Flying to Papua New Guinea via Australia
25.06.2013 - 27.06.2013 95 °F
11 months ago, I knew my friend Scuba Steve from Tulsa was strongly considering being a volunteer with the Capuchins in Papua New Guinea. Before he even made his final decision, I booked a flight from Omaha to Port Moresby. My remaining job was to get the green chili loving New Mexican, Matthew Pepper, to follow suit.
As a professed travel junkie, I've been playing a game we call the miles game to travel for free or on the cheap, and finding ways to collect massive amounts of miles to support my travel in various means. These miles have allowed me and my family to travel the internationally. So I introduced Pepper to this game and he scored enough miles to accompany me over to a forgotten country. He got on board.
One of my recent goals has been to take an international, long haul flight in any class other than sitting back in the cattle crawl section. After some effort, I had acquired enough miles to fly from Omaha - Dallas - Los Angeles - Sydney, Australia - Cairns - Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea in business class. This flight would have cost me $10,000, I paid $20.
Yes, that is an actual international business class seat
Flying at the front of the plane, I had a completely foreign experience. I finally savored the delicious food that used to waft into the economy class making my mouth water. I had plenty of leg room. My knees never hit the seat in front of me. I was served champagne upon boarding my Sydney flight and had a menu sitting on my seat. I was surrounded in business class by interesting people (In face, I am always surrounded by interesting people on planes). One had been on the USPS cycling team and had rode some training rides with Lance Armstrong (he wasn't surprised about the doping). On another, an Aussie tax accountant shuttled back and forth between Sydney and California to work with his clients. Basically, I felt as out of place as a thief at church.
Pepper sat in his own type of business class, economy class. With his short, stubby legs, it must have felt very spacious.
For some reason, I didn't suffer from much jet lag on this long haul flight
What has truly drawn me to travel from the beginning with my mom, is the ability to float above earth simply observing different cross sections of humanity as they pass below. It's an unique position as an observer. No interactions. Just watch farms, cities, cars, and people from an aerial view and guess what is happening. This time though, I would be transported luxuriously from the ultra modernity and efficiency of the United States to a culture lacking any resemblance of efficiency with a tribal mentality.
This Aussie XXXX beer is special, it was personally blessed by the brewer
Madang flight to Madang
Pepper and I finally ran into each other in the vacant international airport terminal in Cairns, Australia. We picked up a few necessities before heading north, me some Tim-Tams, and Pepper some alcohol. I guess you take the Pepper out of New Mexico, but you can't take the New Mexican alcoholic tendencies out of Pepper.
Our flight carried us over the Great Barrier Reef to a land of contrasts that did something to me that hasn't happened to me in a long time while traveling, it challenged me.
Hot, wet air greeted our touchdown on the Madang tarmac. With no time to waste, Pepper and I swiftly entered immigration. We arrived prepared with our three-page visa application, 100 PNG kina, and passport photos. I approached the PNG immigration officer, she apathetically looked at my passport and printed my bright yellow PNG visa. I asked her if she wanted my visa application, she said, "sure" and tossed to the side of her computer. I realized that I was the first person to give her one today.
After a quick visit to the restroom where a trashcan stained with bright red blood colored betel juice spit held the door open, we were ushered into the terminal to catch our final flight to Madang on the state owned airline, Air Niugini. Gliding to the counter, we were informed that the flight had already been closed . . . 35 minutes before its' scheduled departure. Within 15 minutes, we were introduced to what PNG had for us, the unexpected. Just like that, we were going to spend our first night in what the Intelligence Unit of The Economist ranked 139 out of 140 of the least livable cities, Port Moresby.
Just when we pulled up to our hotel 35 minutes later, our Madang flight was taking off.
Welcome to PNG!
Next: Refrain From Sex, Part 1