Sunday, January 18, 2009

Gulf Province

My trip to the Gulf Province was fun but short lived, what initially was planned was to spend a few days at Kikori, just hanging out on the river, but a better offer was to go through the Gulf Province by road and enter the Southern Highlands after first arriving in the Gulf Province by Air. This trip also included the previously blogged about lap of Lake Kutubu and an aerial assault on the Wasi Falls so with 4 flights, a few hours on a road in the Jungle, camping out in minesite, a six hour boat cruise and lunch with the locals, this weekend looked like a corker, and a good reason to escape from Moresby for a few days.

The Gulf part of the trip was fun; the plan was to fly to Kikori, catch a drive to Gobe while crossing the mighty Kikori River and then flying north. Sounds simple, this is PNG and like most travel in PNG, it starts with that familiar voice (imagine a Rabbit trapped in the headlights of a car) at Jackson’s Airport letting us know that our plane was delayed.

So we have a chat to the Airlines PNG girl, give her my mobile number and we scoot out of there. The easiest escape is to get up to the Airways Hotel and jump into a cold SP while wasting a few hours watching someone else’s planes come and go, and while we couldn’t find the Airways shuttle bus we did manage to spot the Crown Plaza bus and he was gracious enough to take us poolside and at the Airways. He told us he knew where we were headed because he used to be the driver at that Hotel. If the Crownie ever read this and they work out who he is, he will probably want to line up the Driver’s job at Lamana. But thanks to ol’ Bud, we were relaxing in a little bit of Moresby style while our plane was doing naught.

Then came the call, the Airlines PNG girl phoned me up and said that our delayed plane was early and we had to be back at the Airport. She was well excited that she was able to give us the good news that our delayed plane was in fact, taking off early, she almost couldn’t control herself. Good on her.

So we took the Airways shuttle bus back down to Jackson’s and boarded our Twin Otter. It was a pleasant flight along the Motuan coastline of southern Papua, we could check out Yule Island, and the Brown River and then we started descending well before Kikori, and it was raining, perhaps the weather was bad and we were going to sit it out at Kerema. The landing was okay, but then the Twin Otter got stuck in some mud as the pilot tried to get closer to the terminal. We were bogged, I was watching out the window as the right hand tyre started to disappear into the yellow mud. The pilot had the Twin Otter straining with the engines screaming and slowly the plane lifted like that Phoenix story from the ashes or charcoal and the Twin Otter wandered across the mud to the terminal.

The pilot came out to say G’day and that he was going to head off to Bereina and then come back and get us and then we would all go to Kikori. We said that we would like to go to Bereina too as an excursion would be nice, but he said it would be best if we went for a walk around Kerema, and besides, how often do you get to check out Kerema?

Oh yeah, during this flight my seat totally collapsed, it came away from its railing on the side of the plane and just fell apart in a heap. I was stuck holding on to the seat in front of me while using my hip flexor muscles to try to rise the seat up to a normal position. I was then able to rest the edge of the seat onto the top of the rail, meaning any turbulence would cause the seat to collapse again.

Whilst stationary at Kerema, the Pilot and I went to town on fixing the seat. We got it solid again.

So there we were a group of us, standing at Kerema, no luggage, no plane and a supposed one hour before the pilot would be back. So we went for a meet and greet with the locals. We watched some muddy soccer on the town square, we hung out with some betelnut chewing lads and we had a chat with a betelnut bombed lady in one of the Chinese stores. She was keen to show us around town as they don’t get too many white people just wander into town with no luggage and stuff, but when we wandered off looking at other shops, she got a bit offended. I feel deeply bad about it, and if she’s ever in Moresby, I would like to say I am sorry. But she was pretty bombed.

So we bought some coke and twisties and had lunch.

After some time we went back to the Airport and sat around the terminal, and lo and behold, our plane came back! We got onboard and took off towards Kikori. There was no chance that our driver would be there waiting at the airport…

The Kikori Airstrip is laid with Marsen Matting. No Way!!! This stuff was laid down during the Second World War to create runways on beaches and build temporary bridges and roads. Not in 2007. But sure enough, we circled the airport and we could see the torrential rain, we could hear the torrential rain and we could see the 60 year old strips of rusty iron all curled up and bashed together to form what appeared to be a Second World War Airstrip designed for Kittyhawks and the occasional Mustang. This landing was going to be all over the shop like a mad woman’s breakfast, and I was right. Bang, we hit hard, you could hear the plates of old metal moving around and there was mud and there was rain, and the Twin Otter was sideways, slewing all over the runway, we could see the Pilot through the little wooden archway and he was riding this beast like a Rodeo rider. We slowed to taxi speed and then taxied across the drainage trench and up to the shed. The Pilot looked back at us and said “Welcome to Kikori, hope you enjoyed your flight, sorry ‘bout the landing and I’ll see ya next time.”

