November 7th 1983

posted in: The way back | 0

Chris in minibus

Ate a fine breakfast, + purloined some more jams + vegemites, + then set off for the great metropolis of Mt Hagen, leaving Eddy to his task of making as much money out of its citizens as he could. Mt Hagen, like all PNG cities, so far as I can tell, is not a city in the western sense, in that it is not a population centre.  It is merely a centre of government, of administration, + because of those, of trade.  It therefore has a few people living in the neighbourhood, mainly the ex-pats and relatively high-up officials of govt, banking + trade, but the ordinary people all live in outlying villages.  Which is good, in that there are no slums, but confusing to the poor westerner.

We wandered the streets a little, performing the various necessary visits we had to make, the PO, bank, etc, + being importuned by various local people, approaching us as we walked along, to buy various locally-made artefacts, such as slate axes, bows + arrows, spears, + shell necklaces.  One thing that did take Val’s fancy was the woven basket, heavy + intricate.  Its seller indicated that the true price for the one she had was K35, but she was willing to accept K25.  We held out, tho’, for K20, but it seemed she wouldn’t drop from 24.  So we walked away.  Much, I could see, to Val’s distress, for I could see she really had fallen for it.  So when, a little later, he came upon us once more, + offered it for K22, she immediately said yes, + handed over the cash.

We visited Ken Logan, a local district policeman cum magistrate – we’d been referred to him by Ray + Pauline, since he would be able to give us more information about the place, + might, they had surmised, put us up for the night.  In this latter hope we were disappointed, but he did suggest a couple of places we could visit.  Both of these, he suggested, would be overnight stops.  Since Hagen was mostly a trading centre, most PMVs came into town in the morning, + returned in the afternoon.  People like ourselves, trying to do things in reverse, might find it difficult to arrange within the one day.  The first of these trips was to the Baiyer River Bird Sanctuary, but before setting out we had to return to the motel to collect our bags, + to inform Eddy of our intentions.  It wasn’t so very easy to find the place, in fact – because of our own stupidity, we wandered in to the market by one entrance, + left, without realising it, by another, thus putting ourselves on the wrong road.  We did, however, eventually realise our mistake.

I was halfway thro’ writing Eddy a note, when he appeared, declared he had had an excellent +  most profitable morning.  Since Val also wanted to go on the other trip, to Mendi, we agreed to meet Eddy in Goroka on Friday morning.  He seemed quite happy with that (and we were anxious not to overstrain a new friendship), so, leaving him in charge of the basket, + various other non immediately-essential items, we shouldered our packs + walked into town.  Caught the PMV with no problems – contrary to what we had been told, we had a minibus, not the back of a truck.  The people were all very friendly – first of all we were presented with sugar-cane to chew on, + tho’ we weren’t as adept as everyone else at removing the woody outside – they used their teeth, while we needed a knife – it was refreshing.  We were also presented with a pineapple by a lady on the bus, to pay for if we chose.  We did choose, of course, giving her 50b + a small kangaroo brooch.  She was delighted with this latter, treating it as an ear-ring, + trusting the pin thro’ her pierced ear.  We were required to pay an extra K2 for the bus to take us right to the gates of the sanctuary – something we hadn’t already been told about, which was a bit naughty – but we paid, + left everyone on good terms.

Walked up to the Lodge to see about accommodation, + soon discovered that at K10 each, it was beyond our price range, especially since we knew we would be able to camp on their grounds for just K2 each.  So we put up the tent, + then went for a walk around the grounds while there was still light.  The general air was of mild decrepitude, the place looked run-down (we later learned that it was indeed short of money), but there was plenty which was of interest.  Lots of birds in cages – some shy + retiring, others not at all so – + the first cassowaries we had ever seen.  The place is famous for its birds of paradise, but for us they were remarkably unimpressive, tho’ since it was a grey + chilly evening we scarcely saw them in the best of circumstances.  There were a few other native animals there too, tho’ nothing too spectacular.  The star of the show, certainly for the Nationals, was a white cockatoo who screeched “Hello Cocky!”, + laughed hysterically.  But for me the best thing about the place was the jungle setting – the cages + compounds were set in, + dominated by, the jungle environment around us.

We returned to the tent, + Val cooked a meat + vegetable stew.  The rain was starting to fall quite heavily, so we had to build a small cooking shelter in the doorway of the hut with one of the ponchos.  I had  no appetite whatever tho’ , I’m afraid, + only enjoyed the potatoes.  I suppose I was satiated by the sugar cane.  We retreated into our canvas – well, nylon – home, the rain drumming ever more fiercely on the roof, + soon tucked ourselves up as cosily as we might.

Actually good to be back by ourselves for a bit, and to get the chance to interact with the local people; not in a very close way, but at least to feel that we were in the same country.

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