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Pictures of our Papua New Guinea trip
(Part 1a until picture # 51: Milne Bay – (Port Moresby) – Mount Hagen  - without our vehicle)
(Part 1b from picture # 52: Lae  - where we got our vehicle)
 
Part 2: Mount Hagen Cultural Show August 13th, to 15th, 2010
Part 3: Lae – Madang – Goroka
Part 4: Goroka Cultural Show September 17th, to 19th, 2010
Part 5: Goroka – Mount Hagen – Kumul Pass – Mount Hagen – Goroka – Lae
 
 
Papua New Guinea Map
 
 
      Map of the Pacific

 

latest picture: August 27, 2010
  • click a picture to see details

 
"Are we in fact a bit mad in undertaking this task", as a friend of ours puts it? Because precisely on the day of our departure to Papua New Guinea (simply called PNG) we receive another serious warning regarding the security situation. This time from our Ambassador Daniel Walker – on post in Australia and therefore also responsible for PNG – who we had the honor to meet with his spouse on July 14th, 2006, in the Sultanate of Brunei at a dinner with the small Swiss community there. This message, however, is not anymore able to deter us from the “last remaining frontier of the world” where tribal fights in the Highlands are still as common as they were in the past. Too long and too hard we have been working on our car entry permit during the past months, and too big is now our longing for this adventure. At 10.30pm on July 26th, 2010, we are irreversibly on our way: We board in Singapore the Air Niugini plane and fly towards the Eastern part of the world’s second largest island (after Greenland): Papua New Guinea – situated 100 miles North of Australia, an island which land is shared in the Eastern side by the independent state of Papua New Guinea and the Indonesian province of Papua in the West.
 
During our six hours long night flight with an old, however overhauled and completely full aircraft to the capital Port Moresby, inevitably some doubts are creeping through our heads: Will the aged 767 make it safely to our new destination? Is the country really as bad as its reputation, pointed out in most travel advisories? Will the ship from Jakarta/Indonesia with our container on board suffer further delays? Will the release of our LandCruiser at Lae’s port work out smoothly? It largely depends on the two last conditions, if we will make it in time to the famous Mount Hagen Sing Sing starting August 13th, – a show similar to the Goroka Show – where 80 different ethnic groups have a gathering to display their dances, traditionally dressed-up and decoratively painted. Mount Hagen lies in the Western Highlands, a 275 miles drive from Lae. It dawns and the rays of the rising sun are catching beautifully the puffy white clouds when shortly after 6am the aircraft is preparing to land in the capital. No matter in which direction we look – the landscape under the sunny sky is dry and yellowish like the African steppes – not rich green as we expected PNG to be after the rainy season that ended end of May.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
01  Brightly painted boats line the
picturesque harbor shore of Alotau
in the Milne Bay Province, situated
at the Southeastern shore of the
island of New Guinea
 02  The Australian War Memorial to
commemorate the Battle in Alotau in
the Milne Bay, which the Australians
fought with the help of the locals
against the Japanese in World War II
03  It is always busy around
Alotau’s supermarket. It’s also
the place to exchange gossip
 
While queuing up in one of the slowly moving waiting lines to the immigration desk, our eyes are fixed on the huge exotic wall paintings in the reception hall: Characteristic faces of different ethnic groups are peeking out of a jungle scene. They look friendly and peacefully and chase away our worries, if we were possibly playing Russian roulette in PNG. When the immigration and customs officers – we even can keep our (declared) cheese – greet us with a smile, we immediately like this people with their curly black hair and dark faces and their expression of friendliness. We drop our last doubts and are looking forward to explore their special country. First of all, we withdraw Kina – the local currency – at the ATM of the ANZ Bank at the airport and are glad that we can cash twice K 2’000 (= US$ 715). Then we buy a new sim card from Digicel, browse through the beautiful picture books laid out in the tourist office and drink our first cup of highland coffee until it is time to board our connection flight – a noisy two engine propeller aircraft of PNG Airlines – to Alotau on the Southeastern tip.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
04  The market stalls opposite the
supermarket at the palm-fringed sea
shore with the colorful umbrellas that
protect the sellers against sun and
rain add to the charming village image
 05  The young fruit vendor in
Alotau’s fruit and vegetable market
holds the bunch of banana
while Liliana grabs 1 Kina
(=US$ 0.40) out of her pocket
06  A big part of the produce sold in
the open Alotau market is betel nut.
There are whole lines of them lied out
on the ground. Chewing these stimulating
nuts is a part of PNG’s culture
 
