Chapter 1: Melanesia 1984

 

The Shark

This was no movie.

Gawd it was big. “Maybe it hadn’t seen me yet.” I froze… didn’t move, fascinated with the beauty and grace of the creature. It was a shark… a really big shark. There was no place to hide. I was backed up against the coral wall, frozen.

For some unexplainable reason, and so mesmerized by the monster, I actually raised my camera and fired off a few shots before realizing that my strobe was on, and at this distance the flash would certainly attract his attention. Flash or no flash, that shark knew damn well I was there.

Sea anemones and the little fish that swim comfortably in and out of their waving tentacles made beautiful photo or video subjects, as did the myriad schools of colorful reef fish that were virtually everywhere. Though stingrays, moray eels, sea snakes, and of course sharks are equally fascinating. I always preferred to maintain my distance thanks to the guy who invented the zoom lens.

From time to time our dive leaders, Valerie and Ron Taylor, would prevail upon the ship’s captain to drop anchor close to one of those little uncharted mid-ocean reefs often identified by no more than a spit of land and a couple of palm trees. We divers would suit up; the zodiacs would be lowered into the water, and we would usually head off in different directions.

Valerie and Ron Taylor

Scuba pros, Valerie and Ron Taylor.

On this particular occasion I was invited to pal up with Valerie Taylor and her beautiful model. At the time Valerie was shooting a series of undersea photos for Scuba Diving Magazine, and she and her partner soon swam off to do their thing. I instead preferred to work my way along the reef in fairly shallow water in search of tiny little macro subjects.

Scuba amateur, Geoff Nate

A half hour had passed and, engrossed as I was, I had lost track of my lady dive buddies when they suddenly appeared from around a big coral head. I waved and they waved back, giving me some kind of hand signal which I didn’t recognize. They were making gestures from my camera back towards the area from which they had just emerged, indicating something of interest on the other side of that coral head. So I nodded a thank you and swam off in that direction on my own. After all, Valerie and her partner were professionals. I was expecting something special.

Something special is what I found on the other side of that coral head. I didn’t know what kind of shark it was, but he was very big. It was about twenty yards away cruising up and down as if marking the boundaries of its territory. I had seen sharks on other dives, but usually in small groups and certainly none as big as this guy.

He made a half dozen long slow passes from left to right, each time swimming closer. All I could think about was the Steven Spielberg movie.

shark

Time for dinner?

I certainly wasn’t taking anymore pictures. Suddenly, to my horror, he turned and began swimming leisurely in my direction. I braced myself, thrusting forward my camera rig as if for protection. Then to my great relief he must have decided I was neither a threat nor an edible. As he passed no more than a few feet above my head he seemed enormous. It was like watching a 747 fly over. And then he was gone.

I hung there not moving for another few minutes. There were all kinds of creatures to shoot, but I sure wasn’t taking anymore. With my air running low I surfaced. The zodiac was nearby. Valerie and her friend were on board. They had removed their tanks.

“Did you people see that shark?” I asked the women while climbing up the ladder. They nodded smiling. Of course they did. “Sure,” I thought answering my own question. “That must’ve been what Valerie meant with her hand signals.”

Once aboard ship I couldn’t wait to share my big shark story with my fellow divers. When I got to the bit about the creature’s seemingly aggressive move towards me, one of the dive pros asked whether the shark’s pectoral fins were up or down. I didn’t remember.

“Why?” I asked.

“Well,” he explained, “If the fins were up, he was just cruising. If they were down he was in an attack mode. You were shooting him weren’t you?”

Now he had everybody’s attention.

“I thought for a moment, and then, remembering my threatened situation at the time shook my head, adding “I’m not sure… In fact, come to think of it… I’m not so sure I even want to develop the film.”

Later that evening Elayne approached Valerie about the shark matter. ‘How could she send me, her husband, into such danger?’

“Oh it was just a big black tip.” explained Valerie. “That shark was just cruising… probably only curious. I’m sure he had never before seen a diver or any other human for that matter.”

“Just a nibble please.”

