Travelling to Wabag, Enga Province
Sleepy eyed, I arrived to a packed Port Moresby airport at 5 am in the morning to check in for the flight to Wapenamanda, Enga Province.
There were long queues at the check-in counter. I stood at the line where the sign for Wapenamanda was up. But we were not being served, the desk instead being used to check a horde of anxious passengers for Lae and the New Guinea Island region.
There was a calm female voice over the Public Announcement system at the airport continuously advising all these worried passengers that there flight was about to depart. She was really getting their blood pressure up.
An hour later, we finally got checked in and received our boarding passes.
At 6.30 am we boarded the plane, an Air Nuigini Dash 8 at Port Moresby Airports Gate 6.
Once one board and seated I asked the air hostess, a beautiful Tolai girl with golden blond hair and a radiant smile – how long would it take us to get to Wapenamanda.
An hour, thirty minutes she said.
I sat back and looked around. The chatter of the other passengers was filled with sounds and syllables I could not understand. They were all from Enga. They all spoke the same language. They looked at me and smiled, as if they felt I understood what they said. I smiled back not knowing but obviously understanding that it was something worth a genuine smile. They could have been saying something about me, having fun at my expense. But in all my years, I have never known Engan’s to be sarcastic and to play mind games on strangers.
But I was stranger. And they were strangers to me. But it was okay, it was a good feeling on the plane, like we were old friends going home.
As the plane taxied down the tarmac, I closed my eyes and dozed off.
The hostess woke me up later as she was serving coffee and biscuits. I looked out the window at a beautiful day.
We were passing over Papua New Guinea, up into the highlands. The clouds below lay flat and calm in the morning air, glistening in the morning sun. They were like a spread of silver – white ice caps, floating on top of a sea that was colored green, blue and black by the rugged landscape of Papua New Guinea that lay below it.
It is strange how the earth seems shaped from up here. It is as if someone put large dirt mounds filled with white rocks everywhere, and then poured water all over the creation. And then for further effect tilted the earth a few degrees up this way and a few degrees up the other side, so the mountains look like they are on the slope of large mountains as all around dark crevices dug by fast flowing waters created a web that had no center yet like a net, held everything in this crazy mountainous region together.
And it was all colored the ferocious dark, dark green of vegetation.
Large human settlements could be seen from the air. Most of these villages and towns were on flat slopes and were organized into long rectangular strips.
The Wapenamanda airport is on one of these infrequent flats. Sheltered by mountains on both sides, the landing was spectacular as the plane coasted over a landscaped shaped by rivers, its wheels gently rolling on the soft grass as it landed.
I just had one bag so I walked out. I asked the locals where I could catch the bus to Wabag.
One local called Lon Lasaleh, a short wiry guy volunteered to escort me to the nearby Wapenamanda Market, about three minutes for the airport and put me on the bus to Wabag. I immediately remembered Lon’s name because for some reason it conjured up the image of a ‘long lizard’ in my mind.
Wapenamanda lies just off the Okuk, or Highlands Highway. If you travel up from here, you head to Wabag, the Laigam station and to Porgera, where the giant gold mine operated by Barrick (PNG) is.
If you travel down the highway, you head through Western Highlands Province (Mt Hagen), Chimbu, Eastern Highlands (Goroka) on onwards to the coastal Momase region, Morobe (Lae) & Madang Province.
It was quite busy. As well as a lot of foot traffic, cars, trucks and large semi-trailer truck carrying containers and other cargo passed us as we walked to the Wapenamanda market bus stop.
Wapenamanda is a strip town, basically a small center built and expanding along the Highlands Highway. It’s relatively flat compared to the rest of Enga.
At the market everyone was milling around, chatting, waiting, selling fruits, vegetables, bettlenut, store goods and pig rope. Black pigs and white pigs, large and small were tied up in some corners of the strip and other pigs just wandered freely through the early morning crowds, eating discarded corn knobs and banana peels.
There was a little boy 4 or 5 years old who had a puppy in his bilum standing close to me on the highway. He was with his grandmother, waiting for a bus to Wabag. He wouldn’t let anyone close to that puppy.
Finally, a bus arrived. It was a frantic case of push and shove to get myself on the bus and we were off.
The busfare to Wabag from Wapenamanda fluctuates between K7.00 – K8.00, depending on whose bus you were catching. We were on a K7.00 bus so that was great.
Ten minutes later the bus came to a sudden stop. The water in the radiator had finished and it had over heated. After attending to it we rolled off again on a bumpy trip to Wabag town.
We passed places were apparently there was a tribal fight and lots of destruction, but it looks like its peaceful again as houses could be seen being built, gardens cultivated and coffee nursery projects established.
Tribal fights are part of the culture in Papua New Guinea, especially in the highlands region. In tribal fights in the highlands everything is destroyed. It’s a destructive force in many places. People lose lives, gardens, cash crops, houses, schools and even hospitals are destroyed. So it’s always a positive sign when you see such activities in former war zones.
The trip to Wabag took 30 minutes. As you reach Wabag, there is more foot traffic, more vehicles and more houses the closer you go. You descend down a slope, up and over a bridge to get to the main town.
Wabag is a colonial outpost. A former airstrip on very flat slope, it became the centre of Enga Province administration in the 1970’s and thus became the provincial capital.
It’s quite scenic. A small town with large trees and healthy vegetation, surrounded by mist covered mountains. It’s cold most mornings and nights but during the day the weather is quite pleasant.
One of the passengers on the bus, a Pastor Andrew helped me find the guest house I was going to stay at.
Before coming here, I had posted on the Facebook ‘Enga Group Wall’ about my intentions to come to Wabag and places to stay. The people on the forum were quite helpful with one lady mentioning I should try out the Potape Guest House if I have a small budget.
It’s tucked away down one of the streets on the Eastern side of the town. For K150 a night, it was self contained room with a TV, jug, had a shower, toilets but most importantly a big bed with nice thick blankets. It can get quite cold here.
I dropped my bags off and wandered up the town to have a look. Enga doesn’t have a tourism bureau or a visitor centre so the best place to call in to see places you can go to and visit is the local tourism offices.
I called in to the Wabag Provincial Tourism office and met up with Bob Awali, the local Commerce and Tourism Officer in the Wabag District Officer. I told him about my writing project. He was eager to help mentioning places I could visit and things I could do.
He took me down to this wonderful Cultural Center in Wabag known as the Enga Take Ende to meet Andy Utuai, the Provincial Tourism Officer.
The Take Ende is a great Cultural Center and is a place where every visitor to Enga should visit.
I set an appointment to be down there the next day to do my stuff. Back in town I discovered some great places to eat. Known as Kai Bars, they can be found all over PNG. In Wabag I found one that served a large plate of boiled chicken, broccoli, rice and banana on paper plates so I had a good meal for less than K12.00.
My stomach full, I walked around the town a bit, headed back to the guest house and crashed for the day. I was pretty tired.
Thank you for reading. The next posts over the next few days will be about Wabag Town, the Ende Take, the stunning secrets of the Surinki Area, the Birds of Paradise at the Kumul Lodge and more posts and videos.
Enjoy this images