The remainder of our time in Papua New Guinea was a little dis-organised. Shipping schedules and berth availabilities forced us to reorganise our route, and so Rabaul was (slightly impractically) followed by Bialla, Lae, Madang and finally Kimbe.
This meant I got some time off. Bialla is basically a wharf with a pipe line: the manufacturing community is over the hill, and there is the equivalent of an ‘officers club’ for those determined to go ashore, which I wasn’t.
The horrors of Lae, of course, after last year, I had no intention of revisiting.
Madang, however, is something else. I had the fondest memories of Madang, and I intended simply to revisit the pretty spots I had found before, and stroll a little further down the coast to whatever lay beyond. John, too, was keen to explore, and Trevor and David expanded ‘the walking group’ (I’ve never had company on these escapades before!) to four, as we set off at a good pace in the Sunday heat. We headed for Coronation Drive, the pretty seaside stretch where I’d had such a grand photo session with the local children last year .. and found that on Sunday the whole town emigrates to that coastline, to cook, eat, bathe, drink and/or generally just sit around passing the time of day. We encountered the usual feux d’artifice of friendliness, not to mention a very well-attended funeral, an informative policeman, a rather curious golf course, unending boys, babies and other ‘photo opportunities’, two huge trees full of liberally-excreting flying foxes and a menacingly darkening sky.
Our return leg ended at the Madang Resort (another resort!) where we encountered cold beer, Peter and Marie (from Canada) of our fellow passengers, the officers and crew of an Australian navy survey ship which we’d seen parked in the berth alongside ours, and a thumper of a tropical rainstorm which scampered us for cover. There is nothing sadder than a resort in the rain. The whisper went round that we’d eat cheaply and well down the road at the Yacht Club, so those of us with eating in mind pilled into the minibus piloted by Petty Officer Cannon (below) and off we all went.
The Yacht Club is good fun. Probably not used to being descended upon by the representatives of two ships ate once, so the fine food arrived in serried ranks, but the beer and the wine flowed and all were merry. I especially enjoyed the Australians (Kurt from his lofty 63 years of age to handsome young man ‘What do you do on the ship?’ Reply: I’m the Captain’ arghh), and, above all, Doctor John, ex-Australian local physician, who got the benefit of the slightly soggy end of my evening.
It was Doctor John who returned us to the Gazellebank, in pretty respectable shape, after another thoroughly delightful day in Madang.
Since the recipe had worked so well in Madang, and walking opportunities being about to become scarce, I decided to take another swift spin over mostly familiar ground in Kimbe. Alas, this time ‘my’ group over-expanded, the ‘walking’ idea got lost amongst non-walkers’ considerations, and so, before long, did I. I lit out on my own, for a pipe-opener down the roads out of Kimbe. There isn’t a lot outside Kimbe (let’s face it, there isn’t a lot inside it), so my few kilometres’ stroll was uneventful but invigorating.
Looping back, eventually, I met up with Horst and Anne-Marie from the ship (and Germany, have they come into this story so far?) and we ducked into the ‘Kimbe Beach Hotel’ for a cold one. Cold would just about describe it. A featureless room in a faceless place, with overpriced beer …
I wouldn’t have gone back there after dinner, except that Tina and Kerry, our cadets, who are unrefusable, kidded me out of pyjamas and back across the road … we tried the hotel, we tried the adjacent and virtually empty club, a sort of concrete bunker with the personality of an abbatoir, but when the others went off to try a third place, I pleaded age and slunk home.
Like Rabaul, Kimbe at night is a very forgettable place. Like Rabaul, I prefer it by day. And, like Rabaul, less than I did on my last visit.