Walk Through the Interior of New Guinea
May 9, 1983 to June 22, 1983
(All photos by Jeff Shea unless otherwise noted)
The trek through the interior of the world’s second largest island, New Guinea, herein described, had its first beginnings when a sea captain entered my father’s place of business in March 1982 in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I happened to be sitting in front of a computer terminal. He began describing his proposed venture in November. Just before he left, I asked if he needed any crew. He said, “Maybe.” I went to visit him, got on as an alternate, and eventually became crew, totally inexperienced as I was. I worked weekends for six months getting the boat ready. On October 31, Halloween, there was a party in the evening, and we set sail at 9 pm in a 41-foot Morgan Out Island. Forty-two days of actual sailing brought us to Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands.
On January 24, 1983, we came to our first port in Papua New Guinea, 800 miles off the coast of “the dark island,” on the island protectorate of Bougainville. From there we sailed to Rabaul on the island of New Britain to the north.
In an effort to see the big island (New Guinea proper), Kelly and I caught a coastal boat west to Lae, PNG’s (Papua New Guinea’s) major shipping port on the island mainland of New Guinea.
From there, our New Guinea adventure began. First we went to Madang on the coast, where the most remarkable things were the thousands of flying foxes (fruit bats) hanging in trees in broad daylight and making a clamour. (I found an octopus on nearby Siar Island.)
We continued to Kundiawa (along “Highland Highway”), our first stop in the Highlands. We stayed with the Gera villagers, about ten miles out of town, just off the main road. They dressed up in traditional garb, sang village songs, played their long flutes, castrated a goat and fed us their traditional food. We exchanged gifts, coming away with man-arrows (i.e., arrows used to kill men: the man who gave them to us – the ‘big man’ or chief – had used them just a few years previously), a necklace, a bilum of possum hair, and a lot of friends.
We went from there to Keglsugl, at 9000 feet, the end of the road for people wanting to climb Mt. Wilhelm, PNG’s highest mountain at 4509 metres (14,750 feet). Kelly stayed behind, while our host, Phil, hiked me to the Pindaunde Lakes, where he left me to spend the night in a house built by university students. I awoke at 12:00 a.m. and began hiking by moonlight at 12:30 a.m. in an effort to take photos of the sunrise on top. After getting lost in the darkness, I still managed to scramble to the top as dawn came – I was lucky, it was clear in a 30 mile radius. I shot a few rolls of films from my spectacular, cold perch. I started down at 7:30 a.m., and I reached Keglsugl in the afternoon after a few hours rest at the University house.
I climbed Mt. Wilhelm at night so that I could be on top for the dawn. I got lost on the way, but managed to reach the summit as the sun rose above the horizon. The sensation of being on the summit instilled in me a love of mountain climbing.
We next went to Mt. Hagen, travelling west. After a rest, we went further west on the Highlands Highway to Mendi. We’d been given the address of a doctor there, who welcomed us into his home. On a tip from him, we left next day and hiked to Lake Kutubu.
A week later, we returned to Mendi. The doctor, Ed, described a hike from Lake Kopiago to the Frieda River as an excellent way to exit the country if you wished to walk. Ed was an expert on many facets of New Guinea life, and we picked up on his enthusiasm for bush walking. We determined to try this route.
We returned to Mt. Hagen to pick up some of the gear we had left there, then returned to Ed’s house in Mendi. We gleaned as much information as we could from him and set off after a day’s rest to the West.
I have chosen this portion of the trip to write about here. From the day we left Mendi, we experienced a 50-day continuous trek aimed at arriving in Pagwi, which is linked by road to Wewak on the north coast of the island. The following story describes what we (I) saw, felt, experienced. Is it sufficient to say that I know of no one, nor talked to any nationals who heard of anyone, going this whole route as we did?
Day A1 Mendi to Tari
Monday May 9, 1983
We went on last minute shopping before leaving town. Kelly bought a green pack for K12.50 (K= Kina, the unit of currency, which is based on the kina shell, traditionally used for trading) – not very nice but it would provide us with an extra carrying bag. We bought chocolate and powdered milk and Milo to supplement our other purchases.
We waited at the intersection leading to Nipa. While waiting, local men came by wearing kina shells. I traded a roll of bilum string and a (bed) sheet for one of the kina shells.
We caught a ride on the bed of a big flat bed truck. The driver was going all the way to Tari, and the ride was free. We shared the back with a man and an old woman who spent most of her time underneath the tarp.
During the ride, rain occasionally fell, during which times I would have to spread my rain tarp over Kelly’s legs and mine, with my head poking through the hood. The old lady was entirely blanketed by the big tarp in the back of the truck.
We raced along. We stopped for a break at a village, and I ascertained that the man driving the truck was a mission person. He spoke perfect Pidgin. He was well-groomed and clothed. He asked us our plans. When we spoke to him about our plans to hike beyond Lake Kopiago and raft down the river, he expressed his fears that such activities were dangerous. These places were remote. You could not be certain about what to expect from people.
This woman, following the tradition of her Mendi people, put on 365 strands of kunai beads when her husband died. Each day she would remove one strand. Thus, her mourning would last one year, after which she would be free to marry again.
He noticed our Granose cereal that we’d bought that morning in Mendi. He said it was good stuff. He also said that kaukau (sweet potato) was energy food, that if we got tired out in the bush that we could just eat some, and it would revive us.
When we continued on, Kelly noted what the man had said. It had reinforced her fears a bit. I said that it could be true that it was dangerous, but that people often feared what they didn’t know, and this man had obviously never gone where we were going. I argued it was very unlikely and he seemed unsure because to him the places seemed so obscure.
We had already passed the part of the road with which we were familiar – we had travelled out on the Nipa road once before on our way to Wagi Aid Post (on our Lake Kutubu hike). The road took on a misty atmosphere as we passed Nipa and then Magarima, a row of trailer houses on a now almost mystical misty foggy road. On we sped. The sky cleared as we gently climbed towards the Tari Gap, the road’s highest point at 7800 feet. The alpine land became quite beautiful. As Ed had told us, we began to see tree ferns dotting the dull gold alpine grassland. The tree ferns are one of my favorite plants. They look so prehistoric!! I would have taken a picture, but it was growing dark and we were moving along in the truck. It was unusual scenery, gold alpine grass, rolling fields, patches of green forest and the wide open fields dotted with tree ferns, some in groups and some solitary. When we got to the summit of the road, the truck stopped. We got out, observed a small elevation sign saying Tari Gap, answered nature’s call, and got back in and sped off into the darkness downhill. The driver had said that it was all downhill from there. We arrived in Tari before we knew it, and we drove on down the dirt road until we were out of town. We had an inkling that the SDA man would invite us to spend the night when he pulled into the mission road. Children gathered all around the truck and gave the driver a celebrity’s greeting. We stayed on the back of the truck, and the man went and had a few words with a woman at the front door of a house. We were invited to stay. We got our bags and were shown to our room in a nice, very clean house. We were told we could take hot showers before supper. We were very happy for their hospitality. We took our showers in turn and were then called to the table. The driver, who had never properly introduced himself, and another man, joined Kelly and I. The meal was really a masterpiece in wholesome vegetarian cooking – a fine soup, fresh baked buns, fresh baked raisin swirl pastries, butter, passion fruit jam, bananas. During the meal, we were informed that the SDA church runs the Samaritan Foods Company, which produces a variety of health foods including the Granose cereal we’d bought. I asked the man about the financial aspects of a church-operated company – for example, were they taxed? This question was sidestepped. (Perhaps he didn’t know the answer). The man said that they used the money they made for “improving Papua New Guinea – schools, roads,” but we didn’t feel fooled, for it was obvious that all the improvements they made strengthened the church’s infrastructure here. In short, our opinion was that the church was self-serving and that indeed it was not a non-profit organisation. The man also began giving the age-old pitch about how ‘isn’t it funny that’ there are so many earthquakes lately and generally setting a mood of how calamity was impending on mankind, none of which either of us believe a particle of, even through we nodded politely, for after all, these folks were extending us a great kindness with their invitation into their home.
The other man at the table was a pilot who was married to the woman of the house. The two men were planning, along with a third in the house, to take their mission plane to Kuinga in the morning and from there motor a boat upriver to a remote mission station. After dinner, Kelly, the pilot and I examined an aeronautical chart of northern PNG (Papua New Guinea). The mountain range comprising the New Guinea highlands, which continue right into Irian Jaya (which boasts higher peaks than PNG) looked impressive. We asked ourselves how difficult the trek to the Frieda would be – it certainly looked like a long way! Oksapmin to Telefomin looked like way more than the three-day hike Ed had mentioned!! We had topographical maps of part of the area, which we had picked up in Mt. Hagen, that ran from Lake Kopiago to Telefomin. The third map needed to cover us to Frieda Strip was the Stolle topo map, which we expected to pick up in Lake Kopiago, as it had to be sent from the main mapping office in Port Moresby.
After our goodnight, Kelly and I retired to our room and fell fast asleep.
Day A2 Tari to Koroba
Tuesday May 10, 1983
In the morning we had a wonderful health breakfast. Our host talked to us about the bible, and suggested different revisions and what each offered. He gave us a copy of a book foretelling the calamity to come, documented through history, written by the female prophet of the SDA church. We graciously accepted it, and I almost even believed that I would read it! The breakfast was delicious, and we were encouraged to eat our full – which is to the SDA’s credit, as they believe in a wholesome diet – on the other hand, they have restrictions against eating many sea foods, pork, coffee, etc., which I find intolerable. These people were fanatics, but they were nice fanatics.
We loaded our things in a truck with the men’s gear, and we all went to the airstrip. Of note, their people had their own private plane, which was courtesy of mission funds. Kelly and I walked to the nearby stores, and had our first viewing of the fantastic wigmen, each with his own distinct style of wig. One of the first we saw had a very long feather sticking out the back of his wig. His dress looked spectacular. I inquired if I could take a picture and was immediately turned down with a direct No Gat! (No!) I lamented not having a telephoto lens. We walked around and found out that there were no government trucks to Koroba that day. We went to the market. All through town, wigmen walked about. They were not dressed up for any special occasion. This was their daily dress. They looked incredible. Many wigs boasted bird of paradise feathers. In addition to their wigs they carried cassowary bone daggers and wore ornaments around their necks with pig-tusks and a hornbill beak in back. Many men had a bright red marking on their faces – one man’s eyes were painted this eerie red, and if ever a man looked like an evil warlock/sorcerer, it was he! There were so many forms of other ornamentation. Many men wore belts with arse grass in the back, and grass and cloth in front. All in all, the market area and town in general formed an amazing spectacle. Shopping in the market, I asked one particularly “well-dressed” wigman if I could take his photo. He said he wanted 10 kina for a photo. I couldn’t afford it, so I was unable to catch a picture. Without a telephoto lens I was reduced to sneaking pictures out in the open. I stood just outside the market fence and when it seemed no one was looking, I lifted my camera over the short fence and snapped a photo.
I went back into the market area and took a few photos surreptitiously by snapping the shutter with my thumb, the camera slung around my neck, hanging against my belly, pointed at he subject. Again outside the compound, I took a few more photos in this manner of a group of old wigmen sitting on a bench. We met up again with the SDA wife, who was going to give us a lift back out to their mission place on the road to Koroba. Just before we left, the man who had wanted 10 kina for his picture was walking by at a distance and I snapped a photo of him surreptitiously!
We caught a ride back to the mission place. Once there, we slung our bags over our shoulders and walked down the road (to Koroba) apiece and fixed some sandwiches by the roadside, waiting for a truck. During our lunch, a few trucks went by going back towards town. I stopped one of them, whose driver said that they would be returning to Koroba later. Just after our last cheese, lettuce and tomato sandwich, the truck returned, and we hopped on and sped off to Koroba. We enjoyed the scenery as the dirt road and local women and children flashed by. Occasionally, something worthy of a photo would be on the road, and I would snap a picture.
It began to rain, and we huddled under the tarp. Occasionally I would peek outside and lament what wasn’t able to take a picture of. The countryside had a flat rolling appearance, almost like the foothills of California, bordered in parts by sharp peaks and an occasional cultivated area. Sooner than we expected, we drove by a windsock denoting the Koroba airstrip. We drove up through various small housing areas, past some new alpine-looking dwellings and up to a dull, aqua-green building that housed the post office and district officials. We were helped down out of the truck and gained protection of the roof, as the rain came down. To our immediate delight and amazement, huddled under the eaves lining the buildings, in the entrance way and even inside the small building were perhaps one hundred villagers, many wigmen, all differently dressed, and apparently delighted to see us. “Look at this, Kelly, awesome!!” We began talking to a local lad who spoke English. Hesitant from our experience with the photo-shy Tarians, I politely inquired of the young man what the situation here was regarding pictures. He said I would be able to take photos if I liked. He asked whom I wanted a picture of. We approached a bent-up old man who had a beautiful headdress on. It was agreed that we could take a photo of him without paying. This sparked off a photo session with the whole group of villagers that was unbelievable! We took close-ups, group shots, shots of two and three men and/or women at a time, photos of Kelly and I with them. One old man who looked ludicrous was especially eager to have his photo taken. As he also had on a beautiful wig, we took a few pictures of him.
At the end of a half an hour, we’d collected an incredible collection of photos, and we were thankful to Providence for the opportunity!
We began to ask around for places to stay, and, as the people in PNG are very good about inviting you to their houses or huts, we immediately had a few suggestions and then an invitation from a man. The invitation fell through a few minutes later, and then a pleasant young woman walked by said that we could stay at her place. She was walking home and we joined her.
Her house was a short distance away. We were given a small room. We deposited our things there; we went back out and as this Mrs. Barabia Kulu was also going back out, we left a few small children to guard the house and our possessions. A young man walked with us back to the OIC (Officer-in-Charge) headquarters. On the way, we saw other wigmen and got some posed shots.
We were taken past district headquarters down a road. Accompanying Kelly and I the young man from headquarters was the first old bent up man that I had taken a photo of earlier. He had been wounded in a fight long ago, which was why he was bent up. We passed his garden patch. This hobbling man made it up the steep bank (from the road) to his garden and he broke off some fresh corn for us – I shot his picture holding up the corn. As a gesture of friendliness, he gave us the ears of corn. He was a lovable old fellow with a smile on his face. Kelly gave him the remainder of her Benson & Hedges in return. We walked on, leaving the old man at his place. Past a bridge, we went through a doorway in a fence to where village men sat around inside and outside of a hut where a man sold artefacts. On the dirt porch, a man fried fritters on a stove made from the bottom of an oil drum. Everyone gave us a welcoming greeting, and we were led inside. Inside, pinned to the walls were various local ornaments, some fairly nice, others broken and dilapidated. Off in the corner was a relatively un-ornate wig. I was prompted to try it on! I put the wig on and went outside, which prompted an expected response of surprise and delight. Kelly took a photo of me with the wig on. Back inside, there was another cap made of cassowary hair that was like a beanie, with an appropriate spring and propeller on top! This was quite a novelty. I donned this and walked outside again, to the amusement of the people there. A few men borrowed it from me and put it on themselves. Each in turn would shake his head causing the spring to shake from side to side in a comic display!
Two old men put on a little show for us while we were there. They dressed up in some traditional bilas and paint and staged a mock tribal fight. Each had his bow and arrow. They chased each other through the garden of kaukau and corn, shooting arrows and deliberately missing. Kelly, a group of onlookers and I took delight in this show!
We considered buying different pieces of bilas, but we hesitated buying each article due to one defect or another or too high a price. The men sitting around smoked their traditional tobacco, bruis, out of two-foot long bamboo pipes, most of which had simple engraving on them and some of which were yellowed with age. I bought a pipe and so did Kelly, each very used, yellowed and nice looking.
The men in turn demonstrated playing a flute made of individual sticks of ½” bamboo, each cut to a different length and each having a distinct pitch. The flute had a rare sound, exotic and beautiful. I watched them play it and then I played it myself, which brought forth a reaction of glee from the on-looking men. They explained that this flute was used to attract girls! In addition, a man would play the flute when he walked in the bush in order to keep his mind off his fatigue. The flute sounded wonderful, and I determined to export a couple of them. I bought two nice ones but mistakenly, I was handed a cruddy one when I left, so unknowingly, I left with one nice one and one cruddy one. They cost only 25t. The pipes cost one kina and two kina for Kelly’s.
After this very fun interlude, we left to go back to the Kulu’s house, promising the keeper of the artefacts hut that we would return the next day.
By the time we returned, it was growing dark. I took a nap when we got back, after a snack of milo and cookies. Later, I awoke and Kelly napped. I met Barabia Kulu, the man of the house. I talked to him about this land and the people. We talked about the way it was before the white men came. The land was not as crowded then.
He told me that before white men came, the people here (in Huli country) lived well, there was little disease, people got along well, it was peaceful, the young followed their elders and respected them. He said that a young man was obliged then to strictly obey his elders. For example, young men were forbidden to smoke – smoking was only for elder men. (Women were likewise, forbidden to smoke.) When a young man was going to marry a woman, the young man and woman were brought to a remote place with two other men and two other women. There, this group would fast together for eight days during which time the elders would instruct the young man and woman in the knowledge they would need in keeping a house and raising children, i.e., specifically, for example, in sex, building a house, traditional secrets, etc. At the end of this time, this party would return to the village, and the young man would wed the girl. Now, said Barabia, the young children were disobedient to their elders. Women and children smoke. The young people don’t learn the traditional ways. The art of making of traditional bilas (jewelry) was being lost. The young folks just didn’t care to learn. Barabia was helping the government to save some of the art by going around villages and buying some of the good pieces. (Was this to encourage manufacture?) During this conversation, dinner was served. It was a typical Melanesian plate of boiled kaukau, pumpkin, tin fish and greens. At first, I ate only to be polite, but I ended up enjoying it. After I finished eating, Kelly came out to join the conversation. To orient her, Barabia reiterated some of what he’d said, and I filled her in as well.
Barabia said that he had bought about K700 worth of bilas and turned it over to a government friend (and other friends), but the government had never reimbursed him! He still had some of it left, and now he took a few pieces to show us. He had three different bones daggers of different ages – one was a freshly cut cassowary bone that was still unfinished and had a bit of organic residue in places. The next oldest was smooth and yellowed and looked old, but Barabia said that it was only about five years old. The third was grey white and appeared mottled with surface cracks, but the feel was super-smooth and the shine lustrous. He didn’t know how old it was, but just that it was the oldest by far. He asked me to take the one that I liked most. After much deliberation, I opted for the oldest. He then brought out a hornbill and pig-tusk necklace – the sort that the wigmen wear, with the hornbill beak center pointed down the back of their necks – they look really awesome.
He gave this to me as a gift. He also brought out about five small stone axe heads. He said that he found the axe heads while working in the garden. He offered Kelly and I each to keep one for ourselves. We made our choice. He offered Kelly a second one since she seemed interested in another. I was very pleased, needless to say. I was happy i) because the hornbill necklace was much nicer than the one we’d seen earlier in the day which were selling for K5 and ii) I was thrilled to have a real stone axe head – not an axe head made especially for tourists, but an axe head that was made and used before white men came with their steel axes.
Kelly was a bit disappointed that I had received so much and she so little, but I reminded her of the time in Gera when she received so much more than me.
We didn’t know how to repay them, for we really didn’t have much to give. I gave Barabia one of the Koroba flutes I’d brought that day, as he seemed to want it.
Before we went to bed, we discussed our plans to go to Kopiago. They quoted us various prices for hiring a DMV, but they were all too high. We decided that we would try our luck getting a ride in the morning. We retired, thanking them for their hospitality.
Day A3 Koroba – a day of waiting
Wednesday May 11, 1983
We took our time in the morning and consequently didn’t get a ride and figured we’d try to get an earlier start tomorrow. Perhaps we weren’t in too much of a rush to leave such an interesting place.
We went to the market. They were selling cooked pig at 10t a slice. Bananas, sugar cane, tomatoes and many greens were in the market place. The people stared at us, as tourists are somewhat of a novelty there.
Later, we went back to the hut where artefacts were being sold yesterday, but no one was there. We were told that everyone was off at a funeral. We could hear sounds coming from the funeral a mile a way – the wailing of women.
We wanted to mail a package and kept returning to the post office but it was closed all day even though it was supposed to be open.
The people were usually willing to have their picture taken, and I added many photos to my collection. I promised the subjects that when I returned home I would forward copies of the pictures to the individuals care of the OIC or care of Barabia.
Again we saw the dapper wigman, a handsome man of about 30 years of age who dressed in immaculate traditional style. He looked quite regal.
Later in the afternoon, we left two young boys that were in Barabia’s care to watch our possessions (we gave them some sugar cane as “payment”) and we went back to the artefacts hut. The door was unlocked and I went in. Eventually, the man who ran the place came back. We were sitting around and he took out a bamboo stick about 2 ½ feet long. He took wadded paper out from one end and he withdrew two bird of paradise tails – each identical to the other, white at the tips, yellow in the middle and brown at the base. They were very beautiful. Kelly and I didn’t really know what to do – they’re illegal to export, but we wanted them. I broke the ice saying, “How much?” The man said “ten kina.” I immediately withdrew ten kina and paid him, taking the feathers. (I was to find out later a few facts: i) you can buy them much cheaper – even less than a kina!, and ii) the two tails were from either side of the same bird, which was why they were identical.) Perhaps it was a rash move, but I’d never seen them for sale before and I really wanted to have some at home. As far as the price went, the only price I’d ever heard quoted was $30-$40 per bird in Biak, Irian Jaya – I read that in the Indonesian handbook by Bill Dalton. I figured I had a real bargain! Kelly immediately offered to buy one tail, but I refused her offer, and she became noticeably perturbed. I argued that we should wait and see – perhaps we would find better and cheaper ones out in the bush!
Before we left the artefacts hut, I bought another used pipe and Kelly bought an all-natural material bilum. I also bought a broken pair of sunglasses that the man had on the wall for 50t. The owner said he’d bought them in 1962 in Port Moresby!
We walked back to Barabia’s house. When we returned we noticed that one of the jars of peanut butter that the SDA missionaries in Tari had sold us (they sold us some peanut butter and wheat crackers at cost) was half gone. Earlier, Kelly had complained that I’d eaten too much of it last night. I had thought that it seemed like a lot was missing when she said that, since I’d only had one and a half small sandwiches. Now I was certain someone had taken some of it. Obviously, it was the little kids we’d left to watch our things. We didn’t really care that they’d taken it, but we figured we’d better get more to replace what was missing if we could. We didn’t want the young kids to get in trouble, but we thought Mrs. Kulu should know about it.
I went and asked if she knew where we could buy some more. I mentioned that we figured that the little boys had taken a bit of it. She said that her husband sold some at the store. She walked me there. He had some, but it wasn’t crunchy so I only bought two small jars.
I asked them if they knew where I could get some fresh bread. Mrs. Kulu then walked me up to the catholic mission, which was run by some elderly German ladies. An older German lady answered the door. She said she didn’t have any bread left though they’d baked it that day. She seemed surprised when I asked if she had any peanut butter, and replied that they didn’t. When Mrs. Kulu and I had walked half way back to her husband’s store, I thought to inquire of the German ladies if they were going to bake early next morning. When I knocked on the door I could see through the window a lady come through a kitchen door, see me, turn back into the kitchen and say to another lady – “it’s that man again!” in a shocked and perturbed voice! “What does he want this time?” No, they weren’t going to bake next morning! On my walk back to Barabia’s store I thought to myself: “Typical missionaries, what hypocrites they are! All this preaching about brotherhood, but in their daily lives they insult their very God with their petty ways and mean attitude!”
In the evening, we talked again with Barabia. He talked about the problems of his business. Kelly and I offered him ideas on how he might stimulate business and make profits. I promised to have my father send him a basic book on business with which he could increase business skills.
During our talk, two men entered the house. One of them was the “dapper wigman.” True to his style, each time we saw him, he was dressed differently and each time immaculately. We talked as best we could. The two men were very friendly.
Before we retired for the night, we gave Barabia and his wife what we had left in the way of bags and clothes – not much, but an effort to say thank you for all they had given us and for their hospitality. They were very nice, warm people.
Note: When Barabia had come home from the store in the evening, he had questioned the two young boys. His son had admitted taking some peanut butter, and he went unpunished. The other boy, whom Barabia was just watching for a friend, denied taking it, and true to PNG style, Barabia gave the boy a whopping. It made us sorry we’d said anything.
Day A4 Koroba to Lake Kopiago
Thursday May 12, 1983
We woke determined to hit the road early. Before we left Barabia’s house, they gave us each a necklace as final gift – they’re really generous people!
Kelly and I went out on the road by the market. Soon, we got a lift out to one of the two routes to Kopiago (as Koroba is off the Highland Highway about 20 minutes by truck).
When we got to the turnoff for Lake Kopiago we were surprised at how unused and narrow the road looked. It was like two bush paths side by side with a strip of two-foot tall grass between them stretching off in the distance!! This is really the end of the road!!
We put our bags down and determined to wait! It wasn’t as if there was any traffic!!
We were sitting there on our bags. An old, old man came walking by. He had nothing on except arse grass – no jewellery or anything – and he was carrying nothing but about five 5-foot stalks of sugar cane. He looked poor. He stopped when he got to us and shook our hands. (I don’t speak much Pidgin – I just borrowed Untangled New Guinea Pidgin from Ed when we left Mendi, and I’m just starting to learn after being in PNG all this time!) The old man untied one of his stalks of sugar cane and he gave it to us as a gift. Kelly and I were sort of overcome that this old man with so little would give us a gift. We thought of what we could give to him. I remembered that I had a little amulet from Costa Rica that my mother had given me. I searched through my things and found it. I presented it to him as a gift. His eyes got wide and he looked incredulous! Kelly and I made the connection!! The amulet was a shiny gold, and to someone like this old man who’d probably only seen gold a few times, if ever, it probably appeased to be genuine gold!
As he fondled it, we thought perhaps he didn’t know that it was for wearing on a chain around the neck. (I’d long ago thrown away the chain!) We thought to put it on a string and put it around his neck. I got out my string, got the amulet back from him, put it on the string and I tied it around his neck. I took a few picture of him standing proud with his gold amulet! When others tried to touch his gift, he picked up his sugar cane and waved it at them, chasing them away!
Soon it became apparent that there was a market today at this cross roads. Across the way, people began gathering. Soon there were a hundred people or more. The old man had come to sell his sugar cane.
As Kelly and I sat there, crowds gathered around us. We were quite an attraction. Every one of our actions was watched as if incredible by dumb onlookers. Eventually, I thought to walk over to the market. There was a large throng of women all with their bilums tied in the same manner, the large knots resting on top of their heads. I wanted to take a picture of them, but they shied away when I took out my camera. There were a few people selling pig, slicing it with greasy hands using a knife that was just a piece of bamboo. The people would toss their coins on the surrounding banana leaves and the seller would slice off as many pieces as the buyer threw 10t pieces.
Other men sold “Highlands coconuts” – a nut about 1 ¾” long and ¼”+ wide, this nut grows as part of a cluster of nuts that stick with their points forming the surface of an ellipsoid about one foot long and seven inches in diameter. The nuts are picked apart separately and put into a closed container – I think the container is made of bark – that is opened when brought to the market. The men selling little clusters of these delicious nuts (vaguely reminiscent of the flavor of a coconut, thus the name) for 10t had many stacks of shiny coins on their ground cloth of bark or banana leaves.
Men and women crowded the market. There were many photos to be taken, as the wigmen were about. One wigman looked comical as he had a big pair of sunglasses on with one lens missing to accompany his traditional wig. I snapped a photo of him at a distance.
The “dapper wigman” showed up too, again wearing a new costume, adorned with a white cuscus (possum) fur with tan-brown spots. I took (another) photo of him. (Later, I got out my sunglasses that I’d bought yesterday, to show the wigman with sunglasses with one lens missing. I took a close-up of him and gave him some bruis (tobacco), which I’d brought from the Solomon Islands, for letting me take a free photo.)
I asked around for bilums. One lady (women are called Meris, a woman = meri in Pidgin) had a new, nice looking bilum made almost entirely of natural materials. She wanted K6 for it, but I bought it for K4.
A government truck came from the Lake Kopiago road and was headed to Tari. I stopped them and asked if they were going back to Kopiago. At first, they said that they would return tomorrow but then they said they would be back at about 6 p.m. this evening to return to Lake Kopiago. They said they would give us a ride if we are still there. It was the only truck we’d seen the whole morning either going to or coming from Lake Kopiago, or for that matter the only truck using the road at all.
As the day wore on the market dispersed. Kelly and I still waited. A man, who said he was Barabia’s brother, told us if we didn’t get a ride that we should go to the nearby village where we’d be allowed to sleep.
There were only a few young boys, and a few girls hanging around in the afternoon. The boys smoked their bruis, and I got out the pipe I bought yesterday and I smoked a bit with them. The smoke made me dizzy.
Another truck came by going to Kopiago, but no matter how I begged they just didn’t have room for us.
