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Trip Start Jan 08, 2004
167Trip End Ongoing
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This was my first overseas trip. PNG is amazing.
One of my first memories of the trip was as we approached the start of the trek, I saw for the first time in my life mountains that rose up so steeply and so high that they entered the clouds, and then (totally amazingly to me) they poked out the other side of the clouds before sharply returning back to Earth and then rising up again. They were huge compared to mainland Australian mountains and much sharper.
That day we met our trekking guide, Peter. At first he said he couldn't speak English, but I watched him listening to the others and smiling at certain things. I also listened to him speaking to the PNG Army guys that were with us. They spoke too quick for me to follow them exactly, but I knew enough Pidgin to know that they were talking about us (the white ones) and about what we had been talking about. Peter had understood everything and later it became clear that his English was excellent. Some of the others made fools of themselves and said rude things about Peter which they thought he couldn't understand. He quietly put all that info away in his head.
Later that same night we stayed the night in a PNG village for the first time. It was a beautiful night and quite black in the jungle once the sun went. Eventually we nodded off to sleep, later to be woken by very beautiful carol singing. It was a Sunday and the people here had been converted to Christianity (which reminds me of another memory of PNG) and so they sang in one of the huts on a Sunday night.
Going backwards a bit - in Madang, before we headed off on the trek we went to an ex-pat club / bar. There weren't many ex-pats in Madang, but the ones that were there or temporarily passed through didn't tend to mix well with the PNG locals, they had much more money and different tastes and as a whole looked down on the locals. I was lucky enough to be fascinated by PNG culture and had respect for their abilities and knowledge and some of my best friends at the time were Papuans (one in particular, Micheal Jim - who later died in the Bougainville war (which was largely caused by a greedy Australian company)). Anyway that night there were two young American missionaries in the bar. The stories came out how they had been teaching in this village and that village and had to leave this one as they had got a girl pregnant here and had promised to marry another one somewhere else. Basically they were rooting and lying their way around the villages and spreading their religion also. Perhaps this experience, mixed with another I will mention soon, explains why I have since been interested in mixing with ex-pats and generally prefer the company of the locals. Oh, we had some trouble getting our Papuan colleagues into that bar (as it was whites only), but eventually did, however it was clear they were uncomfortable the whole time.
Anyway back to the trek. It was pretty rugged topography and it was amazing to still find many World War 2 relics hidden away in the jungle and see the sites of famous battles. We eventually made our way off the ridge and along the Imjim river. Gradually as we moved closer to the coast it was possible to see what at first were basic bamboo age villages slowly have more and more outside influence. At first it was a coke sign, later it was tin roofs..
I remember one particularly hard day walking along the river and it was getting dark and we had not come to the village we had planned to stay at that night. Everyone was pretty tired and some had quite severe chaffing. Just as the light was fading, we turned a river bend and there on the bank, up on stilts was the village - one of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen with the sun setting just behind. Once we settled into the village a handful of kids followed us around and watched us do everything but were at first too scared to talk to us. By the end of the night they were sitting and speaking English with us.
Another memory was of stripping off and swimming in a waterfall and in rock pools. Something I would never had done in Australia. Great
Another one was me and a friend sitting up one night talking to the old village chief long after everyone had gone to bed. It was another pitch black and quiet night and as he was telling us of his experience of having to stay in that village when the Japanese took it over (he was too young to go with the other men to help the Australians fight) - he started singing the Japanese national anthem, in Japanese with a Japanese accent. 50 years on he still remembered as the Japanese soldiers had beaten it into him. It was pretty eery to hear that in the PNG jungle.
Oh, previously that same day we had found a cassowary egg that we picked up and on arrival at the village we presented it to the chief. That night we also ate cassowary meat that had been salted but needed to be eaten pretty soon. The village fed us first and we ate while children with bloated bellies stood and watched us. But upon asking, they would have it no other we, we were guests and they wanted us to eat and be full first. Also during that day a cassowary had attacked us - perhaps the mum who's egg we took.
Back in Madang while everyone else dived I stayed in town with some locals who were from the same tribe as Jim. The papuan wun tok system works such that is you are a member of the same tribe you are friends. Your friends and automatically your friends friends also. So I was able to stay with these guys and go to the local markets in the back of their truck etc. The sight of a white man riding in the tray of a ute was something clearly the locals weren't used to, but it was lots of fun and I found that I was quickly known in the town.
On our final night we had a few beers. Another couple of ex-pats (mining types this time) were also in the hotel bar and they were getting a bit drunk and rowdy. I thought I would do the right thing by them and everyone else and I suggested that after the next beer they finish up. They told me to fuck off. I sat down, they were drunk enough that they'd soon be gone anyway. But immediately as I sat down some of my new Papuan wun-toks came up and told me that they saw what had happened and that they would kill those two men for me. I said don't worry about it and also initially assummed that they meant they'd beat the guys up a little. But soon it became apparent that the incident could not be forgotten and that the men had to be killed, literally. They had offended me and as my wun-toks my friends had to kill the two men. They planned to beat them up and then throw them off a nearby cliff into the ocean. It took me about 30 minutes to talk them out of it, by which time the two idiots had gone to bed anyway. To help my friends forget about it and not go and break down the guys doors and kill them, I brought the Papuans enough beer to get them too drunk to do anything except sleep. Those two mining executives will never know how close to death they were.