No roads are leading there. Therefore it is an ideal place to spend our time until the arrival of our car. Apparently it left Indonesia only today and the vessel is still making two stops on its way to Lae. It is raining heavily, when we land at the small tropical airport of Alotau and hop into the waiting van of the Napatana Lodge that we booked via internet. The palm oil plantations and the grass land we pass are soaked in water from the loads that the heavy clouds have discharged apparently uninterruptedly since weeks. Our driver tells us that they have not seen any ray of sun for a very long time. Though we knew that Alotau – like also Lae – has the opposite climate than the rest of PNG where in May the dry season started, we didn’t take it seriously enough due to the climate change everywhere! Well, we indeed are now surrounded by lush green and a rainforest living up to its name – actually more than we would have liked! Our room in the Napatana Lodge is in the “Flashpackers” section, i.e. it is one of the five budget rooms with attached bathroom, fridge and a common veranda. “Budget” means Kina 176 per night (= US$ 63). Accommodation is extremely expensive in PNG.
 
 
 
 
 
 
07  The tame hornbill is one of
the two birds belonging to the small
sanctuary of the Napatana-Lodge
in Alotau. It iscurious and likes to
be close to people;its favorite
place being the bar …..
 08  ..... its feathered neighbor, the
parrot, steels pieces of papaya
from the hornbill’s food bowl
09  Emil is admiring one of the giant
clams (Tridacninae) that adorn
the well kept garden of Alotau’s
Napatana-Lodge
 
Slowly we realize that we did not only jump into a cultural adventure, but a financial one too, because bush camping will be impossible, firstly due to security reasons and secondly because – like in most of the Pacific Islands – land is in private or tribal hands. Apart from this the culture of the people does not allow that a visitor – especially a Westerner – sleeps in his own car. A Westerner has the necessary money anyway to sleep in a decent hotel. Belonging to the lodge, there is an enchanting small menagerie: We love watching the kangaroo hopping in the grass, the colorful parrot steeling the papaya bits from the hornbill bowls, but mostly we are amused by the two tame hornbills that are very human oriented. They like to squeeze softly my fingers with their beak, or sit on the mowing machine when the gardener is cutting the grass, or mingle with the guests in the bar. At the end of the day, the bar on the first floor of the lodge made of bush materials is also our favorite spot. Gazing to the beach with its illuminated stately palm trees, sipping a local beer and talking to the locals is always enjoyable.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
10  Through a wet forest path,
we hike together with Grace and
Toto from the “Ulumani - Treetops
Rainforest Lodge” to the village of
Wagawaga, situated across Milne
Bay, 35 miles South of Alotau
 11  A lonely outrigger canoe rests
on the bank of the peaceful
Wagawaga Bay
12  The modest school buildings
of Wagawaga village sit on a
privileged spot under a
huge and shady tree
 
During the night we hear the steady pouring of the rain, but also by day the heavy showers don’t stop. There is hardly a dry moment. That’s the case on our first day, on our second day and also on our third day. Finally we buy a huge umbrella in the Alotau supermarket which turns out to be of little help. We get drenched from head to toe when we walk the ten minutes into town. Again and again we are surprised how friendly people are greeting us who are walking as we do. Small roadside stalls selling betel nuts line the street all over. Chewing “buai” is part of daily life to almost everyone. Mixed with a mustard stick and crushed coral lime makes it a mild stimulant – similar to the qat leaves in Yemen. The red tinted saliva that is produced by chewing is constantly spitted out, leaving red spots dotting the streets. Betel nuts take up at least one third of the selling space at the market. Then there is tobacco, carefully plaited into tresses, banana, vegetable and dried fish.
 
