Vanimo, part 2: So you’re from the yacht!

“Oh, you’re from the yacht!” It’s not a question, but a statement I hear from almost everyone with whom I have more than a simple transactional interaction. From the woman who helps point me to the consulate, walking home from church. We’d only just arrived- how did she know? And yet she did, because she asked if it was the green or white boat… and we had arrived with our friends, in their green boat.

Totem at Rabaul
Totem at anchor. OK, so this is actually in Rabaul…I didn’t get the camera out much in Vanimo

I woke up our second morning determined to get a fresh perspective. Dawn has yet to lighten the sky, but I’m up anyway so I sit in the cockpit and watch the lights on shore. After all this time among islands lit only by fire, it’s a novelty.

Just like the prior night, a fishing boat drifts uncomfortably close. They pass a dozen yards from Totem, but are getting really close to Sea Glass. The big outboard off the back is pulled up, and the boat is being silently maneuvered with a wooden oar instead. I give a low whistle, thinking this will wake up Jamie. Instead, it gets the attention of the fishing boat. OK, here they come. Now what?

There seem to be several people aboard, most of them sleeping or resting on the bottom of the boat. As they get closer, it appears to be a family: parents, a grandmother, and two young children. I stand at the side of the boat as they come close, and offer a stem of bananas. There must be at least 50 left on the stem we were given in Ninigo, and we can’t possibly finish them before we clear into Indonesia. It seems a good peace offering. They were just curious, of course. Where are we from? Do we like Vanimo? The children immediately eat bananas, and look up with wide eyes.

Later in the morning, I go for a walk around town while waiting to pick up our visas. The public market was on, and I could get lost for hours wandering through even the smallish area it takes up. A woman with an impressive boar tusk pendant sells me a few papayas. I’m dying to talk to her and learn about the necklace, but am shy. Another woman is selling krupuk. Despite the fact that these crisp shrimp crackers bear more than a passing resemblance to Styrofoam, I’m so happy to buy a package. They are distinctly Indonesian and remind me of what’s ahead. I stop to talk with the seller. “So, you’re from the yacht!” Again, it’s not really a question.

Down the row, I play peek-a-boo with a baby, snuggled against his grandmother in a sling as she sits before her vegetable wares. The little boy gives me a wan smile; after some work, I finally get a giggle. “He’s sick,” granny tells me, and puts my hand on his back- it’s burning. What an awful feeling- what can I do? She presses a cucumber into my hand, and I walk away feeling a little dazed, not sure if I’m being thanked or sent away or a little of both. Sweet-smelling kretek smoke floats through the air. I detest cigarettes, but this smell of the Indonesian smokes throws me back to living there twenty years ago, and I am immediately nostalgic.

Back to the consulate, our paperwork is delayed again, but I am assured it will be ready after the lunch break. I stop to talk with Malaysian businessmen, hydrographers who work with the timber extraction business in New Guinea. They’re trying to get visas too. “So, you’re from the yacht?” – it’s still not really a question.

Outside the market, the roads rapidly vanish into lush mountains. The PNG border town could be called sleepy, if it weren’t for the busy harbor. Trucks roared down the causeway, loaded down with massive trees. Cranes lifted the awesome trunks (easily 75’ long and a meter thick diameter, which only suggest at the ultimate size of the tree) into ships and barges, their sound of their impact below resonating even inside Totem. Tugs were jockeying barges into position for loading, spinning and manoevering at an occasionally uncomfortable proximity.

The sheer scale of the timber is impressive, but it’s depressing too. It’s just highly unlikely that any of it is from sustainable managed forests. We have heard too many stories about government corruption, and about the manipulation of the local landowners by international timber companies, to imagine anything else. It is a massive area being felled to support this constant flow.

With a few more hours to wait for paperwork, I take our laptop into a surfer’s hotel and get an internet hookup. It’s been months since we had a decent connection! This still isn’t decent, by first world standards, but it gets the job done. I use my entire hour of time downloading about 300 emails, and manage to just check our bank statement before getting cut off. The staff is helpful, and I’m tempted to just sit in the air conditioning for a while- what a luxury it feels like! They ask if we’ll be back, and I hear once again- “oh, you’re from the yacht!” Yes, that’s me.

4 Responses to Vanimo, part 2: So you’re from the yacht!

  1. Skipperette January 23, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

    Hi Behan,
    I just got The Boat Galley book. It is great. Are there any recipes in particular you want? Will reprint and send.
    Sherry

    • Behan Gifford January 29, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

      Sherry, thank you for the kind offer! We just had the hand delivery of the awesome Boat Galley Cookbook directly to Totem by a visiting friend, so I’m in good shape. Now about that kindle edition… 🙂

  2. Olivier Onorato January 24, 2013 at 12:41 am #

    Behan, my brother leaves in Bali. He just bought a house amd had a swimming built. To get all the permits, he had to bribe a bunch of officials. It seems that is the way everything works over there. I’m sure you already know about it or figuring it out quickly.. Good luck with the paperwork and keep blogging. Very entertaining for us stuck ashore..

    • Behan Gifford January 29, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

      O, it’s going to be interesting to learn about how things work in Indonesia. In PNG, it’s my impression that the massive money to be made is just too tempting. It’s a different scale than local officials approving pool permits. We hope to be in Bali around May/June- hope to meet your brother- you and Max should come and work in a sailing holiday!

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