In the company of friends
First view this morning was coming into the capital of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby. Now this place has somewhat of a reputation. Our Aussie friends raised eyebrows when we said we were calling here and the ship’s newspaper has issued warnings about security and personal safety. Several people have told us that there’s not much to be seen and we know from experience that just because a place is exotic and located at the other end of the earth doesn’t mean that it’s going to be interesting.
So, if I say we were relaxed about the prospects of the day, I’d be honest. We booked a general “highlights” excursion because having made it here we didn’t want to leave without getting a glimpse of PNG and anyway, in order to count the full “kerching” we had to set foot on PNG soil, didn’t we, Edward?
Well, how wrong could we be? We have had a truly fascinating time here and though some aspects of what we anticipated were true, others were a little wide of the mark. Setting out this morning in a 16 seat minibus, decorated with Christmas tinsel and palm fronds, and with Reuben as our guide, we warmed to the place immediately. Not only did everyone stop to look and wave, as soon as they made eye contact, a broad smile would greet us. We soon realised, too, that we were referred to as “friends”. “One of our friends has just gone to take a photograph”, Reuben would say, or “A few friends are going to wait here in the shade until we are ready”.
So driving through the (very small!) business district this morning, we sat back and relaxed, looking forward to learning a little more about this country of which we knew nothing.
Generally speaking, the roads in the central area of the city weren’t too bad, but as soon as we began to climb up a steep hillside to a viewpoint, things changed a little.
Heavy rains last night can’t have done much for this previously damaged road, but it left me wondering how adventurous this trip was going to be! As it turned out, though there were other potholes here and there, the roads weren’t in too bad a condition, thank goodness.
But the same couldn’t necessarily be said of the homes, some of which seemed not much more than a basic shelter and Reuben’s description of life here was one of catch as catch can; buy a little and sell it at the market for a small profit seems to be the norm, with just the lucky few having a regular job.
As we drove out of the city, we saw another type of home – that on stilts over the water. Sadly we didn’t get a close enough look at these to see much of life there, but these structures did at least look more solid than some of those tarpaulin shelters along the roadside.
Over 800 languages are spoken here but there are three main, official ones – English, Pidgin and Motu. We found ourselves smiling at the Pidgin phrases. How about this sign outside the Children''s Library:
buk bilong pikinini
Anyway, here we were, arriving at the Koki Market with the fish. More smiles, calls of “hello!” and a gentle curiosity on both sides of the fence as we chatted to the ladies wafting the flies from the fish display
It wasn’t like India – we didn’t gather little friends as we went, no-one paid us a great deal of attention until we stopped and chatted to a stallholder. People generally left us to wander around as we wanted, but whenever we made eye contact, that smile was instantly there.
Not all stalls were full and the merchandise was interesting but not especially fascinating or colourful. But we were glad to make a stop at an everyday part of town and to see the people of Moresby going about their business.
This young man was washing potatoes in a plastic sack of water, giving them a final spray of water with a perforated water bottle before arranging them on the table like precious stones. At this point, I hadn’t worked out the exchange rate to say whether these were expensive luxuries or staples of the diet.
Above all, I like the way the women carried their bags on their heads. I’m not sure it can be very comfortable at first, but seeing some elderly women carrying rather large bags full like this, it must be quite efficient and surely better for the posture than a shoulder bag?
Anyway, our next stop was not really a stop at all, but a drive past of the Parliament buildings. Fortunately next door was the National Museum and we looked forward to a bit of culture. In particular I was hoping for some arts and crafts to see.
Sadly, no photos allowed in the museum at all, but we really enjoyed looking around the wonderful wood carvings and particularly liked the wooden boat with an unusual outrigger construction, bedecked with over 1000 cowie shells. There were totem style objects and masks as well as a particularly fascinating (and really badly lit) display of bilum.
Though we didn’t find the museum shop, later we called at an arts and crafts store and I found one to bring home with me.
It’s an interesting technique – more knotting than crochet, but done with a needle and using wooden slats as spacers, as far as I could see in that dim museum light. Something to research when we return, I think!
From the museum, we drove through lush greenery to a new visitor attraction – a wildlife sanctuary and botanic garden, containing the National Orchid Collection.
The National Water Slide was here too!
The orchids here were truly magnificent and growing on tree stumps, each one wired to the stump with a small container of fertiliser. The gardener accompanied us and was keen to show his expertise, though sadly, I was much in awe of the beautiful flowers and could contribute nothing to the conversation!
I particularly admired the peculiarly shaped blooms, such s these with a kind of corkscrew petal.
And I thought the colours were absolutely gorgeous.
There were other small distractions too – lovely wood carvings – and all the time, we “friends” were thoughtfully looked after, made very welcome and given such wonderful attention.
This was especially the case in the bird sanctuary, where I stopped at the entrance and explained that I was afraid of birds. I was reassured that the birds were in cages or very high above me, and persuaded that I really must see the Bird of Paradise, the Papua New Guinea national bird. I took a deep breath and went inside and sure enough, there really was nothing to fear. Though the birds of paradise were not really as spectacular as I imagined and the most attractive exhibit seemed to be the pigeon in the photograph!
From there we drove back into the city, past supermarkets such as this one
Amusing signs in Pidgin – yes, even in the basic communities there are good digital communication networks and there we are, 3D barcodes and all.
Then, on one of the roundabouts, the most incongruous sight of all – a Courts Furniture store! Maybe they’re in liquidation or bankrupt at home, but here in PNG they’re still going strong!
Soon, we were back at the quayside, where this woman was waiting at the gate holding baby and carrying her bag. We found our short visit to PNG fascinating and are so pleased we called here. After the slick tourism industry of Australia, it was good to experience something a little simpler but equally well done. Thank you, friends.
I actually took more than 250 photographs today, of which these are just a few. Along the way, we made one or two encounters with some rather more colourful people, who really deserve a post of their own. So tomorrow, I’ll introduce you to this young man and his friends, but for now, he’s just finishing his make up routine.