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Mount Hagen - Port Moresby - Cairns

This is an old journal, from our trip around the world in 2002, taken from the diary I wrote at the time. Apologies for the poor quality photographs, they are scans of prints taken with a compact camera and images from the scrap book I made afterwards.


View Around the World for our Silver Wedding 2002 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Despite the clamour of the jungle wildlife in the night, I slept like a log for over nine hours. I must have needed it. My cough is still bad this morning, and the view from our balcony is veiled in mist today.

After a fine breakfast of egg and bacon, Keith takes us back to town in his Toyota Landcruiser, where we meet the Trans Niugini reps in the Highlander Hotel. The hotel looks boring, modern and sterile compared to the delightful lodge where we were accommodated at last night. The Americans have stayed at the Highlander last night, and somehow their guide Sharon manages to get in front of us in the queue for check-in at the airport. The Americans are shielded from real life in another private room, away from the hustle and bustle of the departure lounge full of locals, while Sharon checks the whole group in. It takes forever.

Watching the airport activities is enormously mesmerizing. A helicopter carries cargo in a net hanging below, obviously dropping it off somewhere fairly close before returning for another two journeys. An outsized helicopter – Vladivostoc Air – arrives full of military personnel. Is there trouble brewing in the area? On three separate occasions since arriving in Mount Hagen, we have been asked about the security situation in Tari, being told we are brave for going there as the residents wouldn’t travel to that region at this time. Was it really that bad? Was it imprudent to visit Tari? Did we just not realise what was going on? Could we really be so callow not to detect unrest going on all around us? We’ll never know, but all is well that ends well, and the experience was amazing.

One of the passengers on this plane is a white missionary, being seen off by all his cronies. As soon as we start boarding, they all crowd around him to say their goodbyes, blocking the exit for all other passengers. Eventually we have to ask them to move; otherwise we might still be there! The flight is not full but there is an overwhelming smell of body odour on board. The whole cabin is stifling with such a repulsive stink it makes the entire flight quite unbearable. I try not to breathe through my nose but still feel rather nauseous by the time we get to Port Moresby.

Steven and Howard are waiting for us, with some very sad news. While we were away in Tari, Steven’s son was eaten by a crocodile whilst swimming. He died on Wednesday but his body was not found until Friday and they buried him on Saturday. The saddest thing was that Steven was not allowed to travel to his home town to attend the funeral of his only son as the agency is too busy with tourists. We feel especially upset by the news as we both talked to his son on the telephone while trying to contact Steven.

After a lunch at the Gateway Motel consisting of a rather good pizza, we are taken on a sightseeing tour of Port Moresby. First stop is the commercial break: PNG Arts, an enormous craft ‘supermarket’ full of mostly wood carvings.

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I had especially requested that we call in this place as the only souvenir I want from this trip is a carved mask from Papua New Guinea. I have already purchased one fairly crude mask in Mount Hagen, but on closer inspection I found several bore holes, indicating an infestation. This means that the customs officials in Australia will undoubtedly confiscate it!

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Therefore, I chose a mask in PNG Arts which I can have shipped home at a reasonable cost, bypassing the Australian customs completely.

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Our mask collection

David’s video is playing up, it seems to have developed a ‘damp’ problem after all the rain in the last few days. It chews up the tape and we go back to the hotel to collect another. The new tape does not appear to improve or solve the problem, so now David’s camera is not working at all. Although it is not a total disaster at this late stage – all the main highlights have already taken place; it would be very disappointing indeed to miss out on filming the last couple of weeks of the trip. There is not much we can do at this stage though.

Most of the sightseeing here in Port Moresby is the ‘drive by’ variety as we are somewhat short of time. First we drive by the Parliament building which is really spectacular with unusually modern architecture.

We make time for a short walking tour of the National Museum. I read an article on the Internet before leaving home that the museum does not have enough cash to remain open for much longer unless it can get enough donations to pay for the electricity and rent. It would be such a shame as it is very well laid out, not too big and pretty interesting. All the local tribes are represented with their culture, dress and a short photographic history.

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In the centre courtyard is a collection of birds and animals, including hornbills, a tree kangaroo and a cassowary.

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Tree kangaroo

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Blyth's Hornhill

We also rush through the Botanical Gardens, mainly to see the animals in cages there. Pythons, rabbits, tree kangaroos, birds of paradise and cassowaries are all there. The orchids are regrettably not in bloom.

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Cassowary

We continue our ‘drive by’ with a journey past the dump (is this where we have the first date?) and some grimy and dusty slum areas to reach the water’s edge. Many people live in rickety wooden shacks on stilts over the water, reached by wooden walkways from the shore. This whole area was burned down during the Second World War and has since been rebuilt to the same dilapidated standard. Offshore is the wrecked hull of a ship.

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Port Moresby city centre is full of modern high rise buildings and you really could be anywhere in the world, apart from the fact that we saw no other white faces at all. It’s not a big city, and it can all be seen from a look-out point on a hill. On one side of the promontory is Port Moresby and on the other a beautiful and deserted beach. On the rocks we find a WWII bunker and former arsenal store.

We follow the shoreline down to the beach and back to the airport for check in. Howard leaves us in the departure hall, the check in is open, but nothing else – I can’t even buy a bottle of water. Eventually they open up the Duty Free shop, which is where you purchase your Departure Tax from, but they don’t sell water or any other soft drinks. So many people enquire about water that in the end they send a man over to the kiosk to open up.

As suspected, there is a long queue for quarantine on arrival in Cairns. Most people have something to declare and when it is my turn I show them the mask. The official asks us how long we are staying in Australia and when we tell him five days, he comments on the bore holes but lets us, and the mask, through. He suggests we place the mask in the freezer for two weeks when we get home to kill any insects present. I am very surprised, but also pleased of course, that he lets the mask into the country. I will now have two masks – providing the carving we had shipped actually arrives in the UK.

The transfer driver is waiting outside arrivals, by now he is getting concerned that we are not on the plane.

The Regency Palms Apartments look awfully unwelcoming, albeit that we are arriving nearer midnight. There is no reception as such as we have to telephone the night porter to get her to open up for us. The apartment itself makes up for any bad feeling on arrival – it’s absolutely fabulous! The kitchen is every bit as well equipped as mine at home: washing machine, tumble drier, iron, ironing board, dish washer, oven, hob, fridge, freezer, microwave and lots of pots, pans and crockery.

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The lounge / diner / kitchen are all open plan in an L-shape with a lovely little balcony overlooking the swimming pool. Two bedrooms and a bathroom complete the layout of the apartment – I’m sure there are flats in London half this size.

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It’s a great shame we are not staying longer! We feel we have to make the most of such fine facilities, so we walk to the garage shop to stock up on snacks and mixers, and have a drink before going to bed.

Posted by Grete Howard 04:12 Archived in Australia

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