Rabaul… much better and with a more active social life than Kimbe, is born in the middle of a large crater of a volcano that is now under water. It can be seen by the shape of the bay and by its constitution that it was like that, some thousands of years ago. In 1994, at the time of the first eruption, Rabaul ceases to be the provincial capital and passes that status to Kokopo.
However, the people of Rabaul don’t forget that Rabaul was once a much prettier and bigger city than Kokopo is. Rabaul is located right at the base of 5 volcanoes, 3 of them apparently extinct, one collapsed and collapsed and the other, Tarvurvur, still gives off sulfurous vapours. There have been 3 eruptions recently: 1994, 2006 and 2014. They say that it is quite common to have earthquakes of great intensity, but not at this time of year. They tell stories about the height of the last eruption, how it was and the fear they felt. Like a firework that they had never seen before and that climbed through the sky with incalculable force. They also say that the earthquakes here are already seen as normal and there are times they don’t even notice it, only when they see it in the news or in the newspaper do they notice it.
Our hotel isn’t too bad, we slept well, but the mosquitoes… then the mosquitoes eat us alive! The previpic sucks! We should have brought the tabard that was more efficient. We were in open warfare with them, to kill them, when we came to the bedroom. Diogo serves as bait, he lies down naked on the bed, very still, and when I see them approaching, I catch them! I even slapped Diogo because he had one on his beard… pay back time!
The first day was spent diving. We went to a wall full of fish and corals, where we saw a giant tuna hunting in a school of sardines that were moving at almost the speed of light, giving that silvery and half-mirrored light effect, which changes with their movement!
Then we went to a sunken boat that was full of macro, just for me, I love it!!! Diving is very good, with fewer sharks than Kimbe, but of great quality with different colors and creatures everywhere. Once again we were the only divers in the entire bay! Authentic luxury and exclusivity that are extremely rare to obtain!
The only problem is that when we arrived on land, there was no longer any place to eat… not that there was much choice, there isn’t! Just the hotel, whose kitchen closes at 14:00 and it was already 15:00, or the Yatch Club on Friday nights, which was the case!
We ended up with Rod Pierce, a 66-year-old Travel Channel super famous guy, of Australian, German origins and a Portuguese grandmother with the same last name as Diogo’s mother – Figueiredo, who makes his life finding boats under water , retrieve them and then sell them. He showed us the boat, the Barbarian, and the sailboat he found and is now recovering to stay with him and travel around the world. What a life for him! The sailboat will be called Black Jack (like the card game), but he wanted it to be called Black Bitch, but he thought he was going to get in trouble around these parts. Hahahah!!!
Needless to say, when I told him I was an interior designer, he put me to work right away! He told me that he had no way of choosing colors and that he had painted the interior of the sailboat in cream color but that now he didn’t like to see it and in fact it was total crap! It looked like vomit… He showed me pictures of the boat before it was sunk, told me what the name was going to be like, where it was going to be put and that it was going to be painted black and I suggested that he replace the cream color with a light grey, with parts in reddish wood and details, such as cushions, one or another window frame, in burgundy (red wine-brown color). He loved the suggestion and we went to the Yatch Club, where we were on the net looking for the paint references, while he told us his wartime stories, his travels through Europe in the 70s and his underwater discoveries.
The Yatch Club is nothing more, nothing less, than a kind of old warehouse, without doors or windows, with wooden tables and high stools with earthen floors, a wooden counter and some chests with beers, spirits and wine tacky.
The day before, I had gone to the bathroom on the farm and there I saw a woman lying on the floor, sleeping, in the middle of the manure dump (read pee!), as if it were normal, without answering when I said “good afternoon” , which led me to believe I might be dead! I couldn’t believe it when, without any warning, she put her hand inside her panties, scratched the said whose and continued to sleep! I took pictures of him and we almost peed our underwear when I counted and showed the pictures to Diogo.
With our stomach growling with hunger, we absorbed everything Rod was telling us, in his native/foreigner style, with his blond hair and stubble, open shirt and washed-out shorts, flip flops, dirty and crooked teeth and the his strong Australian accent, reminiscent of Crocodile Dundee, with a Robert Redford air. While we were cheating our hunger with beers and fries, we listened to his stories and told ours. But comparing ourselves to him, we are still very small. It takes a 30-year head start, many years of adventures at sea!
However, his friends arrived, a German, an Indian, a Swiss and an Englishman who lived in Hong Kong for a long time. All of them currently living in PNG for some time. More beers and a shot of tequila for everyone, as a sign of welcome to Rabaul for us, they told us that at 10 pm that night, 3 am from there, they were going to leave in the Barbarian, discovering sunken boats and planes and diving in places never before touched by man!
