Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Stephensons Have Left The Building

This picture captures the most emotional moment for both of us - saying goodbye to Cocky the Cockatoo!! You can laugh but this was our last chance to say goodbye to THE most contrary bird! To see him waving goodbye, plumping up his feathers, turning upside down and bouncing up and down to "who's a good boy then" and then finally to hear him say "Bye" well we were both a bit overcome and left with a bit of a heavy heart.

We didn't leave PNG with a heavy heart though as we had both come to realise that our approach to school improvement (ie to make a difference) would not be embraced by the company. We were able to leave early and travel in the Far East before returning to UK. The problem was that we could not sit back and do nothing when so much was wrong and so much needed doing.

I guess that means the blog "The Stephensons in PNG" is officially over! We have had a great adventure, hopefully done some good, made some good friends and enjoyed the experience. We hope you have enjoyed reading the blog.

Phil and Sandra

Friday, 29 July 2011

A Meeting With Mr Shit

For some time we have known about an almost legendary guy from PNG called Mr Shit. In the 1997 elections he stood as a candidate with a clever and most appropriate election slogan. His company at that time sold animal-based fertiliser and his political slogan was pig shit, chicken shit, cow shit but definitely no BULLSHIT! Sadly he wasn't elected and went broke in the process as the campaigns seem to involve giving away large sums of money.
He now sells Mr Shit t-shirts and hats at the local tourist market. We met him today and had a chat. What a lovely guy. We are sure he would have made a great politician but sadly this was not to be. He has a facebook group dedicated to him (vote for Mr Shit). He was unaware of this but amused nonetheless. He introduced us to his daughter and let us take a couple of pictures.
We will visit him again when the market is open next month. Anyone want a T Shirt?

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Popondetta - Another Day in Paradise

After our safe arrival at Popondetta Airport we realised that the hotel hadn’t sent the bus to pick us up Two concerned passengers offered to take us to the hotel but as we by then were told the bus was on its way we declined their kind offers. A number of other people showed concern that we hadn’t been picked up as the airport car park cleared of everyone. The last people to go were the police, who are, for some reason, now stationed at the airport for the arrival and departure of the planes. The place was so empty that we fully expected tumbleweed to start blowing by! Followers of the blog may recall that Popondetta is probably the most dangerous town in PNG so not the place to be stranded! However we survived and were transported to the hotel, well I say hotel!! It is misnamed the Comfort Inn. The people there are lovely but the rooms show may signs of decay and neglect ( we both slept fully clothed as an anti-bed bug precaution).
We were shown to a room that was already occupied then transferred to a free one. As we were about to set out chanting and shouting was heard beyond the metal and razor wire fence. We decided to sit tight for a bit in case another riot had started. Fortunately all was well.
We visited the school and then returned to the Comfort Inn for lunch. As the only eatery in the town it has cornered the market. Unfortunately the waitress always informs you what is not available on the menu. Today this meant no beef, no fish, no eggs which left a couple of items unscathed. We were worried about the lack of eggs at breakfast time but shouldn’t have worried as she announced “sorry no gas” so no cooked food was available!
In the evening we had resorted to a few cold ones in the outside bar area. Sandra got quite excited by the two or three wine lists she saw up on the walls of the bar(you may remember this is the place where the sink is used as a till).  We were told that there was no wine and informed that for a few weeks there hadn’t even been any beer in the town, so we gratefully received a few SP browns.  In between swatting mosquitos and flying bugs we were serenaded by some drunken chaps.  The song was quite beautiful in tone and harmonies.  When we agreed that we had enjoyed it(the drunken chaps actually asked us), they explained that it was a local song about a girl who is engaged to a man who betrays her and marries another. Not surprisingly, when we asked, ‘so what does she do?’ the answer came back, ‘she killed him!’  We also got talking to a lovely gentleman who turned out to be the president of the Kokoda Council. Dinner came and went with the same restrictions and a peaceful bug free night was enjoyed.

The Captain's Seat Belt

Travelling on Air Niugini there have been a large number of reasons given for delays but today was a first. We were all on-board our Dash 8 twin prop plane slightly ahead of take-off time. Then came the announcement that there was a minor engineering fault on the plane which was being rectified then we would be on our way. Not what we wanted to hear. The air steward put our minds at rest though by informing us the problem was the captain’s seat belt did not work.
When the crew disembarked it transpired that the captain was a very rotund fellow. The gentlemen in front of us spoke for us all by saying “well it looks like the captain needs to lose weight!” Sadly there was not enough time for this. A flurry of activity and much scratching of heads and a variety of vehicles appeared outside the plane. After a good 20 minutes a man turned up in a pickup truck proudly carrying a screwdriver! A further 10 minutes and another screwdriver later and we were on our way.
When the crew had disembarked for the seatbelt to be mended another issue came to mind.  There were three crew who had emerged from the cockpit.  Bearing in mind this was a Dash 8, the captain was of gargantuan proportion and the second was not exactly small, it brought very interesting thoughts to minds as to where the third person was sitting??!!

Monday, 18 July 2011

There and Back Again or Round the World in Twenty Six Days

Well we survived the circumnavigation of the globe! Round the world in 26 days.


     View from the hotel window Waikiki      With Tom and Lindsay in Toronto
Flying to Sydney, on to Honolulu, Toronto, London, Dubai, Brisbane then back to PNG. No wonder we are both so knackered and keep waking up at strange times our body clocks are all over the place still!! It was fantastic to catch up with everyone but did seem a bit hectic at times - we have come back to work for a rest - ha ha!

