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.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

On The Buses

One of the things that really freaked me out and had me worried for my safety, when I first arrived, was catching the PMV's (Public Motor Vehicle) aka bus.

I guess it could have been something to do with the stories you hear before you get here, about robberies and people holding up buses all the time etc etc. It even comes as an official statement from the Australian government.
Public Motor Vehicles (PMVs) in Papua New Guinea are unreliable and can be hazardous due to poor maintenance and frequent robberies. Roads are generally in poor condition. Taxis are unreliable and also targets for robbery and where possible, visitors should rent self drive vehicles from a reputable care hire company or use hotel transport where available.

Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade Travel Advice for Papua New Guinea. Monday, 08 November 2004.
The biggest problem I have with the above, is that there are no taxis in Lae. So the only way to get to and from town without your own vehicle is to catch a PMV.

Like I said this was a source of nervous tension when I first needed to do this. It was a week after I got here and I did not know anyone apart from the guys I met at work. I decided that I should get in touch with the other AVIers in town, so I rang them and agreed to meet up on Friday night, we would go out to Phil's, have a good time and I would crash at one of their places.

Now I got my stuff together after work on Friday and with some angst went and jumped on to the first bus that I heard shouting "erikuuutaunerikuutaun....".

I might at this point mention the way buses operate. There are two guys on them who do the work. One is the driver, and one is the "bos kru" (boss crew - a PNG equivalent of a conductor). The bos kru is the friendly face of the PMV and the one who collects all the fares and does the important job of yelling out the front passenger window announcing where the bus is going. Now obviously the bos krus takes great pride in this job because they have managed to almost invent a whole way of speak to do this.

"erikuuutaunerikuutaun...." (repeat continuously) is a call out that the bus is heading to Eriku and Town. This is easy enough to decipher as all the buses from Uni go to Eriku and Town. The problem as I will point out later is when you get multiple buses going to multiple destinations.

Anyway back to my story. I jumped onto the bus and was heading into Eriku. No problems there. I even got chatting to a guy in front. Then when we got to Eriku and I told him I was heading off to a mate's place, he offered to escort me all the way. Too easy. All this talk about security is just hot air I thought.

I met up with the guys, had a good night, and crashed on a spare bed. The next morning I decided that I should go and do some investigation of the town on foot. I head over to the Eriku shopping street and sussed it out before I thought I might investigate the town a bit and decided to walk off towards town proper. In hindsight not a great thing to do, not because it is particularly unsafe during the day, but because it is a bloody long way.

On the way I got numerous stares, hellos and thumbs up from the locals though. Obviously I was not doing something that many white guys do. I checked out the Botanical Gardens, paid my 90 toea walking-in entrance fee and immediately decided that this place had seen better days. The place was more jungle than garden.

I walked on past the hospital as soon as I decided that it was impossible to take a short-cut through the gardens without taking along a bush knife. Eventually after about one and half hours walking I got in to town proper and had a look through some of the shops before deciding that I was seriously getting a burnt neck (I was only wearing a peak cap), and it was time to head off back home.

Now this is when the fun started. At the main bus stop in town it was manic. About a hundred people crowding around while the buses got themselves into a jam trying to get out and onto the street and to their destinations which the were being shouted out in that bos kru language. "makittmakittmakitt...", "barrookankoomingbarrook...". My problem was that none of the bos krus from what I could determine were singing out Unitech.

The buses have a route number spray painted on them, and I knew I had to catch an 11c or even better an 11u bus, but I couldn't see any. So I hung around for about half an hour before I decided this was just too much. I decided I would be better to walk back to Eriku, than to try and decipher this. First though I tried to see if I could see any Uni vehicles driving past. No luck.

I trudged back to Eriku via an alternate route which was shorter, keeping an eye out for those ZSU number plates that indicate a university vehicle. Once there it seemed the problem was similar to in town. Masses of people, buses seemingly going everywhere other than where I wanted.

At this point it would have been wise to just ask someone where the buses to the uni left from. Perhaps the reason why I didn't was because I started to believe those warnings that I had been told. I was still scratching my head when I saw what I thought was our departments vehicle pull up at the nearby BP and start fuelling up. Saved.

When I got there and after I started to tap the passenger window, I realised that it wasn't our vehicle at all. It turned out to be a bank manager from the biggest bank here, BSP. Luckily the guy was a nice bloke and he was headed out past the uni anyway and decided to give the dusty, sweaty, sunburnt, white guy a lift back.

OK. So after that disaster you would wonder how on earth I would ever attempt to catch the buses here. Well fast forward to now and I am jumping on and off, riding in the open door ways, fighting the swarms and the pickpocketers. I have got this gig under control.

The first trick is to realise that you wont get a bos kru calling out "Unitechunitech...", instead it will be "unigateunigateunigate...". Next you have to time it right. Saturdays, unfortunately for my first attempt, are the worst days to try and get out to the Uni. For starters they don't go all the way. They try and make a quick buck during the busy periods by only going half the distance from town and then head back. This will usually be to Kankumeng market, where you will be able to change and grab a ride to Uni gate.

The third trick is to have confidence to just fight to get on the buses when it is busy. You need to stand in the right spot where they will pull up, wait till you hear the bos kru sing out Uni gate and then squash to get on. This as I have stated previously is prime-time pickpocket-time. So you need to have a combination action of jabbing out the elbows and concentrating to make sure your pockets aren't getting felt. Luckily the gamin are not as adept as their European cousins.

Once you have all those skills mastered, it really isn't that bad. You just then have to put up with the quality of the buses. That is another post altogether.