I have been a bit quiet in here for the last week or so. Twitter followers will know this is because I have been on a cruise to Papua New Guinea.
Or maybe they don’t.
Whatever the case I have been in the isolated bubble of a cruise boat. As a holiday option cruising is definitely different. I am not sure what it is like in other countries but cruising from Australia involves copious amounts of food and visits to mostly tropical or Pacific Island countries. I stress the mostly as there are cruise options leaving from Brisbane (my home town) and Sydney with Asian and New Zealand options.
For this voyage our destination is Papua New Guinea. An interesting country with political and military ties to Australia. A large number of people on this particular cruise have worked for varying amounts of time in New Guinea. Many Australian companies have branches or parts of their operations in New Guinea. Our cruise director is constantly stressing to the guests that this is a less developed part of the world. By this he means that the people are living that weird blend of traditional life with some modern ideas thrown in. A visit to a village hut will reveal a very small dwelling with maybe two or three rooms, no indoor plumbing, no defined bedrooms but power supplied by a generator through a single lead that will connect to a rice cooker and a mobile phone charger. Cooking is done outside (except for the rice cooker) and the people who live outside the main cities on isolated islands, for the most part, grow their own food or harvest it from the sea.
This is our second visit to this country. We came for the first time with one of the first cruise boats to visit the area. Five years on some things have changed. The standard of living is still the same but the number of villagers vying for the elusive tourist dollar is increasing. As is the amount of coercion on the part of children to try and elicit money from the tourists. It is distressing to not be able to help as many people as approach you.
One of the attractions for repeating the trip was the opportunity to experience an active volcano. Geology holds a certain fascination for me and the workings of tectonic plates are a very exciting part of that. Needless to say when I discovered a tour that promised a close up look into the crater of an active volcano that is situated near Rabaul. I jumped at the chance. Before we left the country most people we told about our proposed adventure couldn’t see the attraction. Despite my fascination other people just can’t get as excited about rocks and their workings as I do.
Two days into our cruise and news of the volcano disaster in New Zealand reached us. My thoughts are with the people who lost their lives, and their families as but for the grace of God Mr Jones and myself could have been on that party of cruise boat tourists chasing the experience of visiting an active volcano. After this news everyone we told of our proposed adventure made a joke about getting blown up like the people in New Zealand. We were more fortunate I guess. We made it to the top and lived to tell the tale.
It was not an easy journey. The path was not formed and took us almost straight up a slope made of tiny scoria interspersed with larger rocks that had been formed by lava bombs. When we reached the top we were rewarded with a view of rocks in the crater covered with solid sulphur and steaming vents releasing the foul smelling gas into the air. This volcano does not contain lava like some but usually releases large amounts of ash, small scoria, hydrogen sulphide gas and the occasional lava bomb.
The terrain reflects this and I could not have made it without the good humour and assistance of my guide Judas (I don’t know what twisted mission education prompted that name!). I think I impressed him with some unorthodox ways of navigating rocks and crevasses and the number of times I fell on my butt during the descent.
In New Guinea it is expected that women cover their legs and butts while exposing breasts is quite ok; breasts are for feeding babies, exposing butt cheeks is an invitation for sexual advances. So I could not show him the result of my many falls. You guys however are quite welcome to view some of the shots I took later that evening when dressing for dinner.
As we reached the bottom, despite my many falls and amusing Judas and his brother by sliding some of the way on my butt I was complimented that I was a strong woman! At that time my legs felt as if they wouldn’t hold me up any longer so I didn’t feel particularly strong but on reflection I guess I am. This year has been one of many challenges for me and perhaps this journey was to show me that if I keep getting up when I fall down I will succeed. Sometimes you have to travel a long way from home to realise some things that people all around you have been telling you all along.