Saturday, January 9, 2010

Western Highlands Province

80 years ago, tho opinion about PNG was that it was a large tropical Island in the Pacific with a scarce coastal population. Most of the other mountainous islands or countries around the world had the majority of their population living on the coast and why should the Land of the Unexpected be any different, and more likely it was too bloody cold for Melanesians up in the Mountains. Many of the early explorers to PNG were having a hard time of it, what with aggressive locals trying to run one out of town everytime an explorer set foot on their patch, so what was on top of PNG was unknown, until the Leahy Brothers showed up and decided they would fly up into the mountains.

What a brand new world they found, but this has been documented far more successfully by others and is not what my blog is about, my blog is about what I discovered in these mountains.

So there I am sitting in the passenger front seat of a Toyota PMV, the small version like a Hiace. My GF is sitting in the middle seat and Enga's answer to Ayrton Senna is in the Driver's Seat and her Sister is asleep in the back. Now we had already been raced across the Western Highlands with this driver before a few days earlier so we had tried to crawl into the back of the van and somewhere akin to the most central point of the vehicle, but our driver wouldn't have it. She had such a wonderful few days with us, that she decided the pair of us will sit up front with her at the very front of the vehicle. So we climbed in and held on.

On the descents which there were plenty of in the mountains, she would push the accelerator pedal all the way to the floor, to where it would stay, and the Van would screeeeeaaaammm down the road, and as the road then went up, she would keep the foot there on the gas and it would not budge until, due to the steepness of the incline, the Van was nearly at stalling point. At this moment she would then start to change down through the gears until she got to first and then the Toyota would screeeeeaaaaammm back into life. Cornering was the same, wait until the Van was nearly about to topple, then left off the gas and try a little braking, whilst looking for a more appropriate gear.

This was a rollercoaster.

To help set up the story, a few nights earlier, GF and I were sitting around a cosy fire in a well constructed timber lodge, we were drinking SP and chatting to the staff of the lodge about life in the Mountains and we were regaling them with stories of Moresby and of Australia. One of the young ladies was telling us about her life, and that she was the eldest of many siblings and it was the time in her life to decide would she continue her education (which she and her parents could not afford) or should she get a job and help out at home, so it was working in the lodge for the time being. Her plan was to save and head to the bright lights of Moresby one day. I thnk she was asking whether or not GF and I needed a hausmeri... but I digress...

Our driver was with us that night and she had travelled the world more than us, yet her stories were all about home and family and snakes. Boy did she not like snakes, and while telling these stories her skin would dry up and she would go all clammy, she went pale just talking about snakes. So 2 days later while driving through the Mountains at breakneck speed, what do you think happened when we saw the Snake?

This was no ordinary snake, this was easily a stunt double snake for that one in the movie Annaconda, you know the movie with JLo and that Ice guy. This was seriously the biggest snake I had seen, it looked like s speed hump! It was stetched out on the Highlands Highway from one side of the road to the other! This made me think it was dead, no snake slithers with a straight back, and there was a man standing alongside the snake, just looking at it. I think this man had put the snake there and was waiting for people to drive over the snake, and somebody already had, you could see two tyre tracks through the snake.

Now back to our driver, she was descending like I mentioned before, pedal through the firewall and she liked a chat, so she was yacking away going as fast as the car, and then she saw the Snake.

She Screeeeeaaaaammmmeeeeddddd! She covered both her eyes with both of her hands and she screamed some more. Each scream would exhaust her of breath so in between gasps of breath and trying to get some more oxygen, she would sob, and then she would scream once again, all the time her leg would be locked in place on that accelerator pedal and her hands would be over her eyes. Still screaming and the little Toyota was hurtling down the mountain road.

GF had grabbed the wheel and made sure we were heading in a straight line, but we could do little to wash any speed off. It was at this moment that I thought that once again in PNG I would die, I remembered swimming with sharks off Rabaul, I remembered being smashed and cut up on the reef in Bougainville, I remembered the forcewave that followed a massive boom from Tavuvur, I remembered the amazing energy from the lightning bolt in Moresby and I remembered not feeling too good climbing a mountain with pneumonia and it all felt like this one moment maybe my last. Here I am sitting in a passenger seat of a Toyota with a screaming crying Engan meri covering her eyes and hurtling towards a snake.

But then, oh yes, it gets worse...

The car hits the snake, the tyres hit the snake like a heart beat; da-dum. This triggers another wave of hysterics, screaming and crying and sobbing and screaming and crying and screaming! This wakes up her sister in the back and she says "Whassup?" Our driver screams "Snaaaaaaaaakkkkekeeeee" and the sister looks through the back window and sees the snake we have just run over.

Needless to say, the sister does not like snakes. So she screams and screams and screams and screams. This sets of the driver who screams again, which triggers off screams from her sister. By this stage I think GF wants to join in, but she is too busy trying to keep the car on the bitumen.

So there I am, about to die with not one, but two screaming Engan meris in a van in the Mountains... and seeing as I am here to retell the story, GF did a fantastic job keeping the bus on the road, everyone settled down and we continued our trip acrsoo the Western Highlands.

Oh yeah, later on while in Hagen, we stopped for the best coffee in PNG at the Airport Coffee Cafe and in a quiet moment I said to our driver "How big was that snake?" . The screams started again, the tears, I got punched by an Engan meri again and again (a sign of affection apparently)...


Walt said...

Wow, that's quite the tale, Steve! Glad you lived to tell about it. I didn't know there were snakes that size in PNG ... was it some kind of python?
PS: nice to see you posting again.

Steve Bennett said...

G'day Walt, I was told that up in the mountains there are no venomous snakes but in some of the jungle areas can be found some serious pythons. Have also heard that PNGs biggest snake species can be found in West New Britain, close relative to the reticulated python... or something along those lines...