This blog entry about the events of Thursday, July 11, 2013 was originally posted on July 21, 2013.

PART 7 (DAYS 14-17): “Things could be worse, right?” I told Ally, California-native who worked for the Papua New Guinea Tourism Promotion Authority (in LA), who had organized the press junket I was traveling to PNG for.

“That should be the motto of PNG,” she told me. “‘Things could be worse, right?’ with a question mark at the end.” She shrugged her shoulders with a funny smirk for that last word, after a comic beat. In fact, Ally’s whole personality was full of great comic delivery; she mentioned this one time during an open mic in Venice Beach, she’d gone up and did Dave Chappelle’s stand-up routine in The Nutty Professor verbatim (“Women be shoppin’! Women be shoppin’!...) to see if anyone would notice, before abruptly segueing into a deadpan, “But seriously folks, poverty is crazy, right?”

Little did we know at the time, that the first three-day part of the junket’s proposed itinerary would be canceled (due to a missed chartered flight connection to Tufi), and have to be replanned on a whim, based on whatever activities or accommodations were available in and around PNG’s gritty capital city, Port Moresby.

(NOTE: It’s been my policy to not write about a press trip on this independent Global Trip travel blog, but here goes nothing. My apologies if it’s a departure from what you’re used to. In retrospect, I’m probably not going to do it again; there’s too much going on during a press junket that it’s hard to keep up in a timely manner.)

Along with me and Ally was Tina and Emily, both of which I knew in some friendly, non-professional capacity before going on the trip, which made the junket feel less like work, and more like a trip with a few friends — you know, my kind of people who would rebel against the law by sitting in a No Sitting area or sleeping in a No Sleeping area.

“How much money are you taking out?” I asked Emily as we tried to get money from one of the ATMs in Jacksons International Airport (POM).

“[I think I should take more out,] because,” she answered before a pause. “I drink a lot.” I knew I was in good company; the night we’d met in New York a few months prior through travel/food writing circles, we’d had an impromptu night at a bar, pounding glasses of scotch way longer than anticipated.

Emily was able to take money out, but I couldn’t (nor could the other freelance journalist Tina), which was only one item of the on-going list of travel mishaps that first day in PNG — so many that you couldn’t help but laugh at it all. ATMs didn’t dispense cash. No alternative flights to the remote region of Tufi, where we’d miss out on staying with a family, and going night fishing with local men. The keycard to my first hotel room in Port Moresby didn’t work. My new room’s safe was broken and couldn’t lock things. And worst of all, the refrigerator that was meant to keep drinks cold in the hotel convenience store wasn’t working, and the much-needed beers were all warm.

“I can get [cold ones] in the back,” the friendly cashier told us. “Do you want bottle or can?”

“Bottle,” Ally answered.

“I think the question is, what do you they have available?” I interjected.

Our last minute accommodations were at the Holiday Inn Express, which was bigger than an American motel-style version, with comfortable beds, a pool and poolside bar, and even a questionable dental center. However, there were some disconcerting (and therefore quirky) elements to it, like the plaster patchwork in the dim hallways, and the fact that they never erased the pencil lines on each door when they needed to align and hang the room numbers. Also, it was funny at the airport when we figured out that was going to be our home for a couple of nights, and an airport employee simply put on a Holiday Inn uniform shirt to suddenly be a Holiday Inn employee, to put our bags in our minivan transport. When we left, he changed back into his airport employee shirt.

“I had this plan where I was going to surprise you tonight [in Tufi],” Ally told the rest of us when we’d finally settled down to night time drinks and dinner that first evening in Port Moresby.

“Well, now you can surprise us with dental work,” I joked.

“I was just thinking I should probably get some dental work done,” Emily said.

“Thanks for rolling with the punches, guys,” Ally apologized, although it was hardly necessary. We all knew what we’d signed up for; unlike many press trips with overly organized (and often rushed) itineraries, you really can’t overplan in advance in PNG because it doesn’t really have a strong tourist infrastructure (yet), and with the way some things run in such a carefree manner, anything can happen. Ally had specifically chosen our group amongst other applicants, not only for our press credentials, but for our easy-going Type B personalities that could handle such an on-the-fly junket without complaining. She herself was a dynamo of cool, transforming mishaps into good humor, never getting stressed out (or at least not showing it) about having to come up with a contingency plan.

“I can safely say it all goes up from here,” Ally reassured us.

