A sojourn to the South Pacific-Part IV
Posted on January 6, 2017
As the ship slid through the dark languid waters a phosphorescent chain reaction made the waters glow with an eerie, other worldly light. We were making our way 150 miles west to the next destination, Kimbe Bay on the northwest coast of New Britain. Known for its coral reefs, killer whales, and exotic birds; Kimbe is one of the most bio-diverse places in Oceana, if not the earth.
We arrived Walindi Plantation, a rustic and remote resort run by Cecile Benjamin, a chatty Australian. She appropriately proclaims the resort an “uncrowded paradise”.
She quickly identifies our host as a WWII history enthusiast and proudly shows him her collection of Japanese fighter plane engines. Yet, after some further digging, we discover more; the location of downed American bombers in the jungle beyond.
After sometime, we locate a driver and head inland through a thick forest intermittent with palm groves being tended by locals with knife-tipped poles. By the time we arrive the natives, who are already aware of our purpose, have cleared the brush and stand guard over the wreckage with machetes in hand- two bombers; one American, one Australian, overgrown, yet eerily out of place as alien intruders in a primitive world.
Returning over rough washed-out roads, I talk our driver into stopping at a local village to investigate the clever vernacular architecture of the huts.
The simple stilted buildings of giant bamboo covered in woven grass mat allowed for ample ventilation in the humid environment with sleeping quarters above and daytime living under the shade of the stilts. Arrangements are strictly maintained; women living their huts and men in theirs.
After a spectacular dive at the Hanging Gardens, a coral reef of unparalleled beauty with giant coral heads hanging out into a blue abyss, we boarded once again to be on our way.
The next morning we awoke to the scene of a large verdant volcano rising from the ocean. As our ship approached Garove Island, we circled until we found a small slot into which the ocean flowed into its ancient cone. We all watched in silence as we moved through the narrow passage; above us a lone white structure of a church steeple stood guard.
Silence enveloped us. Then, slowly as we moved towards the soaring cliffs we began to hear the sound of the jungle; exotic birds and the sound of children’s voices singing. Smoke rose from villages hidden in the dense growth, but soon natives in dugout canoes, anxious to get a glimpse of their foreign visitors, surrounded us.
We were at awe by the scene; the massive green volcanic cone surrounding us on all sides, thousand foot cliffs dwarfing our large ship. We were insignificant. We felt as though we had entered a forgotten world rarely seen by others. Soon, we were approached by natives, inviting us to join them in their village-we were being invited to a “Fire Dance.”
We arrived at a floral gateway at the water’s edge. The village was spotless; the bare ground swept around tidy flower gardens. First greeted by the village leader, we were ushered in front of the women and children dressed in bright grass skirts. They sang to us in beautiful church voices of friendship:
“Welcome to our family,
We are glad that you can be with us,
To share your love with us,
Maybe, we will always be with you.”
This was followed by a dance by the men, who whipped one another with strips of green cane that elicited a startling sonic “craaack!” with every lashing. Then, a Dance of Morning, faces covered in black grass masks, a drum kept beat to an ancient rhythm.
As the young men raced off to swim and cool their whelps, we were politely given a tour of the village; a small outdoor chapel, an area for basket weaving and the place where they built their canoes of giant hollowed forest trees.
As we were leaving, I felt comfortable enough to wander off the tour to the back of the village. Here, on the edge of the forest, I found a young boy, wide eyed, the legs of a wild boar tight in his grip, as a man prepared the freshly captured creature. Tonight, the foreigners will be gone, but for the villagers-there would be a feast.