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Matt Fletcher
Bingo board

Papua New Guinea

Christmas and New Year came and went with a little fanfare. On Christmas Eve we went out for chicken and beer in Jayapura, and left the stinking, rubbish strewn port on Christmas Day and headed to Papua New Guinea. On New Year’s Eve we were at sea, but the seas were so calm and winds so light we could call out New Year greetings between the boats a couple of hundred metres apart.

The New Year has all been PNG and it’s been good. We’ve had much more time, time to stop in little local ports and small islands meeting local people, checking out their boats and enjoying simple pleasures like an afternoon at the bingo. I didn’t have PNG pegged as a place where bingo might take hold, but it has, just like volleyball and Catholicism. On Karkar Island Sunday afternoon bingo draws a crowd to the teacher’s house big enough to inspire local women to set up a little fruit and vegetable market.

Wooden house with thatched roof
The teacher's house on Karkar island
Ian the island guide, mouth stained crimson
Our island guide Ian
Villagers by a fruit and vegetable stall
The fruit and veg markets

The Top Prize

Ian, our island guide suggested we come along and we ate donuts stuffed with spinach and sucked on worryingly crimson ice popsickles whilst he anxiously hunkered over his wooden bingo board checking off numbers; All too few of them. Earlier he had been bullish about his chances of winning the top €5 prize. Now ‘Bingo!’ was being called left right and centre but not by him. The stakes were tiny, but he still wore the look of a man about to lose the house and was soon working the crowd, tapping up friends and relatives for one last game. He was hooked and distracted, so we let him get on with it and walked back through the neat little gardens, with bamboo fences and coral paths back to the beach with our vegetables.

- Matt Fletcher