Papua New Guinea - commonly known as PNG - is a large island off the coast of Australia that I had both the privilege and misfortune of living on for three years. I say privilege because it was an extremely beautiful and fascinating place, but also misfortune because of the violence of the culture and high crime rates. PNG is regarded as one of the least explored places in the world, with over 800 languages and head hunting and cannibilism that persisted into the 70's (and though now illegal still occurs intermittently even today). So how in the world did I end up there? Well, my father accepted a job flying for a program that helped villagers transport their cash crops so that they could afford things like school fees and medicines. We moved to the town of Goroka in the Highlands region, and were pre-warned before we went that crimes against women, like rape, were shockingly prevalent. We learned that being in groups or being with men didn't necessarily mean safety as crimes are often committed at gunpoint. We also learned that mobs formed quickly for almost any reason, and that hitting someone on the road meant an immediate ticket out of the country as retribution would mean your life. The police were completely pointless and not worth involving. Like everyone else, we lived behind fences with razor wire and had two German Shepherds and a night guard. All of this is a true pity as PNG has fantastic rain forests famous for their numerous species of Birds of Paradise, stunning white sandy beaches with some lovely reefs, and the infamous Kokoda Trail.
With almost no tourism infrastructure (or infrastructure in general), PNG really is not a good place to go unless you know people there who can make safe arrangements for you, or unless you are going for something for which arrangements have already been made, such as trekking with an organization. If you are still considering traveling there after reading this, then here are my top tips for those of you who are brave enough (or foolish enough) to take it on.
Tips for Traveling in Papua New Guinea
1. If you don't know people in country who have made arrangements for you, make reservations at well known hotels.
2. Use hotel transportation and fly from town to town instead of taking buses, which at times are held up and the passengers robbed and raped.
3. If you don't know people in country, go somewhere where the few tourists who do go are gathered, such as the Goroka or Mt. Hagen Sing Sing festivals, the coastal town of Madang, or the Kokoda Trail.
4. Travel with a group and certainly never as a lone female. In a recent study by the United nations 61% of the men studied from PNG admitted to raping a woman, while a report by Medicine Without Boarders estimates that 70% of women in PNG will be raped or physically assaulted in their life time. From talking to both local and foreign women who were raped while we lived there, I would say that these numbers are very correct. Be aware that being a man doesn't equal safety as we knew foreign men attacked and robbed at knife and gunpoint.
5. Limit walking around (no wandering through cities and towns on foot to sightsee) and don't walk around a night.
6. Bigger cities like Lae and Port Morosby are particularly dangerous so head to smaller towns like Goroka, Madang, and Mt. Hagen as soon as possible. The only exception would be if you are doing something with an organization based in those cities who will be looking out for you.
So there you have it! If you've read all of THAT and still want to go, I wish you the best of luck and hope you get to enjoy the beauty and wonder that this wild country has to offer. And of course, if you have any questions please comment or send an e-mail.