Back Home and some more on Papua New Guinea

I am back home now. I have been for almost 4 weeks now, but it doesn’t feel like it. I’ve started 3rd year of Uni(not as daunting as I imagined, it is going to be a good year, I can tell)but I have spent most of my time since I got home, working on our new house, sanding, painting and sweeping mostly – it is almost ready for us to move into. I am still living out of a backpack, all my possessions are in storage – I cut a strange sight wandering round in shorts and t-shirt in the pouring rain of Scotland. This is kind of late due to lack of computer(its in storage),dodgy Internet connection and lack of time so I will try to get this out of the way in the coming weeks.

I am going to start this blog from where I left off, which was a couple of months ago in Cairns, about to leave Oz and head into Papua New Guinea. I religiously kept a diary in Papua New Guinea and it is a pleasure going over it once again, but alot of the detail comes from memory – I will try and be as accurate as I can and stick to facts as opposed to feelings, so leave a message if you were completely bored with this post.

One more thing, before I start. I just want to make a note about a friend I made whilst on the Expedition. Charlie, was the youngest member of our team and was tragically killed in an accident at his parents home in Indonesia shortly after the expedition ended. It is impossible to be part of a team for such a length of time and not too bond with your companions, it is extremely unfortunate what has happened to Charlie and my deepest sympathies are with his family and friends. I have many fond memories of Charlie, he was the kind of person that could lift the mood of the whole camp with his positive attitude, not a bad bone in his body.

Day 47

On the 14Th of July, I was in Cairns, Queensland(Australia). I had been there for 4 days and after coming from 7 weeks in SE Asia – I sort of had a reverse culture shock. The place I was staying in for that time was Tropic Days backpackers hostel and I had a great time there and I met a good bunch of people. The backpacker scene in Oz is a whole different thing from the scene in SE Asia, hopefully one day I will get to see more of Oz. I had arranged to share a taxi to the airport with a Dutch guy called Martin who was flying out at the same time and luckily a German dude joined us, so the fare was split. I arrived at Cairns International, feeling slightly strange. This would mark the end of the roaming, I was joining an expedition, we had a task to complete – it is a totally different experience from backpacking. I spotted a few folk in Trekforce t-shirts, queuing up for the Airlines PNG flight to Port Moresby. Once I was checked in I headed to the departure lounge and spotted a few more shirts. Right, first introductions. What are these people going to be like? Am I going to be stuck with morons for 7 weeks? Shit what have I done!

Mercifully, they seemed like perfectly normal people. Panic Over! The flight to Port Moresby or Pom as they call it in PNG, was pretty short – the meals were crap though, as usual. We touched down in Papua New Guinea – first things first, have a fag. I wandered outside, lit up and enjoyed. No sooner had I taken that first draw, when an Ozzie expat taps me on the shoulder and warns me I will get fine for smoking here, fair enough I thought. I cross the road and he joins me. ‘You better take your watch off mate if your heading into town, its not too safe’ OK. ‘Dont go near that red stuff there, its betel nut, they chew it and spit it out all over the place and it spreads TB’ Righty. ‘Just last week, there was a big riot up the airport road there, about 20 people were killed’ Oh really. It was not the best introduction to Papua New Guinea I must tell you. Needless to say, as we waited outside the airport for a few hours before our flight north to Lae, we had no problems at all. We had a bunch of airport staff come over and talk with us, they seemed genuinely interested to hear what we were over there to do. It also was a good opportunity to get to know the rest of the team.

The flight to Lae was quick, to be honest it was uneventful. We left the airport and got some lunch outside under the shade of a tree on the grass. This was when we first met Heni. Heni, was going to be coming out into the bush with us, he was from the TPA(Tourism Promotion Authority, I think?) and lived in Port Moresby. I should mention Dave at this point, our expedition leader who we met in Port Moresby – a pretty chilled out character who has spent the last few years working in Tanzania for Greenforce. We took a PMV(basically a flatbed truck converted into a bus) to the township of Wau. The ride wasnt too bad, after the 5 hour ‘fast boat’ ride down the Mekong it paled in comparison and the 4 hours flew by. The locals kept us occupied, every time we passed people, whether they were alone at the side of the road or at a busy market, a cheer would rise ‘White man!’, it was smiles and waves the whole way. The scenery was pretty amazing too as we neared Wau, the steep gorge we drove through had near vertical drops that fell hundreds of feet in some places, into a fast flowing river. Men, women and children could be seen by the river extracting gold at it’s shallower points and we spotted a camp literally on cliff face, where men were mining horizontaly into the earth and rock.

As the evening drew in we arrived in Wau. We were greeted by a huge billboard with ‘AIDS’ printed in huge red letters, above a mural on a fence reading ‘Where is God?’, the overgrown grass obscured the answer. The truck stopped inside a compound behind the town shop and as the tall gate was locked behind us, curious locals drew near the bars and watched us. I remember thinking to myself at that point, perhaps the overly helpful Australian man at the airport was on to something. Immediately my fears were alleviated as a smiling man who introduced himself as John provided me with a lighter for the cigarette I had in my mouth, a hurried conversation ensued as we unloaded the PMV and in turn loaded up a pickup and a Land Cruiser. Within the space of 5 minutes I had met another New Guinean friend and been given(and given out)a mailing adress. In no time, the gates were opened and we headed out onto the road again, with the promise that our final destination was imminent. One rickety steel bridge, a river, alot more waving and cheering and we had arrived at the large and orderly home of Tim Vincent, our fixer in Wau. We tucked into a real Australian BBQ diner and moved into the small but extremely comfortable guesthouse within Tim’s compound. Since I am recalling the story from memory and the notes I kept in my diary, I shall say we fell into a comfortable sleep in our dormitary rooms because I cant remember anything else that happened during my first day in Papua New Guinea.

More to come – when I get round to it!
PS – I forgot to mention – I did manage to do another sky dive in Oz 😀

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