After collecting our bags, a man approached and said he was our driver, and he was going to get us into the dark heart of the Gulf Province and to a place called Gobe, but first he must piss around in town and at his office. After all this he said; “Sorry crew, there isn’t enough time to get to Gobe tonight, we will miss the last ferry and it is better if we try again at 4am tomorrow”. We politely persuaded him to give it a go getting us to the ferry and in the back of a Troopy, we headed off on a reasonably well graded gravel road at 40kph. “Can’t we go any faster?” we cried… “No” was the response.

This road is maintained and built by Oil Search Ltd and they have a strict no speeding, stick on 40 kph limit apply. We even have to sign in and out and check points along the way, which is a good opportunity to stretch the legs. Normally when traveling in PNG, one gets amazed at how many people are just sitting around and doing nothing. Not on this road. This road is one of the remotest roads in the country, it is owned by the Oil Company and it is used by the Oil Company. No one else has access and it is quiet.

You drive through thick forest, forever following a pipeline which is buried under the ground, and then the forest parts and you find the Kikori River, a river which is just smashing along… parts of Kikori get 6 metres of rainfall a year and it is not unusual for the parts inland to get 11 metres. This river is moving and the ferry is dragged sideways by around 6 cables to get from side to side. Trees float past. It is near dark, and the ferry has waited for us, after driving for hours at 40kph, we make it across the river, and we continue in the dark towards the mining camp of Gobe.

My time in the Gulf Province is short lived for after a night sleeping in the mining camp listening to the deafening rain on the roof, I am in a plane and headed for Lake Kutubu and the Southern Highlands. The Gulf is scarcely populated, heavy with rain and the rain forest is one of the thickest I have ever seen but I enjoyed my time here. Apart from meeting the crew at Kerema, I feel as if I have missed something, maybe next time.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Manus Province.

Manus is the most Northern Province in PNG, the main Island is Manus Island and it was here that I was able to get away to for a few days back in late 2007. Manus requires a couple of flights to get to and it feels very remote. If life in PNG is fairly laid back and casual, then in Manus it feels as if time has stopped. And a short walk around the Provincial Capital of Lorengau proves that indeed some of the construction work to build the town stopped shortly after the end of the Second World War; old Nissen Huts are now Coca-Cola advertisements, old concrete bunkers are storerooms and the start of a great causeway built by the US Army still looks as if work will re-start tomorrow.

Manus does not know what Tourism is. The trios of us traveling there in November of 2007 were tourist numbers 8, 9 and 10 for the year to date, and as I knew who the last two visitors were, I felt that we were in elite company. The day we arrived must have been tourist season as we saw a couple of lads with surfboards arriving to try and catch some PNG swell… we never saw them again albeit ever so briefly in the marketplace. I wonder if they tried any of the smoked Cuscus.

The only Hotel in town was owned and operated by the Local Level Government and they would only receive visitors from workers coming to the Island to fix things. Workers like Telikom and PNG Power and Eda Ranu would stay there along with Politicians on workshops and junkets. The staff eyed us suspiciously as we wanted not to sit around the stagnant pool drinking warm beer and staying up to 6am, but we wanted to visit local communities, chat with the locals, go for a swim and enjoy PNG hospitality. These ideas were foreign to the staff.

After much convincing and cajoling we managed to get a vehicle and staff member to take us for a journey away from the heart of Manus and up into the Mountains in the centre of the Island. As it was surfing season, the swell was far too great for us to go visiting neighbouring Islands. We did manage a snorkel on Ra-Rah Island close by which was a swell time, and there was fantastic Manus Pandanus on the Island. Our journey into the Mountains culminated with watching a Soccer Match in the pouring rain with the entire Village community involved. There was not a blade of vegetation on the pitch and the red soil was saturated with the constant rain. We got to hug a baby Cuscus which probably ended up being smoked and sold at the markets later and we got to spend some good quality time chatting to the local crew. Some of whom had a fair idea about tourism, but were being hamstrung by the only Hotel on the Island. A shame really because hindsight is an amazing thing and I think I would have altered my original plans if only I knew more and spent more time with these people…

After the men finished their game of soccer, the young ladies of the Village had their turn, in pouring rain and on a field of clay; two dozen young Manusian girls chased a heavy saturated leather ball around. Mud wrestling anyone?

