Thursday, September 9, 2010

For Eunie.

This is my Madang.

I once walked from Mt Wilhelm to Madang; the mountains in this photos are not the ones I clambered down from, but the mountains that rise from any coast in PNG up into its spine are similar.  This shot was taken from Madang looking back towards the Highlands yet to the Sou'west of Madang itself.  A sunrise on yet another beautiful day in paradise.

This is what others know of when you say Madang.

On my last trip to Madang I ventured out to Jais Aben.  I visited the graves at Alexshafen.  I have spent my life dedicated to many of whom I never met and it is only the living that know of the dead.  From my vantage point of Jais Aben, I could see the young children on this tiny island running carefree up and down the sandy beach blissfully unaware.

This is the Madang which provides a source of life.

Despite a morning storm over Krangket Island, these locals find a moment to cease fishing and admire the sunrise.  Human touch in front of the extremes that Mother Nature can dish out can often be the softest.

I offer flowers.  If I were to pick a posie of Madang's finest, then I would select the simple blooms from the following.

This is my Madang.

Early morning, despite the nat-nats, a photographer must capture the first moment, it is the cleanest light, the purest light.

With the warmth of the sun, often comes the storms.

And it was a heavy heart that I left Madang for the very last time.  This was to be my last flight in PNG.

Looking back towards Madang, these photos were taken with my wondering if I would ever return.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

SP Lager; Who serves it?

Okay, final SP post, and I still have not had anybody from the brewery contact me to say that the pallet of SP lager is on its way.  I'm still waiting...

Back to why I came here... who serves SP Lager?  Good question, we know who drinks it and we know how to buy it and we also know that it is available in Australia.  Now say this like you have a plum in your mouth; "it is an imported lager and carries the price tag not dissimilar to other fine lagers from around the globe".  I reckon' it even tastes worthy of competing with other fine lagers from around the globe.  Hey I like it but we all knew that!

My experience tells me that serving SP lager is almost as much fun as drinking SP lager, but serving and drinking SP would be some kind of retail nirvana, and I have experienced that as well.  And it was an historic moment in time, my wantoks still talk about that afternoon when I was in charge of the esky, and we had fun handing out the SP and we had fun drinking the SP.  Good times... good times.

Here's Albert, he's working hard at the Rapopo Plantation Resort over on East New Britain, it is interesting to note that there ain't a huge supply of SP behind Albert in the SP fridge.  That's because Albert and the team at Rapopo place all the day's supply of SP into a big esky on ice, because SP is best served cold, and ice is the best way to get beer to perfection.  Albert, we salute you.

Even birds at the Windjammer Hotel, Wewak, East Sepik enjoy SP and here we see a Cockatoo standing at the end of this iconic bar found in this iconic establishment.  The Windjammer is a must visit location to any trip to Wewak, and it has this bleedin' great big timber bar carved into a crocodile, known amongst locals as the puk-puk bar.  The cockatoos here would have you believe that the local name is a misnomer and that it should be called the pek-pek bar.  And drinker beware, do not get your fingers to close to their beaks!

Here is another large beak attached to another Cockatoo.

On a serious note, thanks to global warming, bars like the puk-puk bar in Wewak and many others like it in tropical locations around the Pacific are under threat by rising sea levels.  If you and your friends still want to experience places like the Windjammer, not just now, but into the future, your kids future, then write to your local Member of Parliament and let them know of the plight of these drinking holes, that these places of refuge, where one can slake one's thirst are in danger of sliding back into the ocean, back into the primordial swamp from whence they came.

I digress, here are two kekeni animase serving patrons at the delightful Japanese restaurant called Daikoku in Port Moresby.

and just take a look at what it says on the serving tray... "good times, great mates... our beer".  Just about sums it up.  Now Daikoku is a fantastic venue for drinking and of course, serving SP.  Great food, great service despite some of the kekeni animase being a little on the quiet side (speak up ladies, we don't bite) and great atmoshpere (I wonder if they still play that soaring soundtrack that reminded me of Gary Moore and did I really type atmoshpere????).  Daikoku was great for business important type lunches and dinners but also for party time with "great mates".  And the Cheesy Lobster?  Exquisite!

Now, if you don't believe me that serving SP can be almost as much fun as drinking SP, then check out these two ladies over in Morobe Province serving SP from the tap at the Sportsman's Bar at the Lae International Hotel.  Called the "Lae Inter" by all and sundry, the Inter can claim it's international status because it has five clocks hanging on the wall behind reception, all showing different time zones and not always working.  But there was nothing "international" about their beers, it was SP, SP, SP or even more SP.  Like the Rapopo Plantation, the Lae Inter also had a stash of stubbies in an esky full of ice.  Refreshing?  Hell yeah, and with great smiles and great service, why wouldn't you want to drink until closing?  Glug glug glug.

