Madang, Saturday – Yesterday Ingrid and I disembarked Orion, along with 60 other life-jacketed passengers looking like a seniors invasion force, to ride eight bucking Zodiacs for half an hour through a four foot swell and across a boiling reef. I use the word ‘bucking’ advisedly. Our destination was Watam, a fine example of a traditional village located a few kilometres east of the mouth of the Sepik River.
After such an arduous trip, it wasn’t hard to understand why Watam, a community of about 200 people, doesn’t see many tourists. Entering the small protected harbour we were surprised to see over 30 canoes and banana boats and the village teeming with over 1,000 people and half a dozen police, some armed with AK47s. For a fee of 30 kina a group, the Watam people had invited neighbours for 50 km around to establish a mass impromptu artefacts market. With so many tribal groups intermingling, the police were there for obvious reasons.
I was escorted around Watam by a new found friend, Arnold, from whom I bought some artefacts and who, with that spontaneous generosity of Papua New Guineans, reciprocated by giving Ingrid and me gifts. Spending an hour or so conversing with Arnold allowed me to shake the cobwebs from my rusty Pidgin and, for his part, he seemed well pleased with the dialogue.
With the singsing going flat out, a 14-man pandanus and pitpit ‘dragon’ bouncing up and down at the village entrance and a lapun meri painting everyone’s face with an indelible red mark which will require a skin graft to remove, it took the ship’s passengers no time to get into the spirit of the day.
Last night we sailed abeam of Manam Island [left], still in eruption and its population resettled on the mainland, and Karkar Island before entering Madang Harbour at seven this morning. Although its public infrastructure is deteriorating, Madang remains one of the South Pacific’s prettiest towns and it must surely be one of the most prosperous, with tourism and agriculture clearly flourishing. The sweet smell of copra hangs in the air and, despite whelming humidity, it remains the most pleasant of towns to wander around.
Some 35 years ago Phil Charley ran the radio broadcasting station in Madang after coming from the same role in Goroka. With these two postings, I always reckoned Phil had the best of it and, on visiting Madang for the first time in over 40 years, I see no reason to change my mind. Meanwhile, life at sea on this luxurious expedition vessel remains vibrant, as you can see from this pic of Ingrid with captain and self-proclaimed ‘driver’ Captain Peter Greenhow.