November 3rd 1983

posted in: The way back | 0

Locals on board, surrounded by sacks of betel nuts

Today was the day we hoped, at last, to be moving on.  It would not matter so much, since we are scarcely spending money, except that a) our visa soon expires, + b) we have the flight connections to make into Indonesia.  Val had spent a good deal of time yesterday laboriously re-separating the muesli – we still can’t face it – into 3 parts: oats, bran, and fruits + nuts, so we were able to have bran + banana for breakfast, + then we set to work packing + clearing up.  Our old pack (christened Jack because it used to have a Union Jack sewn on it) had had its frame buckled beyond repair during the buffeting it received along the Trail, so we decided to jettison the frame.  The pack itself, tho’ we were keeping – since we were jettisoning very little else, we had need of all its carrying ability – so Val had re-sewn the straps to the pack itself.  Luckily, we aren’t carrying the huge food stocks any more – otherwise we’d never manage.

Walked down to the Training Centre + had a last cup of coffee with Nancy – luckily we’d arrived during her break.  There is a good view of the Port from their flat, so she suggested we wait there until our boat arrived, but we wanted to be down there where the action was, even if there was  no action, so we left a K10 donation, promised to write, said goodbye, + left.  I was carrying Val’s pack (Macpac) for the first time, + found it very extraordinary indeed, more like a sack of potatoes with straps than an expensive hiker’s pack (+ one she had pronounced herself more than pleased with.)  However, it doubtless needs adjusting.  My feet were also making things difficult.  I had worn my socks, in an attempt to keep my feet as clean as possible, + had intended to wear my boots too, but when I came to put them on, they had dried to the consistency of stiff cardboard, + my swollen feet + aching sores could not endure them, so I had to try tp keep my flip-flops on over my socks as best I could.

When we arrived, a bigger ship, the Lae Chief, was tied up at the dock.  We’d been told it didn’t normally take passengers,  but as I prepared to walk up to her anyway to enquire, she hoisted the gangplank aboard preparatory to leaving.  At this, I sat down again – I was sure they wouldn’t replace it for us – but Val became annoyed at me, tho’ I suspect her annoyance was as much at our sheer bad fortune at arriving just too late.  I went thro’ to the port area anyway, to discover what news I could.  And it wasn’t at all good.  Our boat, the Nagana, was indeed coming in this afternoon,  but was then leaving again for Tufi, a town in the wrong direction, + would be returning to Oro Bay tomorrow, preparatory to leaving for Lae.  This news dismayed + depressed us both, tho’ things did improve just a little when I met Lance, + he was able to arrange, thro’ an intermediary, that we could sail down to Tufi with them for the ride, + then return.  This wouldn’t really help, of course, but at least we wouldn’t have to return, metaphorical cap in hand, to the hospital, + we would have a definite place reserved for when the boat sailed to Lae – there were a lot of local people going home after the celebrations at the consecration, tho’ nobody seemed to know whether they were going to Tufi or Lae.

So we cooked a bowl of instant Vesta Nasi Goreng on the quayside, + then lugged our bags aboard.  I was hoping fervently we wouldn’t provoke a race-riot, or even simple resentment at our favoured treatment, as there were a lot of people on the quayside, waiting to board.  Some of them were in traditional costume, little more than a loin-cloth, + looked very fierce indeed.  The afternoon was boring, the only entertainment being watching them trying to unload – a more inept bunch of dockers it would be difficult to imagine.  Oil drums were hoisted off the ship, + eventually 2 of them picked up by the forklift.  Then it was realised the truck they were to be loaded onto was at the other end of the quay, so he had to be fetched.  The forklift driver loaded the drums onto the truck by driving furiously at it, so that his load leapt from the forks onto the truck.  The poor driver, the only one on the back, was in imminent danger of being crushed  by these rolling monsters, as he desperately struggled to heave them upright + into some semblance of order.  Poor Lance was by now running round like a mad thing, furiously doing all in his power to get the ship unloaded, + doing the work of 5 men as a result, while the local labour force looked bemused, or got in the way.  His shirt was soon nothing more than a sopping piece of cloth – it was like this every time, he said.  Still, the whole business of non-loading did at least have entertainment value.

By early evening, still very few of the patiently waiting crowd had boarded, + in fact, tho’ I couldn’t make out the exact meaning, there seemed to be some angry words – I didn’t know if these people were wanting to go to Lae, or what.  On some signal, however, they all seemed to move, and all of a sudden the road from the shore out to the end of the quay was swarming with people carrying bundles.  Even so, the area in which we’d stowed our bags was relatively unused.  It was only when I went forward + looked into the hold area that I could see where they had all crammed themselves.  People, people, people, bags, sacks, drums – on every square inch.  It would have made a terrific photograph, except it was  now too dark.

We sailed finally, after a long wait, at about 7 – both Val + I read – she “The Greening of America” (now in its 3rd country with us), + me a Patrick White Novel, “A Fringe of Leaves”, picked up from the house.  Good too.  Finally fell asleep, with New Guinea chants + drumbeats in my ears.

On the move once again. As I said, we were happy enough to rest and recuperate, but we did have a deadline, when the plane flew us the short journey over the border to Irian jaya, to meet. And we still wanted to see more of PNG.

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