Saturday, February 21, 2009

Homeward Bound

Saturday, February 7, 2009

We went to bed around 11 and had to be up @ 4:30 to catch the PMV (Public Motor Vehicle) down to Bukatown.  So we were up very early, dressed and finished packing in the dark and were out to the road by 5:15.  The stars were out when we first got up and very beautiful, but I could see some clouds moving in to block the view.  A few minutes after getting to the road it began to rain.  We waited under an overhang for about an hour and 15 minutes before our 5:30 ride came @ 6:45.  

A PMV is a flatbed truck with short side rails.  Planks are laid across the rails and then there is a canopy frame work overhead with a tarp attached to keep out the rain and/or sun.  There were 6 rows of planks on the one we flagged down.  (The PMV in this photo is not the one we used - it actually is much nicer and ours had a canvas/tarp roof, but no sides)  

We bid our friends in Tanamalo goodbye and climbed aboard.  I sat in the middle of the truck and was greeted by the scent of unwashed bodies, “fresh” fish wrapped in taro leaves and other pungent odors.  The great thing about smells is that you quickly grow accustomed to them and they blend in.  

The plank we were sitting on was about 5 inches wide and polished smooth by innumerable buns sliding all over it every day over several years.  This made staying in one place a bit of a challenge, further complicated by the lack of anything to hang onto.  So I set my feet solidly, arranged my center of gravity and held on for a two hour+ ride.  The roads get proportionately worse the further you get from the government center (some things are the same no matter where one goes). So they started out as abysmal.  There has been quite a bit of rain during these two weeks and so the combination of constant traffic and wet roads have led to further deterioration.  In other words, it was a very long ride.  We were thrown side to side, up and down and forward and back as the PMV tried to avoid the worst the road had to offer.  

The passengers were interesting also.  It wasn’t long until the truck was fairly full.  Some were still drunk from the night before.  Two young girls got on and one was busily chewing away on her betel nut.  I got an education in how they add lime to the betel nut to get a stronger narcotic reaction from the nut.  

The passing scenery was very interesting as we traveled along.  The countryside is breathtaking.  A drop off into the ocean on one side and the jungle encroaching on the other with coconut palms all along the way.  At one point I leaned over to Jeff and said, “I’m having a ball!”  It really was a great experience.

We arrived safely (but sorely) in Bukatown around 8:30 a.m. and were taken to the Kuri Lodge where we had a breakfast of four! slices of toast with butter or peanut butter, sausage (aka - hot dog), baked beans and two runny eggs, chased by instant coffee which I tried to improve with a creamer that refused to dissolve.  However, the view was magnificent - over looking the channel and the barrier islands, we sat on the veranda and watched boats go back and forth.   The water was amazingly clear and the most beautiful aqua color.  Fish of several types were easily visible.  
While we were there, Dudley, the pastor in Bukatown came to sit with us and keep us company.  He was a very entertaining guest.  He told us many things about the days when he worked in the mines as an assayer (chemist).  He said that at that time he lived just like we do, houses just like ours with carpet and air conditioning and food like ours - T-bone steak....wait a minute, Dudley, you lived better than we do.  

He told us many stories and filled us in on some of the on going controversies the people of Bougainville face.  I asked him if he knew what the name of the island was before it was named after a French explorer, but he didn’t know that but he did have a great one about how Buka island came to be named.  The explorer, Bougain, came to the island and saw two women fishing on the reef.  He asked them in English, what is the name of this place.  One looked at the other and said, “What did he say?”  Which in the local language is “Buka?”.  And so the explorer wrote down, “this place is called Buka.”  

After staying at the lodge until 11:30 we made our way to the airport.  Checked in - security was interesting as they went through our bags and then used a hand wand on every passenger.  We waited around in the airport until about 2:15 and then a quick flight into Port Moresby.  We didn’t stop on Raboul this time because the airport was shut down due to volcanic ash.  

After a quick check through with our luggage, we were in a cab and back at the mission house that has two controls on the shower.  Wow - a hot shower feels great after two weeks.  Dinner is soon and then off to bed and another day of travel tomorrow.

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