PNG is scattered with relicts and memorials of World War II. One of it is the well documented Australian War Memorial that we visit on our way to the harbor, when on the fourth day the sun finally flickers through the clouds. It marks the spot at Milne Bay where Australian and locals fought the bloody battle against the Japanese. The platform is taken by two souvenir vendors displaying their carvings. But amazingly they make no attempt to sell us something. Quite unusual! The harbor attracts us immediately. It is packed with brightly painted one-man-canoes, island boats, passenger ships and stalls covered by colorful umbrellas. Groups of people are sitting around, chatting and chewing betel nuts. Why do we not climb up the hill to the hospital and enjoy a birds-eye-view? Little did we know by then that soon we would see the hospital from inside! On our way back, a pick-up driver stops and offers us a ride to the well stocked supermarket. We arrive just in time before at 5pm the massive iron door closes for the night.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
13  The church of Wagawaga
matches the simplicity of the
village houses
 14  In harmony with the nature:
Simple bush material house in
Wagawaga in a tropical
surrounding
15  In Warren Dipole’s village – the
owner of the “Ulumani - Treetops
Rainforest Lodge“ – life is peaceful.
Surrounded by pure nature, his
family would never ever want
to move to the busy city
 
“Are you looking for something?” a young man asks me next day in front of the local vegetable market. I shake my head and tell him that I am just looking around. With a smile he replies: “If you are looking for a man with a white beard, I just saw him walking over to the supermarket!” Later, when we visit the Hotel International, a car stops beside us. “Are you Liliana and Emil”, the lady asks us through the car window? Slowly, it is getting weird. Where from does she know us? She introduces herself as Ronah from the Tourist Office. From her boss in Port Moresby, Mr. Peter Vincent, she got the order to take good care of us. Two days later – we are just having breakfast on our verandah – she shows up with Warren, the owner of the Treetops Eco Lodge. While drinking coffee, we are informed that a trip to the remote Treetop Eco Lodge and a three-day stay there is offered by the Ministry of Tourism – what an unexpected surprise!
 
Joined by Grace who makes a year-long study about Eco Tourism for the University in PNG, Warren drives us next day 35 miles with his LandCruiser to his lodge. All we see during the first 16 miles along a good tarmac road are palm oil plantations. It is a bit frustrating that after Malaysia and Indonesia now also PNG’s rainforest and sago palms are replaced by more profitable palm oil trees. Luckily, as soon as we branch off to an earth track, we find ourselves surrounded by jungle. Modest homes made from bush material are scattered in small clearings, sometimes only one, sometimes two, sometimes a cluster, depending on the size of the clan. Five brown jungle rivers, carrying much water across the road are a challenge. Luckily Warren knows how to tackle them. But there are times when he also has to wait until the water level recedes, we are told. When we reach a steep, grassy ascent, he engages 4x4 and the differential lock. Both are indispensable to make it up to his lodge. There where the track ends we reach our destination: Our cottage above the treetops.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
16  Emil enjoys his breakfast at the
“Ulumani - Treetops Rainforest Lodge“
 17  Stephanie, Warren’s seven
year old niece, appears in
traditional village outfit at the
“Ulumani - Treetops Rainforest
Lodge“ and entertains us with
a cute dance performance.
The big black dot on her
cheeks symbolizes a spider net
18  Emil on the balcony of our
cottage at the “Ulumani - Treetops
Rainforest Lodge“, surrounded by
trees and flowers. The chirping of
birds is the only ‘sound’ in this
oasis of peace
 
The surrounding is overwhelming. Wherever we look, we see just forest and flowers and a calm bay lures in the distance. The screeches of the parrots, the soft calls of unknown birds and now and then the beat of the wings of a circling eagle are the only noises besides the rustling of the wind. Shiny royal blue butterflies flutter past the balcony of our comfortable cottage. For the next three days we soak up this closeness to nature like a sponge and enjoy the stillness. Who knows when we will have such an opportunity again? The forest path that we take in the afternoon to the village of Wagawaga is still muddy from the continuous rain of the last days. Water puddles have to be crossed, and the hike takes much longer than expected because we give the shortcut a miss. We are not in the mood to walk barefoot through deep mud, and neither do we like to have our shoes filled with dirty water and soil. Therefore it is already mid-afternoon when we reach the village with its modest bush material houses built along the seashore. Dugout canoes are parked, a war relict rises out of the water. Across the bay sits Alotau. At calm sea, the approach by water is easier and faster than by road.
 
