January 30, 2013

Making friends in Jayapura

Jayapura was supposed to be all about clearing the official hurdles, then getting west- but we had a great time making new friends.

Totem anchored in deep water right off the city center in a spot recommended by Anui, who stopped here last year. The police dock adjacent to a small neighborhood makes for a safe place to leave the dink, and the friendly residents next door offer us a warm welcome.

After days of going back and forth through their neighborhood, we feel like we know them. Selfi has plied us with treats from street vendors in the laneway. We’ve invited the families who live at the waterfront end of the laneway out to Totem, and they descent in masse one afternoon. It’s hysterical. These families- and most of the neighborhood- is associated with the adjacent intelligence police presence…we are assured it is a very safe place for us to be.

Parting is such sweet
We had an afternoon of silly fun with the laneway moms and kids

Our first night, we go ashore in search of dinner. We would never have dreamed of setting foot in an PNG town after dark, but here it’s no problem. Not that we make it far- it’s only a few yards past the laneway before a group of stalls lure us with delicious aromas and the promise of noodles. We end up talking to an official from the naval department that manages navigation aids, located next door. After chatting over dinner, he invites us to his office Christmas party the following evening. OK!

The party turns out to be mostly a long ceremony of speeches and skits (with senior officials in costume replaying, but livens up at the end with song and dance performances. It has a surprisingly Christian bent, from the nativity scene at the front of the room to a sermon delivered by a Christian pastor. There is a huge buffet, and the children make me proud by tackling all manner of unidentifiable food. It is delicious, when it isn’t too spicy for them. Their highlight was when the big boss walked around and handed each child a 50,000 Rupiah note. It’s only about US$5, but that’s a pretty big deal here, where a “taksi” ride is $0.20 and dinner out at a Warung is about $2.50. Windfall for the Totem kids!

Office Christmas
There were lots of photos. Generallly, the kids looked happy about it. Really.

Heading back to the laneway, we find the tide has gone out, and the dinghy is aground. This normally wouldn’t seem like such a big deal, but the stilt houses at the waters edge are basically floating over the worst filth of the harbor. Dirty diapers and other delights make this a haven for rats. Lots of rats. Glorious rats, all around the dinghy and under the house, surfing garbage piles. Jamie rescues us all by retrieving the dinghy to a distance that minimizes our exposure. We all want to shower when we get back to Totem.

The next day, I’m eager to get some exercise. It’s been a lot of days either cooped up on the boat or tramping between official offices- I want to get out and stretch my legs, see a little. There’s a temple perched temptingly up the hillside behind the anchorage, so I make it my goal.

I set off in the general direction and hope for the best. Jumping under a shelter to wait for a squall to pass through, I talk to the others doing the same. By the time the rain stops five minutes later, two boys are insisting they will take me to the temple.

Following them turns out to be an excellent idea, because I could never have found it on my own. We wind through alleyways with walls I can touch on either side. Several times it feels more like I’m stepping into someone’s home, when it’s really a path farther along the mountainside!

My impromptu
Nicest guys. I would definitely have gotten lost without them.

But the view is worth it.  

We change anchorages to be closer to Hamadi, where we hope to find fuel and where a large fresh produce market is located. Many curious boats stop by. Some are a little too friendly. One kid decides to let himself on board Sea Glass, and is hustled off. This turns out to mostly be a communication problem. When the boy and his friends come over to Totem, it resolves that they are trying to give us fish and offer a few words of welcome! 

New best friends
Papuan family we befriended near Hamadi

I end up jumping in their boat and following them around the big open air market in Hamadi, where I'm treated to an excellent tour and given advice on what I should be paying for everything. It is a huge help to be able to speak some Indonesian! I’m so grateful that rusty bahasa, learned 20+ years ago on Bali, is all sliding back into my head.

He comes back again, with his family.

January 28, 2013

Jayapura’s sharp contrast to PNG

Jayapura is just a few hours sail (or motor) from Vanimo, PNG, but it’s a world apart.  We are clearly in a new country, a new culture- and although the delineation seems arbitrary, a new continent as well.

Oh tempeh. it's been a while, and I've missed you.

There’s infrastructure. From no utilities of any kind in PNG, radio towers and power poles now sprout everywhere, and there’s a dramatic increase in houses and buildings- built from durable materials, even. The harbor is dotted with large fishing platforms. The roads are paved, and most even have sidewalks, although they are frequently missing slabs make it more treacherous than La Paz (our last winner for the Most Dangerous Sidewalk award). Looking up is risky!

The harbor is filthy. In Papua New Guinea, there was little in the way of plastic goods sold- things are reused to an extreme degree, and any garbage usually washed up from somewhere else. Here, there is a ton of cheap plastic junk for sale, and no system to collect garbage other than chucking it outside. Raw sewage flows into the bay. We ask someone where to take our bag of garbage, and they actually recommend we throw it over the side of the boat into the bay.

