Dancing With the Boys PNG
There is a valley way up in the wild highlands of Papua New Guinea which existed for thousands of years in complete isolation. It is named Porgera. The people who live there are called Engans, and with their distinct yellow/brown skins are an intriguing mystery, in this small country that has 1/6 of Earth’s known languages!
3,000 years ago they had water irrigation channels, (well before much of Europe), yet for all those centuries while the rest of our planet was inventing the wheel, vehicles, electricity and aeroplanes … Engans kept on building the exact same thatched houses, planting the same staple foods, fighting the same bow and arrow wars with hostile neighbours, and singing the same ancient songs. Their first tentative contact with the entire outside world, was with some Australian explorers in 1930 … World War II missed them completely … as did any inkling of things such as newspapers, horses, boats, or TV. Then, while the West was flying men to the moon, Missionaries finally wandered in … a rough dirt track followed them in 1972 … then 20 years later, prospectors found the curse of the Incas, gold!
So now, here I am with some mates, building a mine.
This mine site is so high in the mountains, there is a strange paradox. We’re on the Equator, yet it is cold, with air so thin we get sunburn from uv rays. Anyway we have helicopters, and live in a new camp with showers and three course meals.
We’re also supposed to stay in here at night, locked behind security fences … but that’s not very exciting … so one evening I jump in the back of a passing truck with some New Guinea workers, and clear out into the hills. Away we go, bumping and lurching along a little dirt track that climbs ever higher into rainforest and clouds.
The last glimmers of sunset fade out, and I’ve not the faintest idea where we are going. Eventually our truck rattles out of the jungle into a small clearing. We climb out and look around. There are a few thatched houses, a wooden Trade Store, 50 or so locals standing around, while from inside a large tin shed, can be heard the spluttering of an electric generator, accompanied by a strange version of modern pop music? This sure is tantalising, so I follow the locals and squeeze through a heavily chained door into the shed.
The scene inside is, um, unusual. There are a few planks along one wall for seats, two blokes with electric guitars up front, and one single solitary light bulb dangling over a bare dirt floor. There’s also about 100 New Guinea men (not a woman in sight) and the moment guitars start playing, they all start leaping and bounding around in the most spectacular fashion. They’re having a ball, so as when in Rome do as the Romans do … I join right in. It’s great fun, and, being the only white person present, have to keep up the status of Aussies, by trying to outleap and outbound them all … but one problem, the air up here is so thin that in no time flat I’m reeling back, gasping for breath. Yet can’t sit down, because straight away here’s another tribesman wants to out-dance me, and to refuse would be a mortal sin. Yegads, oh boy what a night. Right up there with the very best old lumberjack parties, Cossack vodka riots, or hillbilly hoot-n-stomps. Till finally at two in the morning, the generator quits and we stagger outside, utterly exhausted. There’s only one slight problem … our truck has gone!
Struth it’ s a long way home, but work starts at 6am, so 10 of us tramp off, following the dirt track down through drifting fog. Talk about surreal scenes, this one takes the cake. Glimmers of moonlight illuminate lonely thatched huts, each one heavily fortified by sharpened timber poles. One side of the track falls away down though mist into bottomless ravines, while eerie sounds screech out from deep in the jungle.
Ever on and downwards we walk, until I notice most of our group have quietly dropped back! Then the only one still up front with me stops, and refuses to go any further. I ask in Pigeon English
“Trabel, plenti man algeta dai long dis ples. Em dai pinis. Na dispela savvy stap.”
(Trouble, lots of men have died here, that’s why the others have stopped.)
Umm, this sure don’t look too good … but just then a truck full of tribesman roll out of the night, pause, and haul us up in the back with them. These are not mine workers, they are the real item – traditional village men wearing string aprons front and back; bodies polished with pig fat, and adorned with feathers – who are travelling to another village … and as the first trace of dawn draws us from the clouds, they start singing.
… and what a song – ohh boy, to be way up here in remote moonlit mountains, with 20 wild, free men singing their hearts out in an evocative song from untold ages past. To be here in an enigmatic land that was old when ours was young – to be with tribesmen wearing the same loin cloths, feathers and pig fat as their ancestors did eons ago … is quite something. Then a mental jolt to glimpse lights twinkling down below from a modern mine site.
To be in remote untamed mountain, immersed in a vibrant culture, enfolded in an ancient song … and then to look out from this into another with electricity, radios, helicopters and telephones … two worlds 3,000 years apart … existing together in this same valley … is to marvel at how strange and varied this Earth of ours really is.
“I’ll Die For The Revolution .. but ..” Bolivia
Myself and two mates were in Peru, waiting to explore Bolivia, but the border was closed due to one of their frequent mini revolutions.
Bus loads of white faced tourists were streaming past, their glazed eyes staring out of smashed windows – then suddenly it came over the radio – the border was open again. We hightailed it down there, got our passports stamped at an Army checkpoint and went to walk ahead..when the guard rushed out and called us back.
“What’s wrong ?”
“You can’t go any further up this road.”
“Why not, you’ve just ok’d our passports ?”
“Yes, but we’re only the Army, the people still have not opened the road.”
Oh well, it’d be interesting to see all this drama, so we walked on. The road was littered with rocks and broken glass, and then here it was, a metre high stone barricade blocking off any passage.
Only thing was, there was not a single person manning this fortification. So we simply strolled around it, found a cow path off to one side, and wandered down to Lake Titicaca that way.
Can you guess the reason why?
Yes … it was siesta time!
“I will die for the revolution … but don’t be silly, I’m not going to miss siesta”
The Accountant .. three times Berlize
There is a tiny country in Central America called Berlize.
I was staying at a small Guesthouse there, and over a beer or four asked the owner how he ended up here ?
We will call him Taffy..and here is his reply.
“Way back I was head Roadie for a very famous UK rock n roll band. The best thing about them was they never traveled. So us Roadies would just go to the Pub every day, then collect a pay check at the end of each week.
But one day we got a new Accountant.
He called me in and asked..”
“What do you guys actually do?”
“We are the Bands’ Roadies.”
“But the Band never travel.”
“Yes, however we are always ready if they want to.”
He looked at his fingernails for a bit, then said ..
“Taffy, here’s the deal, either you lot go to another band, or you’re all sacked.”
“The other band sounds good.”
So next thing you know we are Roadies for “The Who”.
and they did travel
Straight away we are all on a flight to Australia. Everyone is pissed, our drummer kicks something over, and sets his aisle on fire..the crew freak out, and this 747 wheels away for an emergency landing in Singapore.
When we got back the Accountant called me in for the 2’nd time.
“Taffy, did anything happen on the trip out to Australia?”
“We left London and landed in Sydney”
“What about Singapore?”
“Ohh, yes..Singapore, why?”
“I’ve just received a massive bill from British Airways for the emergency landing of a Jumbo Jet.”
“Well, I got out of that, but “The Who” were playing a big gig in Italy, it was going to finish late..so I asked the catering folk to hide a meal in a special place for me. The show did go late, but when I looked for my hidden meal, here was some woman eating the lot !”
“Aggh I’m tired, hungry, and here’s a bloody bimbo scoffing my special meal. Oh boy I went for her. You xx groupie..you xx low life wretch .ya not only want to drink our free grog, but now you are stealing my food, ya friggin brainless bimbo, so and so. Oh lad, I sure did give it to her”
“Back in the UK, our Accountant called me in for the third time.”
“Taffy, tell me exactly what you said .. to Princess Caroline of Monaco ?”
.. “ so that is why I am here in Berlize.”