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.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Is PNG Really Dangerous?

A question that I have been asked quite a few times in different places - most of the time by my family members. So after being jogged for my opinion again I thought this time I would just get the whole question out the way and put my current answer in a post, therefore anytime in the future when asked said question I can refer to the below.

So Is PNG Really Dangerous? Well the statistics are scary. But of course they don't tell the full story of what PNG is like. In fact they really tell you bugger all. You can get raped, beaten, robbed or murdered anywhere. Though you would be very unlucky to be blown up by a terrorist here.

A better question that I should answer is PNG really dangerous for a tourist? And in a word to this I would have to say, No. As a resident there is an element of risk, as a transient visitor, there is also an element of risk, but it is low. I am of course talking physical danger, and excluding the usual dangers when travelling, plane crash, car accident or general mishap.

PNGers can be naturally aggressive, but like I keep saying, towards each other. As a new comer, and if people knew you were a new comer to their land you will get the right royal treatment. The locals genuinely want to change the image that PNG has abroad. If anything would physically happen to you while you were here, you would guarantee that the perpetrator(s) would be hunted down and some nasty revenge would be enacted.

I have done a fair amount of travelling (not as much as I would like) and the only place I have been to that really compares to PNG, as in being a developing country, would be Mongolia. Ironically in my eyes Ulaan Baator and Port Moresby would in terms of capital cities be on an equal level in terms of decrepitude. As in all travelling you have to be savvy. Follow the simple local advice and you will not end up in a situation where the chances of some mishap happening would be greater. In PNG this would be don't wander around after dark, especially on a pay-day Friday when the chances of meeting drunken yobs are greater.

So as for personal safety I think things are pretty cool, just need to be sensible. Duh. Of course shit can happen, but I am yet to hear of a tourist getting into any physical harm. Partially probably because there are so little tourists. 40,000 a year I think. But mainly I think due to the reasons I have stated above.

Robbing though is a slightly different story. With the gap between the haves and have nots here, luxury items are of course viewed with envy. Walking into a supermarket you will see lots of loiterers just wandering through, gazing at all the items they cannot afford. A few take it to the extreme and rob whatever they can with the aim to make it cash or hock off the luxury items they get for cash (same as most robbery really). So if you happen to be on a bus up the highlands highway and it gets held up, they wont rob everyone else and leave the nice looking white person, your stuff will get flogged as well. You can read a story about someone's experience of exactly this here.

It is a shame the attention that PNG gets from the media in (mainly) Australia. They are of course just stating the stats and the real life events but they are missing out on the fact that 99.9% of the population are genuine, fantastic, hearts-of-gold people. The problems of PNG are numerous and many, but that should not deter people from seeing that this country is truly a unique place, with some absolutely stunning scenery. In fact I feel sorry for people who miss out on some of this beauty.

Unfortunately building the tourism trade in this country is a chicken and the egg scenario. They need tourists to build the infrastructure and infrastructure to increase the tourists. Because of the untouched natural beauty and the cultural diversity I have no doubt that PNG will be high on the must see destinations one day, it could just be a few generations away though.

Legal disclaimer: This is the opinion of the author, no responsibility will be taken if reader is maimed, killed, raped or physically, emotionally or mentally harmed while in Papua New Guinea. Always wanted to do one of those. Can I be a lawyer now?