“We’re totally going to rock the Holiday Inn,” I said optimistically before the distinguishing the “Express.” (This spawned the others to sing that part in that rap song, “I’m at the hotel, hotel Holiday Inn…”)

“Now that I’ve stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, I can take on the day!” Emily joked the next morning, after our daily breakfast buffet, featuring items like streaky or shoulder bacon, and New Zealand butter (which we joked, “tastes like Hobbits melting in your mouth.”)

The Holiday Inn Express tied us over for two nights, until we upgraded for one final night at the tastefully-designed, airplane themed Airways Hotel (where Bill Clinton once stayed), an upscale showcase resort overlooking the runway, where our former hot breakfast buffet was only outdone by an omelet station and coconuts to drink out of.

LIKE MOST HOTELS IN PORT MORESBY, the Holiday Inn (Express) and Airways Hotel mostly cater to the business traveler. (In the plane used as part of the architectual design of the Airways Hotel is a business internet lounge.) Port Moresby is not just the seat of the Papua New Guinean government, but a hub of industry and commerce for foreign investors, most coming from nearby Australia. Like Calgary, PNG has oil refineries and therefore many energy companies have a presence — not only for petroleum, but for copra, which can be used for coconut oil energy.

All the business offices and hotels are situated within gated, guarded compounds because Port Moresby doesn’t exactly have a good reputation, and from what we’d seen (and the reports of a few Chinese businessmen being stabbed a couple of weeks prior), that was quite possibly true. As a foreigner, it isn’t recommended to walk around, especially at night, but everything is spread out enough, you’d need a car anyway.

By day, the city didn’t look so bad. It was more or less, like many dusty capitals in developing nations I’ve been, like Kampala or Dar es Salaam. Dusty roads, crammed PMVs (Public Motor Vehicles), burning grass and garbage, scattered litter, and stray dogs were all a part of a nostalgic, off-the-beaten-path charm for me, and I felt like I was back in sub-Saharan Africa or something. Port Moresby and its environs gave off a vibe that was Caribbean-like — not in a resort package tourism way I mean — but with a real, relaxed island feel, and a people looking of African descent. Some roads were aligned with makeshift vending shacks made of wood and corrugated tin, while some roads were under construction by men rolling wheelbarrows while wearing flip-flops.

“I HAVE MY SWIMSUIT AND HIKING BOOTS ON,” Emily told me our first morning in Port Moresby. “I’m ready for anything.”

“Anything can happen,” I said. “We could just be going to the grocery store.”

Her clothing combination was perfect for our three days of day trips and side excursions, which Ally and her local colleagues from the tourism board, Pamela and Daphne, had scrambled to set up for us so that we could use our time constructively:

  • Loloata Island (picture above). Just a short drive and boat ride away off the coast of Port Moresby, is a humble resort consuming the small island of Loloata (which translates to “one hill”), run by an old Australian man named Dik Knight. What once started as an attempt to make a small diver lodge in 1971 has evolved into a facility for small conferences and getaways from the urban sprawl of Port Moresby. It was there, amongst the Victoria crown-crested pigeons and wallabies, that we spent a day to hike the entire ridge of the island (going one way atop the hill, and back via a paved shore trail), and snorkel (and jump) off the coast of nearby Lion Island. (Bootleg Bay, which Loloata Island is within, is famous for wreck diving sites. However, the water was too choppy that day for such a thing.)

