It was a one hour flight but the other side of the world. We are naïve travellers still. We had arrived in Port Moresby from the mountain top air field of Goroka thinking we had allowed more time than needed even considering Air Nuigini's reputation for delayed flights. We smiled our beaming best smile at the check in desk handing over our paper work confidently. We were certain our bags were under weight there could be no problem. Australia here we come. She did that thing check in clerks the whole world over do. Tap furiously at a computer, gaze at the passport with a worried expression, avoid all eye contact and then turn to a colleague and have an animated discussion in a language which is completely incomprehensible to you. "Is there a problem?" I asked. "You have no visa" she replied. Once again, getting completely the wrong end of the stick I reassured her, "Yes we do, on the last page it lasts to the end of the year." Thinking she meant to Papua New Guinea. "No," she said, "A visa for Australia." Heather and I looked at each other and our hearts sank. It was Sunday afternoon, nothing works on a Sunday in PNG.
Then she brightened, smiled and said, "I will have to apply on line, it shouldn't take long. Just sit over there and I will come over to you when it is sorted." We couldn't believe it. How helpful. Our bags disappeared through the black plastic flaps and we settled down to our books.
The captain of the Wellington bomber that was transporting us to Queensland did warn us that there were some rain showers in Cairns. We were greeted by cheerful, soaked hostesses on the runway, handing out umbrellas as we made the mad dash for the terminal. We didn't mind, the rain was warm and we were on holiday. Having filled in forms where the space to write is so small it would challenge a money spider, we celebrated our arrival by using a spotless washroom. What a change, not having to strategically plan drinks and pit stops to make it through the day. The rain shower lasted 16 more hours.
I marched up to the first ATM in the airport confident that a man in possession of two visa cards would face no financial problems in such a sophisticated country. With some despair we left the terminal thinking it was going to be a long walk to our apartment and was it left or right to Cairns central? The first taxi hailed us enthusiastically as only a cab driver who knows he has got a jump on the bloke behind can do. "Sorry," I said, "No money unless you take visa." "No problem mate." He then regaled us for the journey as to how he had sneaked past other cabs to get this fare and how the owner of the apartments we were staying in had bright orange hair and had been the first person ever to be sick in the back of his cab. It was a good $19.
Cairns differs from Kundiawa in small ways: it has footpaths, the road and gutters are not covered in red spit, men and women hold hands (that isn't compulsory), people go out after 6.30 and have fun, it is flat. We walked through the rain, found a delightful craft market called the night market and settled to a luxury coffee and shared a plate of seasoned chips. They were soooo nice.
We relished being tourists. The cable car ride over the oldest rain forest in the world proudly announced it was longest in the world. Heather sat rigid for the entire journey squeezing out through her teeth that she didn't want to go walking in the alps after all. We passed Barron Falls and admired the rainbow and read the aborigine legends associated with it. The train journey back was spectacular with tight bends and many tunnels as the track was hand carved out of the Barron River canyon.
If in Queensland the Great Barrier Reef cannot be ignored. So we booked our day trip there. It took an hour and half on a large catamaran to get to a pontoon over a shallow part of the reef. Then the day is spent taking rides on a semi-submersible, a glass bottom boat and snorkeling. The Snorkeling was super with so many coloured fish up close. We learnt loads about the coral and generally relaxed. It was an easy day.
Back in PNG we were greeted by the now familiar perfume, close up and personal. Lifebouy for those who remember the advert is readily available in all local supermarkets and should be an even bigger seller. The journey home and arrival is perhaps more sensibly covered in an e mail not open to the whole world to read.