I rise early this morning because the three of us will have quite a distance to drive ahead back to Mount Hagen. That is Solomon, the driver and myself. I decided to hire the entire PMV for myself only, so that no other passengers can hail the vehicle. This has the advantage that I can tell the guys where and how long to stop without interfering other passengers.
Unfortunately, the spectacular Daulo Pass is completely covered with clouds so the view is zero. However as we drive on, the clouds make way for the first sparkles of the sun. This gives me few photo opportunities but it is never quite the same as the Daulo Pass which I could perfectly see yesterday when the PMV was fully loaded with passengers.
Soon we reach the border with Simbu province again, home to the famous skeleton people. They have the weird custom to paint their body entirely black first and draw some kinda skeleton over it. The meaning is to scare a rival tribe. I try to imagine a clash between the skeletons and the mud men, it must be a cruel sight by night. Here in Simbu, I decide to visit this rare people and on arrival I am awarded with a private performance for an audience existing of just one single Belgian visitor.
I paid 81 Kina for this show. I know, I might see these people performing at the Mount Hagen show later but it makes a difference here in the bushes, at their own environment. Apart from that, I did’nt came here with the idea to keep my wallet shut and missing things. I want to see as much as possible. I realize that I am very fortunate to be at this side of the world today.
Sometime half afternoon we leave the dusty roads and arrive in the crowded streets of Mount Hagen. On arrival at the Hotel Poroman where I should meet Kim, the owner of the Kumul Lodge, I bumped into Dean who I met earlier in Alotau and the Trobriand Islands. We discussed about the past week, exchanged some experiences over a dinner at the Poroman. The bar of the Poroman Hotel is decorated with authentic wood-carved masks from the Sepik region. Little later one less as I buy one of these nice artefacts. Later when I am again at the Kumul Lodge, I noticed that I forgot the mask in the Poroman Hotel back in Mount Hagen.
Today, I want to enjoy the fascinating areas and breathtaking scenery of the Highlands in Enga Province. Deep valleys, waterfalls and rapids are the order of the day as we drive with a hired 4x4 through the region. I thought I had a great deal for 50 Kina to hire this off-road vehicle complete with driver. First stop has little to do with the rough nature…or probably it does. Just downhill at the beginning of a hairpin curve, a heavy truck hangs against the the steep rocky wall, facing down. Immediately it is clearly visible that the driver must have a very good guardian angel. If the truck would not have been able to stop, a few meters further it would have fallen down literally dozens of meters. I estimate it about 50 meters lower. I talk to the driver who is sitting motionless on the side of the road, staring at his truck. I understood that he experienced a break failure and that he could only manage to stop by sliding against the mountain wall. His truck finally stood still just a few meters before the edge.
Our next stop is less spectacular but more photogenic. We make a stop at a beautiful waterfall which is a bit hard to reach without the help of a local farmer who is kind enough to guide me through the high grasses. After to have crossed a small rapid, we reach the refreshing pool at the foot of this huge natural shower. It is a unique moment. The fresh air combined with this amazing environment touches my senses. It reminds me of someone who should be here with me to share this beautiful moments. Apart from the local farmer, there’s not a single human in the widely area to be heard or seen. Incredible !
Back on the road again I spotted a group of youngsters playing in the rapids of a river down at the valley floor. They are busy moving stones and boulders which are not too heavy to handle. I ask myself why they are doing this and request the driver to stop so I can get a closer look and check it out. The young boys, who are clearly not used to have a foreigner in their village are wild enthusiastic when I approach them and show my interest in their doing. A teenager explains me that they are moving the rocks to make the water flow into small creeks in a matter that the fish have no other choice then follow the water stream into a shallow bottleneck. This way makes the fishermen easier to catch them bare handed. No tools of whatsoever are being used. I ask them when they will start fishing. “After about another 3 hours or so” is the answer. “Ok, I’ll be back” is my reply. The entire crowd want nothing else then being pictured and are literally fighting to be in front of my lens. (see PNG video) Little later at 2pm I return to my appointment to witness the free spectacle in a equally so spectacular natural setting. The fishing has been started already. An estimated hundred boys and men are continuously disappearing underneath the water surface to catch the fish. It is an amazing sight from the hillside above. It is clearly not their first time while fish after fish are being brought up above.
