PNG, Here I Come

Posted: May 7, 2008    Categories: Melanesia, Papua New Guinea

My tickets are booked and everything is ready to go for my excursion to PNG (Papua New Guinea). Researching this trip has been very different than any of the other places I’ve researched so far.

There are parts of PNG which are for all practical purposes no different than they were 1,000 years ago. This places it in a different category from any place I’ve been to date. PNG is one of the most rural countries in the world with 85% of the population living outside of cities. Most of that 15% is in Port Moresby.

In researching what to do and where to go online, I’ve found a real dearth of information compared to what I’m used to, especially for the highland areas. There are plenty of resorts around the coastal areas, but most of the highland information I’ve found consists of “hire a guide” and the prices are really expensive. In fact, getting prices for a single night in the Port Moresby area seems more expensive than Sydney or Tokyo.

I’ve often found the best advice comes from people on the ground who have been to the places you’re going. Once you get in a region, you discover more information about a place. The universal message I’ve gotten from everyone I have spoken to, including people from PNG, is to be very very careful, especially in Port Moresby and other towns. My “travelers sense” tells me that PNG might be the most dangerous place I’ve visited so far.

The danger is mostly just street crime. I have yet to read anything about political violence or widespread violent movement beyond some inter village skirmishes. As I understand it, there are roving bands of young men who have no compulsion to prey on outsiders. The most common adjective I’ve seen for hotels in the Port Moresby area was “secure”. The advice I was given was to get to your hotel, then stay put.

It is hard to make decisions about a place before you get there. Most of the rumors and stories you hear usually aren’t true. Then again, some places just are dangerous. While I am willing to take reasonable risks, there are some risks which are just stupid. I am often asked if I plan on visiting Iraq or Afghanistan. The answer is “no, not anytime soon”. I would be happy to visit Iran, North Korea or Cuba, but would not want to visit out of control places like Somalia.

The closest thing I have to compare to PNG has been the Solomon Islands. One woman I spoke to said that Honiara was 5x safer than Port Moresby, and while I never felt in any danger in the Solomons, Honiara is a far cry from Tokyo and was the location of a lot of violence several years ago.

So we’ll see how it goes. I’m sure I’ll get comments from people who have been to PNG who will say “it’s fine” and others who will say “be careful”. I’ll err on the side of caution. My current plans are pared down a bit from my original ones, but I hope it will still be a pretty good experience.

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