Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Report # 52 Alotau, Papua New Guinea February 19, 2014 Wednesday Partly cloudy, 81 degrees

Coming into Alotau

Today's port turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The main reason we say that is that the comments on the shore excursion order form really emphasized the limited tourism infrastructure on the island. It stated that the mini buses were non air-conditioned, the roads were full of potholes, and the student guides may or may not speak good English. ln addition, it was printed that the tour operator is new and has never worked with large cruise ships, so with that in mind, we should keep our expectations on the conservative side. All in all, most of these statements turned out to be incorrect, in our opinion.

Flags of New Guinea
The Amsterdam pulled into Alotau situated in Milne Bay around 7am, and was docked shortly afterwards at a small pier used for local cargo ships. We learned later on that not many cruise ships stop here, and if we heard correctly, the Amsterdam is the first HAL ship to dock here. The small town of Alotau is located on the eastern tip of Papua New Guinea, and along with seven groups of islands, is part of the Milne Bay Province. It has a population of 93,000 people. This whole area became famous during World War Two when a battle took place between the invading Japanese troops and the New Guineans and the Australians. The land victory was won over the Japanese, the first to happen in the war of the Pacific. Unfortunately, the wreckage of ships, trucks, tanks, pontoons, and planes remain on the bottom of the bay.

A few tours had been offered here, but since we could either walk or ride in a shuttle to town, we decided to explore on our own. Many mini vans had lined up on the pier, and drove about 10 of us at a time to the center of town. Normally, we would have walked the 25 minute hike, but since it was already hot and getting hotter, we rode instead. Dropped off at the busy memorial, we mixed in with the locals and continued up the road to the local marketplace.

The folks of Alotau
Speaking of locals, it appeared that most all of the 93,000 people had shown up in town today. Perhaps they were there to see us arrive, or they wanted a chance to wish us good day or hello, as everyone we passed said that to us. Talk about friendly. Even the kids of all ages greeted us, although they should have been in school at this time of day. Most of the jobs here involve copra and agricultural products.
Local shop
At the marketplace, we strolled around the crowded stalls of freshly-grown veggies and fruits. Different items included bunches of peanuts and a powder of crushed lime coral. Since most everyone chews the betelnut, their gums and teeth are stained a red-orange color. You can follow their path by seeing the trail of spittle on the ground. So we are assuming the crushed coral may be a product used to brush their teeth. When we go to Madang in two days, we intend to politely ask someone if we are correct. Surely you would not use crushed coral in cooking.

One marketplace

Fish for sale
Now the fresh fish section of the market was a bit harder to stomach, as the aroma of the drying fish was extremely strong. The ladies kept a constant wave of leaves over the fish to keep the flies away. Some woven purses and baskets called sinapopo were hanging overhead to be sold. When we inquired about buying one, we discovered they would not take US or Australians dollars. They only took kina, the currency here in Papua New Guinea. The rate was 2.50 kinas to one US dollar. One of the ladies explained to us that most of the locals did not have any ID, such as a passport. Without that, they could not change the foreign money for kina at their bank. If they had someone else do it for them, they would lose money in the exchange. So we bought nothing here.

Kids were cute
Overflow at the market
Tiny limes for sale
Bags and baskets
Ladies going shopping
Clusters of peanuts
Fresh veggies
Crushed lime coral

The big veggie and fruit market

Selling small stuff
Many vendors

In the lot near this market was a very long covered area with benches for the people to sit and wait for mini buses to go home. Not one of the locals will sit in the sun, because they are smart. If there is no shade, they use umbrellas. So we joined many of them on the bench to cool off before we continued onward. Some of the little kids stared at us like we were from Mars or something. Doubt they have seen so many pale folks at one time.

The bank
Beer at a time

Across the highway, was a string of stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, hardware, and bottle shops. A bottle shop was a window where the locals could buy beer or perhaps soda. Something tells us that liquor is rationed here. There was a huge sign at the local park warning the younger crowd against drinking. Heavy fines and jail can be imposed if they are publicly intoxicated. Right next to this park was a police station. Anyway, we walked through a few of the stores, mainly to take advantage of the air-conditioning. It looked to us like none of these stores would accept foreign money too. Most all of the products in the supermarket were imported from Australia, especially the meats.

