untitled-45 cave entranceuntitled-42 hiking with nativesuntitled-12 U.S. Military hospitaluntitled-67 million dollar pointuntitled-103 What we left behinduntitled-143 million dollar pointuntitled-136Wreck of B 17

Vanuatu – Nov 14-15, 2014

New Hebrides

Pictures include limestone cave we hiked into with petroglyphs, me with the native guides, and pictures of the remains of the nearly 300,000 Allied troops who once gathered here: million dollar point, cement floor of a once very full hospital, bottles and other relics from the War and the remains of a B 17.


After a day at sea to catch up on reading and more lectures, we anchored at Espirito Santo Island in Vanuatu. Here is where the Allied Forces grouped for the battles of the Solomons. These islands were once called New Hebrides and played an immensely important part during WWII. With about 40,000 currently on the island, there were over 250,000 Allied forces here during the war. Here stood a huge hospital for the wounded Allied forces that were treated before being sent back to the USA or to Australia.


We visited the former hospital site, the site of a B17 crash, and the beach called “Million Dollar Point.” We also inspected the runways that were built in only 10 days. Amazing! The B 17 crash was from a plane hit in the Solomons and trying to get back here to land. However, it exploded on approach to the airstrip killing all 10 men. Million Dollar Point is where the USA pushed much of its equipment into the sea. Formally the British and French controlled the island and when offered to buy the equipment for $1 each, the French refused to pay, thus, equipment was pushed into the ocean. Now it is popular dive spot.   The SS President Coolidge is the troop ship that sank in this harbor. Fortunately all but 2 of 5000+ men escaped. The islanders were very proud of how they worked to save our men on that ship. The ship came in the wrong entrance that had been mined and was hit by “friendly” mines. Currently it is another popular dive spot.


Pappy Boyington’s Black Sheep Squadron was located at the runway on Espirito Santo Island. His was a notorious and successful squadron with a maverick group of flyers successful against the Japanese


There are many islands in this archipelago providing the Allied Forces a safe natural harbor during the battle of the Solomons and out of range of the Japanese plane. There were over 80 ships and three carriers once congregated among these islands.


Today the Chinese and Japanese are trying to make inroads in this island by building schools, running shops, and setting up companies. During WWII the Japanese were entrenched on an island called Rabaul north of the Solomons. Their planes could not reach the safety of Espirito Santo Island where the Allied forces regrouped. Only once did the Japanese try to fly in and bomb our communications lines. They flew at night and sent down 6 bombs hitting only a cow. This large natural refuge of islands now is a refuge for sailors and divers. Beautiful resorts line some of the coves where long-range sailboats are anchored.


Some roads were very good—built by Americans. But our driver invited the Americans back to build more roads. Houses are nice with lots of evidence of running water and out houses in the villages. This island is much more modern with plenty of diversity of agriculture: cows, chickens, horses, tapioca, cocoa, pineapple, bananas, and coconut trees.


After another day at sea, we anchored near Lelepa Island to the far south. This is a heritage site where the legend of Chief Roi Mata who lived 400 years ago is said to be buried on Artok (Hat Island) Island because it is shaped like a hat. 60 of Chief’s family killed themselves to be buried with him. They must have thought life wasn’t worth living without the Chief’s leadership. He was the chief who united all the tribes on various islands peacefully. The island is a world heritage site and one forbidden to all commercial fisheries. However, a cell phone tower rides high at the peak suggesting there have been crews to erect the tower and defy the superstitions from ancient chiefs.


On Lelepa Island that faces Artok, is a huge volcanic ash cave called Fels Cave. We hiked up a steep mountain path to view the rock art inside which the guide said was dated to 400 years ago. Many of the black linear drawings are much like those in the US four corners area. The stick figures suggest a man/god, fish, counting beads, and other animals on the island as well as historical graffiti from 1874 explorers.


