiting the market, Robert offered to give me a lift. A friend of his had just pulled up in a pick-up truck, and they were about to head in the direction of the market.

Robert and I climbed into the truck, and a few minutes later we were at the market.

“Watch your wallet and camera!” they shouted as I got out of the truck.

The market wasn't very big. There were a few dozen people selling produce, baked goods and snacks, cigarettes, and beetle nut.

I bought a loaf of bread from some ladies and a megapode egg from a man. A megapode is a bird that is smaller than a chicken but lays an egg that is twice as big. The megapode buries its eggs on the sides of volcanoes, sometimes as deep as 2 meters in the ground, and allows them to incubate geothermally. While the eggs are incubating, though, villagers dig them up for food.

The megapode egg that I bought was interesting. As I mentioned earlier, it was about twice the size of a chicken egg. It wasn't proportional to a chicken egg, though. Rather, it was like a stretched-out version. It was hard-boiled, and I cracked it open to eat it. This revealed another interesting characteristic: The megapode egg was nearly entirely yolk. The yolk was enclosed in a white that was less than a millimeter thick and evenly distributed around the egg. The white clung to the shell, so peeling the egg wasn't easy. I ended up leaving most of the white behind, which the egg salesman noticed and pointed out to me. I didn't think that separating the shell from the white was worth the effort, though, and I told the vendor as much.

After I ate my egg, I was finished at the market. The market was in the heart of the city, but the few shops in the area were closed. I started walking back toward the hotel.

About halfway there, I crossed paths with Beth and Matt again, and we stopped and talked. They were a bit bummed because they had been checking out the diving conditions and had decided that the day's rain had muddied the water too much and ruined the visibility. After a few minutes, we continued on our separate ways.

A little further down the road, I also ran into Robert again. He was sitting with some of his friends outside a kai bar (a snack shack). He reminded me about the boat ride we had planned for the morning in case I had forgotten in the last hour.

It was about 5:30 when I got back to the hotel, so I watched a little TV and then went to dinner. When I walked into the dining room and realized that I was the only person there, I double-checked with the hostess to make sure the restaurant was open.

It was in fact open, and I had truly beaten the rush. I checked out the menu and decided to order the monster burger. Then I kicked back with a beer and waited.

Before long, Beth and Matt turned up, so we moved to a table that was big enough to accommodate all of us. Then we discussed the Australian elections which were underway.

After twenty or thirty minutes, my burger arrived. While it was called the monster burger, I think that monstrosity burger would have been more accurate. In the menu, the list of toppings had looked a bit lengthy, but when I looked that burger in the eye, there was no denying that the amount of toppings was, to put it mildly, excessive – and comically so. Including the bun and the beef, it was 8 inches tall and listing. To make matters worse, the toppings were an unholy combination that should never have been allowed on a patty together. The cast included lettuce, pineapple slices, pickles, avocado slices, mayonnaise, beets, onions, tomatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, and a fried egg. Among other things, the beets and the egg were Australian inspired. The rest was creativity run amuck. Even after I knocked most of the dead-weight ingredients off the bun, I still wasn't very impressed. The hamburger patty itself was formed so loosely that it completely fell apart on my first bite. The whole dish was a mess, and I kicked myself for straying from the Chinese menu.

As I left the restaurant, the receptionist called me over and gave me my bag. The driver had successfully retrieved it.

With my bag in hand, I walked back to my room to call it a night. To get from the restaurant to my room, I walked down a sidewalk. It connected to a second perpendicular one that ran along the length of the rooms. As I approached the t-junction of the two sidewalks, a few people from the room right there at the junction stood in their doorway and gave me the stink-eye. I don't know what their problem was.

I had a fine enough sleep that night, and round about 7:45 in the morning, I reported to the restaurant for breakfast. My Aussie friends arrived at the same time, and we shared a table again.

At around 8:30, I excused myself and set off down the road for my 9:00 rendezvous with Robert. When I reached the hotel, I was a bit early, and Robert was nowhere to be seen. The crocheting lady from the day before was there again, though, as was a family on the way to church. When the crocheting lady saw me, she remembered that Robert had offered to give me a ride on his boat. She told me that he should be around soon, and we chatted while I waited.