At about 4:25 p.m., the yellow government truck returned early. We threw our bags in the back and the truck took off. The road was incredibly narrow, rocky and exciting. Sometimes we’d slow to a near-stop in order to cross over some bad bumps. The driver, one of the other two men in the cab and the man who was riding in the back of the truck bed with us were drinking beer. As soon as the man in the truck bed with us ran out of beer, the guys in the cab would hand him another. The scenery along the road was beautiful. I felt very excited looking west through the valley ahead, almost as if I could see the mountains descending to the Sepik. The whole scene spread before me – I could visualize it. The narrow road lined with yellow flowers had the appearance of the last stretch of the Highlands Highway.
My journal details that we took a second route to Kopiago
We bounced along. A part of our river bag fell through missing board in the truck bed, and they stopped while I fetched it. We began to climb up a mountainside and the view really opened up. I wanted to get a photo so I knocked on the hood and made an arrangement that when I knocked on the hood again, they would stop. We passed a village of some size. Just after it, I knocked on the hood, got out, and took a picture. We were high up and the view continued to be tremendous. Dusk came and that beautiful glow of fading sunlight permeated the atmosphere. The guy in back with us told us his life story as we rolled along. There was so much grease and dirt in the back that I was standing up the whole time. As night came so did the usual (cool) bush Highlands air. We rolled on. We stopped at a village and picked up a boy. We counted minutes, now descending, descending into Lake Kopiago. We made a pit stop every now and then. At one stop, we found out that the passenger with the window seat was the Officer In Charge (OIC) of Lake Kopiago and that there was going to be a sing-sing there on Saturday. (It was now Thursday night). During a later stop, the OIC wanted us to stay with him since we had no place to stay there. Kelly and I were ecstatic with the thought of being able to see our first sing-sing!
Eventually, we came to a flat stretch of land that signified the region around Lake Kopiago. We rolled on down the road passing an occasional building. Finally, we came to the main part of the station where everyone got out except Kelly, I, and the OIC. We drove up the hill to the Officer-In-Charge’s house. It was very dark – there’s no electricity here. We went into his home. His wife lit a candle.
We sat around in the living room while Pius, the OIC, lit a lantern he had bought in Tari this morning – one of those super-bright Coleman lanterns. We sat around and talked. His wife made some coffee, which was great after our cold ride. We got to know each other a little. Pius showed us our room. The room smelled really weird – the windows were closed because the screens were busted. The smell was really awful. Pius just moved in here about three weeks ago. Kelly and I opened the window and bedded down for the night.
Day A5 Lake Kopiago
Friday May 13, 1983
Morning revealed a view of the lake, which was very small. It was larger at other times of the year, depending on the rainfall.
Kelly and I walked down the hill to the trade stores, three of which lined the road. We bought some coconut kina cookies and some peanut butter and a few supplies for our walk, which we hoped to begin Sunday. There was a market across the road. The goods for sale were fairly sparse. A few men walked around in wigs and bird of paradise feathers. I decided I’d wait until tomorrow to take pictures of them. There were rows of counters in the market crudely made from slats of wood, about 3 ½ feet high and 3 feet wide running the length of the market. The sellers stood on one side and the buyers walked along the other. On top of the “counter” one man had some bird of paradise feathers of the same type I’d bought yesterday but not as lustrous in color as mine. He said he wanted K8 for them. I asked Kelly if she wanted to buy them. She said they weren’t as pretty as mine and declined. Maybe the man would have come down in price, but I felt happy with the ones I had, and hoped to find some very cheap out in the bush.
The people around Kopiago supply vegetables to the OK Tedi mine across the mountains. At the airstrip is a building where the fruits and vegetables are weighed and then sent via plane to OK Tedi. I went in and used the scale to weigh two packages containing the bilas we’d picked up since Mt. Hagen: a kina shell, the hornbill necklace, the bone daggers, etc. The young men in the weighing place gave me a few free limes. When I came outside, Kelly was speaking with a young couple of American missionaries. The man’s name was Randy Benscoter. They were in Lake Kopiago for a conference and were looking forward to the sing-sing in the morning.
Kelly and I walked back to Pius Pape’s house. We ate a lunch of cheese sandwiches and coconut kina cookies topped with peanut butter, a favorite snack. We had to hand pump water so Kelly could take a bath. While Kelly took a bath, I examined the map we had picked up at the Kopiago post office on our way to the market in the morning – it had been send successfully from Port Moresby since we’d left Mt. Hagen – it was the Stolle Quad which adjoined the other maps we already had – Telefomin and Kopiago. After Kelly’s bath, we made love on the bed.
Later in the afternoon, we set out for the Lutheran Mission to seek out Randy Benscoter and wife. At our meeting earlier in the day, they had agreed to send my packages for me when they returned to Wabag (near where they were stationed), since the Lake Kopiago post office didn’t have any stamps and didn’t have a scale and even didn’t have a schedule of the postal rates!! We brought the packages with us.
We walked along the road by the airstrip and got a ride to the Lutheran Mission. Randy and his wife weren’t there, but on our ride back we saw them. We got out of the truck we were in and walked back with them to the Lutheran Mission. There, we gave them K15 to mail the packages. I gave them details of how to insure the packages and forward the insurance receipt to us in Vanimo. Randy agreed.
Business completed, Kelly and I decided to walk back. We had a discussion comparing “how WILD” I looked compared to Randy Benscoter. We deemed that Kelly didn’t look WILD because she was a lady, but I looked WILD, sort of. I was proud that I looked WILD in Kelly’s eyes. I guess that sounds pretty silly.
The sun was going down as we walked. The sky looked awesome. The arrangement of clouds shades of white and pink. I cut across the fence and walked on the airstrip, but Kelly was “too chicken” and remained on the road. By the time we got back, it was dark.
Pius bought some beef today and we enjoyed a delicious meal of rice topped with beef and greens. I ate like a horse – it was so good to “pig out” on beef! Maybe I even made a spectacle of myself because I ate so rapidly and heartily – but then that’s nothing unusual.
After dinner, Pius told me about the trek that he did for his previous job. He was called upon to count votes in the last national election. He had to go on a two-week hike with twenty-five porters in the Mt. Bosavi area in order to visit all the villagers there and collect votes. I thought it was really neat that the PNG government went through so much trouble to get each vote – a real democracy! He said that sometimes when people go to the Mt. Bosavi area, they don’t come back because they still practice cannibalism there sometimes. I said how much I would like to go there. He said that perhaps someday I could come back and we could hike there together as he himself would like to go back. He said that he saw many birds of paradise flying around there. He also said that just outside his house here sometimes birds of paradise just sit in the trees and that you can often hear them.
Pius also talked about his career. He had attended the university in Moresby and gotten his degree. As a student, he spent many hours in rhetorical discussions with expatriate professors and other students. Pius was thus well-versed in the attitudes and philosophy of Westerners. Kelly and I thought it must be frustrating for a man so much more educated than his peers to live in PNG. As a man with a degree in PNG, Pius moved up rapidly in his government positions. He had been made an OIC after only a few years. He talked about his job, the things he wanted to do (for example, get a generator – i.e., electricity for Lake Kopiago), the upcoming sing-sing in the morning, which was to celebrate the opening of a beer club. He said it was a problem in PNG that people blew what little money they had on beer. He said that he did like it here though. Kopiago is a beautiful and fairly virgin place. Pius wanted to keep it that way as much as possible.
Kelly and I said goodnight after our talk and we retired by candlelight.
A6 Lake Kopiago (Sing-Sing day)
Saturday May 14, 1983
The morning was beautiful. The house has an excellent view of the Lake, surrounded by gold and lime-colored rushes. We understood that the sing-sing was to begin at 10 a.m., so we went to the market and looked around first. We were going to go home to drop off some of our things but decided to swing by the grounds where the sing-sing was to take place, for we heard sounds coming from that direction. When we arrived, we were surprised to see that the dancing had already begun! It was wonderful. We placed our bags on the ground, cancelled our trip to go back to Pius’ house, determined to not miss a minute of this!! There were two groups dancing; one group was composed of Wigmen much as we had seen in Koroba, only these men were a little more decorated. How fantastic they are!! What imaginations they have! Some of the men had colored their beards blue! They were in a circle and, sort of hopping up and down, they conveyed themselves counter-clockwise. Some beat on drums and they all chanted. After they hopped for five minutes or so they would stop for a while, and then they would resume their dancing. The circle was comprised of perhaps twenty men. During the passage of time, new men would join the group, while others would leave the group, the number of dancers thus fluctuating.
The other group dancing when we got there were the Hewas. These people come from an area to the east. The terrain of their land is extremely rugged. They were rather odd actually. Some of them had enormous headdresses that looked rather junky – white and black feathers and other ornamentation including twentieth century candy wrappers! (? Is this really true? I must review the pictures!) Others of the Hewas group wore only a long hat made of bush material.
The Hewas in the huge headdresses were themselves invisible, dwarfed by the feathers and pomp they wore. The Hewas were more “into it” than the Wigmen – they seldom took a break and when they did, it was a short one. They too just sort of hopped up and down to their chants.
Kelly and I took a number of photos – there certainly were plenty of interesting shots – all the colors of bird of paradise feathers and outlandish nationals!
I stood on a rock and got some photos. Kelly took a couple of pictures of Huli girls – they too were dressed up for the occasion. The young girls seemed a little self-conscious of our presence, as they shyly folded their arms over their breasts.
The Wigmen stopped dancing for a while, they regrouped in a different spot and resumed dancing.
We decided we would go back to the house and return since we were under the impression that the sing-sing was going to last all day. As we headed out, we heard a big commotion from across the road. We followed the running children. Heading towards us was the most amazing group yet!!! It was two lines of young men with wigs on, but very different from the other Wigmen in that their faces were painted red and yellow and their bodies were smeared with oil, glistening in the sun. They looked awesome. They were dancing much livelier than the other groups. They were led by a man whose skin was colored coal black (with charcoal). This man waved a spear, threatening all those who barred the path of his group of dancers. He wore a Halloween mask – the rubber kind that kids wear back at home!
This group (of Hulis) danced their way into the sing-sing grounds. I snapped photos running around trying to get the best vantage point. Kelly wanted to go home and return. She left. I stayed and followed this new group of the red-and-yellow-faced men. They danced all over the sing-sing grounds, causing quite a clamour.
Of the hundreds of spectators, the only white people were Kelly, me, a man who worked and lived there shipping produce to OK Tedi, his wife and two children. One young boy ran by me who was smeared with grey mud and cloaked in ferns. I failed to get a photo.
As much as I tried, I could not get the right vantage point for the new Hulis, they were moving around so quickly, and they attracted people who kept getting in my way.
After I’d gotten a few good shots, I decided to go back to the house and change the batteries in my camera. I’d also found out that only these three groups would be dancing. I went back to the house. Kelly had cut her finger badly while making a sandwich. We tended to her wound. I changed the batteries in my camera. We ate a bite and walked back to the sing-sing. The dancing had stopped! We should have just stayed there. Apparently, the best dancers were to receive a prize and the judges were now judging. Later, there was to be a distribution of prizes, then some ceremonial speeches to commemorate the opening of the club, which was the event the sing-sing was celebrating. Kelly and I walked about snapping pictures of each other with awesome Wigmen and taking photos of pretty girls and babies dressed in traditional costume.
When the speeches began it was comic. One by one, the speakers stood up and rattled something off in Pidgin English. Then an interpreter would say it Huli. Each speaker would cause the microphone to feed back for between half a minute and one minute until he got the hang of it. (I was yelling to point it away from the speaker.) The speakers were obnoxious except for the one who said only a few words. There was a beautiful young girl who’s mother said she was from Manus – I reflected on what Ed the doctor had said about how beautiful the women were in Manus.
The ceremony was tremendously boring. Kelly and I left long before they were through. Pius spoke before we left, and I took a picture so I could send it to him. Kelly and I walked to the trade stores. On our way back we split up. She went home and I returned to the sing-sing grounds to see if the club had opened, for they were supposed to start selling beer. When I got back, the ceremony was over. People were mulling around inside the club but no beer was being sold. On the walls were various feathers and things for sale. Parrot pelts were selling for 75t and K1.00 and 50t. I bought two pelts, though they weren’t very good as the good ones had already been taken. Pius walked around with me to look at things on the wall. We passed a set of red birds-of-paradise feathers which had a sticky next to them saying K4.00. I wasn’t exactly sure if they were for sale. Pius works for the government, so I didn’t want to belie my real interest in them. I asked casually and apparently they were for sale. Pius said that it wasn’t a good idea to buy them because it was illegal to send them. I played his game. He asked to walk with me home. I waited until we were starting up the hill to his house and excused myself, saying that I wanted to pick up something at the trade store. I walked back to the sing-sing grounds. The feathers were still there. I asked how much they were and was told K4.00. I asked if they would accept less and I was told that the man who owned them wasn’t there. I asked if they could find him. They found the owner of the feathers. I said that I’d pay K2.00 for them!! Reluctantly, he sold them to me!!! I couldn’t believe it!! The locals buy newspaper for use in rolling cigarettes. Kelly and I forgot to bring old newspapers from Mt. Hagen! I used the “nius pepa” to wrap the feathers. I walked to Pius’ house and I snuck the feathers into our room. I showed them to Kelly. They were in absolutely perfect condition! Kelly could scarcely believe I’d only paid K2.00 for them!!!
Pius left the house. Kelly and I were getting our things prepared for tomorrow when four boys came to the door. They said they were from Yokana, which is towards Oksapmin. They said that they would take us to Yokana tomorrow. I could scarcely understand them. Apparently, Pius had spoken to them and prompted them to come to speak with us. They left with a vague agreement between us that they would be at the house at 7 a.m. tomorrow. As they walked down the road, I decided to try to get them to talk to Pius so there wouldn’t be any questions as to arrangements. I ran after them. We all went to see Pius, who had gone back to the sing-sing grounds. When we got there, we came upon the tail end of a big feast that was going on. Some pigs and cow meat and kaukau (large sweet potatoes with a white inside) had been mumu’d.
All the meat was laid out and most of it had already been eaten. I grabbed some pork and kaukau and orange drink. When I finished eating, Pius came outside and served as a liaison between the boys and me. I said we only needed two boys, but they wanted to share the carrying amongst four. I said we’d pay 3 kina a day each to two men, i.e., 6 kina altogether. It was not enough it seemed. I then said we’d add two kina and so it would be 8 kina we’d pay – if they wanted to each take 2 kina a day, that was O.K. by us. We went over the proposition to make sure it was understood. A few minutes later a crowd had gathered around the boys, and I was called upon to make myself clear – was it 8 kina a day? I made it clear – if it was two days, 16 kina total, 3 days, 24 kina, etc. We parted saying we’d see each other in the morning.
Back at the house, it soon grew dark. Again we had a beef, rice and greens dish. Pius wasn’t hungry for he’d eaten at the sing-sing. I ate a bit less than I did last night – there wasn’t as much meat in it tonight.
After supper, we talked with Pius for a while. Pius offered to give me a gift of an axe head he’d found. This one was beautiful. It was made of green slate, about five inches long and 2 inches wide at the head, sloping to 1 ½ inch. It was shiny and obviously a real axe-head, used in “prehistoric” times (pre 1950s). I could not think of what to give him in return, so for the time being I declined.
We talked for a while. Kelly and I retired fairly early, for we needed the rest for tomorrow’s hike. Kelly had burned her foot during cooking – as ember had fallen from the stove and she’d stepped on it. We were wondering if her foot and finger injuries hadn’t been subconsciously induced, because she “really didn’t want to go!” But although she’d been considering flying to Oksapmin, by the time we went to bed, she was determined to hike with me in the morning.
Tomorrow signifies the first day of a great trek from the New Guinea Highlands at 5,000 feet and to Ambunti on the Sepik River near sea level.
Day 1 Lake Kopiago to Yokana
Sunday May 15, 1983
The boys were waiting outside for us when we awoke, so we hurriedly packed. I really wanted the axe head that Pius had offered to me, so I decided to give him the string of white shell necklace that I’d gotten in the Solomons. (The shell beads had cost me about $3 or so.) He and I exchanged gifts. We all said our goodbyes. The boys divided the bags among themselves: one took my big heavy blue pack, one Kelly’s medium-sized green pack, another the small tan day pack; one carried a bilum carrying food such as kaukau in case they got hungry. Kelly and I were unburdened as we set off down the road.
We passed the sing-sing grounds and proceeded along the road that led out from Lake Kopiago. It was, the boys told us, an old road that had been used many years ago by the Australians. As we walked along, the road became more and more overgrown until it would be nearly impossible to take even a 4-wheel drive over it.
The morning was cool, dew-filled. It was about 7:30 a.m. The road was surrounded by lush green growth. Occasionally, we would pass a cleared patch of ground that someone was making a garden on.
After awhile, we left what was once a road and we cut off to the right, now beginning a journey through bush paths towards Oksapmin. I was able to be nimble since I wasn’t burdened with baggage. We walked down a steep path and came to a river. Here I submerged myself – invigorating! We crossed this large stream and hiked through the forest. I’m in pretty good shape and thus didn’t have any problem keeping ahead of the group – I raced along while Kelly and the others came behind. We came upon a large clearing in the forest. When the trees have been felled, it obscures the trail and forces one to pick their way through the logs, out the other side of the clearing and through to the trail again. For us, the clearings were made by nameless workers, never seen.
Past the clearing, we walked on the sides of sloping forest trails. How you place your feet is important. I stopped to wait up for the rest of the group. They came up and sat down on the rocks around me. As we caught our breath, we heard noises coming up from behind. Soon, a party of men, women and young women came up the trail. They too were on their way back from the sing-sing. They were walking to Oksapmin and were planning on arriving tomorrow. We all walked on, but soon this group was ahead of us. I could have kept up but I had to wait for Kelly. We would catch glimpses of them ahead and we would hear them as they chattered incessantly in Oksapmin. (The areas are often distinguished by the language groups.) It could certainly be said that a characteristic of these people is that they chatter when they walk in groups. (Here come the Americans, puffing and catching their breath, while the Melanesians cruise along yelling, calling out to each other, making shrill imitations of birds.) By and by, we came upon a woman who had lagged behind with a child. I was surprised to see a male cassowary (“muruk” in Pidgin) by the side of the road. At first, I was mistaken into thinking it was wild! I produced my camera rapidly and took photos, thinking that it would flee in no time! I thought it was odd that as I approached it, it would back off, but it still did not run away into the forest. I finished taking photos, and when the woman began walking again and the cassowary followed, I realised that the cassowary was a pet!
The language barrier didn’t prevent me from learning that this cassowary was taken as an egg and brought up by the villagers and was thus entirely domesticated. As the woman walked it stayed right to the trail just behind her. (I wonder if it thought it was human!) The woman had walked it two days to the sing-sing to see if she could sell it for K20.00. When I write that it was a baby cassowary, perhaps I should make the size clear. This cassowary stood about 3 feet high at the top of its head. It was a dirty brown color. Cassowaries are amongst the world’s biggest bird – it looks much like an ostrich, and like an ostrich it doesn’t fly. They grow to over six feet tall.
We continued walking. At about 10:30 a.m., we came to a place that was a resting area, evidenced by old fire pits. There, the four boys, Kelly, myself and another group of men sat and rested. The men quickly built a fire. (Using matches they customarily create a blazing fire in a minute.) The group of men had also come from the sing-sing, and they had brought with them some pig meat, which they produced from their wrappings in banana leaves. Kelly sat a distance away and I sat close by as they place the pig meat, skin and fat directly in and around the fire. Soon the meat and fat were sizzling away, enough to make my mouth water. It was with typical Melanesian big-heartedness that I was given a few chunks of sizzling pig. Being from America, I have a natural fear of eating beef and, especially, pig that is not store-bought from a reliable merchant. But I tried it, and it was so delicious that I took some to Kelly to try, ignoring her refusal when the men had offered some to her. She tried it and had to agree it was delicious. At the time I didn’t know it, but it is a fact that there is no trichinosis in Papua New Guinean pigs, which alleviates the major reason for not eating pork here. I note that it is probably rather typically Western of me to consider their pork as diseased because it comes from such a primitive country, when in fact it is pork from my “advanced” country which has a higher probability of being diseased, and the pork here is generally fine to eat. It is a clear-cut case of common ethnocentricity that it would not occur to me that these people are very intelligent (especially in regards to food and survival) and can distinguish a healthy pig from a sick one, and also, they would never use a sick one for feasting!! In short, the pig was scrumptious. I not only enjoyed the meat, but I also enjoyed the fat. When we’d stopped there, I was feeling a little exhausted, but after eating (and resting), I felt very invigorated. I don’t know if it was the pig, but I wouldn’t be surprised if such wholesome sustenance was able to revive one immediately!
After this petite repast, we set out again. Now, I raced off ahead and the young man who had the small pack followed me step for step. We raced through the forest. I really love the feeling of going swiftly on bush tracks. We continued for twenty minutes or half hour until we figured we should wait for the others who were probably by now far behind. We came up to the top of one of the countless hillock summits to where the woman with the cassowary was resting. We sat down and waited. During this rest, I had the pleasure of observing the woman feeding the cassowary. She cut up a kaukau and the bird would pick up the individual pieces with its beak and then throw its head back let the piece go flying backwards and catch it and swallow it whole through its opened mouth!! This process continued on and on while I watched, amused.
After a long wait, an unfittingly long wait at that, the rest of the group came tromping up. They explained the reason for their delay: The young boy (of cassowary woman) was leading the way and Kelly following. The boy jumped over a log and then Kelly did. Just as the others were about to follow, a cream-colored snake, about six feet long darted across the trail, having emerged from the log. The men jumped back and everyone was afraid to get too close. Being the superb naturalists that they were, they immediately recognised it for what it was – deadly poisonous. A person bitten by this snake would die within seconds. Some place, I read that there are not many snakes in the Solomons and New Guinea. But this snake made just one more run-in to add to the list. (To wit, 1. On the road at night in Honiara, Kelly and I came upon a death adder. 2. A water snake near Banika Island, Solomons. 3. Another water snake near the entrance to Morovo Lagoon, Solomons. 4. An orange and blue snake in the Japanese Cave, Rabaul vicinity, East New Britain, PNG. 5. A six-foot thin brown (non-poisonous) snake jumped from a log on Vulcan crater’s ridge, Rabaul vicinity. Now, this snake made #6.)
We resumed our walk. Now I raced ahead by myself. No one could keep up with me. I went on and on, now the trail curving a bit to the north around the contour of the mountain. Eventually I came to our outcropping of rock that presented a view of the surrounding land. Up till now, our views were limited by the surrounding and enclosing rain forest. The scenery was very magnificent. From having carefully studied the topographical map beforehand, I could place the relative positions of the mountains and estimate where Oksapmin was. All along the left was an escarpment of sheer limestone cliff with deep green patches of rain forest clinging to its walls. (It is surprising how tenacious the rain forest is – it seems to grow on vertical cliffs!) Below the ridge, though the water was not visible, a river ran away into the distance where it joined the Strickland River.
Down the chasm of the valley, way off in the distance, I could see another more spectacular ridge perpendicular to the one on my left. A light green grass carpeted its slopes, advancing to the vertical white cliffs that were topped by green forest. This ridge was about five miles away. Running below this ridge in the valley bottom was the Strickland, heading off to the left (south).
Just beyond, along the contour of the mountainside, was a village marked by dwellings and hillside gardens. I knew that it could not be Yokana because it was too soon upon us. I produced my camera and took a few shots. I called out with a whoop, in imitation of the natives, to ascertain if anyone from my party was behind me. I heard an answer, and soon was joined by one boy. Using broken Pidgin and English, I confirmed my idea of where we were in relation to Oksapmin and also that the land beyond us was indeed the Strickland Gorge. Soon followed the rest of the group.
I went on ahead, galloping along the trial like a madman, enjoying the treachery of the trail, which necessitated putting my feet in the right place with celerity (i.e., swiftness). The trail here was more open, not immediately encroached upon by rain forest, and thus drier. I lost sight of the village and stopped to guess whether I had bypassed our agreed-upon resting place. I retraced 100 yards and seeing two young men of my party, ascertained that I was going the right way and thus galloped off again. Just as I arrived at the village, the Oksapmin people we’d seen on the trail earlier were leaving. The others in my group arrived. Kelly was thirsty. This village had a galvanized water rank that had most likely been dropped there by a helicopter. I filled up our water bottles. Kelly and I drank our fill of water. It was only about 12:30 p.m., but the boys with us asked if we wanted to go on or whether we desired to sleep there. We had no desire to stay in this village, which didn’t seem to have any particular attraction. Before we left, I asked if anyone had any bird of paradise feathers, but no one said they had any. Our guides said we should be able to reach Yokana in five hours.
We set off somewhat refreshed and pounded through the woods, up down, up down, over roots and rocks, through patches of mud, walking on logs. Again, I raced off and left the others behind, which didn’t please Kelly. Before I began bush walking, I would have thought that it would be dangerous to leave Kelly among “Savages,” but thoughts of this nature were deduced with the utmost ignorance!! Indeed, it was quite safe for Kelly to be by herself with members of our party! Being by myself, I sometimes wondered if I was correctly following the trail, but I invariably continued without waiting for confirmation from a guide.
I came upon a river, where I found the Oksapmin people, who had stopped for lunch. On a sandy bank they roasted sweet potatoes in a fire. Before this trek was finished my initial acceptance of eating sweet potatoes grew into the utmost fondness – their crunchy skin, the hot, soft, sweet middle – it was like eating a baked English potato with butter and salt already incorporated into it!!! I removed my shirt and shoes and socks and retired to a nearby pool in which I luxuriously bathed and revitalized my tired muscles underneath a heavy but short waterfall. The water crashed into this larger stream from an adjoining streamlet into the pool in which I bathed. After a satiation of my desire to cool off and get a massage from the falling water, Kelly came along with the remainder of the group. While the others helped themselves to potatoes, Kelly and I prepared (Kraft processed cheddar) cheese sandwiches on wheat crackers, adorned with tomatoes and green onions and accompanied with a bottle of Tang made with the sweet river water. A note on the mountain water: Most Europeans have an aversion to drinking water from streams, themselves coming from lands of rife pollution. In fact, I never became sick from drinking water from virtually every stream that presented itself when thirst was upon me. The mountains of New Guinea are overflowing with abundant pristine waters in rivers, streams, trickles, springs, etc.
After our lunch respite, we trudged on. We came to a very wet section of rainforest where bothersome little forest flies seem to be attracted to human sweat, with which I was invariably covered. Particularly bothersome was that being as though there was sweat on my eyelids, the little flies would fly into my eyes, blocking my vision and causing me to hesitate from walking. The bush trails have definite signs which one uses to find the way. Many times a log is used as part of the trail. If the log has strong moss on it, it can be pleasant to traverse. However, many of the logs are old, rotten and slippery as hell; even this is tolerable if one is careful. But, as often happens, when a log with these characteristics is sloping up or down, it can become treacherous for people wearing shoes, which by the way is an infinitely inferior apparatus for conveying a human body through the bush compared to bare feet. Bare feet develop calluses that afford a human to walk in comfort over most natural terrain. The habit of wearing shoes is ridiculous unless we accept the concept that in an industrial society, man made materials cause peculiarly nasty hazards – glass, sharp aluminium cans, etc.
The butterflies formed a pleasant contrast to the bothersome forest flies. One particularly striking specimen is a white butterfly with two outer and two inner wings, the inner wing bearing each one spot of black encircled by yellow. (Later note: In 1983, I had the mistaken notion that normally butterflies have two wings, whereas in actuality they have four. Normally, however, the bottom wings and top wings have an appearance of forming one wing. The difference in these butterflies was that the ‘bottom wings’ were not situated on the bottom, but rather interior to the main wings. I have since studied books on Lepidoptera and have been unable to identify this species.)
Again, now trudging uphill, we stopped to rest. Kelly seemed particularly uncomfortable with the effort of hiking, and she voiced her lament at having to continue. But as is her way, her pride overpowers her aversion to continue and once she has aggravated me with incessant lamentations she evolves into a state of stoic perseverance manifesting her tremendous spirit. We hiked, it seemed, now forever upward. I myself was a little anxious to reach the summit, if indeed the trail had one. We stopped at the base of what looked like as near a vertical trail (if you think that looks vertical, wait until tomorrow!) as can be “walked” upon. I asked one of our guides how much longer we had to climb upwards. His reply, “two hours,” not only was averse to my liking, it also seemed incorrect, as it was wearing late in the day. We tackled the hill, rested in the middle of the ascent, where Kelly caught up with us. We also met up again with one of the boys we’d been missing for the last hour. We continued upwards and soon reached a summit where other people were resting (from the other group). We rested. I tried to ascertain if we’d still be hiking upwards, but I was told that we’d reached the summit. It was curious that what I’d been told would take two hours actually took half an hour, but I was glad for that – and it reinforced the conventional wisdom: never rely on a Melanesian’s accounting of time.
After a short rest, we were told that we’d better get going because we needed to get to Yokana before dark. We were also notified that from here to Yokana was downhill, and nothing could have pleased us more, save if it was already upon us. As we descended, the trail was lined with a luscious moss hugging the sloping ground. Then the trail took on a more “civilized” aspect, with logs thrown perpendicular to the path to effect a staircase for descending/ascending. I snapped a photo of one of the guides ahead of me as he stood next to a banana leaf twice the length and width of his body.
