Mengino: Land of the Wild Banana (1)

Mengino Ridgeline

The villagers don’t know where Mengino is on the map, and neither do I. A map of Papua New Guinea is laid out in front of us on the woven mat floor of the hut. I point to the Eastern Highlands, speaking in Pidgin.

“So that’s Goroka, and here’s Crater Mountain.” I circle the Crater Mountain Wildlife Management Area with my finger. “Where’s Mengino?” My host, Max Hinao, studies the map carefully, but I’m not sure he can read. “There’s Karimui,” I say, trying to help.

“Karamui’s that way,” he says, pointing out the chicken wire window. “Haia’s over there.”

I try to relate that to the map, and fail. I crack open some of the fresh peanuts the villagers gave me on my arrival. “Are you sure we’re in the Eastern Highlands?”

Max smiles. “Yes, Eastern Highlands.”

***

We were in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea, and where exactly hardly mattered. I didn’t even know I was going to Mengino until a few hours before my flight from Goroka, the provincial capital. Like so many things in PNG, the so-called Land of the Unexpected, it took a long time to happen.

After six days in Goroka waiting for a flight to Haia village, I’d given up on getting to the Crater Mountain region. It was only by luck that I learned of a flight for a village called Mengino that afternoon. So I shouldered my pack and headed for the airstrip, walking down past the shanty town of Genoka, where a billboard of Jesus gushing blood on the cross competed with a giant wooden cutout of the Phantom.

I found the Seventh Day Adventist Aviation hanger halfway down the strip behind a barbed wire fence with a locked gate. A guard eventually appeared and let me in.

“Did someone drop you off?” he asked in Pidgin, looking down the road.

“No, I walked,” I said. “Why?”

He shook my hand. “You’re a strong man.”

Inside, I met Sampson, the manager, and Lisa, the Australian wife of one of the pilots. I paid for my ticket, told them my weight, and handed over my pack to be weighed; I amounted to 90kg of cargo. They weren’t sure when the plane was going, so then I waited.

Boris the pilotA few hours later, I crawled into the copilot’s seat of the Cessna and the ground crew strapped me in. The pilot, a young Czech called Boris, handed me a set of headphones.

“This is a Christian organisation,” Boris said. “So we’ll pray.” He clasped his hands over the flight plan on his lap. “Dia Papa God,” he began in Pidgin, praying for a safe flight.

“Amen,” I said firmly as he finished, hoping that Boris had filled out the flight plan correctly. His voice crackled sharp and intimate in my ear as he requested permission for take-off, and I remembered flying in the mountains with my father 20 years before.

Mengino ridgeAs Boris flicked switches and turned knobs, and we taxied along the tarmac, I experienced a kind of grand mal deja vu. The engine roared, we accelerated down the runway and lifted into the highlands sky, and I looked out the window of the Cessna onto the Goroka valley with the eyes of a child.

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3 Responses to Mengino: Land of the Wild Banana (1)

  1. tyler says:

    hey chirs.
    this is tyler from down the street. just wondering how youre doing. if you wanna get a drink sometime next week let me know. id like to attempt to write something up about your trip for the mag. maybe take some photos. i only have ian's number and mail and no response. mail me at tensrude@gmail.com and ill send you my number.
    tyler

  2. allison says:

    Is there anything else that happened with Mengino? Did you land there? Kind of left hanging.

  3. hydrolith says:

    Hi Allison,

    Yes, quite a lot more happened — a very interesting trip. I have notes for a series of posts on Mengino, and hope to go back there. Unfortunately, events overtook me and I won't get a chance to write about this until after my walk across Japan is over. But it's on the top of my list for the end of the year.

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