Friday, March 16, 2007

Greg Stathakis: Incident in Santa Barbara

Greg Stathakis of PNG Travel posts about an incident in Santa Barbara.

This blog contribution may be relevant to publicity regarding Papua New Guinea's crime and tribal fighting.

Crimes against tourists are rare in P.N.G., especially on an escorted trip with a reputable trip operator. We are forthright about discussing this in our pre-trip information.

This week I took my Mom for a leisurely lunch in downtown Santa Barbara. Afterwards, driving from the restaurant area , I noted an unusual number of teenagers and pre-teens in the streets. A van in front of us was moving slowly through the neighborhood and people were going up to it to shake hands with its occupants.

That day during lunchtime, in front of Saks Fifth Avenue in downtown Santa Barbara, a 15 year old boy was bludgeoned and fatally stabbed. Later in the day the van was identified as a vehicle possibly connected with the crime .

What made the impression especially disturbing is what followed that tragic event - the jubilation of the kids around the van in front of us.

I have watched documentaries depicting tribal battles and I have traveled through PNG almost 30 times. in as many years. Yet, I was sickened to witness, in "civilized" Santa Barbara, where I reside , a place never described as "primitive," - here in front of us was this most jubilant demonstration of an exalted state that follows tribal warfare.

Mary Jane, please post preceding on blog. Thanks, Greg

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Yes, More about Electricity

The lights stay on most of the time.

Considering the general lack of infrastructure and public services in Papua New Guinea, there are impressively few power outages and the ones that happen are relatively short. Many visitors say they have traveled in countries where the electricity is far less reliable.

Ambua Lodge in the Southern Highlands has its own hydro system. It generates all the power for the lodge. Surplus power heats water which is circulated under a section of the main lodge's tile floor to help heat the dining area.

Like many hydro set-ups, audible signals are used to monitor changes in Ambua's system. Guests socializing in the dining room before dinner, may hear a bell sounding from the kitchen. No, it's not the dinner bell, dinner at Ambua is announced by a drum beat. The bell is a signal that the hydro system is properly adapting to fluctuations at this time of high demand.

Down in the the East Sepik Province, the Sepik Spirit generates its own electricity to run everything on board. That includes the greatly appreciated air-conditioning system and bar coolers.

At the Highlander Hotel in Mount Hagen and at the Airways Hotel in Port Moresby, the electricity is supplied by the municipal power grids. Both of these hotels have generators to produce their own electricity if there is a local power failure.

Of course, travelers carry their own sources of light in case of a power outage or the opportunity for a night time stroll. Many are switching from flashlights to LED headlamps. The headlamps throw a bright light, are compact and those taking one AAA battery are remarkably lightweight. While LED lamps tend not to need frequent battery changes, you should bring one or two extras. Availability in parts of PNG is limited.

One more note about these headlamps, they are the ideal compromise for reading in bed when your room mate wants the lights off.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

240 Volts at 50 Hz and Type I Plugs

If you are planning to take a camera battery charger or anything else powered by electricity to Papua New Guinea, you may need some, if not all, of the following information:

1. The voltage is 240v
2. The frequency is 50hz
3. The wall plugs are Type I, the ones with diagonal pins, same as Australia's

To get a North Amercian plug into a Type I wall socket, you need a plug adaptor. The plug adaptor does not change the voltage. It merely allows you to plug your piece of equipment into the wall outlet and that can be a dangerous thing to do.

To avoid the snap, crackle and expletive of 120v gear, being "cooked" by 240v of electricity, you need either a step-down converter or step-down transformer. If you want to power something electronic, you will need a transformer. Transformers are usually more expensive than converters.

When not in use, transformers and converters should be unplugged from the socket to avoid risk of damage to them from unstable current.

If you are not completely confident about what you need and how to use it, I strongly recommend that you check with the shop where you purchased your equipment. They can advise about your specific needs. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover that your gear can operate on both North American 110V and 240v and that all you need is the plug adaptor.

When thinking about the equipment you will use, consider that there is a strict baggage weight limit of 22 pounds on flights within PNG. There will be more information on baggage limits in a future posting.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Photographer's Paradise

Papua New Guinea is paradise for a photographer. Surrounded by the photogenic, there is constant temptation to frame, focus and shoot.