Highlights and Low Lights (you decide)
  • Phil managed to get his suitcase lost twice on 2 legs of the journey but did reacquaint himself with clean underwear (and suitcase) fairly speedily. This was the FIRST time he had ever had a bag misplaced in many years of travelling and it happened twice!
  • Although the real ale may have added a few inches to his waistline Phil has managed to imbibe sufficiently until the next opportunity.
  • Returning to PNG and our lovely house we realised that there were quite a lot of things we had missed. Our reunion with Cocky the cokatoo was quite moving.
  • Driving in other countries is just not so much fun. Phil is right back into the bumper cars approach to driving out here and found speed limits and everyone obeying the highway code a little tiresome in USA and UK.
  • The sheer number of inappropriate remarks Phil was able to make during the Gay Pride Festival in Toronto was impressive. (Personal favourite - after seeing another group of men in skimpy speedos "well it's all very well and good but you don't want it rammed down your throat really do you?")

Thursday, 23 June 2011

A Farewell to Cocky (He's a cockatoo btw)

The bags are packed, we're ready to go (sorry we can't remember the next bit) but we are leaving on a jet plane (least we hope it's a jet not propellers - you can never be sure with Air Niugini!). So we will be heading to Sydney, Hawaii, Toronto then Blighty!

Mugs in short supply so Phil enjoy a refreshing milk jug of Number 1 (Nambawan) tea in Kiunga Guest House

Had to say a sad farewell to Cocky the Cockatoo for the next 3 weeks but as usual he was playing hard to get even though we brought banana and paw paw for him. He just king of puffed himself up and turned himself upside down and looked at us. As we walked away he squawked something at us. He's a bit contrary - I think that's why Sandra likes him so much!

We are looking forward to meeting up with friends and family and sharing some stories and the occasional glass of wine and real ale!
We are looking forward to seeing the progress on our garden when we get back. We planted a few bit in the foreground of the picture but they may well die before we return. Who knows it could be transformed - well the pile of cement might go!

Friday, 17 June 2011

Phil Spots a Local Bargain in the Wine Department and Some Birds of Paradise

At just under a tenner for 2 litres of wine this offer seemed too good to be true. Locally made banana wine with no added preservatives should be very tasty a light fruity sweetness with just a hint of banana and vanilla pod. The first indicators however were more accurate.
It looked like a hospital sample and did indeed taste like ****.

It was no good perhaps an hour or two in the fridge will improve it. Did the bottle need shaking up? Did the journey from the supermarket disturb the delicate bouquet? Perhaps it needs to acquire a vintage? Perhaps the plastic bottle it came in had been tainted? Like Phil's early attempts at wine making it was declared undrinkable (for now)

Earlier in the week we travelled to Kiunga. We managed to spend a couple of hours in search of the Birds of Paradise and were treated to a fantastic display. Our photos don't do the birds justice or capture the sounds (or show the mosquitos and leeches!). A very special trip.

Back in Moresby we returned to our customary Saturday which consists of having a very lazy morning, a trip out for lunch followed by an even lazier afternoon usually involving a snooze. Today we tried an alternative restaurant rated number 1 in our guide book. Although there was plenty to eat it was very "unthai-like" which was disappointing as it was supposed to be a Thai restaurant. Never mind. A common feature of all lunch trials is the time taken to be served with food. It does mean you do acquire an appetite.

Only a week before we embark on travels outside of PNG. Phil and Sandra will have to adjust their driving techniques. A Dodge Charger awaits them in Hawaii. Do they have speed cameras in Hawaii?

After months of flying on small 30 seater propeller planes it will be strange to get on a BIG plane. We are really looking forward to visiting a real airport lounge!!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

A Volcanic Encounter

Our travels took us to Rabaul, a town completely destroyed by a volcanic eruption. Rabaul has been relocated to a nearby area as the original is buried under many feet of volcanic ash.  We stood on top of the former school, buried under the grey-black ash and drove to the edge of the volcano which still smokes.  A strangely beautiful although barren landscape, incredibly peaceful - reminded us of a film set for a moonscape.

Rabaul is the first place we have visited in PNG which has allowed us to wander around quite freely and safely.  We will definitely return and it will be on our list of places to visit if any friends or family manage the long journey out to visit us in PNG.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Ninety One Prisoners Released in Commado Style Raid

Sandra with the overland transport

The newspaper headline caught our attention as the following week we were travelling to the same area and driving overland. The following day the newspaper gave us some hope as one of the prisoners was shot dead - but still 90 on the loose! We flew to Mount Hagen the day after they had experienced a bit of a rock throwing riot! (locally known as a "rock concert"!). We travelled in a huge Toyota Landcruiser driven by Clement and took along three security guys just in case there were any problems. Fortunately we didn't encounter any escaped prisoners, armed bandits or problems just lots of potholes and landslips. The Highlands area is stunningly beautiful and offers just about any fruit or vegetable you could ever wish for.  Phil (and Clement) discovered a cunning way of shutting Sandra up for a while by making sure she had a constant supply of fresh strawberries! Had an amazing cocktail in Goroka - black sambuca, peach schnapps and creme de banana - blue in colour and tastes like an alcoholic blackjack sweet! Sadly, we only had one of them which wasn't enough to make us sleep through the all-night singing provided by one (probably) drunken Highlander.
Phil had two strange dreams brought on by the Highland air. One that Sandra had ballooned up to 150 kilos without him realising (he has been watching the "Biggest Loser" on TV) and the other that Kenny Dalgleish had bought him some Highland coffee!! Actually maybe it was the cocktail not the Highland air! 

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Airlines PNG - a New Way to Fly!