No surprise. Several years later Valerie was featured in a National Geographic film wearing a dive suit made of mail feeding a school of reef sharks. All of their pectoral fins were down.

We don’t have anything but small sand sharks in Malibu, however over the years I had many opportunities to dive in tropical waters. I learned that there are sharks and there are more dangerous sharks. They say sharks are dumb creatures who don’t know how to do anything but prowl and eat. Supposedly they bite first and taste later. A swimmer on the surface could easily be mistaken for a dolphin or a sea lion. If a human doesn’t taste right the shark may just spit him out and look for some food more to his liking. Unfortunately by that time  the poor diver could be “gefelte fish” (ground seafood, a kosher delicacy.)

But this blog is not about sharks. I’ll leave that to Valerie and Ron and Steven Spielberg and the movie studios. It’s about all the thousands of beautiful creatures large and small that populated the world’s magnificent coral reefs, before man’s greed and carelessness accelerated their sadly inevitable destruction.

Backstory

Surf entry… Forget it.

It was the mid-1980s. Our little family was living in a house on the beach in Malibu, with swimming, surfing and sailing a few feet from our deck. We wound up in this paradise thanks to the big Bel Air fire which destroyed our home and 500 others. We were lucky to find a place to move our little family. (See Blog 2 “The Fire”). Though I had done some skin diving in the kelp beds a hundred yards or so off shore, I sure envied the guys with the scuba tanks on their backs. They could swim deeper, stay down longer and explore the underwater world for a half hour or even more. So at someone’s suggestion I decided to enroll in scuba school.

Like most novice divers, I invested in a wet suit and all the necessary scuba gear. However, entering Malibu’s famous surf from the beach in front of our house wearing flippers and a tank on my back was, and still is, a challenge. Though I kept a full tank of air in my garage, I did very little diving off our beach in Malibu Colony, or any other place for that matter… That is until a neighbor introduced my wife Elayne to a woman named Ann Janss, whose husband Ed was a big rancher and real estate developer.

Ed Janss

“I’m not a crook. And you’re not a patriot.”

The Janss family were prominent Southern California area land holders. Among their many Los Angeles area real estate enterprises they developed Westwood Village and donated the land to the University of California, where UCLA is located.

Ed and Ann dressed for the occasion.

Ed’s interests were many. He and his brother Bill, both outdoorsmen, owned and operated the ski areas in Sun Valley, Utah and Snowmass, Colorado. Ed was a major collector of contemporary art. He was active in the Peace Movement and proud to be included on President Richard Nixon’s notorious “Enemies List.” His passion however, was scuba diving and underwater photography in particular. We were invited to their home one evening for dinner and a slideshow.

Sure, I had seen photos like Ed’s in National Geographic Magazine, but right there on his screen were beautiful representations of our host’s diving adventures in tropical waters all over the world. Ed’s favorite photo subjects were tiny little creatures called nudibranchs, of which there are over 3,000 species.

Nudibranch Montage

Ed’s tiny little undersea friends

I was smitten. Recognizing this, Ed mentioned that he and Ann and some friends were leaving on a diving voyage to the South Pacific in a month or so. They would be cruising with an “interesting” group of people on a ship named the Lindblad Explorer. It was a four week trip. Would Elayne and I want to come along?

My wife’s immediate answer was “Of course.” I gave her a look.

I didn’t sleep much that night, what with visions of Ed’s beautiful underwater creatures and the prospect of visiting a part of the world we had seen only in travel logs.

Elayne and I discussed Ed’s invitation the next morning. At the time I was running a public company with offices all over the country. We would be gone for over a month. Who would run the business?

“You have people. You have executives.” Elayne said. “What would happen to the company if you got hit by a truck? You’ve worked hard enough, you deserve a break. You already know how to scuba dive. An offer like Ed’s comes once in a lifetime.”

Ed and Ann Janss never gave us an opportunity to ponder the decision. At their house about 10 days later, Ed handed me a new Canon 35 millimeter camera in an underwater housing complete with strobe flash attachment and a promise that he would show me how to use the rig when we boarded the ship in Fiji.

