The PNG Chronicles: Pindiu to Morago with a bad attitude.

This part of my story is fairly epic, and I may need to split it into several parts. Epic, I tells you.

I was more than aware that most of our passage around PNG would be on foot. We have relatives in all sorts of disparate villages, and there are only two ways to travel between them all:  planes and legs. This didn’t concern me before the trip, because I consider myself a fairly fit person. I regularly do cardio exercise, and put in quite a bit of hill-climbing because we have some lovely hilly national parks and bushwalks in Victoria.

This means diddly-goddamn-squat in the vicious, unholy terrain of Papua New Guinea. I might as well have been Gina Rinehart for the amount my ‘fitness’ helped me.

Our original plan was to take a week to make a return trip from Pindiu to a village called Siwea, where Mum was born and several of our relatives still live. Step-Grandma was a bit antsy about this idea, for reasons that remain vague to me to this day. Something about curses or spirits or people with ill-feelings towards our family. Papua New Guineans can be very evasive and roundabout with tender issues, yet they’ll happily slice you in two if you touch their husband. Mum and my uncle mulled over the issue with the appropriate amount of prevarication, and finally decided we’d better not walk all the way to Siwea, but instead do a kind of loop that would take in several other villages in which we had family ties.

Our little party of four Westerners, the eldest uncle and four minder cousins set out at 6am one Tuesday. Sometimes it’s difficult to put emotions into words, so here is a photographic depiction of my state of mind that morning:

Top o' the mornin' to ye

Top o’ the mornin’ to ye

Most of the family followed us down to the first river crossing to see us off. We later found out Jojo had surreptitiously  trailed after us for quite some way, until one of the uncles had noticed she was missing and dragged her back home while she cried her eyes out.

I’ve previously mentioned the Mongi River and its lack of vehicle passage. Luckily, at some point the villagers had strung this delightful contraption across it to make foot crossing a more pleasant, safer experience:

Just like the Golden Gate, except stupid.

Just like the Golden Gate, except stupid.

Obviously, the most fun game in the world for the locals is to violently shake the bridge while you’re traversing. Such a fun game.

Papua New Guinean precision engineering - nothing to fear.

Papua New Guinean precision engineering – nothing to fear.

Safely on the other side, we found ourselves faced with a solid four hours of up. Being a main road, it wasn’t terribly steep and the surface condition wasn’t bad compared to the goat track that led down to the Mongi, but the sun was burning down and it had been made clear to us that there was nowhere to fill our water bottles until around lunch time. Our cousins had come along as porters (somehow villagers can embark on a 5 day trek needing nothing but the clothes on their backs), but for some reason I had it in my head that I was going to carry my 13kg backpack all the way on my own, because I am an independent woman and don’t need no help from nobody. This is actually a very good way to kill yourself, as I was soon to found out.

Eventually the up ended, to be replaced by ankle-splintering, jagged-limestone-littered down. It soon became apparent this was not a main road, as the track whittled down to little more than a muddy line through the scrub. We had a short rest at another river, where I fixed up my first blister and tried to mentally prepare myself for another couple of hours of uphill slogging. Sometime around 4pm the fog started closing in around us, and shortly afterwards it entered my soul, too.

The fog closes in around Faseu village

The fog closes in around Faseu village

The last few hours of the day were nothing short of a nightmare. The ascent just never stopped. It was a never ending staircase of mud and despair. I cursed Papua New Guinea, I cursed my parents for talking me into this shit, I screamed a ragged ‘FUCK’ at the sky every two minutes. Every time I lifted my exhausted head, the doglegged track stitched itself interminably higher with no end in sight. I could barely take four steps at a time without stopping to catch my breath, and it only dawned on me later that maybe the five thousand foot altitude was wreaking havoc on my sea level accustomed lungs.

The men had charged on ahead a couple of hours earlier to alert the village we were to stay at that visitors were imminent, leaving Nicole, Mum, cousin Gersing and I to wander up at our own pace.  As twilight descended, we came to a crossroad and it became immediately apparent that we were lost. The sound of children’s laughter was drifting through the mist, but with all the trees and hills and rapidly encroaching darkness, it was impossible to tell from which direction it came. It was like a bad 70’s horror flick. We scoured the ground for familiar footprints, but with our limited forensic experience we came up with nothing.  Just as we sat down dejectedly in the drizzle, some ghostly apparitions emerged from the mist – local villagers with umbrellas. It turned out they knew Mum (surprise, surprise), and gave us directions to Morago village. I was almost feeling cheered by the thought of the impending warm meal and dry hut, but forty-five minutes later when we were still clambering up muddy slopes in the damp semi-darkness, I nearly had a nervous breakdown. Eventually we passed a hut, then another, then a whole cluster of huts and suddenly we were in the midst of a group of Morago villagers violently shaking our hands and clutching our shoulders.

