skull As much fun as an umbrella to the face skull
skull Kimbe, Papua New Guinea skull

Japanese fighter plane.

November 16

Yes, public transportation is cheaper than private shuttles but very inconvenient. We gave ourselves extra time to catch all our PMV’s and it ended up taking less time than we were told. On the bright side the airport lounge had cheap coffee and was air-conditioned so we sat down and watched a movie. Today we are catching a flight to Kimbe. Kimbe and Rabaul are on the same island (New Britain) and you can take a boat between the two (but it’s long, wet and unreliable) but no bus or PMV. 95% of the land in PNG is owned by the people which makes building roads difficult. In many cases the government will build a road and not pay for the land or pay and then the owners close it, won’t allow access. At the moment no road links the two main cities. From what I was told it goes back to when Australia was here and running things; they had so many issues with losing their own aboriginal culture they were very careful to protect it here.

Walindi Butterfly Garden, aka our porch.

We landed in Kimbe airport, by far the smallest so far, and I went in search of a PMV. The guide book says they don’t run very often to the airport and sometimes not at all. We decided to save some cash and take our chances; so far we’d been pretty lucky. I walked through the chain link gate and only saw pickup trucks, all waiting for people. No PMV’s. Uh oh. I did see one other white person so approached him. I asked if he knew where to catch a PMV. He said there likely wouldn’t be one but did I need a ride? Uh yeah. He turned out to be a friendly guy from Australia who worked in PNG. He was was heading into town and knew the owners at Walindi (the resort we’d been planning everything through) so called and told them to meet us at his hotel. The PMV showed up just as we were pulling out. We had booked diving with Walindi a budget room down the road at the English Tudor style guesthouse, Queen’s Head. We chatted about working in PNG and heard some more “stories”. Things like riots, tribal fighting and that most hospitals had no medicine, some no power. We did talk about the palm oil industry in the area and how because people own their own land they usually plant a portion or lease it out (similar to farmers in the prairies) and make decent money. The palm oil companies also build decent housing, schools and use the land for more than palm oil. We passed healthy free range cattle grazing between the palm trees. It’s very easy for me to get all bent out of shape about the destruction clear cutting for palm oil does but if it was a choice between feeding my kids and sending them to school or planting palm oil I wouldn’t hesitate.

Peter, the owner of the Queen’s Head, picked us up and drove us to the Walindi to drop our equipment off and arrange diving. We were greeted by friendly staff who invited us to sit down for lunch until Dan, the dive guy, finished his. We didn’t mind; the dining area was set back off the beach surrounded by a jungle of trees and flowers. It was also pouring rain. Lunch was delicious! After lunch Dan came to talk to us about diving and mid-way through Peter interrupted to tell us we couldn’t stay at his place. On the ride here he had mentioned he was doing long overdue renovations and the place was clean but a bit of a mess. Now he told us he had a terrible leak in the roof and with all the rain they’d had (yes, we could see it was raining pretty hard) the place was in no condition for guests. Yikes! We had two options. Next door was cabins you could rent (not part of any hotel or resort) or stay at the Walindi. We asked if the Walindi had space and the price. They did and it turned out to be a great deal. All meals, internet, a beautiful room and free laundry service. Sold! Other than my bathing suit I didn’t have a single piece of clean clothing.

Beautiful but distracting.

Once our accommodation and diving were sorted James was taken to our room and I excitedly logged on to the internet. I managed to laze the afternoon away enjoying the view of the sea and catching up with friends. The resort was comfortable, the staff friendly and I felt safe, actually very much at home. When James finally convinced me to log off and go get ready for dinner I was amazed. The walk to our room was beautiful, long, but beautiful. Private cabins were tucked away spread out along the ocean but surrounded by mature jungle plants for privacy. Our plantation room was in a row of 4, again surrounded by taller than me plants and flowers, and was clean and full of windows that let the sea breeze in. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, and then again as I stepped into a hot shower, in my bare feet! After showering I reluctantly told James that I thought I had heard the wrong price. He thought so too. Compared to everything else in PNG this was the nicest, cleanest, friendliest…and the value for money was very good for a dive resort, especially one in PNG. James, the responsible one, decided we should confirm the price. Pouting, I walked to dinner. I was sure this would be our one and only night here.

Once in the dining area (where the wifi was) we logged on and found the prices were correct. They just didn’t mention all that was included. As the dinner bell rang (and yes my mouth started salivating for chips – clanging bells means chip time on the dock in my simple brain) I did a happy dance and dug in!