The military presence is palpable. It’s a dramatic contrast to PNG, where official encounters were rare. Here, there are so many branches of the military I cannot keep count. We see armored cars, uniforms of every color, busses decked out for riot gear, transport wagons with caged enclosures. We seemed to see police of one stripe or another on every block.

It’s noisy. In the early morning hours, we listen to the calls to prayer float over the water as dawn breaks across the sky. Every neighborhood has a mosque, and each one has a different voice. It’s not too loud, though. The more irritating sound is the power station alongside the bay that drones over everything. In the evening, churches get in on the broadcasting action- and the sheer noise competition is a little too much.

It’s a little overwhelming, but I cannot wipe the smile off my face. It is still feels so good to be back in Indonesia, and I love every minute of the new assault on the senses.

January 25, 2013

Welcome to Indonesia – big bureaucracy and big brother

The view!
Looking down- way, way down- at Totem. Jayapura, Papua, Indonesia

We arrive in Jayapura at midday (is 12 pm on 12/12/12 auspicious?) and go through the motions of checking in with immigration, customs, and quarantine. This eventually takes two days, but considering the amount of bureaucracy involved this ends up feeling fairly efficient (typical of the experience at any of the official offices: “take this paper, go down the street, make 5 copies and come back”). Naturally, these offices are also in different parts of town. At least the “taksi” service (actually a shared minivan used for public transportation) is cheap- about US$0.20 for a ride across town.

I make the fatal error of leaving our ship’s stamp on board. Until now, this has been a novelty- something we use to stamp the inside of our books or imprint for fun on notepaper. Now, the immigration official gives me a look that can only be described as aghast when I tell her I don’t have a ships stamp to put on that piece of paper she’s holding. She allows the process to continue with just my signature, but clearly isn’t happy about it. OK, note to self, bring stamp next time!

What we don’t realize initially is we’ve missed two critical stops: the harbormaster, who it turns out is rather offended that we did not visit him first, and the military police, who issue permits specific to travel in Papua (the surat jalan).

The harbormaster is readily resolved once we realize our error. It turns out we’ve been using his dock as a dropoff for the dinghy shuttle for some time– although we were clearly from new yachts in the harbor, it was days before any the guys who waved us ashore thought to mention that possibly we should step inside instead of walk around the side to the main road. Oops!

Getting the surat jalan was another experience altogether. The Indonesian half of New Guinea is currently divided into two provinces, Papua and West Papua. Independence movements have rumbled here for years. The indigenous Melanesian people from New Guinea are culturally vastly different from the Asiatic Indonesians. In many places, indigenous people have been forced off their land to make way for extraction- and, big surprise, they receive little to no benefit. In some cases are literally kept outside the high fences from their traditional lands. This independence movement has had increased activity in recent years, making the surat jalan a tool for the Indonesian government to watch and monitor foreigners in the area.

A visit to the anchorage by police kicks off the process. We are told to report into the intelligence police, and show up as quickly as we can- I was ashore and had to scramble back. What followed was entirely unexpected. It soon becomes apparent that we are being interrogated. Respectfully, yes, but definitely interrogated.

We are shuffled through a couple of different rooms, with a couple of different people questioning us. There is the Lt Col with a very large quantity of gold stitching and various metal insignias of rank hanging off his uniform. Later was the intelligence colonel, in a tailored version of the Indonesian suit (leisure suits never went out of style here) but specifically unmarked uniform- no name, no gold, no medals, nothing. Another round of interrogation ensues. I’m sure he was very good at getting information from us, although we couldn’t tell him much about things that we didn’t know about!

A few stories dribble out. We are told that visitors, westerners in particular, have been smuggling things in to support the Papuan freedom movement. This was not idle threat: in the last few months, there have been arrests, deaths, and extraditions for people involved with smuggling arms or knowledge or other undesirables to the rebels. It took up all of an afternoon, but eventually we were given our paper and sent off with a “we’re watching you” smile. OK. Whew. Can we go now?

January 23, 2013

Vanimo, part 2: So you’re from the yacht!

“Oh, you’re from the yacht!” It’s not a question, but a statement I hear from almost everyone with whom I have more than a simple transactional interaction. From the woman who helps point me to the consulate, walking home from church. We’d only just arrived- how did she know? And yet she did, because she asked if it was the green or white boat… and we had arrived with our friends, in their green boat.

Totem at Rabaul
Totem at anchor. OK, so this is actually in Rabaul...I didn't get the camera out much in Vanimo

I woke up our second morning determined to get a fresh perspective. Dawn has yet to lighten the sky, but I’m up anyway so I sit in the cockpit and watch the lights on shore. After all this time among islands lit only by fire, it’s a novelty.

Just like the prior night, a fishing boat drifts uncomfortably close. They pass a dozen yards from Totem, but are getting really close to Sea Glass. The big outboard off the back is pulled up, and the boat is being silently maneuvered with a wooden oar instead. I give a low whistle, thinking this will wake up Jamie. Instead, it gets the attention of the fishing boat. OK, here they come. Now what?

