In retrospect, the final leg of the walk was the easiest – probably because I had images of our clean, cosy hut dancing in my head the whole day. The plan was to walk to a place called Pongo, then once on the main road catch a PMV (Public Motor Vehicle – a privately owned utility or equivalent four wheel drive, crammed full of villagers and looking like a casualty from a Fast and the Furious chase scene) down to the river. This would eliminate a couple of hours of walking, and I was stoked to be catching any kind of public transport.
There were lots of hills again (this is getting repetitive), but there was one interesting stretch of ‘haunted’ forest that is worth mentioning. I’m not sure what the correct botanical terminology is, but the landscape was more wooded and less choking jungle than the previous terrain. The tree roots formed a woven mesh all over the forest floor, and I guess heavy rainfall over the years must have eroded much of the soil underneath, while leaf litter and other nature junk accumulated on top. The overall effect was like walking on a bouncy dirt trampoline. A step here could result in an assortment of creaks and snaps from over there, which is probably why all the locals think the place is infested with spirits. It is also a haven for leeches, and my cousin Nicole picked up most of them.
My American uncle chose the Haunted Forest walk as the ideal time to tell me about some of my grandfather’s escapades during World War II. Apparently he was chosen as one of the local guides for the Australian soldiers, and one day while he and his contingent were all lying down to rest, Japanese snipers took out the blokes on either side of him. Fortunately for me (and a whole legion of descendants), Grandpa immediately bolted for the hills and never looked back.
No sooner had we reached the top of Haunted Forest Mountain than we arrived at this majestic outpost.
Apparently this was Pongo, and this marvellous dwelling is owned by a gentleman Nicole and I named Pastor Cray-cray. He’s a pastor, and he crazeh. Please don’t think I’m classifying all Christian zealots as insane – just this guy. This is a man who fakes epileptic fits when his wife doesn’t do what he wants. I’d previously met his 30 year old daughter in Lae, and she’s a special kind of crazy unto herself. More on her in another post. Anyway once we got to Pongo, we learned the PMV wouldn’t be along until about 10pm. It was 1pm at this point, and Pindiu was maybe a 4 hour walk away. We all just wanted to get home at that time, so we decided to walk.
Nicole and I had a burst of energy and found ourselves way in front of the group, so when we arrived at the tiny village of Silamana we sat down at an abandoned kande haus (tea house) to wait. Nicole’s wry comment “I wish it was a real candy house” sent me into stiches. Two unattended white girls suddenly materialising in a village doesn’t go unnoticed for long, and before long we’d attracted a cluster of curious folk. A lot of them knew who we were, and several turned out to be related. PNG is the original small town.
Arriving back at Pindiu was probably the biggest feeling of relief I’ve had in my life. All the kids came squealing out of the gate and clung to us like limpets – so did some of the aunties, now I think about it. It was like we’d been gone for a year, rather than five days.
The entire trip to PNG changed a lot of my perspectives about life, but I think that particular five days did the most to change my perspective about myself. It took everything I’d ever prided myself on and crushed it into the mud. My positivity, my fitness, my tolerance, my kindness. I’d never felt less like myself, and it frightened the life out of me that all it took to defeat me was a little discomfort in the wilderness. Thankfully, when everything you ever thought you were is taken away, you hang onto them like hell when you eventually get them back.
Next installment: How to celebrate Christmas in Pindiu while simultaneously pissing off hundreds of Christians.