After last week’s excitement, frustration and rage Phil and Sandra approached the airport with mixed feelings. Tickets for Kiunga had been confirmed and we were flying Airlines PNG not the now notorious (in our eyes) Air Niugini!
Check-in  fine. We blag our way into the “Paradise” lounge (blag because we don’t have our membership letters and we are not flying Air Niugini so technically cannot use the lounge). Flight is delayed 40 minutes by the time we sit down.
All in all not bad we are seated on the plane at 9.00am. The hostess makes an announcement that is met with disbelief by the passengers up front (we can’t hear as we are 7 rows back and the engines have started – 36 seater Dash 8 if anyone is interested!). The message is relayed back that actually we are flying to Wewak, then Tabubil then Kiunga. By our reckoning that means another 2 hours flying time to two places we weren’t even scheduled to go to in the first place. We are travelling with Kini from our office and she was adamant that we should choose a flight that doesn’t land in Tabubil. I think this is because the runway is so short it has a dogleg right at the end of it and it can be quite alarming. Also it is generally shrouded in fog so flights turn back (hopefully to Kiunga in our case). Additionally Sandra is going to Wewak on Thursday anyway so this will be twice in one week.
Phil is surprisingly (and unusually) calm but maintains a high level of sarcasm when he points out that at least they will be able to visit a school rather than arguing at the airport. The fact that the school day will probably be over when they finally get there may be an issue.
Preparations are underway for refreshments. We are intrigued as to what they might be. All we have had so far from Air Niugini is biscuits! Looks like it might be crackers (hope it’s my favourite “Lik Lik Wopa” ) and coffee. We are pleased we had breakfast before leaving!
What else could possibly go wrong?     
Well we eventaully arrived 3 hours late and just caught up with the school.
The following morning the driver was sent to the airport to check us all in so we could be at the school. We are despatched to the airport for a 10.00am departure. Upon arrival we find the plane is somewhere else and won't depart for a further 2 hours. Never mind we are kept mildly entertained by helicopters flying in and out, Missionary Airways landing and taking off and a strange very small highlander man with quite a big stick who appears to be quite mad!
Tired and starving we arrive in Port Moresby. Three hours in the school, 3 hours waiting for the plane and 6 hours on the plane (flight time should have been 1 hour 45 minutes each way!). Maybe Air Niugini is not so bad after all!     

Friday, 22 April 2011

Kimbe (After the riots)

 As you can see Kimbe is a beautiful place. the week before we visited though there was a full scale riot as a policeman had beaten to death someone for spitting betlenut juice! The local tribe took umbridge and marched on the town setting light to government buildings and looting the local shops for good measure. Things were quiet when we were there but shopping more limited than usual!

We were there to visit one of our schools but were able to extend the trip for another night so we could do some recreation too. On the Saturday we went out on a boat and snorkelled which was great and a relaxing way to spend a Saturday.

 The hardy youngsters were playing in their Spiderman tent in the school but bear in mind the temperature is in the high thirties but they weren't fazed by this as you can see!
Sandra on the hotel jetty

Not sure if Phil was trying to be arty with this shot or if the girl just looked up at the last minute!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

TANGFU

T.A.N.G.F.U
Definition: Typical Air Niugini Fuck Up

Phil’s blood pressure reached an all time high today. Here is the timeline:

Early March 2011 flight to Popondetta paid for and confirmed

20th April
5.00am                 Get up have breakfast, drive to airport
5.55am                 Attempt check-in but told we are waitlisted as a large group of trekkers were pre-booked on the flight. Retire to the inappropriately named Paradise Lounge to wait in expectation.
6.20am                 Phil attempts flanking manoeuvre by seeking out flight supervisor (inaccurately named) who assures him that since we are travelling on business a seat will be allocated at the departure gate (hopefully by throwing off trekkers – who haven’t even arrived at the airport)
6.35am                 Boarding announced. We are told that no seats are available. Phil plays his trump card only for the supervisor to deny all knowledge of said conversation. Grubby trekkers arrive (late) and occupy aircraft.
7.00am                 Major fuss caused with managers requested and demands made to see everyone in authority. Promises made that they would contact and update us but numerous reminders made by Phil and Sandra.
9.20am                 Another supervisor appears and explains that mistakes have been made and the trekkers had lots of luggage and so had to use 3 seats for the luggage. Yes OUR 3 seats (we are travelling with the Executive Director of our company). Phil demands a charter, helicopter or space rocket but we are offered another flight by an alternative airline. They will pull strings to get us on board. They will update us in 10 minutes.
10.30am               Ever patient Phil and his boiling blood pressure goes through security for the 6th or 7th time and seeks management. It transpires that the flight we have been promised has been cancelled (presumably a long time ago). Obviously no one brave enough to come and tell us.
10.50am               Phil’s 8th run through security (he is now well known by all the airport staff) reveals a new manager the Domestic Terminal Manager. He assures us the General Manager will be with us in 10 minutes. Phil tries the “If I was David Beckham you would get me to Popondetta approach” but sadly this fails as he has never heard of David Beckham!
11.20am               Phil’s 9th run through security to continue the game of hide and seek. Trevor (we are on first name terms now – but not best of friends) informs us a charter is not out of the question but needs authority from another manager and will get back to us in 5 minutes. He will also inform the CEO of Air Niugini and seek his assistance.
11.45am               No message. Joe, Executive Director leaves for office. Phil tells him he will phone when the helicopter is ready!
Yes we have been at the airport for 6 hours (and there is NO alcohol in the “Paradise” Lounge)
11.55am               No message Phil has some cheese (curiously named Coon Tasty), biscuits, dairy milk chocolate (that was a surprise) and his 4th can of ginger ale.
12.05pm               Phil approaches desk clerk in lounge to request that Trevor (aforementioned manager) be paged for the non-existent update promised by 11.30am.
12.15pm               Sitting back down again having had conversation with another minnow sent to inform us that Air Niugini have managed to arrange an additional flight for tomorrow.  Minnow’s head bitten off by both Phil and Sandra, informed to get the General Manager and CEO to see us as this is not a solution.  Informed that both Trevor and the elusive John (he with the authority to authorise the charter flight) are coming to see us
12.20pm               Minnow approaches to inform us that Trevor is ‘driving in, so give him 10-15 minutes’.  Sandra queries this as no mention is made of ‘John’ – he isn’t coming, apparently.
12.35pm               Guess what? Trevor still hasn’t arrived. 
12.45pm               Trevor and A.N Other arrive (John obviously far too busy to come himself) Long conversation as the only option being offered is the additional flight tomorrow.
1.00pm                 Inform Trevor and A.N.Other to go back to John and attempt to arrange a private charter from outside Air Nuigini resources.  Frequent mention made to the severe fallout which will come if a solution is not forthcoming within the next 20minutes.
1.28pm                 Minnow returns with message that A.N.Other has ‘phoned and is waiting for John to get back to him and then he will return.  Am probably going to smash the mobile phone of the annoying  man sitting opposite.  This may sound extreme but both he and his ringtone are generating extreme feelings of anger within me!
1.30pm                 Phil has gone for another walk.
1.45pm                 Dynamic Duo have returned and still have no ability to offer a solution.  Drafting letter for them to fax to Popondetta to demonstrate that our ‘no show’ is no fault of our own.
2.20pm                 The fact that we demanded a letter within 10minutes has, not surprisingly, been unachievable.  Already 30minutes and counting............................................................!  Phil now getting annoyed with the desk staff and insisting they track down the missing letter.
2.30pm                 Letter arrives and we head back to work, only 8 and a half hours after arriving!

