" Anyone who travels much afterwards has a lot to tell," says the vernacular. Now I've come around a bit in the world, and I'm always happy about the rare moments when I can tell some stories in the circle of friends or family. Some of the really good stories begin with the words: "When I was traveling through Papua New Guinea ..."
Papua New Guinea. The name alone promises exoticism and adventure, and in fact it is completely "off the beaten track", as the Lying Planet promises (so often wrongly) full-bodied. I open my PNG series with a two-part report on the ascent of Mt. Wilhelm, the highest mountain in Papua New Guinea at 4,509 meters.
So, when I was traveling through Papua New Guinea , I spent some time in Goroka, the capital of the Eastern Highlands. Despite only about 20,000 inhabitants, Goroka is one of the ten largest cities in Papua. I had been in the country for two months, had just survived a severe malaria tropica and lost ten kilograms of weight. Not exactly ideal conditions for physically demanding tours.
But then I and my little budget surprisingly offered the opportunity to climb the Mt. Wilhelm. I did not hesitate for a second, because in my experience many opportunities in life arise only once and then you have to shout out loud "Here!" And access it immediately.
Stopover in Kundiawa
It is already dark when Josef and I reach the small village at the foot of the Bismark mountains. On the backs of several PMVs (Public Motor Vehicle) we had covered the fantastic distance of 100 (!) Kilometers in just under ten hours from Goroka via Kundiawa.
PMV = Public Motor Vehicle during refueling
After months on Papua New Guinea, I am mildly surprised to have even reached the goal within a day. The last few kilometers of the track were in miserable condition, but I'm still lucky: In the rainy season, the track is impassable, and even now - despite minimal traffic - fatal accidents are common.
Change to a smaller PMV
Many accidents could be avoided if the PMV pilots were sober. Add to this uncertainties such as muddy slopes directly on the many hundred-meter-deep abyss and bridges that date back to times of the Second World War.
The wooden beams of the old bridges quickly rot in humid climates or are stolen to build a house
Josef is my good shepherd and leads me after a few kilometers march to the hut of an uncle. We are not announced, the uncle is not at home. For the aunt and half of her ten children. She is visibly irritated to see me. Although every now and then a white man climbs the mountain, no one usually spends the night with the inhabitants of the village, whose small circular huts disappear in the mist-covered valley.
Small village in the fog
On PNG I'm an exotic - more than in any other country I have traveled so far.
Many Niguinis, especially in the more remote areas, have never seen whites until today. Mostly I am met with curiosity and great hospitality, sometimes with indifference, rarely with aggressiveness, if one considers me an Australian. Despite their colonial past, Germans have a good reputation here, but especially German doctors.
The country, especially the highlands are still very dangerous. Crime, tribal wars and superstition have been the doom of many a traveler. Evidence of this is also the memorial stone for a German missionary, whom we passed on the way to the village. The poor devil had attempted to proselytize the Simbu of the area in the 1870s and was mistakenly killed. He had been thought of as a ghost, with a pale color, and given an arrow.
All over the country, I've seen little children wet themselves with fear and start crying when they notice me. Parents tell their children the story of the "evil white man" who comes at night to fetch them.
Politically incorrect, no question. But tell that to a Niguini ... But I digress ...
So I'm still standing at said hut and I'm waiting for the things that are coming. The aunt discusses with Josef, my guide, and since she does that in her local tribal >
Although I can not follow the content of the conversation, I still understand that the good woman is annoyed that my coming has not been announced. Like any other good housewife, she would have cleaned up and done her hair, and anyway.
Finally, I am asked extremely friendly and very embarrassed to enter. I only pass stooping through the door and enter the semi-darkness of the approximately 20 m² large round hut.
The house of my host family
The middle of the room forms an open fireplace. The smoke moves more or less well through the green roof, so that the huts always seem to steam.
The walls consist of several layers of trunks, bark and reed mats and the construction is as simple as it is simple. Electricity or even running water is looked for in vain.
I look into a dozen dark eyes and they look back expectantly. As a good guest, who wants to be me, I hand over, as the custom demands, the landlady the traditional gifts, rice, sugar, tea ... What sounds like little, is not cheap on PNG and hard to get here.
The warm aunt finds her composure about the visit of a "Whiteskin" again and presents me solemnly a very well-made, traditional highland bilum, a knitted carrying bag with beautiful, colorful patterns.
You assign me a place to sleep between the other family members, then I have to eat. A huge portion of kaukau (sweet potato) with kumu (green vegetables) later I am so full that I can hardly move. My host family also runs subsistence farming on the very fertile soils of the highlands. Every German farmer would turn green with envy if he saw the first-class organic vegetables growing here in impressive quantities on the fields.
Mi leik kisim picta long yu, yu oright o nogat?
In the hut it is now increasingly close. More and more relatives crowd to see the whites. I pass a small book of pictures from my homeland, Josef translates the English texts. With all its stone monuments, modern city centers and high standard of living, the Federal Republic of my host family must appear like a distant Albion.
Anyone who does not know the reality of everyday life in PNG might, in a fit of romantic serenity, suppose the Niguinis would have done better. With their family and tribal ties, their fertile soils, clean water and their ancient traditions. Whoever accepts that, let him say: he is wrong.
In fact, child and maternal mortality is enormous, and family violence is the rule rather than the exception. Many Niguinis suffer from malaria and tuberculosis and the HIV infestation of the indigenous population has been increasing for years.
Drug use, crime and violent crime are found not only in the environment of the few large cities. In addition there is an enormous corruption, which is unparalleled. Foreign mining corporations are making high profits from the rich soil of New Guinea, but the money from mining concessions is filling the pockets of corrupt government officials.
I still have some old issues of ZEIT in my luggage. A valuable resource, which I generously give away. My host mother will sell her profitably on the market as a paper for cigarettes. Funny anecdote: The Niguinis are so accustomed to smoking their tobacco in newspaper that local tobacco companies give their machine-made cigarettes the appearance of newsprint.
It is, for European terms, early in the evening when we all go to bed. I am sleeping really well and so thankfully do not notice that many small animals are taking good care of my blood.
Josef wakes me up before sunrise. With KauKau (sweet potatoes) baked in hot ashes for breakfast, we hike through the mist-covered valley towards the massif. The Mt. William, our distant destination, remains hidden from us, hidden from the other peaks of the mountains, bathed in pink light by the rapidly rising sun.
Dramatic and wild natural beauty follow in part two stop climb through the cloud forest, past tree ferns, waterfalls, high mountain lakes and crashed planes stop Does the protagonist make it to the finish, or will the Bismarck massif claim another victim?