Part 1 | Beginning of Dec 2016
First Week on Bougainville Island
Nem bilong mi Adam. Yu Orait?
One and a half weeks into life on Bougainville Island and these are the two things I’ve picked up in Tok Pisin so far… some things never change and my grasp of foreign languages certainly haven’t. I have lessons coming up for the next 3 months or so, which should hopefully be enough for me to at least buy mangos and pineapples at the market and engage in a little small talk.
It has been a fairly frantic first week and a bit, especially considering I don’t currently have a job. At this rate, I struggle to see how fitting 40 hours of work into my schedule is possible! So for now, I won’t try that…
We spent a couple of days experiencing the expat lifestyle in Port Moresby aka POM. We were collected from the airport, driven to and from the office each day, ate in flashy expat cafes and restaurants and stayed in a house in a guarded complex. Although I feel like we didn’t get to experience the ‘real’ Port Moresby, we did meet some great people and ate some delicious food, overlooking some pretty stunning views of the harbour and city, but I was looking forward to Bougainville right now.
Our first sight of the island of Bougainville island from the small plane was simply incredible. A rush of excitement passed through me as the island came into view. It’s a stunning coastline, with forest as far as the eye could see and heaps of small islands scattered around. It really is breathtaking. I think Ashlee took at least 100 photos during the descent alone! We stepped out onto the tarmac to 28c and 90% humidity, which I must say wasn’t as bad as I had feared. We patiently waited for the bags to be unloaded from the plane and bought over to us and before long we were in a 4×4 truck bumping our way the short distance to the once Capital of Bougainville, Arawa – our hometown for the year.
On the first evening we went to Star Dust, one of the only restaurants in town and were joined by 10 or so volunteers for our welcome dinner. It’s funny that you can fly 12 or so hours to a small island in Melanesia and yet feel so at home and surrounded by friends. Everyone was so welcoming. We drank cold cans of SP (the local beer) and chatted for hours about Arawa, life in Arawa, tips on where to find certain supplies (like cheese, chocolate, beer… all the essentials) before finishing up and heading the short walk home for our first night of un-air conditioned sleep in our new home.
Our house was a real treat, surrounded by a beautiful garden with mango trees on the doorstep. We immediately set about making the house our home with the things we had available in our backpacks – hanging the apron up, putting our supplies of tea and coffee on the counter, making the bed with our sheets and getting the mosquito net into place.
Over the next couple of days, we explored the supermarkets (does anyone else get excited by exploring new supermarkets or is it just me!?) We were surprised to discover that they stocked a fairly decent range of things. Apparently a ship arrived recently and it’s not also like this, so we have been told to stock up on anything that we really want. I stocked up on Heinz baked beans, Oreo biscuits and Mainland vintage cheese (once again, all the essentials!). We also visited a couple of the local fruit and vegetable markets, which are fantastic and offer a huge range of locally grown, organic produce, of which we took full advantage. The pineapples are amazing, as are the mangos, huge paw paw, bananas, coconut, green beans, sweetcorn and some other things of which I couldn’t identify but apparently they are called red bells. A watery, slightly sweet refreshing fruit – which are delicious.
Meeting Fellow Volunteers
On our first weekend it was International Volunteer Day and we went on our first road trip. We headed North to a village called Chabai to celebrate with the rest of the volunteers from NZ, Australia, Austria and Japan. This was about a 3 hour drive on the main highway, which is nothing more than a dirt track with lots of pot holes and river crossings. One of the bridges had given away which meant for an exciting river crossing!
There was a gathering of 25 plus people and the nuns and locals from the village. We ate, sang, danced, canoed to a tiny island, snorkelled, cut ourselves on coral reef (ok, that was just me… apparently my depth perception in the water is a little off) and talked and got to know each other a little.
I produced a short video from our weekend.
A few observations I’ve had in my short time in Bougainville…
- Getting around is a challenge. The roads (I say roads but they are really dirt tracks) are very slow, very bumpy and very slow… yes, I mentioned it twice as they really are that slow.
- Frozen pineapple, paw paw and mango is just divine. Actually, anything frozen seems amazing right now!
- Doing the simplest of activities is like a full on workout… and I mean the simplest. Walking 500m to the market or hanging out the washing results in sweat pouring from every pore of the body.
- It’s best not to have a certain type of food in mind when shopping as you’ll more often than not be disappointed when it’s not available (unless of course it’s pineapple or coconut of which there is an abundance).
- Be prepared to say good morning or good afternoon to almost everyone you pass and smile continuously. I can feel my face and jaw aching from all the smiling… I am clearly not used to it…
Ashlee kicked straight into her assignment, building up her knowledge of cocoa which sounds like the perfect job right!? The office is a 10 minute walk from our house – following a dirt track across a stream and passing a small market, which is very handy for grabbing lunch on the way, a pineapple, some red bell fruit or something equally as delicious and refreshing. A couple of essential items that always go with her are a water bottle, sunglasses, an umbrella and a shopping bag (for stocking up on those supplies).
Whilst I enjoy my ‘accompanying partner’ lifestyle, I have been wandering the streets in an attempt to get my bearings, adapt to the heat, work on my farmer’s tan and practice my non-stop smiling and greetings. It’s funny how the smallest of things make for a productive day when you aren’t working… I mopped the floors, set-up an automatic payment for my storage, walked to the market to get two mangoes and some spring onions and watched 3 episodes of I’m Alan Partridge, all within a single day! I’m exhausted…
And finally… I am pleased to say that I haven’t seen a crocodile yet. Although, I have seen some enormous frogs, toads, beetles, geckos, butterflies and spiders. They must all workout or something here, they are huge!
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Hi, I’m Adam Constanza, freelance travel content creator living, working and supporting tourism in Timor Leste, South East Asia.
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