After Fiji there were more islands.
And cockroaches. I love all things great and small, I’ve even turned my garden into a haven for insects. But cockroaches are just nasty. They don’t bite, they don’t sting, they don’t fly – they just exist, and that’s enough. The only sure way of killing them is to take your shoe off and clobber them with the heel. Nothing else works – and even after you’ve done that, bits of them will still be moving.
Copra bugs were another pest. Copra is the husky bit of a coconut and where there is coconut there will be copra bugs. They’re like slightly undersized ladybirds, without the pretty spots or the intellect. They’re black, and they won’t budge. The only solution was to crack open a coconut and leave it in a quiet corner of the cabin – it would attract all the copra bugs, so they were less likely to find themselves in your bunk, or your knicker drawer, or your coffee. Only ‘less likely’ – it wasn’t foolproof.
My first husband was in the Merchant Navy, and for the first three years of our marriage I sailed with him. We’d left the European coast in August 1980, made our way through Panama, then down to Tahiti and then Fiji.
Then we visited –
Noumea, on New Caledonia – more French than the French.
Honiara (on Guadalcanal, part of the Solomon Islands). Well, mostly we visited the Mendana Hotel, where the waiters wore football shorts under the grass skirts they put on for the tourists.
Yandina (an island in the Russel Group, part of the Solomon Islands) – the local kids used the ship like a mighty adventure playground, climbing up the ropes, diving into the water and swimming under the ship. The water was so clear you could watch them all the way down.
Kieta (on Bougainville, also part of the Solomon Islands).
Rabaul and Kimbe on New Britain – bougainvillea everywhere in Rabaul, snorkelling off Kimbe.
What a life!! Blue skies, blue seas, wall-to-wall sunshine. Cold beers, barbecues – amazing barbecues! – shippers’ parties, nights on the bridge watching the stars. Islands that most people never visit. Idyllic, truly.
And yet at the back of my mind there was the growing worry that I wasn’t doing anything. I’d married at 19, but most of my friends had gone on to university. Here I was, having a whale of a time – but what would I have to show for it? In three years they would have degrees – and I would have, what?
But no time to think about it for long. We were coming to the end of our time in the South Pacific, and Papua New Guinea was next. PNG was really the place we’d been aiming for all along.
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