Thursday, January 15, 2009

Just another day at the office...

Footnote (at the top)...
I've been struggling to do anything in the blogosphere since I got back from PNG. And despite my repeated efforts, all I've managed to do is limit my activity to reading my reader.

I have tried to re-engage, I've tried to post (this post has taken ages and I'm not one bit happy with it), I've also tried to visit other blogs and even comment, but I just haven't been motivated.

I actually feel rather tired and somewhat overwhelmed.

I guess putting in 150 hours in the last 12 days, of which two days were each 15 hours of travel, has taken its toll on me. But I feel I must do something for my throng of 6 loyal readers and so I'll forge on. Quite the 'brick' aren't I.

The hills and low clouds around Lae, PNG.

My recent trip.

As usual I left it until the last minute to do the last minute things, and therefore only got about three hours of dozing before getting ready for the cab to the airport.

The flight was largely uneventful... except after the first leg of my trip I discovered something that gave me reason to pause.

At Brisbane airport I presented myself at the international check in counter, and after the young lady keyed in the info from my E-ticket receipt, she said;

Qantas Lady: You've just arrived from Melbourne... right?
Me: Yes...
Qantas Lady: Hmmm...
Me: My Doctor does that...
Qantas Lady: (Keeping her eyes on the screen, but with a frown on her face) What... Sorry, what does your Doctor do? (as she raised her eyes and looked at me)
Me: My Doctor goes "Hmmm", when she actually means "Uh-oh"
Qantas Lady: (With a puzzled look and small smile) Oh...

At that point Qantas lady turned to a colleague and showed him the receipt and pointed to the screen... he walked over and started typing and clicking...

Qantas Man: Uh-oh...
Me: (Catching Qantas Lady's eye) He's not a Doctor.
Qantas Lady: Sorry..?

Qantas Man and Qantas Lady stood there discussing for a minute then Qantas Man told me that my itinerary had been cancelled. He then went on to say that I could continue on to Port Moresby, but there's no way of knowing if I have a seat on the connecting flight out to Lae from there.

Me: Hmmm... (Meaning "Uh-oh")
Me: So what does that mean, do I continue or not?

Qantas Man went on to tell me that I could continue but I might find the trail ends a lot sooner than I expect.

I got my boarding pass, checked my baggage and headed for the gate lounge.

There was nothing eventful after that until I arrived at Lae, PNG. Lae is a port town on the other side of PNG and it's where a lot of mining and drilling related goods movement and warehousing and so on takes place. The airport is a 45 minute drive away from the coast. So upon landing I was to take a shuttle bus to the port area of Lae. My instructions were to approach the security firm called Guard Dog as they run an airport shuttle service. It's not unusual to have a security firm providing transport services in some outlying areas where there might be local resistance to foreign backed resources operations. So I walked out and found three uniformed guys standing in front of a 15 seater van/bus.

This bus was trussed up like a mobile Fort Knox... the only thing missing was the barbed wire around the perimiter. Take a look below...

(The guy holding the Guard's rifle wasn't on my trip fortunately, he looks like a real hoot doesn't he?) The above is a shot from the internet, but look at the fully meshed bus... um... what am I getting myself into?

The drive was 45 minutes all right, but it was flat-chat all the way. We stopped for no one, we slowed for nothing, including blind corners, including overtaking and including overtaking on blind corners. It wasn't a drive, it was a dash for life. I was quite concerned... I mean there are three armed guards, me and a couple other people hurtling along in the dark in a fortified bus.

Were we running late... or just running?

Now the thing was, when I fronted Guard Dog at the airport and gave them my name, it was discovered that I wasn't on the list of passengers. So what do you do in that situation? You tell them in broken English as much information you know... and... they tell you in broken English they know nothing about you... "Get on the bus and we'll take you somewhere."

So of course you get on the bus don't you? Well I did.

They dropped me off at the client's residential compound and fortunately I was expected. I could see that it was a guarded compound with high fences and and razor wire. With security mesh on all doors and windows. I checked in and went to my room.

Phew... I had arrived.

A fairly sparse room, as they can very often be... however I had a double bed where usually this type of company accommodation will only have a single bed.