Phil (aka POMPOM) writes a letter to the local newspaper

Phil has decided to join the throng of PNG people writing letters into the local newspaper
Bumped Off For a Bunch of Trekkers
Come on Air Niugini sort yourself out. Three of us arrived at POM airport early and ready to check in with our confirmed tickets. At check-in we were told we were waitlisted as there was a large group of trekkers travelling on the plane. So what? We had booked our expensive seats and as executive club members travelling on important business in Popondetta expected to be given priority over a group of grubby gung ho Hooray Henrys who wanted to get bitten by mosquitoes on the Kokoda Trail. We sat in the Paradise Lounge in expectation. The flight was called and we went to the departure gate only to find no seats were available and despite the flight being officially closed the Kokoda Trail Trekkers still hadn’t cleared security. The supervisor had previously promised to get us seats as we were travelling on important business but in true Air Niugini fashion denied this and wasn’t able to fulfil his promise. Perhaps Air Niugini has gone into the private charter business for the Kokoda Trail Trekkers? Surely PNG travellers who are forced to pay their exorbitant prices should be informed of this? There seems little point in getting up early and paying well in advance for flights which are knowingly overbooked. Worse still we later found out (after the plane had flown out) that 3 seats were used for the trekkers’ excess baggage!  We PNG residents  pay millions of Kina for Air Niugini flights plus the executive club membership every year. What for?  We are bumped off the flight for a grubby bunch of occasional Australian visitors and their bags of insect repellent. The profits from the trekkers will presumably have gone back to the Australian economy!!
Come on people of Papua New Guinea, stand up for your rights and DEMAND a better service from your NATIONAL AIRLINE – it’s time for a revolution!!!!!
Stop being TANFU’d (Typical Air Niuigini F*** Up).  It doesn’t make it ok just because someone says ‘sorry’ and most times they don’t even say sorry!!
POMPOM a disgruntled Air Niugini Customer

Saturday, 9 April 2011

A couple of video uploads


Sandra’s best friend Cocky the Cockatoo (if the vid or sound doesn't work cut and paste this link). Cocky is an old cockatoo who can speak and whistle but rarely does and if he isn't in the mood will just turn his back on you. Sandra has adopted him but as you can see he still won't speak to her!! Having stayed mute for our visits he usually lets out an ear-splitting screech the moment we walk away, just to prove who has the power in this relationship!




Our drive to work (if the vid or sound doesn't work cut and paste this link). Gives you a flavour of driving in PNG but actually very few hazards on this run!!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Newspapers, supermarket announcements and a localised drought

A new resolution is to read the local newspaper. It is published daily and for some reason we get a copy delivered to our office. The highlight this weekend was found when reading about a conference in a faraway place. The list of companies was quite long but half way down was "Mr Shit". Further research revealed that he owns a fertiliser company and stood for election in the 1997 election. There is a facebook campaign "Vote for Mr Shit" http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=56745995842 . There are elections in 2012 so he's got our vote!
There are some very entertaining letters and articles which makes any UK paper seem very tame indeed.

Whilst walking through a supermarket yesterday there was an announcement over the tannoy saying " would Sharon Fuk come to the office", I was the only one who batted an eyelid though. There was also another person we came across the other day who was called Mrs Tuat ! School boy humour - it never dies!!

We are used to internet, TV and power failure but water failure at home is a new thing. Last night we were left with a trickle. Thoughtfully Phil switched to beer so as not to diminish water supplies in the kettle. Convinced all would be well in the morning we awoke with great expectation, sadly no water though. Never mind the work force has been mobilised and the guy who is going to fit a new battery in my car (yes that broke down too - but fortunately on the drive) will take a look. I am confident we will have water again certainly by the end of the week. Interestingly the water pressure at the office is now very low so we may resort to collecting rainfall soon.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Mad Brits at Boroko Food World

I’m afraid Sandra has made her stamp on PNG with her desire to teach practical science. The initial problem was NO RESOURCES (and trust me we mean NO RESOURCES). Never mind a trip to Boroko Food World (aka our favourite supermarket in PNG) to buy vital resources:
·         Bicarb of soda – no problem
·         Yeast – no problem
·         Vinegar – no problem
·         Alka Seltzer – no problem but v expensive
·         Film Canister – problem no empty ones so had to buy a film as well
·         Balloon – problem – we had to ask the boss a lovely Chinese man who always brings us the special card machine every time we pay with a credit card. He could only find an inflated balloon from a display. Phil and Sandra saw this as a challenge. Wouldn’t you know it though after an hour of patient persuading the balloon broke!! Phil was, at this point, not pleased (you see Phil is still grumpy). Fortunately we got a balloon from a nearby school.
Our trainee teachers were treated to exploding film canisters, rising dough, expanding yeast plus Sally and Simon the snowmen and the sheer pleasure of being blood vessels.
With Sandra’s food allergies getting worse and worse, now not eating any wheat (not a biscuit, cake, slice of bread) and even now not drinking soy milk, special treats are few and far between.  Enter the very important role of the Crunchie!!  Crunchie is one of the few things that can be eaten and enjoyed, trouble is that it is only about once a week that we ever find one.
Phil decided that the time had come to ask the previously mentioned, very nice Chinese man about the supply of Crunchies.  On Friday evening we approached him.  He happened to be with another man, obviously an important man in the supply chain of Crunchies.  They assured us that new supplies were expected on Saturday and that they would save us some.  We didn’t really hold out much hope.  Imagine our delight, when on Saturday we approached said Chinese man and he immediately rang his colleague to find out where the precious Crunchies were.   To Sandra’s delight, the entire box of some 40 bars had been secreted in the tobacco section – JUST FOR US!!! We bought 10 bars(they only cost about £1.30 each here!), most of which(as we haven’t been greedy) are stored safely in the fridge.  Little things please little minds………..!


