Story and pictures copyright © 1999 Julia Hazel
Jeshan goes to PNG - Page 5
August-October 1999

After enjoying a few days in the China Straits area (around Samarai - page 4) it was a very slow light wind sail to Alotau.

This tiny town is tucked in along the steep slopes of Milne Bay's northern shore. The scenic location is a fortunate counterbalance to an otherwise unlovely collection of plain to plain ugly buildings.

But to most locals, visual aspects of the place are totally unimportant -- what matters is Alotau's role as the provincial capital and business centre for a vast but sparsely populated area.

The harbour is choppy with the constants comings and goings of local boats. There are at least four small supermarkets, a couple of dozen other little shops of various kinds, a fruit and vegetable market (only fifty percent betel nut), two banks in real concrete buildings, a post office which is open both mornings and afternoons (but not during the middle of the day) two almost-motel-style guest lodges and a small hotel under construction... Wow!

Of course I was comparing Alotau to the last "town" I saw (Bwagoia, page 2) and after enjoying remote anchorages and empty ocean for so long, I too found it a busy place.

The highlight of Alotau for me was catching up with friends from Port Douglas, Lee and Wayne, who are now based in Alotau with their charter boat Marlin 1. Way back at Easter this year when we dived together at Low Isles (Queensland, Australia) we had talked about Papua New Guinea, its renowned clear waters and fantastic diversity of marine life, and how nice it would be if...

If they got to PNG. If I got to PNG. If we got to the right place at the same time. And so finally here we all were! Better yet, they had already picked out some new areas they needed to explore, to find good places for future dive charters.

But first a busy spell in Alotau, what with boat chores and social life and market searches and supermarket shopping. All somewhat different and certainly more time consuming than similar activities elsewhere -- PNG time is not the same thing that is measured by dim-dim (white-fella) watches and clocks -- but everyone was friendly and helpful.

Market searches are something you had to do almost every day, just to get a bit of variety in your fruit and veggies. Individual stall holders seem to come to market only on random days, and bring random things, depending on what happens to be ripe in their garden that day, and what is left after feeding their extended family.

For example, on one day there may be several sellers with cucumbers, say, and not a tomato in sight. The next day maybe you get lucky and find three handfuls (literally) of cherry tomatoes. And no cucumbers at all. Too bad if you didn't buy cucumbers the day before.

As for the supermarkets, they are not supermarkets as most of you know them, despite some similarities.

If you want only PNG staples like rice and sugar and tinned fish and Twisties and chewing gum, then you might get all on the same day though not necessarily in the same shop. If you want more, say a simplified version of a modest Australian shopping list, then you have to go to all of the supermarkets in succession to get perhaps seventy percent of your shopping list. A couple of days later you do the same, and maybe get a few of the missing items.

But to keep things in perspective, they are remarkably well-stocked for such an out of the way place where cash is very hard to come by. And where else do you have a series of lively and colourful traditional dance performances taking place right beside the harbour and directly in front of the supermarket, at all sorts of unexpected times.

[There's more about some of the stars of these shows, Kaikuali Theatre Dance Group, on a separate page.]

At last the most immediate boat jobs were done and shopping was deferred if not completed. Time for our big dive trip!

Next: Jeshan goes to PNG - Page 6

Story and pictures copyright © 1999 Julia Hazel

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