The Local Drug

Living in Goroka can leave you a bit stir-crazy. Most of the expats live in gated houses within gated compounds with guards. While it’s fairly safe to walk around town during the day, it’s smarter to drive. You must always be cognizant of your actions, what you are wearing, and where your personal items are; you can’t leave anything visible in your car or risk a break-in. And you definitely shouldn’t go walking outside the compound at night. This goes double for girls – the stares are endless, and if I wear my hair down or wear a tank top at the market I am touched constantly. This can get a bit exhausting and leave you feeling trapped, paranoid, and restricted. I can’t wait for the day I can just get up and take Indy for a walk by myself, go wherever I want, and not have to think about all of these things.

During Easter long weekend, my friends and I were feeling antsy, so we decided to go for a short drive. We decided to go to Daulo Pass, which is the pass through the mountains leading from Eastern Highlands Province to Cimbu. It’s approximately a thirty-minute drive, on a section of the Highlands Highway that is well-sealed and frequently travelled – so safe.


From Goroka to Daulo Pass


Google tilted view of Goroka to Daulo Pass through Asaro Valley. Goroka: 1546 m (5,072 ft), Daulo Pass: 2478 m (8,129 ft)


Some views of town on our way out


A common mode of transportation


Some views from the road


More views from the road

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Left: Google map view of Daulo pass and the haus line that runs along the ridge. Top middle: People from the nearby haus line greet us. Top and Bottom right: Walking along the haus line.


Gardens along the haus line


Morgan and I pose with some of the family


A crowd gathers to but ‘bilas blo car’ (car decorations) on my car


Children selling car decorations on the roadside


Top: A woman works on a bilum on the roadside. Bottom left: Molly and some locals at our roadside stop for Buai. Bottom right: The road and my car bilas.

Buai is a drug common to Papua New Guinea, and other Melanesian islands. The nut grows on the Areca palm, and is harvested and sold on every roadside in PNG. Baui is a mild stimulant and the majority of the population chews it.


Selling Buai on the roadside

First you break open the nut, and break off some of the fibrous material inside.


As you can see by my face, it’s incredibly bitter. It also sucks all the moisture out of your mouth so it feels really difficult to chew.


Next you dip a bean like thing called Dhaka, or mustard (it’s not the mustard you’re thinking of), into lime powder (calcium hydroxide). You push the fibrous material to the side of your mouth and bite of the mustard + lime into the ball of betel nut. It’s pretty important to do this correctly, otherwise you can burn your mouth / tongue with the lime. As you can see I have a group of people instructing me on how to do it.31-34

As you are chewing it turns a bright red, and you are meant to spit the liquid out and continue chewing. This results in red splatters all over the place. I’ve come close to having my car splattered by the people in front of me as they lean out the window to spit a huge volume of red goo. Below you can see everyone laughing at my expense.


So what was it like? It was terrible for about a minute, and then it was pretty awesome for about 30 seconds, and then it was terrible again. My heart was racing, I felt sweaty, and a little bit crazy. And when we got home I threw up. But, I wouldn’t stop you from trying it – the good news is the effect wears off very quickly, it only lasts a minute or two, depending on how much you have. Many people like the effect, I’m just not one of them. But I’m glad I had the experience 🙂


4 thoughts on “The Local Drug

    • No I didn’t have any lasting effects besides feeling a bit nauseous for a while. I have one friend who tries it every time he’s drunk but he vomits immediately haha.

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