We’ve been into Kovol 2 times now and have tried out both of our means of getting in and out – hiking or helocopter. Hiking is of course much cheaper, costing only the fare for the public motor vehicle (PMV) from Madang to the start point of the hike plus food. PMV fares are really reasonable here in PNG and the 4.5 hour ride costs around £5. The downside of hiking of course is that it takes 12 hours (from the drop off point) and you’re limited to carrying the bare essentials. The hike is tough and gruelling, so a backpack weighing 10kg is as heavy as you want to go.
The chopper on the other hand is much quicker. It takes 25 minutes from Madang, it can carry about 450kg (so that’s you plus a good chunk of cargo) and you don’t arrive exhausted. The downside of course is cost. With NTM Aviation that costs $320 one way as they subsidise our flights and charge us less than what it costs to operate the helicopter.
Those are our two options and we’ll be using the helicopter more than we’ll be hiking as our children can’t make the hike; and hiking is only an option when just you with no cargo needs to get in our out – which is not going to be often.
The thing I noticed about going in by helicopter was how small everything looked. We flew over countless ridges and dozens of hamlets built on hill tops as we traversed the Adelberts to get to Kovol. It’s a constant spectacle as every second unfolds more of PNGs rugged landscape and you find yourself wondering “how did that house get roofing iron there?”, “I wonder where the nearest road is”. Then we arrive at Kovol and the pilot is asking if I recognise the landing spot. It took me a long time to find it and I thought to myself “Is this it?”. 25 minutes ago we were at Madang town’s airport and now we’re on a small, muddy field with 3 thatched roof houses visible. There was only a single old man to greet us as the whole village were out working in their gardens. The helicopter drops us off and flies away and you’re left in the quiet with one old guy for company and he takes you over to their community house to sit and wait for others to arrive (everyone heard the helicopter and were on their way as quick as they could manage.)
As we sat in the community house I distinctly remember thinking “I thought it was much bigger than this”. Everything seemed so small, so quiet. It was pretty disorientating. When some guys arrived one of them said excitedly “I was standing by a limbum tree when I saw you coming and I waved, did you see me? You must have seen me, how else would you find your way here?” I chuckled to myself. Of course I didn’t see you, I was straining to even see this soccer field sized clearing on top of the mountain! Does he have any idea how many trees you can see up there?
Last time we hiked there. After 3 hours of following a winding path through the jungle the clearing of the village soccer field felt like a stadium and the community house like a luxery room in a jungle themed resort. We were so grateful to sit and rest our legs without being ankle deep in mud and in the rain. It’s really strange how big an impact the journey makes on your perseption of a place. The stadium sized soccer field was now a muddy little hill top and the community house was a small, slanting building that I just couldn’t give the same significance to as I had my first trip.
The feeling soon wore off. You aclimatise to your surroundings and start noticing the details. By the end of the week we were submerged in an entirely different world we understood barely anything of. There’s an entire world of culture and social interactions on that one ridgeline. From the air I felt like I’d seen the place; that I’d seen it all and it wasn’t that impressive. After a week living on the ground I felt like I was skimming the surface of a deep ocean.
A lady gives us a handful of cucumbers. How do we accept it? Should we say no? Is she showing us the customary level of genorosity expected of any guest or is she really showing us honour? Are those cucumbers valuable to her or is she swimming in them and just wants to get rid of some? Will she be short of food for her family by offering these to us? To all of these questions, we have no idea!
The main land owner we made an agreement with turns to us and says “You’re my children now, and my house is your house. If you want to leave your tools here for your next trip you can, it’s your house”. Does he mean it? Does he have to say that because everyone is so excited to get missionaries he feels he has no choice? Where will the people who usually sleep in the spots we’re sleeping go? How safe will our tools be? When he says “my house is your house” does that mean he will expect us to reciprocate when our houses are built? Will he have claim on our possessions because he offered all his to us on this trip? We have no idea.
There’s a whole world to explore and we’re babies who don’t understand what we’re doing as we interact with people.
I guess it’s like many things in life, the closer you look the more you see, and the more you realise how little you actually know.