There seem to be several people aboard, most of them sleeping or resting on the bottom of the boat. As they get closer, it appears to be a family: parents, a grandmother, and two young children. I stand at the side of the boat as they come close, and offer a stem of bananas. There must be at least 50 left on the stem we were given in Ninigo, and we can’t possibly finish them before we clear into Indonesia. It seems a good peace offering. They were just curious, of course. Where are we from? Do we like Vanimo? The children immediately eat bananas, and look up with wide eyes.

Later in the morning, I go for a walk around town while waiting to pick up our visas. The public market was on, and I could get lost for hours wandering through even the smallish area it takes up. A woman with an impressive boar tusk pendant sells me a few papayas. I’m dying to talk to her and learn about the necklace, but am shy. Another woman is selling krupuk. Despite the fact that these crisp shrimp crackers bear more than a passing resemblance to Styrofoam, I’m so happy to buy a package. They are distinctly Indonesian and remind me of what’s ahead. I stop to talk with the seller. “So, you’re from the yacht!” Again, it’s not really a question.

Down the row, I play peek-a-boo with a baby, snuggled against his grandmother in a sling as she sits before her vegetable wares. The little boy gives me a wan smile; after some work, I finally get a giggle. “He’s sick,” granny tells me, and puts my hand on his back- it’s burning. What an awful feeling- what can I do? She presses a cucumber into my hand, and I walk away feeling a little dazed, not sure if I’m being thanked or sent away or a little of both. Sweet-smelling kretek smoke floats through the air. I detest cigarettes, but this smell of the Indonesian smokes throws me back to living there twenty years ago, and I am immediately nostalgic.

Back to the consulate, our paperwork is delayed again, but I am assured it will be ready after the lunch break. I stop to talk with Malaysian businessmen, hydrographers who work with the timber extraction business in New Guinea. They’re trying to get visas too. “So, you’re from the yacht?” – it’s still not really a question.

Outside the market, the roads rapidly vanish into lush mountains. The PNG border town could be called sleepy, if it weren't for the busy harbor. Trucks roared down the causeway, loaded down with massive trees. Cranes lifted the awesome trunks (easily 75’ long and a meter thick diameter, which only suggest at the ultimate size of the tree) into ships and barges, their sound of their impact below resonating even inside Totem. Tugs were jockeying barges into position for loading, spinning and manoevering at an occasionally uncomfortable proximity.

The sheer scale of the timber is impressive, but it’s depressing too. It’s just highly unlikely that any of it is from sustainable managed forests. We have heard too many stories about government corruption, and about the manipulation of the local landowners by international timber companies, to imagine anything else. It is a massive area being felled to support this constant flow.

With a few more hours to wait for paperwork, I take our laptop into a surfer’s hotel and get an internet hookup. It’s been months since we had a decent connection! This still isn't decent, by first world standards, but it gets the job done. I use my entire hour of time downloading about 300 emails, and manage to just check our bank statement before getting cut off. The staff is helpful, and I’m tempted to just sit in the air conditioning for a while- what a luxury it feels like! They ask if we’ll be back, and I hear once again- “oh, you’re from the yacht!” Yes, that’s me.

January 21, 2013

Vanimo, part 1: just a quick stopover, right?

It was with some trepidation that we pulled into the PNG border town of Vanimo early one morning. Papua New Guinea has earned a reputation as a dangerous destination for cruising sailors. It is certainly justified by the reports of attacks and theft that boats have experienced. Our research prior to coming to PNG helped us choose a safe path: one of the basic tenets was “don’t go to the mainland.” Well, we finally had to.

Vanimo tugs
Tugs jockey barges around the harbor...sometimes a little too close to us

We had two simple tasks to complete in Vanimo: our visas were held at the Indonesian consulate there, and we would do our final clearance out of PNG at customs. We hoped to keep our stay as brief as possible. How hard could it be to complete two simple errands in a town of maybe a half dozen paved roads? Who knows, maybe we could do it in a day!

Oh, such sweet naivete.

We arrived at the Indonesian consulate before it opened at 9 am Monday morning, and found a small group of people already waiting. Apparently, proximity to the border makes this an active place for visa renewals for people of all nationalities working in Indonesia, who must leave periodically to reset the clock on their allowed time in the country. Immediate setback of about an hour, as we waited for our turn.

Our “social visas” for Indonesia (a class which is readily extended, unlike the visa issued upon arrival) were arranged through the agent in Bali who helped with our cruising permit. As we might have anticipated, it was not quite as simple a process as just collecting the visas at the consulate. They needed us to complete forms onsite, wanted two passport photos per person, copies of the sponsor letter from our agent, copies of our cruising permit, passports for all, and of course- hundreds of dollars in fees, payable by local currency only. So it was back to the boat to get copies of all the right papers, and ATM to have enough cash. No way were we getting out of here in 24 hours!