No drinking
Police station

Police station

SP beer made in New Guinea
We were not in search of any lunch today, but some ice cold beers would be really nice. So we went through the gate at the Alotau International Hotel, which was partially hidden behind trees and palms. The guards said nothing, so we proceeded to the reception area of the small hotel. The first question we had was concerning the acceptance of US dollars. The lady behind the desk told us she could exchange our money for kinas, then purchase food and drinks at their restaurant. Perfect. We gave her $15., which was enough for three beers and one soda. 

Alotau International Hotel

Shade at the shoreline

The outdoor bar
Behind the gate was nicer

Garden at the hotel

Hotel swimming pool
Sitting inside the open-air restaurant was not cool enough for us. So we went outside near the pool, where picnic type tables and chairs were scattered under the towering palm trees on green grass facing Milne Bay. Again, this was perfect. Few people from the ship had discovered this area yet, so we had it all to ourselves with some hotel guests. It did take quite a while to get a waitress to help us, but being able to sit down and cool off was working fine. They did have a deal here. If you purchased a hotdog and a drink, you got one hour of internet for free.

BBQing hot dogs
A hotel employee was cooking hotdogs on a large propane BBQ near us. Too bad we had eaten a hearty breakfast, or else we may have tried one. There was no menu to check over, so we did not know they served pizza here. As we were taking photos at the water's edge, we spied a table of four munching on a Hawaiian pizza. Who knew?

Well, it was time to get moving, so we headed towards the Memorial Park and the craft market. This was where we discovered that the battery on the camera had decided to quit. And where was the other battery? On the ship, of course. Luckily, the shuttle was there to take people back to the ship. Within minutes, we had gotten back, found the good battery, and were off again to go back. We knew not to stay onboard the cool ship too long, or it would have been over with.

The Monument
Taking the same shuttle back, the driver took us all the way to the marketplace.  So we had to walk back to the monument where we read about the battle of Milne Bay and the soldiers that fought it.  Right next to the monument was a group of seated natives from the Trobriand Islands very near to Alotau by boat.  They offered ebony and rosewood carvings of odd-looking fish, octopus, masks, and bowls.  

Trobriand wood carvers

Many nice bowls..the octopus one on the left is ours
They incorporated mother-of-pearl in the designs along with a rock or a seashell that looked like eyeballs. We bargained for one such decorated bowl made from rosewood. The price began at $150, but ended up at $35. Some very intricate walking sticks were also for sale, but the least expensive was around $100.

Rosewood carving with mother-of-pearl and stones

Seashell necklace

One of our friends had bought three of them. Another item that caught our attention was being sold by some elderly ladies sitting on the end of the men's items. It was an intricate seashell necklace, handmade by one of the local women. And the price was right.
Kids having fun in the high surf

Continuing on, we walked the waterfront watching little boys playing in the high surf that came crashing over their heads.

Cooling off

Nice to be young

The girls get to watch

The winds had picked up by now, and it looked like the small boat harbor was heaving and pitching the rowboats dangerously. All that held them was a stick hammered into the mud of the bay. Some fellows waded in the water to secure their boats as they could wash away.

Boats in the harbor

Getting bounced around

Getting roughe

Winds too strong for us to leave

Sail away was scheduled for 5pm, but that was not going to happen. The Captain announced that until the winds died down, we would not be able to get out of the bay. He added that we could stay for up to 12 hours if necessary, and still make the next port of Madang in two days. Gene, the CD, announced that happy hour would be extended until 8pm, so the drinking crowd was happy with that. We did stay, talking with friends on the aft deck, until the sun set. By then, the winds subsided enough for us to pull away from the dock.

It had been a long, hot day, but we sure did have a good time.
Seaside trees

Hillside jungle

Tall palms

Post office & pharmacy
Amsterdam docked
Back at the pier
Local boat
Resting in the shade
Local transport
Shoppers and relaxers
What a view of Milne Bay

New Guinea bird of paradise
Kid in the playground

Mary Ann & Barb
A cluster of bees
The informal market

A gathering place
Milne Bay
Bars of soap
Holy mackerel

Hanging out

Dancers going to a performance
War Monument

Swaying palms
Bill under a huge tree
Alotau is rather small
Noodles are always good
Saying good bye to the little ones

The mamas

Thumbs up
Breaking over the bulkhead
Palms bending in the wind
Jungles of Alotau

Pilot boat
People watching us leave
Looks like a fire to us
Sunset at 6:30pm
Nightime is coming

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