Apinun:  Is how you say "good afternoon" in Papua-New Guinean Pidgin.  I arrived in the afternoon and was greeted warmly by a country and that welcome wouldn't end.
Clouds covered the landscape as the flight approached Mt. Hagen and it was only just before landing that one could see the ground, studded with thatched huts.  Quite a world away from leaving Australia two hours before.  Customs was suitably low key and low tech and I was picked up by Haus Poroman lodge.  They put me in a very large, luxurious room.  I indicated that I was in the dorm and they put me in the largest, most luxurious dorm ever seen.

I wandered back to Mt. Hagen spending some time at the market.  Lots of foods that I had not seen before.  People paid a lot of attention to me as there no other foreigners, but all in all were quite friendly.  The town resembled some of the towns in Fiji.  It was a bit chaotic but that's to be expected.  Back at Haus Poroman, I met an employee.  He told me he had three names.  First was his baptismal name, Francis.  Then he had a tribal name, Gwon, but that was only used in the village.  Finally he had an English name, Jack, that I was to use.

He told me that a few years back, his village had been involved in tribal warfare in a land dispute.  His tribe was biding their time, awaiting the moment to strike to take back the land.  Somehow, I think the other tribe would tell the same story.  His wontoks (=one talk=fellow villagers) were nearly wiped out by the opposing tribe a hundred years ago, down to a few members.  They've built their numbers up to 1200 people but the other group was now at 15,000 people, so Jack's tribe is waiting.  They will point to the other side of the valley and say to their children, "That's your land over there.  Someday it will be yours."  He really didn't like the conflict and hoped the war was over but didn't seem confident that that would be the case. 

He was a very interesting and engaging person and somehow the subject of professional wrestling came up.  He said, "Goldberg (a wrestler) is my man!"  I mentioned it was fake, which he didn't believe.  "Jack, look how they get pounded yet never get a bruise."  Eventually he started to be convinced but said, "I don't care, Goldberg is still my man!"

I spent a few days in the area and went to see a waterfall Jack had mentioned.  It was a rugged and rutted trail and partway there, I encountered a group of homes.  A man wanted to guide me there for 3 Kina (1K=.40 US cents), yet only had 1.5K on me but he accepted it.  He was twice my age but an absolute mountain goat.  Fast and nothing stopped him.  Encountering such strong people would be a common experience in PNG.  These people are made of iron.  On the return trip, he walked off and left me to fend for myself.  I guess that's what you get only paying half the guiding fee.  I encountered a group of children who demanded, "Kina!  Kina!"  I said no and one kid started slapping me and the rest threw dirtballs at me.  There is only one appropriate response:  Throw them back.

That evening Jack showed me a video called First Contact.  The highlands of PNG were "terra incognita", unknown lands, in the 30's.  It turns out that the Waghi Valley was the most densely populated part of the country and was "discovered" by prospectors who went there in the 1930's and found people living in the stone age.  In traditional lore, their ancestors were pale and would come from the east and when the pale-skinned miners came from the east, they were often taken for supernatural beings.  They brought a movie camera and documented these amazing first contacts about two worlds who really didn't know anything about each other.  There were numerous first contacts that continued into the 1960's and beyond.  Someone told me about a first contact in 1998 in the more remote parts of the country.  I would later meet people who told me of the day the "white man" first came to their village.  Too wild.

After the film, Jack brought me to the top of a ridge.  He pointed down at the Waghi Valley, the largest in PNG, and said, "This is where a lot of First Contact occurred.  It wasn't so long ago that things were very different.  Mt. Hagen has grown in unbelievable ways.  We've gone from the stone age to the information age in lifetime."  He told me more of how PNG is in the grips of dealing with a changing world, something I would become aware of in the coming months.  He knew of one guy in the film who still lived in town.  Talk about having your world turned upside down. 

Every place has to deal with change but for many in PNG, that change in an order of magnitude greater.  It will still be a poor, agrarian country for years to come but that leap out of the stone age for large parts of the country must be wrenching.  Granted that most of the remote parts of the country will experience little change and people will continue to live in their villages but dealing with the modern world in such a rapid fashion is something that I would learn is one of the big issues facing the country.

I spent a few days in Mt. Hagen to get a feel for things and to acclimate and would be heading off to Mt. Wilhelm next.  One thing I quickly became aware of was the security problem.  I was told to be back to the lodge before dark and always be aware of shady characters.  Even ordinary shops might have several guys with construction helmets sitting by the door.  At first this didn't make sense until I figured out that security guards there wear such headgear.  The number of buildings with razor wire and bars on them was unlike anything I've seen before.  In western terms, "rascal" is a term of endearment, but in PNG, rascals are thugs and are the bane of the country.  It's such a shame as the average person is quite welcoming.

When my the bill was presented, it was 4x the expected amount.  That luxurious dorm wasn't a dorm, it was a private room with three beds.  The person who checked me in didn't understand "dorm."  It was a long and arduous process that took the next two weeks to settle and I paid by credit card so that if I needed to file a dispute I could.  Jack brought me into town to get a PMV (Public Motor Vehicle, usually a small bus or minivan) and I said goodbye. 

The route was surrounded by steep green valleys everywhere, which is a trademark of the highlands.  It's a beautiful countryside for sure.  In some countries, to farm on steep hillsides terraces are built, here they just go plant straight away.  Jack told me that there are places so steep where people use ropes so that they can till their fields.  The gardens are broken up into square, mound-like parcels about 1-2 meters square.  I would see a similar style all across the country.  PNG developed agriculture 10,000 years ago, one of the first places in the world, and the current farming techniques are still heavily influenced by the past.

It was a pleasant ride and the people on the bus seemed to like my company and vice-versa.  I stopped in Kundiawa to catch a PMV to Kegsugl which would lead to Mt. Wilhelm.  You know, I was really liking this country.