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Published: March 12th 2008
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Today was our day to tour Rabaul, Papua New Guinea on the island of New Britain. We had to wait to get into the port to dock because a cargo ship was late leaving so we were all out on the decks and noticed one of the volcanoes starting to put out a lot of steam. It was very interesting, but also a little unnerving. Again we had been told to expect rough roads, tour guides that were students and vans/buses without air conditioning. All of that was true. We were in Toyota Hiace (spelling?), which is a 15-passenger bus, and material to cover the worn seats and dust/volcanic ash all over. Our guide spoke English but very little and she spoke so softly we could not understand her most of the time. Most of the guides could give very little of the history other than, “that is a tunnel used by the Japanese to hide in.” But it is such a beautiful island and the people were very nice and the kids would gather in groups on the side of the roads and yell hello and just cheer as we went by. We heard later of a couple that were treated like royalty when they went to ride on the “city” bus. The driver insisted that they ride in the front seat - as opposed to sitting in the back of a pickup truck - and then went out of the way to drive them directly to some of the sites that were not on the bus route. The driver did not even want to take any money from them after all of that. Other cruise folks that were walking to the market were picked up by the locals and given rides so they didn’t have to walk in the sun/heat.
Our tour started out by going to the Japanese tunnel where there were five old barges inside. Pretty unique! There were of course many of the natives selling their bead work, carvings, etc near the cave. We heard later that one group of tourists from our ship actually had the scaffolding within the caves (you could go in the cave and climb up to get a better view of the barges and tunnel) collapsed and several tourists were injured. We had decided it didn’t look safe and so had not gone in to begin with. Good decision on our part! Our next stop was to a museum of war relics: tanks, bomb canisters, etc. They actually had some a pretty nice collection and it was interesting to see. Then they took us to the Country Club to get something to drink and cool off. Then it was off to the Australian War Cemetery - what a beautiful place, but of course sad as well. There were many graves but also a number of memorials. On the graves of unknown soldiers it said something like “only God knows who this is.” The grounds of the cemetery are very well maintained. We then started heading back toward the ship but we noticed the volcano was now putting out more than steam. We had ash falling all around as well. We went to the observation point and would have had a wonderful view of the ship, harbor and city but it looked like dusk as it was so dark from the ash. We all had to get back into the vans very quickly. We then returned to the ship. Upon arrival back at the ship we heard the announcement that all crew members were restricted to the ship because of the volcano activity and it being unhealthy to be outside breathing the ash. Later the restrictions were that all decks were closed and no one (even guests) was to be outside. Of course some people were still out on shore excursions. We were just glad that we could go back and take showers - the natives on the island, unfortunately, could not do that.
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