And finally, I leave you with the most Australian looking pub interior you will see north of Saibai Island, the Bluff Inn, found at 17-mile, in the Central Province on the road to Sogeri.  Found at the base of the mighty snake road, the Bluff Inn found ex-pats and Nationals drinking side by side, in a very very very dark interior with walls lined with beer coasters from around the globe and outside, the biggest beer garden ever!  What a great venue, for drivers to pull over after the arduous task of getting down the hill and to stop and wet their whistle.  For some time, it was also a good spot for raskols to stop ex-pats and have a chat about finances.  But not in the years I lived in Moresby.  The Bluff Inn, along the banks of the Laloki River, home of some tasty burgers and home to some fine cold beer (Author's note, in 2006, the Bluff Inn didn't realise that ex-pats weren't coming because the beer was warm.  When they started to keep the fridges on, the dollars started to roll their way).

Saturday, July 3, 2010

SP Lager; Who drinks it?

Why of course everyone in PNG does.  SP is the beer of PNG, sure they've smuggled in some Tiger and you can sometimes see some Aussie beers at Boroko Foodworld and more likely the red-card waving members of the diplomacy will often be spotted with an import or 2 or 3 or 9, but SP is the people's choice.  In a country where monopoly rules, SP is one of the finest monopolies around.  So let's raise our glasses and proclaim a toast to the people who drink SP.  And here they be...

Let's start off with the men and women who work tirelessly at SP to slake my thirst.  Here's one here, this guy became a good friend of mine; not because he could brew a decent amber drop but because he was a gentleman, a good bloke, a nice guy and here he was at one of my farewells to PNG relaxing with the tipple of choice: SP Export.  And what finer place to enjoy this beverage then the Bluff Inn, halfway up the road to Sogeri, the Bluff Inn would often attract people to stop and rest under the boughs of the majestic Rain Trees and imbibe in some of PNG's finest.

Even Bukans like SP!  Here are two of Bougainville's finest young men enjoying a green can or 2 or 3 or 30.  These guys stopped to chat with me as one does at 06:30am while I was out walking.  I don't think it was an early start to their drinking session but perhaps the tail end of what looks like a Herculean effort.  I'm sure these two men were determined to fill the tray with their empties and most likely, they probably have forgotten about the time they met the whiteguy with the camera on that morning.  But I have the photo as a keepsake.  Cheers!

What can I say, SP goes well with sport, its a marriage made in heaven, here we find the Rabaul Gurias getting their arses well and truly kicked by the Marauding Mendi Muruks in the 2007 edition of the SP Cup Grand Final.  The Muruks won the match 44-6 after the Gurias started off so sprightly... Ai ai ai.  I was so disappointed when Bemobile took over the Sponsors naming rights for the National Rugby League Comprtition, to me it will always be the SP Cup... that's akin to no longer seeing Somare's face on the K50 note.  A sad day indeed.

This little fella is starting off early!  Honestly, he was just playing with an empty can, but the son of one of my friends looked like such a seasoned barfly, resting on his esky with green can in hand, that I just had to take his photo.  I wonder if the internet will still be around when he grows up and if he'll ever stumble across this shot?  Maybe he could leave a comment?

Anyone who is anyone drinks SP.  Here are a couple of spent stubbies that were consumed during my last supper in PNG, a dozen of my good friends (including brewery staff) joined me at Moresby's finest Italian restaurant for good food, good beer and good cheer.  Besides, like sport, beer goes so very well with good company.  Cheers!

I mentioned before that SP is available on the Kokoda Track and that I made a conscious decision to not partake whilst trekking... but afterwards?  At Kokoda?  Oh yeah!  The SP flowed.  But on a sober note and no I am not going to start reflecting on the Diggers and what they endured on that ragged bloody track but I heard a rumour that the Asian born, PNG national who operated the Chinese Stoa down by the Madi River was on board the Airlines PNG Twin Otter that crashed into the Owen Stanley Ranges in 2009.  I'm saddened by that, he once sold me some Diesel and some SP.

Even Ugly Dolls like SP, and no, I'm not talking about women who have been touched up with the ugly stick, but back in Moresby, at Andersons, they released this range of grumpy sour looking ugly plastic dolls and dressed them up in bilumwear and sold them off as "kids toys"!

Here's one enjoying an SP at Fort Shitscared during a legendary "go pinis" party for some diplomats, and I scored an invite!  Anyways, there's a Ugly Doll.

