Friday, March 16, 2012

TP and toilets

So let's talk about toilet paper. You know we all have our preferences. Changing brands is kind of like changing brands of automobile... Charmin is obviously the best... extra roll... two ply because they don't make a three ply.
Then you take a vacation... go someplace "exotic." Then things get interesting. Ya, there are things to see and do but toilet facilities are some important considerations.
I went to Thailand awhile back. Did you know that there are places where the normal pottie doesn't have a stool. One place I went to, there wan't any turning back either, this place had a hole in the floor with a footprint painted on either side and a bucket filled with water and a ladle next to it. Now there's something of a learning curve on that experience. I carried my own toilet paper from then on, just in case. I've seen similar "facilities" in old parts of Spain and Morocco too.
In my current place of employment some of the locals climb up on the stool and squat leaving muddy footprints as evidence and showing some lack of aim deficiencies. We regulate who can and can't use our facilities but have to use the locally produced TP. I'm hear to tell you it's a far cry from Charmin.

First getting the roll started. It's glued through the first quarter inch or so so you have to find the glue line and tear the roll in half to get through that so you can have a normal rolling roll. Inevitably the layers below that are torn and so the next couple laps are a shredded mess that isn't fit for it's intended purpose. Once started you must tear of two to three times as much as you would with Charmin to avoid the much feared poke through. Then as the application is made, it's not uncommon for small bits to tear free leaving one with the dilemma of solution to this debacle. I noticed today that the plies aren't really plies so much as another sheet. It appears that two rolls are started at the same time and rolled up together eventually resulting in misaligned perforation.

It is the land of the unexpected.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Wondering about PNG

In my experience PNG isn’t so bad of a place.  There are rumors though of people being killed, raped and tortured so I can’t really recommend it for a casual vacation destination.  It would be an awesome adventure travel with a reputable travel tour.  There are some amazing sights varying from wild rivers and canyons to mountain views, amazing oceans and reported good fishing for black bass, barramundi and non-native trout of all things.

Now, let’s define not so bad.  Yes there are tropical diseases, malaria is common… very common.  There is also Dengue fever, cholera, dysentery and a host of other things you can catch due to it being an under developed country in the tropics with sketchy sanitation.  Yes, crime is common, violent crime especially robberies.  There are regular stories about people being murdered for one reason or another, mostly tribal conflicts.  If you traveled here don’t expect any sort of western hotel experience, expect more rustic Alaska lodge type of experience and I emphasize rustic… ie no electricity or running water unless you are by a stream although some lodges might have generators forget about wi-fi.  There are civilized patches and I wouldn’t really recommend them.  Port Moresby is the capital and probably the largest city followed by Lae and Mt. Hagen.  Crap holes… right proper shanty town crap holes.  This is where you will find the crime and the biggest problem with hygiene.   With all that being said, I’ve never had any problems with a local, no one has ever been threatening except for this one guy and everyone knew he was a jerk.  I have had malaria… antibiotics will sort it out if you can get treatment in a timely fashion, so that’s not such a worry.   The aids rate is extremely high and the women seem to be anxious to bed a white guy, so be warned of that.  If you keep these things in mind and expect these inconveniences, it’s not so bad.  It is what it is… if you want the Hilton and someone bringing you drinks on the beach then this isn’t the place for you.  If you want to experience a culture that is so far removed from anything you have ever experienced, to hike or even cut your own unbeaten path.  If you ever wanted to experience what it might be like to be an explorer or seek the history of WW2 that’s not in a museum.  You might dig the place.

I would not recommend going without a guide.   If an aggressive native caught the lonely backpacker walking a back country hi-way (one lane dirt road) it would be likely for said backpacker to be mugged, beaten and left in the ditch to suffer their fate.  If the backpacker was a young white woman, odds are good of being gang raped, but like I said I’ve never had any issues but I’m an overweight balding dude too and generally not on my own is deserted areas, actually I’m never on my own in deserted areas except for when the job makes me.

The justice system here is tribal.  There is a police force but too few and too underpaid to be of much use unless an oil company or mining company has called them in to fix a “problem”.  The way tribal law works is if you steal or injure someone from your tribe, the chief will deal out a punishment, generally “compensation” in the form of money or goods.  If you were to steal or injure someone from another tribe, they go get their friends and take “compensation” in the form of blood or your stuff.  If you are a foreigner the you don’t have a tribe so you are fair game.  In the old days, the Australians and Dutch dealt out a brutal justice without use of courts.  They defended their settlements in the same tribal fashion and with modern tools and arms.  Generally, I think it was a good beating but I wouldn’t be surprised it some weren’t beat to death.  Pacification of the native tribes seems to work like that in most places.  One good about being white here is whitey brings the jobs and whitey is the employer.  The local word for a white man is “masa”… meaning pretty much like it sounds… master.  It’s common to be called boss where ever you go.  Whitey got power.  Which makes it less likely that you'll get attacked.  If an ex-pat worker is hurt by local tribe’s person then the government takes action to ensure that doesn't happen again, once again, less so these days.

