Papua New Guinea (Papua Niugini) isn’t a place you see on many people’s travel itineraries. You could say the country has had a troubled history. It was governed by Australia until 1975 and is still trying to find its feet as an independent realm in the Commonwealth of Nations. This makes it a mix of contradictions. I encountered both petty theft and pragmatism in Papua New Guinea. It can be a frustrating place for travellers, but I’d say the helpfulness of people there is enough of a reason to visit.
Upon arrival at the airport, I joined the long line for immigration clearance. That gave me time and to contemplate if my documentation in order. The immigration officer processing my entry was very friendly and wished me well. After that, I had to clear the customs area. I thought that would be a hassle, but the man at the desk just took my filled-in form, without even looking at it, and waved me through. I was finally there!
Petty Theft and Pragmatism in Papua New Guinea – Welcome to Port Moresby
When exiting the airport, a lovely man named Harold stopped me to ask where I was staying. When told, he said it wasn’t safe and offered to find lodging in a safer area. He drove me around in his company’s vehicle, while I presume he should’ve been working. We found a few prohibitively guesthouses run by Christian missionaries. Even more so when you considered what was on offer; a single room with shared bathroom and no WiFi.
As I’d already booked and paid for my accommodation online, I hadn’t brought enough cash 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, they asked me how much I could pay. Then agreed that I could just pay that amount. I was glad to have that sorted. 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 high perimeter fences topped with barbed wire. 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, were at my disposal whenever I wanted to go out, but still.
Petty Theft and Pragmatism in Papua New Guinea – 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. I hoped that he would come back with my phone, at the same time as thinking there was almost no chance of that happening. 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. At least that was something.
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! 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. As I was about to begrudgingly give up, the elder from the community came over. He told the police that he wanted to help catch the boy. That completely changed the policemen’s demeanour from stoically unhelpful to mildly pleasant.
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.
Continuing onto Sogeri
With that kind of sorted, I decided that I may as well continue with my plans. It’s not like there much else I could do at that point. I went back to the guesthouse to get my back-up camera. Every good traveller has one of those! After confirming a few times that I was indeed good to continue, Sam took me back to the bus stop. We were soon on our way to Sogeri. This whole time, Sam had stayed very close to me. That made it all the more surprising he said I could have a wander around by myself in Sogeri. The country areas of Papua New Guinea are deemed to be a lot safer than the capital.
Meeting the Locals
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. Ranger Muxsie 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. This school also doubled as the town’s 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 stallholders were very friendly and many offered me free samples of their foods and drinks.
Hiking With Locals
Across from the school was a 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. He said his friend Robert would accompany us instead. 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 Papua New Guinean heat. I guess other visitors don’t handle it so well but I had the advantage of living in a hot place.
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. Muxsie had decided to join us for the walk. While waiting for the bus, we all exchanged contact details. Muxsie said I should call him, so he could take care of me, if I’m ever back in the area.
Petty Theft and Pragmatism in Papua New Guinea – 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. They asked us to come into the station. Two of the three people involved in the black market supply chain were 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.
Arrests and Returns
The best part of this whole saga was that the police had retrieved my phone and returned it to me! That was way more than I’d ever hoped for. Unfortunately, the phone had been wiped and the memory/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’ country. I needed to get online to let people know I was okay. I also needed internet to reinitialise my phone. My host suggested that we could have dinner at a restaurant with WiFi.
Luckily I had brought my laptop to the restaurant, so I was able to get online that way. The WiFi there required a web login instead of a direct network login. That meant I couldn’t connect my phone to reinitialise it. I must say that WiFi in Papua New Guinea turned out to be infinitely disappointing. I managed to get a few emails sent off, but would 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. 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. As she had limited mobility, this was a major thing for her to do. No one could convince her that she shouldn’t do it. The thief surrendered himself to the police shortly after.
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 Pidjin
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 – 👍👍👍👍