At 9:30, there was still no sign of Robert, and I decided to move on. Maybe he had had a work-related delay, maybe he had forgotten about his offer, or maybe when he had told me 9:00, he was talking “island time”. If his tardiness was in fact due to island time, it was a pity because I do not operate on island time.

With the boat ride off the table, I started walking toward Tavurvur. I was only a short ways past the hotel when three angry dogs came bounding toward me. I yelled for them to stop, and they ignored me. Then just as they were about to pounce on me, someone whistled and they immediately ceased their attack. The whistler was none other than Martin. He had come out on his porch when he had heard the barking and yelling.

After he called off the hounds, he told me how they were actually harmless – all bark and no bite. Dog owners always say this, though, and I wasn't convinced. I think those dogs definitely had more on their minds than barking.

Martin had been part of the conversation the day before in which Robert had offered me a boat ride. Martin naturally asked me about it, and I told him that Robert hadn't shown up. Martin tried calling him on his cell phone to see what the deal was, but Robert didn't answer. Then we bid each other farewell, and I continued walking.

A little ways down the road, a clearing opened in the trees off to the right, providing a nice view of Simpson Harbour. There were several ships at port. There was also a nice view of the Beehives, a couple of heavily eroded volcanic cones projecting out of the water.

I took a few photos and continued walking.

The road to Tavurvur was a bit eerie. As it was a Sunday morning, the mini-bus service that normally operated there wasn't running on a full schedule. Furthermore, most of the people who might have normally been walking along the road were in church.

The occasional truck loaded with people passed me, but for the most part, I was alone walking down the road of volcanic ash. I came across a few fires, but these all seemed to be unmanned trash or leaf fires.

At about the halfway point, I came across what looked like it was once a grand house. It had been ruined in the eruption, and the jungle was now aggressively encroaching on it. Through the trees, vines, and mounds of ash, I could see staircases, balconies, and pillars, all crumbling away. As I walked past the house, something caught my eye. There were a few homemade flags flying, one made of a strip of orange nylon and the other of blue. There were sheets of plastic covering portions of the dilapidated building. There was also another small fire. Someone was living here.

To satisfy my curiosity and to hopefully avoid startling someone as I passed by the property, I decided to make my presence known.

“Hello!” I shouted toward the concrete rubble.

I was answered by only the smallest of echoes. Then an uncomfortable silence engulfed the forest. There was not a sound from man nor beast, and even the wind in the trees subsided.

As I stood in the silence on the deserted road, facing the shell of a house that I was sure was occupied, I was suddenly overcome with fear. Had the occupant not heard me? Was he ignoring me? Was he watching me?

Only a minute earlier, I had been announcing myself, but now I was hoping that my greeting hadn't been heard.

Without making another sound, I left that place and continued down the road.

Not far from the house, there was a field with the wreckage of several airplanes. I stopped for a look, although with my untrained eye, I couldn't tell what exactly I was looking at. On a bluff overlooking the debris field, there was another homemade flag flying. Even as I warned myself against letting my imagination get too carried away, I got spooked again. Like a bird steering clear of a scarecrow, I backed away from the flag and found the main road again.

By now, I was close to my destination, and Tavurvur grew in stature with each step I took. Just in front of the volcano was a lagoon, and before the lagoon, there was a vast plain of ash that was dotted with palm trees, cane, and weeds. Tavurvur was grumbling, and a steady stream of gas and ash billowed from its top.

As I crossed the ash field, the wind shifted in my direction. Having majored in chemistry in college and worked as a chemistry teaching assistant in grad school, I had spent a lot of time in the lab. I could easily identify by smell and taste the cloud of sulfuric acid that Tavurvur was blowing in my face. The stream of fetid air continued to smother me and grew in intensity as I approached the lagoon.

My eyes were burning, and my lungs weren't too happy either. I was constantly coughing and I couldn't take a full breath. The experience was reminiscent of the time I got chemical pneumonia while working in an industrial laboratory.

