Greetings from Kuala Lumpur! We're currently in the airport here, wishing the free wifi worked just a bit better. Much of this post was written in Goroka, a town in the highlands which literally cannot be reached overland from the capitol city--there are no roads connecting Port Morseby to the highlands. Papua New Guinea is beautiful and still wonderfully wild, and we really enjoyed traveling around there. We're not much for the beaten path.
That, by the way, is how we found ourselves in that tiny church in Goreme--we drove past the main part of the World Heritage Site there, which looked crowded, was closing, and cost a good bit of money. Instead, we chose a random sign marking the tiny Reflection Church, and wound up exploring the cool empty caves Ryan mentioned in his last post.
Now, Paris and Belgium and Amsterdam were all lovely, but god, soooo many tourists. We managed to have some really nice meals in very local places, but following the Rick Steve's Paris guide's advice for delicious dinner locations, even if the book as excellent as the Amazon.com reviews say it is, doesn't totally let you feel as though you're eating like a local... Especially when half the other tourists are also carting around the same little blue and yellow Paris guidebooks.
Now, mind, all the other tourists here are toting around little Lonely Planet Guidebooks to PNG and the Solomons, but it's hard to feel like too much of a tourist when you spend your time in villages where few white people have ever visited--while we were in Port Morseby we took trips out to Gaba Gaba and Porebada, two coastal towns with very helpful people.
From Goroka, we drove to Upper Bena, home of the Bena Bena people, who were amazingly kind, generous, and engaged in what we were doing. The genuine fascination with a scientific project on dogs caught me off guard a bit--I'm always surprised how much of this project transcends different cultures and educational levels and amounts of biological understanding. I'm so pleased that even in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, people understand that by collecting blood from dogs in many places, you can tell something about the similarities and differences between groups of dogs. It's quite cool as a scientist to arrive somewhere and have the people there find your research not just strange or interesting as a curiosity, but actually engaging and even relevant to their lives.
As I was typing this, an Australian couple came and asked us about the internet--they commented on our clear internet addiction and we pleaded our withdrawal from the web in Papua New Guinea. That led to questions about why we'd gone there and a whole bunch of inquiries about what it was like, and so even here, in the airport, with strangers, we're always finding people interested in what we do, asking questions about dogs and travel and science. Awesome.
Anyways: Back to the Papuan Highlands
In Bena Bena we stayed with a local council president, who put us up in a thatched bamboo hut. Amazing how well you can keep warm in a cold highlands night in one of those. The people were shockingly welcoming. It's truly amazing to me when people who clearly have so little are so generous-hearted--one of the older women adopted Ryan as a son and me as a daughter-in-law and different people in the villages we visited insisted on giving us no less than five traditional string bags (bilums), two highland hats, and a bow and arrow for Ryan. I was quite glad that our being there also gave something to the community, but even despite that the generosity and kindness of the people we met was stunning.