Already quite touched (read stinking drunks), they invited us to go with them, insisting that we cancel our trip to Kavieng and that by Monday morning we would be back in Rabaul. I confess that I found the invitation super tempting, an adventure like we would never have had before! On top of free! I cooked and Diogo set the table and we made our contribution! We were already super convinced to go, with eyes shining with excitement, when we started to do the math of how many would be inside the Barbarian… Rod, the Indian, the Swiss, the German (these 2 were clearly a couple!), the English, plus 2 guys who were already on the boat and 2 Papuans who went as maids to cook and clean for them. 9 people in a small boat and they wanted us to be 11!
Rod already said that he put the other 2 to sleep outside on deck so we had a room to ourselves. Forcedly called to reality and very upset, we said that we would love to go, we appreciate the invitation, but we thought we were going to be too much and that we were going to bother. It was with great sadness that we had to refuse and we went back to our hotel, crestfallen, barely talking to each other, trying to hold on to the fact that it was going to be too uncomfortable, to convince ourselves that we had made the right choice, but full wanting to forget the fact that we were going to be like sardines in a can and go back and accept the invitation without hesitation and set off on this great adventure with Rod Pierce, the discoverer of sunken boats and planes!
But let’s see it for what it is: 11 people in a boat that can fit 6 is too much! It was a brutal invitation, made by someone who had already drank 6 beers and 1 shot of tequila, that we will never forget and we will regret not having gone for the rest of our life… We will return one day to embark with him on one of these adventures at sea.
We went back to the hotel and went to sleep, dreaming of the great adventure that we saw passing in front of us and in which we could not embark.
The morning of the second day was spent diving. First we tried to dive in an American plane but the locals cut the ropes and locator buoys and after 1 hour trying to find it without success, we went to a stranded Japanese ship, named George, whose bow was easily at 12 meters and which was extended until 50. The whole boat was filled with immense life and we saw lots of nemoes, frog fish, crocodile fish, nudibranches, moray eels, tuna, and the most varied and colorful fish. A world-class dive without a doubt! Yet my brain was always on the Barbarian and what they might be experiencing at that moment.
After 1 hour on a banana boat with occasional raindrops and flying fish that show themselves as we went on long flights over the water’s surface, we arrived at the spot of the second dive, a Japanese plane, which they call zeros, the 4 meters deep. It is new for us to be able to watch this history lesson at the bottom of the ocean and an unforgettable event. It was still possible to see inside the cockpit the round dials and the plane’s rudder, with fish, starfish and coral around it. We took several photos and videos.
Then we continue our dive on the rest of the reef and find plenty of underwater life and our beloved frogfish disguised amongst the coral. The coral here is the most beautiful we’ve ever seen and extremely colorful and diverse, similar to the great coral barrier but with an emphasis on the most varied and colorful anemones with immense varieties of clown fish and shrimp, the usual inhabitants of this aquatic fortress. An important detail about our dives here in Papua is that besides the water being usually 31 degrees in depth, the dives usually take between 60 and 75 minutes, as opposed to the usual 35 to 45 minutes, which is excellent, despite being the most expensive we’ve ever made.
Then we went to lunch at the Hotel International Gazele, where the Indian told us that a Portuguese man named Luís Gomes was working there. However, when we got there, we didn’t find him. He had gone to a fishing competition… but we had a really good lunch! I ate breaded prawns in grated coconut with spicy sauce, just like sushi, and Diogo ate carbonara pasta! They were delicious! We left you a message at reception in Portuguese to greet you.
Well loaded with the scuba gear bag, we made a long and painful way to the Kokopo market, where we were the only white people and where everyone stopped to say hello and stared at us as if we were from another planet! They even gave us a plastic stool to sit next to them. Cute, these Papuans!
We then decided to continue our trip as scheduled, by local bus. The local buses are 12-seater Hiace Toyotas that can cost 18 people, plus everything they buy in the market. We took bus 1A towards Rabaul market which took about 1 hour sitting almost on the ground in a path full of holes. Still, it’s an experience we wouldn’t trade for any taxi or luxury car.
