|The South Pacific Papua New Guinea(PNG) (2019년 3/4월호)|
Shoes feel quite foreign on my well-tanned feet, after being barefoot for twelve days on the Chertan, a live-aboard dive boat based in Alotau, Papua New Guinea(PNG). Even more strange, I’m able to email this dive report from 36,000 thousand feet above sea level, where mere inches from my face, the temperature is a frigid-50F degrees, as I jet 14 hours, at 578 mph, back to LAX on Singapore Airlines.
PNG is oft likened to The Wild West, as lawlessness abounds and civil unrest frequently flares up, likely a strong influence of its past, where primitive inter-tribal warfare was vicious and brutal. Indeed, cannibalism was once a common practice. Just weeks ago, in the city of Alotau, where I bivouacked for a few days, rioters forcefully shut down of the municipal power plant. Understandably, people were greatly agitated at a drunken policeman who lost control of his vehicle and killed three innocent bystanders (from past incidents, the police are not well respected here). Wilting flower blossoms
Then, there was subsequent rioting days ago by laborers, whose wages were yet unpaid for construction work in the capital city of Port Moseby, which wanted to impress the world by hosting the recent APEC conference. Ironically, the biggest headline spawned by the event was about the forty Maserati luxury cars the government purchased to shuttle dignitaries around, in a country where the average annual income is about $2,400.00.
All these observations should not deter one from experiencing PNG diving because the beauty of Milne Bay reefs is second to none, even compared with those I’ve dived in Indonesia and the Philippines. The pristine reefs are bathed by warm, crystal clear waters, nurturing massive stag horn and other beautiful corals, enormous sea fans, and spectacular sponges. In turn, marine life is prolific, particularly an amazing diversity of colorful fish, which frolic in the aquarium-like setting. No wonder noted marine biologists such as Roger Steene and Jerry Allen have been diving PNG for decades. Thanks to Rob Vanderloos and the Chertan crew for an excellent, memorable dive adventure.
Our dive group was focused on opisthobranchs and included expert aficionados led by Alicia Hermosillo, Christian Waldrich (German) and Jim Anderson (Scottish). Though she claims otherwise, I detected no diminishment of Alicia’s laser sharp nudi-hunting prowess, in spite of, or maybe because of her prescription dive mask. Nearly every day, she found a new sea slug for her library; that’s saying something for someone who has personally seen over 1500 species, some of them her namesakes. Often, when Ali would show me a find, it was challenging to see the tiny, cryptic slug she was visibly excited about.
Alas, limited to an 80cf tank, I was restricted to bottom times of 90 minutes or less, logging 49.5 hours underwater (43 dives). As usual, the ladies averaged well over 2-hour dives. Though my deepest dive was to 85 feet, generally I hovered around 50 feet or less to conserve air and minimize nitrogen loading (EAN 32 is available on the Chertan). The water temperature ranged from 77F to 86F degrees, with 80F being “normal,” Visibility was 30~100 feet, most the time. Occasionally, stiff currents made it challenging to maintain position and photograph nudibranchs, their rhinophores and cerata “flapping in the wind.”
Being so far from home, I stayed a few extra days to explore and do some land excursions, despite the torrid, sultry environment. One day, I just headed up into the hills, along obvious footpaths, with birds chirping unfamiliar melodies, unseen in the dense thicket of overhead plants and trees. The path led to small village of families, surviving on subsistence farming, raising yams, taro, and sweet potatoes. No one goes hungry as the tropical land provides plenty of banana, passion, mango, papaya, pineapple and other delicious fruits. Though PNG is home to over 600 languages, I was pleasantly surprised that even inhabitants of remote villages speak passable English, as it is the primary language of school instruction. For a nation needing to be united, a common language, English in this case, is a good start.
Another day, after jostling over bone rattling dirt roads in a 4x4 for an hour along the northeast coast, I met a village chief, who after exchanging initial pleasantries, granted permission to visit his ancestral burial site, a ancient coral cave, now elevated and dry, where piles of human skulls rest long and silent in a dark chamber. My cell phone flashlight allowed me to gaze upon the fleshless faces of the deceased and I pondered the brevity of life. Out of respect, I asked if I could take a photo and was encouraged to so. I did.
글/사진 케빈 리(www.diverkevin.com)
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