That did it. Any concerns about leaving our kids and my business were set aside. We spent the next couple of weeks making sure that things at home and the office would hopefully continue to function during our absence. Ed sent me to the Body Glove people in Redondo Beach to be fitted for a lightweight neoprene wet suit. We made sure our passports were in order. Elayne packed up; and a couple of weeks later we kissed the kids goodbye and flew off to Fiji for what turned out to be the first of many tropical adventures.

Note:

Nudibranchs are delicate creatures with a life span of a year, or even less. They feed on sponges and reef corals and supposedly do not survive in traditional aquariums. They don’t appear to have any natural predators which perhaps accounts for their dazzling colors and lack of protective shells.

Sadly, if the Jansses were diving today they would be frustrated, because Ed’s favorite photo subjects are now difficult to find. For that Ed could thank global warming, air as well as water pollution and all the other human-generated activities that are destroying the world’s coral reefs and the sea life that depend on those reefs for survival.

The Lindblad

Lindblad

South Pacific welcome

The Lindblad Explorer was an unusual vessel. Much smaller than the traditional cruise ships of the time, it accommodated no more than 100 passengers and was of shallow draft configuration which enabled it to venture into waters where traditional ocean liners are unable navigate. The Lindblad also cruised the Antarctic and was the first ship of its kind to traverse the Arctic Ocean’s Northwest Passage. Its unique design made it possible to pass through many of the coral reef barriers surrounding most of the small South Pacific islands we visited.

Scuba diving was just one of many activities available to the Lindblad’s passengers. Among our group were several well-known authors, educators and explorers who would conduct tours and meetings on subjects relating to the South Pacific, its people and its history.

Sir Peter, Bengt and Robin

Accompanying the passengers on our particular cruise were Sir Peter Scott and his wife Phillipa. Peter was the son of the famous Antarctic explorer, Sir Robert Scott. Peter was a founder of the World Wildlife Fund, and his areas of interest on this trip were coral reef fish and South Pacific bird life. Also included in the group of experts was Professor Robin Winks, a British historian whose specialty was World War II in the South Pacific. To provide color, that group included Bengt Danielsson and his wife Marie Therese. Danielsson was a member of Thor Heyerdahl’s original Kon-Tiki party that sailed from South America to the Polynesian Islands on a replica of a raft made of balsa logs and indigenous materials similar to those used by early native explorers to cross the Pacific from Peru to Tahiti.

Melanesia is at the center of what’s known as the South Pacific’s “Coral Triangle”, which also includes Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, The Solomon Islands and The Philippines. Incorporating an area the size of the United States, it was at that time home of the world’s largest and richest coral reef system and the millions of sub-aquatic species that populated it.

In addition to conducting tours on the various islands we visited, this team of South Pacific experts conducted lectures and symposiums on board The Linblad in the ship’s salon. Those sessions were a trip highlight and provided an important complement to our month-long adventure at sea.

For we divers, as mentioned earlier, the ship’s leadership included Australians Valerie and Ron Taylor, the world famous couple whose specialty was underwater photography.

Won every race but the Derby

Having no interest in diving, Elayne buddied up with another cruising passenger, a distinguished gentleman named Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt. Everyone of Geoff Nate’s era knows about the famous Vanderbilts, Alfred’s industrialist grandfather Cornelius and of course his fashionista cousin Gloria. They were high society in an era when multi-millionaires would have been multi-billionaires in today’s dollars.

Alfred’s passion was raising race horses, a hobby and stable he inherited from his mother. His famous horse, Native Dancer, lost only one race in its career. Unfortunately that one race was the Kentucky Derby.

Alfred G. Vanderbilt and friend

Elayne and Alfred were a “couple” during that voyage. They were lounge chair neighbors on the upper deck and shopping partners when bartering with the local islanders. They remained friends for many years. I remember visiting Alfred’s estate on Long Island and watching one of his horses finish in the money from his box at Belmont Park.