While filled out paperwork at the consulate, Jamie and Jon (our fellow Seattleite from Sea Glass) went down to the customs office to complete clearance formalities. It’s amazing how different this can be in different countries: in Fiji, we were given a stern lecture about the very few hours we had to be physically outside the Fijian border once their stamp was on our paper. Trust me when I tell you that you that Fijian officials are not to be toyed with! PNG officialdom has generally been… how to say it… well, less officious!

A local guy fell into step with Jon and Jamie on their way. He hoped to sell guide services, and seemed happy to just chat with visitors when that wasn't needed. But wow, did he give them an earful about violence in Vanimo. He regaled them stories of misfortunes that have befallen expats in town at the hands of less scrupulous residents: losing a finger to get a ring and much worse.

It did not make me feel better about having to extend our stay in Vanimo.

When the guys reached the customs office, it was empty. Papers and equipment sat on desks, a startling lack of security for a country that posts armed guards in front of trading stores. When the official showed up, paperwork was done quickly- then he insisted on driving them back to town. Nice!  Then it was off to the bank. There, Jamie was subjected to some very unwelcome attention. The staredown that doesn’t flinch when greeted with a smile and a wave, and follows you down the road. Really unpleasant, especially considering he’d just maxed our ATM withdrawal so we’d have enough cash for our visas.

With cash in hand and all paperwork done, we were able to get everything submitted to the consulate by 11am- but were told visas wouldn’t be ready to collect until the following day. We couldn’t depart for Indonesia in the afternoon (it’s prudent to arrive in a new country / new harbor with some daylight hours to play with), so we meant we’d need to spend three nights in Vanimo. We weren’t really excited about that.

That night, we felt uneasy. Jamie and I took turns sitting in the cockpit, keeping an eye out. Fishing boats had drifted uncomfortably close to us the night before, and we had reports of petty theft off cruising boats in the anchorage- probably from similar vessels. We really didn’t want to end what had been a lovely stretch of time in PNG on a sour note.

- To be continued -

January 18, 2013

Pit stop at Wuvulu’s spectacular reef

The route from Ninigo to Vanimo, our next port of call, is a slightly awkward distance that can be stretched a few different ways for passage timing. We decided to build in a stopover at Wuvulu Island. Roughly halfway to Vanimo, we don’t have a lot of information about the island except that it was one of Jean-Michel Couseau’s favorite diving spots, and the site of a failed resort he hoped to establish.

Wuvulu Island: the (slightly intimidating) guys
A slightly intimidating "welcoming committee." Note traditional weapons spiked with shark teeth and bone. Uhhhhh huh.

We slow motored into the south-facing bay, wondering if we’d find a place to drop the hook. It wasn’t long before Wuvulu’s version of the welcoming committee was paddling like crazy in our direction.

The dugout reaches Totem, and after a quick chat, we invite the crew on board. They say there’s a spot where we can anchor off the other side of the bay, and pilot us across to find it.

Along the way, we learn about each other. The first question that Hari, the leader (or at least the guy with the best English) asks us is if we know Ben and Lucy. Ben and Lucy? It seems this German cruising couple visited Wuvulu. They were here… five years ago. No, we haven’t met them! It seems Wuvulu doesn’t get many visitors.

We answer the usual questions about where we’re from, how long we’ve been traveling, what the children do about school. They tell us about the size of the island, their language, their crafts and professions. Despite their somewhat intimidating outward appearance, it’s a friendly bunch of guys.

The anchorage spot is an area just off the village where the fringing reef was dynamited to allow for boat access. It turns out to have just enough depth (we draw 6’), but not quite enough swing room for the two of us (we’re in company with our friends on sv Sea Glass). We won’t be able to stop overnight. As a consolation, we decide to just drift in the area off the anchorage. Jamie stays on board alternately drifting and motoring to stay in the area, while the children and I pull on our gear and jump in the water.

It is beyond spectacular. Among all the places we have been snorkeling- and there are some amazing spots- this easily ranks among the best. The fringing reef is only a few dozen meters, then drops nearly straight down. Totem’s depth sounder measures up to the low 1,000 feet level, but just a few boat lengths from the wall we aren’t able to sound the bottom. The clarity is stunning: looking down the wall, one peers through layers of reef life. Oh, to be here with scuba gear, a safe anchorage, and time! We count more turtles and sharks in 30 minutes than we’ve seen in almost three months. The size, varity, and sheer numbers of fish and corals are amazing.

Back on Totem, we trade for some beautiful (and terrifying) crafts. They’re weapons, made from a hardwood called Gah which they say is grown on Wuvulu, adorned with sharp shark teeth and pointy bones in all the right places to really do damage. They’re morbidly fascinating and I can’t resist making a trade. John Robin is the carver, and proud of his work. We start trading for one, but John says we should have two. OK! One snorkeling mask and a bag each of rice (2kg), sugar (1kg), flour (1kg) and salt (500g), and a happy agreement is reached.

