This time we take you on our roadtrip through the interiors of Papua New Guinea (abbreviated; PNG). PNG is it all but one largest island in the world† In addition, the island mainly consists of impenetrable jungles, swamps and high mountains. Most people do not live in the capital Port Moresby but in the jungle. And despite the fact that PNG has an area of about 462.840 km2, it only has 686 km of road network.
The island of PNG is a maximum of 1.200 kilometers long and 720 kilometers wide. In addition, the large island of New Britain and numerous small islands also belong to PNG. The island is surrounded by the Bismarck Sea, the Solomon Sea in the east and the Coral Sea in the south.
We have now left Tari behind us and now travel to the foot of the highest mountain in Oceania; Mount Wilhelm. Mount Wilhelm is 4.509 meters high, making PNG one of the few islands around the equator where snow can occur.
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An unforgettable one roadtrip
As always, it's time to wait. This time not on a non-working ATM, not even on our forgotten lunch, but on our driver. At half past eight we have arranged to meet at the guesthouse, now it is half past nine and still no sign of Crazy Steve. The name should have warned us, but hey, we like a bit of craziness. Wait, we don't like that a bit. And certainly since it is already the third day in a row that we are waiting at least an hour. But this is Papua New Guinea, not the Netherlands.
At half past nine Crazy Steve arrives. “Problems with the car” is his excuse. He had that yesterday too. But today is Sunday and no one is working. Still, he managed to find someone who was willing to fix his car for us even on Sunday. Why didn't he already do that yesterday? Then he was too busy. Of course… Well, Crazy Steve is here, we are ready, the roadtrip can start!
Drink & Drive in Papua New Guinea
Two hours later than planned we drive with Crazy Steve and Jack the guide towards Kesesugl. The roadtrip is of course not without obstacles. We skim the road. At least some parts. In other parts we drive jerky and bumpy over the many potholes and potholes in the road. Along the road we see stalls that function as petrol pumps, pigs that are let out and many green and yellow SP (beer) houses where drink & drive is not discouraged but welcomed. In the Hela province, where we were previously, alcohol is prohibited. In the entire province, alcohol is not allowed to be consumed or sold. They seem to be compensating for this ban in Hagen and Jewaka provinces by selling alcohol every 200 meters. It makes a roadtrip even more exciting, although Crazy Steve sticks to something else…
Until you spit blood red
We also regularly encounter women who sell betelnuts. Betelnut is a seed of a type of palm tree. It provides energy and has been used for about 2.000 years. Whether it's really good for you, that's the question. The WHO has even found that excessive use can cause cancer.
Crazy Steve loves them anyway and stops regularly to buy some. In addition to the betel nut, he buys a stick, which they call mustard, and lime. First bite the betel nut well. “Don't Swallow” Crazy Steve addresses us sternly.
When you have chewed well, insert the stick into the lime and mix it with the betel nut in your mouth. You do that a few times and then you spit out the juice. The color turns bright red and this makes your lips and teeth very red. Throughout Papua you see red spit, which we first thought was blood, lying on the ground. Crazy Steve spits out a lot and because I'm behind him my clothes regularly catch some fine splashes. We don't think it's very nice and it's not very wise to use it while driving.
Without pigs no wealth
What we also see passing by on the side of the road are pigs. Lots of pigs. Sometimes they are sniffing around, other times they are under a stall and sometimes they are even let out. Pigs have a special role in PNG. They are not only food here but also determine the wealth of the owner. A large, fat pig can yield 4.000 kina (1.060 €). So if you have 4 pigs in PNG then you are rich man. Man yes, because women can own nothing. After all, they are their own property. For example, you can buy a woman for 2 pigs.
The amount of pigs indicates how rich you are, the amount of wives you have too. For example, if you have 8 wives (which is a regular occurrence here), you also have 8 houses, a lot of children and of course you have also paid a dowry 8 times. Land, pigs and women. The first is the most controversial. Even now, that's why the police escort we got in Tari.
By the way, men sleep in a kind of men's cabin, separate from the women. The men (often relatives, sometimes the people you work for) come here to eat, sleep and tell tall tales. When they need to sleep with their wives or see their children, they drop by. The woman is expected to raise the children, earn money in the market and cultivate the land. They find a fair distribution here. I see that differently.
A roadtrip without diesel
In the last village before we start on the road up, we still have to fill up. The first gas station seems to be closed “no gasoline, no diesel”. So out of order. The second petrol pump also no longer has diesel. Three times is a charm and luckily, at the third gas station they still have a little bit of diesel. We get the last bit of diesel and go on our way. Whether we will make it through this is the question.
Diesel is also quite expensive here. For 1 liter you pay 3,80 kina (1 €). Very pricey for the people here. Incidentally, you can also buy diesel on the side of the road in old jerry cans. For a bottle of 4 liters you pay approx. 20 kina (1,30 € per litre). Then you need a lot of bottles to fill your car and they often have no more than 4.
After eating and drinking something, the roadtrip further. We have now driven far inland and the view has changed. From flat fields and many villages it has become increasingly quieter and more hospitable. Where it seemed open and wide towards Tari, it is densely overgrown here. We continue our roadtrip along a river through the valley with crooked fields on steep slopes on both sides.
Just after we leave the village behind us, we hear a loud crackling under the wheels. We've heard this a few times before. We drive over almost flat soda cans. People throw these on the road to have them run completely flat by cars. They then take it to recycling and receive money for it. A convenient and easy way to earn some money. You can't buy land, pig or woman with it, but you can buy some betelnuts.
At the foot of Mount Wilhelm
We drive up and leave the fairly flat land of the Jewaka province behind us. We are now in Simbu province, where not only the landscape but also the language is different. Fortunately, everywhere they speak Picin (my own invented version of English) which I now speak a few words of.
It's beautiful, with a deep valley to the right, a high cliff to the left and breathtaking views. Everywhere we see houses with beautiful fields, no matter how steep the ridge is. Roads wind up where the women walk with big bags of vegetables hanging from their heads on their way to the market. Men walk by waving a machete and children run after each other or are playing.
the road is gone
Where we first drove wonderfully on an asphalt road, with a stray hole here and there, it now seems rather the other way around. Immensely bad bridges alternate with craters in the road. Occasionally even an entire road surface has sunk. Unfortunately, it starts to rain and the road quickly turns into a mud puddle. Umbrellas emerge and people huddle together under what little shelter they have.
We drive on and the higher we get, the more we leave 'modern' life behind us. The road and bridges are not getting any better. Sometimes only the skeleton of the bridge is left so that we defy it at walking pace. I wonder how long it will be before the bridges, car and occupants and all, give way and plunge into the ravine. The road is littered with rocks, so big that even Obelix would have a hard time moving them. But it is being worked on. Here and there we see Chinese giving directions to the Papuans when repairing roads. In the farthest corners of the world it is always the Chinese that we encounter and more often than not they are working on improving the infrastructure. I don't know what PNG has to pay for this, but China obviously doesn't do this for free.
And then after a four-hour drive that would actually take two hours, but yes, roadworks, we arrive in Kesesugl. The place from where we take on the challenge to climb the highest mountain in Oceania. But we'll keep that adventure for another blog. A roadtrip through Papua New Guinea we can really recommend. The country may not have many roads, but it is worth it.
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