Welcome to PNG!…

We have finally arrived in PNG and it feels like a monumental milestone. One last country to traverse before we arrive in the Solomon Islands. We checked in to Vanimo and the process was surprisingly smooth. The officials came to visit us on the boat, and even though they are not used to sailboats coming through (last year they had only 10 sailboats), they are making every effort to make things easy for us. Vanimo feels very familiar to Solomon Islands and other places I have visited in Papua New Guinea. Quite the contrast from Indonesia.

After a few days in Vanimo where we do some shopping and visit Vanimo Surf Lodge, we set off on our first sail in PNG waters. I decide to do a night sail in order to make it to some islands and avoid pirates along the coast. It proved to be a trying sail and you can read about it in my previous post. When we finally arrived at the islands next day, I was unable to find an anchorage, and tired from the last night sail I made a hasty decision to go to the mainland and anchor there. The threat of pirates had disappeared from my mind, and I doubted it was true in the first place.

We anchor outside a village on the coast. The waves are big and I know it will be impossible to land with our dingy on the beach. Instead I approach a local fisherman in a dugout canoe as we anchor. At first it seems like he is afraid of us, trying to paddle away. But after some waving and yelling, he willingly comes to visit us on the boat. My idea was that he then could communicate with the village who we were and that we then would be under their protection. We were anchored 400m off the beach, and with the current conditions I doubted anyone else would come out to visit us.

As we sit down with our new guest, Ben, we offer him coffee and food. He says that he thought we were pirates and that’s why he was afraid and paddled away. We all laugh and continue our conversation without thinking too much of it. Soon another dugout canoe launches from the beach and somehow makes it through the breaking waves. As our new guest arrive, yet another canoe approaches, this time with two kids onboard. We welcome them all aboard and Naomi finds the lollies that she has bought for such an occasion.

We tell them that we are missionaries on our way to the Solomon Islands. This is the first time we have introduced ourselves as missionaries, as in Philippines and Indonesia we had to be a bit more discreet. In Papua New Guinea on the other hand we received our visas with the occupation as missionaries with a letter of invitation from the director of YWAM in PNG. We know that missionaries have a good reputation in PNG and this will help us to stay safe with the village. It will also dispel the idea many islanders have of white people being overly wealthy.

The two kids head back to shore to tell the onlookers on the beach who we are. This created a chain reaction that in the end caused my head to spin. Soon more people came from the beach. In canoes like before, but also swimming with home made wooden surfboards and logs as floatation. Some kids came swimming out on inner tubes. I welcomed them onboard and soon we had a happy group of 15 people sitting with us and eating lollies. We shared stories and they were all fascinated by the boat. We were the first sailboat ever to have anchored outside their village!

I was content with having a handful of guests on board, but people kept coming. Kids, youths and young adults, and all males. But as we had become 25 people on board, the first female arrived, then four more. They had heard of Naomi and wanted to visit. Now we had 30 guests on board and I had given up on greeting everyone as they came. I didn’t know who was new and who I had already greeted before. Besides we were way overloaded and I didn’t want anymore to come aboard. People were swimming off the back and paddling around in canoes. People came and went freely, some going back to land to find fruits to bring us. I am sure we had at least 50 people coming through.

After nearly three hours of people visiting our boat and a small heap of pineapple, bananas and other fresh produce, we were finally able to dismiss our guests. We were desperate for some rest as we all had very little sleep during our night sail. As they left they were waving and smiling and all so happy. I look over at the steering position and notice that my phone is missing. Someone stole my phone. I am infuriated by the injustice of it and I jump in with my surfboard to tell some of the people still swimming with their rubber tube of what happened. They will bring word to the village and I felt like the issue would be resolved before long.

As I paddle back to the boat I see that we have new guests that arrived after everyone else left. We also invite these people on board. We were happy we did, because they were also able to help us communicate with the village about the missing phone. After another hour, Naomi and Paul decides to go visit the village before it gets dark. Me and Sammy stay behind for some much needed rest as we are both exhausted. Naomi gets to sit in a canoe going to shore while Paul paddles in on his surfboard.

Going to shore was a whole adventure in itself. Going through the breaking waves, Naomi’s canoe got swamped and she had to jump into the water and swim through the waves to the beach. Bedraggled, she was helped up on shore by some of the many curious onlookers. As she stands among the group that had formed, wanting to meet the missionaries, she hears cheering and people pointing towards the waves. Paul arrives, surfing a wave in to the beach on his surfboard. Soon they are in the midst of more than one hundred people who all wanted to meet and greet their newest village missionaries.

Paul has never before been to Papua New Guinea and was completely overwhelmed by their kindness and welcome. He was presented with many gifts, such as billums and traditional jewelry. Naomi has seen the Papua New Guineas hospitality before, but she also was given many gifts by different people. The last people who were on our boat carried a message of forgiveness from me about the missing phone and were able to share it with the whole village and elders. Paul also took his chance at addressing the village when the debate as to who had stolen my phone became too heated. They both came back just as it became dark, escorted by four canoes. Naomi’s canoe had sunk twice as they tried to paddle through the breaking waves, but in the end they made it out.

As darkness fell we were again on the boat with six visitors. Ben, our first guest, had returned together with a few others. They wanted to wait for the wind to turn before heading back to the beach. The wind had stayed strong all day and the waves kept building. Thankfully we had cooked a big portion of rice and were able to share dinner with all of them. As we sit and tell stories, one guy with a phone receives a call from someone on land who suggest they stay for the night for our protection. I was so tired and ready to go to sleep and did not want to entertain our visitors any longer, and I said that there was no need to. We will be fine.. Or so I thought.

As the story develops it turns out there was a rumor on shore that 10-15 people from a neighboring village wanted to come «visit us» in the night, and that they were only waiting for our local friends to get back to shore. With that story out I was more than willing to let our new friends stay the night. We tried our best to make them comfortable, giving them rain ponchos, sleeping mats, dry shirts and hot water for tea. Then we all crashed into our cabins, completely exhausted after a long day and an even longer night before that.

We did not receive any visitors in the night, thankfully. I am sure the word had spread of our local protectors on board. And who knows if the rumor was true in the first place. Early morning we had tea and coffee together before saying goodbye to our new friends. We set off on our sail while pondering our first meeting with a PNG village. Such a great people, full of freedom and joy, generosity and hospitality. But it only takes one person to put a scar in the pretty picture. They never found my phone and I realize that the consequences for anyone who admitted to stealing would be too severe. The villagers were furious about the incident and I don’t know what would have happened if the thief got caught. Hopefully it will serve as a warning for others.

As to the threat of pirates, I still think it will be wiser to stick to the islands from here on. There was a reason Ben thought we were pirates and wanted to get away, and that is because the threat of pirates is real in these waters. There has been boats passing by regularly and you don’t want to cross paths with them. We would experience just how real the threat of pirates are the very next day…

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