We finally moved into our new house at the weekend.  It is absolutely amazing! We are so very lucky, the guys who have built it have put such effort into it and have paid so much attention to really beautiful detail.  We are slowly beginning to make it feel like home by adding some personal touches, such as photos and pictures which we had brought from the UK(notice we don’t say home – PNG is our home now).
Interesting……………………just went to put some more dirty crockery in the dishwasher(yes, the new house has one) and have found that it is empty.  We think that means that the haus-meri has taken it out and washed it by hand?????

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Back from our travels

                                                                                     Kamarau School in Buka
We arrived back safely from Wewak (having escaped the flying foxes in Madang).  Had to get up at 4.00am to ensure we got a seat on the plane as once it’s full they tend to take off! Also check-in is so slow you need that time to get everyone checked in and the bags loaded by cart onto the plane (A Fokker 100 if anyone’s interested – the big plane was back as the lightning strike on Madang airstrip had been repaired). Fortunately we had the inappropriately named Paradise Lounge to relax in prior to departure.
 Sadly despite verbal and email confirmation as to where the car should be it wasn’t at the airport when we arrived (for the second time – cue tantrum from Phil!)
We got picked up eventually then went to the office for meetings and so on.
We flew out Friday morning to Buka which is part of the autonomous government of Bouganville. This was a lovely location and felt very safe. We visited the school and due to Sandra’s insistence that we took part in the afternoon cricket game got completely saturated due to the humid 38 degrees. Phil would like it known that despite his promising batting (2 runs scored) he was needlessly run out by Sandra (who scored 1 run) – she said it was a deliberate ploy as it was too hot but this is not accepted by Phil. Eventually cooled down in our hotel. The accommodation would probably be described as basic and modest (think backpacker hostel). Once again the people were lovely and we had a very interesting time and another very long list of things we could do to help the school.
On the journey back they used a very small aircraft and none of the cabin bags would fit in the cabin. Our bags were put in the cargo hold. Upon arrival at Rabual airport our plane to Port Moresby was ready to take off (unexpectedly on-time). Having been parted from our cabin bags with laptop and camera etc Phil was keen to get reacquainted before the Port Moresby plane took off. He expressed this view to several official looking people who went to try and recover the bags before the plane took off. Insistence levels grew somewhat and eventually the bags were found before they were slung onto the wrong plane. We were officially the last ones on the plane and our seats had been given up to someone else. There were 2 seats remaining one in business class and one next to a hugely fat man. Sandra didn’t fancy being squashed by the fat man so we negotiated that the fat man moved to business class (thereby getting a complimentary plastic cup of orange squash before take off) and Phil and Sandra sat together. The pilot apologised for the delay (on our behalf) and we took off. Once again we were treated to a snack meal of a carton of apple juice and a shortcake biscuit (scotch finger). Sandra no longer eats biscuits so Phil enjoyed two scotch fingers!
It is too hot for this!
This time we had planned a strategy to make sure the car was at the airport when we returned. We didn’t tell anyone – so the car would stay there. Having cleared the airport quickly and full of expectation we searched the car park. The car wasn’t there. Phil was speechless (apart from expletives). Sandra phoned to see what had happened to be told they had picked the car up on Friday. Unfortunately despite this efficiency they had failed to return it when we flew back. After 20 minutes we were picked up and driven to our car. It took a couple of beers at the Yacht Club for Phil to fully recover his composure. He is still plotting his revenge.
We are flying out again towards the end of the week. Phil and Sandra would welcome your suggestion as to how we can ensure our car is parked and available at the airport upon our return.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

How big is a flying fox anyway?

A lovely welcome at Madang

Having just read the guide book on Madang we were interested to see that there is a large population of flying foxes. We saw a whole load of them yesterday. More alarming is the statement "due to the flying foxes no planes can land or take off between 5 and 7 pm". We are currently in the airport lounge awaiting our flight which takes off at 6.00pm!!!!!!! Oh dear! Never mind it's not as if disasters have followed us around the world or anything!
En route to Wewak (flying foxes permitting)
Baggage reclaim Madang style


They're big you know!


Saturday, 12 March 2011

Flying Air Niugini Style

The Story So Far
Phil and Sandra are travelling to visit two  schools  in Madang and Wewak.
Flight details given a week in advance.
On Tuesday flights confirmed
On Wednesday 3.20pm  informed we are only waitlisted for flights
On Wednesday 4.300pm informed we are confirmed again
Friday decide to check if accommodation is booked for us, told no as our flights are only waitlisted
(Phil – not renowned for his patience in these situations gives vent but to no avail)
Despite much pestering and posturing flights remain waitlisted until Saturday morning
Oh and it transpires there is now no accommodation in Wewak
Oh and there is a serious tsunami warning Friday night for Madang (fortunately they escaped damage)
By Saturday it appears all is miraculously confirmed.
Phil and Sandra set the alarm for 6.00am on Sunday. Get to the airport in good time only to be told the flight is cancelled. But there will be another flight at 11.30. We check in and leave the airport as we don’t fancy a 5 hour wait in the Paradise Lounge (don’t be fooled by the name- BA Lounge it isn’t). We are hoping it will be on time. The only good news is we appear to have business class seats 1a and 1b but of course it could mean we are flying the plane!! (and the 11.30 could also be cancelled)

