Tuesday 29 June 2010, 8:30pm, Luganville

For Carl, Chris and I it was a slow news day. Carl just needed a quiet day after his birthday celebrations, Chris went into town to continue meeting everyone there was to meet there and I waited around for Richard or Gibson to call about setting up the clinic in Luganville.
Inspired by Ann Shoebridge’s account of the Millennium Cave in last year’s Ship’s Log Ray, Paul and Grant were determined to experience it for themselves. Ray picks up there story of their day.
Andrew
Millennium Cave report from Ray
The day started badly as the ship’s head (toilet for landlubbers) was found to be blocked. This is a disaster that all sailors hate, especially if they are the ones who have to unblock it. It appears that someone had put something in it that could not be flushed or broken down. In fact after it was finally retrieved, Ray tried to physically pull it apart to determine what it was but came up blank. It was a cross between a chux rag and a piece of Kevlar. That is to say that it was highly absorbent but could not be physically pulled apart. Was this sabotage??
Soon everyone was up (did Carl actually go to bed?) and about as there was much to be done. Grant, Paul and Ray had booked a trip to the Millennium (sic) cave and the luxury coach was picking them up at 0830. When the luxury coach arrived, it strongly resembled a beaten up hi-lux dual cab ute. (Is anyone noticing a common thread here?) Ray was graced with a seat in the front as an allowance for his age, while Grant and Paul piled into the back – that is the tray back as opposed to the back seats. From there it was a 45 minute trip up the hills to the first village which, strangely enough, was situated at the end of the road. We estimate the distance covered would have been lucky to be 10 KM as the trip was completed mainly in first and second gear, such was the condition of the track. The pot holes would have swallowed a lesser vehicle but the hi-lux and its somewhat delicate cargo took it all in its stride.
On arrival in the first village, where all of the inhabitants looked like they were suffering malnutrition – you know the look – skinny bodies and distended stomachs, we commenced the hike to the second village where the official tour would begin. The first hike gave us an idea of things to come as the leader of our group surveyed our footwear, frowning and shaking his head at some, saying words in Bislama that we interpreted to mean – careful – slippery – not good. Soon we understood what he meant is we slipped and slid through the mud, making our way single file down tracks that could charitably be described as challenging – at best. We crossed a small but beautiful gorge using a bridge that could roughly be translated into something along the lines of – pile of bamboo poles dumped across ravine and held in place by flimsy pegs in soft muddy ground.
We eventually got to the second village where we were duly briefed on the adventure ahead and we headed off. The next part of the track made the first, look like a 6 lane highway. Although we have not walked the Kokoda track in PNG, it is what we imagined it to be like. Steep narrow muddy track going up and down impossibly steep hills. It wasn’t long before we were used to going backwards down bamboo ladders and climbing over slippery moss covered rocks and wading through fast flowing waterways in impossibly lush green jungle.  After about 2 hours of this trekking, we arrived at the mouth of the cave.
After being issued torches, we entered (wading and swimming) the cave and commenced our transit. Now we were doing much of what we had been doing previously, but we were doing it in the dark. The cave was upwards of 50M high in places and there were a combination of bats and swallows inhabiting both the upper and lower reaches. The transit took about 45 minutes after which time we stopped for lunch, which we had thoughtfully had to provide for ourselves. Cold, tinned spaghetti never tasted so good!
After a delectable meal, washed down with warm water, we were issued with our special life preserving flotation assistance devices. They strongly resembled children’s plastic inflatable flotation aids. You know the ones that cost about $2.00 in Coles and which parents put their 3 year old kids in and never leave their sides. That’s exactly what they were! Then followed a couple of hours of canyoning and swimming, clambering over huge boulders and being swept down rapids – whoops! That only happened when one lost one’s footing and ended up in an unintended place. The water was refreshing and the scenery spectacular.
Alas all good adventures must come to an end and eventually we deflated our plastic rings (although by that stage Ray’s was deflating of its own accord) and made our way back to the starting point. This was achieved by climbing up a rock wall with water cascading (well not quite cascading but it was running), climbing another four bamboo ladders, and traipsing through muddy cow pastures and other assorted greenery until we arrived back in the village. After partaking in afternoon tea (the grapefruit was to die for) we eventually retraced our original steps, arriving back in Luganville at about 5 PM. It was a stunning day of rare beauty, contrasts and challenges and certainly not an adventure to be undertaken by the faint hearted or unfit. A great day was had by all!
On eventually returning to Chimere we tucked into a delicious meal of fillet steak with vegetables, lovingly prepared by Christine, who by this stage was worrying about our whereabouts, conjuring up mental images of us having been attacked by bats and rats or been carried down the river and washed out to sea.
During the day, Andrew had been liaising with the medical team and had arranged to provide assistance at a local clinic over the next couple of days.
Strangely enough, everyone was overwhelmingly tired after the activities of the past 24 hours and by about 8.30PM, most were in bed getting some well deserved sleep.   So ends just another day in paradise.
Ray