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A nowhere existence

india Updated: Jun 09, 2010 01:32 IST
Hindustan Times
Papua New Guinea

What is it like to live in a far-off place most of us see only on a vacation? Justin Friend, 40, is programme manager of Orion Expeditions Cruises, overseeing shore operations for its adventure-ship cruises in East Asia and Oceania. Friend, an Australian, divides his time between homes in Sydney and the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Papua New Guinea has a reputation for being remote. How far can you drive from the capital, Port Moresby, before you're in the wild?
Not far at all — less than half an hour. One can’t drive far from there in a car. The sea expeditions don’t go near there; we’re based in Cairns, Australia. While Port Morseby is in the wrong corner of New Guinea. When our ship comes up from Australia, we go north, east and north again.

Your house there — where is it and how do you get there?
It is right in the centre of the island — on its spine. The highest point on the island is Mount Wilhelm; and my house is on the side of the mountain. It is in a village in the middle of nowhere, pretty much in the jungle. To get there from Cairns, I’d fly for an hour and a half to Port Moresby. Then fly another hour to the provincial capital, Kundiawa. Then it is a five-hour drive. The roads are terrible — just bush tracks, and there are several months a year when you can’t get through.

How did you end up there?
I married a girl from here, now my ex-wife. She is a Papua New Guinean. I met her there and decided to stick around. Most of her people speak their own language, called Kuman, or even pidgin.

Do you have radio? TV? What do you do all day there?
Only my cell phone, and that is just within the last 12 months. There’s no TV, radio and electricity. We work in the garden, go fishing, hunting or collect firewood. It is hard to explain, but there’s always something to do.

Have aspects of the indigenous culture survived?
Absolutely. The entire country may align with one religion or another, but there are ancestors hanging around behind it. Before I got married, we had to go up to a cave where all the village ancestors are buried. It was where their spirits reside. This can be the case on a business level. We visit a village on our 2012 expedition; you have to have a sacred men’s ceremony and actually get permission from ancestral spirits to get the okay for travellers to go there. It’s too big a decision for a chief to make on his own.