Kundiawa long Kegsugl

So it was in November, 2008 that I had travelled through 17 of the then 20 Provinces of Papua New Guinea, so my plan was to fly into the Western Highlands Province, drive across into Enga and take photos of the birds, and then drive all the way back across the WHP and into the mountainous province of Chimbu, home to PNG highest mountain of Mt Wilhelm.

In the morning we jumped into the front seat of a little bus and our lady driver headed off. In the back, her sister was laying down sleeping. Our driver didn't use the gears to their ability, she would take off in first, race to second, into third, fly up into fourth, and then fifth, and as the road went uphill we gradually slowed down until we nearly stalled in top gear. She would then stop the car, and put it back into first, race up into second, into third and fourth and then try fifth again.

On the descents, she would drive with her foot flat to the floor and we would race along at over 100kph. On one such descent, in the distance, I could see a man standing by the side of the road and he had killed a snake. The python was then laid out across the entire width of the road, and you could see where a car had already run over this poor dead creature. Now PNGeans don't like snake and our driver feared them with terror!

As we raced towards the snake, I wondered what her reaction would be when she saw it...

And then she saw it. A blood curdling scream of volume surely not possible from a human voice screamed "SSSSSSSSSSSNAAAAAAAAAAAAKE!" and her eyes filled with tears of horror as she then took her hands off the steering wheel and covered her eyes, all the while, screaming "Snake Snake Snake SSSSSSSSSNAAAAAKE" over and over again.

We were doing around 140kph when we hit the snake. The front tyres went "thump" and the back tyres instantly echoed the front. The sound and feel of hitting such a huge snake made our driver scream louder and longer "SSSSSSSSSSSNAAAAAAAAKE!"

She was sobbing uncontrollably!

Her screams of terror woke up her sister who also has a fear of snakes and she looked out the back window to see the massive python that we had just launched the bus off. She said one word, and one word only...

"SSSSSSSSSSSSNAAAAAAAAAAKE!"

And then she screamed and cried and screamed and cried which made her sister scream and cry and scream and cry, and I was sitting helpless in the passenger seat of a bus doing 140kph in the mountains of Papua New Guinea with two screaming banshees and one dead python.

Luckily, my GF who has minimal driving skills but is cool under pressure regarding wildlife and screaming Highland meris, cooly held onto the steering wheel so we stayed relatively straight down the highway.

Luckily for us, the road stopped going down hill and started to climb... still in fifth gear the car started to strain under the steepness of the climb and we slowly ground our way down to a stall... cough cough splutter went the bus and we dribbled to a halt, where my GF pulled up the handbrake and we sat still in the middle of the road. All of us just contemplating what just occurred. Our driver and her sister just sobbing, curled up in foetal position.

And then silence. Our driver composed herself, straightened her meri blouse, blew her nose, sniffled once or twice, and then started the engine.

First gear, race into second up into third, flat out in fourth and then fifth.

She dropped us off at the Hagen Airport and we thanked her for the ride, I said watch out for the snake on her way home and she screamed and cried once again. We walked down to a coffee shop and ordered a pot of tea. There is nothing remarkable about that last statement except that PNG does not do Coffee Shops and Airports are usually catered with Coke and Twisties. I had heard from a reliable source (the Australian High Commissioner no less) that the best coffee shop in PNG (at the time, the only coffee shop) was nearby the Hagen Airport.

As we sat sipping our tea, in a very luxurious setting, tastefully decorated, we were awed by such a quaint little place, when the rest of the town of Hagen was all about decay and collapse.

A lovely lady named Betty arrived and we shook hands. I had met Betty a few times before on her travels around PNG and I had made arrangements with her to see her Lodge high up on the slopes of PNGs highest mountain, and do a few bushwalks in the region. She had promised to drive me up the mountain to her lodge for a super expensive fee. But I didn't have a lot of choice.

So Betty sat up front in the passenger seat, my GF and I sat back in the crew cab and our elderly driver slowly drove up this long and winding road. It was a goat track of a road and we slowly crawled our way up and up and up. There were moments where the side of the mountain had fallen down the valley below and as we inched past, I would look down out of my window and watch the tyres just loosen a little more of the stones and dirt and this would trickle off down several hundred metres to the valley below. The driver knew every inch of the road and he needed to as the gap between staying on the road and falling down the cliff was ever so slight. I took photos from my window of the steep mountains and the vegetable gardens ploughed into the steep sides. These people were true mountain people of PNG and the rarefied air was thin of oxygen, as we climbed higher and higher.

At times there were large boulders on the road, and as we stopped the car to move the boulders, young men would appear and say that they would move the boulders for us, for a fee. A road tax so to speak. At an old steel Bailey Bridge, all of the timber planks had been removed, but some young men on the other side could hire us some timber planks so we could get our car across, again for a fee.

The 40km journey from Kundiawa to Kegsugl took nearly 3 hours, at many times we slowed to walking pace to negotiate the road conditions. We also stopped and chatted to some of the locals along the way. We stopped here and this is the house of our driver and this was his grandson who heard his pop's car coming up the hill so he waited at the gate. I asked Granddad if it were okay to take his son's picture and he said yeah no worries. I remember posting a copy back to him later...

After chatting with the driver's family we then continued on higher up the mountain to Betty's Lodge, Kegsugl.