We then drove back to town, purchased a shortwave radio and decided to listen to the election to see if Johnnie Howard still had a job or if Kevin 07 was gonna be the new PM. Amazingly enough, the Hotel found a technician who was willing to work all day Saturday to make sure the planets were in alignment and that the televisions picked up the ABC. Unbelievable, as we sat and drank warm beer and peered at the crackly snowy image on the teev, we watched history being made, from as far away from Australia we could get whilst in PNG.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sandaun Province

Formerly known as West Sepik Province, this most North Western corner of PNG is now referred to as Sandaun or “Sun Down” Province. This is the west for PNG and it is in the west that the Sun goes down every night. As they say, getting there is half the fun. My plan was to go to Jayapura, the provincial heart of what I always learnt in school to be Irian Jaya or as it is referred to now, West Papua, or even (in some circles) West Irian. Jayapura started off its life as Hollandia and was the Colonial headquarters for the Dutch who had administration duties of the left half of New Guinea before the Indonesians took Sovereignty.

Like I said, getting there was half the fun and what could have been a disaster, turned out in the end, a good rollicking rollercoaster of a ride which as with many adventures in PNG start with a flight delayed call at Jackson’s domestic Terminal.

There we were, a small group of 4 sitting in Jackson’s when the announcement came over the PA, “all people flying to Wewak and Vanimo, your flight has been delayed…”, a few audible groans reverberated around the (at the time) mangy carpeted attempt of a departure lounge that serves the Air Niugini patrons in PNG’s capital. It was later we found out that this delay then meant that our pre-arranged driver in Vanimo had felt that we were not coming.

But we boarded our F100, and we were soon in the air and heading to Wewak, not a bad flight, you cruise along to the north west skirting the PNG southern Motuan coastline until you get to Yule Island, where you then start to drift inland and up and over the sort of saddle between the Owen Stanley Ranges to your right and the PNG Highlands to your left. After flying over the top of these ranges you then start to head over the Ramu Valley and then skirt the PNG northern coastline until Wewak comes into view. Always a right hand circle over the sea then lines you up with the air strip at Wewak. Touch down, now 30 minutes (ish) on the tarmac while passengers are exchanged and luggage hopefully, a dash of fuel if there is a tractor to pull the fuel tank out and then up and flying along the north coast heading west to Vanimo. Again, a quick circle over the sea, this provides gorgeous views of the Timber logging wharf and one touches down at Vanimo Airport.

After collecting our packs, we then headed to the carpark where we were to meet our driver who would take us to the Indonesian border. Vans came and went and no-one driver seemed interested in taking us to the border, but it soon became clear that the driver wasn’t there and he had decided to go home and chew some betelnut because the plane had been delayed and he was off. It was Good Friday by the way and everyone wants their public holiday. The driver had been seen in an old red Toyota crew cab Ute and some of the locals said that they would go in search of this vehicle for us. As a dozen young men from Vanimo, headed off to all points of the compass, we remained patient and in the carpark of the airport.

And then, a red Toyota showed up and our man Doug was there, he said we would drive to the border, so bags were chucked into the back and we climbed aboard. Doug drove in typical PNG fashion, get the car into 5th gear, and leave it there until it nearly stalls and then start changing back down the gears until the car goes forward again. Then once you accelerate to 5th gear, do the same. So in a slow racing chugga chugga style we made our way to the border. I was in Sandaun Province.

The road to Wutung and the border is gorgeous, it snakes it way gently along the north coastline of PNG towards Indonesia, along the way, and gaps in the jungle expose white sandy beaches and small bays with waves coming ashore and so many children riding old wooden surfboards or planks of wood. Some of the boards are full of borer holes and look like Swiss cheese and none of the children are clothed. They just run and play in the surf without a care in the world. Oh to be able to enjoy such a freedom. The car passes many small villages where everyone waves and nods at the passing vehicle. The road is quiet as not too many people make this journey, although the views are worth the effort alone.

After 90 minutes of driving, we come to the Village of Wutung; at the base of the hill is a yellow gate which today being Good Friday is closed. Doug grunts and mumbles about never seeing this gate closed ever before. We sit for a short period of time, and Doug blasts the horn. No movement but up on top of the hill we see Indonesian figures, these men were there waiting for me, they were going to get us to Jayapura. Doug had nearly completed his work for the day. I talked to Doug about approaching someone in Wutung to open up the gate, and he had an old wantok who could do the trick. We reversed back down from the gate to a road junction and headed into town. While reversing down the hill, Doug’s Toyota was making an awful noise from the front wheels, it looked like Doug was driving with his wheel hubs locked into 4WD and the front left was locked solid when reversing. It was smoking, but Doug just wanted us gone.

