|Orchid Beach...the beach at the resort on Hinchinbrook Island (Acrylic painting by me)|
|Orchid Beach...looking down upon it from the top of Cape Richards itself..|
|PNG Bird of Paradise|
|Contrasting view of Port Moresby|
|Me getting ready to leave the island en route to Cairns...then Port Moresby - July, 1987|
Like well-behaved children, a few hours after our arrival, the nine of us “experts” in tourism met in the hotel lobby at seven o’clock, as instructed by Herr Commandant.
We were duly herded into the main function room of “The Islander” by our self-appointed leader, the one with the bellowing voice and an annoying air of arrogance…the one known as “Graeme”.
In a rare moment of quietude, he told us our marketing programme would have to be squashed into one day as he had just learned that our last day was a public holiday in Papua New Guinea!
The 23rd July is PNG’s “Remembrance Day”, similar to Australia’s Anzac Day.
Our party of nine arrived on the afternoon of 21st July, and were booked to leave late afternoon of the 23rd, following an almost a full day’s business.
No one on the Port Moresby end of things bothered to mention this minor fact to the organisers of our expedition/exposition.
If someone had thought to advise the organisers, the dates for our visit could have been changed. When the oversight was discovered, it was too late to do anything other than have a quiet complain amongst ourselves, move on and “grin and bear it”.
A special function was planned for us on our first evening in Moresby.
At the head table, separated from us lowly members of our troupe, on a raised dais, at a higher level looking down upon the rest of the guests, sat people none of us knew, other than one.
Graeme, our “leader of the pack” was centre stage - up on the stage - a position he obviously relished.
To his left and to right were ex-pats “dignitaries”. I never did discover who they were, but throughout the evening each gave a “talk”, welcoming our little band of visitors to their shores.
The remaining eight serfs, which included me, of course, were placed at the same table on a more-suitable lower level, and there we remained for the duration of the dinner.
We didn’t get to meet anyone else at the other tables spread throughout the room.
Once more together we were, stuck like glue.
However, we were treated royally. The “red carpet” definitely had been shaken, beaten and vacuumed for our attendance. As if by magic, our wine glasses remained topped up throughout the dinner. We were looked after extremely well by the doting, courteous hotel staff.
Once seated at the starched, white tablecloth-covered dinner table covered with the rest of my traveling companions, our conversation flowed freely. After our lengthy time spent together at Cairns airport while we’d waited for our delayed flight, we’d become “old” friends.
Drink orders were taken. A little while after, dinner began being served. We talked among ourselves. I think we all felt a little out of place as we knew no one else at the other tables, and there were quite a number of other tables filled with Aussie ex-pats. Wait staff buzzed around the room like myriad worker bees in a beehive, busily getting on with the jobs allocated to them.
The time arrived for the “head table” to begin the formal proceedings of the evening.
At moments of seriousness, during meetings, weddings, funerals etc., etc., I have a weird, uncontrollable tendency to recognize, or find, (no matter how minute) humour in such situations, which, at times, can be little disconcerting and disastrous! I’m hopeless. I’ve always been this way. You can’t take me anywhere!
I couldn’t take my eyes off one of the waiters. His actions had grabbed hold of my attention immediately.
In your mind, picture the image of “Manuel”, the Spanish waiter out of “Fawlty Towers”, but imagine him as a Papua New Guinea National.
On the night I’m describing, our “Manuel” was also short in stature. His dark brown eyes darted from here to there, and everywhere…they were never still. His body moved in nervous accord. He was out to impress; he tried to do his best.
Scanning down his frame...he was dressed for his role in the night’s performance. His white shirt, black bow tie, red cummerbund, black trousers were all correct attire, until one’s eyes reached to where his slightly short long trousers met his ankles. And then, the shock was almost too much to contain (for me, anyway)…Omo white socks worn with beige suede desert boots!
Fascinated and entertained, I watched as “Manuel” whizzed up and down the head table, filling and refilling wine glasses...non-stop. He didn’t miss a beat. He had been instructed well.
“Make sure everyone’s glass is full”, he’d obviously been told. “Manuel” was following his instructions to the letter. No one was going to be thirsty at the head table that evening.
Sitting opposite me at our table down in the boondocks was the North Queensland Manager of one of the major bus/coach companies…Sunliner Express.
He and I had been making small talk throughout our meal, nothing more, and nothing less.
Politely, we ceased our small talk when those at the main table began their speeches, welcoming our intrepid crew to Port Moresby.
Unfortunately, as it turned out, my mate across the table had a similar sense of the ridiculous as I had or, should I say, still have!
His eyes and mine met…which was unfortunate! Immediately, it was obvious to both of us we were “on the same page”. It was fatal. We were on the brink of trying to save our decorum…“Trying” being the operative word.
Both of us fell into a fit of the giggles, recognising what each of us was thinking. Vainly, we attempted to, and did succeed, though with much difficulty, to hide our lack of control.
It was very difficult and made even more difficult because we were both not of any help to the other in containing our respective, individual and combined hysteria. My Sunliner mate was kicking me under the table and I, naturally retaliated. We tried not to look at each other because that only made us worse. The rest at our table seemed totally oblivious to our reasons for squirming.
The crescendo reached unreachable, unbearable heights when it came time for Graeme, our bumptious, overbearing “big noise” to stand and deliver his speech, something he took very seriously. After all, he was our leader – our Commander in Chief!
Graeme stood up, ready to take control.
At the exact moment he began to speak, “Manuel” noticed that Graeme’s wine glass was empty.
In a flurry, “Manuel” grabbed a bottle of white wine from the free-standing chrome ice bucket.
