Our flight from POM to Mount Hagen is scheduled to leave at 13:00, and we've been advised to be to the airport two hours before departure. So, we arrange with PAU staff to have the driver pick us up at 10:00 (for the 30 minute ride) so we have a bit of extra time if needed. At 10:30 the driver has still not arrived, AND no one answers any of the university phone numbers we call from the room phone. Luckily a woman staying in an adjacent apartment has a cell phone, knows the 'system', & a couple numbers to call, and the driver appears at 11:00. OK - we're only 1 hour behind schedule. Half way to the airport the two lanes moving steadily come to complete halt as they merge into one! As one lane & then the other inch forward the driver decides to change to the 'quicker' lane. But, every time he changes lanes the the one we leave moves and the one we're now in doesn't - this syndrome is obviously a worldwide phenomenon. There's a police check point up ahead causing the delay. This changing lanes into the formerly moving/now (as soon as we get in it) stopped lane continues as I watch the truck we were originally behind advances steadily forward and pass through the checkpoint without once having changed lanes ! Finally we pass through the checkpoint (merely waved through), get to the airport, check-in, and pass through security to the gate where we learn the flight is delayed ! Late arrival is a moot point.
Arriving in Mt. Hagen we are met by four staff & the bus/van for the ride to Kumul Lodge. About an hour later via the standard pot-holed dirt/gravel roads thronged with vehicles & bare footed pedestrians, and lined with crowds walking in the dirt/mud, buying, selling, cooking & eating as evening descends. The bus/van climbs into the mountains and by the time we're at the Lodge, 2,000 meters above sea level, the night is pleasantly cool. The entire main lodge atrium is open beams, conical thatched roof & woven reed mat walls, and has couches & arm chairs arranged in a large circle surrounding a large wood burning oven/fireplace that provides a warm, cozy atmosphere. There is only one other guest staying at Kumul - a Frenchman, who lives in Hong Kong, & is here in the Kumul area to photograph birds.
We spend the next four days birding with Wilson, the staff guide, to local areas or on the extensive forests on the Kumul property. From the Lodge viewing verranda we can view many bird species as they arrive to eat the fruit set out in the grass by the Lodge staff. Birding with Wilson is a pleasure as he is so knowledgeable of the local flora & fauna; he knows the birds by their calls & instantly on sight, even fleeting glimpses in flight through the dimly lit dense forest growth. Lidia has probably documented 50-60 new species for her life-list, and many are absolutely spectacular.
In order to safely spend time in the forests of PNG Lidia & I began taking anti-malaria medicine while still in Australia, and will continue doing so while in PNG and for two weeks after leaving; just a tiny pill taken with breakfast.
A large evening meal the 1st night at Kumul leaves us tossing & turning all night as we've not eaten large evening meals for the past 6 months; instead opting for a large afternoon meal around 14:00. The next day we inform the kitchen staff we'll not be having dinner, and that confuses the heck out of them. Every day they continue to ask us, with a degree of incredulity, whether we'll have dinner that evening. They eventually resignedly shrug their shoulders, smile and (I guess ?) enjoy their reduced work load; though I'm not sure whether this 'reduction' has a tangible affect on their wages !
If we thought POM was taking a step back in time, being out here in the Highlands is being transported back, WAY BACK, in time. Having never seen African villages I can only imagine they are similar. A major difference being that the Central Highlands, where we currently are, were not discovered by western man till the 1930's ! The movie, 'First Contact', tells the story of the Leahy brothers from Australia who were the 1st to venture to the interior of PNG (in search of gold & minerals). On that journey they discovered more than 1 million tribes people living as they had been so doing for thousands of years. Western civilization had no idea those people even existed ?! So, in the past 80 years (3-4 generations) those interior PNG peoples have gone from 'Stone-Age' technology/ways of life to the 21st Century ! Talk about culture shock; and they are doing so during the sky-rocketing technological changes of the mid-late 20th century ! Societies do not/can not change that much that quickly, and so there is much turbulence in the country.
Yet, when we stop one day on a dirt hillside road to view some birds in the forest along the road we are joined by what seems the entire local village - not the men, but the women & children. They follow us along the road, staring in wonder, giggling & smiling, or asking us if they can take our picture, with their cell phone camera ??!! With no disrespect intended, this is like Fred Flintstone & George Jetson living together !
The staff at Kumul were so gracious, helpful & friendly we're sorry to leave them. Next we're back to Mt. Hagen for a 45 minute flight to Tari & a 1 hour drive into the mountains to Ambua Lodge, hopefully to see some other Bird of Paradise species.
Ciao for now