There is a lot of things to see and do here, if it was offered properly.  There are wild parrots here and cockatoos, hornbills and Birds of Paradise and heaps of other animals that you won’t see in a zoo.  This is where seeing things that would ordinarily be in National Geographic can happen.  There are discoveries all the time of unknown species, WW2 relics and aircraft… even WW2 bodies that have been lost and never found.  There are white water rivers that are beyond classification and rivers and lakes so full of fish that you couldn't miss them if you threw a rock.  There are orchids in abundance, blooming jungle vines and trees.   If you scuba dive and would like to wreck dive Papua New Guinea was the scene of some pretty historic WW2 battles.

Living or working here for the past six years makes me wonder a lot.  I wonder why it’s still so backward and why it’s different across the border.  Mostly it’s because of the people.  They will destroy things as a form of extortion.  They will steal, from each other and visitors.  They fight and feud like as if they were still wild tribes, and to some extent they are.  There is no guarantee if you go to say, the Hegigio valley and make an agreement with the locals to set a camp there for some tourists, you could make a contract and pay for the favor… all nice and proper; there is no guarantee that will stick.  There is no guarantee that this tribe is actually in control of the area or if a group of them are.  There is no guarantee that the person you are negotiating with has any particular authority or if others in the area might also think they have the similar rights as well.  Some neighboring village may hear of the windfall and move in to demand similar compensation.   It wouldn't be surprising either for someone to still come in and steal things if they were left unguarded.

I reason it all this way.  If you live in a place where you are too poor to leave if you wanted to, the prices are so inflated that you can’t afford things and there is little education and virtually no hope that it will be any different anytime soon.  You start to behave the way these folks do.  You’d steal, you wouldn't have the self esteem to wash regular (perhaps) you’d try to get every dime you could out of anyone who happened by.  You would fight with your neighbors to try to get what they have or just because you are generally irritable about the life you've been given.   You might be lazy because working hard has never gotten you or anyone you know anywhere besides a shack in the jungle.  You’d try to have sex as often as possible regardless of the consequences and drink yourself blind to try to break the monotony and enjoy something, anything you could.wild tribes, and to some extent they are. 

Many people think the state this country is in is because of exploitation by one group or another.  Perhaps; what’s the solution?  Move everything out and let the natives fend for themselves?  The place would implode, those that work and are improving themselves would be forced back into the village, better off?   Some say it’s the oil companies doing it… OSL, Oil Search Limited, and the other oil companies give lots of money to the government and to the villages for the use of their land and resources, they provide health care and education to local villages and well as building community centers, roads and other things.  What more do you want?   They hire local when the can, training villagers for those jobs.  The money and improvements are squandered and stolen from the people.  Government officials are regularly caught embezzling as are tribal authorities.  The solution is education and ending corruption in the government, laws to limit or end price gouging and providing means for the villages to receive the same services as the cities.  I don’t see it happening in my life demand similar compensation.   It wouldn’t be surprising either for someone to still come in and steal things if they were left unguarded.

I’m often reminded of the book, “The Lord of the Flies” in which some young British kids are flown to safety from the blitz.  Their plane crashes and they have to fend for themselves.  It is a study of human nature and the civilizing effects of society’s mores.  The children end up committing all sorts of atrocities and finally murder.  These people remind me of that.  They just don’t have the same sense of right from wrong as the rest 
Tourist attraction Kaveing
of us.

Of all the derogatory things I have said, I still have hope.  I hope these people can figure out how to manage things better sometime in their future.  I can see that ex-pat workers have a positive effect in some ways.  They show an example of what can be with education and hard work.  There is prejudice sadly, some of its earned.

Also bear in mind that I don’t go to tourist spots so I can’t speak with any authority on them.  There are a few.  The other aircraft’s crew chief is from Kavieng and he says they have tourists there.  I’m sure it’s much nicer than where I’ve been.  I’ve heard rumors that Madang is nice too, although I’ve recently heard rumors of some unrest there as well.  I’ve never been there, they don’t put oil in nice places.   
Mud men
In my personal experience, I’ve never been seriously threatened.  A chap on strike did storm into the chow hall and slap a stick on the table that I was eating at and yammered something I didn’t understand.  I didn’t really feel frightened though.  Masa was there and he’s Japanese so obviously a karate expert.  I’ve never witnessed or seen the after effect of the violence.  Screaming yelling and throwing rocks in ones general direction doesn’t count.  One of the local boys was hit by a rock when one of his wives didn’t think she was getting her fair share of his paycheck.  It was perfectly understandable really.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

