By THEODORE BAWORO
Friday 17th February, 2017
OUT on the main road, the white ten-seater Toyota Land Cruiser animated the Ramu Highway as we sat thrilled with excitement to experience an adventure to a very remote part of the world in Papua New Guinea! To most of us, the humid afternoon of 17th February was a start of a new and exciting journey with an adventure to Snow Pass Eco-Lodge, located south-west of Madang town in the Usino-Bundi District of Madang.
We were a team of five academics from Divine Word University, all from the Tourism & Hospitality Management Department with a colleague from the Business Department. The tourism staff included our Head of Department Theresia Kau, Nathaline Murki, Allan Sumb and myself. The only staff representing the Business studies was Joseph Ogi. A Fourth Year DWU journalism student Gaile Kivali was our only media personnel representing Niugini Photograph. Emmanuel Koni was our one and only driver.
Our departure at one o’clock saw us through Madang’s south-coast road and onto the main Ramu Highway. The drivermaintained a good speed throughout, not too fast, not too slow. It was already an hour’s travel before our first stop at Usino-Bundi Junction. We had a quick chance to take group photographs before retrieving from the main highway into Usino-Bundi. We made another stop at the Ramu Nico Bridge for more photographs. The bridge is around 250m long in length and around eight meters wide. It is an astonishing piece of engineering considering how the concrete can withstand the might of the ferocious mighty Ramu River when it floods.
We then proceeded onto Banu Junction and turned left onto the unpaved road leaving the route to Ramu Nickel Mine on the right. The road became narrower as we drove into the peaceful landscape of Bundi crossing the Baiya River with a magnificent view of the clear sky with blue mountain ranges to our right. The narrow road gradually led up to a cooler and higher altitude passing through some of the loneliest villages and leading into the thick wilderness.
The drive into the thick tropical rainforest was very challenging. We came across dangerously sharp corners. We were too afraid to look out of the vehicle as the steep cliff fell away just beside us. One wrong turn would be disastrous. We were fortunate to not have encountered any vehicle coming from the opposite side as the road would have been too narrow to pass through. That’s how isolated some of these villages are.
We trusted our driver Koni who has had nearly 30 years of driving experience. He began driving for Catholic missionaries in Alexishafen on trail motorbikes in the early 80s and is now one of DWU’s longest serving and trusted drivers.
During the last hour of our road travel experience, we almost got bogged in the mud. That was when we skidded and were fortunate not to have slipped off the side of the mountain. The view hundreds of meters below from there is a dense canopy of forest. Thumbs up to Koni.
On arrival at Snow Pass, we were greeted by curious villagers with little children running towards the parked land cruiser and touching the tyres with amazement. It was past 6 and dusk was already enveloping this part of the world as we took out our belongings and headed for the village eco-lodge.
Snow Pass is an isolated area located in the mountain tips of Bundi. The word itself may cause one to wonder whether PNG truly has snowfalls with its only wet and dry seasons. In fact, the word Snow Pass got its name from the place being immersed in hefty fogs for most of the day, every day of the year. Day and night. During our stay, even though the sun was up at 11am, the field was still soaked in dew and sunlight could not infiltrate through the thick misty clouds. This was particularly unique in this part of the world!
At the Snow Pass Eco-lodge, the evening midair became thinner and chillier. We could feel the cold in our bones. We were now some 2300m above sea level and fro0m where we were could catch a slight glimpse of Papua New Guinea’s highest mountain, Mt. Wilhelm (4 509 m) to the far south-west from where we were. The director of the eco-lodge, Vincent Kumura warmly welcomed us to his abode and we all went to our rooms before re-appearing a few minutes later to meet for dinner. .
Kumura was one of the key note speakers who was invited to last year’s annual Liklik Diwai Tourism expo at Divine Word University where he also exhibited ecotourism products and services that Snow Pass Eco-Lodge provided such as trekking, bird watching, culture and not to mention the rich flora and fauna.
Dinner was local cuisine consisting of local vegetables and greens.
I was amazed to find that the lodge had a hot shower for visitors and guests. It consisted of bricks, a one gallon drum, and pipes that connected from the gutter on the roof. A log fire was made under the drum to heat the water. In a shower hut, a tap affixed to the pipes meant that a bath in this chilled clime was a great joy.
In the dry season, water is carted from the creeks below to fill the drum
A single light extended from the small generator gave some light that night and also helped charge some of the electrical devices. We were so tired after the long and bumpy five hour road trip that most of us took to bed early. There was much comfort from the lodge’s bed sheets warm blanket. We were lulled to sleep by the sounds of kundu drums and chants of the Gende people who were gearing up for the next day’s event.
- Theodore Armstrong Baworo is a Senior Tutor within the Tourism & Hospitality Management Department at Divine Word University in Madang