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 PAPUA NEW GUINEA 2002 - Part One

Note: all underwater photos courtesy of Gary A. Lindenbaum, MD. Copyrighted - please do not distribute.

Friday, March 2, 2001 - Philadelphia and eastward
I had most of my stuff packed and ready to go in the morning, then stopped by the warehouse on my way to work. They've filled in half of the concrete supports, and Richard showed me where they found the old retaining wall from the rowhouses that had been on the site previously. He suggested that we could put in a wine cellar without too much difficulty, supporting the ceiling to pour concrete over it. After a quick consult with Barry we figured that the additional cost would not be that much, after deducting the cost of a wine storage unit that would have gone in the kitchen. We agreed to try to make it work and do the excavation.

Richard drove me to work and I had a ton of things to get done before leaving. My 2:00 conference call ran long until 3:00, and I still had to set my out-of-office messages for my phone and computer, run to the bank, the pharmacy and the camera shop. Gary Lindenbaum, my trauma surgeon friend (aka "The King of Toys") from the Galapagos trip four years ago and his friend Mark Zibelman, an internal medicine doctor that has been diving with Gary several times were picking me up around 4:15 for the drive to Newark airport. I arrived home at 3:45 and the limo was already there (we needed a limo for all the dive bags!). Gary was on the phone trying to track down my office/home/cell phone numbers - yes, surgeons do get a bit intense - I said I still needed 20 minutes and would be right down. I finish packing and Richard stopped by to say goodbye, brought my bags down to the limo and we were off!

Mark's wife Carol had packed some snacks and a bottle of wine, so we toasted the journey and sat back. It only took 1 1/2 hours to get up to the Newark, New Jersey airport - very light traffic. We arrived at 5:45 for our 9:15 Singapore Airlines flight to Amsterdam with continuing service to Singapore. We spent an extra half hour or so trying to coordinate our Australian visas. They began boarding at 8:40 - we were flying Economy Class but had three seats together. I volunteered to sit in the middle seat, and Mark and I began our fighting sibling act that we carried on throughout the trip ("She's touching me!", "He's looking at me - make him stop!", and Gary's favorite, "Are we there yet?", to which he began responding, "Don't make me stop this plane!")

Unfortunately, our row was right next to the galley, so we got a lot more activity than we had hoped for. A couple hours into the flight, the chief steward came on the intercom and asked if there was a doctor on board. Both Gary and Mark got up to check on the situation and came back 20 minutes later - a young woman had fainted and they revived her - probably dehydration. The flight attendants were making quite a fuss and asked how many of us were traveling together. We thought they might move us up to business class (!), but instead they gave Gary and Mark some cologne from the duty-free shop. Shoot! They decided that if they got another medical emergency, I could play one of the doctors - maybe I'd get a better gift.

After they fed us and turned the lights down, I watched "The Sting" on the Kris World video system. Even in Ecomony Class they have 17 movies or so from which to choose. I took a sleeping pill and awoke with an hour and a half to go. We had breakfast - fruit, rolls, yogurt, juice - I can see that low-carb will be difficult on this trip.

Saturday, March 3, 2001 - Amsterdam and eastward
We landed in Amsterdam at 10:30 a.m. local time and had an hour and a half before the continuation on to Singapore. Gary and I got off and walked around the airport. I found the little batteries that my Psion computer takes - I can never get them back home - so I stocked up. I also bought some little cheeses and sausages for the flights.

We reboarded and found Mark fast asleep across the seats. We settled in for the 11 1/2 hour flight to Singapore. Unfortunately, the electrical system for our row had stopped working, so we had no lights or video for the flight. They fed us and we read until the natural light started to fade, then all took sleeping pills and conked out.

Sunday, March 4, 2001 - Singapore
We arrived in Singapore around 6:00 a.m. Sunday morning local time. We grabbed our bags, cleared customs, and went to the early check-in desk to get our boarding passes, Australian visas and check our big bags. We had a 17 hour layover before the flight to Cairns. We decided to check on getting a transit hotel day-room, but everything was sold out so we stored our larger carry-ons, changed money and caught a taxi to the zoo ($20 US for the three of us).

