In The East: It was to the eastern part of the country to do some bushwalking but things changed and so did the plans.  Which isn't to say it wasn't a good time.

I spent a day or two in Goroka, not doing a lot except trying to figure out where to go next.  After a little thought, the decision was to head to the eastern part of the country, going to the second largest city of Lae by PMV as a stop-off point to more remote areas.  I put my pack on my lap and Godfrey, the man sitting next to me, motioned for my pack to be placed on the seat.  It would have really crowded him, but he insisted.  He looked rather uncomfortable with how little space he had but sometimes, it’s easiest to accept the kindness.  Sometimes the recipient of such kindness might feel like they are imposing, but it’s best to receive the graciousness with a smile.

Godfrey told me much about the highlands as we rode along.  He told me that tribal warfare is still an issue in many places and how payback is a very real thing.  If someone feels they’ve been wronged by another, that person will get revenge upon the other.  If they can’t get the other, they’ll get the other’s brother or cousin and so on.  The now newly aggrieved parties will then want to get revenge on…starting to see where this is going?  He pointed out a spot where a few weeks ago, a PMV crashed and injured passengers.  The bus driver was so afraid of payback, that instead of helping his injured passengers, he ran away and hadn’t been seen since.  I noticed that all the trucks in the highlands had metal bars covering all of the windows, Godfrey nodded his head.  Apparently, it was pretty standard.  All that aside, the ride across the highlands was beautiful and we came to a rest stop.  It looked over a vast plain below and it was apparent that the highlands were ending.

It wasn’t hard to tell how far away Lae was as everything had names like “Forty Mile Store” or “Twenty Seven Mile Dairy”.  Lae was ugly, but not as ugly as Mt. Hagen, but had a quirky look.  I’ve heard it was a dangerous place and this probably was reflected in the fact that all stores shutdown by 5 p.m. and when walking by a bank, everyone had to cross the street as the guards in front of it didn’t seem to take kindly to people getting too close.  Welcome to Lae!

I stayed at the Buablung Haus YMCA, a very dilapidated, filthy building rife with leaking pipes.  It was mostly filled with younger people, many of them students, staying on a permanent basis.  I paid for my single room, skipping the meals option after seeing very large rats on the kitchen counters.  It was extremely loud but quieted down later in the evening…and then turned loud again at 3 a.m. when the guys in the next room started yelling and playing raucous music.  If you could get past all of this, it really wasn’t a bad place as the people staying there were very friendly and happy to have a foreign guest stay with them.

That night I had two dreams.  One incorporated the constant chirp of a broken pipe into the dream where the pipe was dripping profusely into my room.  The other was confusing in which I couldn’t figure out if it was a dream or not and it was announced that we were having waffles for breakfast.  When I finally woke up and looked around, I realized that it was a dream and waffles were absolutely not on the agenda, at least not in that kitchen.

That morning I decided to head up to the village of Wau in the hills to do some hiking.  The ride to Bulolo wasn’t too bad and quite pretty.  The ride beyond that to Wau was extremely rough and slow.  People were panning in the rivers for gold, which isn’t surprising considering Wau’s gold mining history.  I stayed at the Wau Ecological Institute and met Michael, an entomologist (insect scientist).  We spent many hours talking about all sorts of things.  One thing he was involved in was helping local people raising butterflies.  He would advise them what to plant so as to encourage butterflies and the institute would buy butterflies to sell to collectors.  This way, people could earn money from their land without destroying it by logging.  Butterfly farming is more widespread than you might think.  I spent the next day learning about the local insects and talking with Michael.  I got the impression he likes having visitors and suspected that he didn’t get a lot.

I called Robert about flying to western PNG and he said that his flight had been moved up and he would be leaving very soon.  I had to skee-daddle and took PMV’s back down to Lae.  It was the same way down as up: rough and uncomfortable, but so it goes.  If I wanted to stay comfortable, I would have never left Australia (or my home for that matter).  While in Bulolo, I was sitting halfway in the flatbed PMV, talking with a passenger.  He was a very pleasant man but suddenly and loudly ordered me into the truck.  He yelled to the driver and we drove around the town for a while.  He later apologized to me, “I’m sorry about yelling at you but there was a group of men starting to circle behind you, paying very close attention to you.”  I thanked him and said, “You can yell at me anytime you like.”  Bulolo had a bad reputation, being a depressed mining town, and this did nothing to dispel that image.

Once back in Lae, I tried to call Robert but every payphone was broken.  I went to the post office which had a bank of phones behind a barbed wire fence but they only took credit cards.  I finally went to an expensive hotel and they made arrangements for a flight to Mt. Hagen and a bus to the airport and wanted nothing in return.  As always in PNG, pearls of people in a chaotic mess.

I went back to the YMCA and got the same room as before, in fact I’m pretty sure I even had the same sheets; they didn’t looked changed.  I met a few guys and when I told them I was heading for Telefomin, they were quite excited.  They were not only from Telefomin area, but they lived on the actual foot trail that I wanted to take.  They gave me a great deal of information on the area and were quite pleased that someone would visit their home.  It was nice to at least have some idea what to do when I arrived, as prior to talking to them, I was clueless.  One errand of the day was to buy a new rugby ball and pump for Mengino.  Robert said that next time he was in that area, he would deliver it to them.

I had to catch a 5 a.m. shuttle to the airport.  It went into the yards of a number of private homes, which were surrounded by razor wire fences with security guards and dogs.  The ground floor windows were covered in thick bars and the second floor windows in somewhat thinner steel bars.  I was told that this was very common for the wealthier people.  It started to dawn on me why I had been given so many warnings in Australia about PNG.

It was a scenic flight to Mt. Hagen and I had a nice room to myself with a private shower and kitchen.  It was nice to take a warm shower.  The shower in Lae was a bit scary and besides….communal showers in a YMCA are always a bit creepy.

I really noticed the number of places that have metal bars on them.  A takeaway food stand had bars on the counters which stood next to a church with a barbed wire fence.  The hardware store, which was surrounded in a ring of razor wire, had a counter with a steel cage and you told the attendant what you wanted and they got it for you.  The banks were a step beyond all of these places.  It seemed that every place had bars and a security guard.  I went to a shop and upon exiting, the security guard gave everyone a thorough search, everyone except me that is.  It turns out that they don’t search white people.  Back home, black people often say that white authority figures give them undue scrutiny and then discrimination complaints arise.  In PNG, black security guards search all the blacks and absolutely no apologies are made.  I had to exchange some money and went into a bank.  The security guards escorted me to the front of the line. I protested that there were other people already in line and I could wait my turn.  The guards would hear nothing of it and brought me to the teller where she asked with a smile, “How can I help you, sir?”

That night, Robert and I went to a Chinese restaurant.  The place looked like an absolute fortress.  We knocked on the door and they opened a small peephole among the bars before letting us in.  You know, somehow, somewhere, at some time, something had gone very wrong in this country.  The food resembled rubber, but the company was good and we talked about our morning flight.  Well, sort of, we had a weather delay and had to postpone our flight by a day.  The next night, Robert and I went out again and someone walked up to me and said, “Sir, you dropped this.”  It was a 20K note.  It’s heartening that in a poor country such honesty exists and it’s in such contrast to all the razor wire and metal bars.