Papua New Guinea, the country known as the Land of Unexpected, is located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. Port Moresby also known as Pom City is the capital and the largest city of Papua New Guinea. The city is situated on the eastern shore of Port Moresby off the Gulf of Papua, on the south-west coast of the Papuan Peninsula of the island of New Guinea. It is located about 100 miles on the northern tip of Australia. Port Moresby, has been growing rapidly since gaining independence in 1975 and it is the fastest growing city in the Pacific. With over 800 different languages, it makes this country one of the most unique, yet diverse place on earth to visit. Though English is commonly spoken throughout the country, the two main languages – tok Pidgin and Motu is widely spoken daily among the people.
Port Moresby’s charm lies in the diversity of its cultures and the distinct features of the people. From the highlands up in the mountains to islands of pristine beaches to coastal areas of the country, brings diversity and uniqueness.
I returned to Port Moresby, the city where I grew up to visit families and some of the familiar places around Port Moresby after spending many years away from the country. Flying into Port Moresby’s Jacksons international airport from Australia, I was both anxious and nervous. I was excited and looking forward to seeing all my immediate and extended families. However, on the other end, I was nervous and petrified about visiting the place. The social media highlight the negative news about the country and potrayed as how dangerous the place is. Yes, if I rely purely on social media, it was easier for me to form a wrong impression about Port Moresby and the country as a while. In reality, I wanted to return to see what life is like in the land of the unexpected
Arriving in Port Moresby, as soon as I stepped out of the Jackson’s International terminal, I went straight onto my waiting vehicle, surrounded and greeted by family members which was very welcoming. From there, I took an opportunity to ventured through some of the city’s main roads and suburban streets. Driving along the city’s main road and streets, every street corners were packed with street vendors. Whether it was in front of their residence, public bus-stops, front of the major shopping centres or along the busy main streets, they were visibly seeing everywhere and virtually selling anything to make a living. It was a common scene in every street corners and it can be over-whelming if your visiting for the first time in the area.
Betel nut, one of the major thing that is virtually sold everywhere by street vendors is a nut which many locals chew. It is a drug and can become very addictive. Being aware of the risks, chewing betel nut was not on my bucket-list. I was warned by families that visiting public betel nut markets alone was highly unsafe and tourists or expatriate are most vulnerable. I was recommended to go with family members as public markets, especially in Port Moresby were quite dangerous. The local betel nut chewers tends to be careless when spitting betel nut juice.
Despite Parliament passing the amended Summary Offences Acts which prohibits selling, buying and chewing of betel nut, it has not solved the underlying problem. As I ventured further into the streets of Port Moresby, the streets and footpaths are stained by the blood red spittle that chewing produces and discarded husks clog the gutters. It was quite an eye sore and a very unpleasant introduction to the city.
The city of Port Moresby is one of the most populous places in the country and in the Pacific Islands. Within few hours of exploring the area, I began to find that the city has an image problem, with a firmly entrenched reputation as a violent and dangerous place. I found the streets to be unsafe to walk on and venturing out alone was basically taking my life in my hands. It is full of contradiction and pain. It is a place of wonder, fear, sorrow and neglect, considering hope. The country’s capital bursts with humanity on every street or corner I passed. I could virtually see it all there – poverty, wealth, good, bad, happy, sad, beauty and tragedies.
The more I began to explore, I noticed that behind the beautiful, lavish parts of Port Moresby lies the most abject poverty imaginable. Nothing could prepare me for the stark reality of desperation, misery and despair of walking through a real live slum in the heart of country’s capital. Sometimes the most severe poverty was hidden behind the walls and within the confines of a slum. Other times, it was just starring right back at me like a hard slap across my face. I tried to look away, and ignore the creeping, uncomfortable nagging guilt. But I couldn’t.
These scenes may be a tourist delight but taking time to explore and talking with the locals on the street, I have found that it was expensive, dangerous ( or so many expats will tell you) and not easily walkable. It was easy for me to see why many visitors are tempted to spend as little time here as possible, unless they have a friend or family connection in the city. I found the local people in Port Moresby probably through out the whole country tend to sit on the ground and watch the world go by when they have nothing to do. It was quite intimidating for me as I was already semi-paranoid about rascals pounding on me any minute.
Beneath this heart-breaking struggle and despair, local people are charming and kind-hearted people once you leave the suburban/urban lifestyle. They are happy and photogenic with beautiful smiles whenever they see someone with a camera. I found that, once you get to know them, they immediately consider you like a brother or sister and are always willing to help out whenever you need assistance. However, like most areas, precaution, self-awareness and slef-alert were my first priority in every location I visited for my own safety. This charming lifestyle brought back past way of life that I once knew and I felt safe in every street corners I wandered around.