So, our trek began to Yokana. On some legs of this hike, we were to walk underneath the forest canopy virtually all day without getting a view of the surrounding land. The Yokana man is scarcely visible I the lower right center of the photograph.
I walked with two guides ahead of me now, and Kelly was somewhere behind with the other two. We came to a garden. An old woman there gave us some cooked vegetables. Apparently there had been more, but the people from Oksapmin had devoured most of them. (Later note: I was touched that this old woman, it seemed, had prepared vegetables for us to eat, seemingly knowing we were coming. I still do not know to this day if that was true. In any event, this type of generosity, found all over the Highlands, was typical of the Melanesian spirit. This spirit inspired in me a great respect and changed my perception of the world.) We again headed off. The trail now became quite wide which signified that we were coming close to the village. In a short while, we came to a dwelling. From this dwelling you could see the mountains above the Strickland Gorge. I was told that this dwelling was part of Yokana! I was surprised because I had foreseen that it was going to take much longer to get there. The main part of the village was only a few minutes away. I ran the last part into Yokana. Kelly arrived shortly afterward. When she came we discussed what sort of vegetables we wanted and then we “placed our order” with a man who ran off to a garden to procure what we needed. While we waited for the vegetables, we shook hands with some of the villagers. We took delight in watching two baby cassowaries, each less than a foot high, feeding on kaukau. They were very cute.
We looked in the “store,” but not surprisingly, they had virtually nothing to sell: just a few razor blades, a few bars of soap, etc. We read a notice on a small round hut that warned people not to look at the sun during the coming eclipse on June 11th. The village central had perhaps ten dwellings, not too big and not too small. We were shown where we could put our bags and brought them into a hut. This hut had a fire pit in the middle front, a dirt floor in the front half of the building, and a raised wood floor one foot off the ground in the back part. As is the case with most bush huts, there were no windows for ventilation, and the roof was black from smoke constantly rising from the fire. I asked if there were any bird feathers for sale, and one parrot pelt was produced, which I bought for K0.75.
By and by, a woman came to the doorway with vegetables, as we’d requested. She had about twenty ears of corn, six English potatoes, one 7″ papaya, about thirty small tomatoes and four feet of sugarcane. We gave her K1.10 for the delivery. One of the guides ripped off some of our tomatoes, as I heard Kelly say “tomato snitcher” playfully – we didn’t say anything more. A fire was now in progress inside and it was getting dark outside. We threw some ears of corn on the fire to cook. Inevitably, smoke often blew in my direction from the fire, and my eyes would water terribly (and burn too!). As the ears of corn were finished, we began eating them. It’s delicious cooked directly on a fire like that. For dinner, Kelly fixed up some canned hot dogs and a can of beans, along with potatoes, corn, tomatoes and a hot Milo to settle our stuffed stomachs. We shared our corn with anyone who happened to be sitting inside the house. We were a bit surprised on two counts: i) that our guide had stolen some of our tomatoes, being that he was in his own village, and ii) that all four of our guides slept in the same house with us, being as though we thought that they would have houses of their own to sleep in. The question about this was never resolved.
While Kelly prepared the meal, I set up the mosquito net in the back right corner of the 20′ x 20′ dwelling. We were very pleased that we’d gotten this net in Mount Hagen. It was the first time we used it. It looked like a sanctuary of luxury amidst the dirt.
Our guides, although from this village, were required according to our arrangement, to walk beyond to Oksapmin, 1-1 ½ days to the west-northwest. I talked with the one who’d stolen our tomatoes. He explained that we’d have to sleep in Gaua near Oksapmin tomorrow night. I was feeling arrogant about my ability to bush walk quickly, and I fairly insisted that we could reach Oksapmin, just north across one range of cliffs from Gaua. Phillip, this guide, fairly insisted that we couldn’t make it and suggested that they could all (with Kelly) sleep in Gaua, but I’d probably get on to Oksapmin and wait for Kelly there. (There is a sign on the road to Mt. Wilhelm from Keglsugl. This sign lists rules that climbers should use while climbing Mt. Wilhelm. One of the rules is: The pace of the hiking party should be that of its slowest member. But this rule apparently hadn’t sunk in [to my head] yet. It is a wise rule. If you can’t live by it, it means you’ve chosen to wrong hiking partners.) Phillip and I went over the money situation also. Again, it was reiterated that if it took us two days more to reach Oksapmin, we would be obliged to pay the total of K24.00 (3×8.00) to the 4 young men as a group. Kelly and I requested this: that if we reached Oksapmin before noon the third day, we would be obliged to pay only for ½ day, 2 ½ total days, or K20.00 total. Phillip discussed this with his friends and subsequently told us that it was agreed to.
We had had a long, long day. We had tired our bodies and satiated the consequent ravenous appetites. Sleep came naturally.
Day 2 Yokana to Gaua (through The Strickland Gorge!)
Monday May 16, 1983
Today we were to enjoy the most exquisite scenery an inhabitant of earth can ever expect to enjoy. (Yosemite, California has a rival in the Strickland Gorge.)
Kelly and I had an altercation before we left the village. I had gotten angry over a comment she’d made. Then, in an effort to apologize, I said, “Sorry Kelly, I guess I was acting un-god-like,” Kelly replied “Maybe that proves a point!” The point she was trying to prove was that I wasn’t a “god.” She had tried to convince me that I wasn’t “a god” a few days back. It was really all so ridiculous because I had been using the term god very loosely and applying it to myself. (Roman emperors used to have that title transferred to them upon their death!) I’m a man, plain and simply, and it is only in jovial fun that we use the term amongst my friends and I. Kelly’s harping on this point was merely to aggravate me, and she got her wish! I, who had violently cracked a stick across a tree trunk before my apology, now grabbed my pack and raced off ahead totally ignoring Kelly’s existence! I felt, probably correctly, that Kelly’s deviation from her usual sweet self was in most part prompted by her reluctance and rebellion to expose her body to the extremes of exertion which surely awaited us today and in future days. Her decision to come along was probably in part a desire to be with me rather than a 100% devotion to a love of bush walking, which for the unfit can be a mild form of masochism.
The guides followed with Kelly. I tromped westward through the light forest and tall grasses. As I hesitated at a trail fork, one of my guides came along and subsequently led the way. We marched on. Another one of the guides joined up with us. In a fairly short time, we deserted towering trees to come upon open grassland, now opening up to partly reveal the magnificence of the Strickland Gorge. The grassland was immense, leading west between two ranges of cliffs. The further we walked, the more evident the vastness of the Strickland Gorge became. The trail worked to the left until it hugged the base of a cliff. We stopped while I got out my camera and began to snap photos. Another of the four came up with us. He said something to the effect that Kelly (whom I had hastily left behind) was returning to Yokana. A fear ran through my mind that she was planning on returning to Kopiago. Looking back, I could see Kelly at the verge of the grassland, now walking back towards Yokana. Now the guides said that she was looking for something she’d lost. We waited a few minutes.
We were scarcely forty minutes walking from Yokana. The sun was not yet shining upon much of the dew-filled forest clinging along the face of the cliffs to my right. The Gorge was opened before me, a spectacular, magnificent spectacle. Facing away from the cliff rock at my back, to my immediate right, was the grassland we’d walked through, a bright lime-green. Looking counter-clockwise was a vast rainforest that grew in the shadow and along the base of (and even on!) a ridge of white and black limestone cliffs. To the left of this, the gorge stretched eight miles or so in a V-shaped valley, carpeted on both sides by lush grasslands meeting at the Strickland River. Away and beyond the gorge itself rose mountain after mountain as far as the eye could see, creating flowing picturesque infinity. To the left of the Strickland River, and the grasslands on its west bank which sloped upward, was a magnificent range of limestone cliff stretching from almost the center of my view along my whole left side and beyond and behind the cliff to my back. Studded in and around the cliff was forest greenery. To add to the magnificence was a second promontory of limestone cliff towering above and somewhat behind the first!
Behind the second range of cliffs to my left lies Oksapmin, perhaps five or ten miles as the crow flies. The sun was rising. The valley was half in shadow; on the west the mountain ridge glistened in the sun. In all the thousands of acres spread before us, there was not one habitation or sign of human life! This was a small wonder to me, as the place would provide a fabulous environment for living. Again, upwards from the valley bottom through which the river ran on both sides was a gorgeous carpet of four to five-foot high bright lime-colored grass. In short, it was awesome scenery! The Strickland River which flowed down the valley towards me to the south eventually runs westward where it joins the Fly River, PNG’s largest river. The proposed hike was to go across the Strickland and later to pass the OK Oma, a tributary running to the east to the Strickland. The Ok Oma was to be crossed and then the proposed route would take us from the Fly watershed over a ridge to the Sepik watershed, PNG’s second largest river being the Sepik (“Sea-pik”).
We walked west for a short while. The scene opened up even more. The cliff on my left, as I was walking, receded south, and we came upon a 1000-foot terrace that revealed the southern part of the gorge.
In the same amazing fashion, the gorge spread to the south, immense. We stopped here to wait for Kelly and the other lad. To the south, white limestone cliffs, dark green trees and forests and lime grasslands cascaded downward to the bottom of the gorge. We stood a promontory which would be impossible to walk down on three sides except to the far left along and down the ridge hugging the mountainside. I stationed him some distance from the edge and then I climbed up on a limestone rock near the “cliff’s” edge. With a corny smile on my face, I placed one foot in mid-air as if I was unknowingly about to walk off of the rock. Phillip snapped a picture. The background was an awesome spectacle ¾ mile across thin air.
Kelly came along. I asked her what happened. She said she had lost her neckerchief, had looked for it, but couldn’t find it. Things were tense between us, for God knows what reason.
We descended along a steep rocky path that required careful footing. Below the initial descent as a small patch of forest with, though still steep, a trail more gradually sloping down. We rested at a stream just before the trail exited the forest. Kelly came along. Although, things were really tense between us, to bother her, I jokingly started calling her Katie, in reference to David and Katie, the ultra-strange Peace Corp couple we met in Ngarrinarsuru in the Solomon Islands’ Malaita! We were both being defensive. Kelly was hinting that she thought it was a drag the way I hiked ahead all the time.
We emerged from the patch of forest and hiked in beautiful sloping grassland bordered on our left (south) by cliff. The guides went ahead while Kelly and I took turns taking pictures. As we continued walking I screamed out in jubilation time after time, hearing my outbursts resound from the cliffs. The guides ahead of us let out their marching cries. These consisted of one man letting out one type of yell followed by a three-man chorus yelling a retort. They continued this, varying the responses slightly, for a minute or two followed by intervals of silence from between fifteen seconds to hours. Again Kelly dropped behind as I traced my way through grasses up to my shoulders. A patch of forest bordered an unseen stream to our right, and the guides disappeared from my view as the trail ahead turned into the greenery. I eventually reached the stream, where, slightly upstream from where our guides rested, I removed my clothes and plunged myself into an ice-cold pristine pool of stream water. When I finished bathing, Kelly came along.
We all headed on down; now the river was in sight. We crossed limestone boulders interspersed with shrubs and trees and dead wood. We could now make out a bridge traversing the treacherous Strickland, and the trail led toward this. We came down to the river and walked along it to a resting place near the base of the bridge. The resting place was beneath some huge rocks grouped together, providing a cool shade. I found a pipe on the ground – a single stick of bamboo 5/8″ thick and 7 ½” long with some light engraving on it. It was nice, so I stuffed it in my pack. As we rested, Kelly noticed an amazing small insect on a rock. This was neither the first nor last time we were to be amazed by insect life in New Guinea. Every so often you see an insect that bears no resemblance to anything you’ve ever seen! I got out my camera and tripod and spent a good deal of time setting it up. I cut up a papaya. She ate her half. I ate mine after giving each of our guides a piece of it.
The bridge crossing the Strickland was a modern bridge made of steel and wire. Perhaps they flew materials in by helicopter or walked them in. The Strickland is a rushing torrent of muddy clay-colored water that would be impossible to walk across here. The bridge was fairly new, well constructed and quite safe. It was suspended by wire cables from each side, had cable handrails and steel grating to walk upon.
I took a photo from the middle of the river. We each crossed the bridge one at a time. On the other side, the Oksapmin men were fishing, and the rest of their party had hiked on to wait for them on a mountaintop.
Still things were really tense between Kelly and I. I like to think that the main reason is because she was in a state of irritation because she was uncomfortable in the hot sun with so much walking to do.
The trail now headed straight, up across the immense grasses of the west bank of the Strickland gorge. The sun beat down mercilessly, and there was no place to hide. The slope upwards was fairly steep and it took about two hours of straight walking to reach the forest where some respite from the sun was available. I lead the way up the grassland. I stopped to change film and I took a few more photos. Looking back down the trail, I could see the others coming up individually. The boys worked parasols of ferns or whatever they could find on the riverbank to guard themselves from the heat of the sun. I could make out Kelly below working her way up painfully.
I raced on, desirous to finish at once the exposed grassland climb. I reached the forest and kept walking. I came to a pool of water, which was the end of a stream that stopped there and disappeared; I startled a lizard that bathed in a stream of sunlight that filtered through the tree canopy. The lizard was about 3 ½’ long. It was motionless when I first saw it, and then it tore off into the thicket. I found a place where the water looked good to drink and quenched my thirst. I tried to continue up the trail but the trail disappeared and I could not make out where it went. Besides, I didn’t want to search too hard lest I come across the wrong trail. I returned back to the water spot and waited. Soon, the boy carrying my pack came, and then another with the food pack. I was quite hungry, so I proceeded to dine on crackers and cheese, chocolate and hard candy. Kelly came along. She wasted no time in making insinuating comments, blasting me for eating and for walking ahead. She said things like, “You ate my tomato!” The Gorge had depleted her strength. The amount of flies hovering about was incredible!! With one slap of a hand, fifty of them would drop! I realized that sounds like an exaggeration, but it was not. The flies hovered whenever there was sweat, and I was covered with it!!
After lunch, we continued upwards along the streamlet and up, up through forest. I stopped to let Kelly go ahead but she said I didn’t have to and was indignant. I became irate and began following her badgering her saying things like: “Katie, how are you doing, huh. Are you enjoying the walk, Katie?” I had begun calling her Katie, as aforementioned, on the other side of the gorge. I repeated it over and over. I was acting like a raving madman! This is sometimes known as “going TROPPO (tropical).” Kelly said I wasn’t bothering her so I took the liberty of continuing. She turned around and said that she never really liked me but she was just using me to enable her to take this hike. It was really comical! I raced on ahead then, alone, where I could enjoy myself. We seemed to hike on indefinitely. Finally, we began ascending a steep escarpment of rain-forest-covered limestone cliff. Kelly was with me now. Kelly fell down and started whimpering. I felt sorry for her – I realised how difficult this walk is for her – for me it was a breeze without a pack. I gave her my hand and helped her the whole way up, hand in hand, resting with her. Of course, the ascent seems to take longer than it really does. The mood changed as I helped her – I guess it was all she wanted: to hike with me instead of alone, somewhere behind me.
A note of gladness struck when we reached the top of the cliff!! The view was super-tremendous. Immediately north was another range of limestone ridge; to the right of this was the Gorge extending all the way to the south. We could see the course of the Strickland River as it turned west behind a mountain range directly south of us. The Oksapmin women were waiting here, chattering away, laughing. Our party stopped and rested here for a while. My mood had now changed to one of gallantry, and I faked drinking a sip of water so that Kelly could have more, as we were almost out. The wind blew on this summit. Limestone boulders scattered the grass and forest came right up the edge of the cliff we’d just traversed. Kelly had complained a few weeks ago that I haven’t been taking enough pictures of her. I snapped a close-up of her and then we took turns posing for each other. I took a picture of her against the southern backdrop. Giving the camera to her, I walked over to a limestone rock, giving a northeast backdrop relative to where the photographer, Kelly, was. Placing my hands firmly on the rock, with everyone watching me, I performed a handstand on top of this limestone rock, and Kelly snapped a picture.
To our west was a bowl of a beautiful alpine valley, bordered on the left by the ridge upon which we stood, and on the right was another ridge. We were told that Gaua lied beyond the ridge to the right. We set off with the Oksapmin women. I walked slowly with Kelly like a Southern Gentleman. It is so beautiful here!! We walked slow, really enjoying the scenery. We gazed across the Strickland Gorge to the mountains at the other side. The contours and colors are exciting! We progressed over the ridge and beheld another valley backed by another limestone ridge. Over this ridge was Oksapmin amidst checkerboards of cultivation sloping upwards to the base of the cliff. Clouds were impending, lending a misty and mystical atmosphere combined with the sun and the wind. Kelly was lamenting how tired she was and hoping that the place we were going to sleep was one of the closer structures rather than one of the ones way up the valley. I didn’t mind walking slow with her, but it bothered me to listen to her complain. We descended following after our guides. We walked across a thin log, crossing a pool of stagnant water, to a house, but we were directed further up the hill. The trail was muddy and as we passed an extremely muddy spot, Kelly exclaimed, “Yuk. Do we have to walk through that??” In an effort to see if I could lead her through it without her getting muddy, I jumped to the extreme left of the path of mud and nearly poked my eyes out on a protruding dry reed sticking horizontally from the thicket! My eye was bleeding. Kelly started crying, partially because she felt it was her fault and the other part because of concern. We stopped and I used a Q-tip to apply some black antiseptic to my eyelid. I was lucky – had the reed hit my eye even ¼ inch to the left, it would have struck my eyeball instead of the corner of my eye closest to my nose. Mostly, I was concerned that it could get infected.
We finished walking up a hill to a cluster of houses, one of many on the valley slopes. Our guides did some talking and found a house for us to stay in. I took out my map and reviewed where we’d gone with Phillip. The Gaua man who was letting us use this traveller’s house suggested we move to another house adjacent to it, as it was better protection against wind and rain. We moved to go to the house next door and this man went to procure some vegetables for us. Our guides had a place of their own to stay in somewhere in the valley and they left except one of the boys who started the fire for us and then left. The Gaua man came back with a bunch of greens. We gave him a kina. I set up the mosquito net and Kelly began preparing dinner. Darkness encroached. There we were: firelight, the grass straw on the floor, Kelly and I alone in the 20’x20′ dwelling with a high roof. Occasionally the boy who started the fire for us would come back and check that everything was all right. He would light his pipe and smoke – these people are very avid smokers of their garden grown tobacco. We offered him some soup. We ate well and then slept.
Day 3 Gaua to Tekin via Oksapmin
Tuesday May 17, 1983
The hike to Oksapmin led us up to the foot of a steep ridge and up. I walked with Kelly. It was a misty morning. Our guides walked ahead. I held Kelly’s hand as we made our way up the slopes. Traversing ridges like this, and often during bush walking in New Guinea, it is necessary to place your toes in a stronghold and stand up like climbing a ladder, foot after foot. Every five steps there’s a place where you can catch your balance. I walked Kelly very slowly up the cliff. Often I would stop and stand and talk to her until I heard her breathing resume to normal, at which time I’d continue taking her up. She told m later that she thought that I stopped often because I was tired! She commented on the way up, just as she had yesterday how “amazing” our guides were, able to swiftly ascend even with our packs. I was quickly indignant at these times, as I too could swiftly ascend with a pack on; by being her escort I was forced not only to go slower than was comfortable for me, but I also had to be thought of as somewhat less amazing, fit and strong than our guides, which I felt was incorrect on all three counts. But I held my tongue because I felt that if I said anything to this effect, Kelly would think I was insinuating that she was a burden and she’d become indignant!
When we were almost near the top, we all stopped, rested and talked. By the way, the typical ascent up to a summit was invariably accompanied by a number of moments when we would think that we were “just about there.” Then, we would climb up to what we thought was the summit only to discover that the trail continued upwards indefinitely from there. During this rest stop, Kelly and I told the four young men how we had come to Papua New Guinea on a sailboat. We asked them what they did every day in their village Yokana. They said that they would often work around the village, either building houses (huts) or work in the garden. Sometimes they would go hunting for birds or wild pigs. They briefly described a pig hunt. It is noticeable that these people have a heritage as hunters, for when they spy a bird or the signs of a cuscus (possum or tree kangaroo), they immediately jump into action with their bow and arrow, or, if nothing else is available, a stone. Kelly and I described the size of the American Elk and Moose, but Kelly laughed as I described their antlers being nine feet across, and I don’t think they believed me either.
Soon, we came to the summit of the ridge and we were looking down into a large valley surrounded on all sides by mountains. In the western portion of the valley were a number of tin-roofed dwellings and an airstrip. Oksapmin! Not exactly a city. Not a town either really. We carefully made a 3-shot panorama of the valley below. In the right frame Phillip stood – wearing the sunglasses he looked pretty funny. In the middle frame stood Kelly (with Oksapmin in the background) who had gotten the sunglasses from Phillip. Then in the left frame, I, who had given explicit instructions to Kelly about where to border the picture when giving her the camera, stood I with the same sunglasses on! So we effected a 3-frame shot that hopefully will look a little ridiculous. [Unfortunately, Phillip lost one of the pieces of broken lens of the sunglasses. When I bought them, they were cracked, and yesterday, on my way down to the Strickland I had them in the bottom of my camera bag and I fell and cracked them completely. (Better them than my camera!) I pieced them together for the photos.]
The trail went at one angle down the mountain towards the West. Some of the guides went ahead. As the trail did not seem treacherous, dried dirt winding with some switchbacks, I took the liberty of going ahead. Have you ever galloped down a mountain? Well, I galloped at high speed, jumping, leaping, placing my feet rapidly with expert timing! I’ve never figured why that works out but it is a lot of fun to run like a madman down a mountain and never twist an ankle. Down trail, I waited for Kelly and we walked slowly as the trail became fore difficult – I helped her down the difficult parts in the hot sun. Our guides waited for us in the shade of the tree in the valley.
It was noon now. We walked past some Western-style dwellings, outside of which a bunch of people were hanging out. Inside the store they had Coca-Cola and Coconut Kina (cookies) for sale. We contemplated splurging and buying some. First, we thought we should pay our guides. Outside, I called Phillip over and began to hand him K20.00 for all four boys. He said, “For me?” and I tried to explain to him that as agreed, we would pay K8.00 a day for all of them, total. It soon became obvious that he was trying to pull a scam that they had previously decided upon. With a number Papua New Guineans about and no white people, it seemed likely that they would have the sympathy of their countrymen. However, they blew it by being too greedy. What he asked for was K20.00 each which made K80.00 in guide fees for 2 ½ days walking – bear in mind that we’d only needed 2 guides (they always travel in pairs) and that the going rate is K4.00 per day, which is considered good pay. I immediately saw through his plan, and rather than allow him to gain the sympathy of his countrymen, I took action. Stepping over to where some men stood, I immediately began to explain what had been agreed upon. The men I spoke with spoke some English, so they could clearly understand me. I told them that if they didn’t believe me, we could radio the OIC in Kopiago who had arranged the agreement. Further, I pointed out to them that these boys were claiming that we should pay each of them K8.00 a day, which was obviously incorrect. At first there was some cross-questioning insinuating that I was trying to renege on the payment, but I felt mad and the tenor in my voice and righteousness of my speech lent credence to my story. The other boys stood in the background. Now Phillip changed his story. He said that he and another boy would be willing to accept K5.00 each but the other two wanted K20.00. He feebly tried to rationalize that the other boys had not understood the agreement, but I pointed out that it was hard to believe in light of the fact that they all spoke the same language. Further, it was Phillip’s duty to explain it to them.
They finally went up to the OIC’s office. Kelly and I sat in the shade of the store, disgusted by the dishonesty and stupidity of the boys. We were summoned to the OIC’s office. The OIC was gone but his second-in-command welcomed Kelly and I into his office. He heard our story, wrote down the information and said he would contact the OIC in Kopiago about this. When we’d crossed the Strickland, we had entered the West Sepik province and this matter was Pius’ jurisdiction since these boys were from Yokana in the Southern Highlands. The second-in-command called Phillip and the other boys in. He observed us as we paid each of them K8.00 for their troubles. They left indignantly.
Kelly and I walked with our packs up to the OIC’s house. We asked him if someone was going to go up to Tekin in a truck, but he said no. In the midst of this isolated country, a road had been built between Oksapmin and Tekap, of which the portion to Tekin was still in use. There were two trucks and one tractor using the road, the tractor belonging to the Baptist mission at Tekin. The Baptist mission collected vegetables from the surrounding countryside at 25t a kilo and brought them down by tractor to Oksapmin where they were flown to Ok Tedi, PNG’s future biggest mining operation (copper and gold). The local people have begun a market at Tekap that may put the “white” mission at Tekin out of business as they offer 50t a kilo. The OIC suggested we get a ride on the mission tractor, which was on its way from the airstrip. We explained that the driver had said that we couldn’t have a ride. I saw the tractor coming and it stopped down by the offices. I ran down to it. The driver seemed friendlier this time. He said we could have a ride but that he was afraid that the keops (police) wouldn’t allow us to ride in the back. I asked if he’d let us if the OIC said it was O.K. That was fine by him. I went back to the OIC’s house. When the tractor came by, the OIC told him it was O.K. Kelly and I hopped on the trailer and away the tractor went. It was about a two-hour ride, about eight miles by road. The tractor went about as fast as we could walk, but we were thankful for the rest. We climbed upwards on the west mountain bordering the bowl of Oksapmin. Rain clouds formed and we experienced an occasional sprinkling. Once over the mountain, we descended slightly into a flat valley. Kelly and I were hungry, so we spread out a lunch for ourselves in the back – cheese, crackers, tomatoes, cookies, corned beef and Tang. Beside the driver, there was another man who dozed off occasionally.
We passed some gardens and a cluster of huts. The driver threw a bag of money to a lady on the other side of the fence. We arrived at Tekin; there was a store with a small loading dock. The proprietor of the store asked us for 50t for the ride on the tractor. We didn’t have the change, so we said we could pay him tomorrow (prick!!) An old man stood nearby wearing nothing but a penis gourd.
We asked directions to the missionary’s house. We were led up to a house on the hill. (Note: the airstrip was built on a steep incline.) An Australian woman named Carol came to the back door. Her openness and friendliness dissipated our apprehensions about Baptist missionaries, whom we’d never before been in contact with. She fixed us each a cup of Milo and gave us a cookie. She explained that they had a guesthouse that was K10.00 a night. Her husband, Ian, came inside and met us. We showed some reluctance to spending K10.00 a night, so they offered to let us stay in their house with meals for K2.00 each. There was no contest. We moved our bags into the back room where there were two single beds. We introduced ourselves as man and wife, which was our usual habit, as PNG is a Christian country.
I laid out the maps on the ground and showed Ian my proposed route to Telefomin, then to Frieda Top Camp. I wondered about the possibility of riding on the Sepik from Telefomin through Irian Jaya and back to PNG, but I dispelled this idea when Ian summoned a man who knew about the river who said it was not navigable that far up.
Dinner was quite good. We had a view of the Tekin valley stretching west in the cloudy sunsets. As is customary, grace was said before we commenced eating. They didn’t ask us if we were Christians, which was refreshing, and they drink coffee, which was pleasing. I tried my first tamarillo, or tree tomato. They said that this fruit was marketed in Australia as a tree tomato but didn’t sell well until they began marketing it as a tamarillo. It is sort of sweet and a bit tart, vaguely reminiscent of a tomato, though more oblong with a red-maroon skin that is thicker than that of a tomato.
After dinner, we each took a shower. To take a shower here, one had to fill a bucket with water heated on the stove. The bucket was hoisted above your head and tied off (it might break your neck if it fell). We also went for a look in their trade store. Things were very expensive except for a litre bottle of locally produced honey for only K1.10!! They sold us some of their Milo and powdered milk, weighing it on their kitchen table.
When we’d reached Tekin, Kelly said that she wanted to fly to Wewak, that she was sick of walking. I was determined to continue at all costs. It looked like I’d be leaving alone in the morning. We went to bed and slept a deep, long, invigorating sleep!
Day 4 Tekin to Tekap
Wednesday May 18, 1983
We woke up late. Carol had gone off to administer patients, as she was a registered nurse. Ian was out too taking care of the running of the mission. Kelly and I were able to help ourselves to Milo and toast and cereal for breakfast. During the course of the morning I did a variety of things. I inquired about finding guides to Telefomin. One man told me (through a girl that spoke English) that if I went to his village at the end of the valley, he could arrange for a guide for me for Telefomin. I took a photo of a mission plane taking off the peculiar airstrip. I began packing a box containing our Koroba pipes and the stone axe heads we’d collected. Kelly determined to meet me at Frieda Strip. Ian and Carol offered to let her stay there for K2.00 a day, which was a great deal – food and a room, showers, electricity!! I packed my bags, leaving a lot of my stuff behind for Kelly to take care of. Things had been really tense between us for the last couple of days. After a nice lunch, I finished packing. Kelly boiled some eggs for me to take along. (Tekin had fresh eggs.) The tension between us came to a head, words past between us, and then, after hurting each other’s feelings, we embraced and for the first time, I said, “I love you,” and she replied in hind. All the tension dissipated and harmony seemed restored between us. Kelly was really exhausted from all the effort of the last few days, and it was really best that she stayed behind.