Now in Australia, when someone has just made a twelve hour journey on foot, carrying a 13kg backpack, we offer them a place to sit and maybe a cup of tea. In Morago, however, there is nowhere to sit. There is no tea, no food – just a lot of hand shaking and talking. The disappointment came like a kick in the guts – this was as physically exhausted as I’d ever been in my life, all I wanted to do was sit, and I was being denied even that simple pleasure. I dragged my carcass beneath the nearest hut, sat down in the dirt, closed my eyes and tried to quietly come to terms with death, while every few minutes someone would come over, shake me awake, introduce themselves and walk away.

Finally someone decided to show us where we would be sleeping, and as we unrolled our sleeping mats and sleeping bags the entire village trickled into the hut to observe. One of the aunties offered to show Nicole and I the ‘shower’ (a tap in the yard), and kindly held a towel up as a screen while we dejectedly splashed cold water onto ourselves. When I was as clean as I was likely to get, I trotted back to our hut all ready to crash into bed, only to find thirty people crammed inside, loudly munching their dinner and yapping with the usual PNG vigour that’s often recognisable in cocaine addicts. I looked despairingly at Mum, who whispered that if I just lay down to sleep, they would get the idea and leave. I lay down. They kept munching and yapping. I sat up and glared. They kept munching and yapping. I lay down again, and just as my brain was about to hit Ctrl Alt Del, a blinding glare through my eyelids pitched me painfully back into reality. I squinted past the light to find some old woman shining a torch in my face, exclaiming excitedly something like “which one is this one?”  Then Mum made me stand up and hug her – unsurprisingly, I was more inclined to chuck her headfirst into the fire.

Around 10pm the circus eventually departed and I could finally put my weary bones to bed, with a throbbing head and a deep regret at ignoring my instincts and coming on this stupid trip.

The 'good' road.

The ‘good’ road.

The hills are alive with the sound of some chick yelling expletives.

The hills are alive with the sound of some chick yelling expletives.

This woman came dangerously close to losing her life.

This woman came dangerously close to losing her life.

Kill me. Kill me now.

Kill me. Kill me now.


A school on top of a hill. One minute you’re belting through the jungle, the next – time for school!

PNG people are excellent at things like materialising out of the mist.

PNG people are excellent at things like materialising out of the mist.

Me, cousin Bobby and Random Cow.

Me, cousin Bobby and Random Cow.

My cousins Gersong and Gersing - cutie pies. Also excellent porters.

My cousins Gersong and Gersing – cutie pies. Also excellent porters.

I said LIFT!

I said LIFT!


I'm in a bulldozer. Your argument is invalid.

I’m in a bulldozer. Your argument is invalid.

Dad regularly made patrols like this during his didiman days. He kindly gave me a scrap of his journal to take with me, that I could compare his previous journey to my own.

GOF’s Journal
9th May, 1972
Village meeting Masa. To Hobo and conducted meeting thence Morago overnight.

Globet’s Journal
18th December, 2012
To hell with this shit.

Next instalment: The continuing misery of a spoiled white girl.

14 thoughts on “The PNG Chronicles: Pindiu to Morago with a bad attitude.

  1. Holy fucking shit. This was awesome. It was like, every bad day I’ve ever had rolled into one. I spit on the keyboard from the snarky humor. It should go in the travel brouchures.

    I (sort of) know (a fraction) of what this is like. Long day hiking, only to end the day with **&*^*% who think your muddy sweat-drippy frown is a signal that you want to socialize. And I absolutely know about trying to sleep while people yak. It’s enough to drive one mad.

    But you survived. The altitude alone must have been viscious. You’re putting Tough Mudders to shame with this story!

    I know it’s not much consolation but…..gorgeous pictures. Loved the bridge.

    • Without a doubt, this day is the reason for my renewed zest for life. Whenever things are remotely annoying, there’s a little voice in my head saying ‘well at least you’re not in Morago!’

      Admittedly if I’d done some proper training beforehand it mightn’t have been as bad, but I was such a miserable bitch n the weeks before the event that I couldn’t be bothered.

      • Well, maybe. I find that no matter how much I run and train, dredging up hills at a walk is completely different. I still end up sore and out of breath. Maybe different muscles? Anyway, I don’t find you can train for stuff like that. You are one tough cookie.

        I’ve found adventures like that really make me appreciate a hot shower. Bliss! 😀

        • Yeah, you’re right – I was still definitely under-prepared though. And I’m still appreciating the hot showers, 3 months later…oh my god, you honestly don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, hey?

  2. Okay, this is going to be a long comment; so please forgive me.

    Boy, I have I been there. First of all, altitude sickness is no laughing matter. It can be life-threatening, and if it doesn’t send you to the hospital, it’ll make you want to beg the nearest person for a mercy killing. 3 days minimum to acclimate.

    I once spent a week over 10,000 feet. The trail in was only a handful of miles into the backcountry, but it was all brutal. The first 2-tenths of a mile are solely comprised of 18-inch-high granite steps interspersed with broken shale. No shade at all. I think it was designed to break the human spirit. No one can appreciate the view, no matter how stunning, when they’re physically exhausted.

    Boyfriend & I finally got there, and I became seriously worried. He couldn’t move. He laid flat on a rock, motionless, not talking, until dark. He threw up a few times. Splitting headache. No appetite at all. He had altitude sickness. Luckily for both of us, he recovered, but not until well into the next day.