He had, after all, been instructed to make sure that the guests’ wine glasses at all times were filled.
“Manuel” scurried to Graeme’s side, wine bottle at the ready. He started to pour the amber liquid. Gruffly, Graeme shook his head, throwing “Manuel” a filthy look. “Manuel’s” eyes grew even larger, the whites stood out brilliantly against his dark face.
He halted mid-way, wine bottle at half-mast. He didn’t know what to do next, or which way to turn. No one had instructed him what to do if somebody said, “No.”
Poor “Manuel”…like a character in a cartoon, his head spun around on his neck. He searched for the ice bucket. It had only been “there” a moment ago! Finally, he spotted it. It hadn't moved. His sigh of relief was almost audible across the crowded room.
With two quick steps to his left, he was beside the ice bucket, hoping to God it wouldn’t move.
With a visible flourish of sheer relief, he placed the wicked wine bottle in the bucket, hoping there it would remain. Throughout the rest of the speeches, “Manuel” remained frozen to the spot, guarding that wine bottle and ice bucket with his life, not game to even move a finger. His eyes never flickered.
The vignette, the brief episode, was so funny. I wasn’t laughing “at” him. In fact, I did feel sorry for the fellow because he was only doing what he had been told to do by his superiors. He'd been following his instructions to the letter.
In no way, did he deserve the rude rebuff from Graeme. After all, we really were on a “goodwill” mission, and Graeme, in his abruptness had shown him no goodwill.
Once the speeches were completed, the atmosphere relaxed, and so did “Manuel”, who once again commenced his frenetic pace, buzzing up, down and around the table.
With the formalities finally at an end, my partner in mirth and I were able to lift the lids off our laughter, much to our relief.
Friendly conversations spread amicably around our table as we got to know each other further, discussing the respective roles each of us played in tourism.
Towards the end of the evening Graeme decided to “lower” himself and join our motley group to tell us he would be flying further up the coast, and then to the Highlands the following morning. He wouldn’t return until it was time for our flight back home. We were “on our own”, but I heard no complaints from any of my fellow conspirators. As one, we were relieved to be relieved of his presence.
The following day it was all business from go to whoa. With or without Graeme the show went on…smoothly.
A large function room had been set aside for our purposes. We were each allocated our own special section in which to handle our pre-set appointments. Therein we greeted the interested parties and discussed our respective businesses.
After lunch, individually, we had to make a solo presentation of our particular “product/s”, standing behind a podium, to the congregation of ex-pat business people.
I was always thankful when a podium was supplied at such events, as I felt the podium hid my shaking knee. Yes, that’s right, “knee”. Only my right knee used to get the shakes! Once I got underway with my spiel after the initial couple of moments of sheer terror had dissipated, I was fine. My knee behaved itself, and no one else was the wiser.
I believed in the “product” I was marketing, which was the resort on Hinchinbrook Island, and the island in total. When believing in the product is the case, it’s easy to “sell” or educate others.
A full day of business had been planned for us, plus, I imagined, a bit extra was squashed in seeing we had lost a whole day of business because of the public holiday.
Lunchtime arrived. We were grateful for the break. It was time to catch our breath and re-group.
The business of the day had kicked off at 8am. We broke for lunch at 12.30pm. It’d been an intense morning filled with non-stop talking.
A long queue lined up in front of the small temporary bar that had been set up in another function room, the one in which the previous night's dinner had been held.
It was then I realised why the outside bar we'd visited the afternoon before upon our arrival had so many staff manning it. Service in Port Moresby was a bit like "mañana".
The barman on that day was very methodical, and very, very slow. I was dying for a scotch and soda with ice. The person in front of me ordered a scotch and soda…and that was the beginning of an epic almost as long as “Gone with the Wind”!
“Manuel” was running around the room that day, but he wasn’t behind the bar. I saw him run into a swinging door at one stage. Nothing had changed for the poor guy!
I waited patiently for the person in front of me at the bar to get his scotch and soda.
The waiter, of the same persuasion as “Manuel”, stood his ground firmly behind the small makeshift, low bar. Nothing and no one was going to make him move, or make him move faster.
Looking about him, to his surprise, he discovered a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red. I swear he did jump a little when he spotted the bottle. Reaching for the Scotch, he plonked it down in front of him staring at the bottle as if daring it to move.
Slowly casting his eyes about, he located a glass. Whew! That was lucky!
The next problem he faced was finding the ice cubes . Ahh…there they are! Two cubes, no, three, were gingerly placed into the glass.
Now, where did that bottle of scotch get to?
Okay…he found it. Off came the top, which became used as the nip measure.
Carefully, he poured Scotch into the bottle cap.
Into the glass over the ice trickled the nip of scotch.
Cautiously, he screwed the cap back onto the bottle. He then tentatively placed the bottle back in its spot.
Next, he was faced with had a major problem. Where the hell was the soda?
His eyes, too, grew larger like “Manuel’s” had the previous night, until finally he found the soda, which, by the way, was right in front of him.
Another problem raised its head. Where was the glass with the ice and the nip of scotch?
Okay! To his undisguised surprise, it was still where he had placed it. He unscrewed the top off the bottle of soda, not taking his eyes off that damned glass. Eyes still glued to the glass, he poured soda over the existing contents.
Eventually, he proudly beamed the largest smile and handed his success to the gentleman in front of me.
Then, it was my turn to be served.
“Could I have a beer, please?” I asked with a smile.
There was no way I was going to go through that performance again! There are only so many hours in one day, and only one hour in a lunch hour!
To Be Continued.....