Days 1,003-1,005: A Weekend In Madang


The Lutheran Shipping ferry slid into Madang port bang on 7am, which was the exact time the captain told me it would arrive. I have to say, I was mighty impressed by all this startling efficiency. Now if only we could do something about the rest of PNG…

I headed back over to Divine WORD (not wind, sorry!) University to meet back up with the delectable Katherine, who had kindly said I could stay for the weekend. After dropping off my kit and taking a well deserved shower (it had been five days in the topics without one… nice!) I went for a pleasant walk around town (Madang is nothing if not pleasant) and grabbed some lunch in the Madang Club which is one of these hilarious ex-pat affairs in which every square inch of wall is taken up by rules of entry/dress/conduct etc. One punch = three months suspension. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

After lunch I uploaded my Wewak blogs… something that took me a solid hour on the SLOWEST INTERNET CONNECTION IN THE WORLD. And it cost me a fiver. Did I mention Papua New Guinea is ridiculously expensive? It’s like paying a tenner for a Gregg’s pasty… you can’t help but wonder where all the money goes (cos it’s definitely not on the ‘meat’).

Incidentally, if you’re as happy as I am that I’m back on the road, you can always show your appreciation by chucking a fiver into The Odyssey Expedition’s WaterAid fund: it’s only an hour’s worth of super-slow internet in some improbably expensive third-world country. The address to go to is You’ll be richly rewarded with all the good karma you can eat.

That evening, Katherine made me dinner and we settled down for a night in in front of the telly. Well, my laptop. Katherine had mentioned that she really liked Sherlock Holmes so I introduced her to the utter brilliance of Mark Gatiss’ and Stephen Moffat’s TV show Sherlock. It is, quite frankly, the best thing that’s been on British television for years – probably since The League of Gentleman. Hats off to ya, Hilary Briss. I don’t know what you’re putting in them pies, but keep ’em coming. And although Coupling was a bit meh, his work on Press Gang and Doctor Who alone made me think Steven Moffat deserves a gold star, a jellybaby and possibly a knighthood. Sherlock just confirms that belief. If you haven’t seen it yet, you totally should.

The next day I kinda had a nagging desire to watch the Rugby World Cup. I’m not particularly sporty (that’s somewhat of an understatement) but I thought it might involve beer and England beating Scotland and making them all cry like a great big bunch of jessies. So I jumped a PMV down to the Madang Club and slipped inside. But – ack – I didn’t count on the Aussies not wishing to watch their national team beat Russia, but instead demanding to watch some obscure Gaelic-rules competition that I believe is quite popular in the South-Eastern townships of Australia.

I have to admit, the AFL grand final was exciting stuff, if (I suppose) you like that kind of thing. Or give a monkeys about the two teams that were playing. However, as much as I tried to ratchet up my care factor, I don’t think we’re ever going to be mentioning “Geelong” and “Collingwood” in the same breath of “AC Milan” or “Liverpool”.

It’s interesting to note that even my spell-checker hasn’t heard of “Geelong”. Let’s try “Ouagadougou”. Yep. It’s heard of Ouagadougou, no red wiggly underline for Ouagadougou. Let’s try “Tegucigalpa”. Yes, it’s there. “Yamoussoukro”? Indeed. Sorry, Geelong… don’t blame me, blame Microsoft Word. But look on the bright side: At least Nokia predictive text has heard of Australia, because it sure as shit ain’t heard of Azerbaijan, Iceland, Barbados, Fiji, Mauritania, Bahrain, Paraguay, Mongolia, Albania, Uganda, Trinidad, Qatar, Mauritius, Turkmenistan, Antigua, Liechtenstein, Tajikistan, Sierra Leone, Andorra, Nauru, Senegal, São Tomé, Ghana, Uzbekistan, Seychelles, Lesotho, Tonga, Tunisia, Gabon, Tuvalu, Slovakia, Mozambique, Latvia, Zimbabwe, Vanuatu, Lithuania, Comoros, Papua New Guinea, Burundi, Estonia, Slovenia, Kyrgyzstan, St. Lucia, Liberia, Kiribati, Benin, Belarus, Bhutan, Yemen, Swaziland, Moldova, Eritrea, Bahamas, Djibouti, Botswana, Maldives, San Marino, Guinea-Bissau, Kazakhstan, Zambia, Gambia, Namibia, Oman, Samoa, Bulgaria, Palau, Malawi, Suriname, Togo, Montenegro, Micronesia, Cameroon, Brunei, St. Kitts OR Madagascar. That’s over a third of the ENTIRE UNITED NATIONS. SORT IT OUT, NOKIA!! I didn’t even attempt Côte D’Ivoire.