It was only a half hour ride to the zoo which had just opened for the day when we arrived. Great zoo - I remembered some if it from when I went when Mom and I stayed for a week with Polly and PJ Huang in 1993. We stayed for a couple of hours, took pictures and tried to adjust to the humidity - 85 degrees, but it felt very oppressive. The air-con rest stations were a valued addition!


Lion Cubs

Hot Tiger


Komodo Dragon




Around noon we caught a cab to Orchard Road, the big shopping street and looked for a restaurant. We walked for a while and found a Chinese restaurant that looked nice. Very ornate and beautiful. I had spicy garlic shrimp and celery, Gary had deep fried prawns and Mark had chicken. But the most interesting sight was the table next to us - they brought out a huge platter with a gigantic lobster on it, with the back shell removed and the tail meat sliced thinly. Lovely presentation until I noticed that the lobster was still moving!! It was lobster sashimi - in the truest sense. Ouch!

Windows On Emerald Hill

Emerald Hill

After lunch we shopped along Orchard Road and stopped to sit at an (air-conditioned) Starbucks for iced coffees. As we sat, a huge thunderstorm hit with a downpour that lasted an hour or so. Afterwards, we caught a cab back to the airport to grab dinner and await our flight. We found a rather odd country-western themed restaurant and settled into a booth for a while. I wasn't feeling great, so I passed on dinner - the guys had hamburgers and fries. After a while we wandered around the airport and found some seats while we waited for the gate to be announced. The flight left around 10:00 p.m., and luckily it was not crowded so we got to spread out and sleep. Zzzzzz.

Monday, March 5, 2001 - Cairns, Australia
We arrived in Cairns at 6:00 a.m. The bus from the hotel met us at the airport and took us to the Righa Colonial Club Resort. Our rooms were ready and we rested and napped - I took a much-needed hot bath - and called Richard around 8:00 (5:00 pm at home) and got his voicemail. At noon we all met at the poolside restaurant and had lunch - Gary and I had Caesar salads, Mark had a shrimp salad sandwich. I had a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and kicked back to read my book - I was on book 5 of a 6 book series by Dorothy Dunnett called the Lymond Chronicles, a historical novel about the history of Scotland, France and Russia in the mid-1500's. Gary made reservations for the three of us to take a rainforest tour when we return to Cairns; he and Mark also made reservations to go white-water rafting - I figured I would have seen enough water by then, so I checked out the massage schedule instead.

In the afternoon I dozed for a while, then got ready for dinner - we had made reservations at the hotel's upscale restaurant, Jardine, for 7:00. By ten after seven I hadn't heard from the guys so I called their room - good thing, since they had overslept. We arrived a few minutes late but "no worries." Had a lovely dinner on the veranda - we shared a nice bottle of Australian chardonnay. Gary had the roast kangaroo appetizer and let us try it - it tasted like a very lean steak. I had the mustard-crusted pork tenderloin entrée - excellent - and the cheese course for dessert with port wine - yum. A pleasant change from airline food.

Tuesday, March 6, 2001 - Cairns and beyond
I woke early (4:00), had another bath (ahhhh!) and went to breakfast at 6:00 - eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit and coffee. I called Richard around 7:30 a.m. (4:30 p.m. Monday for him) and checked on the house - they had been excavating for the new wine cellar! I'm really happy that he thought of putting it in - he knew it was something I would really like. The hotel staff collected our bags and we left for the airport at 9:30 - our flight was at noon, but surgeons are sticklers for promptness and planning.