We arrived at this house, Doug went inside and spoke to the owner, they chewed some betelnut and we watched the kids surfing just down the road. Doug came back and said that there would be a Custom agent on top of the hill and he could get us to the yellow gate but no further, we would just have to walk the remaining distance to the border. Ok we said, and off we drove again.

We got out of Doug’s Red Toyota at the Yellow gate, shook Doug’s hand and said thanks; he said “Buai” and then drove off at speed. The four of us were now standing at the bottom of a steep hill, with no transport, and no place to stay and the time was marching on. So up the Mountain we climbed, and what a steep climb it was, over 180m change of altitude in a distance of less than a kilometer. At the top of the hill, we met our two Indonesian drivers who were to get us to Jayapura, a handful of PNG policemen and a closed Customs Agency. It was Good Friday by the way.

There were more audible groans.

How were we going to spend our weekend in Indonesia when the sign on Customs said come back tomorrow? We spoke to the half dozen PNG Police officers who were sitting around chewing betelnut and we asked if they had the clearance to stamp our passports out of PNG and therefore clearing us to Indonesia. The answer was “No”. We asked if there was someone in Wutung who could perform this task, the answer was “Yes, but it was Good Friday, so they are not working today”. It seemed no-one was working today.

We asked if the good Police officers could use their phones to call up someone in town to come up to the top of the hill and stamp us in. They tried their mobiles, no coverage, so the answer was “No”. We asked about the phone inside, and they said it was for emergencies only. This was taking time… The police officers continued to chew. We spied a small scooter and we asked if the police officers could send someone down to Wutung and pick someone up for us, the answer this time was “Yes”, but it would happen after they had chewed some more betelnut.

Sometime later, one of the police officers got on the scooter and then put-put-putted on their way down the hill. Some 45 minutes and needless to say, some betelnut chewing later, a Customs officer showed up and stamped us out of PNG. There was relief on everyone’s faces.

Getting to Jayapura is another story. The return leg in Sandaun Province was a smoother process as everyone was back at work, and we eventually boarded another F100 for our return to Moresby.

Southern Highlands Province

Been there twice. Fantastic place, if you look at a map, the Southern Highlands are at the south-western edge of the Highlands. It was the first and second Highland Province I visited and I like the place. Some of them even consider themselves to be Papuan and I have met a few who speak Motu. It was a corker moment to say “Oi Namu” in the Highlands and score a smile and a response. I was stoked.

The first time I traveled to SHP, there were some problems. The 2002 elections had destroyed Tari and Mendi and left both Towns a smoldering wreck. I arrived in Tari some 4 years after the devastation to find a charred and screwed up Town. It kinda reminded me of Wilcannia… kinda.

While Tari was just a shell of its former self, Mendi was struggling to rebuild itself, only marginally calling itself the Provincial Administrative Centre, the Southern Highlands was, and still is in disarray. Marijuana and Guns were rife, Clan warfare had reached a peak and some of the fighting between clans had been an ongoing problem for more than a generation. What was once dealt with bows and arrows was now being conducted by automatic rifles. Tensions continued to escalate and the PNG Government called a State of Emergency. Additional Police and the PNGDF were called in to enforce a Gun Amnesty.

I thought it would be an ideal time to plan a holiday and a visit to the Highlands, extra Cops for extra Protection and less Guns on the streets, sounds like a win-win situation. As it evolved, I had a wonderful time, safe and I managed to avoid anything that remotely looked like a dodgy situation. Moresby and Lae were considered to be a bigger threat.

I spotted three Birds of Paradise, the King of Saxony, the Ribbon Tailed Astrapia and the Superb. I spent time with the most fearsome of all Highland Warriors, the Huli, and I learnt much about their culture and their way of life, from childhood to funeral rites. I was able to trek into the Mountains as high as twice the height I had ever been in Australia. It was one of my first forays outside of Moresby and I had discovered the warmth and gorgeousness of the people of PNG. The plane I was on when it landed at Tari was greeted by thousands of locals all seeing who was coming and who was going. It was a daunting sight.

