Off to the Bush For a Day

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 19th, 2009 by MadDog
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Yesterday I went out to a village to visit with people with whom I’ve been working for a few months. I took some pictures along the way. It’s a bit of a wild ride out to the mountains between Madang and the Ramu Valley. The road dates back to a trail that went alongside the first power lines. It’s twisty and very rough for much of its length. Maybe you’ll see something interesting.

Here is a shot about twenty clicks out of town just as you are coming up on the mountains:

The road leading to the Ramy Valley from MadangThe road here is pretty flat and stays in relatively good shape.

Here is a ford that is right before you start up into the mountains. You can see the first steep hill on the other side. It’s a 20%+ slope:The only remaining ford between Madang and LaeThat means a long slog in 1st gear, even in  my diesel 4WD truck.

I can remember when we first started driving to the highlands in 1981. There were 21 rivers that had no bridges. If the water was too high to get across, we had to either wait for it to go down or drive back to town. I was driving a Suzuki 4WD jeep across a river similar to this when it fell into a hole and went floating (mostly) downstream. Fortunately I had a long rope laying on the passenger’s seat. I jumped out into the water and hooked the rope around a bumper while the Suzuki tip-toed over the rocks. I swam over to the side and threw the other end of the rope around a tree. Fortunately the rope held. After retrieving the car from the water it took several hours to get everything dried out enough to get it started.

This is a Bailey bridge. You find them all over the world in difficult, out-of-the-way places.A Bailey bridgeA Bailey bridge is a portable pre-fabricated truss bridge, which can carried by a few trucks and erected with simple equipment. The only problem with them is that old ones tend to sag quite a bit in the middle and do not inspire confidence. This one has a steel road bed. I have been on a couple of them which had wood plank beds and most of the wood had been pilfered. We once crossed one by carrying the remaining planks from the other side to our side, laying them down in front of the truck, driving the truck to the end of the last planks and then moving the planks from behind the truck to the front. It made me think of an inchworm creeping along a branch.

Here is a little market along the way:A market on the way to UsinoThis lady has a bag of betel nut on her head:

Woman with a bag of betel nut on her head
I had a little chat with her about the evils of buai  (the Tok Pisin  word for betel nut). She just kept laughing at me. At first I couldn’t figure out why. Then I noticed that she was looking at my hair, which I had braided Indian-style. I don’t think that she had ever seen a man with braided hair. I was happy to give her a few minutes of fun.

Here is a mob of kids that were hanging around the market. When kids see a camera they automatically line up for the photographer. How convenient:A bunch of village kidsI kept trying to get them to look at me, but they were too fascinated by the woman with the bag on her head who was still laughing at me.

I asked one of the fellows to take a photo of me, since that hardly ever happens:

Me trying to stay awake at a meetingI don’t know why those bamboo ‘couches’ are considered high-style. It is extremely uncomfortable. I’d rather sit on the ground. However, if you are (for the moment, at least) a VIP, you can’t sit on the ground; they won’t let you. I have been to several villages in which there was exactly one chair and they would always drag it out for me to sit on. This is a holdover from the days of the Kiap  or Patrol Officer who was like a travelling sheriff, judge, census taker and general overseer of the Australian Administration. I believe that people did not understand that white people were capable of sitting on the ground.

Here’s another shot of us discussing weighty matters:A group of leaders at Somau-GariaI hope to be doing a lot more of this kind of work in the future.

After thirty-five years of wrestling computers, I’m pretty tired of it.

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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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