Port Moresby, like most part of the country is home to tight-knit communities, where everyone knows everyone. One of the thing, visitors need to know about life in PNG, is the people are friendly, relaxed and have a strong sense of community.
I originally coming from the country background, I have learnt to accept and become aware of how people in Port Moresby enjoying a slower pace where lifestyle is prioritised. Many really embrace the challenge of saving cash as families and extended families live in same household. I have noticed that this really make an impact on their lives. Every circumstance is different in every household but understanding life in this country is keeping an open mind and seeing and eveluating things from different perspective.
WHERE TO STAY?
There are various types of accommodations in the area ranging from resorts, hotels and private accommodations. However, it is highly expensive to stay in all accommodations. Safety is a major issue but staying in resorts or hotels are safe as they are guarded by securities constantly.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO?
With the unattractive side to the city, there is Port Moresby’s charms that reveal themselves. There is no shortage of social activities in Port Moresby. Many locals enaged in many sporting activities but for many expatriates, they tend to spend their weekends on sailing or fishing, playing tennis or squash game or even running groups.
It is commong for locals, which they prefer to wander around the area with smiling places but for travellers, it it worth visiting the local markets and museums with locals as your guides.
However, other places worth visiting includes:
* Parliament Haus (National Parliament): It is modelled in the style of a Sepik spirit house – “haus tambaran”. It is set in some beautiful and very carefully landscaped gardens.
* A superb National Museum and Art Gallery: This superb museum, beautifully remodelled for the country’s 40th anniversary of independence is the best introduction you can get to Papua New Guinea’s rich indigenous culture.
* Port Moresby’s Nature Park: This is an island of calm. Located not far from the University of Papua New Guinea is this 2km of walkways thread under and through the jungle canopy, with well-maintained gardens displaying both local and exotic plants species, including native and hybrid orchids and many more birds, including the iconic bird of paradise of the country.
* The Adventure Park: This park is located outside the city within few minutes of driving. It is one of the major attractions of the city which includes water slides and ferries wheels, paddle-boats and wildlife encounters
* Colourful Markets: Here you get to wander around and check out some of the locally made crafts, such as the hand-made string bags called bilums.
Many other attractions includes – Bomana War Cemetery, Variarata National Park, Hanubada and Koki villages built over the sea on stilts, National Orchid Gardens, McDonald’s Corner and many more.
All these are well worth a visit and they offer a pleasant way to get away for few hours when visiting the area but it is highly recommended to go with local guides in a convoy.
Exploring the area and Transportation
The city of Port Moresby is not a destination that families and travellers expect to come to enjoy or have a good time. It is a city with minimal attraction and tourism is non-existence in the city. The only main beach in the city, called Ela beach is deserted with no activities, except street vendors and locals prowling the promenade with minimal entertainment. With the rapid growth, there is a dark side. The gritty Port Moresby is not most travellers idea of an enchanting capital. The city has a spread-out collection of neighbourhoods – from modern office buildings in downtown and Waigani and a glitty marina full of yachts, to squatter shantytowns with no electricity or running water that cling to the hillsides. The scruffy market places are where barefoot settlers and villagers from surrounding areas come to sell their goods. The city illustrates the stark divide between expats, rich locals and the struggling locals. According to “Lonely Planet” travel guide, it rates Port Moresby has one of the worst places and most unsafe cities in the world to live.
However, it is entirely possible to get around and visit many attractions and places in this area with the help of public transport but public buses are not reliable, unsafe and dirty. However, my recommendation would be to hire a car and guides and travel in a convoy. To do a self-drive tour and exploring the area in your own time is very dangerous. Driving in the area is straightforward but the locals drive much faster and careless and not wary of others.
Yes, Port Moresby can be dangerous but my experience overall is that it is far from being the hell-hole that the tabloid media love to paint it. With common sense, it will keep you safe and sound. You need to be vigilant and conscous of your personal security. Visiting Port Moresby was not the near-death experience it might appear to be but my visit to the city that I grew up was such an amazing trip. I had the chance to visit some of the places that I was familiar with and other unique places. The experience was a completely different culture and lifestyle that I am familiar with back home.
When you have families or friends living in Port Moresby will definitely give you an unforgettable experience. In sharing my memories in this country, it can give others a different outlook in visiting the country.
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