Saturday, 5 March 2011

A Trip to Lae

In the week that Port Moresby was voted 3rd least liveable city in the world it seemed appropriate we went to Lae. A local resident of Lae described going to Port Moresby as a “breath of fresh air”. This gives you a flavour of Lae.
Our journey there involved a short flight from Port Moresby which was delayed by about an hour, then slowed down by numerous crew announcements before we took off! Following the safety announcement they were at pains to point out that it is illegal to remove any safety items from the plane. Upon arrival we transferred to a “Guard Dog Security” bus with metal caged windows and three guards, radios etc. It was pitch black but the roads, as we had heard, were full of potholes, parts of the trip seemed almost cross country!
Our hotel was quite nice and also had security guards on every door plus ones with dogs on the perimeter. There was a pet hornbill which Sandra loved but it was a bit ferocious and ungrateful when she fed it some pineapple! There were also some creatures called cuscus. They were a cross between wallabies and bears, with a dose of sloth (as they seemed to sleep all day).
We did have a swim in the hotel pool which was nice apart from branches of a nearby coconut tree crashing down in the wind. We had arranged for towels to be sent to the pool but after 20 minutes they still hadn’t arrived and we were a bit stuck. In the end after asking 4 separate people we walked back to the room soaking wet! On the way we passed 2 of the people we had asked and they gave us the towels. We hatched a cunning plan, we would hold on to the towels and use them next time. Unfortunately when we got back to the room they had taken the towels from the bathroom. Doh!
We visited the 2 schools which was very interesting and met some lovely people and hard working students.
Lae in daylight was also interesting but according to local knowledge is supposed to be one of the most dangerous places in PNG. Speeding accidents are out of the question as driving is limited to a max of 10mph as everyone negotiates a route through the potholes. Only 4x4s, vans and lorries in evidence. It is a supply port for the interior (highlands) and saw quite a lot of action in the second world war.
One of the supermarkets had burnt down recently and there had been widespread looting particularly of the beer section at the back. The supply of warm beer kept many people happy for some time!
A 40 minute flight meant 5 hours travel time with airport transfers and delays so we arrived tired and in Phil’s case very irritable in Port Moresby. Phil had a fairly major paddy when his car wasn’t at the airport as arranged or at the office car park as rearranged and promised. However it was Friday night and a glass of sparkling wine and a beer put things in perspective.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Belated Update From POM (Port Moresby)

The new house under construction!! We have decided the best way to communicate at the moment is by typing a letter on the computer, saving it and then cut and pasting it into an email when we have connectivity. We have tried various methods including using the technicians at work but they are almost as unreliable as the telephone and internet structure they are working with. I am hoping to get a usb modem which will allow me to connect to the mobile network. Trouble is they have run out of them (which evidently is very PNG! – for instance they seem to have run out of sugar in the supermarkets so a bag of sugar could cost six pounds!).
We visited our new house under construction (supposed to be finished in 10 days but not holding our breath!). It really is quite amazing (will send a photo when able) 3 bedrooms, huge balcony, 1 study and a lovely kitchen plus 2 bathrooms – very big for just the 2 of us but we are not complaining. As I mentioned in my last email the cost of furniture and electrical goods here is amazing. On Saturday we bought a fridge freezer, sofa, table and chairs, 2 desks with chairs and an outside patio set and with discounts it still came to 10 thousand pounds!!!!!!!
It’s crazy!
We are being well looked after but there are inevitable frustration trying to get used to different ways of doing things as despite the mineral  wealth of the country the people seem as poor as those in Uganda or similar. The politicians are very rich and there is a rich middle class developing but still lots of poverty. The people are really lovely and very friendly which makes the street dangers even more difficult to understand but I think it is a combination of poverty, tribal conflict and thinking that all white people are rich (which in comparison they are of course). The other factor is they were (by all accounts) poorly treated by the Aussies when they were controlling PNG for 20 years or so up to 1965.
We are looking to join a couple of clubs (again hopefully the company will pay) as we will need a safe haven from the intensity of Port Moresby. We are very safe in our housing compound with guards on the gate etc. but travelling is potentially tricky so we have to make sure car doors are always locked and nothing of value is on display (makes photography tricky – have just taken pictures from the car at the moment). Outside of Port Moresby there are supposed to be some lovely (and safe) places, so as our knowledge increases we will find more flexibility.
Shopping is quite fun they have quite big and safe supermarkets and the odd shopping centre but very little to buy. When we travel back to UK we will bring empty suitcases I think! We look forward to getting to the outlying areas which will happen over the next 5 weeks as we visit all the schools.
The work is interesting and challenging as there are very old systems in place which seemed to have stopped working quite a few years ago but continue on regardless. They have a company Intranet but it doesn’t work quickly enough and half the staff can’t get access to the internet reliably! I think a few satellite dish companies could make a killing out here! There was a Principals’ conference last week which predictably was far from uplifting (the same happens in any country when you get a load of teachers and particularly headteachers!!). Our next step is to visit all the schools and see what we can really do. We will have to be patient though as there are loads of protocols and they are not really used to change here so slowly but surely.
We should both have a car but Sandra’s has been borrowed by various people and is being serviced (probably at the same time over here) but we only need the one at the moment. My Nissan Cefiro looks nice but with potholes and speedbumps I think the undercarriage is getting quite worn. Certainly I have scraped it several times. The funny thing is when we get to work the security guards are always keen to wash it so it has been washed at least 3 times in the last week. My carwashing days could be over as it is a bit hot for a wash and wax!
At the office there is a caged cockatoo, affectionately referred to as ‘Cocky’! He is very clever and puts his foot through the cage to wave and he says hello and bye.  He also dances by jigging up and down.  It is sad that he is in a cage but he couldn’t be released and so I make sure that I spend time with him as he is quite lonely.  Mind you, he does tend to screech when I walk away.  Phil is getting a bit jealous over the amount of time I spend talking to Cocky and gave me quite a look yesterday when I bought a bag of peanuts to take into Cocky on Monday!
We have a lady called a hausmerri  who comes to the house to wash and clean twice a week. Initially we were a bit uncomfortable with this but have found having clean and ironed clothes very nice. It will be lovely moving into the new house as the one we are in is fine but quite dated and so has a real ‘temporary’ feel.  I think that Julie, the hausmerri will love it too – I think there is a bit of a status thing going on with who you clean for and where they live.  Ours is the newest, biggest and best kitted-out!
The stuff from home which we had airfreighted out has been in the country for 4 weeks but still hasn’t cleared customs yet – again, ‘PNG time!’.  The goods for the new house are being delivered there next Saturday as it is very close to completion.  It may be that our stuff will arrive after that? We are really looking forward to it coming, for a couple of reasons.  We know that we have some nice cards and stationery packed and also the sound system (CDs and DVDs too) but other than that we have largely forgotten what we packed and so it will be quite exciting to open it all!! A bit like Christmas all over again.
Time is going very quickly, it seems.  The new house and moving there will occupy us in March as will the visits to all of the other schools outside of Port Moresby.  We have twelve days off , beginning on 1st April, which we will probably spend in another part of PNG, somewhere where we can get out and about a bit more than in POM(as Port Moresby is referred to). We will also then break up for the Easter long weekend.  There are some brilliant places for snorkeling and seeing birdlife around the islands so will plan where to go and let you know. That will see us pretty much through April. Then in June we have the unusual experience of having a day off for the Queen’s birthday! Then term ends on 24th June and we start travelling back to the UK via Thomas in Toronto (and a bit of relaxation in Hawaii!) – will be back in early July.
 PHOTOS TO FOLLOW HOPEFULLY

