Part 2 | End of December 2016
We’ve been in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville for over a month now. It really doesn’t feel like it. I’ve mentioned this to the other volunteers on the island who’ve all replied with a similar response of ‘yes, our first month went quickly too but you’ll hit a time when things slow down and it will feel like forever’. Should I look forward to this time or not? Hmm, who knows… Anyway, at the moment it’s “gutpela” (good).
I feel like the last 3 weeks or so since my last blog post have been a real transition period. My energy levels have steadily increased, as I adapt to the climate. I can now do the washing, hang out and collect it whilst only saying ‘this is definitely the hottest day so far’ once or twice… I’ve been trying to utilise this period of boosted energy by snorkeling, running, trekking and swimming, whilst simultaneously taking lots of photographs and video footage – and of course being as active as 1.25gb of data per week allows on social media!
I now consider myself a seasoned snorkeler and I am thinking about updating my CV and LinkedIn to include it within the hobbies and interest section… If someone asked me do you snorkel? I’d probably respond with ‘Do I snorkel? Do I ever’ whilst grabbing my laptop to show them my latest ‘Snorkeling on Loloho Beach’ video. I have been to Loloho Beach twice, armed with the Go Pro camera and I can safely say it’s my favourite destination right now.
White sands, emerald water, coconut palms, an incredible reef which is nice and close to the shore and only half a dozen people (whom of which are locals that watch us with amusement). What’s not to like about it? It’s hard to put into words how vibrant and alive the underwater world is. There’s so much going on under there – coral, fish, kina. The clown fish are very entertaining and clearly aren’t camera shy as they swim within an inch of it. If you missed the snorkeling video, don’t fret… check out my Loloho Beach video here.
Our first trek in Bougainville was from Arawa up to a small hamlet near the village of Topinang. I organized the trip with a local guy via text message and managed to get a group of 6 people who were also keen. During our text conversation the local guy mentioned that we would get to see the live bridges and that was it – I was hooked. I had no idea what the live bridges were and couldn’t find anything on the internet about them which just made me more eager to get out into the jungle and explore. He organized a guide for us (you pretty much need a guide for anything in Bougainville), who lead us out of town, over a swing bridge and through some coconut and cocoa plantations. We made steady progress up hill to a small hamlet where a family welcomed us (the organizers family). Then we saw it! The live bridge!
A mass of tree routes, branches, entrails and vines that stretched across the river. It really was a thing of beauty. However, the 2nd live bridge was even more incredible at nearly 3 times the width and twice as long as the first one. The guide told me that this bridge had been here since he was a ‘pikinini’ or a child. As I was taking photographs, a lot of locals passed over the bridge with baskets full of fire wood, fruit and vegetables, with a smile and a ‘good moning’. One of the real highlights of the day was a swimming hole near the hamlet. It felt great to be fully submerged in cool, crisp water that was being fed by a series of waterfalls. I could have splashed around in those pools for hours on end, but was tempted out by the sound of fresh coconuts being cracked open. We’ve discovered that a drink of coconut water really quenches the thirst. We also measured how much liquid you get from an ‘average’ sized coconut and it turns out it is just under a litre. Interesting…
We went on my first bike ride after re-assembling our bicycles. In order to get a bike from New Zealand to Bougainville, you have to dismantle it, put it into a bike box and tape it all securely in place, so it can be easily loaded onto the plane/boat/truck with minimal damage. We were on the road by 7-30am, after a few tweaks of bikes here and there and followed the coastline out of Arawa heading south towards Keita. People smiled, waved and hollered greetings to us as we cycled towards Premier Hill. Getting into the late 20s/early 30s and over 80% humidity we decided to forfeit the hill and head back. It felt great to be out on the bike and see a little more of this fantastically green and lush island, whilst lapping up the cooling coastal breeze.
How was it spending Christmas in Bougainville? Well, it turned out to be great. The plan for Christmas Day was to head to a nearby beach to eat and swim. We had received an invite from our neighbours boss to come to his beach with his wantoks. It was a real privilege to go along and meet some of the local people. One guy from the Solomon Islands was particular interested upon discovering that we were from New Zealand, as he represented the Solomon Islands against the All Blacks in the 70s. We looked at photos of him pulling off some brutal looking tackles on his I-Pod. The Christmas dinner they prepared was top notch – red emperor fish, yellow-fin tuna, pineapple, water-melon and a traditional dish of tama tama, which is made by pounding banana or cassava into a starchy dough. It’s sweet and kind of fudge like and pretty delicious. I also had time for a quick dip too. I’ve never experienced a sea so warm. The average sea temperature in Bougainville is 30c! Yet, it still seems refreshing…
I have also spent a little time strolling the streets of Arawa and further exploring what it has to offer. There are so many little shops here and there that look like very little from the outside but go inside and they sell a whole array of random things. I have discovered an ice-cream shop, where I can get a double scoop of chocolate ice-cream for 2 kina ($1 NZD). They also have a good stock of frozen chicken, eggs and baking supplies. I’ve found a local store that sells Aussie meat pies for 10 kina, so they are definitely a treat but I did treat myself and it was delicious. A plumbing store that sold sealant, which we purchased and did some DIY on our house. The real highlight though… I stumbled across an acoustic guitar! Neon blue! To be honest I don’t know who was the most ecstatic – me or the store owners. Christmas came early to both of us…
I have now officially had the ‘bank’ experience. I joined the queue (I say queue loosely…) at 8-30am in the already blistering heat, armed with my umbrella and surrounded by 30 or so people, keen to get their hands on some hard earned Kina. Once those gates opened, it was on! Ok, actually it was very civilized and most people wanted a face to face experience at the bank and headed to the tellers, whereas I was happier with the ATM. I have since discovered that I can actually get cash-back from a couple of the larger supermarkets, so depending on how much money they have in the till, I can get anywhere from 50 to 200 Kina, which saves the very hot and sometimes very long bank queueing experience.
As I type this we are preparing for an adventure to Pok Pok island for New Year. I have just been handed a life jacket and will soon be digging out the mask, snorkel, sun-cream and mosquito repellant. The name Pok Pok comes from the Tok Pisin for crocodile, pukpuk. Thankfully this is because the island resembles a crocodile, rather than it being a favourite destination for crocodiles… Anyway, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone – have a blast!