The village looks sleepy. Apart of a young mother busy with her children at a washing place and a few people walking along the street, nothing is moving. There is a school and a modest church, but there is no medical care. The hospital is in the next village. At least there is ONE car that in emergency can also be used for the transport of a patient. Grace tells us further that in remote villages where there is not even a road, people have to live without any medical service.”And what happens if somebody gets seriously ill?” we ask. “Most people then have no chance of survival”, is her brutal answer. A glance at the ghostly clouds developing at the nearby mountains warns us to start our way back without delay. Soon also the mosquitoes will be active and having no insect repellent with us, it is wise to hurry, because PNG is known for its widespread malaria. Exhausted, but happy about the excursion, we reach “home” dry. It is August 1st, the Swiss National Day. Memories from Apia in Samoa come alive where we spent August 1st, 2009, among the Swiss community before we flew in the same night via the Cook Islands to Tahiti.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Encounters with nature:
19  A butterfly sucking the
nectar of a flower …..
20  ..... Betel nuts that are chewed
practically by everybody in PNG .....
21  ….. a toad on its night excursion
 
The second evening, while sitting on the porch of the main lodge enjoying a sundowner, Stephanie, Warren’s 7 year old niece, appears in traditional outfit. She belongs to a small group of village dancers, but performs alone for us tonight. She looks very pretty in her headdress with white bird feathers, her collar made of precious red corals (in earlier times a valued mean of payment) and her skirt of two-colored coconut fiber. A huge black circle with white dots is painted on each of her cheeks, representing a spider net. Charmingly, she first shows us the slow dance performed by villagers to farewell the men when they embark to war. Then a livelier one for victory and safe return when they board their war canoes und sail away.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
22  A young mother washing her
clothes at the village’s “laundry”
of Wagawaga
 23  Smoke seeps through the
grass roof of a bush kitchen.
There is no chimney
24  The father in front of the super-
market in Alotau is proud when we
take a photograph of his baby girl
 
The days are over much too fast at this lovely place surrounded by pure nature. The last evening, all of a sudden, I get some serious stomach cramps. What am I hatching? After a terrible night, Warren drives us back to the Napatana Lodge in Alotau. From the very first moment, we sense the incredible difference: From the stillness we treasured so much, we are back in the omnipresent noise. In the afternoon, I steadily feel weaker, the body temperature rises and at 11pm I am shaken by violent shivers. The fever reaches almost 104F. Luana from the lodge is sure: “It is malaria!” With her lodge bus I am rushed to the hospital where I am finally given Chloroquine and Fansidar tablets – they are free of charge. For the consultation, we pay Kina 10 (= US$ 4)! Now we regret that we decided not to take any malaria prophylaxis, because especially here in wet Alotau malaria tropica, which can be fatal, is raging. We are therefore confined to the hotel room for the rest of our stay in Alotau and have unfortunately to give a miss to the excursion to the East Cape, offered by the Ministry of Tourism.
 
 
 
 
 
 
25  Air Niuguini with the logo of the
bird of paradise on its tail takes off
at the exotic Alotau airport
 26  There is no newspaper kiosk
at the airport of Port Moresby, the
capital. A woman sells the daily
papers on the floor outside
27  During our flight from Port
Moresby to Mount Hagen in the
Highlands, we get a glimpse of
the inaccessibility of this region
 
Is it the nourishing chicken soup that the lodge prepared for me – by the way with Kina 28 (= US$ 10) the most expensive soup I ate in my whole life – or the “new” malaria tablets on the Artesunate basis from Vietnam and China that we bought in the village pharmacy? In any case, on Sunday I am on my feet again and able to board the plane back to Port Moresby. In the capital, we booked for three nights a room with shared bath room at the “Comfort Inn”, not too far from the airport. Actually, it is meant to be a backpacker’s accommodation – but with a different price structure. It costs Kina 305 (= around US$ 110)! No wonder that there are no backpackers! Since oil and LPG gas were discovered in the Southern Highlands of PNG, the prices went wild particularly in Port Moresby. Now even business people lodge in the “Comfort Inn”.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
28  A scene like in Africa: Mother,
son and a pig in front of a thatched
hut in Nem, a tiny village on the
outskirts of Mt. Hagen …..
 29  ..... the mother is resting at
the entrance to her home with its
woven walls made of pit-pit
grass (miscanthus floridulus) …..
30  ..... family members sit around
a fire place in their “hut” and
cook sweet potatoes, the main
diet of the Highlanders
 
In any case, we are the only white people, also when we walk around the nearby township of Boroko to get a personal feeling about the security situation. The reels of barbed wire on already high walls and the security guards in front of every bank, business and shop, often with trained Rottweiler dogs on a leash, speak a clear language. However, our first “excursion” at daylight goes well and we never feel in any kind of danger. People are greeting us friendly. Also next day in downtown Port Moresby we have no negative experiences so far. Therefore our security confidence grows for the visit of our next “ill-famed” city – Mount Hagen, the provincial town of the Western Highlands – unfortunately still without our LandCruiser that is yet sailing somewhere on high sea between Indonesia and PNG.
 
