Sunday, April 26, 2009

Brian's new hobby

Ok, here’s a photo of the real reason that we went to Lae (not the hamburgers we wrote about in our last post, though those were good too). Brian and I have been praying about buying a vehicle – a good, rugged four-wheel drive jungle machine. But cars are a lot more expensive here, so a new Landcruiser with a snorkel and winch (Brian’s dream car) was definitely out of the question. And as for used cars, they tend to be very, very used. Every time we saw a vehicle advertised that looked like a good prospect, it just didn’t work out. Either someone bought it before we could look at it, or, in one case, the owner (a Papua New Guinean) suddenly had a family emergency and had to quit his job, pack up the truck, and move back to the village!

But then we heard about this truck, which was being sold by another mission. It looked like just what we wanted. I told Brian to call on it, just for fun, because I was sure that it was out of our price range. We were surprised to hear that not only was it reasonably priced, but that it was also still available. We arranged a quick trip to Lae, praying that if it was not the right one for us that the door would be closed. But everything went smoothly. The owners tried to show Brian the interior first, but he went straight for the hood, because that was what he cared about. After crawling around on the ground and peering at the car’s underbelly and insides, he liked what he saw, so we took it for a test drive. The next day, we were headed home with our new vehicle. Brian drove our new truck home, and I followed him in the rented van, which was nerve-wracking for me, because it was my first time driving on the highway in PNG, and I was in the car alone to boot.

Brian is happy because when a mechanic is without a vehicle, all is not right with the world. Now he has a hobby – something he can spend his free time fixing and maintaining and lovingly washing on the weekends. And I’m happy because I can drive when it’s pouring rain, and it’s a reliable truck that can take us out to the village, saving hundreds of dollars that we would have spent on renting a vehicle.

For those of you who care about such things, I’ll let Brian give you some technical details below. If that’s not your cup of tea, you can stop reading here.

The truck is a Mitsubishi L200, but in some countries of the world it is also known as a Triton. What year is it? Well we are not exactly sure, it is either a 2000 or a 2001 (both the seat belts and engine say 2000, but the paper work says it was originally bought in 2001). In PNG the year of a vehicle is not that important, because they don’t change everything each year like they do back in America. The cars they sell here look exactly the same year after year, in fact they sell brand new 2009 Ford F250’s here that look an awful lot like a 2002 model and they come with inline six diesel engines and not Powerstoke V-8’s. Anyway back to our truck. It is right had drive (so in America it would make it easy to deliver the mail), has a 2.8L four cylinder diesel engine that is naturally aspirated (no turbo charger), five speed manual transmission, four-wheel drive, limited-slip differential, mud terrain tires, independent front suspension, AM/FM stereo, brush guard, already stained seats, rubber flooring, scratches in the paint and a canvas cover for the frame on the back so that our cargo stays dry as we are out and about PNG. What is doesn’t have is A/C, CD player, MP3 port, power anything (that’s just more stuff to break), and GPS. In PNG it is all about functionality and reliability over shiny wheels or loud speakers. There were a few little things that had to be taken care of once we arrived back into Ukarumpa (new front shocks, front sway bar bushings and an oil change), but nothing a seasoned mechanic in the backwoods of PNG couldn’t handle. All in all it should be a good truck and we are excited about the adventures that we will have in it, or at least driving to hamburger night at the Teen Center when it is raining.

Friday, April 17, 2009

This is why you go to Lae

I am completely worn out from a quick trip to Lae with Brian. Lae is a big port city about three hours’ drive from where we live. Brian and I drove down yesterday, spent the night, and then came back this afternoon.

If you want to snorkel and lay on the beach, you go to Madang. But if you want good shopping and good restaurants, you go to Lae. Here is a picture that is worth a thousand words – “the Lot” burger at the Lae Yacht Club.

The actual burger is small and hidden in the enormous, delicious bun, but with all the lettuce, tomato, cheese, fried egg, bacon and beetroot, you don’t mind that so much. The Yacht Club offers a peaceful covered verandah to dine in, overlooking a muddy harbor and a small collection of very expensive boats. The food is great, but the price is even better – 14 kina ($4.80) for the burger, fries and a drink. Unless you’ve been living in PNG for at least 8 months like we have, I doubt you can fully grasp how wonderful this lunch was.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Things I never thought I'd see in PNG

Several people have asked us what things were we surprised to see when we came to PNG or Ukarumpa.  A lot of things we have seen we kind of expected or we weren’t too surprised about, but big trampolines were never even on our radar.  Now you might be wondering if they sell them here and the answer is no, but there are many of them here in Ukarumpa.  Our friends the Weavers shipped theirs over from the U.S. as a surprise Christmas present for their four kids and they tell us that hardly a day goes by that it is not in use.  Well as you can see Susan and I got some use out of it too, when after an Easter brunch we took our turn bouncing up and down with the kids.



Saturday, April 11, 2009

Land of the Unexpected

Yesterday I (Brian) had the opportunity to take a road trip to Goroka, a town about one and a half hours from here.  Riding with me was my friend Aaron, and our mission - to pick up and man and his wife who were visiting from Australia.  It was their first time in PNG and their first time coming here to Ukarumpa.  Aaron was their contact person, but since he didn’t feel comfortable driving here, he asked me to do the honors.  I said sure, as I am also looking for a chance to get out and about in PNG and have an adventure.


