The Quest for Wakonai!
part 19 of Sylvain's adventures in Papua New Guinea
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Sunday, 19th October.
Wake at dawn.
While I am folding up the tarpaulin, a young man invites me to have breakfast with him and he points out the blue house 100 metres away. I agree to join him, and he leaves.
When I get to the blue house I am greeted by a very polite and friendly man. A beautiful lunch is ready. He invites me to sit down and he says: "To be honest, I have to introduce myself, I am Bolubolu police commissioner" and he shows me his identity card. I had camped just 100m from his house.
He then asked me how it had been in Wakonai. I told him the story. He is devastated and told me not to use this to judge Papua. "These people are idiots who see a white person once every ten years." Then we talk about other things. Speaking of C. wakonai he says that if it is over there, it must also be close to Bolubolu. He asks to see photos and descriptions. He says he will do some research and plant it in Bolubolu, so if someone else comes looking they won't have to go to Wakonai.
Well, the big threat of Police Chief Wakonai turns out to be the most friendly person I met on the island.
I return to wait at the "port". At three o'clock I found a dinghy leaving for Alotau. The trip should take three hours.
The boat goes along the coast of the island of Fergusson and arrives at the cape that opens onto the sea that one must cross to go to the mainland. We see huge waves on the horizon. We decided to sleep in the mission just before the cape. Very friendly welcome.
There's just one week before my departure from PNG and I'm on the island of Fergusson. I still have to find one citrus fruit, C. Warburgiana.
A last look at the mountains.
The 'port' of Bolubolu.
We leave for the crossing that should last 2 hours. As soon as we pass the cape it starts to rain. Visibility gets worse very quickly. The wind rises and the waves grow larger.
Two women, one with a baby, and an old man try to take shelter under a tarpaulin. Others get the spray in the face. I'm on the bench, in the middle of two other people. I have nothing to hang on to besides the bench itself. I keep my bilum between my legs. Soon everything is soaked with seawater. Both my cameras and my smartphones are waterproof. I chose them for that reason, sacrificing image quality for security. Just as well I did, because everything would have failed. The hard drive is also in a waterproof container.
After 3 hours of storm they started repeating "you should be able to see land" and "we should already have arrived."
After 4 hours the mechanic says we are going to run out of fuel. They asked to see the GPS on my smartphone. As the touch screen was full of salt water, it didn't work very well but just enough. We had time to see that we had covered two-thirds of the distance and we were going in the right direction - and then it stopped working.
The mechanic collected all the remnants from the bottom of the fuel cans in order to continue a little. From there we were able get a phone signal. We called for help, saying we were lost, without petrol but we did not know our position. Others telephoned their families ...
The woman with the baby cried constantly, saying we were going to die, and then she started to say her prayers. I was a little rude, but I told her to shut up!
As there was a phone signal we knew we were within 40 km of the coast. We waited to see whether the remaining fuel would get us to the coast.
After an interminable time we discerned a black mass. It was the mountains along the coast. The rain stopped when we got nearer and the outline of the mountains became visible. A passenger recognized the shape of the mountains and told us where we were. He guided us to a place where there were a few houses and a tiny shop. We landed like zombies, shivering with cold, onto a black sand beach.
The pilot said he had always been confident, and sure that we would get there. So I reminded him that I had heard him say that we were lost and we did not have enough fuel ...
He admitted that before seeing the GPS he thought we had passed East Cape and were lost somewhere between Papua and Australia.
I went to the bank, and back to the Transit Hotel. I put all my devices under running water to remove the salt water. People are a little surprised to see me washing cameras and a smartphone.
Extremely happy to be on dry land and still alive.
We found 20 litres of petrol to buy and we set off again down the coast to the southeast. On the way, we got caught in the worst rain of the voyage. Finally we arrived in a village, Awayama (S 10 ° 13 '49,673' ', E 150 ° 30' 53.276 '') which is the start of a track to Alotau through the mountain. The crossing had lasted nearly five hours, not the two hours expected. We found a PMV and set off for Alotau.
Monday, 20th October.
In the morning we wait a bit for the wind to drop, and then depart.
The weather is not great ...
We stop a few hundred metres from the shore - I don't know why. When they restart the engine, the starter rope breaks. Since the engine was running, there was a discussion whether to attempt the crossing or to return to the mission for repairs. We chose to return.
Going back to the mission
In the neighboring village there is a mechanic. We contact him by phone, because the phone works on Fergusson.
The repair takes place. I take advantage of the wait to take this photo of a small observer.
All photos clickable to enlarge!
Tuesday, 21st October .
At sunrise I go to to hunt for Citrus warburgiana.