 
 
 
 
 
31  A traditionally dressed couple
sits side by side. Occasionally, they
rub their heads together. It shows
the ceremony of courtship …..
 32  ..... does it come to an agreement,
the bride price still has to be approved.
Do the clan members of the man accept
the deal the woman immediately leaves
her clan and joins the one of her
husband. This shows the ceremony
of handing over the bride price
33  A little cemetery: The graves
of the deceased have a roof to
protect them from wind and weather
 
The vessel is now delayed already by 16 days and is scheduled to arrive only on August 13th, at Lae’s harbor, that means after the famous Mount Hagen Festival – the Cultural Show that was initialized 1961 to bring together warring tribes and to create a peaceful atmosphere among them. Through all the years, this event has been maintained, and today, it is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Pacific. Of course, by no means we want to miss it. And there is only one possibility left: To take the plane! We still manage to get two seats on August 11th , to Mt. Hagen and another two seats six days later onwards to Lae, but are less lucky with the hotel accommodation. Everything is booked out! What now? Mr. Peter Vincent, CEO of the Tourist Promotion Authority, helps us out. A phone call with Bob Bates, the owner of Trans Niugini Tours in Mt. Hagen, is enough to make us happy. He offers us to stay at his staff house free of charge, which turns out to be a real “bull’s-eye”.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
34  A bush hut in Pogla in the
outskirts of Mt. Hagen, hidden
in the luxurious tropical vegetation
 35  This woman from Pogla
with her bunch of shell necklaces
and her skirt of leaves transfers
us into another world.
“Topless“ is normal here
36  “Mudmen” – warrior covered with
grey mud and wearing a horrifying mask –
approach the enemy that took their land.
Believing to see ghosts, those run away terrified.
A scene replayed in Pogla. The “original”
mudmen originate from Asaro near Goroka
 
Once more we therefore board a propeller aircraft of Airline PNG and fly with much anticipation towards the highlands. By the way: Airlines PNG is the budget airline of Papua New Guinea, if we can talk of “cheap” at all. The weather is wonderful as is the hourly flight through rugged mountain scenery with its many dark ridges framed by shiny white clouds. We are glad that it is a clear day because Mount Hagen does not have an “instrument landing system”. It therefore needs an experienced pilot and one well familiar with the region – most of them seem to be Australians. Shortly before landing we fly still between mountain ridges and, as it seem to us, directly towards a rising peak. And right after “just missing” said peak, we dive down to the airstrip where we land a bit choppy. A Trans Niugini driver is waiting for us and brings us to the city office 6 miles away, where the friendly team of Shirley from South Africa, Pauline from Canada and Dwayne from Swaziland welcome us warmly.
 
 
 
 
 
 
37  “Mudmen“, equipped with arrows,
approach the camp fire of their enemy …..
 38  ..... who would not run away
at this terrifying appearance .....
39  ..... a “Mudman“
seizes Liliana!
 
Already two hours after our arrival we are sitting together with Azusa and Kazuto, a Japanese couple in their forties traveling since three years with the goal of visiting all the independent countries in the world, in a tour bus. The visit of three villages is on the program. The first one is called Nem. Through a shady jungle garden, we arrive at a single thatched hut. A small boy huddles in the grass between two pigs tied to poles while his mother drags a heavy banana branch to the hut. In the interior, family members gather around a small open fire, eating sweet potatoes – the main diet of the highlanders. It represents a scene of daily life. In another hut we meet a ceremonial dressed couple staging the courting rituals. They sit legs crossed side by side and occasionally rub their faces fiercely together. Those courting sessions usually occurred in a long house. If the couple came to terms, the bride price was discussed. It mostly consisted of pigs – still valued today as a symbol of wealth – but also kina shells, cash and food, such as banana and sugarcane bundles. Did the women’s clan members agree to the offered bride price, the official handing over took place immediately. Thereupon the bride left her clan and went to live from now on with the man’s family.
 