A mum and daughter wants absolutely have their picture taken. When I showed them the result on the display of the digital camera, there’s no way of stopping anymore. Good that I have a big memory card which allows me to take unlimited photo’s.
Back at the Kumul Lodge, I comfort myself in the lounge near the cozy open fire with a beer. Here in the Highlands, temperature can really drop significantly once the sun is down. All of a sudden, I spot a remarkable beautiful bird outside with a long white tail. In this region, there are bunches of the most amazing birds to be seen, hence the popularity with ornithologists. Of course the Bird of Paradise being the most rewarded. During dinner, I meet an interesting crew of MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) at the table. Among them, the chief executive and a young pilot. MAF flies to the most remote corners of the country, there where hardly a tourist gets. They often land on a strip of grass or sand. Nothing more, nothing less. Great stories are told and I would immediately change my job with theirs. Meanwhile…, who comes inside the dining room ? Jo-Ann, who I had met the first days at the Butia Lodge in the Trobriand Islands. Papua New Guinea might geographically be such a big country, it seems to be a small world. I empty a few more Stubbies (local brew) and find my way to the naturally built bungalow to spend the night.
Today, another highlight of this entire trip is scheduled. The annual Mt Hagen Cultural show takes place the third weekend of august. It starts today. Therefore I decided to check in at Hotel Poroman once again. Normally this venue is long in advance fully booked but fortunately for me, thanks to the elections, several guests had cancelled their bookings. Rumours went that their could be some post-election conflicts in the region. Apart from the one incident during a road block here in Mt Hagen, I had never heard or experienced any inconvenience.
My forgotten wood carving is waiting for its owner behind the reception of the Hotel. Thanks a lot guys.
As expected, the Mount Hagen show exists of a colourful motley crew of Sing Sing groups from all corners of the country. As a foreign visitor, you have to pay 300 Kina to get in which is overpriced compared to what locals are paying. But it still is worth every penny. Clans from the Western Highlands, Simbu Province, Eastern Highlands, Enga Provence and several more are all coming this way to show their elaborate costumes and outfits. Again, I bumped into Dean on the show grounds of Mount Hagen but also Solomon, my private guide in Goroka and Mount Hagen is here. At about 2.30pm the show is getting to an end and I return happy, loaded with the most spectacular pictures on my memory card, back to the Poroman Hotel.
Who do I meet back at the hotel ? Andrea and Marco, 2 teachers from Germany who I had briefly met back at the Butia Lodge 2 weeks ago in the Trobriand Islands. Travellers seems to meet one another easy again this side of the planet. We have a few beers at the bar while we are exchanging past travel stories. That night, at about 3.20am, everyone was woken up by an earthquake, except myself.
The flight to Port Moresby with Air Niugini proceeds as scheduled, even right on time. That is not very common around this time during the Hagen Show. Flights can get serious delays or even cancelled right now during the busiest time of the year. Once in Port Moresby, I had decided to spoil myself and booked a premium room at the luxurious Lamana Hotel. This hotel houses the most popular nightclub in town, “The Gold Club” and I thought it to be a great idea to have a night out in Papua New Guinea.
According the Lonely Planet Guide, chances are quite high that you end up dancing with the Prime Minister’s daughter or another local celebrity. It is Sunday today which means that my expectations are not too high. It is only afternoon yet, so time left for some local sightseeing despite that I heard that Port Moresby has not much interesting in terms of sightseeing.
