“Where are you going for Christmas”
“Why would you go to PNG?”
“Because we have family there”
“Isn’t it dangerous”
You are now regaled with a litany off horrific stories involving muggings, murders, riots and rapes from almost everybody that’s been associated with PNG. When we mention we are not staying in “Moresby” but going to Lae, it’s not unusual for your inquirer to turn ghostly white and go quiet on you.
I must admit to having mixed feelings about this trip when only months out from leaving, there’s a fatal passenger plane crash associated with the district we are travelling to. Even closer to the time political unrest surfaces as two people are claiming rightful head of the country, this invokes a range of reactions from the locals including rioting. Lai is then designated a “fight zone”, causing the slapping on of an alcohol ban, can we envisage a booze less Christmas. Just before we are due to leave there is a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, centred right on Lai, fortunately it’s extremely deep and although it terrified the citizens, it did no substantial damage. Optimistic we were going to have a wonderful experience among family and hopefully get a glimpse of life in PNG, we are on our way, come what may.
Very tired, very old but very clean is the best description of the 767-300 Air Niugini use to ferry people from Brisbane to Jackson airport in Port Moresby.The plane is surprisingly empty given its only days out from Christmas, we scored great seats with bags of room which made the flying experience pretty darn good.
Our expectation were a lot worse than the reality, everybody we spoke to as we negotiated our way through Visa on arrival, Immigration, Customs and transferring to the internal Air Niugini flight to Lae, is helpful and friendly.
At Lae Nadzab Airport we disembarked our Fokker100 to walk across the tarmac to a block built airport terminal. Inside the tiny waiting area the 100 or so passengers crowded behind an equally tiny baggage loading dock hoping their bags arrived. The airport and arrival reminded us of Africa when commuting between places, our bags turned up okay and after baggage tag inspection by security guards we are free to meet our hosts waiting for us outside the building.
The airport is on a disused Australian Air force base when the Australians ceased to administer the territory in the late 1970’s and upgraded by them to replace the airstrip in the Lae township in the 90’s. On the road back to town there’s an endless procession of people walking and sitting along the forty kilometer stretch of road. We pass thatch and pole house villages, long houses and small markets all the way, its clear there’s no basic facilities here like power, running water and sewage, these places are built and rebuilt. The traffic is four-wheel drives, trucks with seating local call PMV (People Moving Vechile?), the basic bus and little coaster buses. It’s not a traffic jam but there is no shortage of traffic, on this sealed route. We had heard about the pot holes and there were a few but we hit pot holes you drove into them and out of them