skull Stop flicking that at me! skull
skull Goroka, Papua New Guinea skull

Does this look a little small?

November 7

I woke with a sense of dread. Not only did we have to repeat the PMV ride through rough, slippery roads but we were heading back to Mount Hagan. There was no way to avoid an overnight there. The hotel manager said we could fly there and try to find a PMV or flight to Goroka but it was a maybe. An expensive maybe. We had booked two seats on a small PMV through Steve the day before and the driver was supposed to call us when it was close to the Lodge. PMV’s and buses go when full and the chances of him turning away passengers so we could get on was slim, for all he knew we’d change our minds. It also never occurred to me that the useless (as James called him) assistant manager told the manager we were flying. When he gave us the prices we very clearly said no thanks. The bus driver, who was sleeping in his bus at our front gate, checked in to make sure we were still going the manager told him no, we were flying. Is it getting confusing yet? So the bus drove by without us. The manger had told two of his staff to tell the bus we were going…but when we got to the gate they were gone and the bus had gone by. Crap. So we stood and waited, and waited, and waited. All the buses leave from Tari, 45 minutes away, and leave when full. So everything that went past was full. Crap! After about two hours of waiting at the gate (with a man with an axe instead of a machete) we gave up. We’d have to fly. We couldn’t afford another night here and we (James) wanted to move on. I think the manager felt bad about the mess because he gave us a small discount on the flight (the resort has its own landing strip and plane that carts clients around the country). So I sat my butt down beside the fire and blogged. A few hours later the manager came to tell us that last night there had been a tribal dispute about 2 hours down the road. They had closed the road and weren’t letting anyone through. Meaning – if we had of caught that bus we’d be sitting in traffic lined up to a closed road. A closed road full of angry tribesmen. The bus was turning around and coming back (who knows when the road will open again) and we’d be right where we are now…except with no flight. We wouldn’t have made it back in time to catch it. Hmmm…


The resort, that had been pretty quiet for our stay, was expecting a group of birders on the incoming flight. Maybe it was a good thing we were leaving, James was already cracking jokes. By 2:30 we were driving to the dirt landing strip to meet the very tiny plane. After all the birders exited we climbed in with a pilot older than time. Thankfully the plane was a newer model of a PAC750 from New Zealand. A few minutes later we were bouncing (the dirt runway had a few pot holes) down the runway. We skipped a few times and lifted up – into the trees practically. I think they cut it a bit close and could trim them back a bit. It was a bit nerve racking. Once I settled in, and let go of my death grip on James’ hand, the ride was wonderful. It was one of those things that we would never pay to do but would love to do, and had to do today! We spent a bit of time in the clouds but for most of the ride we got an aerial view of the stunning mountains and valleys of PNG Highlands. We landed in Mount Hagan in half the time it took us to circle the parking lot the other day in Madang, and we were shown into a private waiting room. I could get use to this. We were offered tea or coffee while we waited for the hotel to pick us up.

We checked back into the Poroman Hotel and booked our “escort” for the next day. James is still not convinced we can’t walk the three blocks to the catch a PMV but I don’t care. It’s free, it’s safe and I don’t want to take any chances. We then hit the bar, or rather restaurant but ordered beer. I think a few beers will help me sleep here.

Mound Gardening

November 8

We met our escort at 8 am and he drove us the three blocks to catch a PMV. We then did the circle thing for about an hour (as James says, for only about an hour, only??). It was gross though because it kept passing the small dump that was cooking in the hot sun. So gross! The ride was a blur, beautiful, but a blur. After 6 or so hours we pulled into Goroka. The PMV dropped us off and the man sitting next to James insisted on walking us to our hotel. He said it was safe enough for us but he’d take us. See friendly! The Lodge had made a reservation for us at the Bird Of Paradise way too expensive Hotel but when we got there they said they didn’t have it. They only had an apartment – way way too expensive. After a few words (by James) they decided to check us into a standard room and if the other guest showed (?) they’d upgrade them. Okay. So we checked in…or tried to. The room we tried to get into had a sleeping man in it. This is common occurrence. James has done this, or similar, four times on this trip alone. We found our own room and dropped our bags and went in search of the internet. We didn’t find any working. I guess it really only works in the mornings (?). So we went and booked a tour. I had wanted a stop in Goroka to see the Mud Men and the only way to do it was on a very expensive tour. Then I headed to our room, showered and climbed under the covers to hide. Our room had a balcony that faced the street. Normally I’d get all excited and sit with a beer and watch the city; but not here. My imagination was going wild with all the horrible things that could come through that patio door. I think I’ve made the leap from scaredy cat to coward. “sigh”

November 9

Cozy house in the valley.