In any case, I knew that viewing Tavurvur wasn't worth getting sick over, and I decided to turn back in search of fresh air. At that moment, however, the wind shifted once more. Tavurvur took another drag from his cigarette and blew the smoke in someone else's face. I could breathe again.

I admired the volcano for several minutes from the edge of the lagoon.

Before the eruption, the airport had been in front of Tavurvur, off to my right. Planes used to access the runway by flying past the volcano and over the lagoon. Now the airport was under meters of sediment. Beyond the airport was the village of Matupit, which was spared during the '94 eruption thanks to favorable winds. To my left were the remains of a destroyed cement factory.

I took several pictures of Tavurvur and started walking toward the factory. As I got closer, a lone man coming from the other direction called out to me.

We met up and introduced ourselves. The man was named Joseph, and he lived in Matupit. He was a guide for some hot springs that were near the cement factory, and he was waiting around for tourists like me to turn up.

The only other person there was a woman (probably Joseph's wife) who was weaving a mat and tending to a pot over a fire.

Joseph told me about his guiding service and then mentioned that he charged 10 kina (about $3.75) admission for the hot springs. I was low on cash and not that interested in the springs, so I didn't readily hire him. After my moment of hesitation, though, he offered to show me around for free. Lone tourists weren't his big moneymaker anyway. According to him, the big cash cows were the Japanese who would come on group tours to the springs. They considered a dip in the scorching mineral-rich waters to be therapeutic.

Joseph showed me the different pools that were fed by the hot springs and they ranged in temperature from aahhh to yowsers. Some of the pools were boiling, and others weren't boiling but still bubbled impressively with gases.

I elected not to take a soak, so Joseph showed me other things. There were large mounds of ash in the area that reminded me of rolling sand dunes. Little canyons had been carved into the surfaces of these by rainwater.

We climbed up one of the ash dunes, and looked out at Tavurvur. All across the dunes, there were clumps of dead leaves. These, Joseph pointed out, were the tops of palm trees that had been completely buried. This really put the depth of ash into perspective for me.

When we finished looking at Tavurvur and started walking back down the dune, the roar of the volcano changed pitch.

“He always wants attention,” Joseph remarked.

The sound of the volcano was like a jet engine or maybe a blow torch, and it frequently varied its pitch and volume.

Joseph offered to take me onto Tavurvur, but I didn't see any value in this. I have hiked on a volcano before in order to see lava flowing, but I didn't see any reason to climb on this gas-belching rock. That say, though, I understand that there are great lava flows on the backside of Tavurvur.

As we walked back toward the springs and the cement factory, Joseph told me about the eruption of 1994 and of a smaller one that took place in 2006, I believe. Both happened in the same way, except the one in 2006 ended sooner.

When the eruptions happened, Joseph had been on duty at the hot springs. On each occasion, Tavurvur was more vocal than usual. Then pebbles the size of marbles started raining from the sky. When this commenced, Joseph moved a little ways back from the lagoon and waited to see what would happen next.

After a few hours, rocks the size of baseballs started falling. Joseph moved back a little more and waited.

Then, rocks the size of soccer balls started coming down. Joseph moved further back and waited.

Finally, boulders the size of cars started to fall, and at this point, Joseph got the hell out of Dodge.

He retreated inland, and when he returned to the scene after the 1994 eruption had finished, he saw an unbelievable sight. The entire surface of the lagoon was covered in pumice (floating volcanic rock), and the layer of rocks was so thick that canoes could barely move.

Along with the floating stones, the surface of the water was also covered with dead fish. All of the debris that had fallen from the volcano into the lagoon had changed the temperature and the chemistry of the water enough to make it deadly for fish.

It took several weeks for the natural action of wind and waves to clear the lagoon.

After Joseph finished his story, we threw some large rocks into the water and watched them bob around.

Then I headed on my way.

As he had already told me that the tour was free, he didn't ask me for payment. I did, however, give him the loaf of bread that I had purchased in the market, and he was most appreciative.

After I left Joseph, I headed for Matupit. Along the way, I encountered several people who were more than happy to steer me in the right direction (not that the route was very complicated).

