I arrived at the Nadzab airport last night and followed a kid with a sign that said “Daniel Somika” onto a bus. After about an hour of riding through the bumpy night, dropping off other patrons in the town of Lae, I found myself at the Melanesian hotel and met up with members of the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program and Conservation International.
Lae is not a safe place. It turned out that I would be staying in different hotel about two blocks away, but I was not allowed to walk there. I had to hire an armed vehicle called “Guard Dog” to drive me the short distance. There is definitely something unsettling about this.
Today, after my first night of sleep in what seems like a very long time, I met up with Lisa and Hilary from the Zoo, and we talked a little bit about our flight into the village of Sapmanga tomorrow, and our time trekking around and helping with coffee harvesting and processing. Today, we are gathering supplies and packing for the 11 days that we will be off the grid. There are a few different groups of people that will also be in the area, including members of Conservation International and researchers from James Cook University in Australia. They are doing various studies on wildlife populations and such.
I am excited to be going to the interior rather than staying here, as we are pretty much on lockdown while in Lae. I won’t be able to touch base again until I get back, which I believe is on the 18th or 19th. I leave early tomorrow morning, and I am really not encouraged to go wandering around, but I will attach a photo I took on my way to the TKCP office — the tallest building in Lae!
Hello from Yawan Village. As I write this the rain is pouring and my spirits are dampened. The scheduled flight for this morning back to Nadzab decided to forgo its pickup at the Yawan airstrip due to poor visibility, and my hope for making the connecting flight back to the United States all depends on the weather tomorrow morning. If I wake to clear skies, a hectic and stressful day awaits: a ride on the guard dog security transport into Lae where I hope to shower, clean, pack, meet with the Coffee Industry Corporation, gather green coffee samples, and prepare for the long journey home. If the rain and mist continue, I will remain here. I’ve come to understand that this is just the way things are in Papua New Guinea — the best laid plans, effort, and will are all too often subject to the whims of nature or others. Well enough about the joys of travel on this majestic island; here is what I came for, the coffee.
For the past two weeks I’ve been walking through the Uruwa region, visiting villages, and meeting as many coffee growers as possible. A small revolution has been taking place. Coffee gardens which had been abandoned for decades have now been pruned and maintained. Raised beds have been constructed and hope is high that the remarkable coffee of this region will find its way to a market. This is the goal that Caffe Vita has come here to help achieve.
This possibility first came to our attention over a year ago when we were approached by the Woodland Park Zoo’s Tree Kangaroo Conservation Project. We were told of a people who had decided to set aside large portions of their land as a conservation area; the first of its kind in Papua New Guinea. They also happened to grow a lot of coffee, but have never received a good price due to the remoteness of their location. One of the only options was to make the three-day journey to the nearest road and hope that someone would come along and purchase their coffee — often a middle man who would take advantage and offer a low price. Coffee is one of the only means of income for most of the villagers, and for years now, these people have struggled to pay for basic necessities such as school fees and health care. Caffe Vita is commited to help change this situation by aiding in the improvement of coffee quality and beginning to purchase coffee from them at a price which will enable them to improve their livelihoods.
I believe that the potential for coffee cultivation in this region is tremendous. The soil is rich, dense chocolate-cake-like humus, fed by numerous nitrogen-fixing shade trees, such as the native Casarina. The elevation is prime, ranging from about 1400 – 2000 meters above sea level, and I’ve seen nothing but Bourbon, Typica, Mundo Novo, and Arusha trees in the gardens. The coffee is organic, grown in harmony with its surroundings, interspersed among numerous other species such as breadfruit, betelnut, citrus, banana, taro, and lusina. From a distance it is often difficult to determine where the coffee is growing, as it blends into the thick flora and fauna.
Like much of the Asia-Pacific coffee growing region, drying has proved to be a challenge, but the ingenuity and hard work of some of the more diligent coffee growers has led to the construction of raised beds and solar driers which I imagine will drastically improve the cup quality. I have been collecting a backpack full of samples, and I am eager to fire up the sample roaster back at Vita and begin work on the collection and export of this coffee to Seattle. Now, if only the rain would let up.
The rain did not let up, but a brave (crazy?) young pilot decided to land on the airstrip anyhow. Unfortunately, the mud and water caused his plane to skid and slide all over the place. He wisely decided to only take a few passengers back to Nadzab, so that he could lift off before hitting the muck (and the subsequent cliff). Due to my imminent connection to international flights I was chosen to board and feel fortunate to have survived the flight back to Nadzab. Please have in your thoughts Ryan and Lisa from the Woodland Park Zoo. To my knowledge they are still stranded in Yawan awaiting another flight.