It was four in the morning, we had already dismissed our alarms before they could go off. Feeling surprisingly clear and awake thanks to the jetlag, we moved our belongings out of our room to prepare for pick-up. For the first time in our lives, the taxi we had ordered came half an hour earlier. Albert, the driver, simply smiled and said, “thought I would give you some extra time in case you decided you wanted to leave earlier”. Shortly after 5 am, Albert deposited us at the Helifax terminal, a small area next to the international airport where domestic helicopter and airplane flights came through. Behind a sliding metal gate there was a courtyard with a raised wooden platform and chairs facing a TV screen, two men stood waiting here with reggaeton music playing from a cell phone. Further down stood a large rusty weighing scale in front of a simple wooden cabin that represented the check-in and customs office. At the end of the courtyard was another gate that separated us from the airfield. We could see helicopters and propeller planes lined up, and our excitement grew as we tried to guess which one would be taking us. A couple of hours of waiting later – serves us right for arriving early – the staff arrived to check everyone in. Check-in involved copying out our names from our passports, weighing our baggage, and then ourselves. “Ok, but I am wearing my heavy hiking boots…just so you all know!” Lina threw over her shoulder as she stepped up onto the scale.
The Helifax terminal
With the check-in completed we were herded back to the wooden platform to watch a safety video. One generic video later, we were feeling ready for any emergency that might occur during the flight. We received our boarding passes, small pieces of paper with our name and seat number penned onto them, and finally boarded a little propeller plane.
The flight was truly majestic. Apart from a short period of cloud cover, we spent the entire flight looking out over the land below us. Vast expanses of jungle stretched out before our eyes. Ribbons of brown winding rivers broke up the sea of green, and every once in a while a secluded group of huts could be seen peeking through the trees. Looking out of the plane windows, we could see how sparsely populated the large expanses of jungle were.
In the distance a larger clearing slowly came into sight. A small runway lined by the seemingly never ending jungle on one side, and a wide brown river on the other. The pilot slowly descended and expertly touched down. Our bags were thrown out of the front of the plane and, after a short wait, we were driven a whole hundred metres with our luggage to the river. There, we descended a rickety set of metal stairs set into the muddy embankment and boarded our next majestic vessel. A small plastic dinghy with a 25hp engine on the back.
During the ride we were further introduced to the beauty of the country. The wide river was lined at both sides by lush green vegetation. As Lina said, “you realize people normally pay a lot of money for something like this?” It did still feel a bit surreal to finally be here, so we spent the next 3 hours on our way to Kapuna taking it all in.
What we learned:
- PNG taxi drivers are apparently the only taxi drivers in the world to arrive before the agreed upon time.
- If you are white, a 3 hour boat ride in PNG will (there is no maybe here) burn you. Even if it is cloudy. Don’t just rely on sunscreen. Use sunblock, or cover all that fragile fluorescent skin to protect it. Just ask Sebo’s forehead.
- PNG has a lot of beautiful lush jungle, who knew.