Common Sense and Whiskey, the Book – Chapter Three

Here is Chapter Three of Common Sense and Whiskey, the book. We'll publish each chapter over the course of the summer. You can order the entire book direct from EarthPhotos Publishing, or at Amazon.com. The accompanying photos, and additional commentary are available at The Common Sense and Whiskey Companion.

 

3 PAPUA NEW GUINEA

Thin clouds hung between the shore and mountains. A single tarmac road plodded east, and a smoky fire burned halfway up the hills.

Inland, it would rain.

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, must be the only capital city in the world not connected to anywhere else by road. Port Moresby swelters alone.

Metal roofs, no apparent center. The parliament building, built in haus tambarin, or spirit house, style, just beside the runway.

A fair gale blew off the sea. Palms rattled along the utterly uncommercial waterfront. Brown shore water settled into azure after fifty meters, and a wooded hillock rose from the harbor half a mile out.

To Cecil Rhodes, the secret of imperialism was to “Teach the natives to want.” The Aussies brought an auto dealership, Coke and Pepsi signs, paved roads, a modern diplomatic community, and modest high rises. Without them would there be teeming anarchy, or would there have been less reason for country people to come to the capital for work?

Germans, Dutch and Australians had colonized the coasts of PNG, but they all assumed there was negligible value inland, over the hills, until the 1930s, when a group of Aussies disappeared over the rim and emerged with eyes wide as saucers and incredible stories of cannibalism and fantastic wildlife.

We flew into the highlands to see about that for ourselves.

•••••

Mt. Hagen, the gateway to the highlands, will scare you. I mean, it was grim, hostile and tense. You held your things tighter. And malaria was rife. The CDC said not “present” but “prevalent.”

Your first impression of the highlands might be of Malaysia – banana trees, brooding nimbus over far hills – but look closer and you’d think more of Tanzania, with filth in the gutters, firewood walking down the road on top of kids’ heads, people squatting by piles of betel nuts. Dirt.

In this mountain town of 30,000, there was a single downtown street, a rugby field, an airstrip and a rabble of housing. Claimed to have the best vegetable market in all of PNG.

The police barracks was a few score of little boxes like half a single-wide with a veranda, populated by wives and children. I might rather live in thatch. There was absolutely no other non-resident here. None.

Except one man from Osaka. He rode with us to the hotel.

The Hotel Highlander hid behind a gray metal barricade. Men in yellow hard hats rolled back the high gate. A six foot fence surrounded the compound and more men in hard hats walked snarling black dogs around the inside perimeter.

Inside, the walls were parchment thin and measurable dust infested the floor, but they did a pretty good job of serving dinner and stubbies, which is Aussie for short beer bottles. Third world chicken is third world chicken. But they curled the tops of spring onions as garnish. A stab at flair.

•••••

In the morning invisible helicopters thwapped at the air above the fog, circling the airport, waiting to land.

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