The last outpost: Wewak
I had come to PNG wanting to explore the Sepik, but everything else was an accident. After a bone-aching two-day journey from Vanimo in a pickup truck with a broken drive shaft, I made it to Wewak.
Wewak, the capital of the East Sepik province, was hectic, fascinating, exasperating, memorable. Hundreds of ‘PMVs’, public motor vehicles – minibuses, pickup trucks, lorries, cars – congregated in smoky chaos in front of the market where tiny fruit and dried plaits of tobacco were laid out on the ground for sale. Several hundred people queued outside two Chinese supermarkets, heavily guarded, where I stocked up on noodles, tinpis and beef crackers.
Everwhere I went, people called, Waitman! and followed me down the street. Any time I stopped, I was surrounded by curious people offering help and warnings to avoid criminal raskols. Everyone competed to help me, offering conflicting fictions about imaginary bus schedules and underestimated distances. The only place I found some shelter was the Christian bookstore.
Wewak’s impromptu long-distance transport hub is a petrol station known as Caltex on the outskirts of town. I sat there for hours waiting for buses that didn’t exist. An American missionary, the first foreigner I had seen after several days in PNG, drove through with her children in a pickup truck. I asked her for help and her only question was, “What organisation are you with?” – which Christian mission. I said I was just a student and she abruptly drove off. God’s work must have been keeping her very busy.