The next year in 2007, I returned to the Southern Highlands but this time I snuck in by a different way. After flying eventually to Kikori, I then drove inland through the Gulf Province (but this is another story) and on the next day I flew from Gobe to Moro in the Southern Highlands on the edge of Lake Kutubu. What a gorgeous location to mine for Gas.

On a Sunday with a few crew from the Gas Field, we took a slow boat to complete a lazy lap of Lake Kutubu. Along the way we stopped and visited the local Villages, we stopped and visited a Long Haus, a Skull Cave, and an Orchid Farm and had lunch with the local ladies.

There was a moment of joy where I spent some time talking about Bixa orellana with some of the local kids. This was a find of mine when I recently lived in the far North of Australia and had never seen this amazing seed and its pod before. The kids knew the whole deal, and there weren’t much I could tell them, this plant had been there long before they were born…. The only catch was that none of them knew that this plant was introduced to their country from South America, many, many, many generations past.

The next day, I then flew out, again flying over the Lake as the Sun was once again rising on the Southern Highlands. A beautiful place and a magical place.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Eastern Highlands Province

The EHP or more particularly for me was Goroka and its accompanying festival. I flew in, checked out the many, many Sing-sing Groups and then flew out. I had a tight schedule and during this trip I had visited the very South Eastern corner of PNG, followed by a journey to Rabaul via Buka and it was at the end of this journey that I took in the splendour of the Goroka Festival.

It is simply an awesome spectacle; imagine dozens and dozens of Highlanders in traditional tribal bilas and performing dances of a variety of meanings. Most of the performances were based on some of the dances that they would perform when going into battle with other clans yet some of the performances were based on finding a partner whether that be for loving or for cooking… and of course there was the snake dance.

My personal favourite group was the group of ladies from Enga who stood in a long line rhythmically swaying their grass skirts by a gentle bend of their knees, while beating out a tempo on small kundu drums. Upon their heads was a wig of human hair decorated with small ferns, and they wore a light coating of light brown earth on their faces, shoulders and breasts. A band of black paint from ear to ear masked their eyes and added to the seriousness of their expression. Quite hypnotic.

My other highlights were the crew from Goroka town itself and their traditional costume which was bilum made and in the colours and designs of the PNG National Flag, very patriotic. I liked the lads from Morobe who performed very energetically and sexually while singing songs about their women getting the dinner ready. The snake dance guys were really cool too, underneath a huge stocking, filled and painted to look like a long snake, the men would dance and circulate in and around the rest of the crowd, with the tallest man leading the way and slowly getting smaller and younger until the last few performers holding onto the tail end of the snake were just little tackers enjoying their day out in the sun.

The lads all looked like they were having a ball.

And then the performers all left the field and mingled with the crowds outside, and this was a sign for the afternoon rain to start and this was a second sign for the crowd outside to start hurling bricks and large rocks over the fence and into the throng of people all trying to get out of the rain. After a large rock landed in the clump of bamboo I was hiding under for rain protection, I thought it was best to move further away from the Rock Concert.

But I survived and managed to escape down to the centre of town, got a beer from the Bird of Paradise and then bought some crafts from the street sellers outside, and got followed by more craftsmen on the way to the Airport to the waiting Dash-8 and journey back to Moresby.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

East New Britain Province

I guess if Lae and Morobe are my PNG home away from home then the East New Britain Province is my holiday home away from home. I have spent a fair deal of time in the province and as mentioned once before in this blog, I never tire of watching Tavuvur, the active volcano.

The provincial heart of East New Britain is now Kokopo as much as those in Rabaul disbelieve, but the true business heart is on the other side of Simpson Harbour. Rabaul got dumped on in 1994 and covered with Ash from Tavuvur and Vulcan (original name for a Volcano) and despite rescue attempts to save the Town, it survives purely as a shipping port and tourist draw card. The ash which has now fallen in the last 12 months is ringing out the end of this once beautiful town. The people, who still live here, are ash coloured and depressed, the Frangipanis still hang in despite their leaves being continually darkened from the sun and the Mangoes of Mango Street are a thing of the past.

PNG almost gets tourism right here, and it is making inroads to improving what possibly could be a sustainable and economic future. Diving, Fishing, War History and the Volcano could all be a boom for this part of the Pacific.

I remember one time jumping into some very deep water just off Pidgin Island into a pod of Dolphins and for a brief moment I swam with these large mammals of the deep. I could hear their whistles and clicks and it is a very surreal feeling watching them play and swim around. The surrealism got even more intense as I then had the strongest feeling that one of the Dolphins was not looking at me, but through me, looking at something behind me and over my shoulder. I turned around in the water to see a rather large fish with a big pointy nose, an intense black eye and a long pointy tail. It was a close encounter with a shark.

