Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.
|Wednesday, October 13, 2004 04:41:29|
S. Pacific 2004: 3
Monday, October 11, 2004
Things went smoothly to start the day. The Internet café opened on time and emails were done, but the Papua New Guinea consul would not, or could not do anything to assist in allowing me to pay for my visa. We stopped at the airline agent's office and were told it was very unlikely we would make the Rabaul flight - the connection was just too tight.
Vivian and Peter were there early to take us to the airport, and getting leg room seats in the exit row of Air Niugini (pronounced New Guinea - it is the local spelling) was no problem. Vivian helped us through the check in, airport tax and immigration procedures and after a look through her gift shop we were on our way in an old Fokker 28 aircraft. While the aircraft was old, it was clean and well maintained, and on board service was good with no charges for food or drink. The airline is well run and has a good record for on time flights. Even in these difficult times it is making money and expanding. The domestic passenger count was up almost 6% and international was up 15.7% last year.
On arrival in Port Moresby there were long, slow moving lines for immigration. I had to leave my travel documents at immigration, go to the money exchange for local currency and then return to pay for my visa and collect my passport. By the time we got to the Air Niugini counter it was too late for the flight to Rabaul. We watched it take off from outside the terminal when we were boarding the hotel shuttle.
We wanted to stay at the Airway Hotel, which had been recommended to us, but their representative at the airport was informed there were no rooms available. We had no reservations, as we did not know in advance if we would be staying in Rabaul or Port Moresby. We were eventually sent us off in a van to a hotel owned by the same chain, located not far from the airport. The Lamana hotel is not great, but will do the job. We had a couple of drinks, a decent dinner served by a very anxious to please waitress, then headed for bed.
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
The hotel shuttle got us to the airport early enough to allow us to change some money at the bank in the international terminal then walk the short distance to the domestic terminal for the flight to Rabaul. In reality, although the destination is still called Rabaul, the airport is at the town of Kokopo which became the capital of New Britain Island after Rabaul was destroyed by a double volcanic eruption. The airport at Kokopo is 45 Km from Rabaul.
While waiting to board our flight, Tim ran into Charles Veley. I met him when he chartered the plane that got us to Midway Island in the Pacific, and Tim knew him quite well through the Travelers' Century Club. Charles did well in the dot com boom, and sold his company before the crash. At 32 years old he is the youngest person to complete the Traveler's Century Club list of countries. Not satisfied with this, he started working on the Guinness List, which is longer, and the Ham Radio list, which is longer still, and contains some truly weird destinations.
He was listed by Guinness as the world's most travelled man, but the category has been suspended while Guinness finds a new judge, as his claim was disputed. Charles is still travelling like mad to finish all the lists, so his claim will soon be indisputable. We set a time to have dinner with him tonight, as he was off to the Trobrian Islands for the day (that is part of Papua New Guinea) and would be returning to Port Moresby in the afternoon.
Like the Solomons, Papua New Guinea is bilingual, with the first language being pidgin and the second English. On the plane announcements were first in pidgin, then in English, and all signs on the plane were in pidgin first, containing words like "sameting" and "belongyou". It is had to follow a conversation in pidgin, but easy to pick out some of the words. The flight announcement stated, as most now do, that smoking is prohibited, but a local add on stated that betel nut chewing is also not permitted on the plane. The view from above showed New Britain to be an island with broad rivers and dense rainforest - in most areas there was no sign of civilization at all.
On arrival we checked in for our return flight two hours later, and then headed outside to hire a cab for an exploration of the area. For the second time this trip there were no cabs to be seen. I headed in to the rental car counters and found that the Budget people had a car and a driver who would get us to Rabaul and back in time to catch our flight. A verbal deal was struck - no guarantees, credit cards or whatever - just our word, and away we went. It ended up costing less than $50 each, but that was a lot more than we had been used to paying. On the other hand it made the trip.
We definitely had the right driver. He had the pedal well down on the diesel 4 X 4 right away, and we soon flashed through the new, but not interesting for visitors, town of Kokopo and were on the way to Rabaul. Like the Solomons, Papua New Guinea is a country where the driving is on the left side of the road. The road was great, except for a couple of kilometres where the road had been wiped out by volcano Vulcan when it erupted. This stretch was covered with very dusty volcanic ash which soon had my hair matted and the "clean heads" indicator flashing on the video camera.
The City of Rabaul has done a good job of dusting itself off and rebuilding in the outskirts, but what was the centre of one of Papua New Guinea's biggest and best cities is stark, barren ash. The roads are still deep in ash, but it is an improvement over the 3 meters of ash that they were buried under after the eruption. We passed through town and ploughed through roads that resembled driving on a soft sand beach until we reached what had been the airport. Here the area is still buried deeply in volcanic ash, and directly above the area Volcano Tuvurvur still smokes menacingly.
It was in September 1994 that this unfortunate city got caught between two erupting volcanoes, one on each side of town. Everyone was evacuated, and by the time the ash had settled there was nothing left except some bits of buildings sticking out of a carpet of ash. Tropical rains which followed caused great mud slides, and what had been left was wiped out with only a few exceptions.
