Source Trip To Papua New Guinea Part II

Andrew Vournas & Team in Papua New Guinea

Day 3 Goroka/Okapa/Purosa

   There is an old saying in PNG and it came about for good reason. “Expect the unexpected”. This proved to be true on my second trip to Papua New Guinea. Having only partially recovered from the State of Origin Rugby Match and too many SP beers, I pulled my boots on and made my way over to Coffee Connections Headquarters in Goroka. Having a quick cup of Purosa coffee and a meeting to plan our buying strategy for the coming year, we quickly realized coffee would be a bit short in supply for the year due to the coffee cycle.

   After loading supplies into the trusty Land Cruiser we snaked our way a few hours up to Okapa. We were soon surrounded by coffee my kind of place. Six years ago when I made my first mud infested trek up here, it took three times as long to traverse this terrain. Now the road is sealed. This was great to see as finally some progress, although very slow, is starting to occur here in the Eastern Highlands.

   We finally reached our guys in Okapa and HOAC which is the CO/OP that supports thousands of farmers with a buying station, fair prices, coffee pulpers and a new storage shed to hold all the coffee parchment. The HOAC boys Daniel, Ricky, and Robert are really doing a fantastic job placing over 250 hand pulpers and providing the structure for the farmers to sell their coffee. They pay premium prices which in the end helps all of the villages in Purosa, Invengoi and Okapa areas. In addition to new government buildings in Okapa, the old wet mill in Purosa which was built 25 years ago is back up and functioning. This is great news as the coffee can get processed better and quicker which leads to improved cup quality and better consistency.

   After having a smoke with the police chief, and a few words on how much safer Okapa is (I always feel comfortable when the M-16’s are on my side), we decided to make our way back down the mountain. Indeed it was timely, and with our entourage of police vehicles in tow, we made a few village stops to say hello and check out coffee conditions. The markets on the side of the road were in full swing and the fruit and veggies were so colorful they almost looked fake. They were probably picked a few hours before and what flavor the mandarins and bananas had.

   We finally reached Goroka late in the day and took it easy at the hotel for awhile. With an early dinner, we decided to call it a night. Next stop Morobe, Derim by plane.

Day 4 Derim village Morbe Provence

   Indeed when one flies around PNG it is not in a 747 but by small six seater. These planes are the work horses of PNG, flying men and material around areas that are accessible only by plane. In all there were six of us including Craig and myself and several organic inspectors that would remain in Derim for days. It is always great to get airborne in PNG to see just how big the island is and how many mountains, waterfalls and remote villages exist. As I said in my last blog, PNG is the most remote area in the world for coffee and its village and tribal life remain largely intact. All are subsistence farmers and grow coffee for extra income mainly for goods and for school fees for children.
  
   The 45 minute flight to Durim was largely uneventful which is a good thing for sure, but the landing was a bit precarious. Imagine a fully loaded airplane landing on a short grass airstrip that is at an upward angle with jungle on both sides. You only get one shot at it. The pilot told us there are no aborted landings here just safe landings or crashes.
  
   The villagers were ready to welcome us and a plane landing in the village is like spotting a movie star in a restaurant. It’s a big deal and creates excitement throughout the valley. After Craig introduced us in Pidgin we witnessed coffee buying in the village and the certification process for Organic and FairTrade. What we saw was a dedicated woman who turned her hard work growing coffee into cash. She traveled about a one hour walk with about 40 kilos of coffee on her back to get here. I for one will never complain about my oversized backpack again that’s for sure. On the ground in Derim we inspected the village truck (provided by HOAC), unloaded tires from the plane, shook some hands and had a few laughs. We are bringing in coffee from this area this year, and it certainly has a different taste having a bit less acid and more of a creamy body in the cup. Seeing the clouds starting to form we decided it was time to take off. As we were shooting down the grass runway and airborne in seconds I was amazed at how the villages of PNG work so hard to produce great coffee with so little. One can only imagine what the production would be like if they had the  resources say of Costa Rica or Honduras. Then again maybe too much change would screw it all up. For now I am the lucky one who gets to make the long trip, but gets to experience the people and the coffee at the village level. All good things come to those who wait.
Next trip Oaxaca Mexico in November to Growers First farms. Stay tuned.