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, September 06, 2005

On The (Long Distance) Buses

Getting about the town has been discussed, but what about getting around the country? It can be an adventure for the uninitiated and a stress inducing dilemma. But if you are the adventurous tourist and want to save the moolah in PNG you need to travel by road, not air.

Thanks to the caring and sharing kind of guy that I am, and the fact I have learnt a few things while being here, I thought I would pass on some of my wisdom in the realm of inter-town connections. So here they are in a straight shooting, no nonsense, sans muck around, layman?s terms wrap on getting up and down the highway - relatively stress free.

Step 1 - Timing
OK first up is one of the hardest parts of the whole experience, actually knowing when to turn up at the bus stop. If you don't like sitting around all day at a dusty/muddy bus stop, being stared at, then you need to get there at the right time. Best thing to do is to ask what the right time would be to any local mates you know. Ask only one person and go with their advice. Asking more than one will get you a different answer which of course will confuse you.

The time to get there will depend on a few factors, day of the week and whether it is coming up to a public holiday or not. Mid-week and there could be fewer buses and less travellers, on a Friday or Saturday and it may be a few buses and lots of travellers.

Usually the buses will try and fill up before 8 and head off. The quicker they fill up the better in their eyes. You will often here the 'bus crew' yelling "las tupela" (two seats left) to make it more attractive for the punter and so they can get going.

There are also afternoon buses on the Goroka to Lae, vice-versa, run, if you like your sleep in. They will approximately leave around the 2pm mark. Get there at 1 for these.

Step 2 - Selection
The most important step in my opinion is the bus selection. Sometimes this is not an option and you just have to take what's going, but if there is more than one bus to choose from this is what you want to look for.

Pick a bus that is three-quarters full. You will still get a decent seat and you will spend less time trapped inside before it takes off.

Once your decision is made and you climb aboard pick a seat close to the door - if you can - otherwise you will be climbing out over people to stretch the legs at stops. The seats are close together so stretching at stops is good.

The type is also an important consideration. There are pros and cons for either the larger 25 seater Toyota Coaster buses or the smaller 15 seater Hi-Ace mini-vans. The 25 seaters can take forever to fill, but some people say they are safer. The Hi-Ace takes less time but are more cramped and can be suspect. My tip is always go for the newest looking bus. On some runs you are stuck with only a certain type so just, obviously, take that.

Step 3 - Relax
Once on the bus just get into the flow and relax. The endless round and round and forever haggling and organising that the bus crew will do will probably be the most annoying thing of the whole trip. Even when the bus is full, it can take another hour before you are on the road proper. There are bags to collect at houses. Fuel to get. Wantoks who need to be informed ... it goes on.

Then when you are on the road, don't fret when the bus caroms at hundred miles an hour down the hills and around the bends. The driver has done it before (or hope he has at least) and it is best just to look out the window or talk to your new friend sitting next to you.

Equally don't worry about getting held up by raskols. It happens but not as frequently as to deter people to stop travelling by bus along the highway. I always take the opinion, if the locals are doing it, then it can't be all bad. But better to be safe than sorry. Hide most of your cash under the sole of your shoe with enough to pay your fare and some giamen money for the raskols.

Step 4 - Arrival
Usually you will have to defend for yourself once you reach where you want to go. Sometimes they will take a select route and you can be dropped off on the way. For instance coming into Lae, they will go to Eriku then town and then off to the final destination of the Market.

If a bus gets into town after dark it will do the nice thing of drop you off at your final destination. For the Hagen to Lae or the afternoon Goroka to Lae or vice-versa this is what will always happen.