When I’d gotten all my things ready it was about 4 p.m. I was only planning to go to Tekap at the end of the old road. Carol says that it was a three-hour walk for her, so I figured I should be able to make it in less time than that. I said goodbye to Carol and then Ian, both kind people. They told me just to walk down the road until I got to Divanap, where lived Marshall Lawrence, an expatriate linguist who was the only outsider who had ever mastered the Oksapmin language. They said that I might arrive there just for dinner and spend the night as well. I donned my 50-pound pack. Kelly wished to walk me down the road for a while, so we set off together.
She walked with me for about forty minutes and then we decided that she’d better turn back. We embraced and kissed and said I Love You. It was a tender parting.
I felt wonderful walking down this beautiful road. I passed some women – one old woman was carrying a fifty-pound sack of rice in the bilum hanging from the top of her head. The road was bordered by grasses, moss and trees.
I came upon an old man wearing only a penis gourd. I took a photo of him posing with a few children who wanted also to be in the picture. From there on, I was accompanied by a young lad. He said he’d walk with me to Marshall Lawrence’s place. We arrived before dark. I introduced myself to Marshall Lawrence, who in turn introduced me to his wife and children and invited me to dinner. I washed up. We had a nice but frugal dinner with lamb chops, peas, and salad.
After dinner, Helen, his wife, served chocolate pudding topped with whipped cream. It was really divine – I never would have expected such a treat out there!!! During our meal, occasionally a local would knock on the door and engage in a rally of words with Marshall Lawrence in Oksapmin. It was truly amazing to see a white man speaking a Stone Age tongue!! Marshall gave me a calendar that he had had printed – it was small. He explains that he had come here through SIL -Sumner Institute of Linguistics (it was founded by a man from the Baptist church). Lawrence’s goal is to come to places around the world and learn obscure languages and translate the Bible into these languages. (As we were told by Neal at Ambunti (another SIL man), at the end of our trek, this program has largely been a failure, at least here in New Guinea, because the languages were never written in the first place, thus the people don’t know how to read their own language.)
I declined Marshall’s invitation to spend the night because I wanted to try to get an early start in the morning from Tekap. Marshall said he’d walk me up there, as it was now dark outside. His oldest boy, about 11 years old, he, and I walked along the road. This road is filled with pig shit strewn all over – ugh!
During our walk, we talked about fairy tales. He recommended some excellent authors I’d never head of. He told me a little about Oksapmin fairy tales – that they were more racy than Western tales – more explicit sex and murder! He told me one traditional fairy tale:
A young man went out to hunt. He came upon an old man. The old man said that a possum was up in a tree and convinced the young man to climb the tree. When the young man was aloft, the old man shot him and killed him, then he ate him, and placed his skull on his doorstep.
When the young man did not return home, his brothers became concerned. One of his brothers went to look for him and came upon the old man, who tricked him in the same manner. A succession of brothers went out to look for the dead brothers, each succumbing to the wiles of the old cannibal.
The last and oldest brother went out to look for his lost brothers. Coming upon the old man, he noticed the skulls adorning the front of the old man’s hut and guessed correctly the fate befallen his other six brothers. He killed the old man and then made a fire. Using a special pig’s grease, he threw the skulls into the fire, thus bringing his brothers back to life.
Our conversation wasn’t finished when we got to Tekap. Marshall summoned some locals. He introduced me to an old woman that was widely known and revered locally. The people had a house that I could stay at. From talking with Marshall I had decided to blow off going to Telefomin, but rather I would go straight to Duranmin.
Marshall had told me a story about an Israeli man who had been through here a few months ago. He had unsuccessfully tried three times to hike through to Telefomin by himself. Apparently, he had not been able to find guides. The local people had just directed him which way to go and each time (not surprisingly) he got lost and had to retrace his steps back to Tekap. Marshall said that there were no villages on the way to Telefomin, which contradicted the information on the map, but seemed nevertheless as a deterrent to go that way. Marshall promised he’d tell Kelly that I was probably going to go directly to Duranmin. He took his leave.
I put my bags in the house. A fire was built; I laid out my mat and went to sleep. A couple of men came in and slept on the floor on the other side of the fire.
Day 5 Tekap to Wapa (Wava)
Thursday May 19, 1983
In the corner of the house was a bunch of penis gourds. I took them outside and had a man hold them while I snapped a picture. I bought one of them for 40t.
I went to the market, but I couldn’t find anyone to take me to Duranmin. I tried to take a picture of an old man in traditional dress, but he refused. Another man with beetle scarabs in his nostrils posed comically with his pipe while I shot a profile.
Every time I asked a potential guide how much money they wanted it seemed to cause great embarrassment, for they would answer me. Finally, a young boy agreed to carry my small day pack – I’d divided my stuff up into my big pack and the day pack – to Wapa (later, I learned that the actual name was Wava) for 40t an hour, a village three hours away by foot. In Wapa, I was told, I would be able to find a man to take me to Duranmin. Just as we began to walk, I was able to get another photo of one man with cassowary quills (7″ long) and another with beetle scarabs in each nostril.
The boy was joined by a friend. We took off at lightning speed north across Tekap valley. We climbed a ridge that left me breathless with my now forty-pound pack! I don’t think I’ve ever been so out of breath. We hiked through limestone country on some of the most difficult track I’ve yet encountered. The trail in part was lined with a spectacular one-inch high orchid with petals of yellow and red, each individual petal bearing both colors.
I feel a little crazy for doing this; like: am I trying to be a macho man or something. I’m sitting in this village, Futiwapa (later, I learned that the area was called Futiwava, but this particular village was Wava), and virtually unable to communicate with anyone. I tried to get out of here today, but upon cross-examination (of twelve children, one old man, two men, one woman), I could see that the boys I was going to have as guides didn’t really know which way to take me. The people usually either laughed at my questions or said they didn’t know. Girls peeked at me from behind canvas, and little kids and women backed away at my approach. I determined after one hundred attempts that I’d just sleep here. The girls and children were trying to convince me to stay here anyway.
Besides the fact that they’re shy, they’ve been very helpful. I asked for a fire and they brought me to a house and the children built a fire. I pointed to my shoes and asked if I could remove them, and they took this to mean ‘would they wash them?’ so they took my mud covered shoes and socks and washed them.
I made a determination that I’d sleep here tonight and that I’d just stay put until I found someone who could help me – preferably someone who knew the way to Duranmin.
So, just now, as I sit here and write, (back by the fire after a false start in which I had repacked my bags and gone outside) a man enters. His name is Tilot Non. He asks me where I’m going. I draw a map. The he says he will take me to Wapubuta, over half the way to Duranmin. Not only does he speak English, but he is willing to take me. As Kelly says, “Providence provides.” Tilot talks to the people in Oksapmin and he translates facts concerning where I’m going and what I’m doing. He arranges firewood for me. The people bring me two free cabbages. Tilot chops me some extra firewood. I fix him some Milo.
I cut up half a cabbage, put it in hot water, add half an onion and two bouillon cubes, then later a cup of rice. Tilot leaves saying he’ll return at 6 a.m.
As I’m eating cabbage soup and passing it around (it’s quite good), three men come in. I ask one if it’s his house and he says yes. He just told one that he’ll go to Wapubuta whether Tilot comes or not. He says he’ll “go nating,” that he’s going to visit wantok (one talk = family). I haven’t asked anyone about money. I’m going to try to be mellower about money and food: what I mean is that it seems to cause more trouble than it’s worth. If they try to ask too much at trip’s end, I’ll just refuse.
Now, the head of the household is beating on his drum and I’m writing by his lantern’s light.
It’s a strange thing about these parts. I was feeling maybe crazy a while ago, but I also suspected someone would come along to help, as it always seems to happen.
The houses here have square floor areas, and they are raised about a foot or two off the ground. They have a square fireplace in the middle, and four poles in the corners, supporting a rack about five feet above the floor. The walkway into the house runs along one side of the house and has a roof over it. Something of note is that the roof is made like one half over hanging the other half by a foot or so, which provides ventilation, something most traditional housing lacks. (The man of the house just went outside with his drum and began to sing – it sounds real good.)
The men of the house tells me its two and a half days to Wapubuta and two full day from there to Duranmin and probably, though he’s not sure, another four days or so to Frieda River.
In bush houses, I’m always surrounded by lots of people. Earlier, the count was sixteen, now, “only” seven. Mind you, the house itself is about eight to nine feet square, and the fire pit itself takes over the middle 3 ½ x 3 ½ foot part.
The men smoke pipes that are in strange shapes – hollowed out pieces of wood.
One old man walking around here was only wearing a walnut shell over his dick and his balls were hanging out.
I’m pleased that I’ll be on my way tomorrow. I don’t mind the walking, especially when I’m not carrying a pack. The trip out here was only 3 ½ hours (Tekap to Futiwava), but the first part was gruelling with a 40-pound pack. I’ve got plenty of white skin food, and I’m looking forward to travelling through parts seldom seen by white-skins. Tilot told me that last year an Israeli man walked the same path from Futiwava to Duranmin and then flew out. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to go through these parts. I hope to meet Kelly in Frieda River. Godspeed!
Day 6 Wava to Mahosha
Friday May 20, 1983
Wow! What a walk we did today, about eleven kilometres as the crow flies through bush tracks. Dear Kelly: You should be glad to know you didn’t come, even if it was beautiful, ever so beautiful, to get to the Ogona River. This hike would be bad enough even if you were in shape and were hiking without a pack, let alone carrying a 40-pound one!
We saw an interesting electric-blue beetle today. One of the guys with us brought it up to me. I took two shots of it.
How do I know this is a weevil? When I returned from my 26-month journey around the world, Boysie Day, who was a professor of World Agriculture at UC Berkeley saw my slide show and told me
On the way today, Tilot was telling me that the village Futi had hundreds of people ten years ago, but now all there is is one family – everyone else died from malaria.
I am in the heart of New Guinea. Few Niuginians, let alone white men, even get out here.
The two boys who came with us found some birds eggs. They found six eggs, each about 4″ long and very fat! When we were done with soup tonight, we cooked the eggs up with a can of curried mutton that I had. It was delicious. My only complaint was that I declined the large portion from Tilot, saying he had given me too much. What I meant was that I thought he should split it evenly. However, he took the bowl and put about one-third full of eggs and mutton in my cup. I was finished long before the other three. And I had to lick my chops while the others continued to devour their portions.
I call this place Mahosha, because they do. But it is only a shelter from rain – it has no walls, only a roof, and covers an area about 15 feet x 15 feet. Running right next to it is a streamlet from which you can get drinking water. Only a minute away is the Ogona River.
By the way, when we left Wava (the village I now find is called Wava, the other village Futi and the area Futiwava), Tilot came with two friends, but the guy who said he was coming “nating” didn’t.
I set up my mosquito net and slept comfortably.
- The other two boys also dug up some taro at another hunting shelter an hour before Mahosha. They had nothing else, but they shared some with me.
- We saw a shelter of a strange kind today, an area within a close clump of trees that was blocked off by ferns. Tilot said someone must have built it because a bird’s nest was close by.
- I saw a bird of paradise today (according to Tilot). It was red and flew back and forth between the trees. Unfortunately, this one did not have the fantastic plumage – it was either a female or, Tilot said, it was a male, but would grow its feathers in another year or so.
- The flowers our here are really beauties! Besides the orchids, there is one shaped like a clamshell, but pink in color. It blossoms to reveal a yellow ball inside.
- We descended about 1200 meters today! Luckily (we descended rather than ascended), since it was a hard walk even at that.
- The last forty meters was spent walking down, or north on, the Ogona River. It was a joy to walk along the river after being in the muddy, tree-entangled bush. The river is beautiful, not even near full, as is evidenced by the wide areas of dry rock bordering the river and forming islands at some points. When we got to Mahosha (while the other two boys were searching for eggs, Tilot and I arrived alone), we dropped off our bags, and I went swimming in the river. Actually, it was more like dipping as, at that point, there weren’t room enough to swim!
- I made some cabbage soup with half a cabbage, two bouillon cubes and some onions and three-quarters of a cup rice. I passed it around – it was very good.
- I spent a restful night in my mosquito net, while the others were bitten by mosquitoes. I was thoroughly exhausted.
- I note that last night I was given two cabbages by a man in Wapa, ½ of one I used, and the other 1 ½ I brought along. Tilot tells me that there is a shortage of sweet potatoes now in Wapa. This is evidenced because by the way they eat, I can see that these guys are half-starving.
- What do I think about on the trail? Everything from A to Z to nothing. Sometimes my mind wanders to paranoia – thinking almost feverishly about ridiculous situations I could get in or got in back in the States. Sometimes I look at the bushes and note all the curiosities. Other times, I think ahead of what we will do. Sometimes, I wonder how to get food out without my guides seeing, for I feel embarrassed to eat my food without offering them some – but I have to conserve on it. (Note: I usually share part of what I eat – if I have a cup of coffee, I’ll let the three of them share a second cup.) Sometimes my mind dreams of how I will record these exploits – or I think of what I am accomplishing, if anything; sometimes I dream of what I will do next to further my list of accomplishments. (Sometimes I check myself by downplaying them.) Other times I just push myself – I think of how I am walking, how I’m placing my feet. Sometimes, I think of my friends and family. I think good thoughts. I think how good they are, and I wonder how they are doing. And sometimes I feel exhausted, and sometimes, exalted, and I concentrate on these feelings. Other times, I just reflect on the past and, if possible, to the future.
My friends slept huddled near the fire. Occasionally, in the middle of the night, someone stirs up the fire to ward off the night cold – it is relatively warm here.
Day 7 Mahosha to Wapubuta
Saturday May 20, 1983
I was exhausted when I went to sleep last night. I went to sleep at perhaps, 9 p.m., but I slept until 8 a.m. this morning. My friends said they didn’t sleep well because of mosquitoes, and they were waiting for me when I awoke.
I was still groggy. Without breakfast or any sustenance, we departed, late, at 8:30 a.m.
One minute later, I snapped a picture of the three on the river, and, as it was the last of the roll, I endeavoured to change it. Unfortunately, I forgot to rewind the film, and I opened the camera slightly, then shut it quickly, remembering. I only hope I didn’t expose too many pictures.
A few minutes walking downriver, I saw they were waiting for me. With shirt, shoes, shorts and hat, I walked in the water for a morning ‘refresho’, grabbing my hat as it came off. (I’d forgot about it.) I don’t think my friends appreciated my love for the water, as they looked on with stone countenances.
I followed them downriver, barely keeping up, I, the one with the heaviest load. I was still exhausted from yesterday – “I should have eaten breakfast,” thought I.
We began to cut through the bush to the left, and came out on the larger Ok Oma River, which was flowing opposite the direction we were going. (It flowed to the east). The Ogona flows into the Ok Oma, and the Ok Oma is one of the rivers that comprise the Strickland, which we crossed last week.
After we had walked in and out of the bush and along the Ok Oma’s banks for an hour or so, we stopped to fix some kaikai (food), as they were as hungry as I. They built a fire on the sandy rocky shore and I prepared some cabbage soup. They began the fire using the dry resin, which they chipped off a big tree yesterday. It burns quite readily, and makes fire building simple.
We ate lunch, I took a short nap and we set off again, I with my large pack, Tilot with the daypack, and the other two with their bows and arrows and bilum. I drank an unshared cup of coffee, and I set off, thus, burning with energy. It is surprising what sustenance can do.
One of the first things I noticed about the Ok Oma were the beautiful butterflies decorating the shore. One type was particularly abundant. About 1-1 ½ ” high, the little fellow was everywhere, sometime sitting in groups of five or eight, its little wings a sparkling aqua blue with yellow. I took a photograph of one of these groups. Shortly afterward, a particularly beautiful red and blue butterfly hovered near me. I got my camera out. (Meanwhile, my friends were continuing upstream.) The butterfly settled on a rock in the sun, and displayed his wings. I crawled to within two feet of him and snapped a picture! Then I inched closer and he flew away. I was ecstatic to have taken the photo at just the right time – as close as I could have gotten.
Eventually, we left the river, walking at an acute angle from it, the sounds of the rushing water dying way. Sometimes, the boys trotted on ahead – one time, I called out for Tilot because I lost the bush track. Usually, I can follow the track. The track is evidenced by broken stems and cut saplings, which are destroyed purposefully by trail walkers to make the trail evident for those who follow. A description of bush-walking here would not be complete without noting that there is one particularly unpleasant type of overhanging thorny vine. Its small trailer will catch you or your pack and scratch you, or most often, if you haven’t avoided it, it will hold you up, and you must stop and remove it. How many times have I cried out in pain or exasperation!!
Shortly thereafter, Tilot stepped on a thorn. I spent fifteen minutes getting the little bugger out of his foot, driven deep therein. We met up with the boys who were waiting on the banks of a crystal clear stream. As I often like to do, I submerged myself at the base of a small overflow into a pool.
We continued uphill, then the ground evened out and we walked in a flat, relatively sparse forest. Soon it began to rain. We trudged quickly through the forest. It was not too long before I could see a clearing. Soon, we crossed a garden fence, and there was evidence of corn, taro and sweet potatoes. There was a raised house. As if was raining, we quickly sought shelter. Inside, there were two fireplaces (like in Lake Kotuku). They went out for sweet potatoes and water. We cooked the sweet potatoes. I fixed a Milo for me and one for them. It was really great. Feeling refreshed, we determined, though it was 5:30 p.m., to set out for the other house about half a kilometer away. Tilot said that the people of Wapubuta must be there. We were presently at Wapubuta’s only other dwelling.
After a short trek through the forest, we arrived at what I will call a sinister-looking bush hut of the same raised construction as the other house. This house was bigger. On the outside hung a few pots. There were bushes overgrown on the logs serving as steps. The roof had evidently caught fire but had been put out. I went up to the door and removed the planks that barred the entrance. I then noticed that there were vines growing on the door bark, evidence that no one had entered this house in, perhaps, months. We went in.
It was like a museum inside! There were drums hanging all over. (The type of drum here is shaped like a double cone, with red, white and black designs on one end, almost four feet long.) There were pigtails, pig jawbones, cuscus jawbones, a plethora of beautifully carved pig arrows, and all sorts of other artefacts, as well as junk, hanging on the walls. Tilot told me that the inhabitants had gone off to plant sago. I thought the house had an eerie feeling to it.
Outside, you could hear a river, which Tilot pointed out was the Ok Oma again. I studied the map and tried to ascertain where we were. It was now growing dark and mist clung on all precipices, making it difficult to see the terrain.
Furthermore, the fact that we were in the bush, hadn’t seen anymore since we’d left except one family close to Wapa, and the fact that no one was in Wapubuta made me ask Tilot if that meant I was in trouble, to which he replied, “You might be in trouble, yes.”
We went inside, and we didn’t cook as we had eaten at the first house. I set up my mosquito net; after writing a bit, I was prepared for sleep. At some point before turning in, Tilot mentioned that one of the boys we were with said he knew the path to Duranmin, but they didn’t say if they’d take me or not.
I took a bit of chocolate and a candy, a habit I’d gotten into as a means of comfort before bedtime. I fell into a deep sleep, full of the strangest, yet seemingly significant dreams.
Day 8 Wapubuta to Sheaville!
Sunday May 22, 1983
I awoke before the others and packed. They awoke and I decided, from my conclusions from interaction with PNG-ers, that I would just play it cool. Eventually, Tilot came out, as I suspected might happen, and he said that the other two boys would take me to Duranmin if I paid them. They asked for K7 each, and I said it was too much, that I only had K22. They settled for K2.5 each. I told Tilot I owed him K6 for taking me this far (40t an hour for carrying my small pack – they go on the principle they only get paid for carrying bags, not for showing you the way). That meant I would pay a total of K11.00 when we got to Duranmin. I had them sign a contract saying so, and the two boys, who I now found out were named Hapom and Teleng, put a deliberate X in place of signing their names. They agreed to put part of my load in their bilums. I got the idea for the contract from the history of guides demanding more money at the end of the hike than at the beginning. So, agreed as we were, we set out later, at 8:30 a.m. realizing, as Tilot said, that we’d have to spend a night in the bush since we were starting out so late.
We walked down the steep trail and along the Ok Oma, sometimes straying from it. After awhile, we came to the Bi River, which flows into the Ok Oma. We walked down the Bi a short way to the Ok Oma, and there we tried to cross the Ok Oma, but they thought it was too deep. We walked through the bush on the side of the river, and then tried to cross it. When I was waist deep in the rushing water, trying to keep my balance, for if I fell in, so did my camera (which would destroy it), I threw my pack way up on my head and shoulders and forded the river. The other three turned way and stayed on the opposite bank. I could not hear them for the sound of the river, so I had to rely on their hand signals, which directed me upriver. I clung to the steep sides of the bank, and for twenty minutes pushed trees aside to make my way to the sandy shore upriver. Finally I was clear and walked along easily, my companions on the other side. Three-quarters of a kilometer or so upriver I called out if they would like me to come across to them or vice versa. Tilot signalled me over, so I crossed again. I was beginning to wonder what we were doing, and I apologized because I thought I’d been too gung-ho and made a mistake crossing it in the first place.
We continued up the south bank along adjoining riverbanks and splits in the Ok Oma. At one point, we stopped. Two of the boys went into the bush. Again, I was wondering what they were up to, when Tilot told me they found a lizard. I wasn’t sure if they were trying to deceive me, and I felt a bit paranoid; something told me I had missed something, that there was some connection I failed to make. Sure enough through I got my camera out and there was a lizard. They split a stick, caught up the tail, wrapped it around the stick and pulled it out. It was full and intact, but had apparently died recently. I took a close-up of it.
Now, the two boys went off in the bush. I asked Tilot what they were doing. He said they were going to put the bilums someplace and go look for the men from Wapubuta who were maybe someplace in the area. They had previously indicated that they had been afraid to cross the river. They had said there was a second trail upriver and that maybe the men from Wapubuta could tell them where it was. When I thought of them going off with my bags, I decidedly wanted no part of this, and I demanded that they come back with my bags. After some calling, Tilot got them to return. I told them I’d carry my own bags, but I wouldn’t have them going off with them. I told them that it was no concern crossing the river, and I said it was no good finding the man from Wapubuta because we still had to cross the river. I said we could hike back to the point I crossed the river the second time (because it was an easy crossing), then walk to the spot I’d crossed it the first time (where we could pick up the trail on the north side leading the Duranmin.) They agreed, and we backtracked. The river crossing was easy, and they experienced relief from their ungodly fear of crossing the river.
We hiked back to where I crossed it the first time. From there, I suggested we go straight up the mountain and then walk across to find the trail. We walked straight up, and up and up, found the trail, and went up, up, up. We were reaching the crest of the ridge when the two boys, Hapom and Teleng, went off a bit from the trail and stood next to a pile of dirt about 6 ft. x 6 ft. x 2 ½ ft. high. Tilot said that this was the nest of the bird whose eggs we had eaten two nights ago. Tilot said we’d wait on the hilltop for them.
We were soon at the crest of the ridge, though the view was blocked as usual by all the forest around us. After twenty minutes, Tilot went to fetch the boys, and I grabbed a quick slurp of the fresh highlands honey I had brought in Tekin. Tilot returned with the two boys, with smiles on their faces. They had found five more eggs. We took three of them out of their wrappers of big bush leaves wrapped with bush twine and Tilot took a picture (with my camera) of me holding them. (They are remarkable in the use of bush materials to wrap the eggs; they use leaves and twine, which serve as very good protection. They put these in their bilums made of bush materials and carry these on their backs.)
From the top of the ridge, we hiked along the hillside, and then down, down, down to the north. Water! I could hear water and was secretly hoping it was the Fu River. (But I tell myself that it’s not so that I won’t be disappointed if it’s not, but I’ll be happy if it is – is this self restraint or what?) To my pleasure, it was the Fu River.
We passed another mound of dirt like the bird’s nest, but this one had leaves on it, indicating it was old, and the boys did not even look at it.
We came to the forested area near the water’s banks – though we could not see the river clearly, we could hear it. (It is instinct that tells me that this is the Fu River? Well, Tilot tells me, but what makes me sure he is right? I’ve studied the maps, that’s really why. But I do feel sure.)
Tilot told me earlier he and his mates would build a bush shelter. It’s now 4:30 pm or so. We can’t tell if it’s going to rain or not, but overcast above spells it out as a possibility. I instinctively do not like the place: i) I feel that it’s going to be a mosquito-ridden place, and ii) it is rocky. My inner voice says, “We won’t end up staying here, but they’ll probably suggest it. Just then, they suggest it. I told him what I think but I don’t push the point. I get out my topo maps. I’m not sure, as I’m a novice at reading them, but if we’re where I think we are, the map shows two buildings just ½ km away or so upriver. Excited, I show Tilot. Rather than push the point, I tell him I will go and look for them. But he’s interested, he bites, and says we’ll all go together. (As we walk away, my inner voice [playfully?] says that we couldn’t sleep here, that this place is really evil, that if we slept here, we would die! I think I was just amusing myself.) We go up the path and I cut off to have a look on the river. On the river is a bush shelter but the roof is almost gone. I get the feeling that this is not the place shown on the map.
We keep going upriver, and, very happily, in a short while, we come upon a real shelter. There are a few shotgun shells on the ground and a row of pig’s tusks hanging on the wall. Like the shelter at Mahosha, this one has no walls. It is quite comfortable. The boys are very happy because we have a nice place to stay.
I go down to the river, a short walk, and I bathe (without soap), untangling the thorns and junk in my hair. Refreshed, I return. Tilot says he is going to sleep in the place provided above the fire. I have previously noted that above the fire they sometimes place a rack. He tells me that up there, the mosquitoes don’t bother you much, and he nods his accord when I note that it is also warm up there.
I am happy. The business of dinner begins. They bury their kaukau (which they dug up at Wapubuta) in the fire. [Note: they expertly build a huge fire in just a few minutes upon arriving.] I fix up some cabbage, rice and soup mix. We eat heartily, and I eat constantly while they pass around the bowl. Then, we are ready to cook the eggs! This time, as donor of another can of curried mutton, I watched and helped in the entire process, as I want to assure my stomach of a full share, rather than a mere nibble at this gourmet feast!
First, I empty the mutton into the saucepan and heat it up with a bit of yellow onion. They crack the top of the eggs and pour it carefully into the heated mutton. Some eggs are just like hen eggs – a clear white and a yellow yolk. Then others have slightly developed embryos, so there’s a bit of red in it. One egg has a little chick in it. From this egg, they pour out what they can, and then place the chick lying in a half eggshell on top of the burning embers. While that’s cooking we finish emptying the other eggs. Then I stir in some sliced cucumbers and salt. (After the kaukau and cabbage and rice soup, I was thinking to suggest saving some of the eggs for morning – but it came to me that to expect these ravenous lads to wait to eat all the eggs was too much to ask!!)
While our omelette, which sits almost 6″ high in a saucepan 7″ round is cooking, one of the boys removes the chick, cracks the eggshell, and we devour it. When the omelette (glorious omelette) was ready, Tilot told me to get the cup, bowl and white top of the plastic container, which we had used before, along with the saucepan, to hold each of our shares. I had noticed the small boy had got some leaves, and I didn’t want the small cup to serve as my share, so I mentioned the leaves and said I didn’t want to use the cup. (I gave no reason.) As they dished out the shares, the portion on the leaves I held above the white tray kept spilling over and falling in my portion, so I said I would put some back in the saucepan, which I did.
Well, I had my full. Delicious, good, gourmet, ‘one with the lot’ – it was a fantastic treat!!! I ate and felt satisfied perfectly with my portion.
I had set up my mosquito net and now I lay back in its confines reflecting with contentment on how wonderful I felt and how joyous were the simplest pleasures of exercise, eating and rest.
The rain fell down hard, and I, for one, was very happy to have a real shelter to rest in instead of a jerry-rigged one.
I even still had a shot of sweets to complete my coziness, and I went off to a land of strange and intense dreams (like I seem to have mostly in the woods).
Day 9 Sheaville to Duranmin
Monday May 23, 1983
I awoke aware of vivid dreams that I can’t recall now.
I fixed a bowl of cereal for me, and one for them, and I made a cup of coffee, one for me, one for them.
We set out at 7:25 a.m., feeling good, pretty assured that we were only about 6 hours away from Duranmin, my best estimates having it between 5 and 9 hours.
In the first hour of our walk, along steep slopes bordering the river, and along the riverbanks, I counted four statistics. (I mention that i) in concentrating on counting I might have decreased concentration on walking and thus increased occurrences, and ii) at any rate, this was probably one of the more treacherous hours of the whole trek from Tekap.)
Statistics: # of times:
- Foot slipped from original place – 53
- I got tangled in a thorn, bumped my knee, etc., in some way caused myself pain – 20
- I walked off the trail (even though Tilot was leading on trail ahead of me) – 11
- I slipped and fell – 4 (Pretty incredible, huh?)
After the first hour, the trail got a bit easier. We walked along the river a ways. Again they began to cross it. Again I crossed it and they turned back. Again I hiked alone one side of the river and they along the other.
