A Taste of Highlands Flora and Fauna

Posted in Mixed Nuts on September 15th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’m running out of time today, so I’m going to throw a bunch of images at you with little comment. These are from my recent trip to The Papua New Guinea highlands near Madang. The base at Ukarumpa (SIL) was familiar to me when my son was attending high school. We made the 466 kilometre round-trip every three weeks.

Here are some lilies in someone’s yard:

Lilies at Ukarumpa

Ukarumpa looks a lot like a little Kentucky town plopped down in PNG. Though it contains a variety of nationalities, it feels very American to me – no problem, if you like it. I prefer my surroundings a little less familiar and a little more exotic.

When I saw this little bush, I thought the leaves were pinkish. When I looked closer, I noticed that there were tiny red flowers between the bases of the leaves. On the flowers are tinier black bugs crawling around:

Tiny red flowers at Ukarumpa

The entire image above is only about three centimetres.

Here is a nice yellow flower without much special appeal, except, if you look at the small white dot to the upper left of the centre you will see a scale insect: (click to enlarge)

Yellow flower with scale insect

These captured my attention for their intense colour. There was no sun when I took this shot. The colours were so bright that they overload the capacity of the camera. They nearly overload the capacity of my eyes also. Like the old Jerry Seinfeld joke, “You don’t stare at it, you get a sense of it and look away”.

Day-glow Orange flowers

Here is a nice, big, juicy yellow spider for you:

Big juicy spider

It was about the size of a golf ball, nowhere near as big as I’ve seen elsewhere. A hand-sized spider would not be unusual in the lowland rainforest.

What is interesting about this spider image is that you can see that it is ‘listening’ to its web:

Spider listening to its web

It holds a special web filament that is connected just so to the rest of the web. This filament transmits any vibrations of prey landing on the net to the spider’s ‘ear’ leg.

I threw a hapless ant into the web. You can guess the outcome.

I know. I should grow up.

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Monday Is Nearly Tuesday

Posted in Mixed Nuts on September 14th, 2009 by MadDog
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Well, it’s not difficult to see that I’m having trouble thinking this morning. I won’t get into the business about it not being Monday here – it’s Tuesday. I’m still catching up. However, on the way to work this morning (actually tomorrow morning, but . . .) I caught the sun sneaking up over the machinegun at Machinegun Point:

Machinegun Point at SunriseHere’s another interpretation of the same scene:

Machinegun Point at Sunrise - It's not really a machinegun

You know, I don’t really think that it’s a machinegun. I’ve had a fair amount of experience with military toys, so I’m not fooled by the colloquialism. It looks to me more like a small bore artillery piece such as are used for light shore defence. Anyway, it doesn’t make a bit of difference. It is a well-known landmark in Madang. You can see other images of Machinegun Point here, here and here.

NEWS FLASH! I just felt the whole building trembling and, having been here a long time, thought to myself, “Hmmm . . . earthquake.” That’s about as excited as we get when the ground turns to jelly. However, I was mistaken. Hearing the sounds of heavy machinery undoubtedly being operated by burly men chewing buai  (betelnut), I decided to go outside to make sure that nobody crashes into our building.

To my amazement, I saw that they are working on Lake Madang:

Road work proceeding on Lake MadangYou can review the history of Lake Madang here, here and here. Of course, this work is not going to matter a bit if they don’t seal the surface and fix the drain to the sea. Whatever the outcome, I’m sure that it will be amusing.

While I’m in the random mode, I’ll throw in a shot of the morning market at Ukarumpa. We bought bags and bags of veggies and got about five kilos of highlands strawberries for K32. The strawberries from the highlands are incredibly sweet and flavourful. I’ve never tasted better anywhere in the world. If you are used to eating strawberries from a supermarket, it is shocking to bite into one of these little red devils:

The morning market at Ukarumpa

The only things from the highlands that are less than perfect are the pineapples and the bananas. They both seem weak and tasteless compared to our coastal varieties. I had the camera tilted in the image above. That’s why it looks the way it does. Hey, it was early and cold.

I got a hundred or so images of flowers and bugs while walking around in the cold, so I’ll start to feed them to you a few at a time. (I can sense the anticipation.)

Here is a little white flower about the size of a small button. It’s easy to overlook the small things, but I walk slowly in the high altitude, so my eyes have plenty of time to find the tiny treasures:

Small white flower

It’s not quite as pretty when it turns to seed:

Small white flower seedsIt just struck me that people are the same. When they go to seed, they may not be as pretty, but they are usually more interesting.

