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PAPAU NEW GUINEA     19-21/5 2002     DIARY  





 WE are in Australien, but head up to Papau New Guinea. Both to extend our visa, but also because we are now fairly close.
Quiet start in the morning. We have to be out at the airport at 9.40, so we don't have the time to do anything completely wild. However, I just check the 700 meter walkway that runs the other way in the mangrove outside the airport.
Here are some small birds and an incredible amount of large snails. At the far end are some loud click sounds, a little a'la click with the tongue. The vegetation is dense and I can't see anything or anyone. Getting a minor shock as an ibis takes off, right in front of me. I think the sound comes from big crabs, but doesn't get it confirmed. I hurry back before the mosquitoes dry me completely.

As expected, there is no information available to us at the airport, only our tickets. We do not know who will pick us up at the airport, or what hotel we paid for.
The sweet ladies at the check-in do much to help us, but in vain. We land at 2pm on Sunday, and will be flying at 1pm on Monday. If we're going to spend the rest of Sunday getting into town and finding a hotel, we'll probably need one more day. For DKK 600 we get the ticket changed to Tuesday at 18.

Cairns has a small, almost cute, international airport. Fortunately, the plane is a bit delayed, so we can get morning coffee. I usually read a lot about the country I go to. This time I'm completely blank. We discuss what colour people have. Rikke gets it right, they look like Africans and not like Thais. Whether that is the name of the country, I do not know. It's called Papua New Guinea, and everywhere it is referred to as PNG. There are 5,500,000 people, of whom 350,000 live in the capital Port Moresby. Here is an unemployment rate of 60, but people do not seem poor or malnourished.

Flying to Port Moresby takes only an hour and twenty minutes. We relax, we eat, we land. On our way out of Australian territory, we come across some stunningly beautiful coral islands. Blue sea in various shades, white sand and deep-green vegetation. We fly with Air Niugini (beat that Danny!)

We need a visa, but this is done quickly in the passport control, so they just have to have 50 china. Uhh ... China? It is the local currency, which is divided into 100 toea [toja]. A china is probably worth 2.50 kroner. I can withdraw on Visa card in the departure hall. Here they sell china for 0.3 UD $ and buy them for 0.2 UD $, which is a good business then. I pay 25 kroner to be allowed to raise 200 china, and guaranteed 30 kroner more, when they are drawn on my account.

The airport is only three years old, and really nice. It is one of the many gifts from Japan.
There is no one with our names on a blackboard, so we start to wonder. People are very helpful and before long, we know we have to stay at Hotel Gateway and their minibus is purple.
Outside the airport we are greeted by a brutally humid heat. After ten minutes, the car shows up and we drive. Just outside the airport area, we are met with gaps in the road, that can provide an armoured crew car of medium-class life-long injuries.

The hotel is not far away, and they are waiting for us. The concierge has a nice uniform and one shoe. The same with one of the security guards, standing in the lobby. The hotel itself and our room are really nice, about four stars like Hotel Prinsen.

We throw the backpack in the room and book a taxi to go into town and find a tour organizer. There is one at the hotel but it is closed. A piccolo takes the minibus to the airport to pick up the taxi. Drivers ask, if we want to direct or bow to the city. We say direct, and drive out to the airport! From here we follow the signs for Town. We are put off by some bulky oil barrels in a dirty place. Here seemed very desolate, but it is Sunday.

Here are new, nice high-rise buildings - but only eight in total. Between them are buildings that are otherwise only seen in Palestine. We can find no tour operator, no café, photo shop or anything else (except three banks) that resembles a big city.

We walk around the square, we walk around the blocks, and it still looks like nothing. No kiosk or supermarkets. Some street vendors sell home-rolled cigarettes (rolled in newspapers and some packets). Others sell some quirky fruits that look like small lime fruits. It's bitter-nuts. Together with a leaf and lime powder, they are a bad habit. When children are five, they begin to chew bitter-nuts and spit out the blood-like sauce. People are addicted and get sick, if they don't get nuts. On the other hand, you can't tell, if they use the nuts.

