For the first time in eight years, the weather has been so dry in Papua New Guinea that the roads in the Finisterre Mountains, which are normally washed out by large rivers, are passable. But the rain has been slowly making it’s way back to the island. As we talked with the only trucking company in Madang, we realized our window for moving supplies along the road was closing rapidly.
Our original plan was to move our load by road to Biliau on November 3rd. But our contact in Biliau asked if we could delay our move by a week so as not to disturb the school’s final exams—a reasonable request, given that we use their soccer field as a helipad. So we delayed our plans. When we confirmed the change with the trucking company, they said: “We’re good to go so long as it does not rain.” So after having prayed regularly for rain to come in the midst of the drought, we started praying for one week of no rain. And God granted our request.
On Saturday, November 7th, we loaded up the first of two trucks. The company had promised two trucks, but the engine had failed in the second. So we loaded up one truck while they searched for a second. Our latest plan had been to leave on Sunday morning. But it was nearly noon on Sunday before the second truck arrived at the Lehman’s house. And it was nearly 3pm by the time both trucks were loaded and ready to go. We debated about delaying our departure until Monday morning to avoid driving at night, but the owner of the trucks said we had to leave. And we are so glad he forced our hand, because there was a torrential downpour in Madang that very night.
We left Madang at 4pm and started the 7-hour-drive to Biliau. The roads were rough and the rivers were deep, but we managed to make good progress until nightfall. The following is a video of one of the river crossings:
Just before 8pm we came up to a menacing river. It was probably a good 5-6 feet deep and it was moving quickly. From the frequent flashes of lightening coming from the mountains, it was clear that a large thunderstorm had caused the river to swell. The locals said the river had changed just hours before our arrival. But they assured us that the river would die down with the storm. That meant waiting in the trucks at the river’s edge until morning. Matt somehow managed to get some sleep. Jeremy and I, on the other hand, found it difficult to sleep in a cramped truck cab with four other guys.
When sunlight peaked over the Finisterre range, the water level had gone down significantly, but not enough for comfort. The locals told us another road might be more passable just a little ways upriver. True to their word, the river was shallower, but there was no “road” to speak of. Praise God we did manage to make it across. And it was not the only miracle that day. We forded two more large rivers and squeezed through a detour that led us through a coconut plantation. The palm trees were so close together that the sides of our trucks barely scraped through. But by 9am we were in Biliau.
Our time in Biliau was wonderfully uneventful. Our hosts took good care of us, the SIL pilots worked quickly to help us make loads and shuttle them in, and our dear friends from Mawerero helped look after the timber and supplies. But again, we found ourselves racing the rain. We only got four loads in on the first day before thick clouds rolled over the village. On Tuesday we started early and were able to make 15 shuttle flights before the weather stopped us again. Thankfully, Wednesday stayed clear long enough for us to finish the last of the loads and start working on the house.
The goal going in was to frame the second house, put a roof on it, and cover the walls in black plastic. With rainy season on its way, we expected the build to take us three weeks. But the rain only shut us down once or twice. We framed the whole house in just over 5 days, which was way ahead of schedule.
Putting the roof on took a little longer than expected, but not because of the rain. Working so high off the ground (nearly 20 feet in some places) required some extra caution and safety for us and the volunteers from the village. Praise God no one fell in the 5 days we spent on the roof. In the end, we were two roofing panels short of finishing the project, but it was close enough to wrap up the small uncovered section until our next build in January 2016.
The last major project was wrapping the house in black plastic and finishing the two entry ways into the house. Matt and I worked with the tribe to put up the plastic while Jeremy put his energy into making the doors (not an easy task in a country where they do not sell pre-hung doors). Putting up the plastic proved to be more dangerous than putting on the roof. In an attempt to help the work go faster, the tribe made make-shift scaffolding out of various ladders, scraps of rope, and random pieces of lumber. We ended up finishing the job in record time and came away with some scary memories and awesome pictures.
With all our work finished, we ended up leaving the tribe 6 days earlier than expected. And we made it home in time to celebrate Thanksgiving together with our families.
And finally, a video tour of our latest build in Mawerero:
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