My little hut in the woods

 In all things there can be good and there can be ill.  I've come to learn, after years of trying, that it is just as easy to look for the good as to find fault.  We have an ol’ boy here that we are calling Hotel Charlie, HC… short for hard core… which he ain’t, by any imagination… toward anything constructive anyway.  Perhaps a better name would be lemon head because if he were given lemonade he would only taste the lemons.
I killed two cockroaches in my tent this evening.  I hate cockroaches but they were less than a half inch long, I killed one in my hotel that was much larger.  I just got done taking a shower with a cricket that was a good two inches long, he seemed to come up from the drain as he wasn’t in there before, I know because I threw his drowned twin out before I got in but he was wet and slow and didn’t bother me much.  I did keep a close eye out to make sure.  Crickets are awfully similar to cockroaches.  I don’t much care to take showers with other men filling the air with their movements either.  It seems hard to imagine yourself clean with that smell filling the air but I had a shower.
It was a beautiful morning; the sun was out of after a brief early morning shower and clear skies for a change in the second wettest place on earth.  Today was a no requirement day so I wandered around our rock pit and took some pictures that I posted as proof of the orchids and the stark beauty of the Fly River, filled with its mine waste.  I had a look in the guards’ hut. It was made of sticks held together with bits of roots, vines and bits of wire.  They slept on bits of cardboard and had a fire in the middle of their hut where they cooked with no chimney or smoke hole.  Lemon Head says that they get paid 100 kina a week.  It cost them 700 kina to get here for their job and they have to buy their own rice to eat at the inflated company town rate.  Lemon head saw exploitation, they seemed happy with their position when I talked to them.  They showed me their hut with little for a floor and void of anything I would consider necessary for a camping trip much less a place where they planned on living for several months.  They talked of the difference of our cultures and I took it to mean they were content with their simple hut.  They laughed a lot.  It seemed to me they thought it was funny that I would be interested in their little home.  I walked on down a closed road until I came across another hut with a local family living in it.  The father spoke good English; I met him on the way out.  He was panning the river for gold.  Outside that small hut, I saw a small naked child and heard another and their mother inside.   I doubt the hut was any bigger than my tent.
After work we drove to town on company diesel looking for a coffee pot of some sort.  I broke ours while trying to fling the grounds out managing to fling the glass part (the most important part) into the rocks.   The stores were closed as it was afternoon on a Saturday.  We did stop and buy iced coffee in a can from a local market.  I noticed rice was 3.80 Kina a bag for about what we would buy at home, so that rather blows Lemon Head’s story out of the water. 
When we got back I wanted to take some pictures of camp.  Scott and Masa joined later.  Scott and I decided to have a look at some of the other housing tents where the local laborers lived.  They had their own dining facility where they cooked their own food.  No chairs, no tables but bits of wood nailed together for rude benches.  No doubt rice and canned mackerel or corned beef was their main fare.  Out back was a rude structure made of plastic tied over branches, the shower we were told, another for the toilets.  It looked as though the rooms would hold maybe 20 people… the toilet… one… the shower one.  We both felt more grateful for our tents after and I was grateful for the hot water in the shower, even with the bug and the smell and grateful for my tent with a fan and light and grateful for the electricity for my laptop to type my thoughts, grateful for being clean so the burn forehead can heal nicely, grateful for books to read, and grateful for still having hope.
As I lie down to try to sleep, I will be grateful that cockroaches don’t generally bite and that my bed is warm and softer than cardboard.  In all things, we can look for the good or the bad.  To dwell on the bad, to lament over oxtail for lunch, when we could have nothing; to cry over the hard bed, when we could have only cardboard; to whine because it is hot or we aren’t getting paid enough to do this job is all so foolish.  It is just as easy to look for the good in life as it is the bad and so much more worthwhile.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sweet Dreams

Now I lay me down to sleep, on a moldy pillow, in a tent in the jungle half way around the world from where I live.
I suppose because this job is unconventional it is in a sense exciting.  I'm sure we have all had jobs or experiences that in hindsight that were exciting.  At the time it was going on it was trivial or mundane or one degree of unpleasant or another.    
The military is an example that comes to mind.  Yep, went through basic... everyone does.  I had a uniform, just like everyone else.  The sent me to different exotic places, like Mississippi and California. It's rather hard to get more exotic than Mississippi; it certainly seems like a foreign country.  I also went to Spain during the first Gulf War.  Seem like that would be exciting doesn't it?  Well, if you like 12hr shifts lack of food and warm clothing and working from 6pm to 6am.  Then it was exciting.  I did get out and see some of Spain and met some interesting people.  That was fun but exciting?  