I went through bush trails. I almost slipped and fell six feet into the water with my pack and camera, but my right hand grabbed a tree trunk’s protrusion and I saved myself the fall. I wandered along the banks. I went through a maze of streams and wild pandanus. The wild pandanus is really a peculiarity of the bush. Its trunk is not singular. Like roots, its trunk is divided into sometimes 20 or 30 poles upon which it rests, the base thus becoming pyramid-like. There was a log crossing a deep rivulet, and, luckily, I tested it, for it cracked easily – I would have gone in and my camera been destroyed. I thought of the possibility of quicksand, but encountered none. (A day before, the banks of the Bi River were so mucky, they would hold my feet down!)
From time to time, I communicated with my “guides” across the river. Tilot informed me to look at the smoke upriver, where we could expect to a house. I walked through thick bush, saw a 5″ long spider, and noticed that the fire was on my side of the river. I was happy. I walked to it, and found an abandoned fire on the river.
Now, we come up a hill and from a garden, we can see a group of houses. The trail leads back down to the river, and when we get to the shores by the village, the people beckon us across. The village is a circle of raised houses.
We go in the man’s house. They bring bananas, kaukau and a yellow papaya. We eat the two former, put the third away and go on again to the super-highway (i.e., a trail two feet wide).
In a half hour of walking along the shores and trails of the Fu River, we spy a weather sock, indicating an airstrip that soon comes into view. We walk down the grassy plain of the runway, sit in some shade, devour the papaya, and we are there: 2:30 p.m.
The principal of the Bible College there, George, finds a room for me to stay in.
Inside I attend to chores – transferring the peanut butter from bags (which didn’t work out) to a plastic container, etc. I buy a bar of soap, some coffee, some milk powder. At 6 p.m., I call Tekin, but Kelly has gone to the Lawrence’s for a day. Near dusk, I take a 3-shot panorama of the airstrip on my way to wash clothes in the river. On the river, I bath in the nude in twilight to the embarrassment of a straggling lady on her way by. I see Tilot and friends, and he says they’ll try to fly home because they’re afraid to make the river crossing on the Ok Oma.
I got back to my room, make some rice, and enjoy a rich cup of coffee. I spend the evening organizing all my possessions and, tired, fall asleep at 2 a.m.
Day 10 Duranmin – 2nd Day
Tuesday May 24, 1983
I slept through the 9 o’clock radio broadcast to Tekin.
I read my New Guinea Pidgin handbook during the day, laid out the clothes to dry, bought some coconut kina cookies and enjoyed and drank rich coffees and Milos.
At 2:30 pm, I talked to Kelly in Tekin on the radio. She asked if it would be all right for her to come down and hike with me to Frieda River!! I said ‘Sure’ immediately. I told her to get some groceries. She said she’d be there tomorrow morning. I talked to her again at 6 p.m. about groceries.
I spent a simple day and turned in early.
Day 11 Duranmin – 3rd Day
Wednesday May 25, 1983
I lay in the comfort of my down bag, warm, not having to get up, comforted by the sound of rain outside. It was raining hard, and I wondered what would become of Kelly’s plane flight. Water dripping from the thatch roof prompted an earlier-than-expected exit from my heavenly bed.
I spent the morning drinking rich coffees and then writing; later, I dried my things when the hot sun appeared. People brought me kaukau, corn, a papaya. Also, since I’ve been here, I’ve been given a room to stay in, some sugar, some salt, the use of a kerosene lamp and stove.
Kelly’s plane came in about 1 p.m. It was great to see her. She had baked two bags of cookies for me, had brought loads of groceries and a laughing, happy countenance and loving arms. She had had to pay an extra K23 over the K17 for the specific chartering of a plane to get here.
We talked. I ate cookies. We drank a Milo and a coffee. She related facts of interest: there’s a village two days away from Tekin that has just been contacted by white people. Other stories about ‘peace-childs’, etc. She showed me the eight beautiful bilums she had purchased in Tekin. All of totally natural fibres, they were exquisite. She showed me the penis gourds she’d gotten, and explained what was considered nice-looking in that line.
After 4 p.m., we walked east of the Fu River. We undressed and took a “refresho” in the river – snapped a few pictures, ate some chocolate and walked back. On the shores of the Fu, a glass wing butterfly let me take its picture up close.
Kelly made a fabulous rice-with-tuna-in-cream-sauce dinner with lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers and onions on the side.
When we turned in, we made an inferno of love. First, she got on top and practically raped me, she was so ravenous and wonderful on my body. I came and we lay side by side. Later, I got on top of her and we made it again. She felt so wonderfully skinny, soft, smelled so clean and good. Ah!
We slept soundly.
Day 12 Duranmin to Fumanabip
Thursday, May 26, 1983
I sometimes reflect on the ways I spend my days now as opposed to how I spend them at home. Now, I wake up and revel in greenery, the sounds of birds, clean smells, fresh water, friendly brown people, fresh food, and whatever adventures present themselves. How can I describe how much more favorable this is than driving for hours breathing exhaust, sitting in artificial light wracking my brains figuring out directly meaningless problems (i.e., problems that have no immediate bearing on my existence)??!!
This morning we were busy getting packed after waking late at 6:45 a.m. We gave the young man who was helping us (go to Wabia) a cup of Milo.
We enjoyed cups of coffee and a large helping of Granose with perfectly ripe papaya, finished our packing and left the hut. Tilot and companion peered from their walkway, and we shook hands and I took his address. George greeted us, said goodbye. Many villagers stood by.
Kelly had been worrying because I hadn’t asked anyone to help us carry our bags. We walked out of town loaded down. I assured her that somebody would offer, and that it was best to walk out of town for a while until someone did. True to my prediction, about 15 minutes out of town, our new companions, themselves carrying only a few bilums, relieved us of a considerable part of our burden, though I was left with my 50 pounds, which was sort of according to plan, as I figured if I carry my own bag, I may not have to pay anything.
We walked strong up the riverbed. We came upon a village, Siliambil, and we stopped for a few minutes. The villagers expressed their delight in seeing us. (Sometimes, they get this twitch in their necks and blow a little air between parted lips, which means that they’re really happy to see you.) Some village children followed us as we continued upriver.
As we continued upriver, one of our new companions said the naked little boys following us were afraid of me. In fun, I chased them a few feet, growling, and they scattered. I barked at them, and we laughed more, all of us, including the scared boys.
The straggling children soon went home. We continued on the river, easy walking. Then, we passed a set of houses on the bank, and shortly after, we cut off to the northwest, up a wooded hillside. We climbed, occasionally resting. Kelly commented how nice it was to be in the forest, and how she was glad to have a chance to bush walk again, and I had to agree with her that it was nice in the forest. She also commented how she had never seen a forest like this one, how they were all different. And, again, I agreed.
After only 3 ½ hours of walking, we arrived at a village on a flat space on the hillside. We were told, even though it was only noon, that we’d have to sleep there, because if we continued on we could not reach the nearest house by nightfall. Actually, this suited us just fine.
We were brought to a big house on stilts, where I settled in for some writing while Kelly and one of the boys went to search for some water.
This place we were at is called FU-MAN-A-BIP. The place is characterized by the pig shit that lies all over, both inside and outside the village grounds. The village is fenced off, but the pigs are allowed to run in the village area, leaving their feces and urine wherever they please. This place has a very filthy atmosphere. Combine this with the fact that the water supply, a mere trickle from which 5-10 minutes of effort is required to gain a liter of water (and which is 5 minutes away from the village), make me say that the village is of poor design.
The pig corral is right below the big house that we were put in. Occasionally, one of the piglets jumps up the stairs and jumps through the door to the house. The doorway is one large piece of wood from which is carved an ellipse.
When the piglet came in the second time, I chased him around with a paddle, to the amusement of those watching. If a dog comes in, we hit it, and everyone laughs – but maybe we hit it only if it starts getting in our stuff.
The guys we ware with are called Atemik and Waneng, which prompted Kelly to call them Atomic and Warning. Atemik is a little fellow with eyes that go astray like (the actor) Marty Feldman’s. But he is bright, and although he looks like he couldn’t do anything of physical consequence, he can scurry up a hill with a load of vegetables lickety-split! Waneng is bigger and stronger looking, has a nice face, and his hair is in braids (which means he’s an only son – I think). Both are fun to be with. Atomic lets out yells every so often on the trail which makes me think he’s hurt. They laugh, which creates an atmosphere in which I try to be funny.
I laid around the rest of the day writing and then reading my Pidgin book. (Note: I also went outside with my topographical map and spent ½ hour locating an approximate position.) Kelly made a dinner of potatoes and corned beef along with an excellent salad of eggs, lettuce, cheese, tomatoes and onions. Just as we were about to eat, we heard yelling in the distance, signifying that the villagers were returning from the gardens. Soon, they flooded through the doors, shaking our hands – men, women, and little children. We ate, and, as usual, everyone stared at us. I’m getting to the stage that I don’t pay much attention to them, though for sure, it can be nerve-wracking. After supper, we attended to things like putting the pot under a drip from the roof, as it was raining, and because the village spring was so inconvenient, we wanted to easily get water for the morning.
As we sat around in the dark, with three fires blazing in the house, one fellow obnoxiously shined his flashlight at us whenever we were doing something, although we never wanted his assistance. When I tried to sneak some of our chocolate out without the villagers seeing, he would shine his flashlight on me, and I found it bothersome.
I laid down and read “I Want Pokalde” (an article about a medical student climbing a 5805 metre peak in the Himalayas in 1973, which Kelly had cut out for me) by the light of my flashlight.
We lay down to go to sleep in the noisy room. At night, the dogs get into things, which prompts the villagers to hit them, then the dogs yell. Babies cry. People talk. The atmosphere is sort of annoying, especially compared to the peaceful nights I spent on my way to Duranmin.
At one point, Kelly and I shifted in the darkness to prompt the man with the flashlight to shine it at us in a monotonous beam. I grabbed my flashlight, and shined it back, saying in English (unintelligible to him), “You want to play games with your flashlight? I can play them too,” as I turned its beam on his eyes and saw him flinch. I laughed and the man sitting next to him laughed and Kelly chuckled and flashlight man laughed and, taking the hint, put his flashlight away.
We rested through a night of noises. (Note: I relieved myself (urinated) by pissing off the “balcony,” down outside the pigs’ quarters. I later noticed a village man did the same, which made me feel I had not violated any cleanliness taboos in the pig-shit-ridden hovel. In all fairness, Fumanabip does have a sort of nice view.)
Day 13 Fumanabip to Kutbama
Friday May 27, 1983
We awoke (again) at 4:30 a.m. and were almost going to get up, when we decided to go back to sleep, and didn’t wake until 6:30 a.m. We tried to make coffee from the water that had dripped off the roof, but it was yellow and tasted terrible. I imagined that one of the dogs or pigs had drank from the pot in the night, or, even worse, had pissed in it – or maybe one of the men or boys did – but it was probably only yellowed from the decaying leaves which provided covering for the roof. With no water, we could make no milk for cereal. Instead, we breakfasted on Coconut Kina cookies topped with crunchy peanut butter, one of our favorites. After breakfast, I carefully packed, to the wonder of the villagers. (Now I’m carrying my two sets of bird of paradise feathers since Kelly came.) Besides being stared at continuously, anytime I touch my pack, either involving opening or closing it, I draw the undivided attention of any Melanesians in the vicinity – or so it seems.
We shook hands with everyone individually, men, women and children, (some babies excluded) and we left the house. We walked across the pig-shit-ridden grounds. At the other end of the grounds, we walked over the fence, and amidst waves goodbye, we saluted our hosts at 7:30 a.m.
The first portion of the day was delightful. We climbed up, up to a hillock, where we rested a bit. Other occasional stops made for an easy ascent. Then we walked down, down to a stream, where we rested for 35 minutes. There was a small waterfall in which I showered, a pool in which Kelly bathed, then I dunked myself.
We drank some Tang, and gave Atomic Warning (i.e., Atemik and Waneng) a cup. Then we climbed up and then down again to another stream. Atomic lent me his axe, and I chopped my first tree down. The rest here was shorter. I dunked my head. (I seldom let a stream go by without enjoying its splendor in some way – I don’t want to pass it up.) We were told that from this stream it was up, up, up to cross a big mountain. From studying my map, I knew a large ridge existed. By the time I reached the top of this ridge, I had a newfound appreciation for what 40 meters vertical distance (i.e., one contour line on the topographical map) means. We walked uphill steadily without really stopping for 2 ½ hours – it seemed like 3 ½. We left the stream at 12:40 p.m. and got on top at 3:25 p.m. I had counted every vertical step I took, ignoring mere flat steps on an upward slope, and I counted 1078 steps of the type where you put your foot on a root and lift your whole body up. My pack really weighed me down, but I just kept plodding.
Sometimes, the trail became moss-covered tree trunks and colonies of moss-covered roots. As we passed upwards, I spotted many flowers. I even saw one red-yellow orchid plant (only one) of the type I had seen on my way to Wava. We saw the pink clam flowers, pink (I think orchid) flowers, many red-orange blossoms and delicate white orchids with a shade of purple around the ridge. Other flowers as well graced our path.
It was overcast, so the one spot in the trail upward that would have afforded a great view afforded none.
One time on the way, I head Kelly yell out “Jeff!” I yelled back, “What!” – and from below in the forest where I could not see, she yelled “Nothing.” “Are you all right?” “Yes.” I figured that she just wanted to be assured I was in the vicinity.
Atomic and I waited about eight minutes at the top for Kelly and Waneng. She came trudging up with a smile on her face, full of spirit, which made me happy. We all walked on a bit and stopped at a rest place – a very small clearing where a fire had been built some times before. Atomic and Waneng ate potatoes and Kelly and I had cheese sandwiches.
Atomic had informed me that we wouldn’t reach Wabia today, and that we would have to sleep along the road in a house which was very far off. The road from here went down, down. The top of the ridge wasn’t very clean, and had he not told me it was the top, I could not have been sure that it wasn’t one of the many places that looked like the top but was only another flat depression on a huge mountainside.
As we began descending, it began to rain. Between my pack, which extends from the top of my head to the top of my thighs, and my rain gear, going down the muddy, steep trail was an effort. I had to stop and eat some chocolate and drink some honey when the rain stopped, and below Waneng and Atomic urged us on.
We walked on and I had to stop again. I had grabbed one of those really thorny plants right on the thorny part, and I wanted to put on my gloves (which I should have worn from the outset). I was at the point where every little thing became a pain. A step down caused my knees to ache. If I grabbed a plant, a thorn in my fingers drove deeper and caused me to yelp. My shin would hit a log right where I had a bruise and a tropical sore! Ouch! A variety of pains plagued nearly every action, and I could not stand it any longer, so I just sat down. I buried my head on my bent knees and shut my eyes for a minute. I had told Kelly to go on, but she asked if she could wait with me and I said yes. She sat beside me as I took out my medicine kit and picked at my hands with a needle. I drank three large gulps of honey. I asked her for a hard-boiled egg, as, for some reason, one of these seems to revive me.
Fifteen minutes later, I was ready for anything. I slung my heavy load on my shoulders and we met with A & W who were waiting just below.
Whereas before, I tried to sing to cheer myself, but to myself, sounded like a man gasping for air, I now sang heartily and cheerily. I pressed A & W for a time estimate on reaching the house, and finally (not liking to give time estimates) Atomic said one hour, and Waneng added maybe half an hour.
We walked down and came out on an area that had been cleared of forest. It was about ½ km x ¼ km. A & W said that they (their village) had cleared this area a year ago. We walked along logs. I was being boisterous. When they said, “This way!”, I said, “You guys change your minds every five minutes – I’m making my own way now!”
We progressed through the garden. I felt full of energy. I noticed that walking along the logs was easy – these were new logs with bark on them – they were neither slippery nor rotten – so it wasn’t bad balance that made forest logs so treacherous – it was the fact that they were moss-covered and slippery and often, my weight (150 lbs + 50 lb pack = 200 lbs.) meant they would give more often than for the lighter PNG-ers. Often, logs are rotten in the forest. As we neared the other edge of the clearing (the clearing was on a slope), there were some squash, a little banana tree, and some cabbage plants among the felled trees.
We left the clearing and went down a streambed. Finally, we reached a grassy area on a bluff. In a moment, Atemik and I came to the house. I yelled with glee – “Yiiii-Haaa!!” “We’re home,” I yelled to Kelly, coming up.
There was a house surrounded by banana trees and papaya trees. Oh! It was too good to be true! It was 6:40 p.m. We had left Fumanabip 11 hours ago. I was really ecstatic to be able to put my heavy load down for a night, with only a short walk to Wabia in the morning.
Kelly had gone to the crashing brook that was nearby to fetch water with Atemik to show her the way. Now, she and I went with a bar of soap. At the brook, I undressed. We used the cooking pot as a scupper. Kelly washed me down and soaped me up. It was like heaven being bathed out here in the forest’s pristine stream. After I rinsed, I scrubbed down her nude body.
We rinsed off our clothes. By the time we had finished, it was dark already.
Back at the cabin, Waneng had started the fire with the piece of tree resin I had given him. (This was the resin I had pinched from the room in Duranmin. It came from a block about 8″ long and 6″ in diameter at it’s largest point – it was huge). Note: A & W had picked a large ripe papaya of which we enjoyed equal shares.
I had told Kelly I would fix cabbage soup. I was tired and I suppose growing irritable, but my good spirits prevailed, as a full apology would come from my lips. It took awhile, but the cabbage soup with rice was excellent. We gave the last bowl to A & W. I had some kaukau. We made some hot Milos. In order to get water for coffee and for the morning, I got up, as tired as I was, and I put my wet raingear on with only underwear on underneath, and I went out to the stream in the rain. There was thunder and brilliant lightning outside. I got to the stream, and I felt like a wizard in The Hobbit in my hooded rain gear by the stream in the lightning, I looked up and noticed that some plants were fluorescing. Curious I shined my flashlight on them, and they seemed to glow even a brighter light green in the dark. I walked up to them, barefooted and I looked at them. They were mere rotting reeds. [Note: Some years later, I discovered the word “foxfire” in the dictionary, which I think describes this phenomenon.] I grabbed them, taking two 8″ sticks back, glowing like light rods. I showed them to Kelly, who expressed like interest. There were a bunch of cockroaches running around. I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired in all my life. Well, I can remember a time after a regional wrestling championship (in which I’d wrestled several matches) when I felt so beat up. Anyway, there’s been few times in my life when I’d been so tired. It wasn’t so much the walk as it was having to carry the pack of 50 pounds or so on such a trail. Also, I’d had diarrhoea in the morning in Fumanabip, so maybe my body wasn’t up to par.
I slept a dreamless sleep.
Day 14 Kutbama to Wabia
Saturday May 28, 1983
When I opened my eyes, I felt too groggy – unable to move. Almost involuntarily, I sat up. I n a minute, I felt beautiful, wonderful, sensing the transition from when fatigue to that of refreshment which sleep and food had provided.
The fire was stirred by the time I awoke. I put the water pot on the fire. Kelly and I kept A & W waiting a long time, as we plunged into a luxurious morning.
One of the first things I did was to go outside and snap a picture of the grounds with dark-green forested mountains with fog running in between as a backdrop. It is really beautiful here. Oh! The banana tree and paw-paw (papaya) trees were so bountiful.
Kelly woke up and said she could hardly move, but I think, in a moment, she realized the refreshment I’d felt. We ate Granose with Tamarillo sauce made by Carol in Tekin. We had coffee and made a Milo for A & W, then and a Milo between us.
I had Kelly come outside and snap a photo of me in my underwear reaching up with my hand on a giant papaya (about one foot long and seven inches in diameter at its largest point) as if I was stealing it. I wanted to get a picture that depicted the size of the papayas on this tree. The largest papaya was on bottom, which I had my hand on, but there were many, many on this tree – maybe twenty or more.
I went meticulously through my possessions as we packed, because in garden shelters, I have noticed that the cockroaches are rife, and if you’re not careful, you can carry a bunch away with you.
Just before we (finally) left, Atemik had complained of a hurt foot, so, despite his protests, I insisted on, and removed the thorn from his foot. At about 9:58 a.m. (glorious leisure), we set out.
The trail was a comparative cinch, yet, after yesterday, I didn’t really feel like hiking. But the trail was almost all downhill. I was in fine form, feeling energetic. I trucked up all logs, not slipping, using only my feet, not my hands. Descending down rock and root, I almost never used my hands, using my hands to pull my pack-straps in to hold the pack closer thus saving energy- not having it get thrown from side to side. (I note that the guys from Yokana threw the snap to my chest buckle away.)
Once, Atomic and I waited 45 seconds for Kelly. We later pulled up to a pineapple garden (young plants – no fruit yet) and she came up in 2 or 3 minutes. (Although) She was really moving (fast) too! We walked down towards the rivers we could hear on either side – on the right, the Ok Milak, which flows into the Niar, which joins up to the Malia (Nera) to maybe the Frieda – on our left, a tributary to the Ok Milak.
We reached the tributary, which flowed by in a rushing torrent between walls of slate about fifteen feet below. Across the walls from one side to the other, was a bridge made entirely and strictly of natural materials. It was only 15 feet across, but fine in form and picturesque. I got out my camera and when Kelly came up, I gave it to her to take a picture of me crossing. I instructed her to take a picture of me when I wasn’t looking back at the camera, but she snapped it when I looked back to communicate mutual instructions with her. Oh well!
We crossed and passed a house ‘bilong pik’, then walked on away from the gray slate environs of the river.
Trailing behind, I came up to A & W, who were sitting on a log. They said, “Frieda – Wara Frieda”, and looking below to where they pointed, I could make out a large river between the trees. Then, they said “Wabia – close to” and looking up, I noticed a scenic village on a hillock above and away from us.
We had a snack while they smoked on, then headed off, all high in spirits, for the 15-minute jaunt to Wabia. We had to cross a high bridge above a gorge – a real classic. The river made about a (135 °-) 140 ° near U-turn through a gorge about 40 feet below, whose sides were vertical walls of grey slate. The bridge crossing it had some wire (man-made material), which prevented me taking a photo of it. We bridged the river and climbed the steep hill on the other side. At the top, we sat and gazed at the village, which was within yelling distance – then, up and at the village, and once there, me coming across the fence first.
We sat down on someone’s porch, and then Waneng led us to his house up a green lawn with a river running in a man-sculpted trough on the left border.
“The place is really lovely,” thought Kelly and I simultaneously. The setting of Wabia is picturesque. Far off to one side a few kilometres in the distance, is Mount Ava, nearly a vertical cliff. Some parts of its face is white and black (limestone) rock, while the rest of it is carpeted by a near-vertical wall of green forest – amazing it is how the greenery clings to the cliff face.
On all sides, Wabia is surrounded by mountains, which add to its scenic beauty, and yet, Wabia itself is on a hill, very far above the crashing torrent of the Ok Milak.
In addition to its natural scenic beauty, this village has been enhanced by intelligent planning on part of the Wabians. There is a spark of genius some place in this village. Example: 1) an upstream river has been diverted so as to provide a) excellent drinking water b) a wash place c) a running cleanser below the lavatory and d) an aesthetic attraction both in terms of sound and sight. It is a full, rushing river. Upstream, it provides drinking water. They have arranged a portion of the bark off a big tree to create a human-sized waterfall situated just above the washing place. Thus, at the wash place, a person can bathe and rinse off in a copious waterfall. Also, at the wash place is a huge rock, ideally suited to serve as a wash rock, a place to sit and a place upon which the set soap and other goods.
From the wash place, the stream flows along a man-made track lined with stones. The water runs, about 8″ deep, down the hill, around a bend. It then flows in a trough perhaps 4′ deep as it borders the village’s largest segment. It flows by houses, then down along a green lawn that carpets the edges of the trough. Finally, the stream flows under the toilet facility. The refuse is carried away by the stream. Although this may seem like an unsocial design from the standpoint of villagers downriver, the stream flows into the much larger Ok Milak, which proceeds downriver for miles with no villagers below. Also, at Wabia’s present population of about ninety persons, the set-up is ecologically sound. The stream is very fast rushing.
Besides this water landscaping, Wabia also offers a hot shower room (though we have not had the pleasure to use it). This is rigged by routing water into a PVC-type pipe upstream above the washing area. This pipe is laid along the water trough, from which it exits and flows into an oil drum on its side. The oil drum sits on supports that allows for space for a fire underneath. Thus, they are able to easily direct a supply of fresh water and heat it. From there are pipes leading to a structure that is the shower room. Not having been inside it, I can only conjecture that there are manual pumps that draw water from the heated barrel.
The main part of the village is on one side of the water trough (which itself provides the soothing sound of rushing water), but there is a path (a half-cut log over the trough over to a few more houses. Also, on the other side and down the hill is a fishpond that contains perhaps ten large – about one foot long – goldfish and black gold fish. (Or are they called black carp, or catfish of a type?)
The doorways of the houses are interesting, Kelly suggested, of Sepik origin. In the middle of a side of the house is a single carved piece of wood with a hole in it through which the body passes. The wood is carved with colored designs. On some pieces, the designs resemble the face of a spirit, the doorway representing a mouth.
The house we’re staying at is of a more modern design, without the carved doorway, the floor is a criss-cross of mats. The walls are made of bark fastened to posts. The roof is made of thatch. We were led into it by Waneng, and, as requested, we laid down our bags on the floor and stretched out and rested. Various villagers came to visit us, including a village elder with a large tumor protruding from his belly.
After we’d rested awhile, I came outside and took a bath in the washing pond. A piglet or two wandered around, but I see no evidence of pig shit inside the village proper.
After my wash, I was taken to see the fishpond. Later, I asked Waneng, upon the suggestion by Kelly of roast chicken, if we could buy and kill one of the chickens running around. He came back later and said we could kill one, would I like a male or a female? We decided on a hen.
Waneng got his bow and arrow and said we must look for it. The villagers, as I’ve come to learn through exposure, have an arrow for different types of game, including fowl. Their arrow for fowl is very strange, a notched piece of wood or bone. We walked around looking for the hen. He found it, and the chase began. Finally, he got it backed against a house. I snapped a photo of him aiming and also one as the arrow shot from the bow and feathers went flying. The bird didn’t drop, but went scurrying away as the villagers, all excited now, ran around it. Some other men now stalked it with bows and fowl arrows. Another man let an arrow fly and still the bird went running! Again, the other man shot and hit it. The bird still ran. Finally, after someone stoned it, a woman grabbed it and held it up. I snapped a picture of the vanquished bird.
Waneng and I took it up to show Kelly, who was taking a bath. Then we took it down by the house and plucked its feathers. It was still living. Without feathers its wounds were revealed – three of them. It’s back was open. We cut open its throat and took out the upper half of its alimentary canal. Now blood gushed, the chicken thrashed, and its life was over. We cut out around the bowels – removed the intestines, but we left the liver, etc. There was a developing egg inside this hen. We chopped off its feet and then its head – its body was still warm. The head, the feet, and the intestines all lying together looked so interesting and colourful, I almost took a picture, but I didn’t.
Waneng and I cut up some cabbage and cut up the chicken and put some water in the pot and put it on the fire.
Later, he brought the pot into us. I gave some of the best parts to him and his wife. Kelly and I supped on the rest. The egg inside had a paper-like skin developing around it. We found it like a hard boiled egg. Also, inside we found a yolk with no white. The soup was particularly delicious (and nutritious).
After supper, I had occasion to go outside. The night sky was spectacular. It was an unusually beautiful night. The moon had a large glowing aura about it. The very distant sky was like a plate of dark clear blue glass with clouds painted delicately on it. Very faintly in the distance, one could see, through the mist in the rear and middle distance, the faint outline of very distant mountains. On through to middle and even close distances, mountains appeared through transient misty vapors. And Wabia was silhouetted, against this, with its trees and huts. Glorious it was! I called Kelly to see. We went outside with my camera and tripod. Each time I set my tripod up, the mists would move, and the picture I had in mind would be lost. I ended up taking no pictures.
We made passionate love upon retiring. It was bon appetite! She came and then I did. It was powerful, and I felt like I was delving into precious and forbidden places, with no bounds to my passion or hers.
Day 15 Wabia – 2nd day
Sunday May 29, 1983
Not much to say about this day. It was a day of rest. My feet have jungle rot, or something! They have been wet too much, which has made some parts of them begin to lose their skin. It’s really painful. So today, my goal was rest and also let my feet dry out. I ended up writing a lot in a comfortable position on the porch. Although to this “comfortable”, I might add that they have these peculiar little bugs that are about the size of a speck of sand, but they deliver quite a bite!
In the afternoon, I bathed in the was-was ples. In the evening, Kelly and I made cabbage soup. We got in a silly argument because she didn’t like the way I stirred in the eggs. Later, as I maintained a staunch position that she was being a petty bitch, she retaliated by making a bowl of soup “for herself,” whereupon I grabbed it and ate it myself. Later, she lunged at the chocolate in my hand, wherein ensued a wrestling match. This, in turn, led to us making love, passionate and wonderful as usual. I made her come with my tongue and then I came inside her. After, we were hungry, so we had a treat of Coconut Kina coolies and peanut butter. We then retired, for the next day would bring a journey.
