Lovely park in what is supposedly one of the prettiest cities in PNG...
...which unfortunately looks mostly like this. I gather there aren't many pretty cities here.
At 3 am we got a knock on the door that scared the crap out of me. Every time lightning would flash it would light up our front porch window. I kept thinking back to all the horror movies I’d seen when the silhouette of a guy holding an ax above his head showed up during lighting flashes. It was the security guard giving us a wakeup call we didn’t order. No big deal, it’s not like I’d slept. My imagination had run wild with horror movie images, witches being hacked up, and zombies with chunks of skin falling off…. I needed a “that is just special effects for movies not real life” talk from my dad like he used to give me when I was young and had nightmares. Oh wait, the hacking people up was real. Crap!
James left and I got up and got dressed, turned the tv on to distract me and crawled back into bed. If anything happened I wanted to be dressed and ready to RUN! He came back about an hour later and we both returned in the dark to the airport. I can’t say I wasn’t happy to be leaving Wewak.
We had a reservation at the Madang Lodge and had emailed them our flight information for the free pick up. We didn’t have a chance to check our emails for confirmation so when we landed in the rain I had my fingers crossed. Sure enough a van pulled up and a guy with a huge umbrella got out. Nice! We checked into a budget room (they have about 5 different levels all the way up to condo type accommodation) and were shown to one of the cleanest rooms I’ve stayed in. It was a bit old but spotless. We had shared bathrooms that had hot water and were also spotless. We both showered and climbed into bed for a nap. I slept sound…feeling safe and clean for the first time since arriving in PNG.
Around noon we got up and decided to take a walk. Madang is known as the resort area in PNG and was safe to walk during the day. Safe during the day? Yeah, we are quickly realizing PNG is not as safe as we thought/read/hoped. Our walk took us past the golf course, a few guest houses I peeked at, the dive shop where we booked for the next day and to the downtown area. We also went to the Air Niugini office.
Even without dolphins, not a bad way to cool down.
We had sat down and had a long hard talk about PNG. It was crazy expensive, so we decided to make a list of what we really, really wanted to see and skip the “would like to” places. It would cut our time in half and make it easier to spend the cash on the important stuff. We cut the island hopping from main land PNG to the Solomon Islands where we were going to make a detour via Fiji to Hong Kong. It’s surprisingly affordable to do Solomon Islands to Fiji to Hong Kong. The island hopping was supposed to take a week or two but be cheaper than flying around. When we started to look at it in detail we realized that the boats might be cheaper than flying but if the schedules didn’t work or the boat was delayed or canceled we’d be stuck on islands paying almost $100 a night for a crappy hotel. In the end it could cost $1000’s of dollars. We still wanted to go via Solomon Islands and Fiji but the flight out of PNG (Port Moresby) to Solomon Islands was the same price as a direct ticket to Hong Kong. Hong Kong was the cheapest flight to any hub and conveniently close to and had cheap flights to our next destination, Philippines. I’m good at persuading James but that one was a no win argument. Fiji was out. We booked flights to New Britain, PNG and then our flights to Hong Kong. We just hoped we’d left enough time to see PNG.
Unless you book a crazy expensive tour (roughly $3000-$6000 /person for a 7-10 day tour), have the cash to fly everywhere or don’t care much for your own personal safety it could takes weeks to get around. A great example (and one that made me laugh) was in a PNG tourism book. Visit Wasi Falls. Fly to Mendi from Port Moresby (1 day, 1 overnight). Take local transport to Inuo (I day, likely 1 overnight). From Inuo make your way to Lake Kutubu (1/2 day, likely 1 overnight). You will find Wasi Falls at the eastern end of the lake (a day trip, then 1 overnight in the Lake Kutubu area). To get back – do in reverse. So 5-6 days, if you make all your connections and the roads aren’t washed out to do storms, to see a waterfall. The crazy thing is that almost all the major attractions are days away from each other and have similar directions. Other than Madang, we had 4 things/areas on the list and almost 4 weeks to do it. We cheated by adding three (more) flights. Cross your fingers…I seem to be doing a lot of that lately.