Here's something that I am not sure of.  Kind of a case of being damned if you did and damned if you didn't, but say you found a lump of wealth just under the ground and you wanted to move that lump of wealth (let's call it gas) to another location so that you could get the best of that gas and the lump was under lots and lots of people (let's call them Southern Highlanders) and you needed to talk to these people in regards to remuneration and compensation and the possiblity of getting some work, or even not getting some work but at least getting money, then negotiations would be required.  Now negotiations won't work where the lump is, because every man and his hunting dog will be there and mob mentality won't work, but lets take a co-op of land owners to another part of PNG for some discussions.  The Southern Highlands have often suffered under State of Emergencies and there's kinda a ban on the sale of alcohol in the Province so it seems that it is harder to get an SP up there as it would be elsewhere.

These discussions would take some time and all that talking helps to work up a thirst and I have said it before, SP slakes a thirst like no other.  Here we find the average Southern Highlander negotiating a fair deal for his people that he is representing; now that's enough green cans to fill the tray of a Ute from Buka!
Just over half a carton to go for this young fella, and at only 08:00pm, the night is young and this man will do just fine!  Drink up, the next round is yours!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

SP Lager; where can you get it?

One time, I'm cruising in a boat and we have had a good day fishing, but the SP supply is down, so we've dropped anchor at Porebada and waded ashore.  A couple of courteous "Hadorai namona" to break the ice and we've soon discovered the little black market stall and we've bought our SP and wandered back out to the boat.  In fact, some bartering took place as we didn't have any cash for the beer, so we swapped some fish.  Everyone was happy, they got some good fish and we got some beer.

Another time I'm relaxing at the village of Menari, I've just walked up and cross the Maguli Range, and through Naoro and in a small aluminum tray with water are some SPs for sale.  This time, I made not a purchase.  Firstly, SP has to be cold, not chilled by water in the mountains, but cold.  Secondly, I could survive until Kokoda before I chugged a beer and thirdly, there is common knowledge around the Porters and Guides of the Kokoda Track that us Aussies can't survive 8 days in the Jungle without getting on the piss.  So while I love a good beer, I was out to prove to my Porter (and too myself) that I could do it tough in the Mountains of Papua.

But it was for sale for those who needed it.

On another occasion, this time in New Britain, I was with some hard working blokes, doing a bit of hard yakka and on the Sunday, we had run out of SP and they were keen on getting some more.  They weren't so keen in paying resort prices for individual cans and were more interested in buying a carton from the stoa.  These hard working Aussies (I might add) didn't realise that one wasn't meant to buy beer on the Sabbath, so while I took their money, I couldn't promise any return.  I headed into town and met up with an old guy named George, he looked after a well known Snorkeling patch and I got into a casual conversation with him and then George asked me "You want a SP?"  Hey, it was Sunday, the sun was shining and I had knocked off work for the week so yeah, lets get a beer.

George knew of a small black market where we could buy a SP or two, so off we went.  George said, "go down here, turn left there, turn right here, back up back up, turn left again" and sure enough, in this little Tolai village we found some drunk boys who had exhausted the stoa supply of SP.  Plan 2 for George "lets go over here, up there, around here and over there".  So with plenty more "Boina malarnas" we discovered that yes again, the same drunk boys had beaten us to the SP supply.  By this stage, I was ready to call it a miss, drive George home and then make my own way back to the resort and revert to drinking resort beer; it was a hot day and I was getting thirsty.

George says "One more try, go down here, turn left here, around the oval watch out for all the susumamas, turn right here and park by the fuel drum"  We found ourselves again in a tiny village close to the Nonga Hospital and there was ash falling from the sky, and our little black market stoa sold Diesel and SP.  I bought a carton for my hard working Aussies and George bought a 6-pack.  We sat there for some time, telling stories and while I had one coolish SP, George was drinking a couple.  Time to head back and George was feeling hungry "You want a scallop" and sure why not, so we ate a deep fried potato fritter (fried in vintage oil) and George and I parted ways.  I returned to the team, handed over the black market beer and relaxed the rest of my afternoon.

The TST at 4-mile was regularly cheaper than other supermarkets in Moresby when it came to SP, so it was often that I would buy a box of beer here from time to time.  The ladies behind the counter would giggle at my Tok Pisin attempts and even would let me in behind the counter to go and inspect the wine racks at my leisure.  I was often dragged through to the front of the line if I ever made the mistake of making my purchase on Payday.  I always felt really bad about queue jumping and I often thought it was because of my skin colour that I was served first, but there was more to it I noticed.  I discovered that a PNGean with K100 to spend on alcohol takes a long long long long time to choose; do I buy 1 box of green cans and 1 bottle of trade winds whiskey and 3 bottles of live lava (the PNG made wine!!!) or do I buy 1 carton of export, 1 bottle of dark rum and some orchy??? Ai ai ai, at least the tall white guy knows what he wants, and he has correct money.

