DH Goes Diving

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Flag of Papua New Guinea  ,
Monday, August 22, 2011

First impressions of Madang? There was certainly a lot less razor wire and a few brave glass windows even decorated the streetscape. Security guards were still highly visible but we even managed to snag a free ride from the dock to the hotel with a couple of them inside what passed for an armoured vehicle. I think we're going to like it here!

The first order of business was to wash away the grime of our freighter journey with a swim in the pool. It was then that we noticed the vampires swooping all around our cozy Madang complex. Sunlight didn't seem to faze these particular bloodsucking Draculas, but they were definitely the biggest bats we had ever seen and they hanging upside-down in the trees all around the pool. Turns out they were fruit bats and while they fascinated us, their habitat destruction has made them something of a problem in PNG- their guano has been transferring a fatal disease to both dogs and people. Still an amazing sight to see- trees with more bats than leaves.

The second order of business was to book our PNG diving adventure. PNG has a well deserved reputation for some of the best dive sites in the world and DH is always looking for an opportunity to strap on a heavy tank and sink to unnatural depths to swim with all manner of sea creatures.... Actually she's never looking for the opportunity but she assumes that someone has to go down with me to ensure I don't get lost in some sort of Sea Hunt fantasy and forget to come back up. We joined a group of Japanese divers who had come to Madang for days of non-stop diving (the diving was spectacular but if you come all the way to PNG, wouldn't you want to see more than the deck of a dive boat). DH and I had our own dive guide and we got to dive with some pretty strong ocean currents- a first for us- and we saw first hand why PNG is such a desirable diving destination. We were told that Chinese mining interests were moving into PNG and were securing approval for a pipeline that would dump their tailings directly into the ocean which would likely destroy the sensitive coral reef life (among other things). A fledgling environmental group was trying to block this but seemed to have run out of options- I can't believe that with everything we know about this kind of destructive behaviour that it continues to happen. A few corrupt types get very wealthy, China feeds it's insatiable appetite for resources, and beautiful environments are lost forever

We spent the rest of the day wandering through the streets of Madang. Not much to see but the daily market was another chance to experience the very real warmth and hospitality of PNGer's. Once I had taken my first photo, I seemed to have triggered a PNG version of Canada's Top Model; everyone wanted to pose and it was almost comical to see the crowd laughing and teasing one another about the photos, only to become very serious and stoic when it was their turn to be photographed (I guess they thought that any sort of movement would blur the end product?). Vendors, shoppers, security guards, passersby- everyone wanted their moment of digital fame on my very small LCD monitor- it was good fun and a great way to spend an afternoon.

The next day we booked a driver to take us outside Madang to what was advertised as a wildlife conservation area, a butterfly farm, and a local village famous for producing pottery. This excursion encapsulated what I was really starting to like about PNG- it's a country that has not figured out independent travelers (or vise versa) and their current response to it can only be termed as endearing. The 'wildlife' area saw a net of 1 eel and 4 small turtles and the 'butterfly farm' was overrun with about 3 butterflies while we were there but the pride and enthusiasm of our driver/guide made for a very enjoyable experience. DH even purchased a small piece of pottery from a local woman who, with great pride, took us through the many difficult steps involved in making the product- I don't like the chances of this very fragile product making it all the way home but we'll give it a try.

How do you top off your trip to Madang. A round of golf at the local club of course. Neither of us play very often and we certainly don't play with any degree of skill but DH wanted to play a round in PNG in order to top any golf stories from Dave B, so off we went to the country club. With a prime position on the ocean front, the setting of the course couldn't have been any better but that's where the endearing nature of PNG took over. They only had one set of clubs available (but we did get extra balls because of the water traps on the course!) and it seemed to take quite a while to put it all together for us. We were pointed in the direction of the first tee and that's when Vincent popped out from behind a tree announcing with great fanfare that he was the caddy for the course. I wasn't super keen on having an audience for my first game in 4 years but given that there were no flags on the green (they kept getting stolen so they were only put out on Saturdays now??) and even the tee boxes were only determined through osmosis, we decided to employ our little friend. He kept telling us that the hole was just in front of the palm tree which would have been fine had the entire course not been surrounded by palm trees. DH never did get airbourne and I was busy spraying the ball of over the place (to his credit Vincent was always able to track my wayward balls with the accuracy of a human GPS). We were the only players on this day but because the course was not fenced off, it seemed to be some sort of gathering spot/picnic area/ playground for the locals. Concerned that we had misplaced our ball a schoolgirl very kindly tried to throw it back to us, others wandered aimlessly across the fairways, but my favourite encounter was on the eight tee. One completely naked kid, a breastfeeding mother, a grandmother and assorted other family members were enjoying snacks at the back of the tee box. They went very quiet and still as I teed off- hitting the only straight drive of my round and landing within feet of the hole. They surprisingly cheered the end result warmly- I'd wager that Tiger Woods never had such a gallery. 

We talked about trying to get to other areas of PNG but it was going to cost us thousands to get to some of the other spots we wanted to see (PNG is just not set up for independent travel and the gov't airline which has a virtual monopoly charges extortionistic fares for last minute flights). We reluctantly decided to leave and head back to Australia. So what are my impressions of PNG? The visuals would suggest that it is very dangerous; a series of towns under siege, but the people we met were some of the nicest we have ever come across(I'm sure there were some bad dudes out there- we just didn't have any dealings with them). It's not easy to navigate, very expensive, reputedly very unsafe- but these same circumstances make it something of a must-do (a Singsing festival in particular) for anyone who wants to venture a little off the beaten path. It won't always be endearing, but it sure is now
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hammy564 on

Don't eat the guano!!

doe on

What a wild ride this has been....a place I always wanted to savour, guess
it will be by your pix....hope to see them some.......

Tracy B. on

Another exciting blog entry! Stay safe and keep on truckin', you guys!

SandyR on

Hope Deb re-captured her honest golfer title! Amazing adventures ! I update the kids regularily!

marbonchabri on

Hey DH very entertaining blog entry,,, md and I are wondering what VP does while you are writing it? Lol. Be safe

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