I’ve gone and left it a long time since I last wrote and generally been out of touch for a while but most importantly I survived my time in the jungle, did not get eaten and generally had a wholesome cultural experience 🙂
I was reunited with Jason in Bali..slightly worried he would want to get trollied straight away and me knowing my liver would not be able to cope after the Filippino thrashing. To my surprise he was under the weather and generally gone off drinking!! However, by the time full moon came around we both gave drinking another go…Jason ended up stripping down to undies and jumping in the pool!
My next experience was the Pelni ship – Indonesian ferries. Jason was keen for me to travel the authentic way – the journey was 3 days in economy..we set up camp on the deck, very hot and very smelly. Jason was comfortable in his hammock I was on the floor with cockroaches! But it was all in the name of character building and I was blown away by how much of the local language Jason had picked up in his 2 months there.
We only had a few hours in Makassar then on to Jayapura, West Papua. This is where it all got a lot more exciting. Jayapura is a dump. And a lot more expensive than the rest of Indonesia ($15 for a night – ouch!). We headed straight to Papua New Guinean (PNG) consulate to get out visas underway, worryingly we bumped into a lot of backpackers who had been waiting up to 2 weeks for their visa. Jason only had 5 days before his indonesian visa ran out. We charmed the ppl at the consulate and with a lot of persistence we actually got our visas faster than anyone we knew…only to find out that they were not going to let me out of Indonesia!! I had the wrong visa but my english charm pulled though again :p and after some sweet talking they finally stamped me out of the country. Our boarder crossing was mildly eventful including a drunken swede getting on top of the moving car…we were also given lots of free condoms I suppose in an effort to help the AIDs situation which is the worsed in the Pacific.
************Papua New Guinea ******************************
The craziest destination on my world itinerary, when I mentioned it to most people their reaction was surprise as it has a pretty dangerous reputation. However my first encounters, infact all my encounters with Papuans were really friendly. Many of them speak a good level of english too. Our first stop was the boarder town of Vanimo – there is nothing there! One supermarket and one bank! Now the thing about PNG is that there is no infrastructure for the residents let alone for tourists trying to get around. the main method is PMV – private motor vehicle. Usually a pick-up that’s heading somewhere and he sells space in the back. The other thing is that everything is very laid back.. it’s not just Sunday that is a day of rest, everyday is a day of rest. So we bided time in Lido a small surfing village with a nice family sleeping in a bamboo hut on the floor and washing in the river. Sitting in the back of a pick up truck sounds fun but not 6 hours of it on a shockingly bad road followed by another 8 hours of it at night and then in the rain. The last 4 hours i sat in a puddle and was absolutely miserable. So by the time we reached our destination any bed would do. Wewak guesthouse is owned by a crazy jaundiced Yugoslavian lady that screeched in your ear whilst shuffling around. It turns out that she was brought to PNG and subsequently abandoned by an aussie guy so she actually turned to prostitution for money. It must have really messed with her head cause she absolutely scared the bejesus out of me! Our room was a prison cell and I don’t want to mention the bathroom.
The following day we had a change of luck; another point to note about PNG is that there are so few white people (wallys) or tourists around that any expats are more than willing to stick a limb out and help you. This is what happened to us..a guy called Philip pulled over and let us know that he owned the best hotel in the area and we were permitted to stay there complimentary..provided we washed! ha! I forgot to mention that for our whole PNG experience we were with an american called Mark who had got a ridiculously lucky on the stock market and had been travelling for 28 months, he was typically american arrogant, inappropriate and amusing. We’d learned to love him by the end! He was smellier than the rest of us! After a dip in the pool (!) we had a complimentary meal! The boys had ideas of getting a canoe and paddling down the Sepik, PNG’s largest river. However I was slightly less enthusiastic as 1 white couple got attacked the previous year, Philip – introduced us to 2 anthropologists who had just come out of the bush. They were wonderful and suggested we stay where they had carried out their research. With in 3 hours it was all sorted!
