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Archive for the ‘Papua New Guinea’ Category

It was a late afternoon in Port Moresby as I was heading back from meeting up with some clients. A normal day by any standards with nothing special on the agenda. We were heading back into Gerehu, the sky was overcast with a few clouds making things a bit darker than usual. Always on guard in this area as its pretty much the wild west when it comes to raskols we approached Gerehu Stage 6 where our factory is located. As we pulled into Koloka Street there was about 7 young guys standing around the bottom entrance gate to the factory. This normally would be a sure sign that we shouldn’t enter and should of kept driving. Our drivers know that they shouldn’t stop in such a situation, they weren’t covering their faces with bandanas or masks so my driver thought it was safe to head to the main gate, about 15 meters away from the bottom gate. It also didn’t help that one of the guys was clearly the nephew of my driver so my driver figured it would be safe to go on ahead as he thought they were just picking up some scrap timber.

At the time we didn’t have any security on the top gate as we didn’t care too much about those things before these held ups happened. So we waited for the gate to open and my staff took an abnormally long amount of time to open it due to the fact that they were pretty busy. It was about 4 pm when the 7 young men started to make their way up to the top gate, and as they split up and started to surround the car I knew straight away that something was wrong. Too late to react or do anything and just as I realized what was happening the car was surrounded with a home made one barrel shotgun in front of the car and I was being pulled out of the car forcefully grazing my arm with a couple machetes touching my neck. The feeling of the dirty blades grazing my neck was a surreal experience. Not saying that it was a good experience but it was definitely more death threatening than the shotgun in front me. As the men emptied my pockets and took about K700 (about $250AUD), my phone and keys. They quickly finished off with taking my belongings (not that I had that much) I sat and watched as they took my drivers bilong (PNG style bag) as someone had obviously tipped them off with wrong information that he might of hand money in their. Not that he had any money anyway.

The raskols had to get away quick as it was my factory after all and it was only a few minutes later that my staff inside realized what was happening and the security bell sounded. It only took a moment for all 70 of my staff to be outside the front gate chasing down the raskols. (its amazing how fast they can react when they could barely win a soccer match haha) IT was good to know that their reaction speed in a situation such as a hold up was second to none. Half the staff had gone out the back entrance to try and cut them off while the other half jumped on the back of the truck cutting the bad guys off in another direction. The raskols were not that smart in holding me up right in front of my factory. They all ran one direction and had to cut their losses and try to jump the fence to run through some neighbors factories just to get away. This was time consuming and they probably injured themselves in the process. But the time they could reach the other side of the neighbors yards my truck with 30 men armed with knives sticks and stones had caught up to them and chased 3 or 4 of them down up a hill. 3 or 4 were severely beaten while trying to get away before being apprehended and taken to the local Gerehu police station. 3 of them got away and the K700 kina was not to be seen again. I headed down to the police station to make a statement which I wouldn’t of done if we didn’t catch any. The raskols were pretty badly beaten as is the way in PNG so at this point I was a bit worried about their payback system. But more on that a little bit later.

I made my statement to the police officers whom nowadays we have on speed dial in case of emergency situations such as these. Although I did not file any charges as no harm was done I was able to get my keys back which were the most important things otherwise we have to change out about 50 locks in the factory (as we had to do last time I was held up) The raskols were probably beaten up again by the police before being transferred to holding cells at the Boroko Police station. At this point I headed to the settlement from where the raskols lived and spoke to the parents, on the back of my truck with several of my staff reassuring them that over time work was still scheduled for that night. Feeling a bit distraught with some adrenaline running through my veins it took a while before the adrenaline was to wear off. It was important for me to speak to the parents so they didn’t miss understand me and the fact that their children were pretty badly beaten, not to mention stuck in a police holding cell. My trusted staff had spoken to the people they knew in this particular settlement and they understood my position and informed me that they had told their children to leave us alone. Reassured that I was not going to be victim to any form of payback I headed home.

The next day I had to make another statement at the Boroko Police station as the first statement that I had made seemed to have gone missing. I made my statement, again without naming any names or pointing the finger as nothing that bad had happened to me in this hold up. Mentioned that I wouldn’t be pressing charges and then headed home. It was a couple days later when my phone magically was found and returned to me by someone who pretty much bribed me to give him a job if I wanted the phone back. I could of just given him money but if I had done that his life would have been no better and he would of still been on the street. So I gave him a job in the sawmill and had my phone returned.