However the fridge at the TST was a let down, remember SP needs to be cold, I shouldn't have to put my purchase in the Freezer when I finally got home?  So it was often that I would pay the extra Kina and make my purchase at Andersons, Koki (now known as SVS, Koki I think?).  Boy was their fridge working well and the beers were still super cold upon my return home.  That's all I ask.

Once I phoned up Betty from Betty's Lodge and I said "Hey Betty, I'm coming up to stay for a few days, I'm gonna go for a walk in the Mountains, make sure there's some SP in the fridge."  Betty replied with "Don't worry brother, you don't need no fridge up here, it's cold enough off the shelf"  Ai ai ai Betty, SP needs to be cold.

So I get there, and Betty has 4 brown bottles in her Kitchen.  "Betty Betty Betty, wanim dispela?  You gat sompela mo SP or nogut?"  Betty says "Sori tru Brata, mi gat 4pela tasol ah!"

So the next day, I walk up and check out Lake Pindaunde (I think I blogged this somewhere) and I drink Betty's 4 beers.  The day after I walk down to Gembogl and chat to a few locals; they point me in the direction of John, a man who sells SP.  So I buy some SP from John, load up my backpack and walk back up to Betty's Lodge.  There, I enjoy my well earned SP thinking "ain't too many people in PNG at the moment higher than me drinking SP"

I then walked to Madang.

On another occasion, I was staying at the Arawa Women's Training Centre and I was relaxing with some hard working guys from the PNG Internal Revenue dept and they were keen to get some drinking done.  We had all knocked off work for the day; I had been chopping my way through the jungle with a Marist Priest and I had spent sometime with a Commander from the BRA who was glad the Bougainville Conflict was over but it was good times... good times.  So I was up for a beer and the Tax guys had some with them.  I figure if the Tax Dept is paying, then I'm up for a beer or three.  I did remind myself that I was needing to be awake at 3am in order to catch my ride back to Buka, so I thought I'd go esi esi.

Well I had one white can and the Tax guys destroyed the rest.  So I said "Hey Guys, I might go for a walk into Arawa and see if I can get some more beers?" and they said "Great idea!"

Well after stopping and chatting to the betel nut ladies again, I bought some more nuts for me Tax mates and for my Buka mates and for the crew back in Moresby.  Hey what can I say, Buka betelnut is massive and the best in the whole of PNG!  I continued on and had a chat to a "redskin" highlander who was hiding from his Missus and chose Bougainville to lay low for a few years, he felt some kind of kinship with me as my skin colour was closer to his then the "blackskins" of Bougainville.  I continued on and found an empty shell of a wreck of a building destroyed during the Conflict and inside was a man selling SP but only black cans and at K8 a pop, they were not cheap.  But like he said, these SP were made in Moresby, shipped to Buka, loaded onto a Land Cruiser and driven all the way down to Arawa.  So I said "why does the redskin next door sell Cola for the same price I pay in Moresby?"

Anyway I bought the cans and went back to the Women's Training Centre.  There they gave me a big plastic drum of crushed ice and I hid my cans inside; the Tax guys were gone (I would see them again still drinking at 3am the next morning), the sun was gloriously setting over Panguna and there was Chicken on the menu.  I ate my tea, watched the glow of the sunset, drank my beers and relaxed.  Good times.... good times.

My final tale.  I went to the SP Cup Grand Final, 18,000 screaming Highlanders packed into a stadium built for 10,000.  I was wearing the jersey of the Rabaul Gurias and we scored first! 6-0 to the Gurias.  A pity the Muruks then scored the next 44 points.  But, because I knew it was going to be impossible to get a cold beer, I had my tiny esky with 6 cans of icy cold SP ready for the afternoon.  Then the unbelievable happened, 4 rows behind me were a couple of Guria supporters dressed just like I was; the chap I recognised as a pilot for Airlines PNG and every half hour or so, they would pass a can of SP down the 4 rows to be delivered to me.  4 PNGeans hands would take this cold beer from one stranger down to the crazy white guy wearing the enemies jersey.  No-one challenged this exchange of beer, and no-one stole their offerings.  My faith in mankind was restored, my faith in the Gurias was being challenged on the field though....

