Before heading to Papua New Guinea, people warned me of the dangers of the country. The last warning I got was when I went through the security check of Cairns airport. Already when I disembarked the plane at Port Moresby airport, people on the ground appeared friendly, and the guy at immigration approached me with a big smile. From that moment on, the Papuans would continue to surprise me for my entire stay. They turned out to be the sweetest, friendliest, most hospitable people I have ever met on my travels. People walking up to me, just to shake my hand and have a small talk. People smiling from a distance, and giving a thumbs-up. With the enormous diversity of ethnicities in the country, the constant factor was the joy with which people made me feel welcome to their country, showing a genuine pride of all it has to offer. This also applied to officials. I even had nice chats with guys at security control, or police officers. Every day, I felt the sweetness of the people in what they said, or just small gestures.
What makes Papua New Guinea stand out, is the enormous cultural diversity. More than 800 languages spoken by just over 7 million people, all these ethnic groups maintain their own cultural identity. What they all share, however, is their welcoming attitude to foreigners. There are so many encounters that stick to my mind. There was the small village near Bogia, in Madang province, where my PMV stopped to negotiate over a load of betel nuts. Walking around, I came across a frangipani tree with lots of fallen flowers, and picked up some of the richly perfumed flowers, and gave them to a couple of good looking girls. One of them came running back when I was already back on the PMV with a necklace of shells as a gift. The driver of a PMV who, at one of the many stops, walked off, and came back with a coconut which he gave to me, while apologizing for the fact that we were proceeding slowly. The supervisors of the festival in Madang who offered me inside the restricted area so I could get better shots, and the performers who looked fearsome in their traditional attire, but who turned out to be very open about their culture and who were very happy to talk about their background.
Hiking in the highlands, I walked past a hut with an old lady in front, knitting. She sent her daughter away, who came back with a tray of sweet strawberries. The guy on Kiriwina island who had bought a big fish in Kaibola and was on his way back to his village, striking up a conversation. A police officer at the airport of Port Moresby who called my hotel to ask for transportation and guarded me until they showed up. The woman at the market of Mount Hagen who cut a pineapple for me, sliced it, and then, when the fruit slipped from my hands and fell on the floor, prepared another one for me without even charging for it. Wherever I went, I was always greeted as "white guy", but I never felt any different from the locals. They never tried to take advantage of me, there were no hidden agendas, just genuine friendliness. I never felt awkward for being the rich visitor; the Papuans accepted me for who I was. I ended up having a lot of fun with people: they also have a great sense of humour. Truly remarkable, when you consider the hardships people have to endure. Did I fall in love with the people? Yes, definitely. When it was finally time to leave, and I chatted with the ladies at security check at the airport, and then the official who inspected my passport, my eyes filled with tears. It felt like I was saying goodbye to a loved one.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Papua New Guineans (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Papua New Guineans.
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