Our walk around Madang reminded me of Pembroke, or the area where we used to cottage when I was a kid. Most of the houses were on short concrete legs, made of wood with slat windows and had breezy wrap around porches. Most of them were neatly painted with trim neat yards full of gardens, plants and flowering bushes. The only thing that stood out was the high fences topped with barb wire and all the widows were covered with iron bars. But it had a cottage feel to it. There were a few ponds scattered through town and small row boats were pulled up to the grassy banks or gently gliding through the water. People hung out around the edges in groups cooking over fires, chatting and some were even swimming. Kids ran around, played volleyball and giggled and waved when we walked by. It was all very peaceful and it was hard to imagine these same people hacking each other up with machetes.
We finished up the day with a trip to the grocery store. We stocked up on anything that didn’t need to be cooked or boiled… bread, peanut butter, cookies and apples. It was going to be a long 4 weeks of eating pb sandwiches; good thing I like them. I was by now in the midst of a caffeine withdrawal. When we left Jayapura I hadn’t quite finished my delicious cup of coffee (Indonesia has a coffee stick similar to the ones in Korea) and I was day dreaming about it. That half cup was the last I’d had in three days. Anyone go from 2-4 cups a day to none? Cold turkey? At our hotel it wasn’t even on the menu and there were no cute little cafes in dusty downtown Madang. I had instant coffee with me but no kettle. Now would be a great time to just give it up.
We caught a PMV back to our hotel and again were surprised that they charged us exactly what everyone else was charged. There didn’t seem to be a “tourist” rate. PNG might be expensive, but the prices were the prices no matter who you were. There was also no bartering that we could see and I was relieved. I’m not very good at it and don’t care for it.
At the hotel we headed for a swim. The pool had an amazing view of the ocean and a guy swimming said everyday around this time a pod of dolphins swam by. I hung out in the pool waiting but they didn’t go by today or we missed them. The very nice man also told us a bit about New Britain where we were going in a few weeks. His wife was an eye surgeon who had worked there for 3 months and was now working in Madang. On the way back to our room we met up with the Dutch guy we were diving with the next day and arranged to share a ride in the morning. Then we showered and crawled into bed. We were still pretty tired from the last few days of travel.
It is humbling to think that about 65 years ago someone sat right where I am, and likely pooped himself as he fell from the sky. He did survive being shot down...only to be killed when he was found on the island he swam to.
We met the guy from Holland in the lobby the next day and the hotel drove us to the dive shop. Arnet was a doctor working in PNG through a sub-contractor with EXXON and on a short vacation. We grabbed weight belts and our gear and headed to the boat with our local guide. He took us to Barracuda Point (does every dive destination have a Barracuda Point?) and B25 Mitchell aircraft wreck. At Barracuda point we did see 4 barracuda but not much else. There were a few fish swimming around but the coral was dead and visibility was comparable to the St. Lawrence River. The guide was frustrating but was obviously trying very hard to please. He banged on his tank all the time pointing out anything from an Angel fish to a bumphead parrot fish way off in the blue…or maybe two feet, it was hard to tell. Once when I was showing James a giant nudibranch I felt a tap on my shoulder and the guide had a second one in his hand. Oh no…please put him down...is what I wanted to say. But with all his efforts he was a messy diver and kicked, stood on and broke coral for the entire dive. The B25 Mitchell was pretty cool. A coral encrusted war plane with 11 guns, a few you could still make out. The guide helped us to get inside the cockpit and James took our picture. Overall the diving was average but I wouldn’t go out of my way to do it. Maybe if you are in the area and have a free day.
Skimming over the downed bomber
(Click on picture for link to videos, appx. 4.6 MB)
After the dive we all caught a PMV back to the hotel, had a swim and a nap and I broke down and asked the restaurant for a cup of boiling water. My caffeine withdrawal headache was killing me. How very, very sad. Later we met Arnet for pizza and beer in our hotel’s sea side restaurant. It turned out to be a great visit. He has traveled all over, Congo, Caribbean, USA, Canada etc, working as a doctor and had some great travel tales. It’s also just nice to talk to someone other than James every now and then.
Balek wildlife sanctuary. All of it.
