READ A SAMPLE:
READ A SAMPLE:
Eleven sweaty passengers waited expectantly. One sweaty old lady wished the air vents were working. Hopeful fiddling with them had resulted in nothing but a slightly twisted neck muscle
I wondered what else was broken.
Security had been a delicious
mix of serious, we-know-about-terrorists stuff and an innocence, not found in
many places now. At
In all my previous lives,
departure lounges had been places where passengers, once-cleared as being
unlikely drug carriers, gun runners or terrorists, sat in isolation to wait, to
board planes. Once in, these satisfactorily screened passengers stayed where
they’d been put. They did not wander out. They stayed safely inside and exit
occurred only when an official opened a locked door and waved them to a plane.
This had been pretty standard stuff from
Rabaul was a new experience. Once cleared and herded into this departure lounge, people looked around, decided there wasn’t much to do and wandered out again; out – to look outside in the gardens and to check the car-park; out – to find a food stall; out – to watch the weight-check official and an incensed local lady indulge in a screaming match. The last activity emptied both car-park and departure lounge in a matter of seconds. It was a very lively fight and seemed pretty equal for a while. Unfortunately the verbal part was conducted in pidgin, so I had perforce to script my own version of the possible dialogue. Obviously the local lady had objected to being told she weighed so much and I sympathised. I hadn’t felt the need to actually scream about mine, but I admit I had walked off muttering quietly.
The real cause, it later transpired, had been more worthy of a good slanging match. The very angry lady had driven all the way out to the miles-away-from-Rabaul Airport, only to be told, ‘Tough luck; we’ve overbooked and you’re off-loaded.’
I wondered what sort of complicated calculation had been employed to sell places to 13 passengers, when the plane sported only 12 seats. Someone was bound to feel a bit wrathful!
At last the fortunate 12 were alerted by an incomprehensible announcement and ambled off to seek their plane. We wandered, unherded, out through a door marked ‘Walking on tar at own risk’, and with devilish unconcern, followed a leader who seemed to know which of the three little planes scattered about, was likely to be departing for Lihir.
He must have been a good leader. The ‘walk at own risk across the tar’ had culminated at a small plane with a sharp little nose, sleek body and wings from which sprouted two huge propellers.
The child, who welcomed everyone aboard, proved on further acquaintance to be the pilot. He had a memorable face – shaped like a large oval plate, black and smoothly concave, with a smile that seemed to extend around its rim from one twinkling eye to the other. The duties of ‘hostess’ he performed with a sweetly casual grin –
‘Safety instructions are in the pocket. We are flying over water so there’ll be some life jackets under the seat – I expect.’
With those formalities out of the way, he gave his passengers a happy, reassuring grin, climbed into the cockpit and started up. His role as hostess hadn’t involved shutting his door, so it remained open.
I wasn’t at all sure I enjoyed seeing out his door and straight out his window. It was very hot and perspiration made my tightly clenched hands feel slimy. My face was sticky and wet and my hair felt uncomfortably rigid as I fastened the seat belt and tried to look like an unconcerned ‘world traveller’. I watched the propeller, studiously avoiding the ‘view’ out the pilot’s window, as we moved off.
It’s very hard to not-watch an impending ‘nasty’. I’d tried; eyes shut, head averted, for years, to not-watch injections coming my way. Always at the last minute, it had been impossible not to sneak a look. It was the same with take-off. Small planes it seemed took off at a much more leisurely pace than big Boeings. With a hot, rigid body facing the propeller outside the window, my eyes compulsively swivelled to watch the child/pilot, dodge a few acres of swaying coconut palms and a narrow beach, to lift slowly over some stunning, bright green ocean.
Only a few days ago, I’d stood on the bridge of the old Angara Star and watched the miracle of navigation that had sailed us through the tangle of coral hazards that guarded the entrance to Kimbe harbour. Although I had watched the ponderous old ship’s delicate manoeuvres, I hadn’t actually seen the coral they were reversing and shuffling around. And now, here I was, sitting in limp, boneless amazement as this little plane dived ocean wards to Kimbe.
There it was below me, a map, coloured in by a child with a handful of gaudy crayons. The ocean, the harbour and underneath the smooth deceptive surface, the maze of coral reefs, bright green shallows, yellow sands, all swirling beneath the belly of our tiny plane. In one week I had seen two extraordinary harbours. The one I’d seen from the deck of an old cargo ship and this three-dimensional one now visible from my tiny plane’s window. Were there perhaps other Rabauls and Kimbes? Perhaps my journey wasn’t over at all; might indeed be just beginning and might be lots of fun.
Eleven sweaty passengers waited. One sweaty old lady concentrated on the defunct air vent. Suddenly and without warning, those dormant, silver nozzles spat and sprays of icy air plumed into 12 delighted faces. Never having experienced happy-gas, I decided that this was the reward for the slow, hot, terrifying take-off.
With all that visible ‘happy-gas’ pouring around the plane, it’s not to be wondered at, that the now cool, almost laughing old passenger found the view out her window was a veritable Gandalf’s Garden of undersea corals, weaving trails to tiny islands of startling greens and golds. Was it real, or was that cold, befuddling, happy-gas, sprayed out by the Cheshire-cat pilot, specifically designed to deaden the apprehension funny old passengers were likely to experience?
It must have been very effective. With delight I watched, through the exposed pilot-window the approach to the minuscule airstrip – a thin line of gravel along the top of some very ‘scenic’ cliffs, on the tiny, fairytale, splot of an island that is Lihir.
Click on the cart below to purchase this book:
Prices in Australian Dollars
(c)2012 Zeus Publications All rights reserved.