SP?  Where would PNG be without you?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

SP Lager

The compact shape of the SP "stubby" is noticeable... many years ago in Australia a well known brewery changed its beer bottle size from 375ml to 335ml and then ran an advert in the paper saying how this was due to "Public Demand".  What a crock!  Public Demand would never call for a downsizing of beer.  Ever!  So when I got off the plane at Jackson's and headed to the Balus Bar at Airways for a cleansing ale, I noted the fact that SP is in a 335ml "hand-grenade".  Oh well, when in Rome...

One time I was in Popondetta and there was a ban on the sale of all alcohol due to states of emergency and local elections so the whole Town was just hanging out for a bevvie or twelve, and then!  The ban was lifted and it was on for young an old; empty SP bottles were being discarded from the windows of Police Vehicles on Main St with great vigour and the local Politicians were getting drunker and drunker at the Lamington Hotel that I had to seek refuge inside the dining room of the Hotel for some peace and solitude.  No-one else was eating as the whole of Popondetta was on a liquid diet that day, so I found my spot, ordered a steak and sipped on some cool cool SP.  See photo above.

Some time later after a few SPs had passed under the bridge, I noticed that SP had decided to sell their Export Beer no longer in a clear bottle but in the smarter green stubby... Looked flash.  I can recall talking to a SP Brewer about how I didn't opt for the clear bottle in certain drinking establishments because of the UV lights in the fridge causing the beer to age prematurely... I wonder if I influenced the decision to go green?  Surely not?

But the green stubby looked pretty flash in my beer fridge which remained clear of wasteful food scraps and old jars of whatever.  A beer fridge is for beer, and gin occasionally and the tonic that goes with it... but only occasionally.  So here's my beer fridge:

Also, one time I walked from Mt Wilhelm down to Madang... great stuff, just walking down the hills, chatting to the locals, enjoying a tea at one of the many kopi haus and not getting an SP.  Needless to say, after a few days in the wilderness, the first port of call at Madang was the Madang Lodge, but an SP and enjoy watching the sun set over the water.  I'm almost back there now... see photo:

I love the way you can see the Palm Tree shadow in the bottle.... classic!

And now, oh yes, I mentioned it before; SP is available in Australia.  Here is a photo of it taken in my backyard; I have Sogeri Grass in my yard and this photo shows SP being right at home.  Good times.... good times.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

South Pacific Lager

The photo in my last post about Kokoda and the lads sitting in front of Andrew's Stoa eating cucumbers is a fine segue onto my next post, and this one is all about Beer and the PNG fineart of Hospitality. You see the other day I was perusing my local beer merchants fine warehouse of alcohol and I noticed a very familiar beer on the shelves and it was one I had not tasted for some time but knew very intimately.

Well I just had to make a purchase.

But then I got to thinking about all the great times that SP had been with me over the years, all the laughs, all the tears, the good times... the good times. SP is a critical part of PNG culture and its dynamics; I'm sure those people who visit PNG and don't drink beer, miss out on something.

But lets talk about the beer itself... it's a hoppy beer and quite bitter, it does hint of its parent beer in Heineken especially the Export. Niugini Ice is pretty ordinary though, sweet and strong and designed for the PNG Nightclub market, Ice is pretty forgettable. But who could forget the Stout with Father Christmas on the label?

SP lager, has to be served cold, not room temperature nor "I have just turned the fridge on temperature" and some merchants got the temperature right when others failed.

The tale continues....

Sunday, April 4, 2010

More from Kokoda Station, Oro

It's been a while now since I left Kokoda; in fact its been 18months at least since I was there and while I keep an eye on how things are going, I am sure something is different and maybe nothing has changed...

These three photos again show three different expressions on three different groups of people with three potentially different dreams. The first shot of the three lads sitting outside Andrew's Stoa is one of my favourites from Kokoda. If you finish the Kokoda Track at Kokoda then the first point of call is the carved timber signage out front of the Hospital and then the second idea is to wander down to the Airfield or find a place to stay. Diagonally opposite the Hospital is Andrew's Stoa where you can buy some typical stoa goods in PNG; SP lager, and Maggi Kakaruk Seasoning both seen here in this image. Next to this Stoa is Little Priscella's Place run by Priscella and David and not to be confused with the bigger Priscella's Place (scene for shot 2).