With not much left to do in Madang we slept in and talked with the hotel staff about getting to Tari the next day. We’d have to go to Mount Hagan (usually just called Hagan) and spend a night then continue on. We read we could take and overnight bus but the hotel said it wasn’t safe. They advised us to take a day bus, not a PMV, a bus. Okay…
Eventually we left the hotel looking for a PMV to take us to the Balek Wildlife Sanctuary and Bibil Village. The Balek Wildlife Sanctuary was where scenes from the 1996 production of Robinson Crusoe with Pierce Brosnan were shot and was described as having caves, limestone cliffs and a sulphur creek. We were unsure of which PMV so stopped at the tourist information centre and asked. Then stood out front waiting for the right one. Across the road were huge trees filled with the same giant fruit bats, similar to the ones we saw in Raja Ampat. In fact the whole city is full of them and you can hear them screeching all the time. Gross. I think they are fruit eaters and was a bit concerned they would swoop in and try to grab the apple I was eating.
Our PMV came before that happened. We were supposed to get dropped off at a market and walk the last few minutes to the park but when the driver found out where we were going he just drove us. Two young girls and a small boy were at the park entrance to collect the fee and guide us. So we paid and entered. We were a little disappointed. The park was about 8 football fields in size and had a very tiny cave, more an opening in the limestone, and a few bushes. James did get to see an eel swim by so he said he was happy. At $5 each I could have skipped it. Back at the road, 10 minutes later, we decided to hail a PMV. The girls decided to help. A pickup truck with a bunch of young guys stopped and offered us a ride and the girls said no. Then turned to us and said to never get into a truck with all guys. They will likely be drunk and get in an accident or attack or rob you. Hmmmm…. Finally a PMV came by and the girls approved so we jumped in. A very friendly guy was sitting next to me and invited us to his house. If I’m not supposed to get in a truck with young guys I should probably not go to a stranger’s house, so I made up a believable excuse. The PMV dropped us at the road into Bibil Village. It was a pleasant walk past a few houses and the usual naked waving kids. I did get a bit worried when two giggling like they were high teenage boys popped out of the bushes in front of us. One was carrying a very long machete and both were acting goofy. A few minutes later, with the two scary teens behind still walking behind us, we came across an old man who stopped us. He was the village chief and could take us to see the pottery the village was known for and arrange a demonstration of how they make it. He also chatted with us about the village and area. He was chief of 5000 people and was (felt?) responsible. When we met him he was heading into town to visit a “youth” in jail. He also said we shouldn’t be walking alone and he would wait and arrange a PMV. How many safety warnings was that today?
The women showed us their pottery and how it was made. I was impressed. They somehow managed to use their hands like a wheel then with stones and sticks shape the pots. It was a short demonstration but interesting. After they were done we apologized for not being able to buy anything, there is no way we could get it home without it breaking. Then the chief walked us to a pickup truck and we headed back to town. He chatted about the troubled youths (Raskols) and how he tried to help them. It was sad really. With no jobs, or anything really to do, how do you keep young people out of trouble, not to mention once they’ve finished school. Then what? Seems to be a worldwide problem.
Close to town we passed a market that was almost empty. The chief explained it was closed because a few days ago a drunken “youth” hacked up a lady there. All right already with the hacking people up with a machete stories, they are freaking me out! The chief dropped us downtown a few blocks from the market that I wanted to visit. Before we got out though he gave us a warning to never get into a PMV with all young men, they are likely to attack and rob you. I’d heard that somewhere before.
The safer alternative?
The market was very interesting. It was the usual combination of clothing, fruit & veggies, fish and also had hand knitted purses, bead & shell necklaces and bags made from recycled plastic bags. Everything in the market was very cheap and we stocked up on fruit & veggies for our two days on the road and I bought bags and bead & shell necklaces. I was eyeing up the crocodile tooth necklaces but James talked me out of it. Ewwww! In the market a lady walked up and told us to watch our watches and pockets. There were people in the market that would be trying to steal from us. Okay, wait a minute. It wasn’t noon yet and we’d had five personal safety warnings. FIVE! Every time we turned around someone was telling us to be careful or not do something. I was getting a little freaked out. Pockets still full and watches still on we caught a PMV back to our hotel.
We had a nice swim and splurged on internet. We had a few flights to book still, some research to do and a bunch of emails for the next leg of our journey. We also called B&J and Chris hoping to get them going for Christmas plans. James and I also talked about our flight home in April. Wow! Already? Time is flying by and I can’t believe we are talking about going home. We picked a date, three days before James needs to be back at work. I suggested two but he didn’t budge on three. Wuss! Maybe we’ll get lucky and he’ll get sent overseas before April.