Story and pictures copyright © 1999 Julia Hazel
Jeshan goes to PNG - Page 3
August-October 1999

Friday, September 3, 1999

It is about a week now since Jeshan and I left Bwagaoia Harbour on Misima island, which is where I ended page 2.

A lucky chance for me was the arrival in Bwagaoia of an English yacht, Hannabella, only the second yacht I've seen so far. I joined Hannabella's owner Paul, and his backpacker crew member Chris, for a very interesting trip around the north eastern end of the island.

We had been a bit stuck with no way to go further than a short walk out of Bwagaoia -- no buses apart from mine worker's transport trucks, and no taxis, and certainly no tourist trips. Then someone mentioned that "Joe's blue bus" is rent-able for various purposes. Provided you can contact Joe in his village... Which is somewhere up over the hills... But usually you can get a message to him within a few weeks...

We were incredibly lucky that Joe just happened to turn up at Bwagaoia soon afterwards. Then next morning he picked us up in his mini-bus. On our half day adventure we went as far as the road is passable for normal vehicles, up over the southern end of the Misima mountain range and along part of the north coast.

Along the way we saw lots of steep, forested mountain slopes, dramatic coral limestone cliffs along part of the coastline, a number of small villages and a tiny limestone cave almost hidden on the side of a high bluff above the sea and containing rows and rows of human skulls.

Skull caves (which they say exist in a number of places on the island) were part of well-established burial rites in times past. However present day village people don't know any details, even though the deceased must be not-so-very-distant ancestors of theirs.

Nowadays they seem to have no particular interest in the skulls, either as relics of dead relatives or as historical artifacts, and no taboos about entering the cave or handling the bones. But they do carefully maintain ownership in order to charge a few kina for taking occasional visitors to see the cave.

From Bwagaoia it was a slow beat south, though not far, to the small island of Kimuta, where I had arranged to meet up again with Hannabella. They stayed a bit longer waiting for diesel and petrol, as there had been none available for weeks. Apparently fuel supplies to Bwagaoia are erratic at the best of times, and this was not the best of times -- the last supply boat had run aground on the reef nearby, and they had salvaged other cargo first and ended up losing the drums of fuel.

Inspired by super snorkelling on our first day at Kimuta, Paul unpacked his compressor which had not run for some years. It presented him with a horribly frustrating set of problems, but gave just enough coughs and splutters to keep him working on it all through the long, hot day. By mid afternoon it really looked like a lost cause. At least it did to the two bystanders, though Paul insisted he wanted to keep at it - Pommie tenacity I reckon! Feeling guilty at being unable to help, I went snorkelling with Chris at a different reef to the first one, also very beautiful and fantastically lighted by in the late afternoon sun. We returned in time to celebrate Paul's success - the compressor was back in operation and his tanks were filled!

Next morning we decided to dive close to our anchorage, mainly to check our gear before going further afield, and also for Chris, quite new to diving, to get some practice. In fact there were fine stands of branching coral right there, and oodles of fish... just beautiful!

So too was our next dive, after a long dinghy trip across to a small islet on the reef opposite. Very different underwater "country" there, with massive coral formations and twisting ravines and gullies between them, framing beautiful views of schools of fish and deep-blue-yonder, plus a big reef shark gliding by in the distance. At which point I was happy to hop back into the dinghy rather quickly!

Heading northwards again, it was an easy downwind sail back to Misima Island and along the southern coastline -- dramatic views of steep jungle-y cliffs and silvery waterfalls below dark peaks draped with rain clouds.

Our next stop was in a tiny hole-in-the-wall bay close to Misima's western tip, Cape Ebora. So tiny and the bottom sloping so steeply that it's impossible to swing at anchor as you normally do, facing the land. Instead you have to drop anchor very close in and pull the stern around towards the shore with a rope tied to a rock or tree. Quite a scary place for a wimp like me.

It was well worth the effort -- a beautiful scenic place. And a very friendly school headmaster who showed us around the little school and village, all strung out along a narrow shelf of land between sea and mountains. It's very remote from other villages on their own island (no road access to other parts of Misima) let alone from the outside world. In fact their most regular contact is with people from the neighbouring Deboyne Islands who come across on quite frequent trading voyages.

These amazing seafarers travel in traditional sailing canoes, bailing constantly as the seas slop into their open hollowed-out-log hulls. They are by far the better sailors and fishermen, and bring fish and other seafood from their shallow reef-surrounded shores to trade for fruit and vegetables, because gardening is very difficult on their infertile dry islands. This also suits Ebora people. For them fishing is difficult due to their steep and inhospitable shoreline. They in turn are the better gardeners, and have more fertile soil and plenty of rain.

As a change from snorkelling and diving, we decided to hike up the hill overlooking our anchorage. Well, "hike up the hill" was what we intended, but that just shows how mistaken you can be.

In fact the slope was much closer to vertical than it looked. The whole thing turned into a wild scramble up the steepest slope accessible to anything other than a mountain goat. And so muddy and slippery that even mountain goats would probably have said no thanks. The Ebora people, however, have their food gardens way up these slopes -- since there isn't anywhere less steep, they don't exactly have a better choice. And somehow they get up AND down with no apparent difficulty, and carry bush knives (the only garden tool it seemed) and garden produce at the same time.

From my point of view, getting down began to loom more and more of a problem the further we went up. Um, er, is there an easier route down by any chance?

One of the village lads with us seemed to think there was, and led us off in a different direction until we came to a narrow ravine with a pretty stream splashing down the rocks. Then away he went skipping down the watercourse. It looked as if he had not only the agility of a mountain goat but also a fly's ability to walk on vertical surfaces and presumably octopus suckers on the bottom of his feet as well.

No alternative but to slip and slide down behind him -- a long way behind. And a huge relief to get back to the boat in one piece.

Next: Jeshan goes to PNG - Page 4

Story and pictures copyright © 1999 Julia Hazel

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