The list of subjects is endless: painted faces, proud families, thatch-roofed villages, super-sized moths, morning mists, waterfalls, orchids, children....

Sing Sing dancers in their bilas are the most obvious and possibly the most exciting subject matter for photographers. Proud of their appearance and traditions, and pleased that visitors are interested, the dancers invariably and graciously agree to photographers' requests for one more shot.

In addition to the Sing Sing groups, a traveler's PNG album could include: bright green landscapes taken through aircraft windows, shadowy Spirit Haus interiors taken by invitation, hands weaving bush string bilums, villagers enjoying the Sing Sing. I'll stop this list here as I think I've made the point that PNG is seductive paradise for photographers.

Only those seeking a shot of a Bird of Paradise in the wild risk disappointment. Professional nature photographers spend weeks crouched behind blinds waiting to get shots for their natural history programs and publications. These professionals report that certain Birds of Paradise are among the world's most difficult wildlife to photograph.

Pack more film, memory cards and batteries than you think you will need. It would be a fluke to find those items in PNG.

If you use equipment that needs recharging, be sure you have the correct conversion equipment. I recall a traveler whose spouse forgot the transformer. His face looked like he'd bitten into a sour apple.

More information about electricity in PNG will be in a future posting.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Greg Stathakis: International Air

Greg Stathakis of PNG Travel posts about arranging air from USA to PNG:

People ask about how many clients I have escorted through PNG since 1978. Many hundreds of clients have bought our Highlands Festival trips and recently the only potentially frustrating part of the trip for travelers is arranging the international flights to and from PNG.

It's a long trip and there are travelers' options and preferences and brand allegiances to consider. Over the years, with the rise of online booking and the general decline in customer service, organizing the air to PNG has become a daunting task for some travelers.

After twenty-seven years, I've learned what kind of assistance is usually most helpful. Travelers' international air needs vary but here are some general approaches I take to easing the process:

Provide personalized advice for travelers, based on current direct booking and website specials.

Place conference calls with a chosen airline and traveler and, together, ask questions to help the traveler secure a good price and routing.

Recommend an airline ticket consolidator with proven experience in PNG arrangements.

Hold travelers' reservation on the highlands trips until their air travel is secured.

Advocate for travelers and respect their needs to use the airline which best serves them.

It should be noted that we do not sell or profit from international air tickets. We are without hidden loyalties. Our loyalty is to the travelers on our highland show trips.

Mary Jane, please post the preceding for me. Thanks, Greg

Monday, February 12, 2007

At the Show Grounds

There's a grassy area about the size of a football field and it will soon be pounded with more gusto than three NFL teams muster in five quarters of play.

The field's perimeter is lined with the curious, the excited, the anticipatory. Spectators have traveled along pathways, across rivers and over oceans. Most are there to celebrate their culture. We're there to marvel at the celebration.

One by one, the Sing Sing groups enter the field. They drum, chant and jump in a display of finery and athleticism. Rhythms, colours, it too far over the top to say, " a Super Bowl half time show on steroids"?

And we have the Hagen Show equivalent of box seats.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Heading to the Sing Sing

The organizing committee calls it The Mount Hagen Cultural Show. Tour operators call it the Highlands Show or the Cultural Festival. The highlanders call it The Sing Sing.

Beyond the major centres, few homes have electricity. Televisions, DVD players, satellite receivers and cable service are rare. The Hagen Sing Sing is a popular entertainment event as well as a traditional gathering.

Highlanders hike the trails from their villages to the road and catch a PMV to Mount Hagen for the show. PMVs are the not so rapid public transit of PNG. The vehicles used are customized trucks with benches bolted into the floor and a canvas awning lashed overhead.

Many of the highland roads are unpaved. Most are in poor repair. The PMVs are crowded. The journey may be bumpy and uncomfortable, but spirits are obviously high. Passengers join in chanting and singing as they travel towards Mount Hagen for Show Weekend.

Once in Hagen, out-of-towners usually stay in the homes of wantoks. Days are spent at The Sing Sing. Evenings are spent with family, telling stories and catching up on news.

While we will arrive by airplane and be accommodated in a hotel, we will share the exciting experience of The Sing Sing with the Highlanders.

Monday, February 5, 2007

PNG = Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is often called PNG.