I decide to go to the agricultural station at Bubuleta. The track is good and the PMVs go there. It seems that the plant is close to the track which avoids a trudge through the forest or in the mountains. The problem is that my information dates back to 1976. In 38 years anything could happen, such as the death of the plant ... The site is halfway between Alotau and the East Cape. This plant is the type specimen. So it is the one which serves as a reference in collections. That is interesting, but it's also interesting to find variations. That will have to be for another time.
The PMV drops me well before the GPS location that I have on my smartphone. This is a construction site. I inquire, and a young man who works at the station explains that the old agricultural station was abandoned long ago and they are building a new one. He showed me around. A small goat breeding centre and some fish ponds - not very grand. As he does not know where the old station was, we ask some old people in a group of houses where the employees live. They know roughly where it was but now it's in the forest. We go in that direction, but finding a plant in the forest is difficult.
We are starting to get discouraged when Mathew (this is the name of the young man helping me) asks me why aren't we going to the exact GPS co-ordinates? I explain that 40 years ago GPS did not exist and that the coordinates were very approximate. But as this is our only chance we follow the GPS exactly in the forest. At the place indicated there is nothing. Two women arrive and when we explained what we were looking for, they say they know this plant. It was just 15 meters away!
Tree 12 metres tall. The part on the photo is about 8 metres but it is very unbalanced and continues on the right. Trunk diameter is 25 cms.
The Lae PNG herbarium database at www.pngplants.org has this entry for the C. warburgiana Sylvain was trying to find. But the quoted co-ordinates don't seem correct.
Citrus warburgiana Rutaceae G. Larivita LAE70544, 20 May 1976
Locality: Papua New Guinea, Milne Bay: Bubuleta Agriculture Station 17 miles E of Alotau on Road Towards E Cape (10 09 30 S,150 20 30 E)
Donor/Supplier: BRI Donor Number: AQ0372249
My companions at the discovery:
Mathiew, Eddy, Yuna et Lino.
I make a work-table with a banana leaf placed on the ground.
The pulp is green but the women tell me that the fruit is yellow when ripe.
The peel is sweet and the pulp acid even when mature.
All fruits are parasitized by a black wasp. There are no seeds. We didn't find any flowers either.
Under the tree there are many seedlings. The leaves are incredibly different from those of the adult plant. This leaf dimorphism is common for citrus in this region, PNG and Australia.
We go back to the track and while waiting for a PMV I take some pictures. A small island near the coast.
A beach of black sand.
I return to Alotau just in time to get my plane ticket for Port Moresby. The departure is for tomorrow noon. I abandon the idea of spending a few days holiday. Too bad for the coral dives and walks in the forest and the mountains.
As I had neither drunk nor eaten anything during the day, and as I wanted to celebrate the 100% success of my mission, I had a big meal with two beers and a cigarette (I do not smoke).
I returned to sleep in the Transit Hotel. It felt like the end, which made me a touch sad. Ça fait un petit serrement de cœur!
New Guinea is spelled 'Niugini' in Tok Pisin.
Wednesday, 22nd October.
The manager of the Goodenough section of the Transit Hotel, gave me one of the empty bedrooms to sleep in at the price of the dormitory. A present for my last night, and the only night in a bed during two months of travelling. I say goodbye to all those Goodenough people whom I had met, and I take the PMV to the airport. There I remember that I had planned to go to city hall to ask the origin of the name 'Orangerie Bay', a bay on the south coast, but I completely forgot.
Tok Pisin is an English creole language spoken throughout Papua New Guinea. It is an official language of Papua New Guinea and the most widely used language in that country. While it likely developed as a trade pidgin, Tok Pisin has become a distinct language in its own right. Non-academic Anglophones living in Papua New Guinea tend to refer to it as "Pidgin," "New Guinea Pidgin" or "Pidgin English", but it is common usage among academics, as well as people familiar with Tok Pisin, to refer to the language by its own name.
Between five and six million people use Tok Pisin to some degree, although not all speak it well. Many now learn it as a first language, in particular the children of parents or grandparents who originally spoke different vernaculars.
I go back to the Sédé family, to re-make the world in one evening.
Thursday, 23rd October.
I spend a day at the Brown River to say my goodbyes to the family, friends and neighbours.
Again, the 'bilum' bag is used for everything.
With flash you can see the baby's eyes are looking at the world outside.
Friday, 24th October.
Back to Port Moresby.
In Port Moresby there is a tiny craft market. I spend the day there. Tourist souvenirs are very hard to find, since there are virtually no tourists ...
The market traders tell me that tomorrow there will be nobody here because they will all be a craft market organized by a school at Ela Beach.