The tour company we booked with was run by a cute lady from Tokyo who asked if we’d translate a few lines of a travel video of her friend after our tour. Sure! Dave was our guide and Mike, who had voice like butterscotch, was our driver. They were both big, good looking guys. Actually I noticed there are a lot of really good looking, fit guys in this country; except they all chew betel nut and have red rotten teeth. Such a shame. Our first stop was supposed to be up in the mountains (where we’d come from the day before) but it was overcast. The boys stopped just below the clouds and we were still treated to an amazing view. On the way we passed parts of the road that looked thinner than the rest and at one part a huge (20 feet wide and at least that deep) hole. This road, all the way to Tari, is dangerous because of the land slides. A few months ago they had a big one that had the road closed for almost two months. This meant everything (especially the betel nut which is grown along the coast) had to be carried over the landslide. Fit entrepreneurs made some cash carrying bags of goods back and forth (booze and betel nut one way, weed the other…maybe some medicine and food if there is some spare time).

Passion Fruit Blossom

After our viewing stop we headed back down the mountain and turned down a very bumpy, wet road that had Mike doing fish tails in. Again we were told the road is often closed due to bad weather and mud slides so most locals just walk it. After a few minutes we pulled down a smaller dirt road. We were at Gere Miake Village in an area called the Manado Valley. A lady came to join us, the village representative, and she showed us around. It was bigger than the little village we visited the other day and had more than one family on it, about 300 people in total. She was very proud to show us her garden that was surrounded by fruit trees. She gave me a garden hint; leave a few water bottles of water in your garden and dogs won’t go in. She says they see themselves in the bottles and are afraid. I was also shown a yellow daisy like flower that she says cures breast cancer. Wonder if anyone is looking into that and I’m going to look it up if I ever have access to internet again. We saw where some old huts stood, the owners have moved further into the bush or closer to the road. In this area of PNG husbands and wives live together in the same hut. If the man is wealthy enough (not necessarily money, it could be land or pigs) he can have more than one wife. The new wife gets her own hut.

From scary to innocent.

We eventually came to a clearing and invited to sit down on a rough log bench. We were early and the Mud Men weren’t ready for us. A few villagers joined us for the show. Once a year Goroka goes all out and the Gorkoa Show is held, like a big Mud Man festival, and the city is packed with tourists and people from all over PNG. The rest of the year they do about 1 show a week. A few minutes later a man covered in grey mud, wearing a very tiny banana leaf thong (yes James turned and mumbled “banana hammock”) and a very scary clay mask (more a hood). He was alone, carrying a bow and arrow and was re-enacting what a scout would have done years ago. He quietly creeped towards us and set about starting a fire. His fire starter skills would have kept him on Survivor indefinitely; it only took a one try and about a minute. He then threw the burning banana leaf on a pile of grass that created a smoke signal. He was calling in for reinforcements.

The storey is that many, many, many years ago people in the Mando Valley kept being robbed by highland tribes that would come in and steal their food and ransack and burn their villages. They decided to fight back – or scare back the evil highlanders. They dressed up like ghosts or spirits, in grey/white clay and scary big white masks and moved very slow flicking flies away with twigs (I’m not sure why ghosts and spirits swat flies with the twigs). Their enemies were terrified and ran away never to come back again. This story was then told, and taught, to each generation by re-enacting this ritual; just like we were seeing today. The other mud men came slowly towards us, flicking the flies with twigs and waving clubs. It actually was spooky. They, ghost like, moved around the clearing for a few minutes sometimes pretending to hit us and getting right in our faces. Creepy.

Mud Men performance...and an actual banana hammock Hahahaha

At the end of the dance we were invited to try the masks on. We both politely refused. First of all it was creepy, second they were dripping with sweat and…they weighed almost 10+ kilos each. I didn’t want to embarrass myself, fall over from the weight and crack this poor boys mask or have my neck snap. The men who performed for us we aged from 11 to 23years old. It had been taught by their fathers and brothers before them. They all had made their own masks and would keep it for life. They only make other masks if they wanted to sell it (about $100+ CAD /mask). It was very interesting.

Some of the weird flicking
(Click on picture for link to videos, appx. 20MB)

The lunch pit and adorable lunch dates.

