We've been in for a few days now Papua New Guinea and already have a police escort, family quarrel at the Hey Wigmen and fortune telling. Time for even more adventure. This time we trek inland on foot through the jungle.
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Nature Papua New Guinea
But first, a little about nature in Papua New Guinea
The rainforest-covered island is off the beaten track and adjacent to Indonesia† It's finished Greenland after the largest island in the world, is part of the continent Oceania and is located north of Australië.
The island is largely covered with tropical jungle. In addition, it has many unique plant and animal species, you will find white sandy beaches and swaying palm trees on the coast and large rivers zigzagging through the center of the country. You will also find the highest mountain – Mount Wilhelm – of Oceania in Papua New Guinea.
the bird of paradise
The BBC made a wonderful episode about it, The Dancing Birds in Search of a Mate. Mainly recorded in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. It is perhaps the most special feature of the island; the beautiful and rare birds. The birds of paradise are known for their colorful plumes, long tail and impressive courtship behaviour. Worldwide there are 43 species and 39 of them have been discovered in this region!
But besides being impressive, the bird of paradise is also very popular. As a headdress! The tribes in Papua New Guinea hunt the bird to use the feathers in their tribal clothing. This makes the birds very shy and you have to go very deep into the jungle to spot them. We're going to give it a try.
Hiking in the jungle of Papua New Guinea
A mud bath. In the Netherlands it costs money and in Papua New Guinea it is insurmountable. The walk to the middle of the jungle in the Hela province (Pilongo village) starts with an unplanned mud bath.
Deeper into the rainforest
On foot we walk a few meters on the road until Panda (our porter) points us to a small path inland. Thomas, our guide, no longer follows us. He has to sort out some personal things before he can go into the jungle too. But it doesn't matter, because looking at the path, Thomas overtakes us in no time. It's muddy there and since our luggage is still somewhere in London, I don't have good shoes on. By the way, Thomas and Panda just walk barefoot.
Sliding we walk between two high walls made of the same mud. An advantage is that it is wonderfully cool here. Away from the sun, which burned our skin badly yesterday. But soon I hope that the sun can shine in this muddy alley after all. Because it is slippery.
Introduction hiking trails
And that very slippery quickly turns into a real mud puddle. Panda deftly climbs up the side of the path. He puts his feet on some branches and hops jumps to the other side. It looks so simple that I climb up after him in good spirits. At the first branch it already goes wrong because it breaks, forcing me to take a step in the mud. “Oh sorry” Panda yells at me. Something that the Papuans quickly call out when something unforeseen happens, something that they experience as annoying for us.
In the meantime a lot of neighborhood kids have come to see how that 'whity' is clumsily climbing. While half is grinning, the other half steps barefoot into the mud to make sure I get out unscathed. One boy even offers to lift me onto his back. But that's going too far for me. I will of course continue on foot.
After overcoming a few more of these obstacles, we really start the trek. In the sweltering heat we climb a steep mountain. The vegetation is low so there is no shade, the ground is very dry and behind us is a column of neighborhood children. Sweating we walk up, almost crawling. We don't go fast in the hottest part of the day. But it is pleasant.
Mud as sunscreen
Not only is it warm, the sun burns our skin and before noon I see a red color appear. Panda shows us how to use mud to protect our skin. Our sunscreen is still somewhere in London and they don't use it in Papua New Guinea. The mud quickly hardens but seems to be doing its job.
Thomas has now caught up with us and is singing cheerful songs. Because it is quite slippery, Panda provides walking sticks. Which is nice because we have now reached the top and we have to go down again. In the mud, that's even better. Although it is a lot faster. We slide down the mountain on foot and with a walking stick.
But we also survive that and now we have arrived at a lake. Children enjoy playing in the water, women do some fishing and we take a break here. Soon we are surrounded by children from the village. They don't often see white people because they never actually come here. Thomas plays some games with the kids and the girls love to touch my hair.
We are soon on our way again because we still have a mountain to climb. This time it doesn't start in the mud but through small fields with idyllic houses. They grow sweet potato, broccoli, carrots and cauliflower here. The women are hard at work, the pigs are plowing the earth well and the children are running around.
It almost looks like a fairytale, life in Papua New Guinea. But appearances can be deceiving, because life here is of course very hard. It is now nice and dry weather to be outside, but it rains here more often than the sun shines.
We are almost there…
Soon we leave the fields and we find ourselves again in the sweltering heat. We make our way up, occasionally jumping over a dry ditch. Like a princess I'm pulled up or down everywhere. The stick also helps and I'm sure nothing will happen to me so many hands are offered to me when the road is a bit slippery. But it's hot, very hot. And I really have to survive that heat myself.
I feel the sun burn on my neck. And because I got quite burned yesterday, I'm now wearing long pants and a cardigan. Good for my skin, terrible for the heat. Sweat is running down my forehead and into my eyes. The air is warm, the sun is hot and the sweat is not cooling at all. It is beautiful though, and with the Papuan music that sounds a bit crackly from Thomas' mobile phone, it is also very pleasant.
But not quite yet
“Up for another 30 minutes,” Thomas shouts cheerfully. He whistles and points to a tall tree. There it is, but now we know better. While he clambers up criss-cross on his bare feet, we climb slowly and sliding after it. From the tree on the mountain we have a nice view over the area. It's beautiful, that's for sure!