In many parts of PNG one can find isolated Villages where the kids may not recall the last time they saw a white person apart from the local Missionary and this often leads to awe and amazement from the kids when you first show up to town. Kokoda however sees its fair share of white visitors (some are brown from the 96km mud track, and some are clean off another plane) so I excused the kids when they didn't show too much enthusiasm for a white guy with a camera. But this guy at the front of the shot is great; his total "I couldn't care less" attitude has given this shot a sense of realism and it offers his whole "where does the future for me lie?" imagery. He is eating a cucumber and he is sprinkling Maggi Kakaruk Seasoning on it before taking a bite; a very cheap snack and apart from the MSG in the Seasoning, it could almost come across as being "healthy"???

Interesting fact; at the time of this photo being taken, the Kokoda Local Level Government (LLG) were holding elections meaning that the sale of alcohol was prohibited, the cartons you see in shot are empties and are waiting for the big truck to come by, pick up all the dead ones and take them to Popondetta, and then to Buna and then back to Lae by boat. The bottles that survive this journey then get washed and refilled and end up at a similar Stoa just like this one. Earlier that morning, I met with a few Police Officers who had been sent from other Provinces to keep an eye on the election and the Prohibition. We spent some time chatting as they were all waking up for a brand new day; later on in the afternoon, I would find the Officers again washing and relaxing at the local stream drinking the SP they had confiscated during the day and they then offered me a beer. Now I don't mind a beer and it had been some time since I had last sipped on the golden ale, as I had spent some time in the mountains away from such luxuries but even I draw the line at warm SP; no electricity in town, no refrigeration.

Shot 2 was taken at Priscella's Place which has quite a sizeable guesthouse and dining room. Like everyone in Kokoda (Little Priscella included), you can arrange Porters and Guides through most of the Guesthouses and contacts you make at Kokoda Station itself. Priscella is very welcoming and knowledgable about the track and Kokoda and on this day, she had arranged for a local Oro-kaivan sing-sing group to perform and the kids in the photo are relatives of the Performers. Again I like their "another white guy with a camera" look and I hope that PNG does not adopt this philosophy nation-wide as I am sure, more and more tourists will seek out the potential of this wonderful country. The fantastic thing about this image is the true awe and amazement of the three youngest kids as they watch their Mums and Dads and Aunties and Uncles perform a traditional sing-sing; perhaps the traditional ways will continue to educate and en-rapt for generations to come?

And finally onto the last image from Kokoda Station and that of the older generation of women I met down at the Airport. The day waiting at the Airport for my flight was a fantastic day of fun and games. I met up with Cecily again and we once again greeted each other in the language of the Tolai, much to the mirth of some of the meris in shot. I sat down with these ladies behind the Airport Shelter and the women asked if I would like to play cards with them and I remembered back to the moment in the Southern Highlands on a wet day, walking into a Pool Hall and a Rasta man asked me "Do you want a game of pool?" to which I replied; "I'm no good at pool" and he said "You don't need to be good, you just need to have money!" so I replied to the card meris that no, I didn't understand their rules to which they said "Neither do we, but you just need some money!" and they all broke out in laughter.

Well I continued to watch the very confusing blend of Go-fish and Uno and Snap and decided my money would be best spent on a cold beer when I finally returned to Moresby. The meris were enjoying the conversation and enjoying the betelnut and they then asked why I wasn't spending time with the white trekkers at the front of the Airport shelter and I was out back here with the gambling meris? I must admit it did feel like having a cigarette behind the shelter shed back in High School and was obviously the place where the bad meris hung out, but it was also the most liveliest place. I knew none of the trekkers and they were all tired and dirty and wanting to get home whereas the local meris were laughing, chewing nut, gambling and we were all eating the really bad chocolate do-nuts that PNG makes soooo poorly.

I had a great day, sitting out underneath the Oil Palm in the shade just watching the coming and goings of a group of people who could have so much more but thanks to a few are left with what they have and it doesn't faze too many.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kokoda Track, Naoro, Central Province

I once walked the Kokoda Track with a wonderful group of people and I had such a fantastic experience. The majority of our Porters and Guides hailed from the Villages of Naoro 1 and Naoro 2; the first set atop a spectacular razorback ridge and the second in the valley below. As we left Naoro 1 and stood at the road junction to Naoro 2, a couple of the porters called out in the direction of Naoro 2 and someone responded. A conversation ensued and messages were passed. A point to think about is that Naoro 2 was a 20 minute walk from this junction!

I asked the Porter what it was he said down the valley towards Naoro 2 and he said he was passing a message onto his wife and family to say everything was okay and that he would be home soon.

One of the ladies who walked with me on the Track has now returned to Naoro 2 and has offered assistance to the local Porters in setting up a new Locally based Trekking Company. Please click on this link to visit their excellent website: Naoro Kokoda Treks

I wish them well in their attempt to enter a tough competitive market and I hope they find success.

