May 23, 2014 by farbolino
Well, it’s been over a year since my last post and I’ve had quite a few things that I’ve been meaning to write about, but for the moment I’m skipping them for this post. Hopefully you’ll understand why by the Part 2.
The last few days I’ve been a little sick with numerous ailments including a sore throat, blocked sinus’, sneezing and some intestinal issues. That said, I was quite pleased to not have any issues for the first three weeks. So I told myself if I felt better in the morning I would make the very long journey to Tari by PMV not to waste another day in Mt. Hagen.
3:20am- I woke to the sound of roosters outside my window. I’ve never understood why they can’t at least wait until sunrise which is still too early for me. I tossed in bed unable to fall back asleep knowing I should wake in just a few hours time in order to catch the earliest buses to Tari. I heard it was an 11 hour drive, which almost always means it’s longer. Countless times I heard it would be a 4 drive when it was 6, or 8 hours when it’s normally 5.
‘Raskols’ or bandits as they’re called here normally operate after dark and ‘occasionally’ there are holdups on the road where everyone is robbed. While I’m never paranoid, I always find it smart to travel during the day and arrive at my destination while it’s still light out. Let’s not forget the scenery; we are in the highlands.
6:00am- I got out of bed but the lights wouldn’t turn on. Dam blackouts, they literally happen almost every night in Papua New Guinea regardless of which place you are.
7:00am- I was ready to go catch a local PMV into town to start the journey to Tari, but my Couchsurfing host said she’d have the landlord drive us into town. In PNG, nothing is that simple, and after dropping his kids off at school (in the opposite direction), stopping for 10 kina of gas (little more than 2 liters), and finally stopping for some Buai (Beetle nut) we made it into town.
7:50am- hopped on a nearly full PMV which means it should be leaving any minute! I had once waited in Lae for 3.5 hours to fill the final 10 passengers heading to Madang. Unlike every other place I’ve been on earth, in PNG they drive in small circles and figure 8’s hitting every pothole possible just to scoop up passengers before another PMV headed to the same place. It’s the most aggressive and least effective method I’ve ever seen, not to mention it’s annoying and adds to the perceived driving time.
8:50am- After nearly an hour of ‘Las two- Tari Tari Tari Tari, and seemingly filling those two spots just to have someone else get off for no apparent reason, we seemed to be full. We then drove in the wrong direction to the main market, stopped outside it, again for no apparent reason, then drove BACK just to yell ‘Las two!! TARI TARI TARI!! there wasn’t any seats, and no one else jumped on.
9:28am- Last stop before we leave! Apparently everyone needs batteries, flashlights and fried chicken and taro before we go so we stop at a roadside stand selling these things.
9:40am- I’m pretty sure we’re actually leaving. Can never be sure.
10:40am- We left! Oops, spoke too soon as it’s already time for a Buai break. I’ll take any chance I get to stretch my legs, especially considering I’m sitting just behind the door with a sack of potatoes under my feet, a metal railing jammed into my left kneecap and my backpack sitting in my lap.
12:00pm- After our second stop I started talking to John, a teacher in Mt. Hagen who was sitting right next to me. His English was quite good, but the reason he was going to Tari wasn’t. There had been some sort of issue at his school where one of the teachers homes had been broken into and she was raped all night. I was simply too speechless to ask any of the details. Until now, most of the horror stories I had heard began with ‘last year’ or ‘a while ago’. I began to understand that maybe PNG can be as hostile as people have said. I had just begun to assume that I had arrived in a peaceful lull of sorts. Maybe not.
12:30pm- We arrive to Mendi, apparently to fill the two seats that don’t exist. We drive around with the same ‘Las two! Tari Tari Tari!’ Somehow, someone squeezed into the back that was sitting upfront, two people boarded and one just stood.
12:50pm- Looks like we need diesel, but failed to noticed while we were in Mendi; the largest town for the next 5-7 hours. We stop at an illegal roadside fill station, but the guy is too lazy to get off his ass to fill the tank, so we drive for another 20 minutes until we reach another.
1:15pm just after we stopped to get fuel, one of the men who jumped on at Mendi offered me a gift. It was a traditional Tari headband. He even made sure to tie it up for me. This seemed to put everyone in a delighted mood. It was already novel enough to have a ‘white man’ on board their PMV, but now I just looked ridiculous. I didn’t mind for everyone’s enjoyment though. Just then, we rounded a hair turn bend in the dirt road and finally the jagged peaks of the highlands showed themselves in full form. Until now it had mostly been grassy hills and valleys that had been stripped of their natural fauna to become farmland. It was turning into an amazing journey.