We have now been walking for about four hours. The sun has set but it doesn't feel any less hot, the guesthouse for tonight is now in sight and after a short walk we finally arrive at our place to sleep.
On a beautiful green opening in the middle of a bush is a small house covered with bamboo and sago leaves. The roof is covered with a thick layer of moss, which we have never seen before. According to Thomas, this is how they used to cover the roofs. Today there is no more moss to be found. Just like the birds of paradise. They used to fly happily around here, but because of the hunting they have given up now and to our regret we have not seen or heard a bird of paradise yet.
Our first sing-sing
Not too long after we arrived we hear chuckles and laughter. A whole crowd of people is arriving. They are children. They are dressed in their finest attire. Beautiful headdresses and colorful skirts. The headdresses are of course made of that bird of paradise that can no longer be found here. They have to go far into the jungle to make a headdress. It doesn't really matter to them that killing such a bird of paradise is now prohibited. Preserving your culture and propagating it proudly is also important.
The children stare at us and we at them. I introduce myself Tok Pisin (Pidgin) and ask for their names. They respond with a chuckle and say their names one by one. “Paica Ore” I call, or 'very very beautiful'. The kids chuckle again.
After some yelling from the elders, the boys form a circle and begin a sing-sing. It looks super cute, especially because things go a bit wrong every now and then and the parents are yelling at the kids. It almost looks like a football match in the Netherlands, only more fun. Papua New Guinea is known for the sing-sings, a dance-off in which people dance and sing in their most beautiful tribal clothing. This should intimidate the enemy in times of war.
After some waiting, the girls finally dare to dance. Or actually jump more. The girls place their hands on their chests and jump out with their legs spread out. There is no rhythm to it but the girls are having a good time and so are we.
Walking to Pilongo village
Soon we are called for lunch. Bananas, bread and egg are ready for us. With a cup of tea we can rest from the grueling journey. But not too long because we have been invited to visit the market of Pilongo village. If I had just taken off my shoes, they can be put on again for a not too long walk to the village on top of the mountain.
White visitors in Pilongo village, that's new!
The moment we arrive, hundreds of big eyes stare at us. Soon we are surrounded, people start shaking our hands and every now and then my hair is pulled. Then we are welcomed by the head of the village. I don't understand what he's saying, it doesn't sound very friendly, by the way, but everyone nods yes and greets.
Women are selling their goods, boys are playing cards (they place the money on their machetes, we hope they can withstand their loss) and the pigs are guarded by a man with a big gun. He knows how to make homemade.
The children are especially interested in us and curious. So they try to touch me one by one. “They have never seen whites before” a man tells me. We also see that almost everyone has red teeth. They all eat betelnut. Perhaps the reason that the teeth rot quickly and we see many elderly people without teeth.
Bragging rights in Papua New Guinea
We are introduced to the chief of the village. First we hear his name and then that he has 16 wives. Bragging rights. This gentleman may have 16 wives and more than 30 children, but he cannot communicate with us. So does his brother, who has 4 wives. “I can't beat him, but that's okay. four is good”† I wonder how long it will be here before women have equal rights and status.
The school of Pilongo village
We get a short tour of the village. Actually only about the school grounds because it is not much more than that. The school is currently closed because there is disagreement between the clans. But our guide understands that education is important. “To travel the world like these white people, you have to be educated” he tells the children who have followed us.
It starts to get dark and we decide to go back to our cabin for tonight. But of course not before we said hello to everyone and shook hands.
Even further into the rainforest
After a night among the mice, we are awakened by what sounds like thousands of birds. They all seem to want the last song. And then suddenly it's quiet. For us the sign to get up. After a nice breakfast of scrambled eggs, bread and tea we continue on foot. The owner of the cabin where we slept, his brothers, a cousin and a friend are coming with us. All barefoot.
Chewing sugar beet against thirst
This time we choose a different path, one through even more fields, along a lake where fishing is done and with an immensely steep mountain in a kind of small rainforest. But before we start the steep climb we get some sugar cane from the cousin. They eat large pieces, we get small pieces. But even that seems too much while climbing and I suck them up quickly before I climb further. The men slowly climb on with whole sugar canes in their hands and mouth.
It is a tough climb, but here too I am treated like a fragile flower. I am taken by the hand up the slope. We are now familiar with the definition of rainforest because here again everything is wet, slippery and muddy. This provides a nice cooling effect on the skin and some slips. It turns out to be a big challenge, especially going down. We don't shy away from a challenge, so we keep moving forward. In reasonable shoes, while our delegation does it barefoot. And maybe that's much better, they seem to have the grip that I'm missing. Incidentally, as is often the case, we do this completely untrained.
All's well that ends well. After about four hours of walking it is time to say goodbye to this fantastic group of men who ensured that we walked safely through the rainforest.
A well-deserved shower… or something like that
We are broken, and we stink too. So it's time for a shower. A cold one, from a bucket, nevertheless welcome! We wash our clothes a little and hang them to dry. We don't have anything else with us and will most likely have to make do with it for a few more days. If our luggage ever arrives at all.
Join us on an adventure
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