21.09.11: I left Mandy in Melbourne’s wee Tullamarine airport on Tuesday evening. We had spent the afternoon getting the last things sorted: chief of which was a new click-click camera for me as well as a teeny battery powered razor (which I heartily recommend to any would-be globetrotter who likes to play with his (or her) facial furniture). Mand was with me as I checked onto the flight and after us both hoovering up some Nando’s chicken (truly South Africa’s second greatest export after Nelson Mandela) we said bon voyage… a parting made a little sweeter by the fact we would be back together again at the end of October.
A couple of hours later I was in Brisbane airport looking for Mandy’s mate Matt who had kindly offered to put me up for the night.
After a swift half at an Irish pub that was about as authentically Irish as Oliver Cromwell, we chewed the fat over a couple of cold ones in Matt’s back garden, Graham here keeping a beedy eye out for Queenland’s infamous giant flying screeching super-glue spiders which are every bit as terrifying as I’ve just made them sound.
That morning I had to be up for 5:45, but the excitement of being back on the road kicked in and I was up an’ at ‘em at 5:43. Take that, snooze alarm! Matt gallantly dropped me off in the city centre (Brisbane’s commute was recently voted second worse in the world… which I find had to believe – maybe commuters in Nigeria, Egypt and India weren’t given a vote) and before you could say blimey that was fast I was on a train speeding towards Brisbane airport and out of this loveably irksome continent.
But you didn’t think they’d make it easy for me did you? This IS Australia we’re talking about, the most anally retentive nation on Earth, the country that makes the Gestapo look laid back and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder a positive job requirement.
Upon checking in, my delightful checker-iner fretted at my lack of exit plans from PNG. PNG being an Aussie colony for the vast majority of the 20th century, their skill at freaking out about the slightest bureaucratic misdemeanour is understandable while still being unfathomably irritating. Now the problem was this: in order to get a visa for PNG at Port Moresby airport, you had to have a valid ticket out of the country. Now my email confirmation from China Navigation saying that I was leaving on the Papuan Chief in a couple of weeks is more than enough evidence that I do not intend to hang around. The problem lay in the fact that my Aussie visa runs out tomorrow, and the ship brings me back to Australia and even though I can’t apply for a new Aussie visa until I leave the country, they wanted me to have a new Aussie visa before I left. Which would be as silly as it would be impossible.
Happily for the forces of sanity, my ship calls into The Solomon Islands before Australia, so my Australian visa (or lack thereof) has nothing to do with the PNGers, the Aussies or the man in the frikkin’ moon. After explaining this salient fact (in much politer words, believe me), I was (eventually) welcomed onboard. Ta-ta Australia, do you think that while I’m away you could, you know, chill the —- out?
TRAVEL TIP: if I had booked exactly the same flight from Brisbane to Port Moresby through Virgin’s Pacific Blue website, it would have cost me TWICE as much as booking it through the Airlines PNG website. Bear that in mind, fellow tight-arse travellers.
Within a few hours I was smacking the tarmac of Port Moresby and ready to hit the town. After waiting way too long for a taxi, I got a local guy to drive me to the city centre for 30 Kina, which is how much it says it costs in the Lonely Planet and WHO AM I TO ARGUE? I trotted along to the Crown Plaza hotel, a concrete monstrosity, but a useful location opposite the EU mission headquarters here – the workplace of Sophie from Belgium, my CouchSurf host for the next couple of days.