It was a couple days later that the back door of the phone holding cell in Boroko was ‘accidentally’ left open and the raskols had escaped. Not really that worried as I had spoken to the parents I tried to be diplomatic about the situation. But the guys who held me up had all disappeared back to the villages in the deep, deep forests of PNG. To this day I haven’t seen or spoken to any of those people who held me up. They are probably around but as they are leaving me alone I have no quarrels. All in all, the second hold up experience was much easier than the first and I was a lot more alert to my surrounding’s. If anything good came of it, I now see the wider picture when it comes to driving in PNG and I am always alert to the possibility of another hold up. In saying that we have tightened our security measures greatly and thus far, we haven’t been the victims of any more PNG related crime as of yet (touch wood).

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After the hold up I was intent on getting back my cameras more so my girlfriend camera in particular as it had her photos on it from some previous travels. For most people who get held up you might as well just forget about the belongings that were taken. But if you are intuitive and have a good support network around you getting back your belongings (except any cash taken) is possible. I had offered to buy some new phones for my driver and his kids if he was able to get back my cameras and thus began his week or so worth of telephone calls and work of sourcing and finding them. We were lucky enough that the raskols who had taken my particular phone sold it relatively quickly to someone they knew and as such that person had turned it on. My driver was able to contact the buyer of the mobile and talk about the guys who held us up. As they were friends and are protected by their ‘wantok’ system getting their names was next to impossible. He did however speak to them and acted as a middle man in passing on information as to the whereabouts of the cameras. This man was extremely helpful and without this mystery person the retrieval would have been next to impossible.

The first camera was reported to us that one of the boys were trying to sell it at a local market and a police man apprehended the camera as stolen goods. At first thought I thought it was going to be as easy as popping by the police station and claiming the camera. But in Papua New Guinea absolutely nothing is as easy as it sounds. We headed down to the station to speak to the police officer whom we knew had the camera of which we found out wasn’t there. We were greeted by another police officer whom asked us to drive him a good 30 minutes inland to the other police officers home to pick him up. A good hour later we were back at the police station with the police officer whom we knew had the camera as I kindly asked for it back. It took a good hour or so of convincing to him that I was the owner (including knowing the make and model name) for him to admit that he did have the camera at some point. Instead of turning in the camera to evidence (The usual policy in most countries including Papua New Guinea), this particular officer had sold the camera to his brother (which theoretically makes him no better than the raskol who was trying to sell it in the first place).

So instead of him just giving me the camera we had to wait in front of the station for another hour or so pay for his beetlenuts and cigarettes as he argued with his brother to get my camera back. His brother refusing to give the camera back without compensation I had to pay out K180.00 (approximately $60 dollars) to his brother to get back my property. Its amazing that within the space of 48 hours that this camera had been taken from me, tried to be sold, apprehended, and then sold by the police officer. Only in Papua New Guinea could this actually happen. Anyway after a good 3 hours or so with dealing with these particular police I was able to get back the first camera which was luckily enough the camera that belonged to my girlfriend. Needless to say she was extremely happy that she got her camera back all phones still in tact. (We still have this camera even to this day). Now I should say that most police in PNG are underfunded and as such small things like this normally go down without a second thought, but not all police officers are like this and some are genuinely law abiding officers.

The second camera was much harder to get back and it took another week or so before I was able to get back my camera. I was starting to lose hope that I wasn’t going to get mine back until the guy called us and told us that he had sold the camera to a small Indian run shop on the outskirts of town. My driver went there and spoke to the guy who blatantly refused to admit that he had the camera so he enlisted the services of a couple of police officers to go there with a warrant which cost me about $100 AUD relatively cheap for the services that we got. The officers went there and apprehended the camera of which was returned to me. This particular route though was en-route to my driver’s house and Papua New Guinea is renowned for its ‘payback’ system of which if something happens to someone payback is possible. So I had to pay an additional $300 dollars to the guy who we took the camera off just to be sure that he was compensated for the loss of his ‘stolen’ property. All in all I was able to retrieve both cameras with a lot of work and hassle on my drivers behalf, he was kindly rewarded with a couple new phones. But in the end the cost of retrieving my camera far outweighed the actual cost of buying the new model of the same camera.

This story is an illustration of how hard things can be in Port Moresby when it comes to law and theft. But it was a definitely learning experience on my behalf for future situations.

