"" Writer's Wanderings: From Mountains to Seas, Papua New Guinea

Thursday, August 23, 2012

From Mountains to Seas, Papua New Guinea

[January, 2004]
“Shout our name from the mountains to seas, Papua New Guinea.” The strains of their national anthem still play in my mind. I expected a great dive adventure. I didn't expect to fall in love.

Perhaps it was waking anchored in calm inlets to hazy purplish sunrises with the distant call of exotic birds, or looking out at the lush green islands of Milne Bay that contrasted sharply against the clear skies and deep blue waters that drew me in. Without a doubt it was meeting the wonderful people of the villages that dot the islands so far away from the usual conveniences we take for granted.

Silently the dugout canoes sliced through the water from each village as we neared. Men, women, and children in canoes congregated at the sides and back of the live-aboard with fresh fruits and vegetables to trade for staples like rice and sugar. Some displayed crafts of wood and shells to sell or trade for T-shirts. Some fished. But all watched as we came and went in our dive gear. We were the entertainment for the day.

The paradise above was magnified in the treasures below. Abundant colorful marine life in all shapes and sizes played over a patchwork quilt of brilliant corals. An abundance of lionfish, countless varieties of nudibranchs, endless fields of anemones with their guardian clownfish, and the unusual--the hairy ghost pipefish, kept us diving back in for more. On this 10 day trip, we were limited only by our ability, stamina, and common sense.

Diving the wreck of the WWII bomber Blackjack was one that stretched our diving skills. Blackjack (made legendary under the command of Capt. Ken McCullar who died on takeoff in another aircraft) was commanded by Capt. Ralph Deloach when she ran out of fuel in a turbulent storm during a bombing run to Rabaul. The crew attempted to ditch on a shallow reef but missed ending up in deeper water and were rescued by the nearby villagers of Boga Boga. She now rests in 165 feet of water. Under the supervision of divemasters, the more experienced and adventuresome did a decompression dive to 160’ to photograph the props and the gun turret that still turns on the well-preserved body. The rest of us went to 130 feet. Swimming out over the wreck, we had an excellent view of the plane and the divers below.

A visit to Boga Boga village followed. School children sat on grass mats laid in rows on the dirt floor of their school and participated in a grammar lesson that resembled Wheel of Fortune. The pens I handed out went quickly—the children swarming around me as if it were candy. We shopped the craft market that was set up for our visit and talked with the villagers. Smiles abounded, some stained red with betel nut juice.

(More to come. . .)

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