Anchored alongside a small reef in Tuffi harbor, I can look into the clear water along the side the boat and see all of the brightly colored fish swimming just below the surface. The steep hills around pour down into the bay and Tuffi Dive resort is perched on the hilltop overlooking the entire fijord. Finding an airport here, Monica and Michal have moved on to Indonesia to carry on the rest of their year long honeymoon adventure without us while our new crew member from Russia, Irina arrived to make the journey back to Australia with us.
Our week here has been filled with less work than expected and more fun that we had imagined. Upon arriving, we were all anxious to go ashore and try some of the food at the dive resort as we still have not had much luck fishing and it has been mostly canned goods lately. After a few beers at the bar that sits high on the hill and overlooks Tuffi harbor, we were alerted that dinner was ready by a loud banging on an old dive tank hung from the ceiling of the open air building. A beautiful native girl showed us down to the dinner area where we were not only rewarded with an incredible view of the bay several hundred feet below, but also an enormous buffet of lobster, calamari, tuna, rice, potatoes, fruit and vegetables. After eating a couple of rounds of grilled lobster covered in a hollandaise sauce, I noticed that there was a big spoon that I hadn’t used sitting at the top of my placemat. Before I could question it’s use, out came our native hosts bearing bowls of ice cream and fresh fruits piled high. What a treat to have such wonderful food and for it to be followed up with a bowl of ice cream! This is a lot different that a night out on the boat and I was looking forward to spending a week here.
The plane arrived the next morning to carry Monica and Michal away and dropped off the guests that would spend the week there at Tuffi dive resort. There was a writer from Sydney but originally from London who was finishing up a novel she was writing that took place nearby, a retired air traffic controller named Bill from Cairns, an IT specialist named Brian from Port Moresby, and an American couple, Chris and Carrie, both who worked for the fish and wildlife department and were currently living in a remote peninsula of Washington state. Bill and I spent our second night socializing with them over dinner as well as with Simon and his wife Sharon who run the resort. Since everyone was planning on diving the next day and this is supposed to be the number one place in the country to dive, Bill and I decided to put off the work we had planned on doing to the engine to a later date and join everyone for a couple of dives.
Apparently, we were very lucky to have good weather while we were here because according to Simon, this is their low season and it is rare that they make it out to the outer reefs that are their best dive sites. The winds typically start blowing in late August and don’t stop till the end of the year. He said that sometimes it continuously blows about forty knots for three weeks straight! Fortunately that wasn’t the case for our dives and we were able to venture out to what Simon referred to as their two best dive sites. On the first dive, we were greeted by more fish than the eye can handle. Along with the multitude of beautiful reef fish, we saw plenty of mackerel, barracuda and more sharks than I have seen at any one particular dive site. At one point, I attempted to count the sharks surrounding me but after about fifteen, I couldn’t tell which ones were new and which ones departed. They seemed to be everywhere and were of more varieties than I could identify.
Before the second dive, the dive master told us all that it was a spot where they see lots of hammerheads. Having never seen a hammerhead shark before, I was pretty excited to get the opportunity to swim alongside one of these magnificent creatures! Halfway through the dive, we had seen plenty of sharks, but still not one hammerhead. I was beginning to think that none were going to show up when out in the deep a shadow appeared and made it’s way towards our group of divers. Watching such a large shark swim by was an impressive sight to behold not to mention a bit nerve racking at first. He made several passes and every time we thought he was bored with the site of us, he again came back into site and passed by, each time a bit closer getting a look at each of us. We spent about fifteen minutes just watching this shark swim by, completely ignoring the white tip and grey reef sharks that were all around us as well. To have the opportunity to swim alongside such a magnificent creature is a memory that will be with me for a lifetime.
After a third night at the resort for drinks and dinner, I was beginning to worry about my finances so Bill and I decided to retire to the boat for a couple of days but not before inviting everyone out for a few beers at sunset. The next night all the guests at the dive resort, the manager and his wife and even the dive masters came out to the boat for drinks and sunset snacks. Another guest that we invited out to the boat was John whom we had met at the resort the night before. He was a local man, about fifty five years of age and was helping Drissila, the writer, with research on her novel. We met John at dinner the night before and were extremely impressed with everything about him. Not only was he the most well educated Papuan we had met so far, but he had traveled throughout the world in an effort to promote conservation of the land that his people lived on as well as a way for the people of PNG to improve their standard of living with better healthcare and government programs to assist them. John had dedicated his life to helping his fellow citizens of his country improve their lives.