Here is a picture of Lindy walking into Naoro 1.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Kokoda Station, Oro

Well there I was, I had spent a week working with a crew down in Milne Bay and going for walks to Waterfalls and the plan was to fly Airniugini out of Gurney to Jackson's on the Tuesday afternoon and then catch the scheduled Airlines PNG flight from Jackson's to Kokoda on the Wednesday. Now I have travelled to Alotau on many occasions and I know the afternoon flight often gets re-scheduled to the morning after and it did so on this occasion. So this meant I had one hour on the ground in Moresby to race home to Town, empty my week of dirty laundry, pick up a new fresh batch of clothes and camping gear and get on a plane to Kokoda. Which I managed to do quite successfully.

But then I arrived at the Airlines PNG terminal to watch the Schedule flight come and go and come and go and come and go. Three Charters meant that the same plane would go to Kokoda, get some Trekkers, bring 'em back to Moresby, get some more trekkers, take them to Kokoda and so on. I and my companions and a few locals would have to wait, and wait, and wait. Eventually, late in the afternoon, it was our turn.

In a weird twist of fate as I see it, our pilot that afternoon was the late Jenny Moala and she was quite pleasant and chatty to us as we were preparing to taxi. Motoring down the runway, she seemed in constant communicae with the Tower. I noted to my fellow passengers that the clouds were hanging heavy over the Owen Stanleys and that it may be a rough flight. Well, Jenny then turned to us and said "Hey Guys, we're not going to Kokoda today, there is heavy rain at Kokoda and I don't want to take the risk"

While I was annoyed at yet another cancelled flight, I felt that if the pilot says it is too risky, then its too risky for me.

So, that one hour rush in the morning meant that in reality, I had 24 hours in Moresby to sort out my things.

The next morning we left Jacksons and flew into a sunny Kokoda, and after visiting the Chinese Store at the bottom of the plateau, me and the crew were walking/half running up the Kokoda Track to go and get some work done.

Well the work got done and it was time to leave the mountains and wander back to Kokoda. Here we discovered we had a few days to wait around for our flight, so I engaged in some work with the locals and made a few friends. One such lady is the reason for this blog entry; despite my crazy work schedule and missed flights and hard yakka work and walking up and down Mountains, this lady named Cecily was a shining light.

Cecily was a lady who I believe represents all that is beautiful about the land of PNG and the people of PNG, her work was volunteered and unheralded; she had travelled extensively throughout PNG and to other parts abroad yet knew where her heart called home and she operated at a grass roots level. Here's her story.

One afternoon, resting after a hard day's toil, I was sitting around on the edge of the road saying "Apinun" to all who would wander past when a group of young children left their primary school and wandered down the road past the Kokoda Hospital and down towards the Memorial site. I said "Apinun olgeta" and the kids laughed at the white guy. We then all broke out into conversation about their day at school and sports and stuff, when I spotted a Motuan amongst the children. I said "Hadorai namona" to the young girl and she giggled wildly and the other kids all slapped each other. Then I heard Cecily say "You say Hadorai Namona to the nice man, he's speaking your language" and the young kekeni said "Hadorai"

After an "Oi namo" exchange the kids all ran off laughing. Cecily stayed around and looked at me, she said "You speak Motu, not too many white guys speak Motu these days, you're not a trekker?" and I said no I wasn't and that I was working in Moresby and had many Motuan friends there, but this week I was in Kokoda. We talked about the work I did and also of the work that Cecily was involved in. I asked if she were the teacher for the children and she said sometimes. Cecily volunteered her time a few days a week to offer support to the education that the children were trying to get through the proper school by teaching the children English.

Cecily told me that when she was a young girl growing up, they taught her her tok ples first, Motu second and then English, and everyone would speak English, none of the brutish tok pisin that the Highlanders spoke. Cecily told me of her disgust at how she travelled the length and breadth of PNG and had visited countries overseas only to return to find all the children speaking pidgin. So she decided to rectify the problem and she spoke English and English only to the children of Kokoda, hoping to educate them in the language of the planet. I promised Cecily that I would too greet the children of the school in English.

The next afternoon as the children wandered past again, I spoke with them in English and they responded, some in English and some in Pidgin, so I said that Miss Cecily would not be happy unless they spoke in English and they agreed and spoke in only English. We all sat down and we talked stories about the work I did, my family and life in Australia. I asked them about their families, their parents, their brothers and sisters and what they wanted to do when they grew up.

