mgc in motion > papua new guinea > conditions


Imagine jumping into a swimming pool first thing in the morning, fully clothed with your chainsaw, helmet and gloves. This is exactly what working in the rainforest is like. Not one part of you is dry, everything is wet and dirty and remains like this all day.

As you walk to site this might be a few hundred metres or up to a few kilometres you are always watching you footing. Everywhere there are trip hazards to try and trip you up. Even small vines that wend their way across the ground to find your foot and wrap themselves around it. I am sure they were not there yesterday. However normally you do not beat the system and find yourself prostrate on the ground at least once before you reach the job in the morning. You have to be very careful if you do fall over to let the machete go as this in itself then can become very dangerous to you. You also do not injure yourself as the brush cutters go through and cut all the small trees before the tree fellers and they use machetes they cut at an angle and above the ground about 70 cm which turns into a very nasty spear which if you fall on you will impale yourself. Carrying the saw conventionally by your side is dispensed with within a few feet and it goes comfortably onto your shoulder.

You must constantly be vigilant for dangers in the form of many things, snakes,crocodiles, insects, slippery surfaces, walking on wet tree trunks etc. When you sit down you become to realise that there is a whole life around you that is moving. Ants everywhere and everything in the forest bites or stings. Bees, scorpions, Snakes leaches and so it goes on. so this is an added hazard you have to be careful of. Also you need to be very wary of walking into the forest in the morning keeping a close eye out for snakes.

The morning is a coolest time of the day and the best time for work anytime after midday then the sun is overhead it starts to punish your body and every effort to move becomes tiring and needing a refill of water for your thirst which never seems to get quenched. The insects never give you a rest and anything that is able to bite or sting you will however small. Ants crawl up your legs then onto you back when you are using a chainsaw just when you are using it they find your neck and start to sting and bite you.
You need to be careful not to go near or stand on an Ants nest as they then all crawl over and you then go through a torture of stings until one of your colleagues can come and remove them all. They always seem to head for your neck and face knowing that the back of your neck is always a difficult place to protect. The jungle formula insect repellent that I bought in a famous branded chemist back in the UK told me that I had guaranteed at least 10 hrs protection from insects. It seemed to me that 10 mins was optimistic. I never used it again and the top came off in my bag and all the contents spilled out and ruined everything in the pocket.

You are constantly Thirsty even as early as 6am in the morning. You need to drink at least 5 to 6 litres of water a day as you are working hard and sweating a lot so losing a lot of salt and liquids. so it is very important to not become dehydrated which is easy to do as you are unaware you are losing so much fluid. So you need to carry in lots of water and also make sure you keep drinking during the day.

You have to carry everything you need for the day this includes food, water, waterproofs, saws, fuel, wedges, tools etc

However is can be a fascinating place early in the morning when the cloud base is still at the tops of the trees and the life is waking up in the forest there are lots of strange noises which you never see where they come from. A truly crisp clear bright light when the sun is out with lots of life everywhere waking up to a new day. Lovely butterflies of every conceivable colour and shape bright sky blue. Orange with black spots some butterflies would come and land on you and drink off you without any fear. You occasionally see a beautiful bird high up in the trees trying to make out its vivid colours. Is it a bird of paradise PNG’s national bird or some other rare bird. What a shame I have no binoculars. Some animals you see as well far up in the trees such as the tree Kangaroo which is on the world’s endangered list.We saw a group of seven to eight birsd swooping up and down through the canopy. They were a beautiful blood red colour the lads told me they were parrots.

The forest to many here is a friend if you know how to use it. lots of building materials, bed making materials.
Materials to use for construction. Large sources of food such as fish in the rivers animals in the forest. Types of green leaves you can eat raw (the new shoots tasting very good) A certain type of Ant which tasted delicious very fruity just like blackcurrents. Bright bark patterns on trees that come straight from the Dulux painting colour chart. Colours so unbelievable that they seem somebody has come in the night and used a paint brush to apply the colour. Flowers that shout out come and look at me bright crimson red. Fruits on trees that are bright blue. All these colours you think why did I not see these before. Lots of materials used for constructing things. Rope making materials coming from underneath a certain trees bark. Some bark from one of the special trees the locals would use for a cure for malaria and also for chest complaints. I tried some and it tasted just like and extra strong mint.

I once had a very good sleep during my lunch break having made my bed I went to sleep and dreamt at the end of the break that I was being eaten by a big snake. I asked my crew about the dream and they suggested that I had slept on a snakes territory which seemed to make a lot of sense (who knows).

A deadly snake one of the lads unknowingly had all his lunch break with, only after did he notice the snake asleep. It’s camouflage was so good I could not see it for a while only once it moved could I see it out New Guinea Death Adder Highly venomous.

There were some light moments to laugh about (butterflies taking a drink)on one of the chainsaw operators six in total.

During the wet times when everything is very wet after days of continual rain then the forest does become more dangerous and extra vigilance needs to be taken. The trees just fall over due to the roots being so waterlogged and unstable. A couple of times we had this where trees landed a few metres from my colleagues which slightly unnerved them. Branches would also be shed by trees for no reason at all so much care was needed. I always felt it was my friend although it does always require respect. It always amazed me how comfortable the locals seemed everything was useful to them which I learnt after a while and was able to start building quite good mattresses and beds during my lunch break.

But it’s important to remember why I was there to help clear the right of way for 300km of natural gas pipeline to go in ( see photo the pipe ready to be laid in). Only another 100 miles to go the easy bit’s been done. Now to heights of 7,000 ft where the wells will be put in. They say the going gets even tougher up there and the trees get bigger.

Maybe another day...

Mark Brewer
November 2013