But then even my iPod Touch is missing one Papua New Guinea (when you select your time zone) so I’ve had to use Guam… which is a) a thousand miles away and b) isn’t even a country. Tsk!

I’m amazed more people don’t complain.

Anyways… after the Aussie Rules football match I asked (politely, I assure you) if it would be alright if I changed the channel to watch England vs Scotland in the rugby. My wish was granted but they turned the sound right down. It was then I realised that I don’t really care for sport so much… I’m only here for the beer and the women. There were no women there, so I had to make do with the beer.

Sunday was very Sunday, everything is closed in Madang (as it was last week) and PMVs are few and far between. I headed out to the Madang club only to find it full (well, full for the Madang Club) of Aussies and Kiwis getting all excited about some rugby thingymajiga. I was a little confused at first, as I was fairly sure that Australia played yesterday in the World Cup and it would be a bit unusual for them to be playing again so soon, but this was Rugby League, which I’m told is different from Rugby Union… but I still haven’t fathomed out the difference. Oh well, whatever. Apparently it was the “Grand Final”: the kiwis were playing the “marones” (by which I assume they meant “maroons”, but what I am? A Pantone colour chart?). I liked the cheerleaders, they should totally have more of them at sporting events. Anyway, the weather was good, the beer was (fairly) cheap and the view out over the water was quite nice. Cheers!

I got chatting to a Kiwi helicopter pilot called Cameron who was incredibly well travelled… so we had a lot to talk about. He has, in the past, flown around West Africa, Congo, Uganda… he even spent a couple of years flying around in Iraq avoiding rocket propelled grenades. But, even cooler than that, he’s also been known to fly one Sir Peter Jackson around New Zealand location scouting. I was suitably impressed.

After the match, Cameron was good enough to drop me off at the Madang Lodge which was handy as the PMVs stop at night… about the same time as the muggings start. At the Lodge I met up with Katherine and Mums Singin, a jolly older lady who lives next door to Katherine and curates the University museum. Pizza and beer were the order of the evening and we also met a nice Aussie couple, Peter and Elaine, who also worked at the Uni. Peter had been in and out of PNG for years and had seen some of the more barking mad traits of the Papuans up close and personal. Having said that, he still loves the place, so it can’t be that bad.

I just can’t help wishing that the government would stop stealing ALL of the money and just give a little back.. just a little, that’s all I’m asking. When we talk about government corruption in the West, we’re talking about kids stealing Mars bars in comparison with the sheer bare-faced kleptocracies that make up most of the world’s developing countries. WE CAN STEAL IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE could be the motto of most of the governments currently running Africa and the Pacific region into the ground. We all have a notion that Americans (for instance) are pretty greedy, but you ain’t seen nothing until you travel across a country where there are only a few miles of well-maintained roads and yet the leadership is more than happy to swan off around the world in private Lear jets.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: poor countries are not poor because the West is rich. They are poor because their governments are devastatingly corrupt. This is true of each and every impoverished nation in the world. And there’s something else I’ve seen as I travel around the world: countries which are overwhelmingly tribal consistently fail to function as Western-style democracies. Maybe it’s time we re-thought the concept of democracy to create a model that would fit the undeveloping world. One tribe one vote? It would certainly level the playing field… because at the moment the playing field is about as level as an Albanian pyramid scheme.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

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