Then Cecily walked around the corner and the children all looked up to her. Cecily had let it slip that she had once married a Tolai man and lived in Rabaul before the eruption, so I said "Boina rabian" and Cecily looked speechless, her jaw dropped, and she then responded in Tolai. The children too could not work out what was going on, so Cecily explained that I had spoken to her in the language known as Kuanua or the language of the Tolai people.

Once again, the kids all rain off laughing and Cecily stayed for a story or three. Some years ago, the people of Kokoda Station needed electricity so a brand new diesel generator was installed, you can see it behind its locked cage on the hillside near where this young fellow was sitting and unfortunately due to an argument about maintaining the generator, someone locked the cage and went bush. To this day, the generator has never turned over and Kokoda Station is without electricity, despite having powerlines (that are falling over); so story telling is the pastime of choice. Cecily and I talked of Rabaul and how it once was, and how it is now.

The next day, I wandered down to the airfield along with the rest of Kokoda Station and we watched the charters come and go. We watched the tired and exhausted trekkers get on their plane and head back to Moresby to electricity and running water and we watched a new batch arrive. Again, my flight was the last to leave but this day we did leave.

I met Cecily once again at the airport and we chatted amongst the gambling meris and we told more stories much to the laughter of the gambling meris. Cecily and I, our conversation was part Tolai, part Motu and mainly English, and this had the gambling meris laughing and slapping each other, but that is another Oro Province tale...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Kokoda Track, Oro

How's this guy? This is one of those photos that is not meant to work, but somehow the content means so much more than "Did I get the right shutter speed for the light conditions?". To set this tale; I had just walked from Ower's Corner to Kokoda and here I am walking down the concrete path that leads from the Kokoda Plateau (Memorial Site) and down to the Chinese Store. This path used to be a road until a big Raintree fell across the path and in true Kokoda fashion, an argument has broken out as to whose responsibility it is to clear the road.

So I have walked for 8 days through the streams and through the Rivers and it is here that I have one creek crossing left and then a concrete bridge over the Mudi River, and then to the Kokoda Airstrip. I am merely steps away from finishing the Kokoda Track; the porters and guides have been wonderful, the Villagers on the track have been fantastic and I have had an emotional ride. Living in PNG and working alongside Koiari and Orokaivans, it took no time for the Villages to learn of my journey and I was met and greeted by many along the journey. I met Wives and Fathers, Children and Dogs of the men who I worked with in Moresby.

So, for the entire length of my walk, and the time I had spent previously in Kokoda, for a great deal of time I was thinking "What is the future for these people?"

And in this photo, I think this young boy is thinking the same thing... where does his future lay? In the old and aged Palm Oil Plantation? As a Guide on the Kokoda Track? As a Raskol in Popondetta?

This photo was taken as I was walking down the concrete path to the airport, I had carried my Digital SLR across the Track but this was taken with my little point and shoot, I have no idea what setting, I just grabbed the camera and still moving fired from the hip.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Popondetta Airport, Oro

Like I mentioned before, one day while waiting for my plane to come in, a very popular pastime in Papua New Guinea, I was out chatting to the locals, and there were bag after bag after bag after bag of Betel Nut just sitting on the tarmac. Now I'm thinking, I sure do hope these bags are not getting on my flight because we are not going to get over the Owen Stanleys unless they send a Antonov.

So I am chatting to the locals and I discover that some very entrepreneurial kinda guys have chartered a plane to carry them and their Betel Nut to Moresby, they say it has cost them K23,000 for the plane but they reckon they got K40,000 to K50,000 worth of nut to sell. Now Betel Nut is a bit cyclical and it seems sometimes that it can be a bit seasonal (like a lot of produce) and my friends tell me that Oro Betel Nut is red-hot at the moment and the chewers of Moresby are just itching to get their teeth into some of Oro's finest.

So I left my Betel Nut Empire Kings and wandered around a bit more, and I found myself chatting to a man named Nathan whose Father Pol Toki owns and operates the Birdwing Butterfly Lodge, now I never stayed there, but I wished I had. I had a great time chatting to Nathan and his family and I kinda feel that his hospitality at the Birdwing may have been more pleasant than the Hotel Lamington, which is not the best of the Coral Seas chain of Hotels, and I think it may have slipped out of the Coral Seas group nowadays... but anyway, Nathan's daughter was sitting in the back of the ute eating the much loved PNG Cracker Biscuits, I think it may have been the Snax Chicken Cracker brand this time and Nathan asked if I could take her photo; which I did and later in Moresby, I printed the photo and sent it to Nathan. And he wrote a letter back to me which I still keep and is in my Lonely Planet guide, on the page of the Birdwing Butterfly Lodge, Oro.

Here is Nethalean.