Solomon had given me his brother’s telephone number. He lives in Port Moresby and can get you around by his car for a price. I called him. Some 30 minutes later, a man with a “Fidel Castro” stylish beard, his face hiding behind a big pair of dark sunglasses walked barefoot inside the lobby. “I’m Daniël Wakra, brother of Solomon” he introduced himself politely.
In the car, another two “Middle East look-a-likes” are waiting. Together with the three fella’s I’m off for a so called city tour. First stop, Koki market where turtle meat is waiting to be consumed. It is displayed under a strong sun on a dirty wooden plank. Further, we make a stop at the Parliament with its impressive front. It was officially opened by the Prince of Wales back in 1984.
With some effort the car made it to the top of Paga Hill from where you’ll have a panoramic view of the city. But the highlight of the city tour is undoubtedly Hanuabada Village, a settlement built on stilts above the water of the ocean. De slums are completely lacking any privacy. Everyone has previously warned me that this is a no-go zone because of the extremely high level of crime factor. Port Moresby is known as the most dangerous city on earth while the concentrations of “Raskols” (local language for Bandits) resides here at Hanuabada Village. So, I want to go there to check out how much this is true. I have to admit that I feel alright with Daniël at my side. The two others are waiting inside the car while we wander around between the slums. I have to be careful walking the planks with gaping holes between them but I feel never any danger and local kids are frolicking around me, requesting to have their picture taken. When I do so and showing the result on the display of the digital device, just as the kids in the Trobriands and the Highlands, they are very enthusiastic and follow me every step I take.
They all look very happy in their way of life. I meet some elderly people as well who are kindly inviting me to return to their village tonight because there’s a Motu ceremony. I would like to go but I don’t know if that would be a good idea in the darkness. Back in my hotel, I told the hotel staff of my plan to go to the Motu ceremony and all of them are warning me not to go. So, I decided to stay on the hotel grounds, better safe then sorry I am saying to myself.
My PNG adventure is coming to an end. It has been a trip filled with obstacles and minor problems. First at the Trobriands, the Mila Malaa festival was cancelled on arrival, then it was not possible to organise any day trip at either Goroka or Mount Hagen and on top of this, I think that I have an infection between two of my toes after I went swimming at Kaibola beach. It is painful since about two weeks and it start to get reddish.
Anyway, tomorrow I have a booking to go Whale Watching in Brisbane when I am back in Australia. After two missed opportunities, once in Patagonia back in 1992 because I was there at the wrong time and last year during a cruise on the Indian Ocean when in fact a whale showed up while I was taking a nap outside on sundeck. Someone then screamed “Whales, Whales !” When I reached up, all what was left on the surface was a blue circle where the whale just had disappeared in the deep again.
This time, the organising operator gave 100% sightings guarantees. If not, money back was their policy. So I was all excited for tomorrow when I finally could see these biggest mammals of the deep ocean.
This morning, after I packed my stuff, loaded my camera’s inside the daypack, I venture outside to wait for the van to be picked up by the tour company. It started to rain. I wished the weather Gods to a place where the sun never shines but brave as I am, I keep waiting at the Hotel lobby of the Mercure for the pick up transfer to the pier.
Another 30 minutes after my appointment I start to get nervous and request the hotel concierge to give a call to the company. You can guess what I heard ? Tour cancelled !! The weather forecast was really too bad for boats to get at sea. My next trip is planned for the dry Omo Valley of Ethiopia. I estimate the chances very little to spot any whales there in Africa neither. I ask myself what else can go wrong at this trip. Not much anymore probably because tomorrow I’m leaving back to Singapore. Anyway, I am looking forward for my next destination which is coming up after tommorow. Another night in Singapore and I’ll be heading to my all time favourite place on earth… Phuket.
It had been a very moving trip. PNG definitely has not stolen its nickname “The Land of the Unexpected” because that is exactly what it is. Despite this, I would go back in a minute.
It has an enormous tourist potential in it. But there’s a lot of work to do still to increase services for its visitors…. Till next trip…