Our camp is near a river, the Fly River, one of the largest drainages of PNG; also one of the most polluted due to a copper/gold mine.
Our day starts early-ish, my alarm goes off at 5:30 which is a nice sleep in compared to the early shift at Moro when it goes off at 4:30.  We eat at the mess hall and make our way to where the helicopter is parked.  Tabubil is the second rainiest spot on the earth so weather plays a large factor in our day.  If it is raining we goof off, if not we get the aircraft ready for the day.  The fuel takes are “sumped” or tested for water.  The covers that keep the rain out of the electrical bits that in theory are fine with water but in reality not so much.  In a new aircraft they would be but the age of the aircraft and the fact that a helicopter is a vibrating shaky creature the wiring is less than perfect.  Then we preflight the aircraft to make sure everything is wonderful and nothing fell apart during the night or was missed during post flight.  Then pilots look it over and then we wait for the call that they are ready to fly.  That means that the weather is good, the people are in place to receive the loads, and the loads are rigged and ready to go.  When we get that call, we go out and fuel, if necessary, and do some final look over to ensure the aircraft is ready to go as the pilots go through the check list and start the aircraft and finally fly off at which point we mind the store sometimes working on equipment or cleaning and organizing things to make life comfortable and workable.   Mostly we goof off on the internet, wait for the aircraft to come back for fuel of the weather turning bad or run out of loads.  Exciting?  I do this for 28 days and then go away for 28 days.  I say away because, it takes a few days to get home and a few to get back.

The interesting parts are it is Papua New Guinea, “the land of the unexpected.”  Orchids and banana trees grow wild on the road side.  The landscape is rugged and tropical.  Cockatoos, hornbills, and snowy egrets are common, parrots can also be found.  There are lots of interesting bugs too.  The people are exotic, primitive and tribal and can be unexpectedly dangerous.  The political system is such that the tribe deals out the justice.  If you assault someone, their family will come and get you or their tribe.  If you have no tribe, you are easy prey.  White people are protected by the government because white people are industry and trade.  If a white causes damage, he has to give up “compensation”.  Kill a dog, $1000 fine.  Kill a kid and escape the village without getting you head lopped off, similar fines. 

Working on one of the largest helicopters in the world is also interesting.  It is old, built in the early 80’s.  It is relatively low tech with gears and transmissions and engines and all the little bits that go with it.  There is a stability system that makes it easier to fly and is computer controlled but not fly by wire like military or modern cars.  I still get a thrill to see it lift off, hook onto a 20,000lb load and fly off into the jungle.  Kind of cool.

The downside… it’s Papua New Guinea.  Hygiene and tropical diseases are always an issue.  The primary plant life in the tropics is mold, it’s everywhere in a short time.  It’s primitive so staying at a four star hotel is not even a possibility… if you are generous with your ratings, you might find one in the capital for $200/day but not where we work.  The food is marginal, corned beef hash or ox tail for lunch the last couple days, little fresh fruits or veggies. 

For someone who would go stark raving mad working in a cube, commuting to work every day, dealing with traffic and saving up for four weeks off a year.  It’s a pretty good gig.  They say only missionaries and misfits go to PNG.  So I guess it fits.  I work with what most of society would call misfits, defiantly unique personalities.   One day we might have a conversation about unpleasant body functions and the next about international economics or quantum physics.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Te Anau

Te Anau

14 February 13, 2010

I drove down to Te Anau today. Nice drive. I saw some “domestic” elk. I don’t know of any other country other than New Zealand that raises elk for meat on farm… fairly domestically.

I left Balclutha in a drizzle which was disappointing as the morning had so much promise. The drizzle soon turned ominous as angry clouds filled the sky, naturally, to the direction I was heading. Hopefully this wasn’t an omen. I’ve rarely seen omens. I suspect things are omens from time to time as any true pessimist might but rarely to they truly portend anything unless I let them. As omens go I’m sure there are those that are more worth than others. Black cats, for instance, naturally a bad omen. They never worked out that way for me as far as I can remember but you I never poke fate in the face with a stick if I can help it. I have tempted ladders. I mean if they are in your path and the only reasonable way around them in under them, then why not. Honestly, who can ever say that a ladder has caused them a great deal of harm? The ladder thing has lost its oomph over the years, you have to admit. Black cats on the other hand… well that’s just common sense really. Spilled salt is another one that it is best just not to mess with. Take it from me… why take the chance, just throw a bit over your shoulder… what harm can it do? Dark clouds on the horizon are a certain omen of bad fortune… it is very likely to rain and that is a fact no one can deny, superstitious or not. The clouds did bring rain but not so much that it spoiled the day.

