As we all rolled out of bed at 3:15am and began getting ready to leave Hauna, we were thankful the rainstorm had just ended. “Maybe that was it for our nightly rain,” we thought. As we began taking our bags to be loaded onto the 60-foot dugout canoe, people woke up to say their final goodbyes to our team.
We gathered on the bank by the big house, all loaded up with our luggage wrapped in plastic ready to go. We gathered in a circle and Tony prayed and thanked God for an incredible stay in Hauna and a safe trip on the river at night.
Then we shoved off. One person stood up at the front on the tip of the canoe and shone a very powerful flashlight in all directions scanning the river. The greatest danger on the river is hitting another log. Although it would have to be a very big one in order to tip us because we’re loaded down with 12 people and cargo. The guy on the front’s job was to constantly scan for such a log.
As we pulled out of the village at 4 a.m. huts on both sides of the river started shining and flashing their flashlights at us. It was a silent goodbye from the village as we left Hauna peacefully in the middle of the night.
About 10 minutes in, it began to rain softly. We all had raincoats on, and our luggage was wrapped tight. We just put our heads down and geared up to get wet.
Then it rained harder. Then it really rained harder. Before long, it was what you would call driving rain. I have no idea how they navigated that river. I doubt you could see well if it was daytime. We could see flashes of lighting in the distance.
After about an hour of driving rain, my feet were completely covered in water that was the filling canoe. I was soaked literally from head to toe, my fingers were wrinkly from being in water and I realized something that rarely happens in PNG so close to the equator—I was cold.
We prayed for daylight to come.
Finally, 5:45 came around and with each passing minute it got a little bit lighter, even though the rain persisted. After about three hours, the rain let up enough that we began taking off our raincoats. I couldn’t see my toes in the three inches of water in the bottom the canoe, so we started bailing it out. We passed around crackers and settled in for a dry part of the trip. Until it started raining again. Of the six hours this canoe trip from Hauna to Pagwi took, it rained at least four of them.
Finally, we came around a bend in the river, and there on the bank were people unloading oil drums from trucks and there were cars and a road! We pulled up and lumbered out. We were soaked and wrinkled from being in water for six hours, had stiff legs, and were definitely ready to get on a dry coaster bus.
Unfortunately, the bus reservation was for 10:00am and the rain delayed our arrival until 11:00am. There was no bus waiting for us. The cell tower was down so we couldn’t call Hauna and we couldn’t call Wewak and we couldn’t call the bus owner or the bus driver. We were stranded in Pagwi! After standing for long enough to begin drying out and getting hot again, we bought some local food and just waited while Sam, our local guide, disappeared into the town to go make something happen.
Pretty soon he came running back. “We have to go now! I have asked for a local truck driver to take us as far as a village where a guy has a bus!” Just then we saw pulling around the corner a large flatbed cargo truck with about ten locals in it and three barrels of gas. “All right here we go!” we all said as we jumped to our feet and began loading our luggage and ourselves onto the flatbed. We hadn’t started eating our food that we bought, so we passed it out among everybody.
Now this was a new experience. I was riding in an open flatbed truck, on the bumpiest road I’ve ever been on in the PNG jungle. There were no comfy seats but plenty of bone-rattling bumps. But we did begin to dry out.
After an hour, we pulled into a village and there waiting for us was a welcome sight: a coaster bus with enough seats to spread out. As we started on the road to Wewak, for the first time it was comfortable, and I had a back rest. We raced onward for the next three and a half hours. And of course, it rained.
Finally, we pulled into Wewak. We made it! The driver took us right to the hotel where we quickly checked in and for the first time in over a week, I took a hot shower.
That night we had a delicious meal in the hotel restaurant. We shared highlights of the trip and enjoyed being clean and dry. We even had dessert!
About every 30 minutes someone would say “remember that time we took that canoe ride on the river at night in the rain?”