Thursday, 3 February 2011

After The Cyclone

The cyclone passed over at about midnight last night and certainly made a lot of noise, fortunately not much damage just broken branches fallen trees etc.
Many thanks for those who participated in our ready steady cyclone cook based on Phil's rather poor shopping attempt. Today Phil and Sandra went shopping. The above picture represents the sum total of our expedition today. Phil got very excited at one shop when he saw some frozen packets marked prawns and squid - until Sandra pointed out they were in the fishing bait section of the shop; so they left with the cup a soups, crisps and a can of baked beans. Although roads are fine and everything seems back to normal virtually every shop was closed. The feast treats above were found in two shops. We are now fed up with curlywurlys and would welcome some fresh fruit and veg but this doesn't appear to be possible.
No luck with alcohol of any description so if the bottle shop opens tomorrow we will hit it hard! There's only so much tea and sprite you can drink.

Finally flights and visas sorted so we fly to Brisbane on Monday and Port Moresby on Tuesday hurrah!

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Phil Goes Cyclone Shopping

With a tropical cyclone fast approaching Cairns heading straight for our apartment we felt it advisable to stock up on vital provisions. Phil returned from the supermarket with
  1. 2 bottles of wine
  2. a big packet of doritos
  3. some hot chilli dip
  4. a very large bar of chocolate
The aussies were buying water, tinned food and bread for when the electricity gets cut off but that sounded a bit soft to us.
We do have 2 eggs, 4 cobs of sweetcorn, garlic, soymilk, 1 potato, a tablespoon of honey and 4 bananas. If anyone has a good recipe which would be worth attemting a la ready steady cook please email phil on stephenson.phil@gmail.com.  It would be particularly handy if no cooking was  required as power may be cut off quite soon.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Kangaroos and Kookaburras

We are still in Cairns but have had xrays, bloodtests and medicals which should allow us to get our work visa at long last. There seems to be no shortcuts to the bureacracy so we have tried to keep calm and carry on!

Sandra has continued in her role as wildlife spotter by noticing a family of kangaroos near to where we are staying. There are warning signs by the roadside as they can be quite a hazard if the hop over the road when you are bombing along at 70mph!

 Sandra thought she had heard a kookabura when we visited this area the other day and insisted on singing "Kokkabura sits in the old gum tree ............" but we didn't get a sighting until the following day when this one presented itself on the roof of a shelter. It was very regal and was totally indifferent to our presence. Thankfully Sandra didn't sing the kookabura song again.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Phil and Sandra Explore Yorkey's Knob and Encounter Monsoon Conditions

Since we snorkelled on the Great Barrier Reef on Tuesday it has been raining, raining and raining. The tropical storm may be developing into a cyclone but there's still time to do a spot of childish photography (yes we did drive all the way to Yorkey's Knob (a beach village on the Queensland coast) just to take a picture! Also had a puncture on a main highway so had to change a tyre in the pouring rain (first time in 25 years)
The weather has meant that we have had ample time to explore the Australian TV network. Previously we had thought US television was an all time low but the line up here includes: The Brady Bunch, Dukes of Hazard, Midsomer Murders (with a PG rating), Happy Days, I Dream of Genie, Bewitched, Filipino News, Dutch News, Spanish News, Russian News, Mork and Mindy BUT we do have live cricket. Unfortunately ever since we have been watching England have failed to win a match.
Hoping for sunshine tomorrow and visas next week.
Sandra is now getting quite cross every time Phil lapses into his aussie accent (this is happening more and more frequently).
She says I'd better not sign off with g'day mate but g'day, she'll be right.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

In The Rainforest


With our faithful Nissan we have explored the area and visited the local national parks. As if the insects and wild animals weren't bad enough we found a place which had a suspension bridge - much more frightening for Sandra whose fear of heights is legendary!

There are some fantastic sounds as you explore the jungle but you rarely see any of the birds. We managed to photograph this sulphur crested cockatoo (thanks EJ) from the apartment pool!


Later we explored Kuranda. Most people go there by train or cable car (not an option for Sandra!). We went by Nissan. the waterfall was fabulous and reflects the amount of rain/flooding in this area.

























Searching for Nemo - In Lycra Sting Suits!