    Naturally, our day trip to Loloata included conversations over a delicious fish lunch with owner Dik, followed by “middayers” (as opposed to “sundowners”) of SP (South Pacific) beer. (In fact, there were “middayers one” and “middayers two.”) Back in Port Moresby that evening, Dik continued to play host by taking us out to dinner at the Magi Seafood (Chinese) Restaurant with his Papua New Guinean wife Nancy and their two boys Angus and Nathan.
  • The Kokoda Trail. Dik continued playing contingency host the following day by taking us to the bucolic scenery out of Port Moresby, which reminded me of Rwanda’s tropical “Land of a Thousand Hills.” He drove us through the traffic jam of cattle, beyond Roana Falls and the site of Errol Flynn’s former tobacco plantation, to the trailhead of the historic Kokoda Trail. To sum up its historic significance to an American reader, the Kokoda Trail is basically Australia’s “Omaha Beach,” in which many soldiers lost their lives in WWII, in order to turn the war in Allied favor — but at a huge loss. When the Japanese were on a quest to seize most of the Pacific rim, they planned to seize Port Moresby in the south of the island, the perfect base of operations to attack northern Australia. The only way to Port Moresby from the north was to go on foot via the Kokoda Trail, a 96-km mountainous passageway between the two coasts, where the bloody conflict ensued. Nowadays, hiking the Kokoda Trail has become a pilgrimmage for Australians, a sort of sacred ground where thousands of their former countrymen lost their lives for the protection of their homeland. It takes the average trekking group about 8-9 days to do the Kokoda Trail with a staff of porters and cooks, most of which can do the trail in 3-4 days, and completely barefoot. “Morning, morning,” I greeted a random local woman with no shoes on, carrying about twenty Cokes around her head with a sling. “I’m Agnes,” she introduced herself, barely breaking a sweat. “I’m walking eight to ten hours [today]. Three mountains.” Meanwhile, I was dripping with sweat all over in the jungle heat, carrying just one water bottle. We only had a day to spend, so we only hiked down to the bottom of the first gorge of the Goldie River, to jump off of rocks and swim with Dik’s kids and company. We also skipped stones, which was all fun and games until Tina accidentally flung a small rock at my head with such a force, I had a lump on my head for three days. “Oh my god! I’m so sorry!” Tina apologized. “Do you hate me?” “It’s okay,” I said, clenching my head after cooling it down in the river. “I’ll just get a little mallet to pop it back in like in a cartoon.”
  • Port Moresby Nature Park. Once the local university’s botanical garden that evolved into a government-subsized one, this zoo is now in the sponsored private sector, run by a pair of ethical Australians. It’s now the most visited attraction in Port Moresby, with 85,000 visitors last year, and 100,000+ predicted in the years to come, as they expand the grounds to not only include paddocks for PNG’s wildlife, an aviary, picnic areas, and a wedding chapel (which all currently exist), but also a cafe/restaurant that can be used as a venue for other events. The goal is to give business travelers a glimpse of the rest of PNG’s nature if they only have a short amount of time in Port Moresby. Amongst the wildlife there are wallabies, hornbills, tree kangaroos, saltwater crocs, and all three species of cassowaries indigenous to PNG, known by many as the “world’s most dangerous bird,” with their red beady eyes and sharp talons that can claw you to death. “But they won’t eat you. That’s what the humans do,” Dik had told me in jest. (There haven’t been any reported incidents of cannibalism in PNG in decades.)
  • Waterfront Foodworld. “You can really gauge a country by going to its supermarket,” Ally told us. “Besides, I need to get toothpaste.” A drive through Port Moresby’s downtown area, and along its beach, revealed the city’s relaxed grittiness. Cranes flanked the harbor to load up waterbound vehicles of industry. Nearby was the big supermarket Foodworld, which at the time, was having a “Month of America” sale, with new items from the States, including Jif peanut butter, Planters peanuts, Langers juices, and Kellogg’s cereals. I opted to get some PNG-made coffee and No. 1 tea; Ally got some health food (and her toothpaste). Emily wandered the aisles on her own, which we referred to as “snorkeling;” whether she was in a supermarket or actually snorkeling in water, she was always excitedly wandering away from the rest of us.

DESPITE THE FACT THAT OUR FIRST THREE DAYS in Papua New Guinea were not spent where we originally intended to be, they still set the comic tone of our little press group. There was such a great chemistry between the four of us Americans, with a constant rapid firing of wisecracks, bounced jokes, and laughter that it was hard to keep up, let alone take notes of it all. Some of our ongoing jokes included:

  • Getting ready for the Pacific Games. “Get ready, the games are coming!” Ally announced, pointing out a sign on the side of the road promoting the fact that PNG is hosting the Pacific Games in 2015 — a big deal for the country. “You gotta get ready for the games.”
    “Look at those kids, they’re totally getting ready,” I said, pointing out kids on a playground, oblivious to our conversation. The Pacific Games are like a regional Olympics with Olympic type events, but we invented new sports to get ready for: stone skipping, rock jumping, blind high-fiving (with your eyes closed), and the one where you skillfully pour water from one water bottle into another without spilling. “Ohh… gettin’ ready! Gotta get ready for the games…” The most prominent event for the games we conjured up was “can standing,” based off a party trick that I taught Dik’s son Angus after dinner one evening. Basically you balance yourself on an empty soda or beer can with one foot, holding your body steady so you don’t crush it. Then with all the downward pressure from your weight, simply tapping the side will crush it in an instant spectacle of your mad skills. Can standing became a fun thing to teach the other kids, as well as our little group; in fact, Tina and I stepped it up by trying to do syncronized can standing, which is easier said than done.
  • Hashtagging. “Hashtag I love Moresby,” said Ally. “Question mark?” #ilovemoresby? “Hashtag anything can happen,” I said. (It became the motto of our first three days.) #anythingcanhappen “Hashtag things could be worse, right?, hashtag question mark.” #thingscouldbeworseright #questionmark Ally got a couple of good photos of Emily and I laughing together with such photogenic precision that we looked like a stock photo if you searched the keyword “laughter.” “I want you to put that on Instagram, hashtag making memories,” I told her. #makingmemories #stockphotoallstars “Hashtag sorry I hit you on the head with a rock,” Tina told me after the incident at the Goldie River. #sorryihityouontheheadwitharock #worldsbestgroup #pngstyle
  • “That’s So Glen.” During our daytrip on Loloata Island, there was only one other person there doing the same: a lone American/Aussie backpacker named Glen who had a day to kill by himself while waiting for his buddy Tom to arrive that evening (whom we quickly dubbed “Major Tom” when we met both of them for drinks). We invited Glen to tag along on our Loloata Island adventures, including the hike, the snorkel, and when we tried to form the letters “B.S.P.” — the initials of the local bank that seemed to be on every beer koozie in the country. “Oh my god, Glen is a natural born ‘S’,” I said, taking the photo. As we took the boat back to Port Moresby, Ally took picture of our group’s feet but Glen abruptly photobombed her with his own foot. “Put that on Instagram and hashtag it ‘That’s so Glen’,” I told her. #thatssoglen Eventually Glen parted ways with our group, but we always wondered what he might be up to. “He’s probably sticking his foot in other people’s photos right now,” I’d say. “Man, that’s so Glen,” Emily chimed in. “Pfft,” I sighed with feigned disdain. “Typical Glen.”
  • Other on-going jokes included my obsession of using juicers to produce pulp instead of juice and using it for things like popcorn seasoning, and mentioning anything, whether it’s cute or not, followed by going “Aww…” (like you might have heard on Portlandia). “Rice cooker, awww.” “Misinformation, aww.” We also realized that Emily’s brain was a resource for old TV theme songs, even for shows like Thunder in Paradise (starring Hulk Hogan). Humming and singing lines from TV themes evolved into singing actual songs. I mentioned how I once sang George Michael’s “Last Christmas” over and over as requested by the staff of a yurt camp in the middle of the Mongolian highlands, and we vowed that we wouldn’t part ways until we had a karaoke session together.

“I HOPE THEY DON’T CANCEL THE FLIGHT,” our Papua New Guinean liaison Daphne told me as we sat next to each other on the outbound plane that would finally take us out of Port Moresby to the jungles of the Sepik River in the northwest of PNG. It was the originally-planned second leg of the press junket, but we seemed to have hit a snag: one of the crew members who was to support the flight simply didn’t show up for work, and Air Niugini was scrambling for a replacement.

We were delayed an hour, but eventually we made our way out of the gritty capital to see more of Papua New Guinea as planned. What was going to happen next we didn’t know; all we knew was that anything could happen, and it probably would.


When our lunch took about forty minutes to arrive at the Kokoda Trail Motel restaurant after our hike, the younger kids with us showed their boredom and impatience by putting their hands over their eyes — mostly to hide the one tear that was dropping from the side. It’s an gesture that we learned to do ourselves in similar scenarios of boredom and disgust.

Next entry: Team Go-Getter

Previous entry: The Brisbane of My Existence

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Comments for “#AnythingCanHappen”

  • More to come…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/21  at  12:26 PM

  • always fun and games until someone gets hurt… lol… some times there are just too many rocks

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  07/21  at  08:42 PM

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This blog post is one of fifteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Cowboys, Duk-Duks, and Kiwis," which chronicled a five-week trip through the Canadian Rockies, followed by Calgary's Stampede rodeo festival, an assignment through different regions of Papua New Guinea, and a wintery jaunt to New Zealand's South island.

Next entry:
Team Go-Getter

Previous entry:
The Brisbane of My Existence


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