An Australian volunteer who was doing whatever volunteers do in PNG.
I was there for 2 years until Dec 2005 .. I hope I made the most of it.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Flying Visit to Aitape

I made a flying visit (literally) with my boss George to Aitape on Monday, staying 24 hours and then flying back. Now if you don't know Aitape (pronounced i-tap-ae), it is on the north coast of the mainland between Wewak and Vanimo. It has the infamous distinction of being the centre of a disaster not long ago, so like Newcastle after the earthquake in '89 it always gets referred to as being the town where the Tsunami hit in '98.

The flight up and back was as always in PNG a bit of an adventure with six take offs and six landing in two days. There is no direct flight there, so we followed the coast flying in a 12 seater 2 prop Spanish built "Bandirante" to Madang. That plane was supposed to take us all the way on to Aitape, but there was apparently an "electrical fault" in the HF radio, which meant we waited at Madang for ages before they put some of us on a small 4 seater "BN3-Islander" to Wewak. Flying from Madang to Wewak is supposed to take 50 minutes in a Bandirante, but in our little "flying shoebox" it ended up taking 80. There was actually a volunteer from France on the flight, heading to Wewak for a holiday, he got the lucky distinction of sitting in the co-pilots seat. If you could have had a conversation over the noise of the engines, I would have joked with him not to flip any switches.

I was directly behind the pilot who was a big guy, which caused his seat to almost bang into my knees. Accompanying us on the flight were a bunch of newspapers and a pallet load of day-old chicks, cheeping the whole way. The plane turned out to be good, because it afforded great views of the mighty Ramu (see attached photo of it variable path) and Sepik rivers, the latter has the same esteem in PNG as the Amazon does in Brazil.

The Wewak to Aitape flight was back on to a Bandriante, and amazingly we made it to our destination only an hour behind schedule. The runway there is the same as the one built during the war in 3 days by the Americans, with the distinctive and amazingly versatile Marsden matting. I think the strip would probably have to be the only original WWII strip still used in commercial operation in PNG or possibly the Pacific? Considering this was now 60 years ago, it is some achievement. As a side note, Marsden matting has done wonders for fences in PNG, they are used as posts, gates and panels. Stock yards in particular have benefited.

Aitape could be best described as a 2 horse town, one street running through the centre, a post office, grocery store, a couple of houses and that's it. Comparing Aitape to my home town of Paterson in the Hunter, the latter would come out looking like a metropolis, and that's saying something.

The reason I went was to look at a college which is being set up. We are going to be using this school for our courses and programs, and the boss decided I could do with a trip up there to see how easily the place could utilise computers.

I got to meet back up with one of the volunteers that I came up here with, Gerry, who is the station manager for a 300ha property currently running about 150 brahman cross. He is a bit of a character and could probably talk underwater. I also got to meet a brand new young volunteer couple, Emmi and Gavin, from AVI who are going to be managing part of the local catholic diocese. They have only been in the country for two weeks and already she has had Malaria.

We did our inspection and talked to the teachers at a local high school, who will be doing some volunteer tutoring. We also talked to year 11 and 12 students who could possibly be potential clients next year about the courses that we are going to be offering, may as well drum up some business.

Flying back we managed to get the same plane the whole way. The terminal at Aitape airport consisted of a red ute and some portable scales. Len the director of the college we visited and Gerry dropped us off, you can see them in the other photo as I am about to board to the Bandirante for the flight back.

The flight back was not as interesting as the one up, as there were no electrical faults this time. We also arrived back at Nadzab (Lae airport) exactly on time.

Tadji airport terminal

About to board. Len, Gerry and me