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*Story note – this is a true story all information provided is indeed true and nothing has been fictionalize for the sake of my readers. It is important to note that even though Papua New Guinea can be dangerous as depicted the good portion of people are generally pretty welcoming and happy to have a friendly chat with you. These stories are not meant to put you off from visiting Papua New Guinea as there is indeed several amazing places to visit, but rather provide a warning to travelers who are unaware of the dangers of this developing nation. That being said, enjoy my recollection of this adrenaline filled event.

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon when one of my driver’s was heading out for some groceries at the local market. I decided to go with him so that I could go take some pictures of Parliament House. Completely oblivious to the local information that more or less states that one shouldn’t visit Parliament house on a weekend when there isn’t any guards on duty, as it is a no through road surrounded by meter high grass we went anyway. The trip to parliament house takes less than 15 minutes from the center of town and conveniently located in one of the major populated areas of Boroko City which is within Port Moresby, and it is probably one of the most iconic landmarks that Port Moresby has to offer and as such, several tours company provide guided tours to this landmark. Parliament House Is shown on the 100 Kina note and has its iconic green slanted triangular roof.

We pulled up towards the side of the road just outside the gate of Parliament House and stopped the car (bad mistake on my drivers behalf). At this point I had always wondered what a hold up would actually be like and being in Port Moresby I knew that eventually it was bound to happen. We started taking some photos of the Parliament that were mediocre at best due to the fact that we couldn’t even get past the gate as it was closed on a Sunday. I stayed on the back of the ute tray just watching into the long grass. A few minutes later there was a little bit of rustling in the grassland and I knew straight away that something was up. What followed next was something out of an action film where the bad guys close in on their victims.

About 5 guys wearing with covered faces using bandanas as masks came out of the bush with a few machetes (the weapon of choice for Papua New Guinea Raskols) and a home made pistol. Now the thing with the home made guns is that you never actually know if they are loaded (if they are they usually only have one bullet) and you never actually know if they are functional; But the important thing to note is that you shouldn’t take any chances with your life with these guys as they are usually extremely intoxicated on alcohol, home brew (potentially lethal home cocktail of high strength alcohol and marijuana), making them make poor decisions.

The gun was pointed at us while a few of the other guys held machetes around us as one guy searched our pockets for money and other valuable things. Being Papua New Guinea I didn’t actually have any cash on me bar 20 kina or so. So they took what they could a couple cameras (which we both got back – see Retrieving cameras blog), and the really bad phones ($10.00 Aussie each from all of us). Another reason why I don’t wear any jewelry, don’t use any good phones, and don’t carry any money with me. It can be a dangerous place if you don’t have good people to rely on.

It was my first time being held up and everything was new to me, but I will say this its an extremely frightening experience being held up via machete and gun point much more so than my Bungy off the Macau Tower. During the hold up I wasn’t able to obtain any useful information to tell the authorities later on (not that anyone actually reports these kinds of things in Moresby) as everything was happening so fast. Before I knew it I had empty pockets, we were camera less and they were retreating back into the bush. A minute or so later other car started to pull up asking what had happened and I offered them rewards for the sim card (a business man’s life in Papua New Guinea) and the cameras back, not so much for the actual value of the cameras and phone but for the sim cards and memory cards. They all said they might know the people (Papua New Guinea is one big interconnected group of people, of which everyone knows everyone through their Wantok system (which is some knowledge for another blog as I do not wish to get into it in too much depth here).

Feeling a bit shocked with my heart now pumping like a horse about to hit the race track, we left without our phones, our cameras, and not one photo of the very Parliament house that we were trying to take photos of. Feeling a bit pissed off at this point that we were done in like this, I had tasked my driver to obtain our cameras back for us and funnily enough being the small society that PNG Is we were able to retrieve both of the cameras.

The experience all in all really does change you and every time you see someone with their face partially covered you think the worst, this does fade away over time. But this possible near death experience is extremely terrifying and as I said I would rather jump off the worlds tallest bungy or go skydiving than be put through this situation again. Little did I know I was held up a second time, but I was much more prepared for it and our retaliation was quick and fast. But that’s another story for another day I wish to reemphasize that I do not write this blogs to scare you from the tourism that is PNG but if I have any advice to give you it is: if you wish to go and see the sights backpacking and solo travel is definitely not the way of life in PNG and one should definitely seek the services of a registered tour company. This may be a slightly more expensive option but these companies are usually very safe and reliable and sometimes come with private escorts depending on your average spend. Stay tuned for the blog of how I was able to retrieve the two cameras and the annoyances that this actually involved.

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