Photo taken 10 November 2008
I think this just might be my favourite story so far, certainly gave me a chuckle this lovely Sunday morning.
posted November 17th, 2012  
@kjarn - a chuckle? It was terrifying! ;)
posted November 17th, 2012  
what an awesome read! whens the book coming out? x
posted November 17th, 2012  
Terrifying for you, hilarious for me.
posted November 17th, 2012  
@sam_cr - one day...

@kjarn - I thought I was gonna die with those two screaming banshees!
posted November 17th, 2012  
I'm sure you did, ha ha!
posted November 17th, 2012  
posted November 17th, 2012  
oh gosh! :D yeah it must have been terrifying for you but it was such a fun to read! :D
posted November 17th, 2012  
@agentzuckerguss - It was quite a crazy day!
posted November 17th, 2012  
Great story! I was on the edge of my seat! Love this cute little baby! What a great shot of him! Kids are the same cute all over the world!
posted November 17th, 2012  
Wow what a story and a great picture!
posted November 17th, 2012  
Very nice shot~
posted November 17th, 2012  
Heck I would have been screaming just as loud or louder. That was a great story.
posted November 17th, 2012  
@grammyn - Thanks Katy, I was on the edge of my seat too!

@maaikel - Cheers Maaikel, thanks!

@shotsbymeg - Thanks Meghan :)
posted November 17th, 2012  
@bobfoto LOL! I imagine you were! I might have been on my knees praying had I been there! ;~}
posted November 17th, 2012  
@hollandcrew - I'm so glad you were not there too Al!!! ;)
posted November 17th, 2012  
Lol. Great telling of the story
posted November 17th, 2012  
I don't mind snakes but I would have been screaming at the screaming banshees - and a good deal louder!! Amazing that you survived your travels at all!
posted November 17th, 2012  
Great story! PNG is a very different place!!
posted November 18th, 2012  
@tigerdreamer - Thanks Karen, this project of mine has rekindled many fond memories!

@judithdeacon - I dunno Judith, screaming highland meris have big lungs! They can make quite a din when required!

@georgews - It sure is GPix, they unofficially call it the Land of the Unexpected!
posted November 18th, 2012  
Scary! (more the driving part than the snake part). Cute bubba too.
posted November 18th, 2012  
Haha, this (as always) brought back those terrifying memories of driving up and down those Highlands goat tracks crumbling on the edge of those awe-inspiring mountains. And I bet the roads are a lot worse now than they were when I lived there. But a great story and you actually lived to tell it!
posted November 18th, 2012  
TC
Quite a story! Amazed at the look of "old souls" in the childen's faces. This one looks to be a toddler yet has such an intense, mature look.
posted November 18th, 2012  
Wow, I am breathless. I would probably lose control if I saw a snake too! I love this shot of a child with the hut in the background.
posted November 18th, 2012  
If the dang bus had sputtered sooner you could have photoed the Sssssnaaaaaake. Great story, as usual. Expressive little kid in your photo.
posted November 18th, 2012  
Every time I visit your page you do not disappoint! This is fantastic work, Jason! Love the composition!
posted November 18th, 2012  
@corymbia - Oh they are not the world's best drivers over there!
posted November 18th, 2012  
@girlie - Wait for a day or two and I will wax lyrically of walking from Enga to Madang.

@tctime - kids become so independent early in PNG, and they are forced to. Survival is a key.

@tthompsonca - The snake was huge! I have never seen one like it.... was as long as the road was wide!

@rvwalker - The young fella was a cool guy, happy to see his Dad!

@orangecrush - Thanks Jerry, that's mighty decent of you to say so! Cheers!
posted November 18th, 2012  
So very cute.
posted November 18th, 2012  
Lovely, he looks like a great guard
posted November 18th, 2012  
@mylifemyride - he was a cool little guy!

@houdiniem - Junior Guard!
posted November 18th, 2012  
Cute little guy. Terrifying for you maybe but HIGH-larious for us to hear about after the fact. I love that you set the driver off again when you got off by mentioning the snake again. :D
posted November 20th, 2012  
@geocacheking - That was gold when she screamed again after I said the word snake!!!
posted November 21st, 2012  
Hi Jason! Made a cuppa special tea, gone to loo, sitting down with cat on lap ready to catch up.....
posted November 30th, 2012  
Blimey - glad I got comfortable! What a day... I literally laughed at the anti-snake lady and couldn't believe the size of the thing or the audacity of the mountain folk who make a living out of poor old road users. And at the end, this great photo of the sweet little chap, the home-made fence and authentic thatched roof are a real treat. What a country. (And what a storyteller!)
posted November 30th, 2012  
@filsie65 - you go to the toilet with a cat on your lap?

and thank you.
posted November 30th, 2012  
lol, my mom has a phobia of snakes like that... well, except she fights while she's tearing up. :D It was always great fun to mess with her.

I think this is such a cute shot... he seems a bit bewildered doesn't he? Like who are you and where's gramps?
posted December 2nd, 2012  
@hellcat - he was wondering who granddad was hanging out with...
posted December 2nd, 2012  
dirty hairy white guy...
***you know I'm teasing you right?***
posted December 2nd, 2012  
@hellcat - if the label fits?
posted December 3rd, 2012  
No.... Not into labels, they don't get the subtleties.
posted December 3rd, 2012  
@hellcat - I'm subtle like a brick sometimes.
posted December 3rd, 2012  
it's all good
posted December 3rd, 2012  
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