Day 16 Wabia to “Place in rain forest on ground in rain with no shelter, by ourselves, with the guide having taken away with the food pack”
Monday May 30, 1983
At 5:30 a.m., the radio sounded, interfering with the comparatively mild sounds of the cocking rooster. The room Kelly and I were staying in is part of a duplex, that is to say, on our side of the house are two rooms and on the other half of the house, one other family lives. Well, at 5:30 a.m., the other side turned on their radio. Most of the music was this idiotic South Seas mumbo-jumbo with an instrument mimicking an off-key bass and continuing the same thing for endless time. At first we joked, then commented, and finally pleaded and said in a strong voice – “Mi no laik harim radio!” And Kelly was telling them to Shuddup. Naturally, they thought we wanted them to turn it up, so they did. Finally, they got the message and we went back to sleep until 7:15 a.m. When we awoke, the day began very pleasantly. We had a super breakfast of Granose and heaps of good coffee. After awhile people began appearing at our doorstep trying to urge us to hurry, as we had a long way to go. But, good spirited, and not a care to speak of, we whiled our time away. A big crowd gathered outside the house, waiting for us to appear. We made our appearance at 8:25 a.m. and said goodbye. (Earlier we had given Waneng and his wife two rolls of bilum string, about which they seemed ecstatic.)
We actually began walking a few minutes later, as there was some confusion about who was coming with us – the first signs of trouble. Kelly panicked when I told her to pick up her heavy green pack, as the villagers were waiting for her and I to go. But she picked it up and we began to go, and I asked Waneng how many men were coming. A man in a red shirt was pointed to as the only one. Kelly began complaining about how she couldn’t carry such a load. I told her to be brave, meaning for her to put on a good face as she did when leaving Duranmin, which set her off, and she began a tirade. I was in no mood for such, and I made ultimatums that she either give me her pack (I was already carrying her day pack, plus my pack) or go back. As she refused, I then made the ultimatum that she either go back and take the helicopter or I would. I was being too reactive. She began with bitter tears. “Why do you have to be like this, why?”
We were standing on a steep hill above the village. By this time, there were three men with us. Well, actually two men, about thirty and twenty-five, respectively, and one boy of approximately ten years of age. They were standing directly above us waiting for us to settle our dispute. Finally, the man in the red shirt took her green pack and I took her daypack.
We walked for a while on the side of the mountain, finally coming to a hillock, with a house where we rested a few moments. We continued on down a hill and heard a ruckus of cackling. I looked ahead and called out as low as I could to the red shirt man – “Bird of Paradise?” He said yes. I stood motionless. A few flew back and forth against a grey sky way up in the trees. They looked like black silhouettes against the bright sky. I could see their tail feathers – those gorgeous plumes – but only fleeting glimpses. I thought I saw perhaps three different birds, and heard five or six. I could not tell what color they were, but from the type of feathers they were either the red bird or yellow birds of which I possess feathers. The red shirt man motioned me to follow and left, but I stood on and pointed the phenomena out to Kelly as she came down the trail. (She was barely talking to me.) I was extremely pleased to witness the sounds of a display spectacle, and I was glad also to see them in their natural habitat; they flew away as the men rustled off, making much noise. The view had been fleeting.
We walked on and I caught a view signifying that we had passed Mt. Ava on the other side of the river, the huge towering mountain of stone and forest. We came to a stream with a waterfall. Normally, I would have swum and showered beneath the waterfall, but today, I wanted to “keep my sweat up.” That is, I didn’t want to cool down, but wanted to keep my body temperature at its worked-up level.
Red shirt man (to be later identified if I can find out) had told his brother to wait for ‘meri bilong me’, i.e., Kelly. As we sat at the stream, the young boy came up. I asked if someone knew of if she was coming, and the man said he didn’t know where she was. The third man showed up but didn’t know where Kelly was. I tried to tell them someone must walk with her. Finally red shirt man said he would wait for her, and said I could go on ahead.
He told me to wait on the mountaintop. I walked for, maybe, half an hour and reached a bluff. I took a photograph through the trees at an impressive mountain. I didn’t think this looked like a good resting spot, so I went on. In short order, I came down upon a gigantic rock overhang. Underneath it was space for camping and a fire. There was a brown-orange butterfly sitting on a rock, and I wanted to photograph it, and this seemed also like a good rest place. There even was firewood.
I was waiting for the others and realized Kelly had borrowed my lighter and, also, the matches were in one of her packs. I was planning on making coffee. Well, the other guys came, but I didn’t know where the fire starter kit was and didn’t think to look in the green pack red T-shirt man was carrying. The fire starter kit consisted of two packs of matches that are “waterproof” (and are sealed in a plastic bag) and tree resin. (This was the tree resin I got in Duranmin, as I mentioned before. I had broken about 3-4 cubic inches off of the huge chunk the guy had under his bed. It’s a great thing to start fire with. It’s not sappy, but hard, like a rock.)
Finally, when Kelly came (at 1 p.m., maybe 15 minutes after I did), I found out where the stuff was and started a fire. In short order, we had a delicious lunch of crackers, cheese and tomatoes and rich cups of milk and coffee. Also we had Coconut Kina cookies for dessert. I failed to ask our companion if they wanted some.
After a half-hour lunch, we left at 1:30 p.m. Red T-shirt man told me to go ahead, as they would catch up. Since Kelly’s slowest, it seemed like a good idea, but it was a fatal mistake. Full of vigor, I ran on ahead until I came to a stream. Seeing a trail ahead directly opposite me on the other side of the stream, I followed it. He had told me that the trail went up a mountain, but this seemed to be heading to the right towards the big Ok Milak River. I left a trail of broken twigs and easy-to-see footprints, and I followed the trail, thinking it might eventually go up the mountain. And thus, I eventually came out on the Ok Milak River. I followed a trail along this and eventually surmised it was too disused to be the right trail. Furthermore, red T-shirt man had distinctly said the trail did not yet go by the river (Ok Milak). I began to head back. Soon, I saw the others minus Kelly who had followed me there. In short order, Kelly came around with a bruised, cut shin that we bandaged with antiseptic.
It was confirmed that I’d taken the wrong trail, and now we’d follow the river trail. Red T-shirt man said he knew the way. It was about 3:00 p.m., when they jetted off ahead of us. I had determined to stay with Kelly, and, as she was moving so slowly, I thought I’d offer to carry her pack when she said, “Just go!” authoritatively. I blew up and told her we must hurry as the others were already (after just ten minutes or so) “a mile ahead of us.” For an hour, we followed the river and trails alongside, tracking the other’s footprints, and finally, we found Liki (the man in the red T-shirt) waiting for us at a stream. He showed us to a bush house near the Ok Milak where the others were waiting. He asked me if we wanted to sleep here or if we wanted instead to continue on to Unamo, which would take about two hours more. It was now 4 p.m. I asked Kelly what she wanted to do. She said she didn’t care. Thus, I said let’s get on to Unamo. It was a spur of the moment decision and all very rushed up.
Soon, walking on the river rocks, the others disappeared ahead of us. It was the last we saw of them. Kelly and I sat down on the riverbank. Whereas the others had been resting at the shelter waiting for us, I had been walking with Kelly and needed a rest. We had a snack and rested for fifteen minutes or so. I thought the men would wait for us, but I was wrong.
When Kelly and I again began walking, we soon left the river and went on a path in the bush. We soon came to a place where the path was blocked by a bush that lay across it. I looked for an alternate path but could find none nearby. Forging through the bush, I found that the path indeed continued. It being well-defined, we followed the path upwards, away from the river, and northwest in the direction of Unamo. I looked for signs that they had come that way, but I found only possible signs, nothing definite, a few possible broken twigs, a few depressions in the ground.
We climbed fairly confident that we were on the right rail. But two hours after they left us, without a sign of them, we began to fear that either they were on a different path or they had deserted us. We came to a clearing on a hill, but found no shelter, and could see no signs of Unamo, civilization, or our guides. We decided to try to round a ridge in the distance, and to walk in the dark, in the hopes that they were still ahead. We walked on. It grew dark. It began to rain. No sign of anything. Finally, I suggested we sit down. I noticed that there was lots of blood on the back of Kelly’s neck, but figured it was from a leech. I searched for one but found none. I didn’t have the heart to tell her. We sat down on my pack and threw my rain tarpaulin over us, trying our best to protect ourselves from the rain. There we stayed, talking, shifting positions, thinking, feeling miserable.
When the rain stopped, we had some food – crackers, cheese, peanut butter, chocolate. We talked about the different possibilities: to go on, to turn back, to wait there, to scout around in the dark, to wait till morning. We decided we should get some rest for now. Kelly seemed to get irritated as we tried to share my tarp and ground mat. I, in turn, grew indignant that she was not more gracious about using “my” tarp. She got up – it had started to rain – and walked away, saying I could use it all myself. She walked and stood in the rain, but I could not see her. I turned over and tried to sleep, feeling that if she was so stupid and obstinate as to voluntarily sit in the rain instead of under my tarp, well, I could just let her be. Finally, she came back and, saying some nasty comments, she got under the trap. In retaliation to her comments, I pulled it away from her. She in turn grabbed my tarp, walked away, and was about to throw it into the bush, then threw it at me. Then she came over and grabbed the mat from under me, spilling me to the soil, the whole time a mutual conversation of dislike ensuing. I told her I wished I’d never met her. She grabbed an object and flung it at me, the buckle hitting me in the back. I thought to myself, “That really does it, I’m fed up with her.” She went off and sat in the rain. I turned to go to sleep. After awhile, I noticed her crying, and she told me resentfully that she was all wet (no surprise since she’d been sitting in the rain). We exchanged ‘indignancies.’ Finally, I realized I’d better be kind if I wanted her to calm down.
I gave her my wool cap and convinced her to lie down; I threw my tarp over her and me, and she settled into my arms. Soon, she was snoring away, “sawing logs.” The night passed with us dozing on and off, rain coming occasionally, the two of us as miserable as wet rats. But at least we were trying to be nice to each other. Too nice! At 5 o’clock (Oh, how slowly this night passed), she tried to make a comfortable place for us to lie down, as we’d been sitting all night – I declined to lie down. (I figured, since it was a sloping bed, I would have gotten muddy, for surely I’d slip off.) This prompted her to become unreasonable upset. Finally, I laid down and commented on how nice it was, just to calm her down. We laid together, me off and on into the mud. We slept under a tarp that was wet on both sides, on the ground.
Day 17 From Unnamed place with no shelter in the rain forest to Bush Shelter near the Ok Milak River
Tuesday May 31, 1983
We got up at 6:30 a.m. or so, both of us wet, muddy, tired, hungry and lost. We immediately assessed the situation. To go scout ahead for two hours and find nothing would mean we were i) on the wrong road, or ii) the men had misled us as to the distance to Unamo. We figured it would be a good idea to at least check out what was ahead lest we be so close and turn back.
I took a sip of honey and was off, carrying only a map and a watch. I came to a trail that forked off – uphill – in fifteen minutes, and I decided to investigate it. I hiked uphill and came to a bluff with tree ferns and grasses. I had gone uphill largely because I had thought I’d heard a dog barking and wondered if it meant a habitation. But I found none. However, I learned that it was not a dog barking, but a hornbill. I caught a glimpse of this strange oblong bird with a thin curving neck and large bill alighting from a tree in the distance. It seemed to have noticed me. It flew away making a strange sound, which is its cry.
I retraced my steps and pursued the main trail a few minutes to the northwest. I soon felt, seeing that the ridge in front of me would take an hour to reach, that in any event, a hike in this direction would be long, and without any possible assurance of reaching human habitations. I considered that if we retraced our steps to Wabia we would have a reasonable chance of arriving – then, if I still wanted to hike, I could procure a good guide who could get me there in two days. It seemed silly to pursue the hike now with such slim odds of a smooth arrival, and such a great probability (25%) of getting stuck out there alone with Kelly in the big bush.
I walked back, and I was soon with Kelly again. I tried to explain to her that if we got back safely, I would walk it again. At this, she became upset. In turn, I blew up. She was upset, because she said it was “stupid” for me to still think of hiking after this. I began walking around like a madman, saying things like, “If a man can’t do what he wants, then a man is not a man.” We grew wild. Her smart mouth and unrelenting obstinacy on small points made me rage on. Finally, I swung around and grabbed her by the upper arms and shook her, crying, “Pull yourself together!” She said, “Pull yourself together” “I am together! Pull yourself together Kelly! Am I not together?” Such was the enraged conversation.
Kelly suggested we’d get going. I agreed. We grabbed our things. The pack seemed like it must have weighed sixty pounds – all the clothes were sopping wet and the water added a tremendous ten pounds. I commented on how heavy it was. Kelly said indignantly that I could just leave her things behind, as if I’d commented on it so she’d offer to leave her things. I said, “No, I’ll carry them. If I were selfish (as she’d been complaining all the previous night), I would leave it behind.” Then I said, “You know, Kelly, I love you, but sometimesÃ¢ÂÂ¦” to which she replied, “No you don’t.” Now, I blew up! I threw off my pack and began to tirade: “OK Fine! If that’s the way you want it I’ll just leave your things here. I’ll just leave you here.” I had momentarily become unglued!
Then, I grabbed my pack and said, “Let’s go.” She said she wasn’t coming with me. I said, “Oh, yes, you are, I’m not going to leave you here.” We started walking.
Again, in moments, I swung around to her, only this time crying. I threw my arms around her. She began bawling too. Amidst my deep, uncontrollable and heartfelt tears, I cried out how sorry I was. Kelly cried, too, that she was sorry. “It’s terrible the way we fight; Kelly, I don’t want to fight anymore.” It came from the guts. Both of our apologies did. “But I know we’re going to fight again! It’s terrible!” Kelly concurred. The ill feelings fled. We began down the hill.
Like I said, the pack felt tremendously heavy. The jungle rot on my feet had been aggravated by a whole night in wet socks after a ten-hour hike the previous day. Every step was an agony. But my head was clear. When we started out, we’d talked about the possibility of reaching various stopping points: i) The bush hut on the water (I figured it would take two hours to reach the bush that had blocked our trail and another hour to reach this shelter by the water.) ii) the rock where we’d had lunch (which would be 2 1/2 -3 hours from the bush shelter), iii) (or) we could go (all the way) to Wabia. After fifteen minutes of hiking, I realized it was futile to try to go any farther than the bush hut today: my feet needed a rest, we both needed sleep. Kelly was of the same opinion.
We walked down to a stream, then up a hill to the clearing we’d passed the evening before. The time passed, we went on. Occasionally, we’d have to pull several 1″ – 2″ leeches from our skin on our hands or legs or ankles.
Almost two hours to the minute, we came to the bush that had blocked our path. It was 10:45 a.m. We crossed it, then looked for an alternative trail that Liki and the two others, Toni and Kami, might have used. About fifty feet away, we came to what must have been the turn they’d taken. There was a smaller trail heading down to the river. There was no way we could have known they’d gone that way.
At 11:30 a.m., we came to the shelter! Happiness! We were on the right rail. We had a place to rest.
I took my shoes off and let my poor feet rest – they were shrivelled up. The bottoms of all my toes were raw. Kelly went to rinse out the clothes in a pristine tributary to the Ok Milak that flowed a minute’s walk from the shelter with no walls. I thought I heard a helicopter, which prompted me then to start a fire, using the tree saps I had with me, but I only imagined it from sounds of the forest and the river.
It was a most fortuitous circumstance amidst our poor luck that Kelly had happened, thinking she was not going to have to carry her pack, to put the liter of honey, a can of corned beef, some peanut butter and a can of tuna in her pack. I had a “snack bag” with me, which contained a block of Kraft cheese, some crackers, part of a package of Tang, a bar and a half of chocolate and some hard candy in it. Also, at the rock where we’d had lunch, I had started a fire, and transferred the tree sap from the green bag (that Liki carried off) to my pack. Without the food, we’d have been weak and doubly miserable. Without the tree sap, we’d not have been able to build a fire, thus limiting our recuperative abilities – drying clothes, keeping warm, heating food.
We made quite a pleasant afternoon. I suggested we make hot honey water. We heated a pot (which I had in my pack) of water and tried it – it was delicious. As we were having cheese and crackers, I suggested we make toasted cheese. Using the top of the pot, we placed the crackers and cheese on it, then placed our bowl over the top to make an oven. The finished product was a little burnt, but delightful nonetheless.
So, I wrote lying under the shelter. It rained outside, and the drips inside were minimal. I wrote and Kelly slept. I began to feel gloomy, writing about what had happened, but when Kelly woke up, I immediately felt cheery. We were in excellent humor.
For dinner, we fixed some more hot honey water, of which we had probably ten cups that day (a tablespoon or two in one cup hot water) – a very invigorating drink in lieu of coffee, Milo or soup. We heated the corned beef in the can and ate it in the bowl, bite by bite, carefully savoring the juices. I let Kelly dish out the servings, and, to her immense credit, she invariably spooned out a bit more for me, satisfying my rebuttals by saying that I had to carry more weight.
After dinner, we had more hot honey water. I knocked over our “last” cup, but we made 1/2 cup of it more, and drank it. We set up the mosquito net and crawled in. After a few tender kisses, we fell fast asleep, dreamful, and expectant of the day tomorrow.
Day 18 Bush shelter near the Ok Milak River to Wabia
Wednesday June 1, 1983
The title of this day says it all. We found our way back!
The rain lulled us awake. We made love in the protection of the mosquito net.
We had planned to get started at 7 a.m. The 7-hour hike, if no mistakes were made, would put us in Wabia at 2 p.m., giving us ample leeway for mistakes and rest breaks.
By the time we were ready to go, after a breakfast of honey water and peanut butter, it was 8:45 a.m.
Milestone 1 was to find the spot on the river where Kelly had tended to her cut leg on the first day. I figured it should be about one hour away. Following the river was a little tricky. Sometimes we walked along the river. Others, the trail would head off to the bush. I passed it up once, and Kelly called me back. We came across a log I’d busted, so at that point, we knew we were on the right path.
We came to a fork in the river. We followed the right path, and I felt sure we were coming to the place where Kelly had mended her leg. But at 10:20 a.m., we were on a bush trail heading away from the river, and I was afraid that some place we’d taken a wrong turn. I got spooked. I begged Kelly to hurry up. A minute later, we came upon a broken shelter that I positively recalled seeing the first day before Kelly, Liki and the rest of us had met again on the river and Kelly had mended her cut. That meant that somehow, we’d bypassed the rock on the river and were passed Milestone 1 but on the right trail.
We followed the path to Milestone 2, the stream from which I’d taken the wrong path the first day. We saw signs that told us we were on the right trail, and came to the stream in ten minutes, at 10:30 a.m.!!
I was very pleased!! The path on the other side of the stream was obvious. A big log pointed right to the trail on our side of the stream. I had remembered that when I had come down, I had not waited, because the path had seemed so obvious. Seeing it again, I could hardly blame myself for the decision, as the log pointed directly to a path on the stream’s opposite side.
We walked across the log, and began up the path to Milestone 3, the big rock overhang where we’d had lunch the first day. I estimated it we should be there by 11:30 a.m., thinking my estimate conservative.
Kelly straggled behind and kept saying that she hadn’t remembered the hill being so long. I said it didn’t conflict with my memories. At one point, she said she thought she saw the rock overhang, but I was sure we hadn’t come to it yet, so I yelled for her and we went on. I took a fork in the trail, and Kelly expressed the belief that we should go to the opposite side, to the left. After a few steps, I agreed, and we cut across to the other trail. I was beginning to get spooked again at 11:30 a.m., but we kept on. I came across some orange-colored “grapes” sitting on a broken tree stump – I remembered putting them there for Kelly to see! This was a positive sign that we were on the right trail! In a few minutes, I yelled “Eureka,” seeing the overhanging rock!!
We sat underneath it, in a comfortable camping ground, and it began to rain, but we were dry under the huge rock. I made a fire. We fixed hot honey water, ate chocolate and cheese and peanut butter. After an hour’s lunch break, we left the rock, refreshed, at 12:45 p.m.
Our next goal was the bush hut on a hill that we’d reached the first morning. Based on the fact that Kelly said the young boy had carried her pack for two hours (she had taken it back at the shelter, Milestone 5), I made an estimate that we’d arrive at 3:15 p.m., with an 80% probability of arriving between 2:25 p.m., and 4:15 p.m. We went down to a stream with a waterfall that we’d remembered (Milestone 4), then up and around a mountain. Then we went down a ways to a place where you could hear but not see an underground stream, and then up the hill where we’d seen some birds of paradise the first day.
Ever since the rock where we’d lunched, I had begun carrying Kelly’s pack (in addition to mine) on the uphill stretches. With me loaded down with 70 pounds of gear, she could keep up with me reasonably well. In this manner, we went up hills. I preferred the extra load and her right behind me. I felt more secure with her nearby.
We saw a pair of hornbills as we went up the hill. It was a beautiful sight. We could hear the two of them calling as they flew. One of them came into my field of vision at a distance – the long, lanky body, the crooked neck, the long bill.
Soon, I saw the shelter. I cried out, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth Peace to Men of Good Will!!” my voice faltering with emotion on the last words.
We had a half-hour break at this insect-ridden shelter, arriving at 3:15 p.m., and leaving at 3:45 p.m., although it seemed we were only there for ten minutes!! Ever since we’d reached the lunch rock, I’d figured we were reasonably safe. We still had tuna fish and honey and we could sleep at the lunch rock or at the shelter, Milestone 5, if we could find it. Now that we’d come all this way, I wanted very much to reach Wabia. We still had nearly three hours of daylight. I figured it would take only two hours, though my estimate was two and a half to be conservative.
We walked down a hill. We now faced a big mountain. We figured that on this mountain’s other side was Wabia. As we started up it again, I again donned Kelly’s pack. By five o’clock, we both began to complain that every step was beginning to hurt our feet terribly.
The panorama became familiar. Soon, we saw banana trees but without fruit. We came to a garden with sugar cane!! We found food, and our lives were assured!
We began down a hill. We heard the sounds of the stream that sounded like Wabia’s!! We kissed! Kelly heard a ukulele. We heard voices of youngsters playing! We kissed again. We saw the village below us, down a steep hill! We kissed. Kelly took a photo.
We came to the village silently. I grabbed her hand and tried a triumphant kiss, but she was embarrassed. We waved to some amazed villager on a porch next to Waneng’s house. Waneng stuck his head out, said he was very sick, and asked us what happened. We gave a very brief description.
We sat down and removed our shoes. My feet and ankles were a mess. I pulled off my socks and the plastic bags I had put around my feet. A few leeches came off on the plastic bag. My feet and ankles were covered with sores of jungle rot. My feet were shrivelled, white and waterlogged. In three places on my right lower leg, bright red blood dripped from leech sores.
In response to finding out that the men had taken our food pack, the villagers began to bring us kaikai. We were given six bananas, which we immediately began to devour – another bunch of bananas, then, one, two, three pineapples. Then a man brought us about three pounds of a sago-like taro cake. We ate and ate.
Waneng cleared out his place for us and we put our bags in his house. I walked like an invalid. I asked if we could buy a chicken, but it seemed to put Waneng on the spot.
We soon retired to our room and ate as much as we could. We then lay down. Our neighbor brought us a lantern. After awhile, we blew it out and laid in the dark. We talked. We began to, amidst saying thanks for our lives, recount the contents of the green pack that had run off with Liki. Upon remembering that my traveler’s cheques had been in it, my driver’s license, as well as my university ID card, I became infuriated. I rose and went to the house next door where there was a fire, and from which I could hear voices.
Waneng lay in the corner, obviously in pain from his spleen, so I addressed some other men. I told them in detail what had happened. They agreed that Liki had done a very grave thing by leaving us in the forest.
One of the men gave me some more bananas. Later, three men arrived with coffee, sugar and milk. One man fetched some water in the pot that I’d brought, and we made coffee. It was almost 11 p.m. when I returned. They insisted I take the coffee and goods with me. I went back very pleased that I could have coffee in the morning, which I craved.
I crawled in the mosquito net and fell asleep.
Among the things I’ve learned from talking were i) that the Wabians knew the names of the men, ii) that the Wabians felt that the men didn’t have enough money to fly to Telefomin from Frieda as they’d told me they’d planned to do, iii) that if they walked back to Telefomin, they’d have to walk through Wabia, iv) that if they flew back, they’d have to take the helicopter from Frieda Base Camp in the hills to Frieda “Strip” on the Frieda River, and v) that Liki had told the Wabians he planned to stay in Frieda a long time.
Day 19 Wabia – First day of rest from a harrowing experience
Thursday June 2, 1983
Looking at my feet, you would think that I wouldn’t dream of hiking in the bush for a while. Today, though, I rehashed the subject with Waneng and friends about what should be done. “Laik bilong yu” is the sensible answer, i.e., what I like – i.e., if I want to walk, do it, and, if not, they can send a messenger to Frieda who can give the company a letter from us requesting a helicopter.
The day was one of recuperation, and, generally, I just read and wrote, and slept and ate. In the afternoon, Waneng came in and offered this as a proposed plan:
Tomorrow, I rest. Tomorrow, his brother-in-law, his “tambul,” will go to the garden and dig up some food. He’ll return in the evening. On Saturday morning, he and I will walk to Unamo. On Sunday, we’ll arrive at Frieda top camp. I’ll request a helicopter. On Monday, a helicopter will come to pick up Kelly, along with most of my gear, which I will leave here.
I said that it sounded like a good plan. Soon, Kankone (Kan-Ko-Nay), his tambul, came to join us. The plan was agreed upon. I will carry the barest of necessities with me. We’ll leave early in the morning.
As for as the rest of the day, I will just list the points:
- I bathed, as I was filthy. I scrubbed my jungle rot, which surprisingly didn’t hurt much being scrubbed, and I feel much better. The only real big concern is that both my big toes have infections in them.
- The Wabians made “bush pizza” tonight. They ground up some taro into a meal, spread it out flat on a board, and covered it with (red) pandanus sauce. It tasted rather bland.
- We were given more food – taro, a papaya, pumpkin, a strange green vegetable. We’re both getting tired fast of this diet. Even though I asked twice for a chicken, no chicken was sold to us. Oh well! God, I’d love some chicken soup!!!
- The Wabians are expecting a helicopter because the man with the trade store here went to Frieda by foot and should be returning to Wabia by helicopter with the goods.
- We ate up our tuna. Out of our supplies, we have left only about one cup of honey, one stick of gum and perhaps two grams of Tang.
- I want to hike, but I feel that my feet will not be ready by Saturday. I’ve got to devise a way to fix up my shoes.
- We have no malaria pills, and Wabia’s doctor went to the bush this morning. We are already three days late.
- There is no tape here with which I can bandage my feet or fix my shoes.
Day 20 Wabia – 2nd day of rest
Friday June 3, 1983
Today was the twentieth day since we left Lake Kopiago. Again, spent in Wabia. Although at day’s beginning, I believe I will leave tomorrow, that is now changed by day’s end because a man has come from Unamo who says that another man will come tomorrow who has found, and will bring, Kelly’s green pack. Thus, we will wait for his arrival. Apparently he’s found our pack in Unamo and is now coming with it. I became very pleased with the prospect of getting it back!! (Now, not only do I get to have the novel experience of getting lost in the forest, but perhaps with no bad side effects!) I suppose I could leave tomorrow and perhaps find this fellow on the road, but the villagers tell me to wait, and I don’t want any mishaps, so I will wait as they tell me to do.
With the idea of hiking again in mind, today, with a bit of assistance from Kelly, I began sewing my shoes up. They are a tattered mess! (It is really a good thing that I’m able to wait another day, because by day’s end, I have not finished sewing them, and since they are dry, it is better to finish them now before I start walking). I tell Kelly that when I finish the hike, I am going to send my shoes home and someday have them bronzed.
Today was a sit-around day. After three days of persistence, I finally got them to kill a chicken for us. The secret was that we raised the price to K6 – the first one we brought for K3.
We told them to cook the chicken for a long time, and it made a difference. The extra cooking time softens the meat. (I helped actively, took control actually, to clean the beast. First, we feather it. Then, an incision near the throat – cut out a big bag of junk. Then, an incision near the rear – cut out the intestines and a red sinewy ball. That’s it! Oh, and cut off the feet and head). We had no cabbage or other fixings, so we put the chicken in water and cooked it two hours. We feasted on the whole thing, the two of us, in the quiet of our room. It was delectable. Kelly ate the organs and I ate more of the white meat than she. I even tried the meat on the necks, which was tender and delicious, and it makes me wonder why I never tired it before. We were full when we were finished, and glad for the meat and the protein (!!) after our ordeal in the bush and having this foreign diet.
So, another day passes in Wabia. Kelly and I spent some of our time talking about all the foods back at home and how much we would love to eat them!!
Day 21 Wabia – Last day of our stay
Saturday June 4, 1983
Again, by day’s end, plans change again. I awoke and began sewing my shoes. In this activity, I spent the larger part of my day. There are patches virtually all over them now. I sewed my shoes, we boiled water, drank coffee, and so the morning passed.
