June 10, 2005

June 10th already and I havenít written once in the journal. We are at Budibudi (Laughlan) an atoll in Papua New Guinea which lies to the East of Woodlark Island, a large, mountainous island that can be found on most major maps of the area, though Budibudi may not be. We are 100 miles North of the Louisiade Archipelago and we have been here almost a week already. We took about 2 weeks working our way South from Kavieng where we entered the country in early May and made several stops along the way at small islands of little renown. We stopped at tiny Tabar Island for one night then at Ambittle in the Feni Islands for 10 days due to strong Southerly winds which prevented us from proceeding. Then spent 4 days at Green Island, a raised coral atoll, but in heavy rain the whole time. Green Island was noteworthy for its geology and because of this has very fertile soil and abundant fruits and vegetables of every kind. We traded with the local people for a wide variety of fresh produce and left quite well stocked.

Most notably, we spent one night only at Buka Island in the N. Solomons Province of PNG. Buka, which is separated from Bougainville Island by a narrow channel, along with Bougainville, has been embroiled in a separatist war since the late 1980s, though some say a cooling off period is now occurring. We stopped at Queen Carola Harbor on the North end of Buka, far from Bougainville where the separatists have their stronghold. Buka and Northern Bougainville are reportedly firmly in the grip of the PNG Defense Forces. The dispute centers on the fact that the islands and people of the N. Solomons Province are geographically, ethnically and socially part of the Solomon Islands. The border between the N. Solomons Province and the nation of the Solomon Islands is just South of Bougainville separating it (and Buka) from the rest of the Solomon chain only 10 miles away. The government of the Solomon Islands is operating under great pains to appear neutral but it does appear that rebels are operating out of bases across the border in the Solomons. The islands in question were separated from the rest of the Solomons by an arbitrary act of a colonial occupying power, namely Great Britain which traded the islands to Germany in return for some other islands that neither nation had any business controlling (I canít recall now which those were). Germany joined the islands to its holdings in New Guinea which were later joined to British holdings in Papua and thus Papua New Guinea was born when the territory was finally given independence in the 1970s. The people seem to want independence but the PNG government is loathe to accede to this demand as Bougainville contains one of the largest deposits of copper in the world. A very productive mine was in operation there for several years before the fighting forced it to shut down and one day when peace comes this Ė said to be one of the largest man made holes in the earth - - mine will be very profitable for whomever controls it.

As for Budibudi, our current location, it is wonderful. The atoll is beautiful, shaped like a horseshoe open to the West. During this time of year the trade winds blow steadily from the Southeast and almost zero chance of Westerly winds exists. The lagoon is quite small, only 3 miles across, and thus it is quite calm and safe even in the boisterous winds we have been experiencing. The weather has not been great since we arrived. We had rain for 3 days when we first arrived and now is blowing quite strong and steadily from the SE in the 15-20k range, mostly about 20k. Rain squalls come and go and bring stronger winds yet, but the lagoon stays relatively calm due to the short fetch (distance from shore the wind has to whip up waves).

Other nice features of the island are an abundance of lobsters which the local men catch for us at night on the reefs and deliver in the morning still kicking. We trade with them various odds and ends like a pack of cigarettes (which fetches about 3 bugs) a kilo of rice (worth 2) or old t-shirts which they are desperate for. This morning we had a canoe come up with nine (9) lobsters, the most so far. Kate was not thrilled as she is getting a bit tired of it. We gave them 20kina cash (about US $7) a kilo of rice (about US $2) an old pair of reef walking shoes which are falling apart and donít fit me anymore (but they seemed thrilled) and 5 cigarettes (we donít have many left Ė we donít smoke them but keep them aboard for trade). Not a bad deal and they seemed very pleased.

One more great thing about the Budibudi is the herd of spinner dolphins which live in the lagoon. When we first arrived we saw them playing in the lagoon Ė always a good omen. Since then we have seen them every day jumping and twisting and doing flips end over end. They are beautiful and fun to watch. Two days ago we set out in the dinghy with snorkeling gear to try to swim with them. It looked like it would be easy since they were swimming along slowly only 100 yds from the boat. But every time we came near them and stopped the dinghy they would take off in the other direction. Twice Jonah and I jumped in the water and never even got a glimpse of them, they would swim away so fast. We gave up after half an hour.

Yesterday we had a great day. The sun was shining, it was very windy as it has been for the last 5 days, but it was a glorious day. We went to the large village across the lagoon and met a man named Essie who had come out to the boat in his canoe a few days ago. He had offered to take us to the windward side of his island to show us the blow holes. Kate was not very excited about it but figured it would be a good activity for Jonah. Well, it turned out to be quite spectacular and she was raving about it all afternoon. The whole side of the island facing the sea (the East side) has high coral cliffs upon which the sea breaks with great force throwing up huge walls of water. The holes Ė we saw four of them Ė have been eroded away from underneath by wave action and as the sea comes in water shoots up through the holes. As it was low tide only the holes closest to the sea had any water coming out of them, but you could see the water down the other holes sloshing back and forth and hear the sound of compressed air issuing from several smaller holes. The entire scene was lovely with a dense green carpet of vegetation resembling grass along the waterís edge and the blue sunny sky above and the waves crashing on the shore. Look for photos in the next few weeks (or longer).