During the war Rabaul was a major Japanese stronghold. We checked out the entrance to some tunnels that led into the 580 Km maze of tunnels the Japanese dug in Rabaul to house the whole military operation - hospitals, barracks, command post, ammunition depots, gun emplacements and so on. The allies were clever enough not to try a head on attack, and bypassed Rabaul. The Japanese were still dug in there when the war ended.
A drive to the top of a hill above Rabaul where the volcano study centre is located provided a spectacular view of the city, harbour and surroundings. We could clearly see the rocks in the centre of the harbour called "the beehives" after their shape.
Our driver then headed back for the airport, getting us there in plenty of time for our return flight. It was like the early days of flying, before lunatics thought of blowing up planes; we walked straight onto the plane with no security or other checks of any kind. It is just as well we arrived back a few minutes early - the flight was in the air five minutes before the scheduled departure time, gotting us back to Port Moresby ahead of schedule.
While Tim checked out departure tax and our flight for tomorrow I negotiated with a cab for a tour of the Port Moresby area. We settled on 30 kina (about $US 10.50) an hour. The area around Port Moresby has fairly bare rolling hills covered with dried grass, but in the valleys are shade trees. The highway network is quite amazing, with four and six lane divided highways and frequent traffic circles feeding various similar roads leading off from them.
The city itself was quite a surprise. It is divided into clusters of business and residential areas located in the flat areas between the steep hills. The main part of the city is very modern, with a number of tall steel and glass office towers. A short distance down the coast is an entire neighbourhood of houses built on pilings out in the bay.
The last stop before our driver ran out of things to show us was the spectacular parliament buildings, built in the style of an enormous long house with the roof sweeping up to a high peak at the front end. We then headed back to the hotel to clean up before meeting Charles for dinner.
Our driver returned on schedule to drop us at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Port Moresby City Centre, where Charles was staying. There was a message that he would be at another restaurant, about three blocks away. We were strongly advised to take a cab and not walk, as although the place does not have a dangerous feel to it, crime against whites is apparently rampant. On arrival at the restaurant we were greeted by Charles and Patrick Molony, a white bearded character who has lived in Port Moresby for 15 years and had met Charles during an unsuccessful attempt to reach the North Pole. He has just accepted a teaching assignment for six years in Kazakhstan, and will be leaving to live there next week.
The food was good and the conversation was lively. Charles contacted the Crown Plaza to advise our driver where we were, and when he showed up we had him wait while we finished drinking beer and talking. It was an interesting night and a fitting end to a good day.
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
After breakfast the airport shuttle got us to the international terminal in lots of time for the hour and a half flight to Cairns, Australia. The aircraft was a large Fokker 100, and the exit row had all kinds of leg room. As has been the case with all four of their flights, Air Niugini was right on time.
On arrival in Cairns both Tim and I were thoroughly grilled by the immigration people. That we had come from Papua New Guinea and would be headed for East Timor really seemed to bother them, and they did not believe that we were tourists on holidays. After being grilled by two different immigration agents, having our luggage X-rayed and explaining the Travelers' Century Club they finally let us through - but seemed to remain sceptical. The last person to question us didn't even know there were places to stay in East Timor!
The layover before our flight to Darwin, where we'll spend the night tonight, is 6 hours. There is an internet centre in the airport, so I decided to send this off and check my other emails. That required changing money to buy the card to activate the computer. The airport money exchange had an $8 service charge, regardless of the amount being exchanged, and a rate far below the official rate. It cost me over $15 to change $100, one of the worst exchange rip offs I have experienced in all my travels.
Back at the internet café I purchased a card for $5 only to find the computer would not read a floppy disc, and even if it did there was no MS Word to open my files. That finished the idea of sending off my emails.
Giving that up, I went to check in at Quantas for our flight, to find they have a 7 kg limit on carry on baggage. That meant repacking all my electronics and other essentials into a small backpack and checking my carry on case as baggage. While there is lots of time for them to get it onto the flight at the domestic terminal, if they don't I'll be in big trouble. With the frequency of our flights it will never catch up to me. With 7 more Quantas flights in my near future it appears I'll be travelling a lot with my carry on case checked, assuming I still have it.
Thoroughly disgruntled by this point, I caught up with Tim and we did the long trek to the domestic terminal. It made the distance from Continental to Aloha in Honolulu look like it was right next door! Security is heavy here, likely due to published terrorist threats from Al Queda should the Australians continue with troops in Iraq. After having my remaining carry on bag searched at the domestic terminal, I found a quiet pub with a wall plug to connect the computer, and here I am. At least they have food and beer! It is a good thing I've been to Australia a number of times before or I'd have been totally put off with today's experiences!
Our 2 1/2 hour flight to Darwin will leave at a little before 7 PM. If there is internet available at the hotel I'll get this off then, if not then sometime tomorrow in Dili, East Timor. It'll be a short night tonight, as we are in late and have a 7 AM flight in the morning. There were no airport hotels, so we also have the time into city centre and back to deduct from slumber time.