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.

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