Alone and Abandoned

Geoff Nate’s little friends

I was in a shallow section of the lagoon surrounding a beautiful tropical island somewhere in Melanesia. I had been paired up with another diver, however he was not into underwater photography. Because my camera’s subjects that morning were relatively sedentary, my dive buddy elected to swim off and go exploring with the rest of the group.

The amount of time a scuba diver can remain underwater is determined by the depth at which he is diving and the amount of energy being exerted. An active diver at 60 feet will breathe deeply and more often than a fairly inactive diver at 20 feet. I was at the latter depth, shooting close-ups of tiny little creatures using a macro lens and very slow film. While my more active buddies were rapidly sucking up their air, I was working in relatively shallow water, breathing very slowly and therefore inhaling much less from my tank.

Ultimately, after shooting all 36 exposures on the film in my camera, I decided to call it a day. I rose to the surface looking for the zodiac and my fellow divers. They were gone. I didn’t see them anywhere, and assumed that they must have returned to the ship which I could see in the distance about a mile away. “How about that?” I thought. There I was, alone and abandoned. Surely someone, certainly my wife, will notice my absence.

So there I am out there by myself bobbing around in the Coral Sea. I checked my watch. It’s been a half hour or more. Isn’t anyone wondering why I’m not on board? All kinds of things are going through my mind. Remembering the Lindblad’s schedule, I knew it wouldn’t be long before the ship lifted anchor to sail off to another island.

“What, me worry?”

“Doesn’t anybody miss me? What about my loving spouse, Elayne? Certainly by now she must be worried sick.”

Don’t leave ship without it.

It was then that I realized that I could be in serious trouble. The Lindblad had a rule; when a passenger leaves the ship, he is supposed to take a tile identifying his room number from a rack near the gangway. Either I had forgotten to take my tile that morning or I had lost it.. People including my wife, must be figuring that I was back and somewhere aboard ship. Obviously I had a problem.

I considered my options which were unfortunately limited. I could swim to the ship, but it would certainly mean abandoning my scuba gear, tank and weight belt, equipment that belonged to the Lindblad. On the other hand I sure didn’t want them to leave without me.

At just about that moment, while pondering my limited alternatives, I noticed a native dugout canoe on the horizon. I waved, and just like in a James Michener novel, it was paddled by two beautiful bare breasted native girls. They saw me, and my rescue was of classic ‘South Sea lore.’

So let the ship go; I fantasized. I’ll spend the rest of my life on a tropical island paradise. Maybe I’ll take up painting beautiful native women like Gaugin. That fantasy was short lived however. My rescuers were headed in the direction of the Lindblad.

My fellow passengers lined the rails as our canoe approached the ship greeting us with a combination of cheers and jeers.

“Hey everybody… look what I found.”

“Where did you find him?”

“Take him back.”

“He’s a married man.”

“Shame on you Geoffrey.”

Elayne, of course, just rolled her eyes.

Measure of pleasure

Another canoe followed carrying two more girls. The girls were dressed, or shall I say semi-dressed, in what turned out to be festival attire. All four were really quite beautiful. They had been invited by our captain to visit the Lindblad and put on a little “sing-sing” in the ship’s lounge.

Someone inquired about the girls black armlets which appeared to be made up of narrow strands of what looked like elephant hair, to which one of our South Pacific experts attributed to some ancient custom related to what he dubbed a “measure of pleasure.”

He explained that the width of the band was supposed to be some kind of status symbol, a testament to partner satisfaction. As expected, one wise guy asked me if I was sorry that the girls had returned me to the ship rather than taking me to live with them on the island. To which my wife made some snide comment about “damaged goods” or “unclaimed freight.”

The Cave

Elayne and Mark Heighes

Adventurous apprentice

The Taylors brought with them from Australia a young 17-year-old apprentice dive guide named Mark Heighes, whose duties primarily included shuttling guests to and from the small islands and dive sites the ship visited. He had great energy, and we bonded early in the trip. Mark was very adventurous and looked for any excuse to strap a tank on his back and explore the underwater sea life on his own. Most times however, the Taylors insisted he take a buddy.