The alternative is to pay about 200 kina (€55) instead of a measly 6 kina for 2 (€1.5) and go inside an air-conditioned jeep without any jokes… we wouldn’t have as many stories and memories as we have. assurance. When we arrived at the Rabaul market, after some struggle to get in, we took “bus” 7A that went to Hotel Rabaul, our final destination. When we arrived the sun was already setting. Although Papua New Guinea is not safe at night, Rabaul is apparently softer but still walking is not recommended from 7pm onwards, just in case. During the day it is very quiet and safe and without a doubt the “buses” are the preferred and most efficient means of transport, being safe and cheap, as well as fun because everyone is extremely friendly, kind and ready to help.
The Tarvurvur… oh the Tarvurvur!! The dormant volcano of Rabaul. Emitting sulfurous vapours, it rises brown and black, between the two extinct ones, growing over the bay where there is calm and where the sea knows no waves, only the bubbling of the scalding water inside the volcano. Bay is full of yellow, green, black, red and orange colors, thanks to sulfur, against the blue of the sky and the green of the palm trees. What an incredible sight, absolutely mesmerizing and unforgettable! The bubbling of the water and the chirping of birds, the sulfuric vapor that burns our throats and eyes, will be our companions on this 8km hike to the summit, through gray and black stones, sometimes big, sometimes small, sometimes giant and frightening, sometimes as small as earth, worn and worked by lava, like knives so sharp that they breathe aggressively.
The way up is heavy but the view is fabulous and when we stop to regain strength, it feels like we’re in another world or on a lunar surface.
When we reach the summit, the view takes our breath away! Greenish vapours, yellow earth faded with white and stained with black, fill the environment that could have been on Mars! We jump for joy when we reach the top. All around us, just steam, brown, black and yellow against the blue of the sky! Ecstasy!!!
We chose to go to another peak, even higher but that our guide, Isaac, guaranteed to be the best. Let’s go up a few more meters. Sweaty and tired (dripping water from the chin and elbows, with bubbles of water from holding the staff Isaac gave us upon arrival), we stopped to appreciate everything around us, take a deep breath, try to replenish energy, take everything out of possible photos (of course we didn’t forget the classic jump!) and gain strength for what came next: the descent!
After talking and taking all the photos we were entitled to, we started to go down. As you can imagine, the descent is much more difficult than the climb, but I never thought it would be so difficult. There were several heights of skidding, rocks giving way and gaining haul to a few brave meters below. “This will be me soon!”, I thought. I even told Diogo that I couldn’t get down and I was sure that if I moved an inch, I would roll down. It was going to tear me apart! But step by step, very slowly, I slowly descended, clinging to everything that seemed minimally safe and sometimes to what was not safe at all… several times, the stones gave way and I slipped a meter, on a steep slope, with adrenaline surges that made me shiver and my heart in my throat!
Halfway through, her knees were trembling and her legs were like jelly. Diogo just told me to go running (it’s crazy, I thought) and that if he were alone he would have been down there for a long time! From time to time it slipped there, but that was okay. He still hurt his heel but it all went away when he poured a mouthful of sulfurous water into the wound. Legend has it that Tarvurvur is protected by a god who has the head of a man and the body of a snake, who protects those who visit the volcano. Yes of course! Absolutely!
Well, it was a joy just when I found myself down here!! I jumped, danced and sang! I had done it! Maybe it was the snake man who helped… of course!
We grabbed our souvenir stones for our shelf and headed to the hotel, having breakfast, a shower and sleeping until it was time to go to the airport. And the truth is that we fell to the side as soon as we got to the room we were so tired.
What an excellent way to celebrate our 8 years of marriage!
When it was time to say goodbye to Rabaul, it was also time to do the math and once again at the Hotel they added another series of traps to try to get the last cent out of the tourist’s parole. They didn’t have any luck with us, where they came from we’ve been around for a long time!
However, we no longer had kinas and it was Sunday (closed banks) so they added an invented commission rate of over 25% to the pressure. At €40 I got the equivalent of €28!!! Still much better than the 200 kina we were asked to do at the hotel. We paid a total of 10kina for both of them, got into conversation with the locals and took pictures with them.
We took a lift outside our hotel in an open-cash pickup truck, which dropped us off at the Rabaul market, where we had to take a short run to catch the 1A bus to Kokopo market and then the 9A to the airport. The trip lasted 1h10 instead of the comfortable 55min in the luxury car…
The airport is, once again, an exile, without minimum security, which worries us and leaves us minimally apprehensive, attentive and suspicious. As we had no way of calculating how long it would take from the hotel to the airport, we had to leave 4:00 am in advance, including the usual 2:00 am before the flight, plus another 2:00 am for the trip that ended up taking half. With 3:00 ahead, with nothing to entertain us, I was writing these posts and Diogo played Super Mario on his cell phone.