    I, however, while not stricken like boyfriend, never felt rested. We spent a week there at 10,500 feet. Boyfriend took day hikes, but I begged off. All I wanted to do was lay in the hammock and read. Maybe tomorrow, I’d say, believing it. Surely after one more day of rest I’ll feel ready to range about, right? No. All I could do was rest.

    Oh, and I thought I could handle a puny 30-pound pack (close to 13 kg). Pish. Was in great shape myself, too. At sea level. But at altitude, every ounce feels like 10 pounds. Literally, not exaggerating — as you now so painfully know. I quickly lost ALL my lofty feminist ideals when it came to boyfriend offering to take extra weight for me.

    Now, ever since I had mono, if I get physically exhausted, I also lose all my emotional shit. I WILL sink the the floor and start sobbing. Don’t push yourself like that again. It’s not good for you. (Like that Tough Mudder stuff!!)

    The one benefit to all that: we got off the mountain, checked into a motel, stripped for our first real hot showers in 10 days, and stopped. We saw ourselves in the mirror. We’d each dropped 10-15 pounds and looked tanned, trim, toned, ripped. We hardly recognized ourselves. Like we’d just emerged from a labor camp, only hotter. 🙂

    • Oh my god, that sounds awful. I’ve never in my life been anywhere near 10,000 feet, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be. 10lbs in 10 days on the other hand…sounds like an idea you could market! 😉

      I’m not convinced it was altitude sickness as such, seeing as it was only somewhere between 4000 and 5000 feet (GOF will probably have a better idea of the topographical stats), and everyone else seemed ok. But no, I will definitely not be pushing myself like that ever again. If I’d known how hard it would be I doubt I’d have done it in the first place.

      • I’m sure it didn’t help. Even that altitude will have a noticeable effect if you’re not used to it. I just wonder how your mom did it! And GOF too, but he was younger then.

        • Well their house is up around 2000 feet up anyway, plus she was training on Queensland’s tallest mountain. Totally unfair advantage!

  3. Your walk from the Mongi River up to Morago was the equivalent of an ascent from the coast to the top of our Mt Bartle Frere. Those who obstinately insist upon carrying 13kg’s on their backs either need their heads read or receive the greatest admiration for a remarkable feat of human endurance. I’m opting for the latter assessment. I’m incredibly proud of you, and your Globet journal entry is entirely justified. If my journal didn’t have to be read by my superiors at the time it may well have said something similar.

    • Thanks GOF XO You know, even doing Bartle Frere up and back from the easy side wasn’t this difficult – I mean you’re still weary at the end, but it’s a satisfying kind of weary. Morago on the other hand, just drained the life out of me. Physical reserves, mental reserves, every shred of self-esteem – just sucked it right out. I don’t know who talked me into it, but when I get my hands on them… 😉

  4. Sounds like fun …

    Were you able to communicate with your relatives and the other people? I know (from GOF) that your mother speaks several dialects – did she teach them to you, did she translate for you, or do some of the people speak English? Pardon my ignorance.

    • Excellent question GOM 😉 My family’s village sits kind of on the border of two dialect regions, so the kids grow up learning both dialects, plus Pidgin which is spoken all over PNG. They learn some English at school (and throughout life in general), but most of the villagers are quite shy about speaking it. Generally people would speak Dedua (my Mum’s native dialect) among themselves, and Pidgin to me – and I’d usually reply in English because my Pidgin is terrible. I don’t know any Dedua apart from basic greetings, so I was very much out of the loop in 90% of conversations. They really have an astonishing capacity for linguistics.

  5. Oh.My.God.
    Yes, I was laughing throughout your tale, especially envisioning your hollering of expletives at regular intervals.

    I can actually say that I know exactly how you felt. In the year 2000, my daughter and I met friends in Colorado and did a hiking trip starting at around 7000 feet in elevation up over the Continental Divide at 12,300 feet. Llamas carried our tents and food. We carried 10 pound backpacks. I thought I would DIE. The first day we did the ascent. And, just as you did, I would take a few steps and have to stop, gasping. I was SO happy that llamas stop walking when they have to pee or poop because we got to stop when they did. We camped out two nights, hiked 20 miles in three days, up and over the mountains and back down.

    I lost the toenails on both little toes just from the wear and tear on my feet.

    But, you know what? I look back on that trip as one of the highlights of my life. Yes, looking BACK. Bahaha. Oh my god.

    Somehow neither my daughter nor I got altitude sickness, but two of the Alaskans did. It was horrible. We almost had to head back down the mountain that very night. However, they stabilized and we managed to complete the trip.

    Ah, adventures. I wonder what is in store for all of us next??? 😉

    Your stories are hysterical! Even if you are on a bulldozer.

    • Sweet flying spaghetti monster, that sounds like hell. Funny how these things are only highlights AFTER the event. I’ve heard rumours of people losing toenails, but you’re the first person I’ve ever heard it first hand from. Ugh. Whatever is in store for us all, I vote no more mountain climbing.

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