Papua New Guinea is probably a place you don’t see on many people’s travel itineraries, but I’d been itching to get there for a very long time! You could say the country has had a troubled history and is still trying to find its feet as an independent state. This can make things very interesting for travellers.
Upon arrival at the airport, I had to join a long line for immigration clearance, which gave me a lot of time and to contemplate if I had all my documentation in order. The immigration officer that processed my entry was very friendly and wished me well. After that, I had to clear the customs area, where a man just took my filled-in form, without even looking at it, and waved me through. I was finally there!
Welcome to Port Moresby
As I was trying to exit the airport, a lovely man named Harold stopped me and asked where I was staying. When I told him, he said that the area wasn’t safe and that he would help me find lodging in a safer area. He ended up driving me around a fair amount of the city in his company’s vehicle, while I presume he was supposed to be working. He took me to a few guesthouses that were run by Christian missionaries. These guesthouses were prohibitively expensive considering what was on offer; a single room with shared bathroom facilities and no WiFi.
The problem I had was that, because I’d already booked and paid for my accommodation online, I hadn’t brought enough cash with me to pay the ridiculous prices they were asking. Harold took me to a few more places, until we ended up at the Rehoboth Transit House. The owners of this guesthouse were lovely. After I explained the situation to them, they asked me how much I could afford and agreed that I could just pay that amount. I was glad to have that sorted and now that Harold knew I would be safe, he headed back to work.
While Harold was driving me around, I had noticed that almost all private properties and some businesses had really high perimeter fences with barbed wire on top of them. Then the owners of the guesthouse informed me that it wasn’t safe for me to go outside by myself. The explorer in me was devasted. A big part of the way I travel involves wandering around aimlessly until I stumble upon something awesome. The owners did say that either they themselves, or their security guard, could be at my disposal whenever I wanted to go out, but still.
The Fun Begins
As I’d realised my options for getting around Port Moresby were limited, I had decided to go rural. My destination was the small town of Sogeri, where the Kokoda Trail begins. The security guard from the guesthouse, Sam accompanied me. We headed to the bus stop across the road from the guesthouse to wait for the bus to Sogeri. As the bus was pulling up, I noticed a teenage boy running from the opposite side of the road. I figured he was just running for the bus. Nope, he was running towards me, using the distraction of the bus to steal my phone!
Being the fight back kinda person that I am, I decided to chase this little shit as he ran back across the road with my phone. Sam also joined the chase, but told me to wait at the road when the boy entered his community. He continued to chase the boy, while I waited and hoped that he would come back with my phone. An elder from the community approached me from a crowd to tell me that he saw the whole thing, he knew the boy and he would get my phone back.
Sam reappeared from the community a short while later, apologising for losing the offender. Would you believe, at that very moment, a police car was passing, so we flagged it down. Sam and I relayed the details to the officers, but they said they couldn’t help. I was surprised, considering we were standing right outside the community. So as I was about to give up, the elder from the community came over to say he wanted to help catch the boy. That changed everything!
We were all loaded into the police car for a drive to the boy’s house, in the community. Of course, the boy had not gone back there yet, but his brother was there and seemed really pissed off at his brother. Apparently, the boy has done this kinda stuff before and the family was getting sick of it. They felt bad and also wanted to help me get my property back. They asked if I would give them a day to find the boy and return the phone to me, before making an official report to the police. I agreed.
With that kind of sorted, I decided that I may as well continue with my plans, because there wasn’t really much else I could do at that point. I went back to the guesthouse to get my back-up camera, because every good traveller has one of those! Sam and I went back to the bus stop and were soon on our way to Sogeri. This whole time, Sam had stayed very close to me, so I was surprised when he said I could have a wander around by myself when we got to Sogeri. It seems the country areas of PNG are a lot safer than the capital.
The bus had dropped us off near a lodge at the start of the Kokoda Trail, which was still a little bit outside of the town. It was there that we met Ranger Muxsie and his friend Robert. The ranger then organised us a lift into town with the owners of the lodge. Once we got into town, there was a big volleyball game going on at a school, which also doubled as a sports ground. There were many makeshift stalls set up along the road outside, selling all kinds of locals foods and fresh juices. All of the stall holders were very friendly and many offered me free samples of their foods and drinks.
