October 19th 1983

posted in: The way back | 1

Up early + a quick trot down to the Air Niugini office, to where our passports are supposed to be delivered.  No-one in the office, + no TNT courier waiting outside, so I rang them up.  The freight has only just arrived, the girl said, so we don’t know if it’s here yet.  Ring again in 30-40 mins.  So, the condemned couple ate a hearty breakfast back at the hotel, grapefruit, bacon + eggs, the works.  And then back to Air Niugini, while Val popped out for last minute shopping.  Marion had received no package, but she rang TNT again.  No, no sign of it, nothing for Air Niugini, no.  Hang on a minute, Walters + Jonas, 123 Esplanade, yes, it’s here.  Bloody hell.  It was swiftly arranged that the passports would be delivered to the office in 20  mins time, ie 9.35, + that the Airporter bus would pick us up from the hostel at 10.  Not a lot of time.

I quickly bought some film from the duty-free shop next door, then raced back to the hostel.  I’ll confess my heart sank when I got to the room + Val wasn’t there, but in any case I furiously started packing.  Most of it had been done, true, but there were all sorts of bits + pieces lying around, so I shoved them into packs + pockets + plastic bags – very little method in my madness.  Fortunately, Val did arrive back 10 mins later, so I was able to leave it to her, + sprint off back to the airline office.  The passports were waiting for me, tho’ I had to pay $25 for the freight charge.  Another sprint, or swift jog, to the hostel once more.  Val had just about finished, so we lugged the bags out to the road, + just about had time to drink most of a litre of milk, before the bus arrived – the rest we drank on the bus.  So, before we had time to realise what we were doing, we were on our way out of Australia.

At the airport, we checked our bags in + then got rather conned, as a bloke from the Australian Tourist Authority asked if we would mind answering some questions.  No, fine, we said, but it was a mistake, a definite mistake.  He pestered us while we were trying to sort ourselves out with immigration, exchange, etc – “Are you ready yet?” – + then whisked us off into their VIP lounge – (air-conditioned, but nothing special), + kept us for 30 or 40 mins.  So no time for writing letters, for sorting our bags out, for changing our clothes or doing any of the things we’d intended to do.  We were presented with a small kangaroo stick-pin each as a mark of gratitude, but it was very small consolation for what we’d lost.

However, it was a nice little plane, the smallest jet I’d travelled on, + a short but pleasant journey.  We were fed too, + watered.  Sandwiches, cold chicken, juice, champagne.  A lovely view from the air of the brilliant blue reef, + then, in what seemed to be no time at all, the coast of New Guinea.  A little trouble with my ears, but manageable, + then we were on the ground again, + in the next country on our trip.  One more small step towards home.

Despite any premonitions we might have had, our passage thro’ immigration + customs was entirely painless.  We did have to pay 5 kina for our visa, but that was a legal charge, I believe.  And so, there we all were, standing on the tarmac outside the airport, wondering what to do + where to go.  PNG is notoriously expensive for accommodation, but Greg, one of our party, had been chatting to his neighbour on the plane ( I should explain now that Greg is one of the great talkers of our time), + had been advised that we at least try at the Air Club on the perimeter of the airport, to see whether they would let us camp at their grounds.  It would be cheaper that way, also considerably safer.  Moresby, it seems, is a dangerous place.  And another guy suggested we trek out to the National Park.  So the famous 5 strolled round there.

As well as the 3 you know, there was Paul, a Kiwi, + his girlfriend, a pom called June.  There was one more guy, an American, but he was soon flying on to Lae, so we said farewell.  The rest of us, all walking the Kokoda trail together, decided to stay as a group, at least for the time being.  We started walking towards the road out to the national Park, (me hardly believing I was in another country) + our path took us past the entrance to the Aero Club, so we decided we might as well give them a try – they could only say no.  Val, Paul + Greg went in, while I chatted with June (thereby discovering that we’d both worked at the Golden Nugget at the same time) but we were soon waved in, + in what seemed like no time were fixed up, not with a place on the grass,  but a room.  The manager of the place was an amazing man, an old ex-pat called Paul Cox.  He was rude + profane + kind-hearted, all at the same time, roundly abusing us + calling us crazy, yet also rather admiring us too.  His club was also a bit of an enigma, once faintly luxurious, + now faintly seedy, a haven for ex-pats of a certain type, yet a centre too for local blacks.  Not that they mixed at all, it was more like a glass of Guinness.

We had a quick beer at the bar (beer seemed to be Australian prices), + then took off to catch a bus to town.  The bus service here seems excellent; I’d been led to understand they only had trucks, but the PMVs (Public Motor Vehicles) here in Moresby seem to be perfectly ordinary minibuses.  A bit battered, perhaps, but luxury in comparison with, say, Central America.  A flat fare too, of 30 ?, perfect for the likes of us.  Mind you, we had to be told when we’d arrived in Moresby – it was that sort of place.  A nothing town – it doesn’t warrant the name city – with a building here, + a couple more buildings there.  Very odd, very strange. 

Val + I were keen to find a map, as we wanted to be off on the trail tomorrow, so we searched around for that, without even coming close to finding one.  We also had to wait a couple of times for Greg.  He’s a great talker, and that’s definitely an asset, but I’d say in his case he takes a good thing too far, since the other 4 of us would be waiting for him in a shop or somewhere while he rabbited.  But I suppose in the end his assets outweigh his liabilities, since he certainly finds things out.  After wandering a while, we jumped on a PMV back to the airport.  It’s a long ride, + that is one of the worst aspects of Moresby for a traveller – it’s not so much a city at all, as a series of extended villages just running into one another.  I don’t doubt that in time it will look like any other city in the world, but I’m not sure that won’t be an improvement.

In the evening, we showered + had a pie + a beer, then I played Paul at pool.  He beat me 3-0.  And then we started chatting with various of the ex-pat community who had flooded in.  They were, on the whole, prophets of doom about our prospects for the trail, so didn’t exactly raise our spirits that way, but they were amiable enough, + bought us beer, + chatted about other things too.  June almost wangled herself a trip in a plane, but the pilot then wriggled out of that one.  We were, however, invited back to one bloke’s home to watch a video film, + tho’ feeling a little tired, were pleased to accept.  It’s nice to talk to people, + I think that the invitation was as much for his benefit, for the company, as for ours.  It took us quite a while before we got moving tho’.  A couple more rounds of drinks, + the party in many groups drinking many beers.  However, eventually we were off.

Our hosts name was Dick, a commercial pilot + a pleasant chap, tho’ I hope he never flew the way he drove, ie drunk.  When we were all in the car, he suggested we might prefer some local colour to a movie, so took us to a bar.  Unfortunately (or not, perhaps) the place was shut – Dick had got his nights mixed up – so it had to be the film after all.  “The Great Waldo Pepper”, not at all a bad film, but I’d seen it before.  It was a pleasant evening, but really a mistake, I think – Dick was drunk, + we were all just too tired.  Only Greg the Mouth kept firing on all cylinders, shooting aviation questions at Dick, + I thin k Dick had had enough by the time we returned.

It was late when we got back – the pace was shut up, but the security guard had been given instructions to let us in.  I’d heard Paul giving them, in pidgin English, a fascinating language.  We were three pila-man + two pila-mari, but I didn’t catch much more.

Considering the slightly desperate state we had been in the morning, the day turned out remarkably well. All was,in the end, fine for admin arrangements, the flight was comfortable, and not only were we in another country (and, as I said, on the start of our way home) but we had been fixed up quite comfortably… and at a reasonable price. What a relief.

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