I then started to try to walk/run on water whilst calling back to the crew on the boat to come and get me as there was a shark in the water. During my impression of a wounded seal I could only think of where the shark was and how fast was he going to hit my legs at. Well something was on my side because it was a whole minute later when I was picked up by the old Sea Cap’n and his boat, which was more than enough time for old Chompy to have a bite, but thankfully Sharky didn’t.

My pulse still elevates when I think of that big black eye in the water.

Don’t know what is safer, standing underneath Tavuvur is when it is chucking out molten VWs or swimming in the water...?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Morobe Province

Ah Lae, I like the place, it’s kinda like my home away from home when referencing my time in PNG. Lae is the provincial heart of Morobe and is the link that PNG has with Asia. This City exists for its shipping, because there ain’t much else to see in Lae. Moresbians don’t like Lae and Laetians (I made that one up) don’t care too much for Moresby. In fact Lae can’t wait for the day it has to avoid Moresby to get anywhere internationally; mind you it is only a 40 minute flight, Moresby to Lae and there are three flights a day. Ahem. That’s also forgetting the 40 minute drive required from NadzabAirport to the City of Lae itself.

But I digress, despite the copious amounts of razor wire, the Guard Dog security guard on every street corner and the security screens welded to the outside of the windscreen on the bus you catch from the airport, Lae has an attractive underbelly to it. 4 metres of rainfall each year means the grass is always greener and hidden amongst the termite infested Rain Trees are some exquisite orchids, zygos, broms and ferns. There are some hidden Horticultural delights in the main streets of Lae. There’s also that laid back approach to dodging pot-holes (called driving elsewhere) that exudes the charms of a big country town, and the way that on every pot-hole corner there’s a dozen people makes one think that one is caught up in a thriving metropolis.

One time, I managed to escape the allure of Lae itself, and I managed to get up into the mountains behind the City to Bulolo and Wau, towns of a decent gold rush in the 1930’s and a new prospective happening at the moment up in Hidden Valley. The locals today still continue to pan the streams and rivers looking for their fortune while the big mining boys manage to divert and redirect the watercourses upstream. It must be frustrating for the little guys, but eh, that’s business.

Wau was gorgeous, should be renamed Wow, and had a real charm to it, after you get over the initial What-is-this-white-guy-doing-in-town introduction. I will admit, Wau gave me the most aggressive of all welcomes by any town in PNG. Shortly afterwards, once it was known that I wasn’t here to dig a massive hole in the ground and shortchange the locals, I was received more comfortably. If you are ever in Wau, go to Donna’s Stoa, see Dannielle or Tim and they can give you some good guidance in a real pretty part of Morobe and far removed from the aggression of Lae.

I only regret not making it to Finschafen. Footy biang!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Central Province

Home of the Motuan, Koiari, Rigo and Goilalans, and home to my PNG family. I have been fortunate enough to explore a good deal of this province yet have missed out on a great deal. I would have liked to have made it eastward past Kupiano and to the west past Yule Island and even up into the mountains of the Goilala, but I have walked and spent some time with the Koiari between Sogeri and Kokoda and I have hunted Orchids in the Rigo hills around Lebogoro. I have had the privilege of attending a Bride Price Ceremony down at Hula and I have watched Rugby League with my PNG family at Boera.

The Central province is the Motuan coastline with the Owen Stanley Ranges providing a continual blue hued backdrop, and on clear days in Moresby, you can see Kokoda Gap, Mt Victoria, and Mt Albert Edward.

A partnership between my GF and a traditional potter at Boera has provided many highlights; the two potters have spent time together learning each other’s techniques, clays and firing practices. Watching a collection of Motuan Pots being fired in an above ground fire in only 20 minutes is a spectacular and fiery event. Motuan clay is very sandy and contains a lot of grog whereas western clay is smooth and creamy and seeing the joy of the local kids playing with this modern clay and getting the clay everywhere is quite amusing.

Meanwhile, as the kids and potters are busy messing around with clay, the rest of us sit around under the Oil Palms and Frangipanis and watch the local lads play Rugby League. Boera has a population of around 2,000 and has at least 8 League teams which play each other during the regular season and then they play each other again during the “off” season. The matches are brother and against brother, cousin against cousin and despite the concrete hardness of the pitch, the lads are keen to smash into each other at any given moment. Papua New Guineans are passionate about their football.

A great way to spend an afternoon.