Our time on this island also included a zodiac ride along the shore looking at the flying fish, huge coral mounts in amazingly clear water and an array of sea urchins. Lots of butterflies flitted along the water’s edge. And of course, the usual village women came with their weavings to sell. The village men demonstrated though dance representing the coming together of warring tribes


Solomon Islands-Guadalcanal

untitled-78 Native dancersuntitled-75 Native dancersuntitled-12A U.S. Veteran untitled-24A Japanese vessel untitled-29War memorialuntitled-30 Wreaths at memorialuntitled-41 Bloody Ridgeuntitled-62AVeterans on Orion

Solomons – November 10-12, 2014

While some of the Solomon islands are inhabited by groups of fairly primitive people (we were met by their dancers), we visited the Solomons and Guadalcanal to review the WWII sites.  Pictures show Bloody Ridge and the WWII monument.  The last pictures shows the four veterans who were with us who served in WWII. The American laid the wreath at the monument on Veterans’ Day.

Birds of Melanesia. We were surprised to learn there are 700 species of birds in PNG with 350 that are endemic. In the Solomon Islands there are 293 species with 85 endemic. And, in Vanuatu, there are 127 species with 11 species endemic.   Essentially the further away from PNG to the east we go the fewer different species. Humming birds are only in the Western hemisphere. So for those of you bird lovers, PNG is definitely the place to go. The same diversity was also true with coral and fish as we cruised further west.


Geography lesson – The Pacific islanders are divided into three groups: Melanesia is the dark skinned people who live in PNG, Solomons, and Vanuatu. Micronesia includes the islands in the Carolinas, Marshalls, and Marinanas while Polynesia includes all the islands to the east of Vanuatu. There was heavy trading among the islands and villagers using trade winds and currents. So, islanders were often gone for a long time. Initially tightly woven baskets carried their food, but around 3500 years ago, clay pottery was fired and this provided a more diverse ability to trade—even liquids.


These Islands were under various colonizers: British, Dutch, Spanish, Germans, etc. But it all came to an end during the Second World War in 1941 when the Japanese island hopped down to PNG trying to find access to Australia and natural resources to support their war. However, the US, British and Australians worked very hard to keep the lanes open. Thus the first battles were fought on Coral Sea, around PNG, and the Solomons at Guadalcanal.


Yesterday was Veterans’ Day. At 11:11 on the 11th we held a ceremony for our veterans on board the ship. Veterans from New Zealand, Australia and the U.S. are on board with us.  One man from our group fought here and gave a brief description of how it was with ships everywhere firing away, planes dropping bombs, screams of munitions surrounding his ship. He threw the flower wreath into the ocean at Iron Bottom Sound. In the afternoon we took a bus to the top of the hill overlooking “Bloody” Ridge where a memorial stands commemorating the heroic acts of the United States marines, navy and army. The port and capitol city is Honiara and also the site of Henderson field where both the Allied forces and the Japanese fought to maintain control of the field. From August of 1942 through spring of 1943 this was the site of heavy artillery bombardments on both sides, until the Japanese finally abandoned the islands. During this time, MacArthur was stationed in Brisbane and then withdrawn to Melbourne, Australia. Several museums on the island have gathered some of the most outstanding pieces of equipment from the war and brought it into a compound: artillery, planes, engines etc.


Owa Raha (Santa Ana) in Solomons is a small island supposedly with 6000 inhabitants who are well known for preserving the ancient traditions. To say they were ready for us is an understatement. Our arrival was marked with beautiful flower arrangements along the beach. Ladies lined the road with their art work (baskets, shell jewelry and carvings) and they presented an elaborate performance with music from the local band of bamboo drums and flutes. The ladies danced wearing their traditional grass skirts and colorful bras, and then another group of ladies came in representing the wheat followed by the mud men and the green men. The ladies’ dance was very suggestive, but with old women (not sexy young ladies) and the entire village watched and laughed. Following their dancing performance we walked across the island to another village and back while Chris Reiner gathered the youth to show them how to record stories from their elders. He brought recording equipment and cameras for the young men who will have a year to gather information. Chris is doing an extensive project with National Geographic to preserve traditional languages and stories.