 
 
 
 
 
40  In the village of Tokua, the
witch doctor is conjuring away the
spirits. Despite of Christianity,
animism still plays an important role
 41  In Tokua, the „Moka“-Ceremony
is put on stage for us. It is celebrated
to solve problems and reconcile warring
tribes and takes place around the fire in
a house Tambaran, a spirit house …..
42  ….. ending the
“Moka”-Ceremony
 
In Pogla, the second village on our tour, the legend of the “Asaro mudmen” is performed – of the warriors who inventively covered themselves with grey mud and a fearful huge mask – to chase away the enemy that occupied their land. The mask can weigh up to 20 pounds. While the “original” mudmen are said to come from Asaro near Goroka, there are today many “copied” versions all over the highlands. The story goes as follows: Many years ago a farmer of a small clan was working peacefully on his land. Suddenly, men from another bigger clan appeared who claimed that this is their land. A serious fight broke out. The enemy won and the defeated were expelled and fled into the mountains. Looking for revenge and a way to recuperate their land, they had the inspiration to transform themselves into “mudmen”. In this ghostly apparition, they took their enemy clan by surprise. Those thought that the spirits of the dead returned and fled in terror. After that the small clan returned happily to his land.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
43  The charismatic “Bigman“, the
village chief, poses for a picture. He
wears a long band with bamboo rods
around his neck. Each one represents
ten pigs that he had given away
 44  The village chief and a village
elder in a conversation with Emil
45  One of the performers in Tokua wears
an impressive headdress with Cassowary
feathers (it belongs to the Emu family)
 
In Tokua, the third village, surrounded by a beautiful orchid garden, we meet the charismatic “bigman” – the village chief – in his full traditional outfit. He wears a long necklace with bamboo rods tightly strung together. Each one represents ten pigs which he gave away or slaughtered in one of the most important celebrations – the “Moka” ceremony (pig exchange ceremony). In the highland society, status is earned by giving things away. It raises its influence, and showing its wealth is therefore of great importance. “Moka” is celebrated to solve problems and reconcile warring tribes or estranged parties and takes place around a fire in a Tambaran, a “spirit house”. This ceremony was staged for us, giving us thus a deeper insight into the traditions of this country that despite of Christianization is still connected with the ghostly world.
 
 
 
 
 
 
46  PNG is a coffee growing country.
When the beans are red, they are picked
and laid out to dry for five days in the sun
 47  A modest hut in the Western
Highlands near Mount Hagen –
a typical Highlands sight
48  The “Highlanders” flock from all
directions when they spot a Westerner. They
are very curious, but also very interested
 
In the evening, we are invited by the Trans Niugini Team to a rich barbecue together with the Japanese couple who landed here by Coach Surfing with Dwayne as their host. There is a huge fish, cooked in aluminum foil on the open fire, rice, salads, ice cream, chocolate, wine and beer. Despite of our habit to skip dinner, we cannot resist and enjoy the offered food. Also Bob, the owner, joins us and we have thus the opportunity to express our thanks for the accommodation, the tour and all the courtesies. By then we do not know yet that the premises of Trans Niugini Tours will become once more our “home” for two weeks and that it opens the doors for new friends.
 
The days from August 12th, to 16th, 2010, are on the following page: Mount Hagen Cultural Show
 
 
 
 
 
 
49  The clear view on our flight from
Mount Hagen in the highlands to Lae
on the coast show us the remoteness
and ruggedness of the region …..
 50  ..... there is not much sign of
life, only a track zigzagging
through the mountains …..
51  ….. down in the valley, the
Markham River flows
through fertile land
 
Our heads are still cramped with all the experiences when on August 17th, we leave behind the rolling hills of the highlands, the coffee and tea plantations and the comfortable climate of Mount Hagen, situated at an altitude of 5’500ft., and fly to the tropical heat of the rainy port town of Lae. Our LandCruiser, stuffed in its 19th container, is already waiting for us. In the Lutheran Guesthouse we are given a spacey room with five beds just for the two of us. Surrounded by a tropical garden and 660ft. away from the road, it’s an oasis of peace in this dusty, unattractive and criminal town with its badly potholed streets. Next day we are sitting in the office of our agent East West Transport and are really shocked when Mr. Dotty presents us the bill for port fees, quarantine, agent fees, etc. We have to pay US$ 850 – after New Caledonia the second most expensive port yet. (Remark: The PNG’s following country – the Philippines – exceeded everything in this respect!). But we perfectly know: This is how it is and there is nothing to argue about if we like to visit the country.
 