“I wanna go home. . . Let me go home. . . I feel so bad now, I wanna go home. . . .” John sang while sitting on deck of Seawanhaka playing Brian’s guitar. It was a completely different sound than the beach boys version of the song, but I think John’s version was much better. After listening to that, followed by some James Taylor, John began to play some of the songs that he had written about his people and about some of the people he had met throughout his travels. Sitting there listening to such a wonderful soothing voice singing some of my favorite songs as well as some of his favorite songs made for a perfect evening onboard the boat. I could have sat back and listened to him play for hours. The whole time he was singing, all I could think was how much I would love to have a recording of his songs and his deep and soothing voice. The songs that told the stories of the hardships of his people and with his voice singing them was one of the best nights of the trip so far. I wish I could bring home his music for everyone to hear!
Throughout the week in Tuffi, we were anchored along the route that many of the local children paddled by in their canoes on their way to and from school. One group of children, Lisa, Paul and Excley came by every morning and afternoon to see what we were doing. On their first afternoon paddling by they had come over to the boat to talk to us and Bill and I provided them with pencils, exercise books, and various other things that they really enjoyed. They were kind enough to return the favor by bringing us fresh coconuts every day on their way into school, never forgetting about us. Throughout the week, the three of them began to spend more and more time around the boat and we were invited to see their village. Bill and I decided to wait till Saturday when Irina would arrive before heading up to see their homes. We asked the three of them to come by and pick us up around ten on Saturday morning and you could see the excitement in their eyes to how great it would be to bring us up to their village.
It wasn’t even seven o’clock on Saturday morning when Paul and Excley showed up with bright smiles ready to lead the way to the village. Three hours early isn’t too bad for an excited eleven and twelve year old! We invited them on board, fed them breakfast and chocolate milk before heading up to Cabuni, their home. Excley had organized everything for us. He wanted to take Irina and I up the main route where the climb wasn’t as steep and the views were incredible while he sent Paul and Bill in the dinghy to a spot that was better suited for securing the dinghy away from the nearby coral reefs. We could not have had a better guide for the trip. With perfect English, Excley pointed out all of the different trees and their uses as well as each type of vegetable that was growing in the gardens we passed. At the top of the hill where we were all now drenched with sweat, he dutifully climbed to the top of a coconut tree, knocked down a few green coconuts, took the husks off and opened them to refresh us. He led us up to his house where we met his parents before he and Paul took continued the tour of the rest of the village.
Upon entering Cabuni, we were greeted with a smile and a handshake by everyone standing outside their homes that we passed which eventually turned our small group into a congregation of local children following us along throughout our tour of the village. We stopped at one home where they said we were to rest where they had prepared a tray of fresh coconuts for us to again drink. We gladly stopped and sipped our coconuts while chatting with the woman who owned the house. After the rest house, we were shown the small uneven area that they refer to as a soccer field followed by a rewarding view of the water below where a cliff side waterfall poured down the side of the mountain
Our tour was concluded and as a gift to our guides and the village, we presented Excley and Paul with a rugby ball that we had brought from Australia. We told them it was theirs and to make sure they shared it with their friends in the village. We had promised them the ball earlier in the week but I think they were worried that if they didn’t give us a good tour of their village, there was a chance that they might not get the ball! The children were ecstatic and a game of toss followed between all of the children of the village as well as Bill and myself. The game followed us all the way back to the boat as the children would run down the trail up ahead and I would throw the ball high in the sky for them to catch. A series of relays would get the ball back to me, ready to be thrown down the trail again.
Excley and Paul escorted us back to our boat where they had tied up their canoe and we invited them on board for some lunch. There was no need really to invite them; they were on board the boat before we were! After lunch, Brian and a couple of others came out from the dive resort to join us for dinner. We figured that Excley and Paul’s parents would be worried about them with dark approaching, but they said that their parents knew they were with friends and everything would be all right. Staying for dinner, we filled their bellies with fresh tuna and enormous amounts of rice. It was probably the biggest meal these two children will eat in their lives. It is such an incredible feeling to be able to give something as simple as a meal to someone who needs it more than you. I think the memories that these two children will have of spending the day with us will last them longer than it will us.
The next day, the boys came back with their sister Lisa. Bill and Irina were heading off for a dive and I was planning on enjoying the day on the boat catching up on writing in my journal, organizing some photos as well as doing a few cleaning projects on the boat. When I told the children that I had to clean up the boat, they immediately volunteered to help. I outfitted each of them with buckets, scrub brushes and brooms and the four of us began the process of cleaning down the entire outside of the boat. They were such hard workers. It was an incredible sight to see them polishing each area on the deck with all the effort they could exert. Every moment of it was like a game to them, continuously moving their hands as fast as they could to scrub away any dirt that could be seen. Our cleaning project came to a close with a squeaky clean boat and photos of them on board complete with scrub brushes and all!
Our visit to Tuffi left us with lots of wonderful new friends. The memories of all the time spent with Lisa, Paul and Excley as well as all of the guest at the Tuffi dive resort will always be with me. I exchanged email addresses with all of the guests from Tuffi and I am sure to cross paths with several of them at some point again in the future. From shark spotting to local music to an incredible trip to my new friend’s village, I don’t think the week could have been any better.