Mt. Hagen Shakedown

There I was, sitting in a rundown police station interrogation room which made alcatraz look like a Martha Stewart special. Walls scuffed and cracked from an obvious neglect of upkeep and piles of unorganized paperwork gave me the feeling this was not a place of due process. The musty stench of mildew and body odor hung hevily in the still, dark room and an unmistakable festering tension began to raise the humidity to a slightly uncomfortable degree. And as I sat there on the hard wooden bench, my pack still strapped tightly to my back facing three scary looking, rather unkempt officers, the only thing running through my mind was… What would Ron Burgundy do?

So how did I end up in this cluster fuck of a situation amidst the most crime ridden city in Papua New Guinea you ask? OK let’s back the train up a bit and start from the beginning.

So back when I was doing a little sight seeing in Port Moresby (believe me there isn’t much) one of my stops was the Parliament Building. As I walked around the grounds trying to find a good angle to point my camera I happened to meet a particular person of interest sitting in a small outcropping in the garden in exactly the perfect spot to capture the buildings unique contours. Enter Jerry, a local freelance journalist who just happened to be in exactly the right spot at exactly the right time reporting on a story of his own.

Fate it seems set this young truth seeker on an inevitable collision course with The Wanderlion and as we engaged in pleasantries and some small talk I had the intuative feeling that this was the universe giving me a giant slap in the ass! As my driver was eager for me to get a move on with my tour we quickly exchanged information and went our seperate ways although I was sure this was not the last I would see of Sir Jerry Freelance.

Fast forward, Day 9….

Message from Jerry: Bro, top morning. I’m free if you need me to go with you for two weeks shooting in the Sepik. That’ll be great!

Me: Fuckin’ eh Jerry, let’s do it! Hope you know what you’re getting yourself into wink emoticon

It didn’t take long to synchronize our plan and by 10 am today I was waiting at the Mt. Hagen airport for my new friend Jerry in anticipation of our impending mission. As I waited patiently I fetched a stalk of sugar cane from my backpack and chewed it slowly, a temporary relief from the heat of the mid morning sun. Eyes focused on the arrivals gate scanning carefully for my friend, I suddenly felt a tap on my shoulder and as I turned I realized this was clearly not him. Instead I was faced by two men, claiming to be city council workers and had a sneaking suspicion from their stern looks that they weren’t here for hugs and handshakes. Apparently I had left a few husks from my thirst quenching sugar cane on the ground and as they informed it that it was their job to keep the area clean, naturally this became an opportunity to skim my wallet.

Apparently 50 Kina (roughly 23CAD) was an acceptable compensation for relocating my few shards of organic waste to the knee high pile of rubble and plastic only meters away and I knew this was a classic shakedown maneuver. Scope out the foreigner and cease an opportunity to make a quick buck. Luckily I had my buddy Dick from Kilau with me so I immidiately looked to him for assistance with my unexpected dilemma but alas, he seemed just as lost for a solution as me. These guys were definately not about to let us leave without a cash transaction so we had to think fast. With only a 100 Kina note in my wallet I knew if I flashed it I could kiss it goodbye (assuming they’d be more than reluctant to give me change) so I suggested I take a walk to the atm and return to pay my “fine”. Also a bit nervous they would just follow me and try and floss me for my entire account balance I decided to take the chance and with luck they just allowed us to walk free.

So here’s the thing. I guess these guys aren’t too bright since there’s a cop shop right across the street so naturally this was the preferred option over the atm. Unsure whether the police would actually take my side or the thugs, after explaining the situation to them it seems we had won their vote and I was assured not to worry but to stay put and they would deal with these punks. Shit, well that didn’t sound good either. I didn’t really want anyone to get “dealt with” I simply wanted to get to my destination safely. Plus the last thing I needed Was a mob of hungry thugs trying to track down the only white man in town who sticks out like a sore thumb so I started to wonder if this was actually worth the trouble.

Just then, a familiar voice called my name. It was Jerry who had already landed and been waiting just next to the station for me. We quickly brought him up to speed as to our troublesome situation and now all waited together for instructions from the questionable authorities. Then what happened next totally took me by surprise as the same thugs who were trying to scam me decided to just wander on over to the station as well. Talk about an awkward moment!!! As we explained the situation through the metal bars at the counter the officer remained sided with me, however suggested I pay the man 10 Kina to avoid any further trouble so as an act of good faith I decided I would offer 20. This clearly did not make Fifty Cent happy and he threw his arms up in frustration indicating I wasn’t quite out of the boiling pot yet.

Which brings us back to the room…

We all now sat at a long table with whom I assume is the Sergeant in charge and in his had was a copy of the list of names belonging to the members of the organization these men claimed to work for. And what a surprise, they were not on it! This confirmed the officers suspicions that these were just a cpl local thugs trying to make a buck and he simply suggested that I spring for some refreshments and ordered these bro’s just to leave me alone. I knew they wouldn’t be so happy with this outcome but I figured I would just suck it up and just admit I was wrong and try my best to make peace. We all left the station together and now it seemed we had a police escort too so after a peace offering of cokes and salty flour balls and a round of handshakes we walked away unscathed with only a minor case of the shakes. Check pulse…little high but still good.

Arrived safely to the Airport Motel thanks to our new friends in PNG law enforcement and celebrated our good health poolside with banana cake and ice cream!

Moral of the story. Sugar cane will get you into trouble. Stick to Freezies and lemonade on hot summer days

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