Your Papua New Guinea Tour Guide, Greg
In July of 1978, I first landed in Papua New Guinea and knew from the perspective of having visited some fifty plus countries that this place was very special. Since then, after almost annual trips to P.N.G. and after almost daily contact with the country, I still believe it is an incredible destination and the many clients we have sent there agree and are willing to be contacted as references.
“Papua New Guinea you think – what makes it so special?” The people, the unspoiled beauty of the land; it is a National Geographic adventure, but with civilized comforts. Should you be able to travel in May or August for the Highlands Show, I strongly suggest you do. Though I have seen many Highlands Shows, I am still moved and excited by the color and thrill of this spectacle that nearly overloads the senses. It is surely one of the world’s great travel wonders.
I have been organizing these trips for over 30 years. No one has our experience, expertise, or track record in this fascinating, but complicated destination. No one else compares with the Papua New Guinea expertise and service that I provide. With continued contact and familiarity from over thirty years, we have contacts in the country that can considerably enhance your PNG travel experience.
If you are interested in such color and adventure in a spectacular countryside, people, and culture, yet desire as much comfort and assurance of fine arrangements as possible, these trips are for you. The terms and conditions of our brochures and booking form are also clearly stated to continue our tradition of providing full information for happier clients. What we lack in fancy brochures is invested in the substance of a good trip, timely, updated information and expertise and service.
The staff of pngtravel.com and I will provide you with the most informed, best service on Papua New Guinea — period. We’re specialists in Papua New Guinea. Review the information provided and join us aboard one of the travel wonders of a lifetime.”
Teacher is a Student of New Guinea
by Suzanne R. Whitmore
Right: Greg Stathakis, an English teacher at Santa Barbara High School and worldwide traveler, talks to natives of Papua New Guinea during one of his summer tours. He has visited 70 countries.
California Member Gives Tours of Island Nation in the Summer
Greg Stathakis wears many hats. For most of the year, he is a devoted community activist, a dedicated teacher consumed with the daunting task of explaining the rudiments of the English language and the intricacies of world literature to adolescents at Santa Barbara High School in California.
But in the summer, he becomes a tour guide in Papua New Guinea. For more than 20 years, he has guided tourists through the rain forests and atop the mountains of the string of islands north of Australia, exposing travelers to an unfamiliar culture and country.
“I specialize in getting into the cultural mindset of the local people, who in some instances have gone from no wheel to airplane wheels in just one generation,” he said. Stathakis also has been an ardent supporter of Public Citizen for more than two decades. Inspiring his students, as well as other young people, is one reason he contributes to the organization, he said.
“I hope that this generation will be able to take over the role model of advocate,” he said.
Stathakis hopes his philanthropy will spur young people to get involved in issues that affect society.
During his 30 years of teaching, he has observed three distinct changes in young people: students today do not enjoy reading as much as students before them, do not engage in enough critical thinking regarding mass culture, and feel a sense of hopelessness about injustices and apathy about changing them.
“I’d like to give to Public Citizen in the future, through my will, to help me feel more hopeful for the [next generation] of citizens,” Stathakis said.
A worldwide traveler who has visited 70 countries, Stathakis was a “disappointed consumer” on his first trip to Papua New Guinea in 1978.
He talked to a rival tour company about how tours ought to be run and was hired to be the U.S. representative for Trans Niugini Tours.
Today, he escorts one group each May and / or August to the equatorial country, where the natives speak more than 700 indigenous languages. The Papua New Guinea people are among the most friendly and unspoiled people on earth, he said.
His interest in diverse people and places carries over to his interest in Public Citizen. He supports Public Citizen because of the vast array of issues the organization addresses.
These affect the “whole spectrum of ethnic backgrounds, ages, financial status, rural versus urban dwellers and various educational and social backgrounds,” Stathakis said.
He admires Public Citizen because it is “appropriately aggressive without being strident,” he said. In particular, Stathakis appreciates the continuity of Public Citizen’s leadership.
“I have seen organizations in the throes of change with different directors and philosophies that result in a lack of continuity and focus,” Stathakis said. “I feel better contributing to an organization with experienced leadership and a strong record of success, commitment and continuity.”
by Sally McKinney
Right: Greg Stathakis with tribesmen, near Tari in the highlands of Papua New Guinea
Santa Barbara school teacher Greg Stathakis leads tours into the wilds of Papua New Guinea.
In some ways, Greg Stathakis, BA’65, MAT’67, leads a double life. Students at Santa Barbara High School know him as Mr. Stathakis. Along with teaching full-time, he also has served as liaison/consultant for Trans Niugini tours. When school is out, he guides adventurous travelers across rivers, through the jungle, and into the villages of Papua New Guinea. To these hardy trekkers, he is New Guinea Greg.
