Port Moresby, aka POM. Its airport code and local moniker make it sound bouncy and fun. But Google Papua New Guinea’s capital and you will be presented with a laundry list of horrors, from raskols to robber-baron taxi drivers, and wretched coffee to boot.
I have a somewhat perverse tendency to be fascinated by what everyone claims is abominable. I made a career of writing about Melbourne’s western suburbs back when bourgeois Melbourne was convinced that the only reason to go to Footscray was to get heroin or get robbed. I prefer the pho, myself.
On my last field trip to Papua New Guinea, I gave myself four days in Moresby to follow up some leads with POM’s deaf community. I was also curious to find out if the capital is quite as ghastly as some say. Verdict: It ain’t. I spend four days traipsing about the place for meetings and sightseeing, and while it is carpeted with plastic litter and betelnut husks, it’s a nevertheless lively, humming metropolis, packed with friendly people.
To get around, you can use taxis (use the company “Comfort”, recommended to me by several Mospians as trustworthy), but prices add up. For easy, cheap travel, you need to get into PMVs, both literally and figuratively. Here’s my guide for doing so.
PMVs – “public motor vehicles” – crisscross the city and are how most POM dwellers get around. There’s no map that I’m aware of, and while there are stops, they don’t have timetables or route numbers. Everyone just seems to know where routes go. The buses are unmissable and have route numbers painted on the front. Ask wherever you are staying for what one goes where. You could check out this route list here.
To get on, wait at a stop along the route. PMVs come literally every couple of minutes. Just hail, and they’ll pull up for you. You can also usually hail and get picked up between stops. If you board at a terminus point, there will be a few PMVs there with the “boskru” (from English “boss crew”) hollering at you to choose their bus. Buses only leave when full, so boskru are keen to fill them as soon as possible. Pick the fullest one so you get underway quicker.
On board, give your 1 kina fare to the boskru, who sits in the single seat behind the (permanently open) door. If you can’t reach him, tap the person in front of you on the shoulder and they will pass your fare down. People will also do this to you. It will take a little while to get your change back, as the boskru needs to amass the right denominations. PMVs normally stop at every stop on the route, but if you’re paranoid about them not stopping, just yell “Draiba, stap” when you see your stop approaching.
Speaking of which, you need a decent command of Tok Pisin to navigate Port Moresby. If you get lost, you might be lucky to find a fellow passenger who speaks English, but it will single you out as a target. On that topic – be sensible. DON’T get out your phone to look at Google Maps, or if you have to, hide it. Hold on to your bag. I recommend this bilum-holding strategy, i.e., around your neck:
I did break my “no phone out” rule to snap this gem in Boroko, however:
Apparently PMVs stop abruptly around sunset. You really do not want to get caught out after dark in POM, so make sure any travelling is finished by then. I was behind a PMV where there had been some sort of fight, and a man was nursing a bleeding forehead. So despite this seemingly casual guide, going on PMVs is a travel strategy for someone who is an experienced and confident navigator of foreign cities.
Where to stay? An excellent mid-range option is Raintree Lodge. You can easily walk to Boroko, where there’s a Westpac ATM and the Boroko handicraft market. The Lodge have delicious, reasonably priced food (laksa and beef rendang go down a treat after weeks of the Highland staples: canned mackerel and Maggi noodles). Airport transfers are free.
Where to go? The POM Nature Park is a shady, serene expanse of rainforest in the middle of the capital. The aviary is particularly awesome, with a big flock of giant, crested, ground-dwelling pigeons. I’m rather chuffed I got charged the local rate for entry. Again, it’s all about how you wear your bilum.
And that elusive decent coffee? It’s here at Mr B’s Coffee Shop, on the second level of the Brian Bell Home Centre, Boroko.