I’VE been in Mt Hagen for only a few minutes and I already feel as though I’ve crossed an imaginary line dividing the modern world from a stone-age one where myth and reality are intertwined and the law of the jungle reigns supreme.
A flimsy chicken-wire fence is all that separates those of us waiting in the arrival lounge – more of an arrival shed – from the Papua New Guinean city that made global headlines last year when a woman was tortured, stripped and burnt at the stake by a mob that had accused her of using sorcery.
“A visit to Mt Hagen is only for the bravest,” warns Mt Hagen’s Wikitravel entry. But if there is one thing I’ve learnt as a journalist – other than the fact that sorcery isn’t real – it’s that wikis aren’t to be trusted.
A garden gnome-like man with a prominent nose, long beard and fierce eyes – a look the coastal dwellers of PNG call ‘moneyface’ in reference to the Highlanders bent for business – holds a piece of paper bearing my name. His clothes are filthy. His body odour is palpable. He’s only wearing one shoe. His name is Raymond and he’s my guide.