Papua New Guinea is an island nation in Oceania. There are not many tourists, nor many roads. It is a country with a very rough reputation and a rather dodgy feel and most generous and welcoming people.
|Language:||English, Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu|
|Hitchability:||<rating country='pg' />|
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The relative scarcity of roads makes it difficult to travel around the whole country purely by hitchhiking. If you have lots of time, however, this is the place to get your first experiences of hitching boats and planes. Where there is roads, hitchhiking is easy as pie as everybody is always enthusiastic to meet travellers and help them out -- sometimes so much that you won't be able to hitchhike due to the crowd around you! The main roads are the Highlands Highway down to its end points in Lae and in northern Madang province, some roads around Port Moresby on the south coast and some roads on the north coast and on the islands that don't go too far. For connections between these roads, people take boats and fly, and there is also some trecks that can be walked (see below). Hitching on the Highlands Highway is particularly nice and easy -- usually the first or second vehicle will pick you up --, it's been proven possible around Port Moresby and Madang, too, but seems a little bit harder. People in PNG usually won't expect any money from you for giving you a lift (rather they will buy you food), and you have good chances getting free rides in PMVs (public motor vehicles, i.e. buses) too if you try.
PNG is a country that enjoys a very dubious reputation, mostly thanks to Australian media and the gory tales of expats. It is true that the society is primarily violent and that crime rates are very high, however as a traveller you will be reasonably safe as everybody who isn't out to do harm to you will be trying to protect you. Sometimes this overprotectivity can even feel a little bit smothering. Don't rely on the authorities, they are underpaid, understaffed and occasionally thugs themselves. Weapons, especially bush knives, are ubiquitous but not usually used for slashing travellers into small pieces. Following are some prime issues:
"Raskol" is the Tok Pisin name for a criminal, organised and unorganised alike. When it comes to the unorganized criminals, you're most likely to run into them on the outskirts of cities and towns; settlements (i.e. sprawling squatted slum-suburbs on the outskirts of towns) in general are a good place to avoid if you don't know and trust anybody in the area. Organised criminals usually target local businessmen. You might meet them on a highway where occasionally they set up roadblocks and rob either travellers in PMVs or private vehicles they have specifically picked for money or valuables that are on board. This might be a danger for a hitchhiker. Apart from those occasional roadblocks, rural areas are quite safe and the only thing to worry about is an opportunistic robbing.
- Tribal disputes
In the Highlands, you might still come across tribal warfare which becomes more likely the higher up you get. Those usually don't involve outsiders, so you shouldn't worry about them too much.
- Women's safety
Women's safety is a whole different topic in PNG than men's safety, even more so than in some other countries. Women are strongly disadvantaged in Papua New Guinean society and rape, domestic violence and domestic killings, usually of women, are commonplace. Female travellers need to be accordingly more careful than male ones, especially so where drink is involved.
Places to sleep are very easy to come by in PNG. Virtually anybody you ask will be happy to help you out themselves or find someone else to help you (sometimes you might be handed down a line of people like a parcel); the trick here is to find somebody you feel you can trust. Almost every person who will pick you up hitchhiking will invite to sleep at their place -- even early in the morning --, and if you find yourself stuck, you can always ask at police stations or churches.
Seasons and Connecting North and South
Travelling in PNG outside of the rainy season will make things much easier, especially if you're trying to piece together Port Moresby and the North together without flying as the rainy season disrupts dinghy traffic and makes trecks harder to get through. Your two prime options (as long as the Southern Gulf Highway won't be completed which might be years and years) are walking the Kokoda track and going through Alotau. The Kokoda track is arguably the only touristy area of PNG and probably not cheap when it comes to food, permit fees and campsites even if you go without a guide which should be possible after March when you can just follow the tourists' tracks. Before March, rivers are flooded and the tracks overgrow because they're not maintained. This probably also goes for most other trecks in PNG. Getting from Port Moresby to Alotau without flying is only possible if you hitch to the Kupiano area and catch a dinghy from there -- dinghies also don't usually operate during the wet season due to westerly winds and rough seas.
- I spent three weeks hitching around PNG in March 2013 and was absolutely blown away by the hospitality of the people. I was adopted twice, hitched a ride on a 36h ferry just by meeting the right people, was given a place to sleep every night, was fed and watered whenever hungry and sometimes when not hungry at all. The hospitality of people here actually beats both Iran and Albania which were on top of my list before. The country feels pretty dodgy, however, and there is bush knives everywhere. Up in the highlands, I also got to witness some pretty unique cultural things such as tribal warfare and a compensation ceremony. All in all a pretty wild place to travel in that you'll never forget either way -- and don't forget that the red stains on the ground are betel nut juice, not blood.--Zenit
- This country does not compare to any other place on this planet. It stole a bit of my heart, it gave me a new brother and taught me more in the month and a bit that I spent there than I've ever learnt anywhere. Its dodgy yes. But if you know the right people its safer than your average western city. Tribal laws can sometimes apply when the police only really have the responsibility of securing main roads, this poses no problems but needs adaptation for young travelers from a society where tribal laws are not even a distant memory anymore.
- I saw warfare and I saw people tattooing themselves with machetes. I was given food, housed every night of my stay in png by a wide range of people, given a more adequate name and lovingly cared for. I've never been so welcomed in any other place. Such instant acceptance and such genuine care. An amazing lesson of human kindness.
- Its a country with endless possibilities yet trusting one's instinct is important here, its one of the few places in the world I consider fulfilling the criteria of being of potentially dangerous. I'd definitely return. ---Theo