After further research, I feel compelled to write a little more about Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. For all the pretty pictures in my last post, I think I missed the real story.
Bob and I behaved quite like the typical tourists we seek to educate. We did not read up in advance about the dangers of the city. We strolled naively throughout the town and along deserted roads outside of town. We did leave our watches and jewelry behind, and we did dress down to the extent we were able. (We didn’t have torn jeans with us, the garb recommended in an old Time magazine article. And we were not out after dark. But I went out with a good camera and an iPod in a purse. Bob carried a new, $4,000 video camera. Were we nuts?
Absolutely. And stupid. We did not know about the vicious criminals called the Raskols. Usually referred to as gangs, the Raskols are more accurately described as loose associations of thieves, according to tavurur, a Port Moresby native blogger. Practically anything you read about Port Moresby credits them for the city’s astronomical crime rate, then mitigates the blame by citing an unemployment rate of anywhere from 60-90%.
Numerous lengthy articles online detail the safety and security precautions necessary to lessen the risk of misfortune. Drive carefully, because the locals react emotionally and violently to accidents. But don’t drive too slowly or you’ll increase the likelihood of being carjacked. Carry cash to hand over when you’re accosted. Move about with a certified escort. Women, don’t wear shorts or pants if you don’t want to be raped or gang-raped. The lists go on and on, one of which even advises (jokingly, I presume) chewing betel nut to look like a local.
In retrospect, Bob and I presented a tasty target. Alone, smiley, swinging our cameras… I’m thinking of the minutes we spent at a secluded dead-end high above the shore, looking down at a christening ceremony. We watched the formally dressed witnesses on the sand and the participants wading chest-deep in the sea. We looked across to a far village of houses on stilts over the water. It never occurred to us that we should be watching our backs.
It’s easy to be seduced by the sheer exoticism of Papua New Guinea, by the natives in traditional costumes, the spectacular flora and fauna of the highlands and ocean reefs. Travel enthusiasts I’ve spoken with have been quick to say oh, I want to go there. Local dangers are defined in guides and online, easy to be found, but still—Bob and I managed to get there oblivious to the status quo. Not all tour operators or trip providers are forthcoming when it comes to negative publicity. The burden, in the end, falls on the traveler. Know before you go, as they say. Do your homework.