Across from the school was some kind of memorial and behind that was a trail that we could hike along. Ranger Muxsie said he would like to guide us, but he had to do some work, so he said his friend Robert would accompany us to make sure that we didn’t get lost. As we were walking along, Robert commented about how ‘strong’ I was for being able to keep up a decent pace in the PNG heat. I guess other visitors don’t handle it so well.
The trail actually ended up being a dirt road for most of the way. It meandered through memorials for people whose names I can’t pronounce, missionaries and local farming villages. We even had to do a small river crossing, over pipes! It looked like some of the people living in the villages survived by preparing materials for recycling.
After our little adventure, we returned to the town. Robert left us there and we met back up with Ranger Muxsie. We had to walk a couple of kilometres uphill to get to the pickup point for the bus back to Port Moresby and Muxsie had decided walk with us. While waiting for the bus, we all exchanged contact details and Muxsie said I should call him if I’m ever back in the area.
Police and Black Market Supply Chains
Back in Port Moresby, the community elder had been unsuccessful in locating the boy or my phone, so we made our way to the police station to file a report. Then we waited. I was not holding out much hope by that point, as it had already been 2 days. That made it all the more surprising when the police contacted us the next day and asked us to come into the station. They had 2 of the 3 people involved in the black market supply chain in custody!
My hosts had hilariously given them all nicknames; The Rasta, The Fatman and The Chinaman. Sounds like some kinda terrible detective show that I’d watch the hell out of! Anyways, The Rasta was still at large, but they believed him to be the one who took the phone from the thief. The Fatman was believed to be the middle man and the ‘Chinaman’, who was actually Filipino, was on the receiving end of the stolen goods.
The best part of this whole saga was that the police had retrieved my phone! That was way more than I’d ever dared to hope for. Unfortunately, the phone had been wiped and the memory card and SIM cards were gone. This presented a whole other problem. By this point, I’d had no phone or internet to contact the outside world for 4 days, after entering a ‘dangerous’ area. I needed internet to let people know I was okay and reinitialise my phone, so one of my hosts and I went for dinner at a restaurant with WiFi.
Luckily I had brought my laptop to the restaurant, so I was able to get online that way, but because the WiFi required a web login instead of a direct network login, I couldn’t reinitialise my phone. Apparently, that’s how PNG does WiFi, so I was going to have to wait until the next country to have a working phone. Who needs an alarm to wake up for a flight anyway?
One Last Trip to the Police Station
The police contacted us again asking us to come to the station. When we got there, they informed us that they still hadn’t caught the thief, but they wanted us to go to the community with them to talk to the family. The mother of the thief wanted to tell me herself that she was allowing the police to arrest her and keep her in custody to bring her son out of hiding. Wow. It worked.
Most of my trip was spent dealing with that one issue. Although it’s a crappy thing to have to deal with while travelling, the way that people came together to help a stranger tells me all I need to know about this country. Despite my ordeal, I’d highly recommend going there.
🇵🇬Papua New Guinea Summary🇵🇬
In a few words – Intense, but friendly
Language – English and Pidgin English
Currency – Papua New Guinean Kina (PGK)
WiFi availability – 📶📶
Wifi doesn’t seem to be widely available and even when you can get some, it’s slow and disconnects you all the time
Transport – I’m not sure about transport in PNG as I got driven everywhere
Roads – 🛣🛣🛣🛣🛣
Most roads look like they’re well maintained
Scenery – 🌳⛰🌳🏞🌳
Prices – 💰💰💰
Accommodation is ridiculously expensive for something very basic. Food is quite cheap, even imported goods seem to be cheaper in PNG than they are in the country of origin
Border efficiency – 🛃🛃🛃🛃
Both the entry to and exit from the international airport in Port Moresby were quite smooth.
Overall – 👍👍👍👍