Posts Tagged 'Goroka'


It was a bad night for sleep.

It’s good to get out of Port Moronsby to refresh your memory of the PNG outside of the gritty shitty mini-metropolis. Goroka is a great place for revitalising whatever one loves about PNG. Cool, green, whiskey-drinking weather rather than gin-soaked baking heat. Bananas grow alongside conifers and eucalypts, it is like some melange of Australian high country and European lower alps with a generous dose of the tropics. The sun still burns but the shade is cool and even cold – bring your hoodie. Also, pigs frolic in the park and snuffle around in the grass looking for worms. The last time I was here I got a photo of one specimen heaving its way though a mound of garbage (sadly Goroka does not escape this ubiquitous PNG landscape feature), but I didn’t take many as I was getting looks from people that seemed a tad displeased – like what the HELL are you doing taking pictures of OUR RUBBISH HEAP?

Anyway, Goroka. The big disadvantage I have with travelling is sleep. I usually take one or two nights to learn how to sleep properly in a new place. Last night’s efforts were not assisted by the two security men who kept their conversations going all night, and the other guest who somewhere had the TV going until well past 2 am. And of course there was a bloody dog, the kind who routinely starts up some outraged carry-on at the hint of anyone walking around during suspicious hours. Wuff wuff wuff, good dog – but did anyone tell this canine crusader that this in PNG and that there’s ALWAYS going to be people strolling around without purpose at any god forsaken hour? Save your noise for when there’s some serious mauling to be done, please, like when a raskol tries to steal the pig or something.

Sleep came eventually in dribbles, and you take what you can get because its still better than nothing. The intermittent disturbances kept me fitful and edgy, but there was nothing to be done about it outside of a ludicrous bosman hissy fit, which is never a good look at 3 am, especially as this is a good time to forget one sleeps with nothing on.

At one stage I had managed to coax a nice stint of sleep from the reluctant night, only to be shaken awake. Strangely there was nobody in the room to shake me. The room itself was shaking – short rapid one-two-one-twos, as if the building was sitting on a big sieve and some godly hand was trying to shake the smaller particles down – particles like me. A generator, I thought. Some useless goon is starting the biggest generator in the world under my room, the bastard. We had been witness to a blackout in town earlier, which had been amusing – the tinny music from the shops had stopped, the noise of power tools was abruptly stilled, the lights had just died. I figured the same had happened in the middle of the night and the generator was bucking and kicking into life. Pretty quiet for a generator though. Indeed the only noise was the room itself, rattling like a wooden box full of bones. It only went on for ten seconds or so and then it was over. Mercifully sleep came again, swiftly and without argument.

So that was how I lost my seismic virginity, and didn’t even know it at the time. First time for everything, and now thanks to PNG I have enjoyed my first volcanic belching and been wobbled through my first earthquake. I know there’s plenty of disastrous stories involving these strange events but I’m happy enough keeping mine in the dumb and harmless category. Not so hard core but hey, its GOOD to have a guest house to go back to this evening. Can’t imagine my sleep this evening would be too great curled up on top of a pile of splinters and rubble after all.

“Bigpla pik blong Kwin i bai kam!”

Pigs are fantastic beasts. I was smacked by this revelation as we stood under the twilight stars and lazy palms negotiating a price for a boat ride the following day. While our companion discussed the details with the boat owner I looked around and saw two mottled swine rummaging through foliage. One was seized by an urge and backed itself against the trunk of a palm, vigorously scratching its backside by rubbing it against the tree. For some the purest image of uninhibited freedom is a hawk in flight or perhaps a motorcyclist at top speed. For me it is a pig shamelessly scratching its arse on a coconut palm in the tropical twilight. This may be linked with my outlook on life. For some, the ultimate itch to scratch is that of itchy feet, relieved only by travails across the globe and residences in exotic cities. For others, sex or addictions. My equivalent is much baser, and much more easy to satisfy – provided one has a similar attitude to a pig in paradise.

I have found that the best justice I can give our two weeks away can really be best rendered in momentary glimpses, the snippets of memory that persist vividly despite the jumbled competition of everything else that preoccupies me. The best of these images of our two weeks away, especially during our two nights in the Eastern Highlands, are all swine-related – as evidenced by the example above, or the too-cute piglet tied by the leg to a Goroka pikinini as they both sat and waited for ‘mum’. Other pig related moments also stick solidly in the mind – like the nun we heard on ABC radio who was explaining the source of tribal conflict in the Highlands – invariably land, women and (of course) pigs.

