At Panapompom island, we anchor in a quiet lagoon after an easy sail despite the torrential rain that seems to follow us. This is definitely our favourite spot so far even though the weather has been a bit temperamental. The visibility is terrible as we arrive due to the rain but lucky for us the entrance channel is as per the charts and very wide. On account of the damaged toe, Graham enjoys the comforts of the sheltered cockpit, while I get my first proper tropical soaking playing lookout on the bow.
The village here is a lot smaller at least on the side of the island we are on. Groups of huts are scattered along the beach with bush and gardens between each group. Our local guide is Martin, an older man who is also the local government warden. It seems that each village has a government appointed warden chosen from the village and an elected regional councillor at the federal?? level. The councillor visits whenever they feel like it.
There seems to be a general fear and distrust of government around here and a severe lack of outside news. Martin doesn’t even know who the latest prime minister is, and the latest news he heard was that New Guinea is going to become part of Australia while Papua will be independent. This may be a very distorted version of the West Papuan fight for independence from Indonesia. Fake news is alive and well in PNG, I am sure Trump would be pleased.
The rain arrived here at the same time as we did, so the few island water tanks are finally full and everything is looking very green. They have beautiful gardens and we have been inundated with fresh passion fruit (honestly you don’t understand how delicious these are), yams, chillies (I had to make chilli jam as we got about half a kilo of them yesterday), pumpkin, limes, bananas, corn and cherry tomatoes by the kilo. And coconut but that goes without saying. We stupidly bought coconut oil in Aus, and just today someone dropped of a bottle. Another guy just brought over a huge red snapper just caught so that’s dinner taken care of. We have almost exhausted some of our trading goods. Exercise books stocks are low, as is rice. I’ve also been handing out toothbrushes and toothpaste which some like better than others on account of betel nut I’ve previously ranted about. Kids chew as well. Apparently it gives you a bit of a high, one local woman told me.
When we meet Rodney who has a full set of white teeth, it is hard not to stare. He doesn’t chew he said, because it causes cancer. Rodney takes us for a tour of his garden then chops off a huge bunch of green bananas for us and put them in our dingy, asking for nothing in return. There must be at least 200 bananas on it and they will all ripen at once. As I was writing this, a canoe just paddled up with about 50 more bananas. We’ve been making banana bread every day and feeding it to every visitor. It’s hard to keep up pace with the amount of fresh food coming onto the boat but we can’t say no when you know they have paddled over in a leaky canoe for a bag of rice and some soap.
Martin takes us for a walk to the new school for years 3 and 4 which is located in the middle of the island. Things are looking a bit flooded walking through the bush after the rains so I casually ask if they have crocodiles here. Oh yes they do, but they only eat the pigs and dogs. What a relief then. After a scenic walk through croc country, the school appears on a large clearing with beautiful gardens and three huts for classrooms, plus teachers huts. It is all very basic but super tidy with nice wooden benches, a large blackboard with various lessons written in English, posters, workbooks etc. They seem to have workbooks very similar to Aussie kids and the headmaster tells us in perfect English that they follow the Australian curriculum. It was kids day off due to the floods but the headmaster is kind enough to give us a tour. School is mostly funded by the village. It was certainly built by the village, with the previous government providing running funds for this year but next year apparently they will cut this in in half. Teachers have to travel to Alotau on the mainland to purchase materials etc. Hard to hear but at the very least it was heartening to see how much they value education and that the village is so proud of the new school. Until recently they only had K-2 locally.
As a side note, I thought I’d double check the croc story with another source. As we are saying goodbye on the beach, my new friend Anne with a baby on her hip and knee deep in water tells me, oh yes crocs do ‘visit’ the beach here. They live on the ‘tip’ (maybe 500m from where we’re standing) but just last week a pig was taken from here, at dawn. Ok! On our first day here, I spent about an hour snorkelling in the lagoon trying to locate this WW2 Japanese plane wreck. I would have been the only thing splashing for miles ( I did find it in the end when Martin paddled out to point it out - it was beautiful with hundreds of small fish who now call it home, and at least 10 clown fish colonies).
We have a 3 day sail ahead of us to get to the next destination so we delay departure as much as we can. After watching the Saturday soccer and netball games we run out of excuses, it’s really time to go. I’ll leave you with this little nugget of information - only about a quarter of the players wore soccer boots, the rest played barefoot. Ouch.