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2 February 2015 / leggypeggy

We hit the safety jackpot in Papua New Guinea

We’ve always known that Port Moresby is a tough town, but we had no idea how extremely dangerous it is until we got there.

For many ex-patriot employees, a condition of service is that they agree NEVER to take a taxi or other public transport. If they get caught doing so, they will be sent home.

Walking anywhere is also discouraged, and many even have to agree NEVER to drive in certain parts of town. Their cars are fitted with tracking devices that let an employer know if they have violated the agreement.

If people are wary of their surroundings when driving, they can call for an escort vehicle. In fact, they are expected to call for an escort at night, regardless of whether they feel concerned. That happened when we stayed several nights with Tam at the end of our trip.

Rascals (criminals) don’t care if you’re a foreigner or Papau New Guinean. They want your money, your car, your mobile phone, your shoes, even your life if you don’t cooperate. The week before we arrived in PNG, a local teenager was stabbed to death in the market because he refused to give up his mobile phone.

PNG Parliament interior

The guide breaks the rules and takes a picture of us inside Parliament House’s main chmaber

So there we were in Port Moresby and other parts of Papua New Guinea for almost three weeks.

When you have no car and are discouraged from walking or taking any form of public transport, your immediate thought is ‘we’re stranded’, but Poor John is a lateral thinker and tackled the problem with flair.

He asked Jo, with whom we stayed for the first few nights, what was the biggest tourist hotel in town. Surely, he said, they must have a taxi driver they trust and rely on.

So Jo called the Ela Beach Hotel and, without hesitation, the staff recommended Mr Lucas and passed on his phone number. We called and arranged to meet him the next day in the hotel’s carpark.

Jo’s nanny walked us down to the hotel. It was a less than two kilometres away and the walk is considered ‘safe enough’ if done in daytime and with an escort. We made it just fine.

When we arrived, another limo driver tried to pass himself off as Mr Lucas, but I asked a couple of questions that confirmed he was an impostor. Nice try, but fail.

And then came Mr Lucas, who was perfect—big, burly, honest, knowledgeable, calm, cheerful, friendly, a good driver and a victim himself of three car attacks.

Over the next several days, Mr Lucas drove us to all the touristic sights. He came and went as required (keeping in touch by mobile phone), and filled us in about his city and his native highlands.

Totems in the PNG museum

Totems in the PNG museum

Thanks to Mr Lucas we saw Parliament House, the botanic gardens, an orchid garden, a nature park, the war cemetery and the national museum. I’ll write about most of these separately, but here’s an interior shot—taken clandestinely because photos aren’t allowed—from the museum. The displays are old but fascinating.

PNG taxi driver

The amazing Mr Lucas

So here’s our call, for any transport requirements in Port Moresby, we can wholeheartedly recommend Mr Lucas. Once you are there, his direct phone number is 71 468 488. If it’s changed—unlikely unless his phone has been stolen—call the Ela Beach Hotel and ask for his number.

Jo’s nanny and her husband also escorted us through a small market, but they aren’t available for tourism. 🙂

Port Moresby market

Port Moresby market

Safety beyond Port Moresby

While Port Moresby is probably the roughest town in Papua New Guinea, plenty of other towns are considered unsafe. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, you need to stay aware of your surroundings.

Safety was a prime concern in the highlands where we attended the Goroka Show. I’ve already written lots about the show, but I haven’t yet gone into detail on the safety precautions.

We stayed at the National Institute of Sport and the security was top-notch. The show was on the grounds attached to the institute and the whole compound was fully fenced with guards at the gates.

A large group of us walked into town on the first afternoon, stopping in a local supermarket to buy drinks and snacks on the way. We chatted with some locals and, although we were constantly on alert, we never felt in danger.

Many people walked back and forth to town and many took the free, on-demand van-service offered by the institute. For example, if we wanted to go for dinner at the Chinese restaurant, the van would drop us there and collect us at a time we nominated. On the return trip, the van had to park across the road, and the restaurant’s guard would escort us to it.

I was constantly struck by how hard the locals tried to keep us safe and, indeed, we never had any issues. Once when we planned to walk to an outside destination, the guards said they thought the crowd was too restless outside and recommended we take the van instead.

I read that one of Australia’s media correspondents was pick-pocketed while in Goroka, but none of us—we were a group of around 20—lost a thing. No doubt, other villages with local shows have similar safety systems in place.

