Remembering the Highlands

Posted in Mixed Nuts on September 13th, 2009 by MadDog
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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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