A couple of years ago they tried to stop it, but half of parliaments also used. There is no doubt who is chewing. They have dark brown teeth and red lips. The shells from the nuts are everywhere, and the red sauce sits above everything on planks, walls and sidewalks.

We walk down to the beach where there are many people. There are several volleyball matches in progress and people are enjoying the Sunday. We give up finding something open (or closed for that matter) and decide to take a bus home. It turns out, the taxi does not cost 75 kroner, only 25. After all, that's how it is every time. The bus only costs a tenth and not only are they comfortable, they also run every minute or two. When there is no more seating, no more can come!

We ask about which bus to go with, and people are incredibly helpful. Some ask unsolicited if we are OK. The bus comes and we drive in a big arc back to the hotel.
We pass several markets with clothes and greenery. We just need to lighten the mood before we throw ourselves at them. We haven't seen a single white in the centre, why? We have been given strict directives not to go out after dark, so we stay at the hotel.

Dinner in the restaurant along with ten white businessmen, mostly Australians. From World War II to 1976, PNG was actually an Australian colony. Previously it was German and English. The evening in front of the television, which has the usual satellite channels.

After a delicious breakfast, I head down to the Budget Car's office to get a city map. The hotel had not, but referred. They don't have one here either, but I'm allowed to look in their guide. It's good enough, we were really in the centre of the capital yesterday.

The hotel tour desk is still closed (should be open now) so we have to improvise. We get out of the hotel and jump on any bus. The vast majority of cars look like Morten has driven them: there are very few windshields! There are also no old cars here, the oldest ones are 10 years old, before there have probably been no cars here at all.

The woman next to me, and many other women we see, are tattooed on the face and arms. Patterns on the face and letters on the arms. People wear reasonably nice clothes, many in really powerful colours. The cars have Australian license plates where the state is just PNG. All signs are in English, but it is also smart in a country with 800 languages. Their stamps are with the English Queen.

We drive through incredibly fertile suburbs. Their fields are very small, and are located on very steep slopes, right up to the top.
We jump off at a large market. Here is an incredible amount of clothing, made in Australia and China. Another portion has cheap cookware and the bulk sell vegetables and fruits.
In addition to the everlasting bitter nuts, there are peanuts, various bananas, sugar cane, chestnuts, pumpkin, ginger, common and sweet potatoes, star fruits, coconuts, cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, onions, oranges, cabbage, lemongrass, chilli and tobacco.

Although unemployment is so high, everyone seems to have little money. We see two beggars, but they are totally passive and do not look malnourished. Their dogs, on the other hand, look miserable.
We go into a Shell station to buy something to drink. Here are four stands and eleven uniformed employees. The diesel costs three kroner and the petrol four.

We take bus ten to the centre, it is Monday, maybe a little more happens. We find a few scary "Malls" where you can buy radios, TVs, home appliances and the like. There is even a Swedish and a Norwegian consulate. We simply can't figure out, what roars to commit to end up here. There are many businesses that are NOT here. There is not even a souvenir shop!

We jump on the kidney, which (like so many other buses) is decorated with fresh leaves and feathers. It makes me think; I haven't seen a single bird or animal yet.
After a big tour through some suburbs, we switch to the No 10, and get home. The travel agency is still closed. We ask at reception; where do we find a bus that goes far out of town? Finally, we should not, it is too dangerous! Blast!

While Rikke takes a well deserved shower, the phone rings. It's the travel man. He was in the toilet, but is now back in the office. We walk down to him and end up buying a tailor made trip for 800 kroner. Damn expensive, but there aren't many alternatives and it sounds exciting.

We suddenly get a pizza up and float in front of the TV, the rest of the evening. The nights are also warm, not below 25C.