When we checked in we discovered that the flight was delayed 50 minutes - something that did not make our surgeon really happy as we had a connection in Port Moresby. The ticket counter rep said Mark and I would have to check our flight attendant carry-on bags too - I began to worry about the size of the plane! She also asked about our Papua New Guinea (PNG) visas - "What visas?!" She said we would need to get them in Port Moresby but we should change money here - they were about 20 kinas ($15 Australian, $7.50 US). We changed $15 Australian each, and went to get something to eat. I tried to check e-mail at the internet café, but the computer that makes the access cards was broken (ironic). After a while we went up to the departure lounge and found some more interesting shops to peruse until our flight was called. The plane was - surprisingly - an Airbus jet and the flight only took an hour. The Air Nuigini in-flight magazine - "Paradise" - had an ad for Marsh & McLennan's (my parent company!) Port Moresby office! But there were a couple of third world touches - the air sickness bag doubled as a mail-in photo processing envelope.

In Port Moresby we had to get our visas, and since we were in the back of the (Air) bus, there were 10 people in line before us. Our connection was in 40 minutes and we still had to reclaim our bags, clear customs, re-check the bags to Alotau and schlep over to the Domestic terminal. Gary asked the group in front of us if we could cut in front of them to make our flight and they very nicely agreed. They were a group of American Army men and women who were overnighting in Port Moresby and flying to Alotau the next day for an extended stay. When we got to the counter, the visa cost turned out to be 25 kina instead of 20 - and we had only gotten 20 kina each! Small panic until Gary came up with just enough kina left over from his last trip to PNG to make up the difference - whew! We collected the bags, talked our way to the front of the customs line, rechecked the bags (hoping they would make the connection) and went to the domestic terminal. This time it was a 40-seat Fokker F-28 - smaller, but still a jet! It was a nice flight - only an hour.

We were met by Rob van der Loos, the owner and captain of the MV Cher-Tan, named for his two daughters, Cherie and Tania. Cherie works on the boat with him and just got her captain's license as well. Rob is a big Aussie and has been running his boat in PNG for nine years; his wife, Pao, is the cook. We collected the bags and Rob drove us to the boat, about 15 minutes away. His friend owns a construction company and he has a nice gated compound with boat access that Rob uses. The dingy was sent out from the boat and we were aboard in no time.

We met the only other diver on the trip, Diane, an accountant for Philip Morris in upstate New York. She is a marathon runner - VERY thin, and a vegan. She's traveled for diving all over the world by herself, so I compared notes with her. I recommended that she contact Ker & Downey about their Botswana Safaris (even though it's not diving) since it was such a great trip as a single person. We had our choice of five cabins - it was nice to be able to have some privacy - a rare commodity on a live-aboard. Each room had two bunk beds, drawers, a sink, reading lights and a fan. The salon was small, but nice with a TV, stereo, games, books. There was a small kitchen with a banquette that could seat 10 comfortably and more uncomfortably. There was a dive deck off the back of the boat and the top deck had a large table for camera equipment (the "boys" were happy!), chairs, lounges. We ate dinner around 7:30, and everyone was in bed by 8:30 after a long day. And it only took us four days, five airplanes and 9200 miles to get here! We stayed moored at the site until early morning when the boat traveled further east.

Wednesday, March 7, 2001 - Milne Bay, PNG
At 4:30 a.m. the boat's engines started and we cruised for two hours to our first dive site, Sullivan's Patches. We had breakfast around 6:30 - fruit, cereal, toast, juice, coffee, tea, and then got in the water - yea! It was a nice little bommie reef dive, a good one to use to check equipment, make sure weights are right (which they weren't as I bobbed up and got another piece of lead), etc. The water is SO warm here - mid 80's, but I wear a wetsuit anyway both for warmth and protection against jellyfish, so I need more weights because of the buoyancy of the neoprene wetsuit. There is a type of jellyfish known as a "stinger" that is found in the waters around Australia, and sometimes up into PNG. The body is small and nearly invisible, and it has tentacles that can reach 5-6 meters (15-18 feet) long. Getting hit with one will cause a nasty welt that itches terribly, but the real problem is that people often swim into the tentacles and get wrapped up in them and are consequently stung hundreds of times. This concentration of poison can be fatal, so the beaches in Australia in the summer and fall are off limits to swimmers. By wearing a wetsuit, the chance of having a jelly contact the skin is far less likely.