If you look closely, you'll see razor wire running across the top of the fence. The guard tower is just beyond the other side of the vehicle.

The office complex was just as well fortified as the accommodation complex and in both places one couldn't go through any door leading in or out and in fact within the secure area, without a key.

Some people say that I'm foolish to go to places like this, where this is the norm... but I go because it's my job to go and there is an element of excitement to it, but the thing to remember is that all the non fortified buildings and vehicles are the targets for attack, so I'm relatively safe.

It was hot, up in the 30s (about 100 degrees F) and humidity was up in the high 90s. It was just impossible to escape the heat unless I was in the office or my room where both areas were well air conditioned. In the dinning room one had a nice hot meal like steak, roast beef, chicken, beef casserole or other choices whilst sitting in what felt like the oven that the food was cooked in. And the other disconcerting thing was that I caught sight of the chef picking his nose several times. (I steered clear of the meatballs and oysters just to be on the safe side.)

One evening I was looking out through the security grid on my window and I noticed something fly over head and out of sight, then I noticed another one... I wasn't sure, but they looked like bats to me...

What do you think.

Another night, just past midnight, I had just nodded off when the next thing I knew I was being shaken awake... I had a vague notion of hearing the door banging open just before the violent shaking and so I really thought I was in the middle of being attacked. (So much for the armed guards and all the other security measures.) When I opened my eyes I was looking at the ceiling but still being shaken... almost out of bed... and I could hear the rumbling of what sounded like a very large convoy of very heavy vehicles rumbling past the building, and I could hear the noise that the building itself was making as it was being shaken apart. Well it would've shaken apart except that it stopped as I jumped out of bed.

An earthquake.

Okay, so i was slow to come to that realisation, but I'd never been in an earthquake before. And although it seemed like ages, it was well under 30 seconds duration.

The realisation of what could have happened then hit me. I was on the upper floor and I'm sure it would've taken much more of it before starting to fall apart. So I don't mind telling you that I was frightened.

What happens now? What am I supposed to do? Is there a recognised international protocol that one follows when a small quake happens, one that could well be the precursor to something big? I'm not sure, but I think the thing I did next would be pretty close to a universally recognised and recommended response to such an incident. It showed that I was capable of remaining calm and level headed... if you ask me.

I packed my toilet bag and placed it in my suitcase. I got the next days clothes that I had laid out, and packed them in my case too. I ensured that everything that goes in my laptop backpack was packed and secured and I placed it and my suitcase just inside the door leading out into the hallway. If I was to be leaving in a hurry, I didn't want to have to stop and pack, I just wanted to grab as I ran past. Then I got dressed... completely... including putting my shoes on... ready to flee at a moments notice... and hopped back into bed and went to sleep.

The trip home was unremarkable.

I missed you guys and of course I missed my loved ones... but I do enjoy travelling and I especially like trips like this because of the large element of doubt and surprise about what each day has in store.

It's good to be home amongst my friends.



The Phosgene Kid said...

Nice high security trip. The problem with razor wire and mesh over windows is I am never sure if they are trying to keep people out or people in.

As far as earthquakes, I was always told to stand in a doorway, the theory being that it was the strongest point of the structure, but as one comedian pointed out, look at a picture of an earthquake aftermath and count all the door frames left standing.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why you weren't happy with this post Bear. I thought it was very entertaining and great to hear about a day in the life of a Bear on an adventure.

I bet Butch was relieved to see you home and in one piece. I would be very nervous if the Bear I loved was exposed to those kinds of dangers.

Bear said...

That's like climbing up the chimney when your house is on fire because it's usually the one thing left standing... but I'm not going to try it.

Romany Angel:
Thank you Angel, and yes Butch was very happy to have me back in one piece.

Now, let's talk about that bear you love... not someone I know is it? The bear world is a small, and cuddly, world you know.

groovyoldlady said...

*snort* And some people think business travel is TAME. Oh, how uninformed they are!

Glad you survived the dangers! I can't wait for the day when you finally reveal that you are really James Bond in disguise and fill us in on how you subdue evil, international criminals with one mighty swing of your laptop!