Catching the local bus to town.

November 17

I had a great night sleep and woke up relaxed and looking forward to a day of exploring. We had decided to take a day off to relax a bit and visit the tiny town of Kimbe. After a long breakfast (with real bacon!) we asked at the reception desk for information on getting to town. They told us to just grab a PMV going by. Cool! We walked to the front gate and the security guard asked us where we were going. To town! Oh, where is your car? Your guide? Nope, we answered, just us, finally. The poor guy started to look panicked. He explained it wasn’t safe and we should go with a guide, or a private car….We explained we were just going to the grocery store and market and assured him we’d be fine. So he let us out of the gate and we stood on the side of the road. A few minutes later a worker form the hotel joined us. He asked where we were going and told us he was heading the same way. Hmmmmm. A few minutes later a pickup truck pulled up and we all climbed in, the normal public transportation in this area. Once in town the hotel guy explained he had to go to the bank but would meet us in the market. We assured him we were fine and it wasn’t necessary and off we went. We did go to the market, walked around and enjoyed the freedom. The town was packed full of people, mostly just sitting around chatting.

Just outside the market our new friend joined us. We told him we were heading to the grocery store (our room had a fridge and we wanted to stock up on chocolate milk) and he happily came. He did do a bit of shopping but waited at the front doors for us. We thought like other grocery stores in PNG, the beer would be sold at a window beside the grocery store but we couldn’t find it. He explained that they only had one “beer” store and it was back beside the market. No worries we told him, we could find it. We tried again to explain we’d be fine on our own but he insisted on walking us. We knew we would be alright, we asked at the hotel, the dive managers, the owners…but this sweet local was concerned and would not leave us. This has been the case everywhere, once you are a guest of theirs they now feel responsible for you. Sweet, but a little overwhelming. We walked to the beer store and back, and waited for the bus; all in the company of our new body guard.

I have no idea...anyone?

On the way home the pickup truck made a quick detour to pick up a pig in a bag. Well James thinks it was a pig, it sounded like one and its tiny snout was sticking out of a hole. I’m still surprised by pigs, chickens, goats…in bags, holders, tied to everything. Another thing that still catches me off guard is when, usually moms to their kids, people dig through each other’s hair. Are they looking for lice? A lady, a few feet away from me, was routing through her daughter’s hair for most of the 30 minute ride. I tried to watch without staring and I don’t think she found anything but I think I’ll have Judy check me when she comes, just to be sure. James says he has no idea what lice looks like, neither do I. I felt itchy, but I think that was sub-conscious.

Back home we sat on our deck in big wooden lawn chairs. I tried to blog but was distracted by the flowers and butterflies. It felt like we were staying inside a butterfly sanctuary. We had another delicious meal and met a Lonely Planet writer. Seriously, he was in PNG doing research for the next PNG addition (James’ Note: I am now even more skeptical about guide books after seeing the in depth –sarcasm- research. You definitely have take everything in them with a grain of salt). Also at our table was Sammy, a sound technician for Germany and the owner’s son and his partner. It was a great mix and I thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

2 pictures of the same Christmas Tree worm, but the second shows it has a pig nose - so cute!

November 18

After a delicious breakfast of real bacon again we wandered down to the dive shop. We were diving today! Kimbe and the Walindi Resort is known throughout the dive community for great diving and great service. It was obvious from the start the rumors were true. We left our dive gear outside our room and by the time we got to the dive shop it was all set us and waiting for us. We checked everything, the crew loaded it up and we were off. You can do shore dives but the best sites are a 30-60 minute boat ride away.

We did three amazing dives. The walls were healthy and filled with corals and fans and full of fish. There were eight of us diving but two guides so we didn’t feel crowded. In between dives we had a buffet lunch on the boat. After the dives the crew unloaded the boat and shooed us away. I hate to admit it but I love full service dive shops.

We showered and headed to the dining room to play on the internet before dinner. It was another great meal. The food was buffet style but homey and delicious. I was going to have a hard time – dessert every night was going to be some sort of yummy cake and rich creamy vanilla ice-cream. Tonight’s was mango cheesecake. The company was the same as last night and the conversation had a lot of diving but also traveling stories. Everyone was seasoned travelers and had funny tales. I was also finally fully relaxed after our adventures on mainland PNG. I’m happy we finished our PNG adventure here, we could leave on a positive note.

Cuttle fish are so weird...cute...weird..cute... Isn't this an amazing picture of a crocodile fish? I TOOK IT! My what big teeth you have.

