THE WORLD MOST DANGEROUS HIGHWAY AND BLOOD FEUDS
Our first phase complete, we headed down the Finsterre mountain range into the vast open expanse of the Ramu Valley. As we reached closer to the highway that cuts through the valley our nerves and trepidation grew. We were nearing one of the most dangerous roads in Ïthe world were hold ups, kidnapping and murder are a regular accordance.
Fortunately for us our contact on this side of the mountain was one of the most well connected policemen in all of PNG. Unfortunalty, he was not answering his phone. Making our way out of the shade of a lush palm oil plantation, we were hit with the searing heat of the highway. It’s position in the heart of the valley creating an oven life effect, the relative cool of the past few days spent at altitude quickly vanished, and sweat began to flow freely.
As we stood by the side of the road frantically trying to phone our contact, a large crowd of local workers began to gather, White faces are fairly uncommon in these parts, and our anxiety was made all the more worse by the fact that the majority of the people where young men all armed four foot bush knives.
As the gang began to grow our accompanying guide Stanley voiced his concerns, so we put into place our contingency, We headed for the local primary school, It was 5km the wrong way down the high way but the best option that we had available.
Situated near to the highway, Dumpu primary school occupies one of the more spectacular settings I have ever seen. The surrounding mountains created an awe’ inspiring panorama.
Despite the Easter holidays most of the teachers in PNG live in the schools, they are almost settlements in their own right.
A huge bearded bald man came out of his house smiling to greet us. After our situation was explained, he agreed whole heartedly to accommodate us as a bonus would walk us to our next settlement the following day, guaranteeing safe passage.
We said our good byes to the legends that had guided us over the mountains and the following day we hit the road again, this time under the protection of a fearsome looking posse of teachers.
Our initial terror at walking along this ill reputed highway was soon replaced by the boredom and discomfort faced by such a long distance on Tarmac.
One of the teachers, Simon, red toothed and wild eyed from over indulgence in beetle nut turned to us and said;
“we have tasted the road on this day”
Couldn’t have put it better myself.
Delirious from dehydration and heat we stumbled into Ramu sugar town with our gang of guardian teacher protectors. From here we set about pursuing our next contact. Before vanishing off the radar our police contact had sent us a message with the details of a gentlemen to get in touch with once we reached Ramu.
Phoning the number supplied we were shocked to hear a British voice on the other end of the line.
Ramu sugar town gets its name from the Ramu sugar plantation that is situated around the town. Also with sugar it produces beef and palm oil, stared by a Brit many years ago and since sold on to a Malaysian company, it is PNG’s largest employer, and still employs a number of expats who oversee the running of the company.
We were met by Will, who proceeded to take us to his house in the gated managerial compound.
We were treated like absolute royalty during our stay in Ramu. Once word of our escapades was out we were lavished with so much food our stomachs struggled to adapt from the starch diet they had previously been imposed to.
After two days of being fully squared away by a legendary group of expats, we were ready to hit the road once again. Will had assigned one of his team a friendly young chap called Simon to accompany us.
Using the palm oil plantations to shade and protect us we followed the route of the road.
An utterly hopeless attempt was made at a river crossing, to try and bypass a 5km dog leg. Despite our combined efforts, the water was flowing far too fast and with little in the way of anchors we gave up on it. Not before I was nearly swept downstream that is (no one likes a quitter!).
We eventually reached the settlement of Waterreiss, where good old Will had arranged for us to stay with one of the community leaders in the area. The reality of our location soon stared to hit us. Our host Michael met and informed us his ‘boys’ could not escort us to where we needed to go the following day. They would only be able to take us 5km away from where we were headed.
The reason? Last year students for the two settlements had stared a feud over a stolen can of Pepsi. From the conviction reports we have heard this resulted in between 10 and 28 people killed. Life is valued a lot less out here. If our escort followed us into where we were heading they would be bloodshed.
‘What about us though?’
Was our repose to this news.
‘You boys will be fine, you are white’.
Well I guess that was that then.
The following morning when we awoke, Lou was sickly white with what I thought was nerves for the day ahead.
‘Mate I am hanging out’. He said, along with the phrase.
‘Through the eye of a needle’.
He was clearly suffering from an endless list of potential tropical ailments.
He made the call to continue and soon we were walking along the highway, with a gang of teenagers all armed to the nines. As the heat intensified Lou’s condition began to worsen and soon he was in a very bad way.
