28 Jan Off the Beaten Track: PNG
“No sir, we cannot let you on board the plane to Mt Hagen. It is too dangerous.”
The desire to climb PNG’s highest mountain (Mt Wilhelm 4,059) was not so much the climb itself, but the journey to get there. Its broad flanks sits in the midst of the rugged Highlands wilds harbouring the bulk of the 7,000,000 inhabitants conjuring 848 tribal groups and their separate languages, all living deep within its ravines and socially bound by their pre biblical lore. It was going to attest a pilgrimage as so much as a privilege to get near its lofty reach.
I called in a friend Angus Seekamp to participate in this charade. Promises of tropical organic fruits, exotic cuisine, coral seas and palm frond beaches were needed to sign him up. Our conversation with the flight clerk at Port Moresby diverted our focus to the reality of PNG travel. We jumped on a flight to Goroka instead. Our only hostess being a male was kind enough to smile in the stifled humidity of the age worn plane and seemed quite indifferent to hide the scar that pronounced his throat was cut in his tempest past. The purple inflamed scar and symmetric stitch welts around his neck was a subliminal brochure of where we were about to venture.
40% of the population live in a self-sustainable natural lifestyle with no access to global capital. Their social life is overlaid with traditional religious cosmologies and is “one of the world’s least explored culturally and geographically with many undiscovered species of plants and animals are thought to exist in the interior” (Wikipedia). The lineage of Chieftains and Sorcerers commanding village rule and execution of punishment held a delicate social balance of position and basic survival.
Once at Goroka, no-one initially wanted to take us deeper into the highlands to reach Mt Wilhelm. They simply did not want to pass foreign clans land with the hanging threat of reprisal. First we flushed out Casper Dama who was willing to take us if we funded him with a vast supply of beetle nut, and our personal police man Bonny to protect us. Local markets stacked carrots, Coa Coa, potatoes, eggs and exotic fruits amongst the mud and rubbish. Over a pitted track we moved through traditional villages with thatched or wood planked walls with grass thatched roofs. Pigs, goats and chickens had free reign over the roads, as did the kids.
Many wrecked cars abandoned on the side of the road and at the bottom of the ravines were obvious victims to the steep muddy inclines, unconditioned tracks, wash-outs and bad driving.
The clans people were indeed hospitable as much as curious. Having Bonny and Casper certainly assisted in our integration to local life. Local food was plentiful and the climb successful & surreal. Watching the sun rise over the rugged beauty on a world that the world has yet to find.
It is hard to imagine that our closest neighbour harbours a humanity that filters on the verge of fantastical realism hidden within the folds of a mountain range that approaches the might of the French Alps yet only 150km from our shoreline. Consider a PNG pilgrimage into the wilds should your whims wish to engage a journey of historical discovery.