Nudi Branch laying eggs. It ends up looking like a lace frill. James fell in love with this anemone.

November 19

Today was an easy two dive day followed by down time on our porch. Again I was supposed to be blogging but spent the time watching butterflies. At dinner we’d lost the LP writer but Sammy entertained us with his interesting travel tales. He has traveled to many places during times of destruction and hardship as a sound technician for a news channel. He was in Banda Aceh right after the tsunami. He talked about sleeping in a room in a house, with the rest of the crew, and once the story was covered trying to hitch a ride home, or out of the country. They caught a ride with an Australian army plane that was empty; it had dropped supplies off. I’ve said it a thousand times, and I’ll say it a thousand more – one of my favorite parts of traveling is the people we meet along the way.

Evil fire coral.

November 20 & 21

Diving, sitting on our porch surrounded by butterflies and beautiful flowering gardens followed by a delicious dinner with interesting company. That grammatically incorrect sentence perfectly describes Walindi. The owners son and Emma, his partner, and Sammy joined us every night for dinner and after a few months of quiet travel it felt a lot like home.

I had my first, and hopefully my last, run in with the evil fire coral. Fire coral, see picture, is a hard pretty coral that grows in huge heaps. I was beside a pile and trying to get a video of something swimming when my arm rested on it. Now I’m usually a very strict no touch anything underwater person but the coral was so hard (I had no idea yet it was the fire variety) I gently rested my arm on it to get the shot. My skin slightly stuck as I lifted it up and everywhere it was touching the coral there were red spots. The red spots immediately caught on fire. It felt like my skin was on fire and in a few short minutes the spots were thick welts. It continued to burn and swell until back on the boat the ever helpful dive crew poured vinegar on me (James’ Note: Being a gentleman I did offer some pee. It is probably just an old wives tale, but better safe than sorry. The offer was declined.). That’s what I get for touching I guess, lesson learned.

I'm almost touching the fans, no fancy tricks, they really are huge.

I have to add that the dive guides were quite amazing. They really knew what to look for and kept James and Sammy busy snapping itty bitty macro. I can’t wait to see James’ photos, espically because most of it was so tiny I had no idea what they were looking at. The whole dive shop was helpful, knowledgeable, professional and fun! My regulator blew an o-ring and the very handy Dan had it fixed in no time at all. Dan and Cat, his partner, are fantastic. Dan has a unique sense of humor and I’m still not sure if the o-ring cost $3 or $300.

One night on the way home from dinner we did have an umbrella incident. The path to our room was dark and scary, well for a scaredy cat. One couple had come across a huge (and harmless) snake on the path one night but all we’d seen so far (good for me – disappointing for James) were frogs. I was walking home carrying the umbrella (more for protection than rain) and saw a shadow, a big long thin shadow, across the path. I turned to run. What happens to your arms when you run? They go up. So up went my umbrella filled hands… square into James skull. The fact that I got him flat in the face as opposed to the top, really, really, really hard part of his head meant it was a bit (a lot?) painful. He staggered back..muttering something to the effect WTF….he had no idea what had hit him, or why. Oopssss. Sorry. It was a leaf, hanging across the path.

Pattern changing cuttlefish and weirdo grabby thing
(Click on picture for link to videos, appx. 6MB and 3MB)

November 22

Today we had grand plans. Plans to be very productive. We ended up stuck on the internet for hours with more questions than we started with. I really hope Chris has internet. By 11 am I was ready for a drink. At 11:05 one (very expensive drink) was delivered – compliments of my very sweet husband. Before dinner the Walindi reconfirmed our flights, arranged our transfer and told us that a continental breakfast would be waiting at 5:30 am for us. It’s the little things that make a difference, and this place has it covered.

Dancing Kids!

Before dinner a group of kids from a near-by school did a short performance for the guests of Walindi. They come once a month hoping for donations to improve their school. We gladly donated (James’ Note: I donated gladly, but was forced to watch the performance against my will. Is there anyone on the planet, not including perverts, who would attend an elementary school play voluntarily when they don’t know a single kid in it?). Their energetic teacher was all smiles and parents, family and friends of the kids cheered them on. I had goose bumps, what an amazing sense of community.

