After reaching our destination near Kainantu, our New Zealand host took us exploring the backroads of the area in his Electricity Commission 4WD Toyota Landcruiser. A vehicle like this is definitely recommended once you get off the main road.
We chose a little-used road to the small nearby village of Aiyura. Due to muddy patches and washouts caused by small streams, we stopped at more than one spot to scout the road out to see how bad it was before continuing along. In the end, we never had any major problems and it was very interesting to see the villages and their inhabitants in a more traditional setting. Most of my experiences up to that time had been in the main westernized towns rather than the 'real thing'! This part of the country is heavily populated, so there was no problem finding people going about their daily lives.
The village of Aiyura was quite interesting with its traditional huts and wooden pallisade. Papua New Guineans in the Highlands count their wealth by the number of pigs they have, so they keep a close watch on them with fences and, in some cases, even letting them sleep within their huts at night!
We found the people to be both friendly and curious - they apparantly do not get a lot of tourists poking around and these youngsters have come out for a closer look. My two eldest daughters seemed right at home, maybe because they spent their early years in Zambia, Africa!
Although the drive up the Markham River Valley was nice enough in itself, it was a real pleasure to climb into the cool airs of the Eastern Highlands mountains. Here, near the top of the 1500-m (4900-ft) Kassam Pass, we stopped to have a look back at our trail. At this elevation, the forests have not been logged out and it is starting to feel like we are in a different country. We are looking forward to continuing our journey on the Highlands Highway into the heartland of Papua New Guinea!