We are awakened at seven, so there is time for shower and breakfast before driving. We are picked up in a new minibus by two very cute middle aged guys, who speak excellent English.
They talk about what we are passing by. There are unemployed people standing along the road selling firewood. Most cook over live fire, so there is good sales.

We drive out through some steep hills, with fields and scattered trees. It is red clay soil, and black rock gravel from volcanoes. In many places, some large black and round stones lie on the red earth.
We are told they have to pay for everything themselves. School, doctor and everything we take (took) for granted. There is a 10 percent tax and the country exports many valuable products and minerals. Where the money gets lost is the enigma for the common man.

We stop at the viewing point of a waterfall and some hydropower plants. There are still scattered clouds between the mountains and here is stunningly beautiful. Everything is green and there are many flowers. We drive on a single track asphalt road, and you have to blow the horn before the hairpin turns.

Many of the trees are old acquaintances from Australia. Here are the eucalyptus, banksias, cycads and ginger. We come to Varinata National Park, located on some mountain peaks at a height of 800 meters. Just inside the entrance, we see a bird of paradise in a brief glimpse. It is the national bird that is on everything. I also see a wallaby, and a white-headed eagle sits close to the road.

We drive up to a viewpoint where the lower lying clouds remove some of the joy. A yellow-tailed cockatoo screeches noisy, and I sneak around for exciting things. Finds some thorny tubers on a tree. It is a form of ant-plant. The first ones I see are like chicken eggs, and then I spot one, the size of a football.

In a few minutes, the clouds disappear and the valleys reveal themselves. Here is just wonderfully beautiful! Far down one can glimpse Port Moresby, otherwise there is only nature.
We walk a few kilometres to a track that follows a creek that turns into a big river. Over our heads the bees buzz loudly, these are flowering trees we walk under. We see some birds, a toad, a snake and a couple of frogs. The birds are various big starlings, honey eaters and king parakeets. There are also some leeches, but we get them removed quickly.

We get to a large area that looks sweept. There is not a twig or leaf on the ground. It looks pretty odd, until you see the huge pile of bushes that the bush turkey has collected. It is one meter high and about five in diameter. Gods knows if it wasn't easier to hatch after all?

There are many spiders. Some are hand-sized and sit in perfect wheel spins that are over a meter. Others make big cubic nets and then there are some beautiful blue hunting spiders.
We drive down to the valley again, where we find the only souvenir shop they have. It's just a box of masks, figurines, penis cases and small spears. Very authentic, but not exactly something for us.

It is time for lunch and we drive in to TFC (tasty fried chicken). They have not heard of vegetables.
The next stop is the botanical garden, which is located on the university grounds. It is wonderfully beautiful and well maintained. There is also a small zoo, with wallabies, tree canopies and a very large, densely planted aviary with paradise birds. A very tame young male receives us at the entrance. It can say hello, bye and some other words. It is very contact-seeking and difficult to shake off, as we have to go out again.

Here is a very large orchid garden. Countless orchids stand on an open plate and flowers cheerfully. They also sell orchids. They stand in a completely empty thread-herb pot with long roots protruding.
We pass one of the many stilt towns. In some places it is slum-like (without being too bad), in other places it is really nice houses. We end up visiting the three banks, to raise money to pay for the excursion. The first one will not pay out without seeing the passport (it is in the office), the next one just will not. Fortunately, the last one has an ATM.

We say thank you for the trip, and get into the pizzeria and have a cup of coffee, until it is time to drive to the airport. Here we spend the last china on a pair of paradise bird earrings and a little snack. There is a souvenir shop at the airport. It is also the one that sells duty-free, and the airport mark for DKK 75 that we must have.

We are flying with an older Fokker 28, and since we are all here anyway, we facilitate long before planned. Relax, eat and land. Again, we are being interviewed in immigration. Gets through, and out to the car, which is fortunately untouched. We roll into Cairns and find our old campsite. I write a diary for the last three days, until the eyes will no stay open anymore.
The rest of the tour takes place in Australien.


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