After some time, I began considering our situation. Kelly is supposed to wait here while I go to Frieda Base Camp, where I will request a helicopter to go and pick her up. The villagers say that it’s only K10 for a helicopter to come and pick her up, but I know a helicopter normally costs about $120 an hour, so, if, as the Wabians say, it is just 15 minutes to Wabia and 15 minutes back to Frieda, the 1/2 hour trip should cost K60, not K10. So, I thought that perhaps, if the helicopter happened to be going there, they might give her a lift for K10, but otherwise, they might charge K60. Since the villagers said that a helicopter was coming next Friday, I thought Kelly’s choice might be to pay K60 for a helicopter on, say, Tuesday, or to wait until Friday and pay only K10. I told her these thoughts, and she became distressed. She accused me of not caring and of being “smug.” I felt I was being attacked unfairly. It followed that she changed her mind and said she’d rather walk than wait. I felt it was not a good idea to take her back out there. I also felt she was overreacting by treating a hypothesis of mine as hard fact. I tried to calm her down, but to no avail. She left the room, and I continued sewing.
Atemik and Seni, our duplex neighbors, came in and kept me company. I enjoyed Atemik’s crazy way. Later, Kelly returned and they left. I eventually agreed that it was better if she’d come hiking. Plans were made. I spoke with Waneng, and it was made clear that Roti and Kankone would accompany us, and that we would leave early in the morning tomorrow.
Kelly began working on her shoes in preparation for the hike. Many people brought garden food of various kinds to us: taro, kaukau, bananas, cucumbers.
In the evening, a young man came in to wish us well. I spoke with him about the journey to Pagwi. He gave me the names of places en-route: Unamo, Frieda Base Camp, Isai, Frieda Strip, Iniok, Tauri, Ambunti.
And so, we retired with the prospects of hiking on the morrow. We had had a few setbacks, but we agreed, “Who knows, the rest of the trip may go as smoothly as can be!”
Day 22 Wabia To Wesibil
Sunday June 5, 1983
I awoke at 6:20 a.m. We “hurriedly” tried to get ready. We ate Granose cereal with papayas and bananas, and we had coffee. Many people came to say goodbye to us, and others gathered outside the house. We left another roll of bilum string in Waning’s room.
It was about 8 a.m., when we stepped outside. Kelly and I each shook the hands of all adults and some children. I told Atemik I would try to send some medicine for the sores on his legs.
The small man, Roti, donned my large pack, and Kankone put the other pack on, while I carried the daypack. We set off, waving goodbye. Up, up the steep hill facing Wabia. Kankone’s wife and daughter also set out with us. We arrived at the garden on the “hilltop.” Then, around the mountain. Kelly and I chatted about various topics. We travelled down the mountain’s other side to a stream. Now up a hill. Now down the hill.
We cross two streams. Kelly and I remove our shoes and socks, walk across the water, then dry our feet, then don our shoes and socks again. We do this to prevent waterlogged feet and the resulting jungle rot. Now, we go up a hill, and we arrive at the shelter.
We catch our breath and proceed down the hill. Then we cross a stream, then up a hill, then down, where we walk across the place where we can hear an underground stream. Now we go up and around the base of Mt. Uli, which faces Mt. Ara on the other side of the river. We caught a glimpse of Mt. Uli on the hill with the shelter, from which we’d just come. It’s a good thing we can go around the base ¾ to walk over it would be impossible. Sheer cliffs of white and black limestone stand formidably, with tufts of forest growing where it can on the rock face.
We are about half way around Uli when I feel something on my arm. To my surprise, I behold the most exquisite caterpillar I’ve ever seen. Coloring: aqua blue, yellow, with six groupings of black spikes.
This unusual caterpillar surprised me. It was one of many unusual forms of life in Melanesia.
I take four photos of it as I am truly amazed. Kelly is also stunned by its magnificence.
We continued our walk around the mountain, then climbed down to the stream to???? the classic bush waterfall. Having passed the stream twice before, and both times having wanted to stand beneath the waterfall, I now gave Kelly my camera, took off my shirt and shorts (still wearing my under-shorts) and I braved the onslaught of the water. It beat??? against my head with a fury, falling down from about twenty feet overhead. It was a good-sized volume of water crashing down. Exhilarating!
Then, we walked up the steep hill, came down from the small clearing, and, for the third time, rested at “Coffee Rock” (an appellation of my own device). Rain came for a bit, but we remained dry under the huge stone.
We left at 12:23 p.m., and rambled down the huge forested hillside to the stream. I thought previously that here I had taken the wrong road, due to a miscommunication with Liki, but now, I found that I’d indeed taken the right road, as we followed it down to walk along the rocks. One time, I nearly killed myself when I slipped stepping down on a boulder and my back violently impacted on the rock. I was wearing the daypack, which cushioned my fall. Something cracked in the pack, even Kelly heard it. I took out my camera and inspected it, but, luckily, it was all right. (Perhaps one of the taros that I was carrying had broken.) We again left the waterside and walked in the bush bordering the river. We came out upon the crystal clear stream near the shelter near the Frieda where we’d recuperated after our night in the bush. We crossed it, passed the hut and came out on the treacherous river rocks again. Kankone had gone ahead. (His wife and daughter had already gone ahead of us at Coffee Rock.) I was continuing along the river when Roti motioned that we had to go back to the bush, contrary to my recollection. I had been walking barefoot since the stream before the house (for thirty minutes or so, through bush and river rock). Now I stopped to put my hoes back on. Then Kankone came up along the river rock ahead of us. He motioned for us to follow him. We continued to a cluster of rocks and ¾ ¾ pools that I recognized them. Then, ahead, I noticed something that hadn’t been there five days ago when we came through. Spanning the water was a single strand of what I first thought was rope. As we came near, I noticed that the rope was lashed to trees on either side of the river with strands of bamboo.
To my disbelief, I noticed what I had thought to be rope was actually bamboo! A single strand of 3/4″ bamboo “rope” about 30 meters long!! This ingenious “bridge” intrigued me, and I immediately determined to try it. [*Later note: it was not bamboo, but canta, a bush vine.] As I took off my pack, Kankone, who was sitting nearby, told me that we’d sleep here for the night – it was 3 p.m. He was pointing to the bush just beyond the rocks. Again, to my disbelief, a new sight!! Within the last five days, since the last time we came through, someone had constructed a bush house!!! I questioned Kankone on this, and he told me that his father had done all of this work with the help of some other villagers. They had come from Unamo, stopped here, built the house, built the bridge and gone to the other side of the river to plant sago. He had come ahead to help his wife and daughter cross, who had gone to visit their wantok. I thought how remarkable these people were to be able to construct a house and a bridge in so short a time, and of such excellent workmanship. Now to test the bridge!
I handed Kelly my camera with instructions to shoot when I was at the deepest part of the water. (The bridge went out, crossed some shallow water, to some big rocks in the river, then out across some open water to a tree on the other side, about thirty meters in all.) I grasped the rope with two hands. Hanging, I crossed hand over hand and proceeded across the river. At the rocks, I stopped, then proceeded to the deep water. Under my 60??? kilos, the rope was sagging, and my legs were up to the knees in the fast-moving river, making harder for me to propel myself. I went??? to the other side and touched the bank with my foot. On the return, I tried the slightly different method of sliding one hand to the next rather than crossing them over and this seemed to require less energy.
When I got back to the original shore, I took the camera from Kelly and noticed that the automatic exposures lock was in. Since this could result in an incorrect exposure time, I mentioned it to Kelly. She said she thought it seemed like and took a long time on the shutter for the exposure. We concluded that I must have accidentally depressed it when I checked the camera after having fallen, since exposure time seemed normal previous to that (to my recollection).
In short, I decided to take another try at it. Anyway, last try she had taken two shots of me crossing, and I wanted her to take a shot of me come back, facing her. So, with new instructions, I went across, turned around, and now came back. Lifting myself a little, straining, I hammed it up, put a strained look on my face, and Kelly snapped the picture. I returned to the west bank.
Now, we gathered up our gear and moved it to the new bush house. Meanwhile, Kankone took off across the river to visit his father. There were leaves all over the ground from where trees had been chopped up. The roof of the house was green rather than the usual dry brown. There were places for two fires. The grounds inside measured about 20 feet x 15 feet. The roof slanted down almost to the ground, but otherwise there were no walls. Kelly went back to the river to wash up, and I soon followed her. We washed out our clothes. I took a bath. She scrubbed down my back. This was heavenly.
I thanked Kelly for having spoken up when I had begun a rebuttal to Kankone’s suggestion to spend the night. She had reminded me that we had made a vow that we’d stop each day no later than 3 or 4 p.m. That stopped me in my tracks, and I acquiesced. We did say that. She and me were right. (She was telling me that she was reading that the patrols in the early days used to get up at 4:30 a.m., and hike until 12 and make camp.)
Kelly stayed to bathe on the river, and I went back. Roti made a fire, and I fixed up a hot coffee. She returned when I’d just finished making it. I lay down to write, and we shared the coffee.
I felt ecstatic! It had been a wonderful day. The earth was moving round and round in my eyes. What a beautiful Sunday!!
We had supper. Kelly and I fixed up some soup. Kankone gave us a taro. We had a few kaukau, which I by now have grown to love. Kelly asked Kankone what was wrapped up in the leaves. Kankone had gone off to visit his father and had returned across the rope “bridge” with this package. Kankone said it was wild pig meat. He told us how one man had killed two wild pigs. He brought them to Unamo and 4 men and 3 women had feasted. Then they came here, had built this house and rope bridge and gone to the other side of the Frieda. The pig had been shot with a bow and arrow. When it was cooked, he handed a few chunks to Kelly and I. We ate it in small bits and chewed slowly to savor this delicacy! It was, well, Ã¢ÂÂ¦super delicious!!
After supper, we drank Milo. Kelly seemed tired and irritable and I was hyperactive, so I sent her to ‘bed,’ and I stayed up cooking rice for the morning meal.
I ended up sleeping by the fire on my mat, curled up to stay warm.
A memorable day!! (The night sky was gorgeously full of stars).
Day 23 Wesibil to Inayetaman
Monday June 6, 1983
We awoke in the pristine environment on the river. Hot drinks. Rice with bananas for breakfast. Head off!!
The river hut, named Wesibil, was at a site virtually on top of the trail leading away from the river up the mountain to Unamo. We retraced our steps of a week ago, at times the road looking unfamiliar, and then recognizable.
At a stream, we removed out shoes again and crossed. At the other side, we made Orange Tang and passed it around. I took a photo of a pool of water because it captured the clarity of New Guinea’s Stream – they are so clear you can see everything as if it was at the surface (for water up to 5 feet deep!) In this pool, the flow bubbling, the bottom was orange, aqua, red, brown, tan, very exquisite coloring.
We came to the place we had slept. There were wrappers and evidences of our miserable night here. As we went on, I explained our steps to Roti and Kankone, who shook their heads in a display of sympathy.
As we went on, we passed a place where I had carved my initials J.S. in the moss of a tree while on my morning scouting the day after we were abandoned.
We soon came to where I had turned back. It was 10:30 a.m. Now the trail was new to me, and I observed closely, from where I turned back, the trail followed a stream, then where this stream joined another it went back up the adjoining stream. Had Kelly and I come in the dark that fateful night, we never could have followed this turn. Upstream a ways, a rail had appeared plainly off to the right (north).
We continued on the trail, around and around a big mountainside on a fairly easy trail. Again and again, we could see and hear evidences of hornbills. Occasionally, we would startle a hornbill and the incredibly loud sound of the flapping of their wings (FLAP! FLAP! FLAP!) would alert us to look up, and hopefully catch a glimpse of their lanky bodies racing off. Sometimes, they would commence with their raucous cackling.
It was a fair day. By and by, I heard what sounded like a big river way off down to my left (the Frieda sounding in the distance on my right). Kankone said it was Henumai, the river that joins the Frieda (called the Ok Milak on my map). I told Kelly that I thought Unamo was on the wrong place on the map, since it’s shown some distance from the rivers’ joining.
Soon, we entered an area where the flora seemed more “wooded” than “rain forest,” as if it had at one time been cleared and had grown back. The trail widened and we began descending. Soon, we beheld Unamo below, a cluster of houses on a flat clearing on a bluff, overlooking mountains and valleys 270 degrees around, with a vista of up to 30 miles. We walked down and escaped from the penetrating sun in the shade of a house. We were getting short of food and I had to satisfy myself with a little taro, a banana, and a few bites of cucumber.
At about noon, we descended from Unamo’s position on the mountainside towards the Henumai, going in a NW direction. We crossed several streambeds and proceeded at a slant down across the mountain. Coming to the flatland adjoining the Henumai, we sloshed through pockets of mud and crawled over slippery, moss-covered trunks. I removed leech after leech and in a silly sort of revenge, I put each on a tree trunk and carefully severed their heads off with the axe I carried.
We came upon a clearing, and I, leading walked straight to the house in view. It had a plastic tarp for a roof, and, although dismal looking, I wanted to rest there. The others seemed to want a rest also.
I was very tired as I’d not gotten very much rest the night before. Kelly also. We were both dragging, so I suggested we made coffee, and had a nice rest.
It began to rain. I had a wonderful sensation of “being there.” The rain came down hard. First, it came straight down. Then, it slanted into the house. The sun shone even though it was raining. Now the rain slanted in another direction. It was odd yet typical, and it was simple but wonderful to observe.
When the rain stopped, we were roused from our fleeting slumber and began hiking. We crossed the Henumai. There was a wire bridge with concrete supports and below it, a bridge made entirely of wood. We crossed the wire bridge.
We made our way over a hill and went on and on through the bush. Finally, we came to a stream. We were told that our night’s resting place was fairly close, and now all we must do is follow the river to reach it.
We took off our shoes and tramped through the streambed. Kelly slacked behind with Roti. Kankone and I came up, after a time, to a place with a relatively small overhanging shelter. It was raining when we arrived, and the ground beneath the overhang wasn’t exactly dry. But it was hell a lot better than nothing!!
Kankone was trying to light a fire, but futilely, since the wood was damp. I gave him some tree resin, and soon a fire was blaring. Kelly and Roti soon came up. Kankone went away, and soon we heard the bushes rustling and looked up to see him knocking down a wild Pandanus, “Malita”, with a 10-foot pole. Kelly was excited with the prospect of eating some Malita, as she’d been craving it, and I also was expectant, as I was very hungry and had never before tried it.
Kelly and I fixed some coffees, and soon soup was on. We shared the soup and took out our saved bits of taro. I chewed my small piece of taro with religious relish. We had no rice, no meat, no bread, no crackers, no cereal, only a bit of coffee, a bit of Milo, a bit of milk, a little Tango and two more packages of soup – and 5 bananas.
While Kelly and I finished the soup by counting the number of spoonfuls each took from the community bowl, Roti and Kankone had disappeared into the darkness, and gone to the mumu. Roti came by and said “Tupela I stap.” I took this to mean that we should come, but Kelly convinced me that it meant to wait. Finally, I urged her to go to see. (IO was in no condition to check, as my toes were afflicted with jungle rot and would sting incredibly when in contact with water. Finally, she went and called out: “You were right!! Hurry up before it’s all gone!” I ambled to the waterside as best I could. On a piece of bark was a red sauce with chunks of taro and some greens from the forest. Roti urged me to eat, and pushed a couple of pieces of taro my way, which I devoured.
I don’t think Kelly caught on that the chunks were taro, as she let me eat an awful lot of it. By the time we’d finished it, I didn’t feel so hungry, and I felt that I’d gotten a good share. The Malita is delicious and delicate. With taro it is really a treat – I suppose my hunger biased me in favor of it.
Shortly after dinner, I was tired, and I lay down. Soon after, Kelly and I organised our sleeping area. At about 9 pm, we laid down for good. I was soon asleep. A deep, dreamful sleep, with vivid dreams that I cannot recall in my waking hours.
As I drifted off to sleep, I listened to the symphony of insects and night birds. The exquisite song of the forest lulled me to sleep, intrigued. It is as if the sound makers of the forest sing together in a weird and beautiful symphony.
Day 24 Inayetaman to Frieda Top Camp
Tuesday June 7, 1983
At 4:30 a.m., I awoke, and I wisely decided not to go back to sleep. We were so low on food, I did not want to take any chances that we might not make it today.
Kelly got up too. We put things away. I began sewing Kelly’s shoes, which were barely holding together. We drank a coffee and Milo concoction of Kelly’s, which was delicious. Kelly ate two bananas, but I had no other breakfast than a hot drink. Kelly tried to cheer me by reminding me “We’re going to be in Frieda today!!”
Daylight comes about 6:15. We soon after were ready to go. We walked out, crossed the stream, Kelly put her shoes on, and we began going up a hill at 6:50 a.m.
The first part of the morning was spent climbing a hill, up, up, up! We came to a ridge top and followed it down some way, coming then to a clearing with a beautiful view. We were told it was a helicopter pad. All around, tree had been felled. I took two pictures and taped up my toes, which were giving me pain, afflicted with “jungle rot” or “Tinia“. As we crawled around the tree trunks, I stopped to chop a log and Kelly who was stopped behind me in a precarious position, slipped and fell.
We left the clearing and began descending. Kelly tried to check what time it was, but noticed that her watch was missing. We figured that I had come off, perhaps the bank had broken, when she’d slipped. Kankone volunteered to go back and search for it. I took the green pack, he went back, and Roti, Kelly and I went ahead.
After awhile, we came to the OK Binai. What a lovely place!! One of the trees looked very much like an oriental type, with dark green leaves and fanning branches. The day was sunny. There was a great red rock that appeared as if it was rusty. It was smooth and had a glazed look. It wasn’t one, but it had the appearance of a meteorite! I took three pictures of the place – one was of Roti helping Kelly across.
We walked up to the river a ways. Then we turned up a stream on the left. We followed this a little, all the time Kelly and I in bare feet, walking in the water. As we were leaving the stream, we stopped to don our shoes. Kankone came up. He had found the watch, excellent man! As four again, we set off up an incline. We walked ever upwards. At 11:30, we came to a shelter. We made a fire, and we cooked some soup, as well as fixed some coffee. Kankone and Roti had found some green bananas, and they cooked them, and ate every last one themselves. Kelly was very indignant at this, but I only thought “serves her right!,” for this morning, she had expressed a wish to get the bananas out of my pack without letting them see – maybe they’d taken notice (maybe they’d understood her English!). The guys had run out of bruis- i.e., tobacco. So, despite the fact that Kelly didn’t want to give them any, I gave them some, since it was mine to give. (By the way, this is the same tobacco that I’ve been handing out the whole way since Gera village near Kundiawa – the roll of twist I’d bought in Malaita in the Solomans for S.I.$2) I should also mention that Kelly is ‘generous to a fault’ (using her own words, but it’s true), but we had so little to eat, it seemed rude of them not to offer.
We sat and talked. Kankone said it was only two more hours of walking, and we’d arrive at Frieda Base. Finally, rested, and full of coffee, we got up, and at about 1:15 pm, we started walking. We finished climbing the small mountain we were on, and in no time, were looking down a valley and walking through gardens. Kankone pointed down and said there was a river down there, and that’s where Top Camp was. We were, in a word, elated!!
Soon, we met with Kankone’s “brother,” who accompanied us down the trail. He had heard about us “loosing” the trail, and so we found out that word about us had arrived, incorrect though it was. We followed a river down; soon, we came to a group of fairly shabby looking houses. Kelly expressed her tentative disappointment of this was Top Camp. But we were lead past these dwellings, around the hill, and behold!, we beheld a rather promising-looking camp, with tin roofs and some white buildings, a lovely river and the look of civilization! This was Top Camp, and what a lovely place it was to turn out to be!
We were lead to the camp manager’s office, and sat down outside. We paid Roti and Kankone each K12 (about 50t an hour, the going rate). They seemed pleased. After a bit (Kelly bought some cigarettes), a red-haired man with a beard came up, leading about 5 other fellows, all very proper in their hiking shorts and shirts. The red-haired man, who introduced himself as Drew, did a double take upon seeing us, as if it was the last thing he expected. He asked if we needed a bed, and I said that we’d like to stay the night. He said he’d fix us up, and we could possibly get a hot shower to boot. Furthermore, why not join them for afternoon tea where they were all headed now. It did not take much convincing. We followed.
We came to a white building, and, inside, found a group of tables in a room of quaint, well-cared-for, cafeteria appearance. (We must be dreaming!) We got in line. To the table, we brought saltine crackers, with butter, coffee with milk and sugar, cheese, apples, oatmeal cookies, orange drink and sweet biscuits. Our heaven could not have been more complete! We stayed till later after the group of geologists had gone, eating. When we were finished, we returned to our packs outside the camp manager’s office. Soon, we were led to a housing building, where we were each given a room with a bed, pillows, writing tables and fan. At this time, stunned with happiness, Kelly went off to shower. I was extremely tired, but felt compelled to sit down and write, which I did. Kelly remained in the shower for what seemed like an hour. When she finished she came in my room ad teased me about how filthy I was, and said I should go shower. Once in the shower, I noticed the water was only lukewarm.
She came to my shower. “Yes?”
“Was your water hot?”
“Well, this is only lukewarm.”
“I didn’t think about it until I was ½ way through my shower, and then I started to conserve.” I decided to try later for a hot shower, but that turned out to be the end of the hot water for the day.
We found out that dinner was at 7 p.m. We went up to the mess before 7 so that we could socialize and I could enjoy a beer.
We began talking to Jeff McIntyre, one of the geologists in residence. It turned out that the 5 young men that were being led by Drew were visiting geologists who worked for CRA, a company owning part of the Frieda operation, which is run by another partner MIM. (CRA runs the Panguna mine on Bougainville.) On my second beer, the dinner call came. A barbeque! We walked just outside. It was a cook-your-own, and a hot griddle and a platter of steaks and large pork-looking hot dogs awaited. I happily cooked up a steak and a couple of sausages, along with a green pepper, onion and tomato. When this was done, the serving table afforded rice, French fries (kaukau), bread and butter, gravy and onions and hard-boiled eggs. It was ecstasy!!
Soon after dinner, the lights were dimmed, and a movie slipped in the video. It was “Fedora,” a strange drama, and although I joined everyone in making satirical remarks about the picture, I must have been starved for entertainment, for I secretly enjoyed it.
After the movie, we returned to our quarters. After awhile, the generator lights went out. I was in Kelly’s room; she made a comment about wishing she could flirt (I chose the word for her) with all the men in camp, being the only white woman in camp. When I started undoing her pants she said: I don’t want you to sleep I here!
I immediately left the room, went to mine and went to bed, I could care less! I lay there but couldn’t sleep. I got up and went to Kelly’s room to get a flashlight. When I got there she pulled me into bed and lavished me with apologies. In fact, she told me that she had just been planning to come to my room when I arrived.
She said her pussy was sore, however, she showed her sincerity by performing fellatio on me, until I came in her mouth. After a while, I got up and returned to my room, as we both needed and both wanted a good night’s sleep.
Day 25 Frieda Top Camp
Wednesday June 8, 1983
A helpful fellow named Jeff McIntyre had told us last night hat if we desire an assurance of waking up at 6 a.m. for breakfast that we should leave our lights on at night. When the generator went off we could sleep in the dark, and the generator went back on at 6 a.m., so we could wake up when the lights went back on. We followed his advice. At 6 a.m. the lights went on. I woke up, thought it was daylight, and noticed then that outside the screen window, it was dark.
Soon, we arrived at the mess. A glorious breakfast awaited us: poached egg, sausage, spaghetti, two bowls of granola, canned peaches and milk, toast, butter, orange juice and coffee!!! Being as though we had been made official visitors of the camp, the meals and lodging were free of charge! After breakfast, I talked with Drew about staying tonight as well, procuring groceries, and possibly getting a ride on the helicopter, as I’d never ridden in one before.
Shortly after 8 a.m., there was space on one of the helicopter trips, so I grabbed my camera and hopped in the front middle seat. Swoosh! Up and away. (It was a $260,000 Hughes helicopter.) Down the river a bit, now up and over the mountains to the West. Way off to our right 15 miles away was a spectacular cliff (the Table Mountains). Off to our left, Mt. Iku, the “Knob.” We landed at a small clearing, and Martin and two other fellows jumped out. Now, we returned to the camp, soaring into a cloud front, as if it were a heavenly field. The sun shone in between the higher clouds. We circled around, and Bill dropped the helicopter in a mist of clouds; now, below the main body, we could see the river. He followed the river up and we soon alighted back on our original pad at Base Camp. The whole experience probably took only 10 minutes!! Kelly was waiting there for me. I hoped out of the helicopter and sat on a bench by the pad, telling her how much I enjoyed my first helicopter ride. The Copter took off. A few minutes later, Bill brought the chopper back. He signalled me to come back on, and, letting gout a whoop, I ran back to the chopper, and boarded for a second time. This time we dropped one Japanese geologist on top of a cloudy, steep ridge. Due to the limited visibility, this ride was not as spectacular as the first. (On the first ride, while looking towards the Table Mountains, I imagined I had visibility for about 100 miles. Checking my map now, I see we were at about 141 °45′ East longitude. The Irian Jaya border is at 141 ° — meaning only 45 miles to the West. Drew said later that he doubted I’d seen all the way, though on some days he said you could see one of Irian Jaya’s 16,000-foot mountains!! Nevertheless, I reckon I was looking at least 45 miles!!) The first helicopter ride I’d taken 11 pictures. The second ride I took only one.
Soon after I’d had my first experience in a chopper, it was time for morning tea. We had many saltine crackers with butter, chocolate cookies, juice and coffee. We returned to our quarters and ‘dottled’ around, played a few games of gin rummy. In no time, it was lunch. We returned to the mess, and we feasted on a large lunch. I had a beer, two pork chops, rice, tomato, cheese, red papaya, onions, peas, carrots, juice and cabbage. After this morning full of food, I was really stuffed. Kelly and I returned to our cabin and lay down. We made exquisite love – all the juices flowing, lusty, passionate, delicious sex. Then we slept. Afternoon tea at 3 pm was out of the question, I was so full. We played cards and surveyed our possessions.
One of the things I did in the afternoon today was to go look at the Wogamush map, showing the flow of the Frieda River from just north of Frieda Strip to Iniok on the Sepik, then the Sepik east through Tauri and on. I am very excited!! The river winds back and forth, back and forth. The vast area shows nothing but flood plain forest.
In the late afternoon all the many clothes we’d left lying on the floor were returned to us washed, dried and pressed!! At 6 pm or so, we rested in our separate rooms. I awoke at 5 to 7 pm and hurriedly rousted Kelly to get up, as supper was being served. When we got to the mess, everyone was eating. I stacked my plate with what was left and managed three pieces of chicken, some greens, cabbage and tomato salad and a bit of sauce. Ice cream was put out, but by the time I was done eating it was gone, and I had to settle for pears with chocolate and strawberry topping.
In short order, we were sitting in front of the video watching Oh God! (Book 2), a movie in which George Burns plays the part of God. It was a good movie, I thought. The ending was so happy I had to hide my tears from the rest of the men.
After the movie, Kelly and I went into have a hot Milo and cookies. Jeff McIntyre came into talk to us. I noticed that my ankles and feet were really swollen! They looked horrible. For the first time, I was really worried; what was happening???? I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to walk!! Jeff helped me a bit by offering his ointments. He suggested my legs were full of poison from the sores, which seemed about right. He said the medic might be back tomorrow, and Sani (acting camp manager), who had walked in, said he would try to find Keith’s (the medic’s), whereabouts in the morning, as he’d gone off to a village in the bush on Tuesday morning.
We returned to our quarters, worn out from a day of luxury!! We slept in separate beds. I slept like a log!!!
Day 26 Frieda Top Camp – last day
Thursday June 9th
Before we went to sleep last night, I determined to attend at all eating times of today, my last day of Top Camp. Breakfast brought an omelette, sausages, spaghetti, toast, butter, coffee, juice, granola with pears and milk!!! Kelly and I whiled away some time playing cards.
By the way, yesterday, I forgot to mention, I called PNG migration in Port Moresby on Top Camp’s telephone. I talked to a Michael Osae, to whom I explained our situation. He told me that we’d have to send our passports in for another visa extension. I told him our passports were in Wewak. He said that when we arrived there, we’d have to send them. It was sort of a relief that a representative of the migration department thus instructed us, as it gives us some leverage later on if we have any problems. Also, of course, it’s nice that it seems so simple to take care of.
Also, another item out of place: on the way to breakfast, a group of nationals spoke with me. Amongst them was a man named Alok, who said that he would take me to Ok Esai tomorrow, from where I could get a canoe.
Kelly and I spent the morning playing cards and attending morning tea of saltines with butter (ate much of this), cookies, juice and coffee.
After morning tea, I inquired where I might find the men that had deserted us in the bush. While we were waiting for them to be fetched, we went up to Jeff McIntyre’s office and engaged him in a conversation. He showed me his sharp computer/calculator, complete with pager printer and micro cassette for storage.