On arrival at Te Anau, the weather was warm and pleasant. The omen did prove itself out though. My cheap rental car’s trunk leaks. Now I must do two circles, counter clockwise while holding my nose to ward off the evil eye. Hey don’t judge, I didn’t make the rules.

As I drove through Gore, Clinton and a whole slew of places I can’t pronounce I came upon the verdant, undulating field and they caused me pause… not much, just enough to wonder why the sheep were so damned white and what sort of git uses the words verdant and undulating in the first place. The time is long past where verdant has ever cause to be used in the modern vocabulary even literary or poetically. I mean really… how many people actually know what verdant means? Undulating they get, thanks to Daniel Steel I’m sure but at least that is still in use. All the same… it does sort of work for these particular fields. I have to wonder what the geography was like prior to Europeans terra-forming it to something more similar to Ireland or Scotland. Possibly verdant, but certainly undulating I’m sure.

In due course I passed a scenic preserve boasting of an apparently rare red tussock. To be sure, I’ve rarely heard of the tussock in general much less the red which I have to assume is an infinitely more rare variety. I believe the demise of the tussock came around about the time of the diminished paddock for surely one is most rare without the other.

Eventually I passed the verdant hills, the angry and brooding clouds and ventured even passed the famed tussocks and made my way to Te Anau. Te Anau reminds me a bit of someplace akin to a Bavarian village or perhaps a mountain village Ansel Adams might have stayed in while photographing the Sierras. I can almost see model T Fords mucking about in the streets. Of course there are the latte shops and pizza parlors and at least three ATM machines in the few blocks I walked plus two internet shops… one in a laundry which is a clever idea. The place is quaint but I have to warn you I can piss you off. It did me. I don’t like touristy and Te Anau is a bit touristy. Not badly, the Kiwis seem to have managed the fine art of giving gift shops a legitimate place without seeming tacky. The place is crowded, so crowded in fact that I almost had to turn around to find a hotel in another town, which would have put a crimp in my fishing plans. As it is “T” town as I shall now call it, may yet be a bit far. We’ll see tomorrow. How dare they not have a room for me, don’t they know who I am? Sadly I’m traveling incognito this trip. Had they known I was coming, I’m sure they would have saved me a room. I have a good bit of information for you. The next time you are in New Zealand and looking for a room and there seems to be none. Go to an “I” site. I must mean information but they do all sorts of booking from ferries between the North Island and the South Island to room bookings. I did find a place to stay. Time will tell if it was a good one but after all the mangers I’ve stayed in, bugs are sort of common place. I shall soon see if this place has bugs as well.

In fact I’m in a backpacker joint. I’m not sure if it is appropriate to call all backpackers hippies or all hippies backpackers but there are some striking similarities such as lack of a job or decent hygiene. I have to confess I’m a bit jaded on this topic and possibly quite biased and probably ill-informed.

I’m not sure when it all started but hostels have been around for years and years in Europe. Kids after “high school” but before university and come from reasonably well off parents are armed with a backpack, some clean linen (to stave off bed bugs and other body vermin), the basics in clothes and an allowance, generally modest enough to bring them home is a few months, set off in search of adventure, sex and booze and generally a good time. These parents with their good intentions send their little ones off to see the world. It was generally Europe in the early years and now pretty much global with the possible exception of the Americas. I haven’t heard much about the hostel scene in the US. There are a few but the public transportation system isn’t so advanced and hostels seem pretty spread out if in existence at all. I suspect hippies started it all with their Katmandu trail and destinations in Asia. So in the end, I suppose hippies and backpacker are not so much different.

It is a sin for a backpacker to have money in anything remotely resembling abundance. Apparently hygiene is also frowned upon. I have never been a backpacker so I’m unfamiliar with the specific rules of the fraternity but it seems being smelly, nearly naked and drunk for a large part of their time is a common trait. Perhaps it is a good thing. I’m sure it allows them to be better students and gives them a wider world view. Perhaps that makes them better bankers and insurance salesmen in the future, having sowed their wild oats.

So my backpacker experience, as to this room. $105NZD/3day is certainly better than $150/night from anyone’s point of view, unless there are bed bugs involved or when I have to go take a wee in the middle of the night and forget my keys. I’ll let you know about that tomorrow.

I was at a pub earlier, shocking I’m sure. I was hungry and the restaurants don’t open until 5pm. I had a few beers, sat outside in the chill wind having a cigarette and listening to Charlie Daniels. It always amazes me how American culture or perhaps I should say pop culture travels. I remember being stunned while at a German festival of some sort and finding a German country and western band playing. I wonder if it still translates to the typical theme of “my wife ran off with my dog and took all my stuff so I’m drinking because I miss that dog.” I didn’t speak German well enough to tell for sure.

