We were first planning to sail from Vanuatu to the Solomon Islands which was going to be our last stop before we headed to the Philippines because we read on the internet that Papua New Guinea (PNG) was not a safe country. However we spoke to a New Zealand couple who just came from the Solomons and they informed us that there was a lot of corruption going on and clearing in was very expensive. Since we were not intending to stay long at the Solomons we decided that it was not worth it to pay 360 US$ for clearing in. They also told us that they had a very good experience in PNG. So we changed our plan and decided to skip the Solomons and instead sail to Rabaul, PNG which was 1,100 NM away (2,000 km). Since we expected the trip to take ten days we did our last provisioning and cleared out in Sola. We wanted to buy some meat but there was none available in the stores so we inquired where we could get it. We spoke to Chief George and he said he was going to try and help us so he asked his neighbor who had live chickens in her farm to catch one chicken and slaughter it for us. We went to the baker to order four loaves of bread and told her that we were sailing for ten days to PNG. When we went back to pick up the bread she surprised us with a bag filled with pomelos, bananas, tomatoes, bel peppers and ginger which she picked from her garden. We then went to the police station to get our passports stamped but it seemed there was no one there. We called and knocked on the door but there was no reply. After a few minutes a policeman opened the door with reddish eyes because he had been sleeping and we woke him .
Despite several squalls (heavy rain clouds with strong winds) we had a fast and a smooth journey. Unfortunately, our made to order chicken was so tough you could make a shoe out of it. The chicken they caught for us was probably the oldest in the barn. Fortunately Erwin caught a nice barracuda so we had fresh fish for a few days.
We were not intending to stay long at Rabaul. We stopped there only to rest for a few days and replenish our food, water and fuel before we headed off to the last leg of our journey. Clearing in was not expensive but it was the most disorganized of all the countries we have visited. We had to travel back and forth from one town to another and also to the airport to have everything done. When we were at the customs office they told us to go back to our boat because the quarantine officials were going to come by our boat that morning right after they have cleared in another boat. We went back and waited for the officials at the boat at 10:00 a.m. but they finally showed up at 3:30 p.m. and did just half of the paper work. The other half had to be done by another official the next day. When we wanted to clear out the customs officer told us to drop by his office before 4:00 p.m. but when we went there, there was no one at the office. He called us on the vhf radio and told us that he was on one of the commercial fishing boats and that we had to go there with our dingy to clear out. It was quite chaos and complicated but we finally had everything done.
Rabaul is not really a pretty town. It used to be the capital of this island group but after the volcano eruption in 1994 the capital was moved 10 kilometers further to Kokopo. The people are friendly, very willing to help you out and always smiling. However, the smiles are blemished by red betel nut-stained teeth. Betel nut is chewed everywhere and by almost everyone. It is a natural stimulant that gives a rush and mild euphoric effect. It is chewed with a portion of green mustard bean and a pinch of lime powder which turn the betel nut red and give a rush which lasts several minutes.
The last leg of our journey is still 2,100 NM (3,780 kms) but instead of sailing directly to the Philippines we will make two pitstops to rest for a few days. We will first stop at the Ninigo islands which are the northern most islands of PNG and then make a second stop at Helen Reef which is the southern most island of Palau.