After the show we had a great treat; one of the tastiest meals we have had in weeks. Before we arrived they had dug a hole and started a fire in it. The layered it with palm leaves, chicken, sweet potatoes, cabbages and bananas then covered that with fern leaves, pumpkin leaves and banana leaves. Then a few more layers of palm leaves. A few holes were made and water was poured in. Then it simmered for about 30 minutes. I’ll admit I was a bit worried. Both of us have already been “sick” since getting to PNG and we’ve barely eaten anything and now we were about to eat from a hole in the ground. Our friendly host dug through the layers and the smell had my stomach had my belly rumbling. It did smell yummy. She added all the goodies to a table laid with fresh fruit and cold water. I was dying for some fruit and veggies so loaded up on those and only took a small piece of chicken. I knew that I was paying quite a bit for the tour but had seen the price of chicken ($20-$40 CAD each) so left it for the villagers who were obviously waiting for us to finish before they dug in. It was delicious (my mouth waters writing about it) had no “side effects”. While we ate two cute kids were munching away on sweet potatoes while holding a very active cat. The left over leaves in the pit were collected and later would be fed to the pigs. They really take care of those freaking pigs; Dave explained that until recently it was not uncommon for a pig owner to breast feed it if something happens to the mother pig. Yeesh!

Market, a little too close to the dump for my liking, but not the pigs.

Bellies full we thanked everyone and walked back to the car. We had booked a tour of Goroka for this afternoon, we likely could have done it on our own but I was still a little (lot) freaked out and preferred the company. Goroka shares its border with 5 different districts making it a main commercial hub in the Highlands. Our first stop was the market and this was evident here. Betel nut and coconuts from the coast were for sale as was fresh produce from further up in the highlands. Along the way to the market we saw bags of coffee beans that had been transported here to be sold and then shipped to Lae and waiting ships. Coffee production was introduced here by the Germans (who were longing for Eurpoean comforts) after World War II and quickly became one of the financial mainstays for PNG. I was excited to be in an area that boasts some of the best coffee in the world…but do you think I could find a cup of it? Nope. They don’t have coffee shops and most restaurants and snack bars don’t even sell coffee. Dave explained they all drink Nescafe instant! I told him if and when tourist start coming he could make a fortune off people like me…looking for a decent cup of coffee.

Sorting beans by hand.

At the market we just wandered around a bit. I bought pink nail polish and bubble gum – and felt like I was a teenager at the mall. The rain that had been threating all day finally started so we jumped back in the car and headed to the coffee factory. Where I thought maybe, just maybe I could get a cup’a Joe. We passed about a dozen or so coffee factories before we got to ours and they all seemed the same size and had the same set up. At ours we walked past almost 30 ladies sorting beans. They were supposedly doing it by hand because the machine was broken. I think it was because human labour costs less than the power to run the factory. Inside the building we got a peek at the roaster, sorter, and grinder and I got a smell of fresh ground beans. But no coffee…no power to work the coffee machine. Crap! I tried to get the guy showing us around to fill my pockets with the fresh ground Blue Mountain roast … but he wouldn’t. He pointed me to a table of bags for sale. We knew there was Goroka coffee at the airport so I promised James I’d wait. We (he) didn’t want to carry 10 bags around PNG. Make sure to hit me up for a bag when I get home!

Goroka University

The next stop was the Goroka University. I was curious why it was on the itinerary when we pulled up. It was two main buildings (the library & auditorium/theatre) and a bunch of smaller buildings scattered around it. What I soon found out it was only one of three Universities in all of PNG and had the biggest library in the South Pacific (according to Dave). Although he and never gone, he was very proud of it. We went and checked out the auditorium/theatre that was an impressive building but only sat about 500 people; the school averaged about 1000 students. The library was a modern building built on a hill overlooking the town of Goroka and had beautiful art work spread throughout. The only thing missing…books. Most of the shelves were empty. While I visited the loo James took a peek at the engineering section. James went to U of Toronto, one of the biggest universities in the world that had a main library of 14 floors full of books and a whole separate library just for the engineering students. The Goroka Library, the biggest in the South Pacific, had 1 shelf of engineering books that included such titles as “A Homeowners Guide to Power Tools”. I think he was feeling quite fortunate.

Our tour was over so we returned to the tour office and James helped the owner make out a few lines on a travel video while I browsed the souvenirs. I, of course, found something I liked and the owner insisted I take it in exchange for the help. So nothing has changed…James does all the work and I get the rewards! We ended up back in our hotel room for the night. It was too rainy to swim and I was too afraid to wander the streets alone, so yet again James went for a walk by himself.

November 10

Bright & Virbant colors to match their personalities.

