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.

1 comment:

kikorikid said...

Hi Steve, I spent two years in Kikori as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer.(1982-84) The Marsden matting was procurred by the late
John Senior. A true charature of
adventure. As a teenager he flew fighter planes from Daru around the topcoastal navigating to POM
I oould tell you more if you like.