The hostel turned out to be fine; actually it was a nice clean place to stay if you are on a budget and who besides perhaps Donald Trump and Paris Hilton aren’t. All jaded musing aside. A lot of back packer places are good for families when traveling. Many have separate rooms and facilities for cooking your own meal. I generally associate them with hippies but anyone can stay, many are geared more toward family travelers or budget travelers of all ages. I met a middle aged lady that stays at them almost exclusively when she travels. Many Australians and Kiwi’s prefer to cook their own meals thinking restaurants aren’t healthy, which they probably aren’t. I’m not very domestic so I’m more of a restaurant kind of guy, I can’t see a diet of top ramen nearly exclusively being any health benefit and I wouldn’t want expose my culinary inadequacies to the general public. Besides, why spend my time washing dishes? Hostels can also be a good wholesome place to meet people and talk about your travels, get ideas for different places to go and see or just generally meet someone from other countries and cultures.

New Zealand

February 2010

There are things about this country that make me love it more than home. Perhaps that is biased. I’ve lived in the United States most of my life and I know it intimately. I know its faults and weaknesses as well as become inured to its graces but I know only what I’ve seen in two months of New Zealand.

It seems to me that this is the way the US should have turned out if we hadn’t spoiled it. I know very little of NZ politics so I have to assume that they can’t be nearly as messed up as US politics. I’ve heard Australians talk and if they didn’t mention names you would have thought they were talking about American politics. Perhaps it is the same in NZ.

I’m struck by the small town friendliness and charm of NZ. I personally, like driving small back roads. I would rather drive 55MPH down a back country road than 75MPH down a freeway any day of the week. I can make a few allowances if it might take me longer. All of NZ except for 20min drive in Dunedin and an hour drive in Auckland is back country rural roads. There are numbers to the highways but forget about them… this road is the road from Dunedin to Gore or Invercargill to Te Anau, at least that is the way the signs read. On the edges of the big cities are sheep farms, farm stays and woods to get lost in and even the busiest are easily navigated and little traffic, well modest traffic.

On the roadsides you see happy smiling people. You see the 50ish man and his wife on a bike ride or the kids joking and laughing, walking from one friend’s house to the other. You have to think that happy functioning families make for these scenes. Old friends in cardigans and driving hats walking together deep in conversation on their way to the pub, perhaps, to catch a game of footie over a few pints.

I’m struck at times with the smell of NZ. I’ve been struck by the smell of a place before… perhaps it is a curse but Bangkok is one such place… sewers and over powering exhaust fumes are memorable. Rural Thailand and Indonesia is at times is very beautiful there still is the smell of burning garbage almost everywhere only a little less so in the resorts, I think the air there is imported though. New Zealand has a scent that seems to remind me of home or at least is very comforting in some way. While driving today I noticed the smell of Scotch broom blossoms, fresh grass, pine trees in summer and surf all at once, perhaps some other blossoms too because it was certainly sweet.

The climate is perfect too, bear in mind I’ve only visited in the summer, January and February.

I don’t care much for the tropics any more. I can do without humidity. Like being warm but not waking up sweating… sweating going to breakfast and sitting by the beach sweating isn’t for me. I haven’t been through a winter here but I can tell you from January to mid March are perfect in both the North Island and the South Island. Well, I have to put in a bit of a disclaimer. The west side of the South Island can be and often is foggy and damp and a bit chilly. Hey you are there for the glaciers, what do you expect… palm trees and cabana boys? Every time I’ve been here has been like an early summer day. The North Island is semi-tropical without the grim humidity and the South Island has more extremes. From Dunedin north to Christchurch can be hot and air-conditioning isn’t a norm in hotels; hell heat isn’t a norm either but an afterthought, in most cases, with push out space heaters. I’m not sure what that is about.

For the hunting and fishing enthusiasts, don’t set your hopes too high. I’m not sure how the hunting is but fishing can be quite challenging. Many streams are fly fishing only, as it should be in my opinion, and sometimes there can be a long way between fish. Trout limits are generally around 14inchs so that will give you some clue as to the size of the fish to expect. Don’t bother showing up on any stream that you can’t jump across with 6lb line or less. When you do hook one, they’ll break it off like a kite string in a gale. There are magic spots though. You might have to come back a few time to find the good ones. I’ve seen streams where walking you can spot twenty plus fish over 24inches and some of them are even dumb enough to take a lure, my favorites.