Local islander and visitor

One day after the morning dive, Elayne and I were having lunch aboard the ship, which was anchored fairly close to a small inhabited island in the Soloman chain. Jeff came over to our table with a proposition. He and Elayne had met a native on the island that morning who happened to speak some pidgin English. The man told them about a “wonderful” unexplored under-island cave, the entrance to which lay some 20 feet below the surface of the lagoon.

Would I “be his buddy for a little adventure” that afternoon?

“Why not?” I figured. There were no organized dives scheduled for the balance of the day.

As happens, the ship was anchored less than 100 yards from the spot on the island where the underwater cave was supposed to be located. So Jeff figured we could just swim over to the entrance. I never thought to ask if he had discussed his plan with the Taylors or anyone else. We just suited up, strapped on our vests, tanks and weight belts and slipped into the water.

Cave divers

We found the mouth of the cave which was close to where the native said it would be located. The entrance was fairly large. In fact, someone could almost stand upright for the first 15 yards or so. I had taken with me my camera in its waterproof housing with attached strobe. Mark carried a high powered flashlight. As we swam further into the cave it became quite dark. I couldn’t help noticing several side passages. I was concerned and grabbed the toe of one of Mark’s fins. I shook my head, and with scuba sign language questioned the wisdom of going further. After all, we weren’t exactly dropping breadcrumbs or otherwise marking our trail.

“Am I crazy, trusting my life to a 17-year-old boy?”

My young companion waved his hand as if to say “not to worry.” As we swam further up one of the passages the sea water temperature, which is usually 80 plus in the South Pacific, began to drop. Mark removed his regulator, actually took a sip, and gestured that I should do the same. It was indeed fresh water. We had swum somewhere under that island into what must have been a freshwater spring.

Cave dwellers

Though it was pitch dark, Mark surfaced and I followed. We emerged into some kind of underground chamber. We removed our regulators and breathed fresh air. Mark panned his light around the cave. It was beautiful, that is until we realized that we were not alone. On a narrow ledge which circled the pool just above the water-line were what must have been hundreds of snakes, their eyes glowing in the beam of Mark’s light, their forked tongues threatening.

“My God!” cried Mark. “Those are snakes. Come on Mate, let’s get out of here!”

Before I could say wait, he dove back underwater. My first thought was that those snakes would have made a great photo, but considering the fact that my partner had taken with him our only means of light, I had no chance to so much as raise my camera. All I could do was slip my regulator back into my mouth and follow.

Somehow Mark was able to backtrack his way to the cave’s entrance. I looked behind us. We hadn’t been followed by any of our slithering friends. Good thing. Obviously those snakes were not amphibious, or perhaps just as startled as we were.

The story of our experience created a buzz on board the Lindblad, however because of the time, or perhaps other more obvious reasons, none of the other divers were particularly anxious to check out our snake cave for themselves. Anyway it makes for a good story.

Komodo

Fair warning

“Elayne!” I cried out. “Get away from there. Those monsters are supposed to be very dangerous. Can’t you read the sign?”

Why my wife had wandered away from our group? I don’t know. She never gave us an explanation; however those big creatures were very menacing.

Apart from Bali, the most interesting island we visited in Indonesia was certainly Komodo, home of the Komodo dragon. The dragons are large carnivorous lizards that can grow to ten feet or more. They are nasty looking reptiles and supposed to be able to run as fast as ten miles an hour. Their bite, if not poisonous, is certainly infectious. Their so-called “handlers” do anything but handle the beasts.

Even monsters can be lovers.

Actually, the only people we saw on Komodo were the dragons’ handlers. We saw no real villages on the island. They say its few residents were supposed to be descendants of convicts that had been banished to Komodo several generations before. The ‘handlers’ put on a show for visitors teasing their charges, nimbly stepping aside like bullfighters when attacked. It certainly was not entertainment, and we were pleased when our guides led us away to lunch. Fortunately there was a beautiful reef just off the beach where I got some shots of a large yellow coral creature I had never seen before, or since for that matter. It was not until later aboard ship that someone informed us that Komodo Dragons can also swim.