If we started a list of other countries named with too many syllables to efficiently pronounce, we'd have USA, DR, BVI, RSA, UK. There must be more.

Port Moresby, the capital of PNG, is often called POM.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Well Traveled

"Well Traveled", I used that term in the post below. Mike, my husband, asked me to define it.

Well now, what did I mean by "well traveled"?

Mike reminds me that an impressive number of travelers we met in Papua New Guinea had been to both Antarctica and the Amazon before exploring Papua New Guinea. They were obviously well traveled.

We met an equally impressive number of travelers who had been to more than 100 countries and were members the Century Club of Travelers. And yes, they were obviously well traveled.

And there was that solo traveler, a flight attendant with a major American airline, who told us she and colleagues were competing to see who could travel to the most countries within a set period of time. Their criteria for being able to say they had "been" somewhere was to do two of the following three: drink a beer, spend US$100, have sex.

The charming flight attendant told us she had drunk a lot of beer and spent a lot of money in her quest to win the competition. And yes, she was obviously well traveled.

Am I well traveled? I've done my share of traveling but I haven't yet been to Antarctica or the Amazon. Membership in the Century Club will surely remain beyond my reach in part because I tend to go back to places I like. And I'd never do well in that flight attendant's competition as I like to travel slowly enough to savour a place.

So I'm not sure if I'm well traveled but I certainly know I like to travel well. And that doesn't answer Mike's request to define "well traveled". Comments would be helpful here.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Three of the 1000 Places

Visitors to Papua New Guinea tend to be well-traveled. One of the genuine pleasures of living there was meeting people who had been to the world's most exotic and exciting destinations. They almost always placed Papua New Guinea at or near the top of their best travel experiences.

Many of those travelers seemed to have enough experience to write a book like the New York Times best seller: 1,000 Places to See Before You Die--A Traveler's Life List by Patricia Schultz. Widely available in bookshops, gift shops and travel supply stores, this book sits on the shelves of countless active and armchair travelers.

As you probably know, the popular book lists and briefly describes a wide range of not-to-be-missed places from around the world. I count 189 places in the United States, forty-eight in France, twenty-two in Australia, eight in Fiji and an impressive three in Papua New Guinea.

Those three places in Papua New Guinea are: Ambua Lodge, Sepik Spirit and The Highland Sing-Sing Festival in Mount Hagen..all are on the classic Mount Hagen Cultural Show itineraries.


Night Skies

There's a full moon tonight, reminding me to check and see if there might be one during our Mount Hagen Highlands Show itinerary.

It looks like we'll be ahead of it. The itinerary ends on August 21 and the full moon is on August 28. So, we won't have moonlit nights but we will have starry ones.

I'm looking forward to those black velvet and diamond night skies. I'm not an astronomer, not even an amateur one, but I do enjoy a night sky unpolluted by artificial lights from cities, highways and ski slopes.

By the way, I saw on the Internet that there will be a lunar eclipse visible in the Southern Hemisphere on August 28. Travelers who plan to spend time in Australia after Papua New Guinea may see it.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mount Hagen Highlands Show Tour -- August, 2007

A new year brings a new project. I have been asked to escort a group of travelers to Papua New Guinea and the itinerary is la creme de la creme of Papua New Guinea itineraries: The Mount Hagen Highlands Show Tour--August 9 to 21.

Yes, we're going to the Mount Hagen Sing Sing and the land of the Huli and the Sepik area and, and, and.... Yes, it's going to be a trip, a memorable trip.

This blog is intended to inform travelers about travel in Papua New Guinea with emphasis on The Highlands Show Tour. I will write it from the perspective of the escort, a different perspective than most travel blogs.

Thanks to Greg Stathakis for tapping me on the shoulder and suggesting the time is right for me to escort this group. Greg has been taking travelers to Papua New Guinea for twenty-seven years. He is escorting a group to Papua New Guinea in May and I am honoured to escort his August Mount Hagen Highlands Show Tour.

On with this blog. I'm new to this form of communication. I thank Susan, my friend and fellow adventurer, for nudging me along on another learning curve.

The itinerary for The Mount Hagen Highlands Show Tour, images and bilums full of comments and observations will follow.

copyright (c) 2007 - 2011 Mary Jane Murray