What beast can stand atop a heaped mound of organic market refuse, snout its way through the debris until it finds something edible, and still look magnificent? Only the mighty Highlands swine! These fantastic animals have no fear or hindrance, and seemed to roam parts of Goroka as one would expect a stray dog to – except there would never, ever be a ‘stray’ pig in PNG. The animals seemingly face only two grave dangers in life. The first danger is that of the speeeding PMV. These vehicles – typically fifteen-seater minibuses – career recklessly around the sharp corners and over poorly-maintained bitumen up and down the length of the Highlands Highway, from Wabag or Mendi to Mount Hagen, Hagen to Goroka via Kundiawa, from Goroka to Lae or Madang on the coast (the Madang-Goroka route was incidentally the trip we took, up into the Eastern Highlands and back – what a ride!). Villages line the highway, inhabited by people who are not accustomed to the general rules of road safety that are drilled into the typical suburban Aussie kids’ head (Get off the road! Get here! I said get off the bloody road! etc etc). Mind you there are many suburban Aussie roads that are trafficked more heavily than the Highlands Highway, by vehicles that often travel faster – except the PMVs. With a roadside population unfettered by road safety worries, it can be understood why concern for animals straying onto the road is also minimal. Thus the three (maybe more) situations on our rides to and from Goroka where the PMV we were in had to brake suddenly, veer wildly, or simply rely on the self-preservation instincts of the unsuspecting pig who moments before had been snorting away, merrily and unmolested, on a nice sunny patch of road. Our PMV drivers were both skilled and lucky, and no pigs were killed or injured during our travels, however there is no way every pig on the highway could be so fortunate.

The unfortunate event of a pig’s injury or death is not a cheap one. I have been told of a Chinese saying, that if you run over a chicken then it’s the chicken’s fault, but if you run over a duck it’s definitely YOUR fault. Substitute the chicken for a skinny dog and a duck for a mighty Highlands hog and you have a pretty solid PNG aphorism too. You accidentally kill a pig, then you’d better have some handy cash – maybe half a grand, maybe two grand, depending on how angry the villagers are, how big the pig is, and whether or not you managed to speed away without anyone taking note of the vehicle you were in. Pigs are items of huge value, especially in the Highlands, they are not killed and eaten willy-nilly. They have ceremonial functions, and are ‘outlaid’ to settle tribal disputes, bride prices, or to honour guests of high esteem. It is simply not cool to smash one up with your car.

This brings us to the other certain danger of the Highlands pig – the mumu. A mumu is a feast, involving the cooking of pigs and other (less important and delicious) items underground using the hot-rocks technique. A mumu takes hours and is accompanied by an event of great significance – as aforementioned, a wedding, or the brokering of peace between feuding parties, and honoured guest, or maybe an aspiring leader trying to impress his ‘constituents’ with his magnanimity and generosity (and thus consolidate his constituents’ obligation to support him in elections). Many, many pigs have died over the ages thanks to the threat of the mumu, often en masse. They often don’t die well from what I have read – accounts include pigs only just stunned being thrown onto fires to burn off their coats of hair, or bludgeoned brutally by hands wielding sticks, the same hands that until moments before had nurtured the animal, fed it and comforted it with as much pride and dedication as would be given a human child – perhaps more. A dire end to a previously unfettered life of luxury. This was probably the fate of the pig who we saw trussed and hanging from a long pole carried between two men as we sped on our way back to Madang.

Another great pig memory is indeed not even my memory, and it actually had little to do with any pig whatsoever. Martin is a friend who we met in Madang, a film-maker who is from Rabaul but who lives in Germany (prospects in the movie industry are better in Europe). He recounted a tale from his youth, when the Queen sent an elephant on tour of Papua New Guinea as a gesture to celebrate the territory’s imminent independence. The arrival of the great beast was in the offing and many villagers of all ages clamoured exitedly by the roads, giddy with anticipation. A large motor was heard in the distance and the word spread rapidly – “bigpla pik blong Kwin i bai kam!” The Queen’s big pig is coming!