On a sunny afternoon in May, the California school teacher has already put in seven hours when he leaves the classroom at 3 p.m. Most afternoons, Stathakis walks the mile or so to his hillside home, decorated with fabric wall hangings and artifacts acquired on various world travels. many of the objects-a yam mask, a pig’s tail apron, an iridescent beetle headdress-were acquired on more than a dozen visits to Papua New Guinea (PNG).
At one time, Stathakis represented Trans Niugini Tours in the U.S. market. “it got to be more than I could handle,” Stathakis admits, so he handed over the business to a long -time associate. He now limits his PNG travels to guiding one or two adventure trips a year.
Years of experience have made Stathakis quite knowledgeable about Papua New Guinea, a rugged tropical country north of Australia full of “incredible contrasts and juxtapositions.” Although people on the coasts have had contact with missionaries and traders for more than a century, tribal members in some remote valleys did not see white men until the 1930s. In these regions, the elders still tell stories about hearing “all those bees,” the hum of airplanes that heralded white men’s arrival.
Many of the country’s three million people have retained their tribal identities, languages, and customs. The economy centers around copper mining and agriculture, particularly coffee, cocoa, and coconut (copra).
Much of PNG is still “unspoiled,” reports Stathakis, “as if the Creator had just finished it.” There are about 3,000 species of orchids, and a many species of birds (about 700)as in all of North America.
“People have one foot in the Stone Age, the other in the Computer Age,” Stathakis says. During a visit to parliament, he once heard a discussion of multinational company contracts during the same session that members debated the licensing of witch doctors.
One of Those Teachers
Stathakis was not always so cosmopolitan. When he arrived in Bloomington to begin his college career, he discovered that his dorm held three times as many students as his entire high school, St. John’s Military Academy in Delafield, Wisc.
“With so many possibilities in terms of clubs and organizations,” he recalls, “I really flourished.” Working on the Indiana Daily Student, Stathakis responded to an ad in the paper and got his first travel job-helping coordinate the IU School of Music’s plans for a production of Turandot at the New York World’s Fair.
In 1967, after completing an MAT in speech and theater, the Hoosier-born schoolteacher took a job in Santa Barbara. Now, when he relaxes on the deck of his California home, Stathakis enjoys reminiscing. Behind him is a backdrop of jungle-like trees, and Balinese prayer flags sway gently in the wind.
At age 23, he was just a few years older than the students. He remembers one student saying, “We know Mr. Stathakis isn’t pulling weeds and grading papers on weekends. he’s not one of those teachers.”
“Now, decades later, as I’m hunched over in my garden yanking weeds or grading papers on weekends, I think of that, and it doesn’t matter. I’m really happy to be one of those teachers,” Stathakis says.
During more than two decades at Santa Barbara High, he has expanded his horizons through travel. So far, he has visited more than 60 countries and all the continents except Antarctica. Southeast Asia and the South Pacific have become favorite regions. He spends more hours during a year traveling by airplane than by automobile.
As a teacher, he uses his travels to broaden students’ perspectives. Each semester, for example, students in his world literature classes read at least one African novel. A non reading assignment involves experiencing a foreign culture in some way, perhaps preparing foreign food.
Tranquility and Adventure
Stathakis-who has received awards for teaching-says the “stability, tranquility, and quality” of the educational system are very different from work as a travel guide.
“In Papua New Guinea,” he says, “you never know what’s going to go wrong. So many things can happen.”
One night, part of his group, searching for their hut in the rain, stumbled into a muddy ditch. Although the sodden trekkers scrambled out and eventually found their lodging, they learned later that the ditch was a war trench used by fierce Huli tribesman to protect their property.
Another time some of the group were stranded at dusk when the engine failed on their Karawari River boat. With the aid of friendly natives and a second launch, the stragglers eventually arrived at the lodge.
Part of the excitement of travel to such an exotic country is the feeling of being on a National Geographic expedition, Stathakis says. Because of the rugged terrain, Port Moresby, the capital, has no paved roads that link it with other major cities. Thus, much of the shipping and travel within the country is done by airplane. In some cities people watch TV beamed in by satellite, yet in remote valleys feuding tribesmen still fight with bows and arrows.
With so much adventure awaiting him, why does Stathakis return to the classroom each fall? “I could make as much money in travel as I do in teaching,” he reports, “but I prefer teaching. I feel so much more in control.”
So Mr. Stathakis will continue to guide Santa Barbara students through the intricacies of high school English, and once or twice a year New Guinea Greg will take travelers on tour. ” I always envy people who are seeing the country for the first time,” he says. ” I love to see adults with that youthful expectation and curiosity-not complaining that the ice isn’t cold enough-and fully taking in everything they see.”