Kimbe Bay (West New Britain)

Posted February 13, 2020 by David McGuinness

My flight from East New Britain to West New Britain took off and landed on time and Terrence from Walindi Lodge was waiting for me. I was to be joined by 4 more people, Vikki, Esben, Alison and Debs for the rest of the trip. Their flight was running late, and updates of their expected arrival time trickled through over the next couple of hours. I took advantage of the time to try to learn some Tok Pisin (pidgin), the local lingua franca, from Terrence while we waited. In a country of over 820 languages Tok Pisin is a simple melange language, with large parts of English, bits of other European languages and traces of Bahasa Indonesia and some Papuan tongues.  “Ples bilong wetim bus” meant bus station (place belonging to waiting for the bus). “Plenti rot i bagarip” means “the road is in a poor condition” (the road is plenty buggered up!) It certainly had a logic and a charm. 

My fellow travellers arrived and we drove an hour and twenty minutes around the bay from Hoskins airport, through large tracts of palm oil plantations and arrived at Walindi lodge for lunch. After lunch we went out on a boat to a dive site only five minutes away called the hanging garden and I did my first dive in three and a half years. Visibility was not as good as normal due to recent rain but it was still worth the dive and we explored some small underwater caves.

The following day we went further out on the bay and did two morning dives, one on Otto’s Point a platform reef and another from Restof island, a quintessential beach-island paradise. Visibility was much better and we saw a lot more tropical fish including barracuda, triggerfish, seahorses and some enormous moray eels.

In the afternoon we went out on a birding excursion when the heat had died down and caught sight of some kingfishers, herons and very colourful parrots. George and David spotted birds for us and called them too and Alison who knew plenty more about birds than the rest of us and kept us informed about what we were seeing.

The next day our programme was more cultural and we visited the local Talasean village of Kilu, with a population of about a thousand. We were met by the charming Kasmira, who was to be our guide for the visit. In the village clans had separate allotments, Kasmira said pointing to a boundary fence of luxuriant bushes, and grew a variety of crops - taro, “local apple”, sweet potato, coconut - and betel nut (of course). The men also hunted Cassowary, a dangerous and difficult bird to hunt–somewhat like a slightly smaller ostrich–as well as tree kangaroos. Talasean clan society is patrilineal (unlike the Toloi in East New Britain) and boys when they reached 18 years of age would begin to learn how to hunt, make canoes, carve spears as well as moving into a bachelor house with other unmarried adult males.

Once a bride price had been earned the boy would choose a girl to marry (working girls as well as educated girls fetched higher prices) and the couple would be allocated some land and the clan would work together to build them a house from coconut wood (posts), bamboo (walls), betel nut (floorboards) and sago leaves (roof). The village had elders who would resolve disputes but no hierarchy in practice and everyone was considered equal. 

A coterie of small children followed us around and happily posed for photos, their beaming smiles making it impossible not to comply. As everywhere in PNG chewing betel nut was a favorite pastime and Kasmira was only too happy to demonstrate the process for us. “If I talk too much now it is the betel nut” she grinned up at us. She did lament that children as young as three were chewing betel. “It wasn’t like that before”, she said. She herself started chewing when she was seventeen. The hedges that adorned the village were full of life and we spotted several birdwing butterflies, the largest in the world.

We said goodbye to Kasmira and drove into Kimbe to visit the market. People were curious and friendly and happy to pose for photos. We browsed the stalls of fruit, vegetables, local tobacco and some simple crafts, laughing and joking with the locals who were keen to meet us. We came back to the lodge for lunch, then after lunch we headed out on the bumpy road to hot river, a river fed by a volcanic hot spring. We jumped into the lovely warm waters and held onto vines and were able to get a massage-shower under the small waterfall. Terrence procured us some red mud and we dutifully put it on our face to complete our spa experience. Terrence brought the cooler box down and beers were handed around, and towels too when it was time to get out. “Yu wash wash pinis?” he said. I looked at him closely and realised he was asking me if I had finished bathing (you wash wash finished).  We bumped our way back to the lodge and had dinner before turning in.

This blog is part of an Off-The-Beaten-Track Travel Diary. Click on the links below to navigate through this journey.

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