Asking the guys about the reef, we’re told that the community restricts where spearfishing is allowed: because it is banned from this reef in front of the village, marine life thrives. We recall a similar experience in Vanuatu. When snorkeling in an area where the locals were restricted from fishing, we saw the largest examples of many species we’d seen across the Pacific. It seems like a simple practice to keep a healthy balance in the reef: why is it so hard to put in place? How much of the problem is education, and how much is limited resources? It’s not something we can know from our perch.

Reluctantly, we leave Wuvulu behind for our overnight run to Vanimo. Cleaning up the cockpit, we realize John has left us a third carving- and left behind the mask we offered. Wuvulu is facing on the horizon, so we hope these were both intentional. Later conversations between cruising boats suggest some reputation for troubles on the island: the vicious looking weapons offer some contrast with the peaceful experience of swimming among creatures in a thriving reef, but perhaps some insight into facets of the island as well.

January 16, 2013

Ninigo: photographs and memories

Hopefully, a few photos and anecdotes can help communicate the good memories we have of our time in Ninigo.

Our children were a little shy at first, but there's nothing like getting to hold a shy, docile pet cuscus (tree kangaroo) to help them loosen up. We're told these are food for islanders, but "Boiman" was doted on. In a culture where animals don't get this kind of gentle treatment, we doubt he'll ever end up in a cooking pot.

Adorable cuscus

The kids tried paddling the smaller dugouts on the beach. I suppose these are the sub-compact cars of Ninigo. With no outrigger, these boats are extremely tippy to the unpracticed, as they soon found out! I have newfound respect for the careful balance of visitors to Totem, who lift themselves carefully up to our deck from these wobbly boats.

Fidelma paddles the girls

The day after we arrived, we brought in the treasures from Anui. Lots of excitement, lots of fun opening gifts. Sarah knew exactly what people would want or need, and had thoughtful gifts that were both practical (cotton fabric yardage, elastic bands for making clothes) and sweet (prepared photo albums with pictures of the families from Mal and from Anui during their stay in 2011).

Opening the gifts

Fidelma is the daughter of Thomas' brother Joseph. She was my escort on a few occasions. I thought it was a little funny, but  mostly very charming, that I wasn't allowed to walk anywhere alone. Although there is ONE footpath that connects the smaller villages with the main village running the length of this long, skinny island- so basically, no possibility of getting lost- I always had a guide. "There could be dogs that bite!" No, not these skittish creatures.

One day, Fidelma came with me so I could bring a letter to one of the teachers down in the village. As we were there, her parents sailed in- they'd been at an island a full day/night sail south of the atoll and were just returning. Joseph and Mariann caught some lovely tuna on the way, and insisted on sharing a portion with us (actually, they tried to give us a whole fish- we allowed a tail chunk, more than enough, knowing they'll use the head and better than we will).

Fidelma and Mariann

Rather than walk a couple of km back around the crescent curve of the island, Fidelma and I sailed back with her parents. They were concerned that I understand it could be a wet- was that OK? (was that OK?! Heck yes!)  I've been reading David Lewis' "We, the Navigators" about the remarkable traditional navigation  skills of Pacific islanders. He writes about Ninigo, and their long distance forays to micronesian islands. Look on a map, and it's really like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. I wish I could have spent enough time in Ninigo to somehow earned the right to hear from Joseph about navigation. There wasn't exactly a GPS on board.


Sitting with Thomas on a new canoe he's building, we had a long talk about finning one afternoon. It's something they've done, like pretty much every islander we have met in PNG, but it's not what they want to do. Fraught with danger (poor weather and navigation tools, not to mention, can YOU imagine landing a thrashing shark in one of these dugouts?), it's still a good source of kina. "Money makes men brave," Thomas tells us.

Thomas' new canoe

Trochus shell collection on the atoll's reefs is becoming a popular alternative, but it's not regulated. I know we have been in areas (French Polynesia comes to mind) where collecting these was forbidden- presumably, it will be overfished next.

Meanwhile, the fishing on the reef was pretty good- we saw a number of sizeable fish, something that hasn't happened a lot in PNG. But the local guys were really willing to take fish of all sizes, and there was no clear plan for managing the fishery.

Richard and Thomas

But we did get some pretty great fish on our trip to the outer reef. these were good, but even better are those homemade spear guns- seriously impressive gear. It was tempting to swap!

More photos on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/giffordclan/tags/ninigo.

January 14, 2013

Citizens of Ninigo

“You must change your citizenship,” Thomas tells us. “You are from Ninigo now!”

Sailing home
Ninigo sailing canoe: these islanders are famous for their navigators

Thomas is our host, the elder on shore from our anchorage at Mal Island in Ninigo atoll. After nearly a week on Ninigo, this sums up how we feel: a member of the family, newly christened citizens.