Rabaul

World War II trophies?

One of the Lindblad’s last stops was in the harbor of Rabaul on the island of New Britain. Rabaul had been the South Pacific home of the Japanese fleet during World War II. It had been heavily bombed by the Allies, and the harbor itself was a virtual garden of sunken ships.

The water was crystal clear, and I remember spotting some unexploded ordinance (bomb or shell) on the deck of what might have been an enemy destroyer. Fascinated, I dove down and brought it up to show my dive buddies. Bad idea? “You bet mate,” said Ron Taylor, and taking the thing gently from my hands, he dove back down and replaced it carefully on the deck from which it had been retrieved.

Turns out that even after all those years the thing might have been live and exploded us all back to World War II. Live and learn.

We saw all kinds of war relics during our dives in what was once the South Pacific’s War zone. I took a few photos of downed planes and a Japanese tank.

New Guinea

Sepik River

Certainly one of the highlights of our Lindblad trip was our flight into the highlands of Papua New Guinea and our visit to the people of the Sepik River.

Survivors in time for dinner?

We boarded a small rather ancient single engine plane in Port Moresby with perhaps a dozen seats, all of which were removable for the transport of supplies. The plane flew over what appeared to be virtually limitless jungle interrupted from time to time with small isolated clearings containing a group of grass huts. I commented to the pilot about what appeared to be a downed plane in one of the clearings. He explained it had crash landed about 20 years before.

“How did they get out?” someone asked.

“No one knows,” said the pilot. “Many of the natives in these parts have never seen white men. Folks down there in the jungle are always happy to supplement their diet with a little fresh protein.”

One of our group injected. “Are you implying?… Really?”

“I think that’s what he means,” replied another.

Elayne visits a Sepik River family.

“Have a Tampa”

A few minutes later our little plane landed on a narrow runway along the Sepik, and we motored by land rover up to our destination, the Karawari Lodge. There we had lunch and were entertained by costumed locals who staged a mock hunt and war dance. They were rewarded by one of our group with a handful of cigars. The highlight of that adventure however, was a stop further down river at a primitive village where we observed women and children going about their everyday lives. No sing-sing, no gifts, no souvenirs… just an unscheduled opportunity to observe one of the few really primitive peoples remaining in that or any other part of the planet.

The Rip-off

Our South Sea adventure ended in Port Moresby, New Guinea. The Lindblad, its crew and some of our fellow passengers including, Alfred Vanderbilt, continued on the ship’s ‘round the world voyage. Elayne and I spent our last day in Melanesia shopping for gifts and souvenirs to bring home to friends and family.

Douglas Fairbanks… dead ringer.

The hotel suggested a guide who drove us to a large warehouse on the outskirts of town where he promised we would find the largest selection of primitive artifacts in New Guinea, all at “reasonable prices.” He introduced us to the proprietor, who looked a lot like Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in the movie “Gunga Din.”

I don’t recall the name of the place, but if one was looking for a “genuine one-of-a-kind” they had 20 or 30 duplicates to choose from. The prices were a “steal.” If we wanted ancestor masks to bring home to our friends; they probably had 50, each differing just slightly from its neighbors hanging together on the wall. We took 3 of this and 5 of that. There was one room with nothing but hand carved wooden statuettes supposedly replicating ferocious looking ancestors for protection. We bought two, which stand in a corner of our living room today. I don’t remember the price, but it sure couldn’t have been much.

We were caught up in a feeding frenzy of our own making. There were half a dozen hand carved fertility figures on a shelf. At twenty dollars apiece, we took them all.

We pointed, Douglas Fairbanks waved at his assistant, and each selection disappeared.  In one hour we probably bought forty pieces ranging from “genuine” ancestor representations to classic weapons or tools, and of course masks. The prices ranged from $20 to $40 each.

Evil spirit safeguards

It appears that many of the indigenous people of New Guinea are ancestor worshipers, and the masks and statues decorating their villages and huts are likenesses of warrior relatives, prominently displayed to assure protection.