I only say that because I’m getting old. (Still searching for a heart of gold . . .)

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Remembering the Highlands

Posted in Mixed Nuts on September 13th, 2009 by MadDog
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Last Thursday, I did something that I’ve not done for several years. I drove a truck from Madang to Ukarumpa, near Kainantu, in the highlands near Madang. Old time PNG travellers will scoff at the mention of such a journey. “Samting nating!”, they will say (it’s nothing!). Well, I don’t enjoy the driving, but the scenery is exquisite. Here is an early morning shot coming up into the first mountains outside of Madang:

On the road from Madang to Wara Ais - nearing the Ramu Valley

As you can see, the road above is paved. Only about fifty or sixty kilometres of the road is unpaved, though some of the paved parts are falling to pieces already. Here is part of the unpaved road:

Ramu Nickel tailings pipe?

You can see that it is rugged territory. I believe that the large pipe, stretching for many kilometres, is the tailings pipe for the Ramu Nickel mine. If I’m wrong about that, somebody let me know. I can tell you that there were many Chinese hanging around the work crews. UPDATE: This is not  the tailings pipe. This is the pipe that carries only the ore slurry to the processing plant. As I unerstand it, it the material is like liguid mud with the metal ore in it. If anybody was misled my my error, I apologise.

Here is an all too common sight along the road:

Truck wreck - an all too common sightWe stopped to see if anyone was injured. The people said no, so we got out of there quickly. Hanging around a fresh wreck is a good way to get caught up in a fight.

Sugar was king in the Ramu Valley, but land being put into production now is rapidly being grabbed by oil palms. There were many kilometres of road surrounded by newly planted oil palms. I remember when this was all kunai  grass. If fact, when we first started transiting the Ramu Valley in 1981 even Ramu Sugar was a fairly small operation:

Young oil palms in the Ramu Valley

When our son began to attend school at Ukarumpa, we travelled this road three times a month. It’s a 466 kilometre round trip. During the first couple of years there were twenty one rivers that had to be forded, because there were no bridges. Sometimes we had to wait half a day for water to recede enough to cross. I once lost a Suzuki jeep in a river. I got it back out and got it going, but the seats never did dry out completely.

Up at Ukarumpa, you are in the beautiful rolling ground of the mid highlands:

The beautiful rolling hills at Ukarumpa

At the time we lived on the base there we had few security problems. Now the place looks like Fort Knox:

Security was once a smaller problem

We once walked right from the house into the beautiful hills. This fence didn’t exist. It’s sad but true that PNG has changed so much.

However, there are happier things to come in the next couple of days:

All is not humourless at UkarumpaStay tuned for some highland colour.

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Barracuda Point Peculiarities

Posted in Under the Sea on September 12th, 2009 by MadDog
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We had a very nice dive on Barracuda Point on Saturday. It’s near Pig Island  only a few Minutes from Madang. This is the sight at the east end of the point at only about ten metres:

Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello)

That is a nearly solid wall of Pickhandle Barracuda (Sphyraena jello)  mixed in with a few Big-eye Trevally and one lonely Red Emperor.  You can see some more barracuda images here and here.

Down deep at about forty metres I got this shot of a strange red coral that I’ve seen before, but can’t identify. I’m assuming that it’s a coral. It is extremely red – about the only red thing that you can see at that depth, since most red light has been scattered by the sea water – and hard as glass:

Strange red coral?

The extreme hardness of the thing is surprising, because it looks as if it is very soft, like flower petals. The first time I touched one (not supposed to do that anyway) I got a little green blood leaking out of my finger – blood looks green underwater if you are deep enough.

I found this favourite of our starfish (Choriaster granulatus)  much deeper than it would normally be. I don’t know what it was doing way down there. They are usually not found below about 25 metres:

Starfish (Choriaster granulatus)

Pascal Michon, our resident Frenchman, is forever finding stuff on the bottom. He once found a Hewlett-Packard calculator on the reef. This time it was an old mask that had been there for quite a while:

Pascal Michon

Barracuda Point is surrounded by beautiful Sea Fan clusters. This one a a species of Melithaea:

Sea Fan (Melithaea sp.)