We’ve been anticipating coming to Ninigo for months. Back in August, while researching destinations in PNG, I came across the blog of the boat Anui. Sarah raved about their family’s experiences in Ninigo, as Anui returned to Australia from Thailand via Malaysia, Indonesia, and PNG. We were following a route similar to the path we were considering- just in the reverse, so I sent an email to Sarah. I know what it’s like to form a strong bond with people you meet while cruising, and could see how remote the Ninigo islands are, so asked her if we could bring anything from her family.

I suppose it is a testament to the spirit of trust and help between cruisers that Sarah readily sent us a box full of gifts for her PNG family on Ninigo. Not just a box, but a guitar too- to the crew on Totem, who she had never met or heard of until getting that email. We were so happy to help them with this delivery, carrying the goods for two months and many miles from our departure port of Bundaberg until we arrived at Ninigo in December.

Thomas and family knew, roughly (give or take a few weeks!) when we’d be arriving- his son in law on Manus has email contact with Sarah, and word had come through that we were coming with gifts from the Anui family. So perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise that as we entered the lagoon, a boat motored up to see if we were Sarah’s friends. Yes!  We invited Thomas on board, and he helped pilot us to a secure anchorage near his family’s village, while his son brought the boat (and occupants- this was the largest welcoming committee yet) back alongside Totem.

Our days flew by: playing on the beach in front of Thomas or Wesley’s villages. Holding baby Finn, named for Anui’s son Finn- hoping he’d lose his fear of my pale face. Sailing across the lagoon in an outrigger with Fidelma and family. Sitting under a palm tree while Wesley’s auntie weaves us a basket, braiding the girls’ hair with my new sister Mollina. Going to the garden with Thomas’ wife Elizabeth, learning about the different varieties of bananas, coconut, sweet potato and other vegetables they grow. Sharing recipes for eggplant, which they have grown from donated seeds but had no experience cooking. Sitting in the shade on a Sunday afternoon, watching soccer teams from around the atoll compete in a semi-weekly tournament. Going toward the outer reef with a boatful of our new friends for spearfishing adventures and a little snorkeling. Evenings hosted on Totem: eating the juicy fruit we brought from the lush Hermits that can’t grow in the atoll’s thin soil, counting the stars, watching the bioluminescence swirl in current around the boat.

It’s hard to explain how the welcome here felt, but it was as if we already knew them, and they already knew us. We were old friends, meeting again after time and space intervened. It was amazing. This will go down as one of our favorite places (the favorite?) in a country that we have found the most fascinating by far of our cruising adventures to date.

I am so grateful to Sarah and her family, giving us the awesome gift of getting to know these special people - for letting us be the ambassadors who turned citizens.

January 11, 2013

Making friends in the Louisiades: learning Misima dialect

Connecting with people in the places we visit, learning about our similarities and differences, is something I truly enjoy. Demonstrating interest by knowing some of their language is a great way to start.

Abel George tutors us

This is complicated by the vast number of languages we faced, first in Papua New Guinea and now here in Indonesia. Tok Pisin (pidgin) and English are actually the two official PNG languages, but everyone speaks a local dialect (and often several other neighboring dialects). The range of that dialect may be limited to a speck of an island, a valley, or even a village. They are strikingly different- truly mutually unintelligible, as opposed to tweaks on a single language. Seems daunting!

It turns out that there is a dominant local dialect in much of the Louisiades that simplifies the process- Misima, the largest island, covers many of the islands at the eastern end. Tok Pisin isn’t used much in this area- unless they’ve had education beyond primary years, most people aren’t exposed to it much. But many people speak Misima dialect, even if they aren’t in the relatively large area it encompasses.


I had excellent tutors when we arrived in Papua New Guinea: Bela and Derek on s/v Pandana have spent years cruising the area, and Bela is enthusiastically conversant in Misima dialect. Thanks to her enthusiasm and the smiling help of Rubin and his fishermen brothers, I had a few basic words and phrases to grow over the coming weeks.

I believe taking the time is really, really worthwhile. Here’s a collection of what I learned and found helpful. It’s not based on anything but my own pathetic transliteration. There is probably pidgin mixed in. But for making friends in the Louisiades, it will help to crack smiles, open doors, and put you on trusted ground.

