Rondon Ridge is the name of the resort we are staying at tonight. It is halfway up the mountain, and about five miles by road from the Mount Hagen Market. But it takes almost an hour to drive it because the road is little more than a muddy track carved into the hillside. Its twists and turns are full of potholes and in places parts of the track are washed away. Wrecks of cars and trucks litter the hillside where they have tipped over the edge.
It is quite alarming and made even more so by the little squeals of terror that occasionally escape from the lips of Nellie. At least it stops her talking. When we finally arrive, Rondon Ridge is a stylish building reminiscent of a ski lodge with huge windows looking down the mountain.
After lunch we are invited to go bird watching by Joseph, the resident nature guide. We are anxious to see some Birds of Paradise, so the five of us eagerly set off up the mountain and into the rain forest with Joseph. Joseph, however, has other things on his mind. He is an orchid fanatic, and has built an orchid garden a half mile up the hill. It is moated all the way round and entered over a small bridge and through a locked door. We feel like Alice in Wonderland. We need to take a shrinking pill to get through the tiny door and in to the garden. He is anxious to show off his passion and we are all happy to see it. It is an amazing labour of love. I envisioned a quick tour before continuing on, but as luck would have it (we wish it wouldn’t), Nellie is also an orchid fanatic. The rest of us quickly discover that two fanatics together may make for an enthralling afternoon for the fanatics, but a very long afternoon for everyone else.
By the time we have prised Nellie out of the garden, Joseph informs us that we do not have time to walk up to the area where he can guarantee that we will find the Birds of Paradise. Instead we will look for them in the rain forest around his garden.
The next hour is like something out of an English farce. We stand quietly until we hear a bird call, then we rush through the undergrowth towards the sound. By the time we arrive the bird has flown, as the saying goes. We repeat this futile procedure over and over again. After a few unsuccesful dashes through the undergrowth another sound is heard. This time it is one of laughter. The fearless five is becoming aware of how ridiculous the situation is and is having an attack of the giggles. Actually it is just four of us giggling. Nellie unfortunately is also a birding fanatic and is becoming annoyed at our frivolity. She hisses “sssshhh!” at us several times, which of course just makes us giggle more.
Finally Roger is sure he sees something high up in a tree, the aptly named Superb Bird of Paradise, but no one else sees it. Roger is thrilled, we are not. We would be happy with a Not So Superb Bird of Paradise, but we see nothing. This is my first experience of birding. I am not encouraged to repeat it, although maybe it is more interesting when there are actual birds involved.
We return to the lodge for dinner. There are three other guests, who are on a different tour, but with the same tour company. We join tables for dinner. Jennifer is a large woman in her thirties with a larger smile and an even larger appetite for beer. If we ever want to find her, which we do because she is fun, we just go to the bar.
Oliver and Diana look like a couple that have stepped off the front page of an Abercrombie and Kent catalogue. He is a strikingly handsome man in his mid to late sixties, but looks fifteen years younger. She is a beautiful woman who is probably ten years younger, but it would be rude to guess. They are both tall, lean and fit, immaculately groomed and dressed. They make a striking contrast to the five of us in our wrinkled lightweight shirts, pants, and shorts. They are fascinating dinner companions, but leave me feeling a little inadequate. They have a boat and for the past few years have spent eight or nine months of each year sailing the world.
Periodically, when the mood takes them, they stop for a vacation. Right now the mood has taken them to New Guinea, and their yacht has been left in dry dock at Cairns. For the three months they are not sailing they return to their home in the South of France. We listen to their stories and make what we hope are the appropriate responses. But theirs is a foreign world and there are times in ones life when it is better to say very little. Besides envy is an unappealing trait.
The next morning our host at the lodge shows us an Emperor moth that has flown into the lodge. It is quite beautiful and the size of a dinner plate.
After breakfast we make our way down the mountain and back to the airport. We leave at around seven in the morning and the road is full of children. They are all going to school. It takes them an hour and a half to walk down the mountain to school, and they have to be there by eight. School finishes at 3pm, and then they have to walk home. Because it is such a steep road the walk home can take three hours. They do this either in bare feet or in flip flops. If ever there was a reason to play truant, this is it.
There are many adults making the same walk, but they are going to work. The driver stops, talks to a woman and sets off again. Our guide explains that it is the driver’s wife. We can’t believe that he doesn’t offer her a ride. I yell at him to stop and he does. He is most grateful as he is not allowed to give a ride to anyone unless we make the offer. I try to imagine driving past Gordon on a road and leaving him to walk for an hour and a half. It wouldn’t go down too well
(Ed note: You betcha!)