To Wewak and Back

Alex Rust

12 December 2010 | Wewak, Papua New Guinea

After being dropped in Pagwi I was able to find my friend Ruben who runs the health clinic and he offered to take me (free of charge) to Wewak in his four wheel drive rally car ambulance. After a four hour bumpy haul through the jungle mountains we arrived at Wewak hospital where I payed Mr. Mobo our agreed rate, smiled and thanked him for his services (he clearly was stealing from us but i didn’t see the point in creating bad blood over some batteries and ink pens although I did manage to steal my cd back replacing it with a blank ‘spring break 09’).

While being x-rayed and blood tested to see if my hemagloben levels were ok for surgery I inquired about the hospitals nightly rates. 2 kina per night I was told (80 cents in US currency). I then asked how much the surgery would run me followed by an answer of 30 kina ($12). It took the rest of the day to check in before a nurse brought to my bed in ward 2c telling me that I was the first white man to ever stay in her ward.

Wewak hospital is a an open air hospital so whatever lives outside lives inside as well, the biggest of which (besides the other patients) were numerous rats although they didn’t seem to bother anyone. The hospital sits on a peninsula that juts out in the Pacific ocean bringing in a constant sea breeze of fresh air that also kept away the bugs (thank god) and provided that constant soothing sound of waves crashing on the nearby rocks. I quickly made friends with Daniel who was sleeping on the floor next to his mother who broke her both her arms falling while picking fruit.

My surgery the next day went well although they didn’t tell me they were going to put me under until I was lying on the operating table and to the words ‘yu sleep now’ i lost conscienceness. When I came to my world was spinning and the faces looking down on me were quite distorted and speaking another language. I thought they were aliens. I passed out again this time waking up with a little less spinning but still very confused as to my surroundings but luckily Daniel was there to explain where I was and what had happened.

That night, like the night before, everyone in the ward who could gathered around my bed as I told stories of the distant land of America. When telling of Chicago and its many skyscrapers one man asked how long it took to climb to the top of such tall buildings. Their eyes grew large as I described to them how elevators took people up and down from floor to floor. It was hard for many of them to grasp a room with sliding doors which, once inside, you simply push a button with a number on it that would take you to that level while you stood effortlessly still inside this magic transport room.

After another day of healing I was released free of charge (i tried several times to pay but the doctors refused the money saying anyone who sailed so far to visit their country need not pay) and immediately went to gathering provisions for the boat. This minor hickup had set us back a few days and to stay on schedule (Palau by christmas) we needed to get out of the sepik river in a hurry. Realizing Reed wasn’t going to be able to stay aboard I searched Wewak for fellow travelers hoping to find one as crew for Bubbles but all I found was an offer to run 10 kgs of vacuum sealed marijuana down to Australia for a handsome fee of $50,000. I respectfully declined and searched out a ride down to Angoram where Reed and I had set up as a rendezvous point.

After a three hour ride that took us past huge rubber trees I arrived in Angoram to find no Reed, Ben or Bubbles which worried me immediately. It was now well past dark and Reed had assured me by phone earlier in the day they would be there by 5. It was now past 7. I put together a search party and just as we were loading up the boat to head upstream in search of the crew I got a call from the Reed on the satellite phone. They had a hit a storm and with the 45 knots headwinds were having trouble making way through the waves. Another hour and I saw the mast light peak around the river bend. I flashed my head torch their direction to show my position on the dark river bank and they flashed back showing they saw.

Back aboard Bubbles we had to re-anchor and were stuck twice in the mud before finally getting hooked away from the main current of logs and debris that the storm they had just been through was now sending down the river. Once firmly hooked we were all chatter as the three of us began telling each of our own adventures of the past four days while separated. Reed and I stayed up for a while chatting before he caught the 3 am truck to Wewak. Just to keep the adventure alive til the end the river challenged us once more by the buildup of a log obstacle course between us and the shore. With the two of us carrying all of Reed’s heavy gear (much of which are now wooden masks) we stepped from log to slippery log with some giving way. I found myself waist deep more than once holding Reed’s bag out of the water while grabbing the next log before reaching the final two logs that sat on an incline to the top of the river bank. Loading everything into the truck we said our goodbyes. It looked as if Bubbles was going to leave the Sepik with the same number she came with (4) although now two of the crew were baby parrots (Skittles, the smaller green female and Big Red, the larger red male).

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