Misima Dialect words and phrases

good morning melaluga waiwaisana from dawn to midmorning
good day (really, 10-3) alalati waiwasana this is used during the hot part of the day
good afternoon kokoyave waiwaisana from about 3pm until nightfall
good evening bulin waiwai sana bulin literally means 'star'
goodbye kai yun
thank you ateu owa literally, heart person. Sweet.
what's your name? halam ek? both the 'h' and the 'k' are nearly silent
my name is (name) alau (name)
his/ner name is (name) alula na (name)
what are you doing? hau na ku gigi nor? use this when speaking to several people
what are you doing? hau na u gigi nor? use this when speaking to just one person
just living hau minamina this is the common response
how are you? ham nam gai wa?
I'm good am nam wai si this is the common response
where are you going? gao na na?
I'll be back a na ki te wa this is the common response
good wai si also, i wai si: it's good.
very good wai si hot also used for delicious
bad inak
bad man inak kina
trading pem penpewa
you give u pem
I give ya pewa
sister/brother taliu not literally a relative- common reference
sister/brother  gan for an elder/respectful
what do you want? hau na nu wam?
I want (item) nu wam (item)
do you have… tab…
Do you have bananas? tab suva?
he/she/it he
they i
sail / sailing kuki
sail to Misima kuki Misima
let's sail ta kuki
cooking liga liga
washing (body) hig hig
washing (dishes) ul ul
don't! bahi wa!
don't do it bahi wa nu gi nor.
come here unem
get down ulau
swim gayu
building a house himi tao tao
sit down mi si yo
garden eyowa
basket eyoga
knife kai ni give me the knife: kai ni pem. VERY useful, see prior post!
water wara
rain ke he i lau
water wara
baby wawaya
old man tonowak
man tau
woman yova
people gamagal
canoe waga this generically refers to different boat types
medicine sawa sawal
modern medicine dim dim wali sawa sawal
drinking coconut matu
coconut bwaku
betelnut lele
clothes kaliko
banana suva

January 9, 2013

Papua New Guinea: kids and knives

It’s daunting the first time you see a grown man walking down a path with a large machete swinging at his side. In PNG, one quickly becomes inured to this sight. Sharp knives as common an accessory as the mobile phone at home. Everyone- and I mean, everyone- carries a knife. How else to you open a coconut, whack down coconut palms, sever a banana stem, trim a pandanus frond, cut open a fish… etc., etc., etc.! What really caught my attention is how children are quite adept and comfortable with knives. Big knives. Sharp knives. It startled me at first, but nobody is terribly concerned about this…and it seems, they don’t need to be.

This little guy was helping his grandfather crack coconuts for copra. Grandpa husked them nearby, and tossed the shells to the boy to crack, drain, and set aside for drying.

  kids and knives (2)  

I loved this little girl in the Kavieng market. She was hanging out with her mom, who was selling a small selection of vegetables on a mat at one end of the covered stalls, just picking at random stuff with her knife. Her mom said she was 3, then corrected herself and said she was 2. Hmm.

Kids and knives, again

Alithy here, on the right, designated herself my handler during much of our stay at Brooker. She and her friend Elizabeth need that handy knife to deal with the fish they’re catching, of course. 

Elizabeth and Alithy

This cutie was just hanging out with a knife, following his mom and aunties to the sewing machine repair station that was set up for Jamie at the Hermits. No worries.

  Another kid with a knife

When we sit down with new friends, we are often offered a drinking coconut. Seems it’s handy to have a four year old with a knife around to open the coconuts for one’s guests. 

Kids and knives

Papua New Guinea. No helicopter parents here, but lots of happy kids with mad knife skills.

January 7, 2013

Boat jobs are colorblind

It’s raft-up time again, and this month a handful of cruising bloggers are talking about the division of labor on board- specifically, how we split responsibility along “pink” vs “blue” jobs, or  “kid jobs” for those of us with children aboard.

Looking manly
Just hanging out looking manly, wondering what blue jobs to do
Confession: I think this is a crock. It bothers me that “pink and blue jobs” rates as a theme to address. Then again, step near the toy aisles of any mass merchant, and there is an alarming degree of color coding that leaves no room for speculation over which row of froth is intended for girls, and which row of action is intended for boys. Ridiculous.

Shouldn’t we have outgrown all of this a very long time ago? Why do areas of responsibility have to be drawn along gender stereotypes to such an extent that without any listing on my part, you imagine exactly which jobs are supposed to be pink and which jobs are supposed to be blue? Shouldn’t we be talking about individual strengths? About what we want to do, and what we want to learn?

So, I’m not going to talk about it at all, but I will do more than just rant that the discussion of labor division on board should be reframed, and gender/color coding needs to go the way of the dinosaurs.

It is inevitable that tasks in running a household, whether it floats on water or sits on soil, will be divided for efficiency and economy. Whoever can handle a given area of responsibility faster or better is probably going to be doing it 90% of the time: we play to our respective strengths, regardless of gender.

If we want to examine the division of labor on board, there are a few more important questions to consider.

Is it divided fairly in terms of effort required? If one crewmember feel they carry too much of any one burden, it could foster resentment.

What happens if one crew member is incapacitated? It’s clearly a problem if there are tasks that only that person knows how to do.

Do you appreciate the work your partner tends to do? Make sure you swap responsibilities around now and then, not only to make sure there is baseline capability on both sides, but to understand what’s involved for a task that one person tends to do. We might all make assumptions about what is hard (or not) from the outside.

Are there things you should both do together? Do you want to learn jobs that are your partner’s expertise? What are things that either of you can do, that you should make sure you trade off?

