Rabaul used to be such a picturesque city... huge big old trees around the market place, beautiful blue harbour, the backdrop of the close but silent matipit until september 1994. I was in rabaul when the volcanic eruptions began..
The day before the earth was still. It was a beautiful clear day, and being in town for the first time for independence weekend my famiy and i decided to venture a trip across the harbour in canoes and climbed top the crater of the volcano. It was my first experience of a volcano up close, an experience which lead to me study volcanology and become a geologist in current day. The mouth of the crater stank of sulfur and my sisters and i pinched our noses to stop from breathing in the stench. The volcano itself was silent, puffing slightly a small stream of white smoke occcasionally rising. Being young my parents decided that to climb into the crater itself would be too tiring for us as we still had to canoe back across the harbour. So we laughed and threw rocks down and read aloud the messages previous visitors had writen in the crater beneath us using large stones.
The wind began to pick up and as it was growing late in the day we descended back down the edge of Tavurvur to our canoes. As we canoed across the flat ocean my mother exclaimed that she could feel a tremble beneath us but nobody else could notice it through the gentle waves so we dismissed the quiet warning of what was ahead.
Being a typical papua new guinean city nobody except the wealthy expats were given any notice. The night before the ground shook constantly all night long and the sounds of planes taking off constantly at strange hours was enough to keep us volunteers or more local expats awake with a question of what was ahead.
When the sun rose my father stepped outside our house and exlaimed OMG Tavurvur is erupting. We all rushed onto the verandah and watched in horror. My younger sisters began to cry and our friend who we were staying with began to panic. My father is a doctor and used to having to react quickly in emergency situations ordered us to get our things together and pack the car we were fortunate enough to have. My mother assisted our friend who was in a state of semi shock in packing his few belongings. Within minutes the 6 of us were packed into our car and our friend followed behind in his own. As we drove out of town the sides of the roads were covered with citizns calmly walking out of town with there belongings on there heads just walking along like it happened everyday. It was the most amazing response i have yet to see when a who city is faced with extreme danger. Nobody paniced or ran they simply just walked and waved as we drove past wishing us luck for having a car, not pestering for a ride as they could see we were packed full. Our friend however stopped and picked up a small family.
We drove for what seemed like a very long time when we had the choice to turn off to kokipo or keep going towards the uni. We chose the uni as our friend was a vet and due to lecture there in a few days time. Also the dark cloud which was following us was pushing more in the direction of kokipo.
We arived at the uni and got out of the vehicles outside a friends place as the sound of thunder approached. The sky was as black as the darkest storm cloud and the smell of a big tropical thunderstorm was in the air. I remeber stopping and just breathing in that beautiful amazing smeel before my mother hurried me under shelter as she knew the dangers of some ash clouds. Within minutes everything around us was dense with ash. We were trapped for days, luckily we had stocked up on veges and fruit at the amazing rabaul markets a few days earlier so there was plenty of food to get us by. When the ash finally stopped falling the coconut trees were bent with the weight of the ash they held in there palms.
after several days we decided to try to reach kokipo which we heard over the radio was being used as a makeshift main airport We arrived and to our luck an australian hercules was at the airport. My father approached them and after much discussion and confusion we were on a plane home to namatanai after a much extended holiday.
I went back to rabaul for the first time in 2000 and was amazed that the volcanoes were still smoking and the beautiful city i held in my mind still buried buildings deep in ash. It is an amazing place to visit and still has a remarkable history, which has been made all the more colourful due to the 1994 eruptions and is a journey i recomend for those who don't mind an unusual and somewhat eeiry experience.
Tips for emergencies in PNG: DON'T PANIC. PAPUA NEW GUINEANS ARE VERY LAID BACK PEOPLE WHO at times seem to sleep in the face of danger. Try to learn a bit of pidgeon even though it is quite easy to understand and interpret within days of arriving.
Accept assistance from locals when needed, they might be laughing but its just coz they are nervous. they are very generous and giving people.
Have fun its an amazing beautiful place.
VISIT NAMATANAI NEW IRELAND.
The 'betal' nut of the areca palm tree contains a mild, central nervous system stimulant called arecoline. In PNG, it was common practise for the locals to chew the nut on its own or with a pastey mixture of tobacco, lime and a betel-climber leaf ( a vine which is usually found growing with the areca palm tree). Usually only one "chew" is prepared at a time and, sometimes, in order to prolong the chew, tobacco is added.
This mixture creates a red stain which colors the mouth of the chewer as well as any spot where 'spit' is projected. This is a major reason why it is a good idea to always use footwear in PNG. No matter where you are, the sidewalks will be covered by these red splotches of betal-nut juice! Continuation of this practice (which seems to be habit forming) turns the teeth black. Maybe the use of Betal nuts was a self-defense mechanism in the times before pain-killers were available? That being said, I can also remember one of my grandfathers and his use of chewing tobacco. With his habit of spitting it out the driver-side window while at speed, it was not a good idea to have your driver-side rear window down in the summertime!
Enlarge the photo and you will see (check out the bottom of the tree trunk) the red stream of what the young lady is depositing on the sidewalk in Rabaul.
As we drove along the highway between Rabaul and Kevavat, I was rather surprised to find that we were driving down some sort of 'valley'. Rather than having ditches along the side of the road, we instead had major cliffs! As a result, I was not surprised to learn that, when the tropical rains hit hard and fast, this road becomes a river!
if you do need assistance the rabaul Police Station is on the left entering town on the road from Kokopo