48 hours after setting off from Ninigo, we motor into Vanimo harbour around 9am on 16 December, right on schedule (this never happens so I remember). Vanimo is the first town we visit on mainland PNG. When prompted, Ninigo Islanders gave Vanimo the thumbs up for safety but warned us not to go to Wewak, which is further east on the mainland. We haven’t necessarily heard of any specific security incidents here but there is a general consensus in the cruising community that it’s not safe so we don’t want to spend the night unless we have to. How fair or unfair this is to the people of Vanimo is still in question - during the day at least, everyone was super friendly and we encountered nothing but wide smiles and warm welcomes wherever we went.
First task of the day is a visit to the Indonesian consulate to submit our visa applications. A kind man offers to walk with us there when we ask for directions. Zig Zag and Family Circus are already there, having arrived earlier. A key person responsible for visa sign off (the consul?) is away for most of the day but they take our applications and are unfailingly polite. After checking out with PNG authorities, we are to return with our passports at 2pm for the visas to be finalised. Next items on the to do list are checking out of PNG, getting enough diesel for three boats and shopping for food. We split into specialised teams and tackle each challenge with gusto. Can this be done in a day? I had my doubts but the ever optimistic Chris from Family Circus is a believer. We can do it!
.A few supermarkets and pharmacies later, the boats are loaded with provisions. Barrels of diesel are sunk into each boat using a local long boat for delivery, a painful process which takes half a day. There is a lot of waiting around on the beach loaded with stuff waiting to be picked up by the designated dingy driver. Not sure what the curious locals made of it all, a bunch of whites radioing from the beach every 10 mins “boat name boat name this is shore team, ready for pick up”. Must have looked pretty funny. I was way too tired and busy to take any photos at the time so you will have to imagine all this.
We return to the boats to check the weather and await the call. I am not feeling confident but some time after 6, he calls. Visas are ready! Not just ready but will be delivered to the beach only metres from where we are anchored. Miracles do happen! We are all relieved we don’t have to spend the night in Vanimo and as if to prove our point, a suspicious looking long boat lurks around Family Circus after dark.
We have a quick dinner and set off around 9pm. The weather forecast looks bad with westerlies hitting us the whole time and getting stronger every day. The plan is to be somewhere nice for Christmas, but first stop is the island and town of Biak in Papua province, to check in to Indonesia. That’s 330 miles motoring straight into headwinds. We are too tired to be sentimental about leaving PNG after a long passage and running around all day. But once I have time to reflect (and we have a lot of time on this slow, painful passage), it is bitter sweet saying good bye. PNG, I will miss you.
We bob painfully for five days rejoicing at any speed over 3 knots. At one point, I swear we are actually going backwards. The jungle covered mountains of Papua all look the same (prehistoric & achingly beautiful - but not for 5 days straight).
We try some sailing one day (in the wrong direction obviously) out of a desperate need to feel the boat actually moving. This is all me, as Graham prefers crawling in the right direction.
Bruised and battered, we arrived into Biak town on the morning of 21 December. Our joy cannot be sufficiently expressed in words alone. We are greeted by the call to prayer coming from every mosque in town and it feels like a personal welcome. Yes, we have arrived Indonesia. Thank you!