And before long, I reached the village. The reception that I received, however, was a bit icy. The general sentiment was more like “What are you doing here?” rather than “Welcome to Matupit!”

Several people actually did ask me why I was there, so I told them that I had just stopped by to view the volcano. As soon as I said this, two kids, a boy of maybe twelve and his little sister of about nine, appointed themselves as my guides. They led me past the cemetery and through several backyards to the edge of the lagoon, and the view of Tavurvur was nice indeed.

After they had shown me the volcano, my young guides – George and Helen – asked if they could accompany me back to town. I told them that they needn't make a special trip on my account, but that if they were already planning to go back to town, we could certainly walk together.

We stopped by their home, and they collected a few things for the trip. They got a large bag of bananas, and Helen got an umbrella to provide shade from the sun. Then we were off.

We saw a few more people than I had seen in the morning, but the road was still basically deserted as we walked along. Helen serenaded us for much of the walk, singing songs in a language that I couldn't understand. She was also very talkative, chatting with her brother in their local language. She had a chipmunk voice.

When we reached the Rabaul Hotel, I asked them if they would like to stop in for a Coke. They were reluctant to come inside but were willing to have a Coke if I brought it outside.

So, I ordered three Cokes at the restaurant and brought them outside. The waitress was acting very suspicious about the whole thing, but she didn't say anything to me.

George and I finished our Cokes without much delay, but Helen was taking a bit longer. After we waited for a few minutes, George started getting uncomfortable with the delay she was causing. He yelled at her to hurry up, and in response, she tried to chug her Coke and ended up choking.

As we waited for Helen to recover, Beth and Matt appeared with two guides of their own. George and Helen left with these two boys, and Beth, Matt, and I went to lunch.

When we entered the restaurant, I gave the hostess the three empty glasses. Then Beth, Matt, and I sat at a table.

When the waitress came over to take our orders, the first thing she said to me was, “Did you bring my glasses back?” as if I had intended to steal them or something.

I assured her that I had returned the glasses, and then we settled down to another fine meal. After the burger fiasco, I went back to the Chinese menu, of course.

After lunch, I settled my account and checked-out. I had booked a ride back to the airport, but the driver was running a little late.

As I waited for him outside, I saw the owners of the hotel going for a walk with their pack of rottweilers. There were three or four of these monster dogs, and their masters were letting them run freely around. They were sprinting around the neighborhood, and when a person on a bike came into view, they made a beeline for him. The owners were able to halt the dogs, but not before the man got a nice scare. The dogs also harassed a lady who was trying to walk by, although she was ready to defend herself with her umbrella. The dogs (and by extension, their owners) looked like menaces to me, and I was glad that I wasn't in a position to be chased by them.

The driver eventually showed up. This time it was a young man.

As we drove through town one last time, the driver pointed out several landmarks, including Rabaul's handicraft store which was inside the diabetes clinic. It was not open on weekends, though, so I hadn't had a chance to visit during my trip.

It only took us a few minutes to drive through town, and then we hit the open road to Kokopo.
Unlike the older man who had picked me up at the airport and who had driven so carefully, my young chauffer was much more aggressive behind the wheel. He definitely drove the truck like it was company property, and I appreciated his enthusiasm.

As we bounced around the roads on the way to Kokopo, he also stopped to give three of his friends a ride into town. I was getting sloshed around pretty good inside the truck, so I'm sure that the ride his friends got in the bed of the truck must have been bone-jarring to say the least.

When he delivered me at the airport, I had plenty of time for a leisurely check-in. And leisurely it was. I was in line behind a film crew, and between four people, they checked 17 bags of equipment (not a quick process). To pay the excess baggage charges, the leader of the group – a skinny, older man with a gray ponytail and dark sunglasses – popped open a briefcase full of cash.

Soon enough, though, it was my turn. I got my boarding pass, and half an hour later, we were in the air.

When an extra stop appeared on the flight schedule, I wasn't surprised nor did I much care.

By the time we landed in Port Moresby about an hour behind schedule, it was already official: I had finally completed a crime-free trip in PNG. Look, Ma – no police report!

No comments: