Remembering the Highlands

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Last Thursday, I did something that I’ve not done for several years. I drove a truck from Madang to Ukarumpa, near Kainantu, in the highlands near Madang. Old time PNG travellers will scoff at the mention of such a journey. “Samting nating!”, they will say (it’s nothing!). Well, I don’t enjoy the driving, but the scenery is exquisite. Here is an early morning shot coming up into the first mountains outside of Madang:

On the road from Madang to Wara Ais - nearing the Ramu Valley

As you can see, the road above is paved. Only about fifty or sixty kilometres of the road is unpaved, though some of the paved parts are falling to pieces already. Here is part of the unpaved road:

Ramu Nickel tailings pipe?

You can see that it is rugged territory. I believe that the large pipe, stretching for many kilometres, is the tailings pipe for the Ramu Nickel mine. If I’m wrong about that, somebody let me know. I can tell you that there were many Chinese hanging around the work crews. UPDATE: This is not  the tailings pipe. This is the pipe that carries only the ore slurry to the processing plant. As I unerstand it, it the material is like liguid mud with the metal ore in it. If anybody was misled my my error, I apologise.

Here is an all too common sight along the road:

Truck wreck - an all too common sightWe stopped to see if anyone was injured. The people said no, so we got out of there quickly. Hanging around a fresh wreck is a good way to get caught up in a fight.

Sugar was king in the Ramu Valley, but land being put into production now is rapidly being grabbed by oil palms. There were many kilometres of road surrounded by newly planted oil palms. I remember when this was all kunai  grass. If fact, when we first started transiting the Ramu Valley in 1981 even Ramu Sugar was a fairly small operation:

Young oil palms in the Ramu Valley

When our son began to attend school at Ukarumpa, we travelled this road three times a month. It’s a 466 kilometre round trip. During the first couple of years there were twenty one rivers that had to be forded, because there were no bridges. Sometimes we had to wait half a day for water to recede enough to cross. I once lost a Suzuki jeep in a river. I got it back out and got it going, but the seats never did dry out completely.

Up at Ukarumpa, you are in the beautiful rolling ground of the mid highlands:

The beautiful rolling hills at Ukarumpa

At the time we lived on the base there we had few security problems. Now the place looks like Fort Knox:

Security was once a smaller problem

We once walked right from the house into the beautiful hills. This fence didn’t exist. It’s sad but true that PNG has changed so much.

However, there are happier things to come in the next couple of days:

All is not humourless at UkarumpaStay tuned for some highland colour.

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7 Responses to “Remembering the Highlands”

  1. Wencke Says:

    Wow… I know this road and I remember the scenery in your pics… beautiful, dangerous, fascinating!

  2. MadDog Says:

    Thanks, Wencke. I really enjoy getting comments from people who have experienced PNG.

  3. larian Says:

    Jan you look very regal sittin on the bamboo seat having a pow wow

  4. MadDog Says:

    Yeah, I felt like a maharajah or something.

  5. Laurel Lynn Says:

    Thanks Mr. Messersmith,
    What a great trip down memory lane. I was in your son’s class.
    What lovely photography.

  6. MadDog Says:

    How cool, Laurel. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Are you in contact with Hans? He now lives in Hamilton, Ontario. If you put “hans” in the search box, you will find a bunch of posts.

  7. Emmanuel Kuna Says:

    Offcourse it is true, the scary Madang highway starting from Usino Junction all the way to Beautiful Madang. Im reciding in Dumpu, along the mist of the Okuk highway along the new oil palm plantation just 10 minutes drive out of Ramu Sugar.
    It is a victory of living in and along the development zone, especially agriculture and live stock.