By the time we reached the edge of the Waterrisse boys boundary our escort offered to continue until we were safe at out next contacts village. Not wanted to start another gang war we declined and made our way across the bridge into Antiragon territory.
Calling our next contact frantically, we were directed to a settlement a few km from where we were we couldn’t miss it I was told, as a community gathering was taking place. I was to ask for Ben as soon as we arrived.
Eyes watch us suspiciously as we walked, no one saying a word as we had entered from enemy territory. The heat bore down relentlessly, and by the time we reached the village Louis was completely delirious. This was not the most ideal spot he could have picked.
The gathering had bought hundreds of young men, all carrying bush knives, hatchets, cleavers and anything pointy they could get their hands on.
One hand guiding my pal, the other pointlessly checked my K-bar (knife) was in reach. We slowly made our way into the crowds of silent starring dark eyes.
Out of the throng of murderous stares, a tall, muscular older man appeared. His smiling face didn’t do much to put me at ease, but he shook my hand whole heartedly, and said he would take us to Ben.
Once away from the crowds we were taken into the village proper. An eclectic mix of bush material buildings and some made from sheet metal for the wealthier home owners.
We finally met with Ben a large middle aged friendly guy who agreed to accommodate us. He added if our guides had crossed the bridge with us, they would all have been killed. Scary place PNG.
Once I had Louis safely in a bed in a small bush house, I began to run through some contingency’s in case his illness was looking serious. Making sure he was left alone to rest and unaware of how many people were around carrying enough blades to make a samurai blush was curial.
I spent all afternoon with Ben chatting, and learning all about his village. He explained in great detail about the previous year’s violence, and how his people had been brought back from the dead by their sorcerers.
I told him the British military could use with a few of those, and he laughed loudly.
The following day Louis was feeling much better, but the previous day’s antics had took it out of him, so Ben kindly agreed to let us stay another day.
The community gathering was to mark the start of the election season, which was getting under way today. To top it off a football tournament was being held. After mentioning I played at home, I was offered a chance to play in a match once all of the political speeches were out the way
I’m pretty sure that great things were expected and I am almost certain that I disappointed. That said, everyone watching (most importantly) the people from the areas we are due to travel through we all cheering and laughing at me. At the end of the game, a huge line of locals gathered to take our home address so they could write to us. Hearts and minds in the bag out next few days walk looked set to be safe.
With Lou almost fully recovered, the next day we set off to continue our journey. The previously mentioned Ramu company owned a cattle ranch 35km away. That evening we were once again being lashed up by yet another expat, a no nonsense beef farmer called Phil who’s greeting was
‘I hope you boys like steak and chips’
Broached no argument.
After a night of being well And truly spoilt we set out in what we planned to be our last day on the ‘rascal highway’.
Our next stop Chivising was 45km away, but it marked where we would return once again to the wild heart of PNG, and away from the danger posed by the highway.
The previous day a friendly little chap had joined us for our trek. This morning he had returned surprisingly he had found our company good fun. After a slap-up breakfast provided by our good pal Phil, we hit the road once again.
Kelly had bought his mate John along and we spent the day laughing and joking along the journey.
Joviality was once again replaced by our old friend abject misery and after 9 hours of yomping on Tarmac throughout he tropical heat, I was staring to flag. The icing on our cake of pain was that the gate to Chivsing was 45km but the village itself was in fact 52km. Finding out I had 7 km more to do was like being told Christmas had been cancelled. But despite the self-pity and hobbling I eventually made it into Chivising in what Louis has dubbed
‘Broken Agie level 2 state’
I was not full blown level 3 and above which he was a few days ago, but I was in a good amount of rag order.
Staggering into Chivising marked the finish of the second phase on our New Guinea traverse. It was the part of our journey that has caused us the largest amount of concern, but thanks to careful planning and extremely helpful people it has been a massive success.
140km on foot on long one of the most dangerous highways in the word, isn’t too bad going for the Mad explorers.
What we are doing is easily the hardest thing we have ever done if any part of our stories make you wince at the huge strain that we are putting out bodies and minds through, it is worth bearing though for the service men and women with daily uphill struggles harder than any 140km walk on a highway.
So as always thanks for being a part of what we are trying to accomplish, and if you haven’t already, get yourself on the virgin giving page and chuck us a fiver.