 
 
 
 
 
52  In the port of Lae: Emil in a
discussion with Joanne, the customs
officer, while Dotty and Alfred of
“East-West Transport”
are assisting us …..
 53  ….. finally our LandCruiser is
out of its 19th cage. Emil is putting
away our spare wheel on the roof rack.
It’s laid before the right front wheel
before the car gets lashed down …..
54  ..... We made it! Our LandCruiser
is parked at the Lae Yacht-Club while
we celebrate the entry into our l67th
country with a big burger
and an ice cold beer
 
After we settled the bill, we are driven to our container, joined by Joanne, a young lady customs officer. When we watch the breaking of the seal, Emil suddenly hesitates. He looks at the number twice and knows immediately that it’s not the original one from Indonesia. Additionally our personal padlock is missing. There is no doubt: The container has been opened somewhere along the route. We later figured out that it happened in Jakarta due to some customs reasons. When finally the container doors open, we look inside skeptically. But besides our broken padlock lying on the floor, at first sight we cannot see anything suspicious and are therefore just happy to be reunited with our “best friend” after six weeks separation. In this respect we are just very careful because it could happen that “our” container is reopened and used for other, may be dubious additional transports after our loading. It starts to rain. To open the side doors for inspection is impossible in this narrow box. But a short glimpse into the rear of our car is enough for Joanne to realize that in our case she is not competent enough to make a decision. She has never seen such a car with such content before and wants to talk first to her superior. Apologizing she admits however, that her boss is out of office at the moment. That was it then for today – maybe tomorrow?!
 
At lunch time next day, Dotty comes up with the good news that the customs release is signed and at the same time he tells us that he will be absent in the afternoon due to an emergency. He delegates Alfred, his assistant, to take care of us. Today, we have to deal with the quarantine. Alfred fetches the lady inspector. Yes, it is again a lady, and the four of us drive once more into the port to our container. And again it starts to rain and again the rain is on our side with the result that after taking a quick look of our really thoroughly washed car in Jakarta – still in its box – the inspector is happy. What we carry inside is of no interest to her. Important is that we pay the Kina 135 inspection fee (= US$ 48). Then finally, our LandCruiser is allowed to leave its cage, but we cannot drive away yet as merchandise is piled up all around. In no time, we are surrounded by port workers. Their enthusiasm is big when we add the Papua New Guinea sticker to our country list at the car sides. Then it is coffee break and everything gets to a still stand. Alfred from the agency does not want to wait any longer. He gives us the papers we have to hand over at the port exit and gone he is! Is there any reason for his sudden hurry?
 
It seems to be the case because at the port exit problems start to develop regarding our car’s content, with no one to assist us: Dotty is absent and his cellular phone is switched off. And Alfred ended in smoke. Did the two have a presentiment? Do we eventually have to bribe? While still puzzling what to do, there is a sudden change of mind. The barrier is lifted and we drive out of the port. We made it, what a joy! How officially we are in the country however, the future will show because we have no permit whatsoever in our hands allowing us to drive on PNG’s roads with our left-hand driven vehicle and our foreign license plates. What happens if we are stopped by the police and asked for? It would not be our first case. We experienced it in Japan with a positive outcome (because the Japanese do not look for problems), and just recently also in Tonga, where the police wanted to confiscate our LandCruiser and we were allowed only after a two weeks circulation ban to drive again. Let’s see how we will be able to save our neck here in PNG!
 
 
 
 
 
 
Visit of the “Rainforest Habitat“, 6miles outside of Lae – an area of about 1 sq mile of reconstructed rainforest
55  A Victoria Crowned Pigeon
(Goura victoria) – weighing up to
5.5 lb – nesting on a tree …..
 56  ..... Liliana admires the beautiful
bird of paradise (Raggiana Bird),
the symbol of PNG …..
57  ..... and one of the many
white butterflies fluttering around
 
The first drive in our new country is a short one: From the port to the Yacht Club where we celebrate with a couple of draft beers and a rich beef burger topped with ham, cheese, salad, tomatoes and beetroot the successful entry into our 167th country. We gaze out to the sea, enjoy the cool sea breeze and are completely happy! Suddenly a guy is coming straight to our table and presents us his business card. He turns out to be a journalist from the “National” newspaper. “Who is sending you”, we ask him and are really surprised that it is the customs that we left only a short time ago. Next day, when we drive through the badly potholed streets of Lae, the locals wave at us already enthusiastically, busses and trucks honk. The telephone rings: It is Joanne from the customs asking us about our well-being. Everybody seems to have read about our arrival. What a good feeling – what lovely people!
 