This is a Barrel Sponge growing under a ledge. I’ve seen this several times before. They are always very pale instead of rich brown, the normal colour. At first I thought that it was just the lack of light that causes the paleness, but now I think that this may be a species that is not (according to my references) supposed to be in PNG waters. It should be around the Philippine Islands.  I think that it is Xestospongia testudinaria,  as if anybody cares:

Barrel Sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria)

At the bottom of the image, you can see a small Cleaner Wrasse swimming past. It’s a little blurred because of the long exposure time.

Back up in the shallows again there was a mob of Big-eye Trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus)  there to greet us:

Big-eye Trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus)

You can see more Big-eyes here and here.

I’ll have a few more shots of the dive in a day or two. I’m still getting caught up from our drive up to the highlands. My hands are nearly back to normal now. After ten hours of gripping a wildly vibrating steering wheel, it takes me a couple of days to get over the numbness.

My brain feels a little numb too. Must have been the altitude.

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Highlands Panoramas

Posted in Mixed Nuts, On Tthe Road on September 11th, 2009 by MadDog
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I find that I must utilise my time machine to make sense of the last few days. I’m writing this on Sunday morning about my visit to the highlands. I drove up on Thursday, which is your Wednesday. I posted on Wednesday a post to be released on Thursday, so you wouldn’t know that I was gone. I was in the highlands on Friday (your Thursday) and posted nothing then or on Saturday. I was out diving on Saturday and far too lazy to drive to town afterwards. So now, I’m faking a Friday post on Sunday morning. Later, I’ll fake the Saturday post followed by a time-machine-unassisted post for Sunday, If I have time before lunch. Clear on that?

So, what does it look like up there?  Driving from Madang to Kainantu, the real beginning of the highlands as you come from Madang, would be a lovely experience were is not for the horrible roads. It’s 233 kilometres from Madang to Ukarumpa, near Kainantu. I’d guess that about 100 kilometres of that is not very nice (potholes) and of that, about 50 kliks is truly nasty.

When you’ve passed through the Ramu Valley and passed the little junction of Wara Ais (cold water), you hang a right and begin to climb into the highlands. At the top of the first range you go through Kassam Pass. Here’s a panorama from Kassam Pass looking back down on the Ramu Valley:

The Ramu Valley from Kassam Pass

Here is another view showing the twisty bunch of switchbacks that you’ve just traversed:

Twisting road down the Ramu Vally side of Kassam Pass

And here is another shot with a bit wider angle:

A view from Kassam Pass overlooking the Ramu Valley

And yet another with an even wider view:

Another view of the Ramu Valley from Kassam Pass

Bored yet? Okay, I’ll move on. The next place of interest is Youki Lake and the big hydro-electric dam which supplies power with dubious reliability to a wide area, including Madang. I’ll have some more shots later of Yonki Dam, but this one can’t wait. As I was snapping away, I noticed two schoolboys trudging up the 45° slope of the side of the spillway. It is about a thirty metre drop from where the boys are walking. When they got to the top, they were huffing and puffing, something that is rare to hear from a young Papuaniuginian. They are very tough people:

Schoolboys walking home on the edge of Yonki Dam

If you want to get an idea of the scale, look at the little black dot at the bottom of the spillway on the right. That’s a person standing there.

After passing the dam, you begin another long climb to Kainantu. Here is a shot looking back toward Yonki Lake from the road climbing into the clouds. Kassam Pass is on the other side of the lake:

A view of Yonki Lake from the Highlands Highway

It is about here that my allergies being to kick in. This trip was not bad at all. Usually, I am fully plugged up by this point. I guess the weather was favourable. Here is another shot of Yonki Lake:

Another view of Yonki Lake

Over the next few days I’ll have more images from our two day trip. The bosses were pleased with the results of the meeting, so I don’t feel so bad about my numb hands.

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I’m Not the Only Complainer About the Decline of Madang

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Rants and Rages on September 10th, 2009 by MadDog
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I’m not alone. It’s a comforting thought. This is the kind of image that makes me very sad for my beautiful home, Madang:

The Big Ditch is getting bigger

Others feel the same and some are getting angry. Read this from Tuesday’s 8 September letter in The National: (click to enlarge)

Complaint from Silent Observer in Tuesday's The National

There is a very good question buried in there. Where IS the K35,000 (make that K35,000,000 – thanks for pointing out the mistake, Phil Manley) that was promised to begin to renew Madang to its former beauty and functionality. This is a matter of importance to every resident of Madang. Not a single person would fail to be benefited in some way if Madang could be restored. Not a single person will escape the coming disaster if it is not.