Australia to Papau New Guinea – Nov 2014

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After two days at sea from Cairns, Australia, we crossed the Coral Sea and landed about noon at Alotau in Milne Bay Province, Papau New Guinea to an amazing array of activities including the famous canoe races. But first, we were greeted by local guides who wanted us to know the World War II history of the peninsula. We boarded mini buses to drive to the beachhead where the Japanese landed early in 1942 taking possession of this part of PNG. Once Pearl Harbor was bombed, the Japanese very quickly progressed across the Pacific taking as many islands as they could on their way to Australia. They were hungry for minerals to support their avarice war machine appetite. The Japanese came ashore at night and quickly conscripted the PNG men into their fighting force. The Battle of Milne Bay was fought here and said to be Japan’s first defeat to Allied Forces in 1942.


Alotau means “Bay of Views” and indeed it is a beautiful bay with towering volcanic hills covered with much vegetation. Today, the memorial park was packed with people—families who came both by land and by sailing canoes to celebrate their tribe’s culture with a “sing sing” and to trade with each other. We watched as many families arrived by sailing canoe outriggers from islands spread quite far. Others may have walked for several days to join the festivities. There are no roads in this remote area of PNG. One by one the dancers began. Dressed in their tribal costumes their stories were told through song and dance.


But anomalies existed such the truck going through the grounds reading “Sexual domestic violence patrol,” the American/Western music blaring over the loudspeaker, and almost everyone with cell phones. And, then the sounds of pigs that had come to supply the festival with spare ribs, “oinked” as their feet were bound and they were hoisted onto boards to be butchered and barbequed.


And, finally, the dragon boats sat ready on the beach to be launched and raced. Beautifully decorated with paint and carvings, they represented a long tradition of canoe racing. This sport is only for men and the men stand in the boat while paddling.


The next two days we visited remote areas of PNG people on islands to the east of Alotau. The first visit was to Deboyne, a remote village with stilted thatched homes perched along the water’s edge. After a welcoming ceremony where the tribal leader who said he was both a politician and wood carver, read to us about his village, and then we watched as the clan held a “sing-sing.” Men danced to tell the story of an eel that was eaten by a tribal member and then the man died. The entire village gathered to enjoy this entertainment, laughing and clapping as the dancing and story progressed. The mother next to me nursed her 1 year old on one side, while clinging to her 2 year old on the other side. Ebony carvings, straw woven mats and purses were sold at their village center. Villagers said they were raising money for the school to be built there. TB, AIDS and Malaria are the big killers on these islands, we were told. I loved the sign reading, “ Plez washam yu hanz belongun to yuz.”


Sunday in Samarai Island, PNG brought us church, dancing, crafts and more history. As before, traditional dancers greeted us as we disembarked the zodiacs, then walked to the town square where church was being held under a huge banyan tree. Guitar singers, traditional dancers, and the sermon were all included in the church service. Ladies, gentlemen and children were dressed in their Sunday best. The sermon was about a lady who bled for many days until she touched Christ’s robes and was suddenly healed. The pastor stressed a belief in Christ who could heal most ills. Following this service we learned there were three other services held throughout the town of 500 people. Samarai was once the capitol of this province, but now it is Alotau leaving this a town almost a ghost town. Pigs and gardens were not evident here. But, the pearl industry is still thriving. And, the Chinese own the thriving store on this island.


Both days after our island visits we were taken by zodiacs to snorkel. The first day over a Japanese zero plane that had ditched here after his aircraft carrier was sunk in the Battle of Coral Sea. The pilot survived, May 7, 1942. The second day we snorkeled at Nivani Island to enjoy a beautiful reef exhibiting tremendous diversity of corals all with healthy new growth.