It took four hours to fly from Sydney to Port Moresby. The plane trip was shorter than a flight to Perth. It was strange to realise although I hadn't travelled far, once I stepped off the plane I was a foreigner. Although this place felt like home, it was not my country. As the plane descended I could have been flying into regional Australia, the fields and the trees looked so familiar - yet as we neared the ground I began to see the ocean was more vibrant than I was used to and the clumps of trees included tropical palms and other bushes I wouldn't usually see.
Papua New Guinea was once closely connected to Australia. 50 years ago I would not have needed a visitors' visa to come here. During the twentieth century the territories of Papua and New Guinea were administered as territories of Australia, under the Australian government's Department of External Territories. Traces of those connections still exist - from the Australian power outlets to the cars to the television channels. The passengers on the plane also testified to connections between the two nations - the Papuan girl I met returning from Canberra to visit her family, or the Australian I overheard explaining she was coming over to visit a friend working in a Papua New Guinean town as a teacher.
The staff at the airport were accustomed to Australians and were friendly as we passed through. Despite this I was still nervous. The guard at the head of the customs line asked me: 'what's in your bag?' Nervous, and thinking he was asking about contraband, I said: 'nothing.' His eyes twinkled: 'you mean you are carrying around an empty bag?' He gave a little smirk. 'No, I mean I have clothes and toiletries in there. Just nothing to declare.' Sensing my skittishness, he gave me a big smile: 'Ok, go right through. Enjoy your stay!' I walked away, shaking my head at my anxiousness.
Getting to my airport transfer was equally simple, the hotel staff were waiting in the arrivals section with a sign and warmly greeted me before ushering me onto the next shuttle. The ride to the hotel provided my first glance of Port Moresby, although the 10 minute drive did little to quench my curiosity. The roads and traffic signs felt familiar. As we drove past I saw groups of people sitting wherever there was shade - beneath trees or large signs. Although the van was air-conditioned I knew it was hot outside, I had felt the heat in the brief moments before I was waived onto the shuttle. Luckily my visit was timed in the dry season and the humidity was close to what I was used to during Sydney's summers, although the heat was a bit of an adjustment.
Once we arrived at the hotel I was surprised to find myself standing in the lobby of what could have been any hotel in Australia. After check-in I went up to my room and found it to be similarly generic - nice and clean but devoid of any markers to signify I was now in a different country. I kept going over to the window of my room to look out at the road and the few shops I could see to remind myself I was no longer in Australia. The view from my window and from the restaurant downstairs have been my main experiences of PNG so far. I also managed to venture over to the pool at the other hotel complex across the road. I had a lovely dip in the pool, snapped the picture above and watched some children laugh and play in the water. (Aren't you jealous it's warm enough here to swim?) Hopefully I will soon have more to share about my experiences of Port Moresby once I meet up with my contacts here and have the opportunity to explore.