One of my cruising mentors is the awesome Nancy Erley, who I took training classes from back in 2005. She’s circumnavigated twice, as captain of her boat, with all women crew- if we need any reminder that "blue jobs" are an artificial distinction. One of many things I learned from Nancy is that if there is something on the boat that I cannot do based on my physical size or strength, the limitation is not mine. It is not necessary to default to the larger / stronger man on board to handle that job. The real problem is the boat needs to be modified so that I can accomplish the job.

Click on the monkey's fist to read others bloggers on this topic.
The Monkey's Fist

January 5, 2013

Oh, we had plenty of fun, too

From the posts about the Hermit islands earlier this week, it might seem that we didn’t get to play very much while we were there. Hardly true!

whales at the Hermit Islands
It wasn't all about the awesome whales, either. Photo by Nalukai.

We spent a lot of time in the water. There was the unforgettable experience of swimming with whales in the lagoon, something we’ll never forget. Snorkeling even right off the boat was fantastic. Hermit Islanders are Seventh Day Adventists, so they don’t eat shellfish. This means that live giant clams dot the bottom of the reef, even right in front of the village. It was easy to spot the large painted crayfish- strikingly colored lobsters- poking their long antennae out of holes in the coral. Normally we’d never be able to find these creatures right in front of a village, as they’d have all been taken for food.

One morning, when Siobhan and I were out for a little paddle on the coral heads behind Totem, we drifted over the top only to surprise a dozing turtle just a few meters below. We’ve seen quite a few, but not always so close or so… well, so still. Turtles in the Pacific have pretty good instincts with regard to human invaders (protected or not, they are actively hunted) so our most common view is of the back half of their shell as they jet away. This guy was happy to just check us out, then languidly move out from under his coral head hideaway before slowly drifting away to deeper water. Siobhan was beside herself with excitement and had trouble containing her enthusiasm until the giant was out of sight.

Another day, we piled on Sea Glass and Bob guided us to an anchorage to the south. There, where water funneled through a pass, was the nutrient rich brew that giant mantas feed upon. They’re resident here, but the likelihood of seeing them varies with the moon phase- and unfortunately for us, we were there at the full moon, the lowest probability of spotting mantas. There weren’t any that afternoon, but Sea Glass saw several on their morning snorkel with the incoming tide- and we had a beautiful afternoon adventure regardless, with more turtles, fish, and the company of dolphins along the way.

We really didn’t scratch the surface of experiences at the Hermits. Bob is an adept diver, and if we had the gear, could have taken us to walls on the outer reef. There’s a spot where sharks gather outside the reef, if we want to see them en masse. We know from our friends who came through here last year- Endless Summer, Elena, Sea Level- that the snorkeling outside the reef is truly spectacular. But we’re unlucky with our conditions. A nasty system north of us is too distant to kick up high winds, but it sends surf from afar that makes these exposed outside walls of the reef untenable to visit.

In truth, however, some of the most fun I have is just sitting around with people we meet in the village. Being Jamie’s sidekick on the sewing machine expedition. Playing with children as we linger at Bob’s home over computer lessons. Squatting in a kitchen hut, listening to women gossip while stirring sago. Sitting on a log talking to Chief Joseph, hearing the elder statesman’s stories of his childhood and WWII. We’ll see a lot of pretty fish down the line, but these are unique memories I’ll always carry.

January 2, 2013

The exotic cruising life: a wild day of… fixing sewing machines

Another day at the Hermits: Jamie learns that there’s a broken sewing machine ashore. Having worked for years as a sailmaker, he’s well versed in the mechanics of machines and has the  skills to help. OK, no problem, we set a time for 8am the next day to go in and meet with the woman who needs her machine fixed.

Sewing machine day, Luf island
The sewing machine fix-it station – Hermit Islands

When we go ashore the following morning for Jamie’s sewing machine date, it becomes apparent it’s not just one. A small group has gathered and there are a half dozen manual Singer machines in various states of repair arranged on a large table outside. More machines turn up over the course of the morning. This is rapidly shaping into an all-day event.

No problem!

There are trees to climb.

Sewing machine day, Luf island

Dogs to cuddle.

Sewing machine day, Luf island

Pictures to draw.

Sewing machine day, Luf island

Friends to make.

Sewing machine day, Luf island

Many of the machines looked like they hadn't been oiled in a long time, and simply needed routine maintenance. One had been dropped and required a little forceful tweaking to become operational. Two of them hosted colonies of cockroaches. We just hustled the chickens over to grab what they could and left those for later!

Meta designates himself as the point person for repairs later, and sits with Jamie to learn about the various issues. Smoothing burrs that chafe thread, learning mechanics for fixing the timing, locating the dozen points that need oiling- often- to keep the machine running smoothly.

Sewing maching repairs
Jamie and Meta work on a machine

Gifts of fruit, vegetables, and beautiful shells start accumulating. By the end of the afternoon, it takes the help of two other people to carry the edible expressions of thanks back to Totem. The final tally was Sewing Machines, 2: Jamie, 7.

I think we can declare victory!