November 23

At some insane hour our alarm went off. We grabbed our bags and as we walked out our door a hotel guy was waiting for us. He took my pack from me and walked us the few feet to our van and gave us a lift to breakfast. Again I was amazed at the nice touches Walindi add. Over breakfast we both agreed that our week here had gone way too fast and it was the perfect end to our time in PNG. We were leaving on a positive note. We would never forget the first few adventure filled weeks but the scariness was fading and the highlights (amazing people, sights, culture and history) were being left in its place.

Our flight flew through Port Moresby and, thanks to the Lonely Planet writer, we enjoyed our 5 hour wait. We caught a free airport shuttle to a fancy hotel and enjoyed a pizza and a coke and read a few local papers. The happy bubble I’d wrapped around myself at Walindi popped. The local papers are horrific. We haven’t been able to afford many souvenirs so stole a few papers to remind us of our time here. Seems appropriate.

As the plane lifted off I have to admit I let out a sigh of relief. I was on my way to somewhere safe, other than losing a guide book we’d been pretty lucky and I could finally email my parents a more truthful update. We were never in any immediate danger but it felt like it was always just under the surface. A few times I just wanted to leave, get on a plane and get out. I’m glad I stayed; glad James was with me constantly reassuring me we would be fine. PNG has, without a doubt, the friendliest people but, without a doubt, the scariest. The country is rich in natural recourses and has the potential to be a top tourist destination. If only the corruption and fighting would stop.

James’ Lengthy Note

The PNG travel guides definitely have the most interesting and extensive warnings I’ve seen, but for our parent’s sake I thought it best to wait until we were long gone before sharing them. It is a real shame, since 99% of the people are amazingly friendly and helpful.

Highlands- Where we witnessed an attempted machete attack, were stopped by an informal roadblock/toll (which later completely blocked the return trip), saw several burnt villages, had our guide book stolen, witnessed people walking around with guns for self defense against a family vendetta, saw truck convoys travelling with armed guards for protection against traffic accident related vengeance, and were generally escorted around by armed guards.

“Bus travel through the Highlands is not nearly as dangerous as the expat community will lead you to believe, but there is an element of risk. Very occasionally there are hold-ups, buses are ambushed and the passengers are robbed. During times of political tension and tribal war seek advice from locals in each town before heading off to the next town in a PMV. West of Mendi can be particularly volatile.”

“Now it’s an unruly city with major squatter settlements and many itinerant people. As in Lae and Port Moresby, Hagen’s streets are packed with people”

“Dangers&Annoyances - Aside from raskols (bandits), tribal warfare can break out over coffee production, land disputes, pigs or gardens. Clan warfare never embroils outsiders, confining itself to the protagonists, but it can make things unstable and unpredictable. …the town is thronged with security guards and dogs around banks and shops. Don’t approach the dogs- they are not accustomed to white people. … It’s not, however, safe at night and the market area is rife with cons and pick-pockets. Although the Highlands is a ‘dry’ region, home-brew alcohol is increasingly a problem.”

“PMV-Roads heading west from Mt.Hagen have been prone to ambush in the past and it is worth seeking advice from your place of accommodation before jumping on a west bound PMV. … The road between Nipa and Tari is particularly volatile as the Nipa villagers are still nursing a grudge and vowed vengeance for the fatal car crash that killed their 2002 election-winning politician. Witchcraft was suspected.”

Port Moseby – I guess there was a reason we only spent the day there.

“Port Moresby can be a dangerous place, but it’s not the hell on earth that many who’ve never been here make it out to be. … Walking around Town and Boroko during daylight hours should be fine, but anywhere else you should walk with a local. Avoid secluded urban areas at any time. … Stay out of the settlements unless you are with one of the residents. … Don’t walk around Kila Kila, Sabama or Six Mile at any time. After dark, don’t walk anywhere.”

The rest of the country is apparently much safer, where we only witnessed two fights, a man rob a kid of his smokes, the same kid chuck a giant rock at another man, a runaway girl get pulled from a van, had difficulty checking in to a hotel due to a machete butchered sorceress related labour shortage, and received about a thousand misc. safety warnings.

For an all new level of disturbing try reading a PNG newspaper. If you skip all the corruption related articles, it only leaves about four pages of reading (one of those is all about rugby). On the day we left the headline was about 13 people being butchered, apparently because the wife of a politician cheated on him with a travelling salesman, so obviously they had to go kill a bunch of unrelated salesmen and bystanders. The trial of a man who ate a nine day old baby alive only made it to page twenty or so. I’m not sure how he managed to “…bit the head off…”. The article ended with “…witchcraft is suspected.”, but I still rank the newspaper ahead of the Ottawa Sun.

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