By the way, where IS Buka Malai, the man who was elected by the people of Madang to represent them? I don’t know. I’ve never seen him. It seems nobody else has either since he escaped rotting Madang for the sweet life in Moresby. The foregoing is rumour, I admit. However it has taken on the sheen of an urban legend here in Madang. It’s a rumour that won’t die until he shows his face here and stands responsible before the electorate.

I’ve gotten a few comments lately testily proclaiming that if I wanted to complain, then I should go back to where I came from. Most of these are so poorly written or full of foul language that I do not allow them to appear as comments. Nearly all give false email addresses, so I can only assume that the writers are too cowardly to confront me publicly. I have one thing to say about this matter. If you want to tell me that I have no right to speak on these issues, then save your breath, because you are wrong, wrong, wrong! Wether I am a citizen or not – whether I was born here or not, if I am to be a responsible member of this culture then it is my duty to observe the good and the bad. My journal is full of praise for the blessed paradise in which I’m privileged to live. Nevertheless, I would not be a good member of this society if I simply overlooked the things that obviously need to be fixed. I will continue to speak when I feel the need to do so. If others want to stick their heads in the sand while Madang goes down the “third world” path because of mismanagement, theft, and laziness, the let them. I will not stand idly by and watch the place that I love go to hell.

Even in Paradise, someone has to do the wash:

Even in Paradise, someone has to do the wash

Now, just to show you that I’m not grumpy today, let me show you our dear Anna, a young Catalonian who is the cutest pregnant lady on the planet:

Our sweet Catalonian, Anna. The cutest pregnant lady that you'll ever see.

Anna’s baby is due in early January. They may possibly have a New Year’s baby! You’ve seen a bit of Anna before on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi. Aside from having a very cute belly, she has one of the finest tribal tattoos that I’ve seen. The tattooed elbow in the image belongs to Albert, her partner. They are lovely people who grace Faded Glory often with their friendship.

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Three Small Stones from Hell – The Manam Island Volcano

Posted in At Sea, Dangerous, Under the Sea on September 9th, 2009 by MadDog
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Yesterday evening after work, as is my custom, I sat down with a cold one, a cheap cigar, a book and petted Sheba, my dog. I was reading in Analog Magazine  a short story about a descent into an extinct (they thought) volcano. It was a good story, but that’s not my point. It got me thinking about the strange stones that were in a basket of seashells right next to my chair. I reached over to look at one of them and began thinking of how I can tell the story of how I found them.

These stones, each smaller than your fist, were belched violently from the huge volcano at Manam Island.  I’ve written about Manam before here and here. Though I’m certainly no expert, I think the these are pieces of pumice, an almost fluffy mixture of liquid rock and gas. Think of it as very hard Champaign:

Three bits of volcanic pumice belched from the Manam Island volcano

Guessing again, I think that the strong red colour probably comes from a high iron content. Rust is red, eh? The sea floor where we were diving only a few kilometres away from the coast of the island was littered with these red stones. It was very obvious that they had not long been on the sea bottom. There was nothing growing on them. This means that they could not have been there more than a few weeks at most, since everything is soon covered by living organisms that are desperate to find something on which to attach themselves.

Here’s an interesting Google Earth view of Manam Island:

A Google Earth image of Manam Island

Here’s one from directly above. You can clearly see the brownish chasms left by lava flows:

Another Google Earth image of Manam Island

The strange discontinuity at the left is caused by the merging of images from two different satellite images.

Here’s a shot of Manam Island  volcano having a leisurely smoke just to show you that it is not very sleepy:

The red light of sunset lights up the eruption of Manam Island volcano

I got the image above on the same excursion during which I collected the stones. I have to admit that, while I was diving, I wondered what a big eruption would be like underwater. Not much fun, I think. I have felt earthquakes underwater and seen the flash of lightning while on night dives. Neither is to my liking – too creepy. I once heard the nearby explosion of dynamite when some [expletive deleted] were blasting the precious reef for a bucket full of fish. I thought that my dive buddy’s tank had exploded. I turned around quickly and saw her covering her ears with her hands. It was very  loud.

While I was fiddling with Google Earth today, I discovered a way to make a picture that looks almost exactly the same as what you would see if you were landing at Madang airport:

A nice Google Earth rendering of Madang Town showing my house

You can see Madang out on its peninsula and the airport over at the upper right.

I probably should note that there is no giant sign out in Binnen Harbour that says, “My house”. I painted that in the image.

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