We did two dives at Sullivan's Patches, and I saw the first of what became my favorite critters of the trip: nudibranchs (pronounced "Nude-e-brank") or sea slugs. On land, slugs are greyish-brown undistinguished and graceless, but underwater they are amazing. Usually ranging in size from miniscule to several inches to several feet, they are the most spectacularly decorated things I've ever seen, with fantastic color schemes, feathery tentacles, neon highlights, etc. There are over 3,000 species of nudibranchs in PNG alone, with new ones being found all the time. The first one we saw was a larger one (5-6 inches) that looked a bit like a brilliant lemon yellow sponge with thin black lines in a geometric pattern. Wow. Gary and Diane uncovered an Epaulet Shark, a small innocuous shark with a leopard-spot pattern.



Local Fishermen


Epaulette Shark

After our second dive the boat cruised for an hour or so to a new site: Cobb's Cliff. Another pretty dive. The water here is very clear, and is a spectacular turquoise color over the reefs. Unfortunately some of that is due to bleaching of the hard corals as a result of the unusually warm water.

In between dives the boys played with their cameras - Mark brought two complete camera sets and Gary brought three including his new digital camera. It was really neat, because he could load the photos on Cherie's laptop computer after a dive and see the pictures right away without waiting to get home and develop film!

Each day after the third dive, Pao would serve lunch, which was usually a choice of a couple of hot dishes, plus salad, bread, juice. On various days we had pasta, fish & chips, german sausages, hamburgers, chicken salad. All very good and lots of food. After lunch we would lie around and nap or read and then do an afternoon dive and a night dive for those that wished (I don't like night dives, so I take a pass). We anchored out in a small sheltered bay, and had spaghetti for dinner. Gary was the only one planning to do the night dive so Mark and I shared some red wine with the meal.

Thursday, March 8, 2001 - Milne Bay, PNG
The next morning we moved again to a site called Dinah's Bay. This type of diving is often referred to as "Muck Diving", since the dive profile is very shallow and the time is spent looking around in the sand and muck for little creatures. Most of this dive was spent between 10 and 30 feet, and there was no reef, but small rock groupings where fish hung out. There was so much life here! We found things like Harlequin Shrimp, Mantis Shrimp, Eels, Lion Fish, Leaf Fish, BIG Bumphead Parrotfish and more nudibranchs. I saw a spotted Eagle Ray swimming close by (15 feet away). Since the dive was so shallow, we could stay down for a long time on a tank, plus shallow dives don't cause nitrogen saturation as quickly, so we didn't have to worry about spending surface time between dives. Also, since my cold had been progressing, the shallow diving was easier on my ears - not as much pressure, although they would start to give me a little trouble towards the end of a dive.


Juvenile Lion Fish



Mantis Shrimp

Harlequin Shrimp

Lion Fish - GAL Photo

Lion Fish - GAL Photo

Nudibranch - GAL Photo



We dove all morning there - it was really nice to be able to decide when to go back into the water, rather than having to wait for a divemaster to give the okay. Earlier in the morning, Rob sent the dingy back to Alotau to get an engineer to look at the AC, which wasn't working properly. Just before lunch the dingy returned, along with a fax from Richard. While excavating for the front wall of the house, they found a 20 foot deep brick well, about 4 feet in diameter! It is located in the den, just inside the front wall. He suggested I keep it and incorporate it as an architechural element, putting a glass cover over the top. I thought that was great, and had Rob show me how to prepare an e-mail to send back to him.

After lunch we took the dingy to Deacon's Reef about 5 minutes away. Really beautiful reef, but the coral bleaching was very evident. I saw a lovely juvenile Bat Fish, some wonderful anemones and more nudibranchs. Anemones have a sybiotic relationship with a species of brightly colored fish often called Clown Fish. The Clown fish defend the anemone from predators and in return are not stung by the anemone. They can be VERY aggressive towards divers, even if they are only a couple of inches long!

Clown Fish in Anemone

Clown Fish in Anemone

Anemone with Clown Fish and Anthias