Exhausted after an hour of shopping in this bargain hunter’s paradise, Elayne and I were happy to join the owner for a coke and a light lunch in his office. He (I think his name was Clive) was a polished and obviously well-educated gentleman in his mid-thirties. The business had been in his family for many years. He claimed that he had a team of tireless buyers scouring Melanesia for collectibles.

Many years later, I was discussing our visit with a local Los Angeles dealer of Southeast Asian antiquities who insisted that our Port Moresby friend’s story was “baloney.” He explained that 90 percent of those “genuine artifacts” on his showroom floor and walls were most probably custom made by teams of local carvers at the owner’s factory on the other side of town.

Sure… We weren’t exactly rubes, but on the other hand, the prices were ridiculously low. We had many friends and family members back home who we could make happy with even the simplest little ‘genuine’ “tchotchke” (Yiddish for knick-knack).

From New Guinea to Malibu with love.

When the bill came however, it was a shocker, amounting at the time to the equivalent of almost 1200 American dollars. We thought about putting some stuff back, an idea that didn’t last long. So we looked at each other, and both shrugged our shoulders as if to say “Oh why not?” and the deal was done. Would our host accept American Express travelers’ checks?

“Certainly,” he replied graciously. That was it, the purchase was closed. The question now was transportation. Obviously with all our other baggage we couldn’t squeeze in so much as a single fright mask.

“No problem,” our new friend assured us.” I will have everything carefully wrapped, packed in a container, and shipped to your home in Los Angeles. It will be sent as used articles, so the duty will be minimal. Your freight cost should be no more than if we were shipping a load of pineapples.”

See you at LAX.

We got to know our new friend, Clive, quite well that afternoon at lunch. He was married, educated in England, and the business had been in his family for many years. He was delighted to hear we were from California where he said he had many friends and customers. And… coincidentally he would be coming to Los Angeles later that year in August for the summer Olympics as a member of the Papua New Guinea Skeet Shooting Team. We suggested he look us up.

“We’re sure you will be staying in the Olympic Village with your team, but if you can get away at any time we hope you might come down and visit us at our home in Malibu.” That was it. We filled out some shipping documents, bid goodbye to our charming friend and returned to the Lindblad to say our farewells… The perfect ending to our perfect south sea adventure.

The next day we flew to Sydney, spent a night at a nice hotel in the harbor, and the following morning Qantas flew us back to Los Angeles.

Not So Perfect Ending:

A few weeks went by and I contacted the cargo processing people in San Pedro to inquire relative to the status of our big order from New Guinea. So far they had no record of receiving such a shipment. I checked back a week later and still nothing.

I wired our friend Clive in Port Moresby from whom we made our big purchase. However, I received no response. I tried again. The result was the same.

Avery Brundage… Enforcer.

Months went by, and nothing, no shipment and no explanation. We had been ripped off. Then I got a fresh idea. I drafted a letter to the International Olympic Committee, attention Avery Brundage, President. I described the situation, naming the artifact warehouse, its owner and most specifically his participation as a member of the Papua New Guinea Olympic Skeet Shooting Team. I included all the frustrating details.

I delayed mailing that letter. Instead I sent a copy to our “friend” Clive, via special delivery at his warehouse in Port Moresby, demanding the return of our $1200.

Restitution

Five days later we received a call from Qantas Air Freight. A shipment addressed to us had arrived by air from New Guinea and was available for pick-up at customer service in El Segundo.

Elayne and I attended the opening and closing of the 1984 Olympics at the Coliseum that year. We also took in the Swimming, Track and Gymnastics competitions. We passed on Skeet Shooting.

Footnote:

Sure, some of the “tchotchkes” arrived damaged, and a few of our selections had been switched out, but we just chalked it up to experience. We gave most of the stuff away, but retained a few of our favorites which still grace our living room in Malibu to this day.

Click here and join us in Chapter 2 on our next South Pacific adventure to Indonesia  [Open]

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