Our other stops on the trip were at an Asaro village and three coastal villages near Tufi. I’ve already written several items about the Asaro village, and the wonderful time we had there. The mock wedding was a special event.

Tufi was equally rewarding and totally safe. In fact, there was no hint of safety issues and we walked around Tufi itself and the three villages without concerns. I’ll post more about them soon.

But for now if you are thinking of travelling to PNG, be sure to stay aware of your surroundings and follow safety advice, but don’t spend the whole time terrified and fearing for your life.

28 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Midwestern Plant Girl / Feb 2 2015 10:59 pm

    It must be a challenge to visit (and live for that matter) in places like this. I couldn’t do it, I’m a chicken. Thanks for sharing your adventures!

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Feb 3 2015 2:58 am

      The travel wasn’t too bad, but I think living there would be claustrophobic!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Andrew Petcher / Feb 3 2015 12:20 am

    I think I’ll give it a miss!

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Feb 3 2015 3:29 am

      Oh, no need to give it a miss. We’re thinking of returning this year for the Mt Hagan Show.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sy S. / Feb 3 2015 4:19 am

    Peggy, often in traveling in foreign countries you just don’t realize how dangerous a place can be.
    And even if you and Poor John (after staying in PNG for several weeks) did not have any problems (nor the group of foreign travelers you were with)… it appears to be a very high risk country to visit. Further, I have also been to high risk areas (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Ceylon…) and at 29 years old (1971) I had no fear of traveling. But now I am much older and wiser and thinking back it was a little crazy to take those changes. But then again, you can’t put yourself into a bubble/ vacuum in life and it is good to be adventuresome… and all the rewards of seeing different countries and diverse cultures; people, food, scenery etc.

    Aside- my biggest fear would be losing my expensive photography equipment and or get “Bonked” on the head LOL. And I do not have a desire to visit the Goroka Show ?, your extensive blog writing and numerous photos are good enough for me.. thanks for all the posts on your travels in PNG.

    Sy S.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Feb 3 2015 1:22 pm

      Oh Sy, you are such a character. I, too, worry about getting ‘bonked’ on the head or having my technology stolen. We’re in a hostel in Jaipur, India right now and one of my travelling companions had his shoes stolen yesterday. He’s furious and I don’t blame him.

      Like

  4. David / Feb 3 2015 3:05 pm

    Love the Parliament photo, beautiful chamber! A good picture of you & PJ too! All the talk of safety reminds of my visits to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands Charlotte Amalie is a beautiful port city where many cruise ships dock daily however if you are staying in town or even anywhere on the island you are advised to never go out at night, whether alone or in groups, due to the high rate of crime against anyone though mainly tourists or anyone who looks like they may have money.
    So PNG doesn’t have a corner on the rascals market. I remember staying at the Bluebeard Castle which fortunately at the time had a 5 star restaurant so there was no need to go anywhere at night and the view from the pool deck was stunning 24/7. Go when you are tourning the U.S. and reserve yourselves a tent on any one of the beaches on St. Thomas or St. Jon as the U.S. National Park Service operates the tents and they are quite nice. On St. John which is somewhat safer being mostly a national park in the morning when you are scurrying down the path to the showers don’t be surprised if you are greeted by one of thel ocals, wild donkeys – very cute!
    Thank you so much for all the wonderful pictures & reporting!

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Feb 4 2015 2:35 am

      Thanks for the tips, Dave. We are long overdue to visit the Virgin Islands.

      Like

  5. Mike / Feb 3 2015 3:19 pm

    I’m certain you guys have been around enough that you automatically assess your surroundings out of habit, huh? Please, don’t get lazy as I would be very upset if you or John were ‘bonked’ while traveling, my friend. Great post and looking forward to many more!!

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Feb 4 2015 2:36 am

      We try hard not to get bonked on the head anywhere. And we’d be darn well upset if we did. 🙂

      Like

  6. Kendall F. Person, thepublicblogger / Feb 4 2015 11:32 pm

    Wonderful post. So good to read a vacation travel post about PNG. By the way, currently the #1 post in the Travel subreddit

    Like

  7. Sy S. / Feb 5 2015 12:00 pm

    Hello,

    Very nice photo of you Peggy and Poor John in the PNG Parliament Chamber.