We left Ukarumpa about 8:30 in the morning and traveled up the highway.  The road was good and the sun was shining and it was turning into a beautiful day to go for a drive.  Upon arriving in Goroka, we headed to the airport.  Now the Goroka airfield is really small.  There is one runway and really only one terminal for the main carrier here in PNG, but this couple was traveling on a smaller airline.  We asked around to find out where we should be waiting, but no one was very helpful in directing us.  Finally we found someone knowledgeable and they told us to just go to the other side of the terminal of the big airline.  We did, but it was just a parking lot with some businesses that were closed for the holiday.  Aaron finally walked around a bit and found that there was a little sidewalk that went between two buildings and then led you out to the tarmac.  Out on the tarmac we saw a lady who had a bright yellow vest on with the name of the airline we were looking for.  We approached her and asked if we were in the correct spot and she said yes.  In fact, she said that the airline we were waiting for didn’t have an office in Goroka, and she was the representative.  She was the ground crew, ticket agent, and baggage handler.  We sat and waited for a while chatting it up with her while waiting for the plane to arrive and found out that her husband is a helicopter inspector and he had actually been to Oregon to do an inspection on some helicopters that were coming to PNG.  I told her that was where I was from and that she told me how beautiful the place was (she’d seen postcards that her husband brought home.)


Finally, the plane arrived, and we watched as all six or so passengers got off the plane – but none of them were white except the pilot, and he got back on the plane and took off!  Where was the couple that we came to fetch?  This is where the day got interesting.  We didn’t know where they had gone, so Aaron whipped out his cell phone and we starting calling people trying to figure it out.  This was about 11:30am.  We knew the couple had been dropped off at the airport in Madang, but after that no one knew.  We decided to go find lunch while we waited for someone to call us back with a number for the airline.  Yellow-vest-lady told us that the flight we had seen come and go was the only one of the day and the next flight was going to be coming in a week.


After lunch we still didn’t know where our people were at.  We headed back to the airport to see if we could find anyone who might be able to help us and we were also determined not to leave Goroka until we knew what had happened to them.  As we got the airport we decided to go check a couple of smaller hangers down from the main terminal.   Since there was road construction going on we could not drive down the main road outside the fence so we talked to the security people at the fence and they let us into the airport and said there was a car road inside the fence that we could drive down.  We didn’t realize that the car road was a little two track through the grass next to the fence so we drove out to the airplane taxi way and just drove down that.  Honestly I could hardly believe that they just let us drive wherever we wanted in the airport.  I guess they aren’t as paranoid here as they are back home.  We did find a few people working at some of the smaller hangers, but no one could give us any information.


We drove back up to the main terminal for commercial flights and just waited were the airplanes parked, figuring that if we were sitting next to the runway we couldn’t miss seeing any airplanes that came in.  Nothing came!  Finally Aaron’s wife called and told us that the couple were on a flight that was supposed to stop off in Goroka on its way to Mt. Hagen, but because it was late leaving Madang they just decided to skip the stop off in Goroka!  She then gave us the phone number for the airport in Mt. Hagen and we called there.  They told us the plane was due to land in 10 minutes and Aaron told them that if there were any white people on the plane at they couldn’t let them leave the airport until they called us!  We waited about 15 minutes and called back and Aaron got our wayward passenger on the phone.  He said that he and his wife were fine and that the airline was refunding their money, but now they were stuck in Mt. Hagen (about a three hour drive past Goroka if the road is good, which it isn’t).  The airline put them up at a nice hotel and we headed back to Ukarumpa.


In the morning we had to charter a plane from Ukarumpa to go to Mt. Hagen and get the couple.  All ended well and now they are here, but for a day that we thought would just be a quick run to the airport and back ended up taking all day and we still never did pick up our people.  I guess that is why they call PNG the Land of the Unexpected.  You just never know what is going to happen next.

Friday, April 10, 2009


When I got home from buying veggies at the market this morning, Brian asked me if I’d felt the earthquake.  No, I didn’t feel anything, I replied.


Earthquakes are pretty common here, though they are usually small.  Often you won’t feel them if you’re not inside a building.  The first time I felt an earthquake was while we were at POC.  Coming from Colorado and never having experienced one before, I ran outside the building onto the lawn, thinking that maybe the dorm building would collapse.  Nowadays, I usually just sit still and wait for them to finish.  The earthquake this morning was pretty small, since I didn’t even notice it, but last Monday we had a decent one – magnitude 4.8.


Apparently before we came they did have a larger one that damaged a lot of the metal rain tanks on center.  When we first moved into our house here, Brian was annoyed because the sliding bolt on the back door didn’t line up and we couldn’t lock the door.  He carefully adjusted the piece on the door jamb so that it locked beautifully – that is, until our next earthquake. Now it doesn’t lock again.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Eulogy for my Chacos

Alas – the end is near…for my favorite sandals.  I knew that the tread was almost worn down completely.  I knew that the straps were beginning to fray.  But yesterday, as I was sitting in a meeting and absentmindedly pondering my muddy feet (it’s a condition they are often in here in Ukarumpa.  Dirt roads+rain+sandals = muddy feet), I was dismayed to see that the sole of one of my sandals has actually begun to split open.


These aren’t just any sandals.  If I remember correctly, I bought them in 2003.  I wore them every single day of the two months I was in Indonesia.  They were my favorite summer footwear in the States for 6 years.  They have traveled with me across 5 countries.  But their glory days have come to an end.


I’ll probably still keep wearing them until they fall apart completely.  Luckily, I had the foresight to know that this time was coming, so last year I bought a replacement pair of Chacos.  But I’ll still miss my red ones.