In the Highlands

Trip Start Jun 21, 2008
Trip End Jul 05, 2008

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Flag of Papua New Guinea  ,
Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Again I arrive without having contacted the place I was planning on staying, phone lines were down I was told at the travel agency. No problem, the airport is right in town. A local school teacher saw me looking a bit lost and offered to walk me to the guesthouse I was planning on staying. Next day I wandered around town. There was a museum to check out. This town is in the Eastern Highland Province. While coastal areas of PNG had contact with Europeans in the early 1500s, everyone assumed that the central part of the country, the highlands, were not accessible to humans and therefore uninhabited. It was not until 1930 that "white man" discovered the locals living there. There was a lot of info and pictures about that, the first time the locals saw white people, airplanes, themselves in a mirror, etc. This is also when coffee was introduced to the area and now the highlands are known for its delicious organically grown coffee.

After that I decided to take a short walk from my guesthouse to a lookout called Mt Kis. I am going to tell this story here because maybe if another woman is planning on going to Papua New Guinea solo and reads this she can learn from it. Plus, for better or worse, this is a big part of my trip and it affected the way I related to people for the rest of my time in Papua New Guinea. It was the middle of the day, I felt safe walking by myself. As I started up the hill, locals passing me going down were very friendly with cordial greetings, I felt even safer. Another local who was also walking up the hill caught up with me. He chatted with me for a bit. I intentionally slowed down hoping he would pass by, not because I felt unsafe, just because I didn't need guiding, according to Lonely Planet it seemed like a straightforward walk.
However, he slowed his pace as well and we continued to chat. He mentioned that if we went just around the bend from the first lookout there was another nice view and then a bit farther I might be able to see birds of paradise (the local bird here). Our conversation had been friendly, he had mentioned taking other tourists there, I did not feel uneasy at all. I decided to let him show me. Of course now he was guiding me so I had every intention of giving him some Kina when we got back. After we had sat and waited for the birds for a while I decided I was ready to go back and he started asking for money then. I said no, I would give him some when we got back down the hill, but he insisted. So I got out my "throw away" wallet. The wallet that had about 3 USD worth of Kina in it, that I had previously planned to give away in the event of a mugging. But when he tried to take it away from me my instinct took over and I wrestled it back from him-I'll never figure that one out. That's when things got ugly, just as I got the wallet back in my backpack he attacked me. I won't go into details other than to say that I wasn't hurt, but I was terrified.
Luckily when he came at me I screamed. There was a young man working in his garden not far away who heard me scream and came to see if someone needed help. His name was Dollar. Dollar got the other man to leave and said he would walk me back to my guesthouse. He was "roughly 19" (most people here don't know exactly how old they are) and a student. Since there is no public school his family could only afford to send one child to school at a time and this semester was his brother's turn so that's why he was in the garden. He very sweetly told me I shouldn't have been walking to the lookout by myself. He was very concerned about my safety for the rest of my stay in Goroka. Since I had already arranged a tour through the tourist office the next day I figured I'd be safe, but I agreed to let him walk me to the airport the following morning. As we got to the bottom of the hill he saw his sisters across the street. He waved and shouted something to them. I told him he should tell them he was a hero and he said, "I already did."

The next day on my tour I went to a nearby district called Asoro. I visited a small village where one of the ladies showed me around and explained how they lived. The only thing the people really own here is land and it stays in the family passed from one generation to the next. On their land they grow what they need to survive in the garden. They take what they don't need to the market and sell so they can buy things they can't grow. They also make money by growing coffee on their land. This area is famous for it's mud men. Back in the day before clans would fight the men would dress up and dance to prepare. In this area they would cover themselves in mud and wear huge clay masks. Story has it that one night as they were doing this dance the enemy showed up early but thought the men were spirits so they ran away. So the dance lasted. After the dance I ate a traditional meal called a mumu. It consisted of all types of vegetables picked from the garden and some chicken cooked underground on hot rocks-yummy! In the afternoon I went on a trek through the jungle to a waterfall. I felt a bit like a pampered western tourist the entire day, but I didn't care. And all the people I met in the village were very friendly and seemed genuinely happy to have me there.

The following morning Dollar was waiting outside my guesthouse to walk me to the airport. After I checked my bag I came back outside to chat with him until it was time for me to go. He was very interested to hear what it was like in the Philippines where I live. He wanted my address so he can write to me and then I can send him pictures. He also made sure I knew that their big festival in Goroka is in September and I should be sure to come back for that. As it was time for me to leave he sheepishly said he was sorry he didn't have anything to give me and tried to give me his bilum (a colorful bag woven from string that everyone carries here). His gesture was so sweet it touched my heart. I told him he had given me so much already, besides I would rather he write to me, I hope he does.
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