The people are gems too. If there ever was a place where a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet can be true it is here. At the last hotel I was at, the land lady was running around like the pantry was on fire and she had run out of buckets but she still had time to ask me where I was from, how was I enjoying my holiday and passed the time about some going on in town. I checked into my room before she was satisfied with it and as I couldn’t see anything out of place I told her I didn’t see the point of her coming back for a vacuum and scrub, she rented me the suite of two bedrooms, bath, living room and kitchen for $110NZD or $80USD. I was expecting at least $150NZD… very nice place and cheerful lady. I took the last room available and I’m sure she could have charged me a premium as there were few rooms available in town with the sheep shearing competition going on.

There are few places that are truly remote though. You can get there if you try hard enough. If you are a back packer and expect to “tramp” for hours on end and at the end of the day set up a tent and eat freeze dried food and never see a soul for days on end, you can find it… do some research though. It is a small country and a good deal of it is farm land. The joke is that there are 4.9million people in New Zealand and 18million sheep. I suspect the sheep numbers are a bit low but there are also cattle and elk farms too. Generally if you like a drive in Napa or taking the back roads around the rural mid-west or eastern US then you’ll love NZ. If you want a back woods tramp look to the west coast and southern end of the South Island, bring deet… the sand flies are no joke. There are snow covered peaks and glaciers there for the extremists. Me personally, I like a leisurely walk in the pine forests, dipping a line on mountain run rivers, or a look at local wildlife along the beaches then stopping at a comfortable hotel at the end of the day but that’s me and I LOVE New Zealand.

To any who read these words of wit and decide to come I do see a few draw backs. If you wish to see the remote areas and especially the damp ones near rivers, glaciers or the beach then find some local bug repellent and use it frequently! I camped for a night on the Eslington River near Milford Sound and one night was all it took for over 100 sand fly bites. Sand flies are no joke… imagine Alaska mosquitoes only much, much worse. They leave an ungodly welt that itches for a week at least and there is nothing that will stop the itch for more than 20 minutes. The best course of action I’ve found is “Bushman’s” 80% deet, water resistant cream. Strip down to you jocks and put in on every inch of exposed skin… before you need it, reapply if they come close. Sand flies are about the size of a large flea. They’ll crawl under your shirt sleeves and bite through tee shirts, don’t mess around with them, they are the spawn of Satan. Second don’t be afraid to drive on the left side of the road and when you get used to the traffic circles and all the oddities of driving down her (speaking from experience, the locals are patient) get used to driving slow and going to bed early. Generally speaking restaurants are only open at proper eating times. For lunch that means from 11am until 1pm… then they close. For dinner 5pm is early… expect 6ish. There are snack joints that a tourist may not notice. If you are settling for a spell take a walk in the busier areas and see what place might be open when you want to eat. Pretty much everything is closed by 10pm. In the more metropolitan areas all of this is different but the country on the whole closes at 10pm. In the busy time of the year, say February, book rooms ahead if you can or stop early… say before 4pm. There are lots of tourists in certain areas and hotels can book up early. Don’t be afraid to stop at a backpacker or holiday park, if it looks like things are booking up go to an “I” site; they’ll hook you up with a room, a tour or a ferry. Don’t look there for a rental car though, sadly.

Come to New Zealand… you’ll love it.

That’s my two cents worth.

Take care.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea… to start, a little background.

On half of the island of New Guinea is Papua New Guinea the other half is part of Indonesia called Irian Jaya, now called West Papua. Back in the day of sail boats and Shoguns the area was called the Dutch East Indies; some parts were called the Spice Islands. It was originally “settled” by the Dutch and some German. Mt. Wilhelm will attest to that but I’m sure the locals have a different name for it. After World War II Australia took receivership and managed it until 1975 when they became independent.

The Dutch started plantations to farm Palm Oil, Coconuts and sugar cane and whatever else they could grow and sell. Then they found gold and other minerals and now oil and natural gas. As if things weren’t bad enough. The Dutch enslaved the locals as western countries at the time often did, the Australians weren’t much better. They had strong men that came around and kept order beating the hell out of the locals if they got out of line. One thing that can be said about that is that it did keep order. With over 800 different indigenous languages and tribes, many not far from the Stone Age, I can see their thinking. With the majority of the population earning $1.25/day theft is a way of life. As with many tribal societies… attack, butcher and steal is just another method of hunting and gathering.

World War II was fought on many of the islands here; the battle of the Coral Sea was fought nearby. A bloody fight for the Australians made Kokoda Trail and the fuzzy wuzzys famous. They still find crashed aircraft in the jungle, not long ago one was found near the capital with the crew’s remains still in it. Amelia Earhart was last seen leaving Lae, a WWII refuel depot. I met a local the first time I was here, 15yrs ago now; he said he’d rather eat the Japanese because white guys were too salty. Good to know.