    For people reading this blog page… Click on the first image called “Parliament Detail” and see an enlarged view, showing the artwork. Also, Googling for ‘PNG Parliament Building” (images) will reveal some more detail and images of the entrance of this building. Further, I copied and pasted a few words from the Internet; “… Our Parliament is a magnificent building designed to reflect traditional architecture of Papua New Guinea and decorated with traditional carvings and artwork to remind us of the rich heritage of the hundreds of tribes that are now joined together as one people and one nation.”

    Aside- Regarding a pair of shoes that were stolen; A quote by Denis Waitley- I had the blues because I had no shoes until upon the street, I met a man who had no feet.

    Sy S.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Feb 5 2015 12:51 pm

      Hi Sy, your comment reminded me that a little while back an extremely religious parliamentarian in PNG managed to someone to remove and burn a collection of significant timber columns from the front of the building. He claimed they were ‘offending’ icons, but in reality they depicted many tribes of PNG. Only parts of four were saved and are in the museum now.

      Like

  8. Curious to the Max / Feb 8 2015 1:49 pm

    Peggy, Fascinating account of your experiences. Is the question of safety a combination of poverty and government or . . . ? Do you know how long it has been considered to be this unsafe?

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Feb 18 2015 2:36 am

      Port Moresby has had a bad reputation for as long as I can remember. Poverty is certainly part of it, and many of the cops are thought to be on the take. I heard many say it’s not worth reporting incidents to the police.

      Like

  9. Dorothy / Feb 16 2015 1:34 pm

    Having lived in Port Moresby for seven years with only one armed hold up which blew a hole in our car I can say it was a fun exciting place to live. I worked in debt collection which was a challenge. My husband was in Insurance.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Feb 18 2015 1:10 am

      Wow Dorothy, that was a long stint in Port Moresby, but so lucky that you had only one armed hold-up. You must have had a fascinating time there. We’re thinking of trying the Mt Hagan Show this year.

      Like

      • Dorothy / Feb 18 2015 12:52 pm

        I helped dish up food at the Moresby Show one year for Burns Philp, gosh what a scramble. We were introducing them to tinned spam with rice as they eat a lot of mackerel there. They liked it so much they were almost swarming over the counter. I could have done with a whip and a chair like the lion tamers. I have written a few stories on PNG. Check out dorothysstories.wordpress.com

        Like

      • leggypeggy / Feb 19 2015 3:24 am

        They still love Spam in PNG. And to think that you might be the person who introduced it. Wow! Look forward to reading your stories.

        Like

  10. Dorothy / Mar 1 2015 11:15 am

    You have seen more of Papua New Guinea than we did in our seven years there. Mind you we were working so could not please ourselves where we went. Did you go snorkeling in Lae ? Coral reef there is amazing.

    Like

    • leggypeggy / Mar 4 2015 3:35 am

      Sadly we never made it to Lae. Maybe some day in the future. We did snorkel at Tufi.

      Like

      • Dorothy / Mar 4 2015 12:54 pm

        Love your blog, very professional with great photos. I am just a beginner.

        Like

      • leggypeggy / Mar 7 2015 2:26 am

        Oh Dorothy, thank you so much. But I have to say that you may be a beginner, but your blog is fantastic. I love your stories and am so glad you found my blog which then led me to yours.

        Like

  11. jeanleesworld / Jun 14 2016 10:22 am

    Fascinating travelogue here. I can’t imagine how it felt to learn this information and then experience the “now what?” Thank goodness Poor John didn’t give up, because I know I would have! Such a place is where good souls feel the need to hide, which makes it harder to band together. Glad you found one despite everything. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • leggypeggy / Jun 14 2016 11:47 am

      We really enjoyed Papua New Guinea but were constantly reminded of the real risks there to personal safety. Still a fascinating place to visit.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jeanleesworld / Jun 15 2016 4:14 am

        Indeed. Milwaukee has some lovely aspects to it, but there are many real risks there, too. I’ll never forget one December day where my dad found his car windows smashed in just to take a package the postal service delivered to our house by mistake. Just because it was a box, it must have been worth while.
        It’s amazing what meager things people feel are worth great risk.

        Liked by 1 person

      • leggypeggy / Jun 15 2016 8:46 am

        A reminder that there are risks the world over. So sad.

        Like

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