In Lae, also called “the pothole city” – a well deserved name! – we get stuck a bit longer than expected. The reason is for a change our good old LandCruiser. It has hardly left the container, when without warning the engine dies at full speed in the middle of the city, and not only once! Surprisingly, after a few minutes, we can re-start again. Nevertheless: The prospect to get stuck somewhere in the nowhere in a country where hold-ups by rascals (road bandits) occur frequently is not a good feeling. Not too long ago, we faced the same problem in Sumatra. There we replaced the contacts (points) and the condenser and since then it did not happen again. What might be the reason this time? Without delay we need to get to the heart of the trouble. At the parking lot of the Lutheran Guesthouse we work ourselves for hours through the incredible mess of cables and wires beneath the dashboard and after a long and painstaking search we finally find the cause: A loose and heat affected contact in the main power cable that runs to the amp-meter. To make our search more difficult, it was well wrapped with duct tape.
 
After the repair, we make the 6 miles test drive to the “Rainforest Habitat” – a reconstruction of a natural rainforest with a small lake and tropical plants, birds in a huge aviary and an attached mini-zoo. At 9.20am we are already at the entrance, having overlooked that the gate opens only at 10am. But we are in PNG – in the country of the unexpected. As soon as we settle down under a shady tree prepared to wait, two park employees come along bright-eyed. “We just opened the door for you, you may drive in”. It is another example of great helpfulness of this welcoming people who have a devastating reputation in the world that they do not deserve.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
58  A park ranger shows us a tame
green tree python (Morelia viridis) …..
 59  ….. a cute tree kangaroo
(Dendrolagus) with a two
months old baby in its poach
60  A lovely experience: Outside the
“Rainforest Habitat”, a local stops us and
joyfully presents us with an exotic bouquet of
flowers that he picked in his garden for us
 
Much time we spend at the covered bird house – it recalls the Edward Youde Park in Hong Kong – gazing into the high dark treetop to locate its residents. It needs a sharp eye to spot them in the dense foliage, except for the colorful parrots that draw their attention already with their rasping calls. Much easier to see are the proud Crowned Victoria Pigeon that flounce around fearlessly and flaunt their beautiful feathered comb. It is pure luck that we are also able to admire from very close one exemplar of the fascinating birds of paradise. Caught in the highlands it was sold this morning to the park, for how much we do not know. It is just feeding time. We hardly believe our eyes when the warden distributes the food bowls: Bits of pawpaw and other fruits are decoratively arranged alternatively in layers with white rice, and in the middle sticks a red ginger flower – according to the motto: “You eat with your eyes first!”. At the attached mini-zoo live cassowaries (a kind of Emu), birds of prey, tree kangaroos, opossum and “Argo” a 30-year inactive saltwater crocodile in a too small pond. Saltwater crocodiles can grow up to 23ft. and weigh 2’200 pounds.
 
On our way back to the city, a car stops. Its driver steps out and walks straight away towards us. He greets us with a heartfelt “Welcome to PNG” and shakes enthusiastically our hands. Shortly after, a man stands on the side of the road and waves gladly. Spontaneously we stop. He asks us to wait for a second and runs off – apparently to his garden. Because shortly afterwards he returns with a bouquet of exotic flowers. He especially picked them for us and hands them over to me. In addition, he decorates our LandCruiser with four beautiful Heliconia flowers. What a heart-warming gesture! Again and again we are mesmerized of the wonderful kindness of the people of PNG.
 
More websites from Papua New Guinea:
 
Articles in newspapers about us in Papua New Guinea:
Article: "26-year journey around the world", Daily Newspaper "The National" - August 20, 2010
Article: "Travelling the world none-stop for 26 years", Daily Newspaper "The National" - October 21, 2010