We had a bit of a scare this morning. Last night when we got back from our tour our key didn’t work and our door had been left unlocked; we thought maybe the cleaning lady had done it by mistake. We checked our room and nothing was missing or out of place. We got our key fixed and didn’t think much of it. This morning when we woke up our door had been opened WHILE we slept. Luckily we had the chain on (Huge travel hint!) so whoever it was gave up and left us alone…but what would have happened if we hadn’t? You hear stories about maids and hotel staff who come in when you sleep, or are sleeping off a big drunk, and steal from you but I doubt they are carrying MACHETES! We aren’t sure if the two are related but I am very happy to be checking out. I’ve had enough of the Highlands.

The hotel dropped us off at the PMV area for Madang. We were a few days early finishing this leg of the trip but would rather spend it at the much cheaper and safer Madang Lodge. We jumped in a PMV and started the circling. UGH! We have traveled on so many local busses that we know firsthand there is a more efficient way of doing this. As we circled we passed 4 or 5 other PMV’s all calling for Madang. A few people would jump from ours and into another and some from others into ours. We weren’t sure what the proper etiquette was (or if we did it wrong if it the punishment would involve machetes) so stayed put – for 2.5 hours. The trip to Madang was only about 6 hours! We finally started off…to the gas station…then to the chip shop and grocery store. OMFG! We were IN a market circling for 2.5 hours! We also stopped for a washroom break pretty early on. I was dying to go and followed all the ladies down the path. As usual I was trying to go deep enough into the bush not to flash my white ass to the bus but not too far that a Raskol would come and rob or rape me and for the third time while riding PMV’s in the Highlands…stepped in human poo. Fu*K! The grass is long and you have to kinda wade through and you can’t really see where you are stepping until you’ve stepped. Fu*K! I tried to get as much off as I could and went to get back on the bus. The driver’s helper stopped me and sent me back to clean my shoes a bit more. He said I might smell up the bus. Really?!? A bus full of people who don’t wear deodorant, chew and spit betel nut into coke bottles and then shut all the windows during dusty parts…and I might smell up the bus? I had to turn my head to hide my laugh. James also had to hide his laugh – or get a punch in the face from me.

Lucky snapshot from our PMV window.

And what did we see on our ride today? PNG really is turning out to be a new and interesting place. As I said a few days ago we don’t really get culture shock but we do sometimes get shocked. PNG is shocking. A few interesting things I didn’t get pictures of (the PMV guy wouldn’t stop)…A soccer field full of young boys dressed to play soccer but busy cutting the grass with machetes first. A naked little three year old (I’d guess) boy piggy backing a naked 2 year old (I’d guess) boy on the side of the main highway all alone; no adult or town within miles.

We stopped at a police check and for the first time was asked to get out, normally they let us stay in. One of the cops started to chat with us while the others searched the PMV. We took this opportunity to ask what they were searching for. They were checking that both the driver and helper had driver licenses (our helper did not), that the van was in good working order and every person had a seat. PNG was pretty strict about over filling vans and busses. They were also checking for marijuana, the bad drug that causes people to lose their mind and go crazy – according to the cop. I am also pleased to announce I did a pee break that was poo free. At a construction hold up ladies came up to the bus and sold everyone sugar fruit. We didn’t buy any, but everyone insisted we have some. It is so yummy, fresh picked from the tree, and I hope we can get it when home. I have to keep reminding myself about times like this when the people were so friendly, some of the friendliest we ever met, and not let the few crazy things we’ve seen and heard be our lasting impression. The PMV again dropped us off right on our door step and everyone said goodbye, a few shook our hands. We were back at the Madang Lodge; safe and sound. We cleaned up, had some pizza & beer and headed to bed. I hadn’t slept much in the last few nights and was exhausted.

November 11 & 12

Nothing…Nothing…Nothing…is pretty much what we did. A little swimming, a trip to the market in the centre of town and more pizza & beer. In the very crowded market two guys started to fight a few steps in front of me. I think they did a bit of shoving and one guy raised his arm to punch the other guy. He was close enough that I held out my hand to keep him from winding up too much – and punching me. I realized quickly what was going on and got out of the way; stepping on a ladies shopping bags she was selling. I apologized repeatedly…but so did she. She was genuinely sorry I was so close to a fight. We have been told that most of the violence is between tribes and not directed at tourists but if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time you could end up in the middle of it. Just like I almost did.

By the second full day I was almost, but not quite, relaxed after our trip to the Highlands. We were heading to New Britain, an island off the east coast of mainland PNG, tomorrow and it was supposed to be pretty safe. I wasn’t convinced.

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