Much of the coastal areas have had contact with the outside world for ages and have become more civilized. In the more remote areas, not so much. It is still reasonably common to hear of tribal skirmishes. Ten years ago it was bush knives and bows and arrows now axes and knives are still common but more and more it is becoming fire arms of one kind or another. Our biggest problem with theft is fuel, gaskets out of fuel hoses that they use for arm band or in their hair, and other small items. Of course, electronics are also nice too. I saw a guy walking down the road the other day with headphones on that were decorated with feathers and bits of grass. There was no cord on it nor did he have an MP3 player or anything to hook it to but apparently he thought he was the height of fashion.

The geography can be split into the highlands and the lowlands… clever enough. Ages ago in the Mezeowachingus era the Pacific plate jammed itself under its neighbor and created a huge ridge line… the crack opened up the area for volcanoes and viola… big honking mountains. I was at a rig sight a few years ago where this was obvious to the most casual observer. A nice gentle slope, broke to a steep cliff and the whole range looked like someone had pushed up ice in a driveway so that the steps and ridges were all visible. At the rig site there were shells and fossil all over the ground and this was around 2000ft. It was pretty interesting to wander around to see what you could find.

Apparently the sea floor is limestone because that is most of what the highlands are made of. Limestone isn’t especially durable, you can watch erosion here, buried water lines become uncovered in a few years, roads don’t hold up, gravel jobs wear out quickly and pot hole are epic. The plundering of the country doesn’t allow much outlay for infrastructure so there are few roads, fewer that are paved none that are reasonably maintained; airstrips are generally dirt or gravel and the most common mode of travel save foot or boat.

The population is Melanesian, a black Pacific race that populates the region from New Guinea in the west to Fiji to the south east. If I had to guess I would suspect that Polynesians came from Melanesian and Asia ancestors. The geography has isolated many tribes so that to this day there are some that haven’t seen white people and there are still rumors of cannibalism. I should note that cannibalism isn’t generally a food source but generally a superstitious belief of either keeping ancestors close or consuming an enemy’s power. Last tour a man was arrested for eating his toddler age step-child in a rumored witchcraft ceremony. He was obviously deranged but it goes to say something about superstitions here. Another village we stayed at we were warned to stay away from a certain tree because demons lived there.

Many airstrips were built by missions and missionaries. The Seventh Day Adventists seem to be the most common currently but there are also Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness and other mainstream religions. The country is predominantly Christian to one degree or another.

Flora is jungle. If you’ve ever seen jungle there isn’t much way of describing it to those that haven’t seen it. Starting from the top… trees, in the trees vines, on the ground more vines and shrubs, on everything mold or moss and everything is wet and every square inch is cover or will be soon. The mountains do get high enough for frost and snow; there is the only glacier in the South Pacific in Irian Jaya. I don’t know what grows up there.

Fauna includes some unique to Papua New Guinea, the Cassowary… a prehistoric bird about the size of an emu but having a bony ridge running down the top of its head. I believe the Bird of Paradise is also unique to PNG too and rare these days. We also have wild cockatoo’s, parrots, a bird they call a pigeon that is about the size of a chicken or duck. There is a tree kangaroo, or possum or cuscus depending on who you ask. Snakes… certainly have snakes. There is the Papuan Black, Brown and probably a few other colors. There is the Death Adder, Boa’s, tree snakes of different varieties. If you ask a local they are all deadly poisonous and commonly called the two steps… two steps and you’re dead. It’s not as bad as all that. The Death Adder certainly will do a number on you as will the Papuan Black and Tai Pan… not sure about the others, certainly not the boa. The death adder is interesting because it is sausage shaped and has a tiny thin tail that has spines on it that was rumored to be poisonous as well but isn’t the case.

Papua New Guinea is an interesting place really. The limestone erodes quickly like I said before and all the rain makes for land bridges and sink holes; rives will take crazy paths and sometimes disappear into the ground to come out miles out to sea. The ground is riddled with caves and underground streams. Rivers create great chasms between incredibly steep mountains. The wet season is signaled by rain firstly and the Forest Flame that burst into bloom.

The people, while primitive and often combative, laugh easily and quickly, are generally friendly after their suspicions are won over and ingenious in their use of the jungles around them. They are mostly the reason it is called “The Land of the unexpected?” Our cooks have mastered garnish; parsley or green onions as garnish to pineapple is pretty unexpected; women nursing pigs is pretty unexpected; stealing our gaskets and wearing them in their hair and arms is pretty unexpected; body odor, the norm… shocking with even the women.

If anyone wants to go… book a tour. It is still rather dangerous for single person travel most especially women. There is some amazing fishing too, for the adventurous. It is certainly off the beat

It’s a silly job but someone has to do it.