Tongwinjambe was to be our home for the next 10 days, 18 hours away from the nearest town. We stayed with a fantastic family in a traditional village. Going to the market for food and to the family’s garden to dig up sweet potato and cut down sago – their staple, and collecting drinking water from the well. We were fortunate enough to attend a funeral and it was an overwhelming experience. Mourners adorn mud on their bodies and women wail during the ceremony. People seem to die quite frequently, another young man had had a heart attack playing football. There was no more football to be played for the next year. I entertained the kids first by learning pidgin songs then by teaching them english ones, favorites included Hokey Cokey and What’s the Time Mr Wolf?!!! We cooked our own food and the boys brought the fish back. Everyone walks barefoot and during wet season it’s reminiscent of Glastonbury, my feet took quite a beating. Since they are so remote they have quite a naive view as to how the world works, one absurd example is that they grow a lot of narcotics in that area and they actually asked Mark to help them try and sell the stuff in the US!!
Many of the families don’t have much money if any but they’re not poor in the truest sense they are very self sufficient and trade for goods. However as western mentality creeps in the need for cash becomes ever stronger, prices for certain goods are extortionate 3quid for a bag of flour! Most days in the village are very lazy, napping and making string bags! One event for the day involved their dog which kept going in the kitchen so the whole family laid the dog down, and the father armed with a machette chopped off the dogs tail with their 2 year old son jumping up and down with excitement in the background! They just found it funny – I have a feeling the dog did not…
Our time was up before we knew it, personally i’d had enough of mosquito’s which tormented me everynight and was keen to actually wash properly…we had quite the send off as the whole village came to see us off, shouting “Apo”! One exceedingly long journey on a canoe through the night and we were back in civilisation again, PNG civilisation anyway. Back at the Boutique hotel I somehow managed to talk my way into getting another nights accomodation on the house, although we were told rather bluntly that we must wash and dress smarter (something Jason and Mark struggled with having given alot of our clothes to the village!) Philip’s genorosity shone through so for Mark’s 25th the meal, again was on the house.
By this point it is time for me and Jason to start making our way to Aus and then NZ however, PNG being PNG our 1st domestic flight was cancelled which was essential if we were to make our 3 connecting flights. Sitting in the “airport” Jason recalled a conversation over dinner the previous night, we had met a helicopter pilot flying in our direction so he went off in search of him, 10 mins later we have wangled our way onto a free flight!! I got the front seat as I was the smallest and Oh my lord it was the most amazing hour of my life, what a fantastic way to travel! We flew over the Sepik, along the coast line, over ridges, low enough to see all the locals waving up at us! I can’t explain how brilliant it was, totally unexpected too. (see facebook!) More flight issues meant we were put up in the best place in Medang for the night too, and we got to speak to the pilot who had wanted to fly helicopters since he was 7 and was now living his dream. And that was our last night in PNG. We only got a small sample of the country but what a taster! To go more remote than we did you’d need a lot more time and money. It was a fantastic experience for me and I hope to remain in contact with the family we stayed with.
Flying into Brisbane was really exciting, chocoloate on the plane! And out of the window, skyscrapers and lights and cars and roads!!! Our night at the airport was almost luxourious (We both had Subways and Guylian chocolate!). Although jason was not allowed to take feathers or snake vertebrate into NZ we were finally allowed through and were reunited with our slightly emotional mother. All the Chengs are altogether now and we are travelling the north island. I’ve given up backpacking for a month or so and doing some more fine dining. NZ seems to be stuck in the 1950s but a geologists dream! Looking forward to Christmas with family friends. It’s so much colder here it almost feels Christmassy!!
However, I did notice how it disagreed with me, how i’d not really done much exploring. How fickle and gossip-led it all was. I forgot to mention the aussie dj who was a bit of a diva, walked out creating quite the drama and two factions… also I was running out of party outfits! So I balanced it by chill out days on the beach with my book and sampling filipino delicacies…balot – fertilised egg. You drink the ambiotic juice then munch the yolk and the very young chicken…sometimes they are so developed they have feathers…i bottled it on the embryo. Photos to follow.
So that’s where I am now. In just a few days from now the Cheng’s gruesome twosome will be reunited in Bali. I cannot wait, if only to see what 4 months of travelling has done to my brother!