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?


Walt said...

Good collections of stories, Steve. You've obviously researched your subject thoroughly ... with plenty of field work! I liked the picture of the Bia Stoa ... is that all they sell there?

Steve Bennett said...

Chances are Walt, that the Bia Stoa may sell other items, such as PNG made Twisties, some PNG made Spears, and maybe PNG made Coca-Cola.

But it is the SP that brings the crowds in.

That Bia Stoa was located on Manus Island, just up the road from Lorengau on route to the waterfall. Those who have been to Manus would know what I am talking about.