Plane Rides in PNG

Two Sundays ago I stepped off the plane in Port Moresby and into a sauna. For a brief moment my mind tells me, ‘This is temporary, it’s probably just heat from the plane engines’. But I have to switch to manual override – ‘no, it’s just this hot here’. I regret giving my home address to a young and sleazy customs officer as I walk out into the arrivals area – scanning all the paper signs for something familiar. After an hour or so it becomes clear that no one is coming to get me – so I think through my options. Wycliffe has about 1000 staff here, coming and going, and PNG isn’t really a popular tourist destination – so I start playing a game I just made up – ‘spot the missionary’. I carefully look over people as they exit from the customs area, assess their choice of luggage, see who among the waiting they approach.
A young American couple with two young children and 6 big suitcases come through and I think to myself, ‘they aren’t here on holiday’. I approached them but they weren’t with Wycliffe – they were on their way to a Lutheran hospital. I went back to the exit for one last check, and saw a girl there with sensible luggage, modest dress, looking worried and flicking through an address book and tapping things into her phone. I thought, ‘she’s not on holidays either’. I approached her and discovered that she works for OM, but is in PNG to do some financial auditing work for Wycliffe. After a few minutes we decided that we were headed to the same guest house, so we were in the same predicament. She managed to get in contact with her ride, and he graciously took me along to the guest house too. It turns out we had rooms next to each other, and ended up sharing a bathroom and all our meals together for the next day or so. It’s funny how things turn out.

The next day I boarded the brand new Kodiak 100 (above) for the 1.5 hour flight up to Ukarumpa in the Eastern Highlands. Leaving the thick muggy heat of Port Moresby behind, we cruise along at 10, 000 feet, but when we land again the altimeter stays on 5,060. Up here the air is clear and clean, cool and… thin. So thin that water boils at 95C. Walking up the slight hill to the guest house gives my lungs a rigorous workout.

A week later, on the flight home, I get to sit in the front seat next to the pilot. The co-pilot’s seat. I have all the same controls – foot pedals, steering wheel, head set. Chris, the pilot asks me not to touch any of them. I obey. This time I have a much better view.