Still awaiting our work visas so decided to take a trip out to the Great Barrier Reef. Snorkelling involved not just a mask, snorkel and flippers but also a rather fetching sting suit. This little lycra outfit prevents stings but does nothing to flatter as you can see!
In fact if anyone does find anyone attractive in one of these outfits it is probably a very worrying fetish!
Believe it or not when we got on the boat they announced we were going to Hastings Reef! So we felt quite at home.
The reef was fantastic, very colourful with thousands of fish. On the first snorkelling trip we almost couldn't swim back to the boat as the current was strong and we had drifted away from the boat.
The crew were fantastic but for those of you in education it was a bit like being on a "PGL Experience". The CD playing on the way back was very much like Thursday night at the Crypt so Sandra felt very much at home.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Cairns and Beyond

Having escaped Brisbane we have moved into a very lovely apartment in North Cairns. The weather is very hot, scenery great and the cricket's on the telly! What's not to like!
We hired a car from the airport ( a rather strange automatic Nissan something) and have been exploring the coastline.



There are warning signs all over telling of the dangers of crocodiles. Hopefully we won't encounter any. There are also small fish called stingers who surprisingly sting you quite badly. there are 2 treatments for the stings one is vinegar (there are bottles of this along the beach area) or urine. We will probably keep out of the stinger water areas as the treatment could be a true test of friendship and if you are on your own it could be really tricky!

Drove up the coast today and wandered in Mossman Gorge rainforest. Supposed to be the oldest rainforest. Brush turkeys wandering around everywhere, they even have their very own road signs to warn you. Rushed out of the apartment this afternoon to investigate very loud squawks - a couple of very large parrots either fighting over territory or peforming a weird mating ritual.

From Singapore to Australia

After a long hot walk and several detours Phil eventually Add Videofound the restaurant he was looking for where you eat curry from a banana leaf with your hand (not both hands Sandra! - the reason for one handedness is toilet related!). It was our favourite meal in Singapore and was washed down with a couple of Tiger beers. And yes Sandra managed to progress to drinking beer without lemonade!
We walked every day in the beautiful Botanic Gardens. It was always full of walkers, joggers, 'Moms' exercising with babies in strollers and many people doing Tai Chi. It was lovely in the early morning, not too hot or humid. Had to stop at the noodle shop on the way back each time for a bit of breakfast!Travelling in Asia you get used to seeing some unusual food choices but the worst yet has to be 'Lavender Frog Porridge' - I kid you not!

The news is full of the dreadful flooding in Queensland and the imminent threat to Brisbane - just as we are about to fly there. We have confirmed with the hotel and airline that we should travel. Arrived in Brisbane the day after the peak. Very sad for this beautiful city. Bad news comes through for us that the work permits are still not through and we have to wait. Getting a bit stir crazy in one room with so much luggage, decide to fly to Cairns and book into an apartment hotel. What a treat, a kitchen!!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Phil takes a trip down memory lane

Return to the Colbar

Phil met up with Mr Lim and revisited the scene of many Friday afternoon drinks sessions. The place has been moved piece by piece from its original location to even closer to the school. Mr and Mrs Lim were sorry that the picture of the Tanglin teachers had faded away. Well it was 30 years old! The menu is the same and the place as popular as ever.

Return to Tanglin
We visited Tanglin School and were shown around by a member of staff. The school now has 2600 students aged 3-18 and is vast.
As we were walking around who should we see but Fandi! It was great to see him. He is still in the Resources Room but is now in charge.
We were shown some of the Tanglin magazines and saw many pictures with Phil and the gang of five teachers (Mark, Tommy, Dr Bum, Dennis, Alan and Barry - and yes we know that's more than 5).

Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Final Week

The Final Week Before Departure

We knew we had a lot to do BUT, like marriage and having children, nothing can quite prepare you for it. Take your pick from our Top Seven Stressful Moments:

  1. Buying an electric cooker for the flat only to be told by the kitchen fitter that there was no electric supply. SO go out and buy a gas cooker that day and fit it in Sandra’s mini (wouldn’t fit in the Jag much to Phil’s disgust).
  2. Nearly having several double hernias lifting fridge freezers, boxes, bags and crates of every description down our stairs then up the stairs of the flat. Sandra’s neck giving out for the last week (probably due to wrestling an IKEA sofa up the stairs to the flat!).
  3. Trying to communicate with utility providers on the phone or by email and getting a straight or helpful answer from anyone.
  4. Selling two cars to car dealers at the very last minute (Mini at 8.30am and the Jag at 12.30 on the day before we left). Although they didn’t pay a particularly good price there was some satisfaction gleaned from not always answering their questions completely e.g. Question: Does the car have a CD multi changer Answer 1 from Phil: Yes Completely Truthful Answer: Yes but it hasn’t worked for 4 years
  5. Needing to send stuff out to PNG by freight and finding a company that could do this. When the van arrived the man refused to carry the items down to the van (this being 1 day before departure). Luckily Jason (Toby’s mate) lifted all items to the van whilst the lazy bastard stood by taking photos of the stairs, presumably so he could complain. It will be interesting to see which complaint has most impact (his or ours). The items did go but whether they get there only time will tell.
  6. Trying to clean the house whilst moving out, renting out and living there at the same time all on the last day. We did it but with only JUST enough time.

Top Three Embarrassing Moments (so far):

  1. Being told that one of our 3 suitcases was 3 kilos overweight and we had to redistribute it into the other 2 cases. All cases were bursting at the seams so we had to move a couple of boxes from one into suitcase and substitute with items of Sandra’s underwear. All at check-in whilst people were waiting behind us. Phil did get a bit stressy at this point and insisted on throwing away a pair of shoes which seemed to be the difference between getting checked in and not getting checked in!
  2. Not just being offered Qantas pyjamas but Sandra accepting and putting them on! (Evidently noone had ever offered her pyjamas before so it was a new experience - she got too hot later in the flight so took them off anyway).
  3. Sandra bringing her own big socks for the plane. When we looked on the floor there was still an old plaster stuck on the outside (very classy!)