We went back in front of Sani’s office, and the three men were summoned. I asked them what happened in the road, and they seemed rather smug and indifferent. Liki told me that the young boy had become sick, and this is why they’d not turned back. It sounded like a flimsy excuse to me!!! Then, Liki said that they’d turned back because they had no food! This we were certain was untrue; as we both recall they carried a big bilum full of tubers. We told them that we knew that they had food. Then Liki said that they had no fire with which to make fire to cook it. We felt no sympathy for them. They had left us in the woods with, well, we had some food, but they didn’t know that.
It became clear that they were guilty of extreme negligence. They had no good reason for abandoning us. At one point in the interview, Liki cracked a grin, and Kamai crocked an even bigger one. I, who almost never comes to physical violence, could easily have thrown myself at Kamai, the smaller man, whose attitude I’d never liked. I could have enjoyed beating the shit out of him at that moment. But instead, perhaps wiser, I used words: “Do you think it’s funny Liki, or you Kamai?” Liki stopped smiling. I turned my contempt to Kamai. “Do you think it’s funny, leaving us out there? Then why are you smiling? I don’t think it’s very funny. Do you? Huh??” I stopped my tirade when he stopped smiling. I walked in Sani’s office and asked if I was getting too violent. He said no. He came outside and said a few things to them in Pidgin. He explained that they should have contacted someone at Top Camp and reported the fact we’d been left out there. He translated from me that I wouldn’t have minded them eating my food, but leaving me out there in the jungle was clearly wrong.
I was growing exasperated, since I felt they weren’t sorry at all for what they’d done. I told Liki that I was planning on giving him money for carrying my bag. I asked Sani if he thought Liki and gang were sorry. Sani said “Yes, they were sorry.” I asked “Liki, are you sorry Liki, are you sorry, really?” He said he was.
Since there was really nothing more I could do, I finally just sent them away. Kelly and I would just have to content ourselves with the thought that they’d be ostracized by the community.
In the evening, talking to Drew, I said, “There was nothing more I could do!” Drew suggested a “swift kick in the ass!”
Lunch provided a heaping plate of spaghetti with meat sauce and cheese.
After lunch, I went to get medical attention. Keith, the orderly, had come back from the bush. He came up to the haus sik, but said he’d have to wait till, 1 pm to get the key.
If you don’t set deadlines, nothing happens!! – God from Oh God Book II
After a chat, he left, saying he’d come back, and Kelly left shortly afterwards. As I lay on the bench, some nationals came up. Among them was Roti, the small man with the big smile and the big heart who’d brought us form Wabia, for which I owe him thanks (and paid him K12).
After 1 pm, they couldn’t find the key, so they had to bust into the haus sik. Soon, Keith was taking care of my sores. He cleared them and dressed them. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any extra tape or medicine, as they were short on supplies.
With my bandage feet, I walked back to my room, thinking happily that now I’d be able to finish the walk to Frieda Strip.
Kelly and I played cards. We attended afternoon tea of saltines with butter, coffee, juice and cookies. I inquired about possibly taking another helicopter ride. Soon, I was riding away to pick up Martin out at the spot we’d gone to yesterday on my first ride. But of all my three rides, the first had been the best, due largely to visibility. On this ride, I took only one picture, facing the valleys towards Frieda Strip.
In the late afternoon I wrote and we played cards. Again, our wash arrived cleaned and pressed. We headed up for dinner early, so as to be there when the bell rang. I enjoyed a pre-dinner beer. I went back in the kitchen and asked for a can of peanuts, which I was promptly given. Kelly tried to make me feel guilty, but I thought if it was wrong to ask for them, I wouldn’t have been given them. We both enjoyed the peanuts.
Dinner call came. An answer to my dreams: Roast beef with champignons (mushrooms), potatoes, rice. Ice cream was served for dessert with chocolate topping.
After dinner, we all settled down to enjoy “Torn Curtains,” an Alfred Hitchcock directed movie of 1966 with Julie Andrews and Paul Newman. It was a bit old, but quite enjoyable.
During the movie, the wind started up and the rain really poured down! Afterwards, Kelly and I returned to our quarters. We decided to play some Gin Rummy before the generator lights went out. In the midst of our second game, she was killing me, and the generator was shut off. She asked if I’d like her to get the flashlight to finish the game, and I said that was ridiculous. Indignant, she got up and left without so much as a kiss. Strong, I rolled over on my bed and proceeded to try to sleep. I was in the midst of my efforts some 20 minutes later when I felt her soft hand. She crawled in with me. As her pussy was sore, she resorted to giving me love with her mouth, which I duly appreciated with a fine orgasm! And she left shortly afterwards, so that we could both sleep well, as the beds are rather narrow. And so, I slept deeply my last night in Top Camp.
[Note: today I threw three darts with Kelly for high score. The first went in the outer bulls eye ring for 50 points. The next 20 pts. And the third a 50 pt., shot too! A total of 120!!]
Day 27 Frieda Top Camp To OK Esai Camp
Friday June 10, 1983
Breakfast on poached eggs, sausages, toast and butter, granola and pears with milk, spaghetti and coffee and juice, but I tried not to overdo it, because I had to walk today!!
On the way back to my room, I bade farewell to Drew, giving thanks. He was a gracious host to the last.
(On the way to breakfast this morning, I went down to the helicopter to look for a roll of film I’d dropped yesterday. Kelly, who was walking with me, was beside herself: “You’ve got more nerve” than anyone I’ve ever met!!!” I ignored her and went down, but found nothing.)
Kelly and I returned to my room, and she helped me pack. I brought plenty of food so that I wouldn’t have to worry about running out on my 2 to 3 day trek to Frieda Strip. We brought my pack up to Sani, the camp manger’s office. We weighted the pack. My reduced pack, as I had brought a minimum of non-food items, weighed 16 kilos, or about 35 pounds! I swear, I carried about 50 lbs., pack from Tekin to Wabia!!
At the office, Alok came up. Sani was down at the heliport. I went down and said goodbye to him. He had my lost film, so he went and returned that. I gave him my address in Vanimo and in the States.
(The other person I’d said goodbye to was Jeff McIntyre, who’d been a big help. As I was packing this morning, he brought in a box of provisions that I’d requested – These we had to pay for, but were very glad to get: sugar, rice, cereal, Staminade, bread, milk, pen, writing pad, saltine crackers, tuna. Yesterday, we’d also procured corned beef, salt, matches, two jars peanut butter and instant coffee.)
Having said goodbye to Drew, Sani and Jeff, being packed and ready to go, Alok and I began walking back up the hill behind the camp, Kelly walked a short ways. Then I kissed her goodbye, and we left the camp, Alok and I, at about 8 a.m.
The first hour of the hike was up and down through typical rain forest country. At 9 a.m. or so, we came to a helipad, from where we had a nice view of the mountains facing the river passing Top Camp. I took a 2 shot panorama.
Alok was carrying my pack and his small bilum. I carried nothing. Walking thus, we made good time. From the helipad, we walked a bit up, but then it was mostly down to where we came upon a small, pretty river, which the trail followed. At times, we had to walk in the stream. The stream winded. At each bend, the water formed pools perhaps 6 feet deep, with the floor sloping gradually to a sandy bank or one side of the river, while on the opposite side, the depths rose straight up a rocky outcropping. At turn after turn, these beautiful deep pools would form. The clarity of the water is amazing, just amazing!
As we walked, Alok and I walked about a number of things in simple Pidgin. We exchanged names and the name of our homes. He told me that he’d worked as a pastor for 13 years. He said that at home he grew vegetables and sold them. He told me that the men who left us out in the bush were not good people. He said that he had spoken with them and told them that they’d done wrong. He said a good man will carry your bilum, wait for you, eat with you, talk with you. I agreed! He asked if I would take a photo of him. He described the trail we would follow. And so, as we marched through the bush track, he and I kept up a fairly lively conversation.
At the stream, I took off my shoes and put them back on at the other side; but I could see it was too time consuming, and I wanted more than anything to get to OK Esai today, so I chanced getting jungle rot in my feet. We had to slosh around quite a few waterways, so it turned out to be a good idea, as it would have been totally impractical to try and put shoes on and off all day.
We followed the river on and on. At times, we the bush track starts away from the river, then returns. Then, we might walk along the river for 5 minutes, and then the bush track would start up again. I could see Alok studying the banks when we walked in the river. It made me a bit uneasy, as to whether or not he knew the way – also the fact that he’d only been on this trail once, and then in 1979, four years ago, didn’t help me confidence in him.
Eventually, we came out upon the place where the waters “Bung,” or meet. The stream where which we’d been following joined the beautiful Ok Binai, which, on our way to Top Camp some days before, we had had the pleasure of walking on some 7 kilometers away. We followed this river for a hundred yards or so, forded a small adjoining waterway, came to a shelter, and marched on. The plan was to have lunch at 12 pm and it was only 11:45 a.m. We were not walking along the OK Binai. We met an old man and a boy. They spoke to Alok in tokples and I could not understand them. Alok told me that the old man was his brother, “brata,” and it confirmed my suspicion that these people use the term as loosely as the Alro Americans!! (Since the old man was obviously of a different generation.) Alok told me that the old man had given him directions of how to get to OK Esai.
Shortly after 12 pm, we stopped on a shady bank and lunched. I enjoyed eating bread and peanut butter. Bread was a real luxury, and I was glad I asked for it at Top Camp. I noticed that Alok had only biscuits. I asked him for one, smeared it with peanut butter and handed back to him. I fixed some Tang, gave him a cup and finished the bottle.
After ½ hour lunch and a sock change, we headed off. We followed the left (north) bank a short ways and then crossed the river. From here we began following a small stream to the east. The OK Binai flows to the northeast from where we left it. It flows into the Nena (Malia) River about 3 km away. From there the Nena flows ENE about 7 km and joins the Frieda River.
We followed the small stream and did not see a bush track for ½ hr – just walked in the water and rocks. (Note: the OK Binai, which we just left, was a fairly large river. The banks were wide and sandy. It made me feel as if we had reached the lowlands because it was flat and wide, and I would see so much sky and not too many mountains. It gave me a good feeling, and I disliked leaving it and going up a forested stream. The day was sunny and bright with big, white, beautiful, non-threatening clouds.) Alok had told me that he’d never taken this particular road before. After awhile, I was feeling as if maybe he wouldn’t be able to find the way. But these folks are excellent at finding their way around. After a time, we were climbing up a ridge, which he’d told me earlier in the day we would reach. I now had confidence we were on the right road.
At the top of the ridge, we sat down for a few minutes. I asked him if a lot of people lived in OK Esai. He said only one or two men lived there. I asked him what would happen if they had gone away. He said that there was no road to Frieda Strip from there – he also said that he’d have to go look for men to help me, as he didn’t know the art of making a raft. The OK Esai men knew how to “wokim bet,” but he didn’t.
As we started down the hillside, I envisioned getting to the place and being unable to go down the river because there would be no one to help me. As we came to the headwaters, a small stream, of the OK Esai, I began to accept it as a certainty. As we walked along, we continually crossed the stream which joined here and there with other streams, making an increasingly large body of water.
We reached a point where he pointed to a trail coming from the right. He said that that trail was the one he’d used in 1979. This gave me confidence now that we were again on a trail familiar to him.
I took the lead and nearly flawlessly followed the trail in and out of streambeds, occasionally looking back for approval. Finally, I saw some footprints. Then some more. I asked Alok about them. He said that a while man had been walking through there with one of his brothers, that they’d come here earlier in the week. It came out in the conversation that the old man we’d met on the road had told him the two men at the OK Esai were there, and apparently, the old man had just come from there. I grew increasingly enthusiastic that I would find someone to help me float down river at Ok Esai, meaning my walking was almost finished, as it would be all river travel from there.
Finally, I turned a bend and a few hundred yards away I could see a green tarpaulin stretched out for the roof of a dwelling. I immediately recognised it as – white man’s dwelling. I asked Alok if there was somebody there now. He said “Yes”, it took me a few minutes to recognize that it was one of Top Camp’s geology outposts. We came up to it. Inside, there were beds and mosquito nets set up, a stove, fireplace, food, etc. I was overjoyed. If no one was there I’d help myself, and if they were around, there was a good chance I could share the tent with them. (The floor space is about 40′ x 18′.)
I left my pack there and Alok and I walked another 100 yards along the river to a bush house. I first spied a woman on the river, which meant that local people were living there, and, as we approached the house, I saw men – there was a good chance they could help me.
I shook hands and squatted on the ground. In front of me was the most pathetic looking dog (or even animal!) that I’ve ever seen in my life. It was about 1 foot long, and virtually bald, just skin and bones and crusty eyes! Yecch!! After a few minutes of conversation, in which I merrily discovered that these men could help me, I returned to the large tent. I began washing out my socks, and momentarily, I head and then saw, a white man leading a troupe of other men on the river towards the ten, from the same direction I had come.
I had noticed, inside the tent, the name Ian, and having heard of him at Top Camp, I greeted him with “You must be Ian!” He responded affirmatively. He was a really nice fellow. He was properly surprised to see me. He talked with me about various things, about how he liked working out there, but found it lonely as he was a single man. He said he was leaving PNG in 6 months or so.
He said that Bill, the copter pilot, was coming to pick him up in a few minutes. He got his things together and we chattered while waiting. He said that I was welcome to use his bed and he left a pillow for me. He said he had to hand it to me for walking all that way (from Kopiago). He said I could eat whatever I could find. Before the copter came, I complained of not having any medicine. He gave me an almost full bottle of antiseptic powder, for which I was deeply indebted.
As we sat there talking a huge and startling crash made my heart jumped. Very close to the bush, house 100 yards away, a huge tree fell, crushing smaller ones around it. Ian told me that the locals were remarkable in their ability to deforest an area in a short span of time. He said they will find a big tree, and cut only ½ way through the surrounding smaller trees. Then, they’d chop the big tree through, and when it fell, it would take all the smaller tress with it.
The helicopter came and went to a place some distance from us. Ian explained that the real village of OK Esai was about 2 km to the East. He said that there was another expatriate working out there and that Bill had come to pick him up. Finally, at 5 pm, Bill was an hour late, and Ian got out a nifty field radio, a 1′ x ½ x ¾’ box that, according to him, housed about 1500 – 2000 Australian dollars worth of equipment. They had two car batteries hooked up as a power supply. Just as he was about to call, we heard the helicopter and had to rush to put the radio away.
With some last minute comments to beware of Sepik people, Ian boarded the landed helicopter, Bill waved to me, and the helicopter created the most marked disturbance as it took off, as it had when it had landed. Ian had told me that he’d send a radio message to my “wife,” Kelly, at Frieda Strip saying that I’ve arrived safely in OK Esai. Those helicopters are amazing things. (Note: Another thing Ian had told me was that Bill was 63 years old and one of the best copter pilots around. I believe it. He made it look so easy!) As soon as Ian left, I hightailed it to the “tucker,” i.e., where the food is. I ate some peanuts and drank some cherry cordial. Then, I washed out my socks and stuff in the river and found a deep place where I myself bathed.
After was-was, I prepared some Chinese rice mix from his supplies and drank a heaping cup of coffee while waiting for it to finish cooking, I wrote while waiting. Then, I enjoyed a bowl and left the rest to Opi and his son.
Alok and Sam, the Tall Man, came and told me they were going to run down to the village Esai and inquire if there were any available rafts already made.
I lit the lantern when darkness came. I fixed some rice and corn and another coffee. I ate ½ of the rice and corn and left the rest for breakfast in the morning. Many locals gathered around while Opi, a veteran of Frieda Copper for 1f4 years, apparently in charge of the tents, prepared rice and tinned fish and meat for them. (Jeff at Top Camp told me that the company annually spends about K50,000 on the locals.) Alok and Sam came back and said that Sam would take me to the Frieda in the morning, build a raft, and w would go together to Frieda Strip. You can hardly imagine my elation at hearing such good news. I made a hot cherry cordial. Just delicious!
I took the lantern inside the mosquito net, and I lay on the bed and wrote. Soon, my eyes were very heavy. I gave the lantern to a man, and I lay back. I drifted to sleep. Occasionally, the talking and the radio of the men sitting by the fire would wake me from me revere, but I didn’t mind. I was happy with the thought that the hiking part of my trek would be over tomorrow. I was very happy.
P.S. – a note on relieving yourself in the bush. Admittedly, sometimes, it’s a hassle!! For instance, in this place, I woke up several times during the night, having to take a piss. With the condition of my feet, it would be a hassle to put shoes on in the dark, walk though camp and find a place in the bush. So, instead, I walked to the end of the tend and hung a leak through the dead weeds that served as a wall. And take the next morning, which I’m about to describe. I woke up and needed to take a dump. I quickly put my shoes on and made my way through bush, walking on we logs, trying to get away from the camp, but I really had to go! Finally, I bash away a clearing and cover it up when I’m done! It’s not easy in the bush!
Day 28 OK Esai to Frieda Strip!!!
Saturday, June 11, 1983
Ladies and Gentlemen! I am overjoyed to announce that I reached our destination today, and did so in the style of a Tom Sawyer-like raft!
I had my rice and corn for breakfast (with a load of sugar in it), and a strong cup of coffee (with a load of sugar in it). I said goodbye to Opi, the keeper of the tent. Sam, the tall man, and I walked through the bush. He carried my pack, his bilum and a real axe (most PNGers use hatchet blades on a long handle). I carried only a lantern. The terrain here is much different from what I’ve been through this last month – it is Flat. It is well forested. The trail we followed lead to the village OK Esai. The place I stayed in last night is not the real village, but just a habitation on the river OK Esai. The real village of Esai is a few kilometres east. We came to it crossing flat streambeds. There were many houses, both on a hill and on the lowlands. In other respects, it was just a typical looking village. We stopped for a few minutes. An older woman brought me a huge, ripe papaya as a gift. It was about one foot long and 6 inches in diameter at its widest point. Sam and another man made an announcement to the village ‘not to look at the sun today when the eclipse came in the afternoon, as it would hurt your eyes.’ Many people had come up to shake my hand when we had walked in. Now, I waved goodbye. Sam and a boy, who he later said was his son, and I walked on from Esai. We crossed gardens of taro. I was amazed to see grasses eleven feet tall!! We walked on many logs, and I was proud of my agility – not carrying a pack made it easy. We forded a few streambeds. Within ½ hour of leaving Esai, we came to the Frieda River. My walking was finished!! I was very content. There was a contraption sitting on the bank that looked like a raft with a roof and a fireplace in the middle where a few coals were smouldering. Sam told me to wait here while he went and built a raft. I gladly went and sat on the floor of the contraption under the shelter of the roof. Sam and son went away.
I removed my shoes, socks, shirt, I wrung them out, hung them up to dry and stirred up the fire. I rolled out my mat and lay down and wrote. I passed my time in this manner. I later got hungry and had some bread and peanut butter. That not being enough, I got some river water and spent a great deal of energy trying to boil it, as, for the first time, I did not trust river water as drinking water. I was just using some of the water to make some milk for my cereal when Sam’s son came up. I could hear Sam axing something back through the trees by the water. I offered the boy some papaya and coffee. I myself made a bowl of Allbran with hot milk, sugar and loads of papaya. The papaya was perfectly ripe, juicy and sweet, yet firm. After a few minutes, Sam came up and said it was ready. I fixed a cup of coffee and go my bags together. Then I drank a cup of coffee, while Sam expertly chopped an oar out of a tree. These people are real craftsmen I thought. We grabbed our bags and walked through the bush to the water. By the way, the whole time I’d been waiting, I’d been about 15 feet away from the river. It made me happy to see the large body of water; one, because it signalled my sought-after destination, and two, because it was obviously big enough to carry a small craft down river. From bank to bank was perhaps one hundred yards, with some sandy, rocky bar within that space. The water moved at perhaps 4 or 5 knots. It was a muddy green color, though not really unattractive, just the signal of a large flow.
We walked to the place where the raft awaited. I was ecstatic when I saw her. She was of a crude but well-crafted construction, about 10 ft long by 8 feet wide.
The body was made of perhaps 10 logs of varying sizes laying side-by-side long ways. A few crossbars gave lateral support. All were lashed with bush rope made of either vines or a sinewy type of stripped bamboo. Along the back, 6 stakes had been driven vertically into the logs to which two sticks were lashed across the raft, providing a place for sitting. In the center of the raft, more stakes had been driven into the logs, providing a hangar for luggage. I loaded my things, stepped back in the water, took a picture, got on, and Sam released the “docking lines”, setting the craft free to drift downriver. San had one oar in hand and 2 spares on deck. His son sat on the seating starboard aft and me on port.
The first maneuver was over some shallow rapids. Sam was expert and got us through no problem. After 10 minutes or so, I noticed that we’d already travelled a kilometre or so, and I thought “this sure beats walking!” – we were really making time, in bush terms.
Onward downriver, we had to negotiate a number of rapids, some shallow and others gushing. At one of the worst points a foot or two of water splashed over the deck. It was very exciting. It was a sturdy craft and managed the hazards quite well.
From our moving vantage point, we were in good position to observe the birdlife. At one point, Sam’s son said to look, and flying to quickly to allow me time to get my camera out were two hornbills plain as day. It was the clearest view I’ve yet had of them. They are awkward yet graceful, funny yet beautiful.
(Talking about the hornbills seem as we go down the FriedaÃ¢ÂÂ¦) White tail feathers, lanky black body, (is it a) creme-colored head (?) and reddish crÃÂ¨me beak of its own classic design.
We entered an area where the river became less wide, with a lack of sandy banks, the banks now having a bit more of a rocky appearance. Often, a stream let out onto the river in a delicate fashion, dropping on the face of steep rocky slopes for the last 10 or 15 feet of their exit into the water. It had a very scenic effect, for me reminiscent of something Oriental.
Occasionally, we would startle a herd of the rocky shores or sandy banks – one moment bathing in the sun and the next flying away.
I would look back and be rewarded with classic views of the river I’d just come down, and behind in the background, the distant mountains which I’d walked through to get to the river. I saw many birds of a type – they were white with sort of fat missile bodies, and, from a distance I would guess, yellow beaks. This type of bird would set up a loud ruckus and fly over the river flapping its wings madly.
Among other birds sighted was a brown variety with a span of perhaps 2 – 3 feet. My impression of this bird is that it is ghostly, perhaps because it was so quiet, especially considering the noisy hornbills and white birds. Also, there are many small black birds with very pointed wings that zoom all over the place, but these did not much interest me.
The subject of crocodiles. By all rights, the Frieda River has real live, wild crocodiles. I did not see one this day. Apparently, the OK Esais found, killed, but up and ate one last week. Ian told me yesterday that he’s seen a number of skins that the villagers sent to Top Camp to be sold. Unfortunately, they cut it up the middle of the belly, ruining the part of the crocodile that is most valued in making handbags, etc. The crocodiles are reported to avoid the sun, staying in shady areas during the hot day. Also, it is said that they do not pose a real threat to man. When we asked the local head man how big they grow, he described a 12 ft. long crocodile, but we figured he was exaggerating.
Now, talking with Kelly, I discover that the white birds I was describing (I saw many birds of a typeÃ¢ÂÂ¦) are cockatoos. She says she was just reading an article in either Times, Newsweek or Reader’s Digest that live cockatoos are selling for $2000 in the States now.
I sat in the back of the raft on one of the “seats” just left of center, and Sam’s son sat on the same kind of seat on the “starboard quarter.” Sam himself sat forward, steering and paddling. Realizing I might soon have to pilot the raft myself, I watched him closely. I found his technique odd, and yet he successfully brought us through all the rough spots. When we came to a rapid, which was often shallow, he would turn the raft broadsides to the river flow, and he would paddle towards shore. Finally, as we were passing through it, he would straighten out the raft again, i.e., head it downriver.
As we sped along (I’d estimate we were going 4-5 knots), I felt mostly excited. I was glad to be out of the bush, that for all practical purposes, the walking was done. Secondly, I was happy to have a raft and to be travelling onwards in this mode. And, frankly, I was just plain overjoyed to be on the river in such a primitive raft. It was like living out the dreams all children have, but which most of us have to live vicariously. Mind you, it was not just the raft, but also the river, and the remoteness and “realism” of the setting.
When we were getting fairly close to Frieda Strip, I made my play. “Suppose I want to use this raft to go down to the Sepik? Can I use it? Will I make it? You won’t be needing it anymore, will you?” I fired such questions at Sam in my best Pidgin. [Sapos mi laik usim dispela bet I go daun long Sepik, me inap usim? Dispela bet inap igo daun long wara? Yo no ken usim dispela bukain, em I stret?”] Sam seemed to agree to my proposal.
In the distance, I could make out a large wall of brownish-red that Sam identified as a mountain, with a name that I cannot recall. It was a mountain of sorts. We glided by it slowly. It was pockmarked in spots, and it had almost a volcanic appearance. Perhaps it was 400 – 700 ft. tall. As we came even with it, I was called upon by Sam to take note of the area to our left, which he communicated to me was the beginning of the airstrip. Again, happiness overtook me.
Just as it started to rain, we docked on the left bank. I thought he had stopped short and asked him why we couldn’t go straight to the place, but he ignored my question, and we tied up. He threw the paddles into the bushes. We walked up the bank, came out on the airstrip and I saw why we’d stopped – because we’d arrived. About 200 yards away was a complex of buildings, which was Frieda Strip proper.
We walked up to the office. I shook hands with everyone, took off my raingear; just as I was going to relax, they led me to a building a bit up the hillside and showed me a single room. He said my wife (Kelly) was in the shower, and her room was next to mine. Sam was waiting around. I had told him I’d buy groceries for him, but now the store was closed. It was about 3 pm, and the local fellow who was camp manager told me that it would open up at 4 p.m. Sam agreed to meet me at the store at 4 pm, and he left. Just then, Kelly showed up. She’d just come from the shower. She said it was time for afternoon tea, so we headed down to the mess. She said that this place was like a miniature Top Camp, and I felt very happy with the prospect of being able to eat delicious food to my heart’s content!!!
When we walked in the mess, Roy, the workshop manager (he ran the whole place at Frieda Strip), a fellow from England, was already enjoying the afternoon snack. Kelly and I joined him. We had tad and cookies. I related to Kelly and Roy the interesting points of the day. After tea, Kelly and I went to our rooms, grabbed my camera and tripod (because the height of the afternoon’s eclipse was to occur at 4 pm) and went down to look at the raft.
We walked past the mess and beheld the scene of the workmen playing basketball, the river flowing behind, the airstrip to the right, the mountain across the river to the right. All was bathed an eerie light caused by the partial blockage of the sun by the moon. (In Port Moresby, the eclipse was total.) It was 3:50 pm: the moon continued to come in front of the sun. Everything looked different. Kelly and I equated it to being on a different planet. “Welcome to Xenon! The Xenonian Solar System has two dying suns!” I took a number of photographs in an attempt to capture the lighting, but perhaps it will not show in pictures.
Kelly and I walked down to see the raft. She was very excited to see it. It was a sturdier construction than she’d expected. Her mind began turning. She already began talking about taking it all the way to Pagwi, our final destination on the river. I was naturally very pleased by her enthusiasm. I myself had been toying with the idea of taking it all the way, but I thought she wouldn’t be too keen on the idea. As it was after 4 pm, we began heading to the store, as we had an appointment with Sam.
Whereas the going rate is 4 Kina a day, I bought 6 Kina (5.95) worth of groceries because he had mad such a good raft. [On the way to the store, Kelly had suggested that we have Sam make the raft strong enough to go all the way to Pagwi. For example, make the lashing extra secure, stow extra lashing (wire, bamboo rope), put some poles on top so we could make a sunshade, and cut a long pole so we could pole the raft if need be.] After I’d bought the groceries for Sam, I asked him about it. (There were other fellows standing around who spoke English and Pidgin who could assure me he understood. I added to Kelly’s idea by asking if he could build a roof our of bush material. Sam seemed amenable to the suggestions. I had four kina left in my hand, and I told him that I’d give it to him if he completed the work. Outside the trade store was an old flat boat with a synthetic canopy that was half burned up. The men around told Sam that he could use it to make our roof. Kelly and I walked back tour rooms.
We were then moved to the guesthouse situated above our present rooms. It was dreamy: they had placed the single beds together to make a giant king size bed. Further, amenities: fans, lights, water bottle, Tang, Staminade, writing table, screens on the windows, a terrific mew. A house all to ourselves!! We were both happy beyond belief. This wasn’t a bush house – no. It was a real “European” house – there was even a staircase with white side rails!
Dinner was even better than at Top Camp! The cook here made individual plates, so that there was no worry about getting a full serving if you were late. He also prepared the food more carefully, and he used a large cookery book that aided him and developed his expertise. Tonight there was ham and delicious rice, including other types of garnishes and a rich orange drink. For dessert he served a big dish of vanilla ice cream, and I asked and got chocolate topping. Shortly after dinner, the movie “Goldfinger” was shown. (Although I’ve seen it three times before, I enjoyed it thoroughly.) After the movie, Roy, Kelly and I talked for a while. I had two beers during the chat – ice cold San Miq’ bottles – what a treat!!! Then, Kelly and I retired to our house on the hill. Passionate love ensued.
Day 29 Frieda Strip – day of leisure
Sunday June 12, 1983
Morning breakfast: poached egg, sausages, toast, coffee, orange drink. Roy engaged with us in another interesting conversation. We walked together down to see if any improvements had been done on the raft. The poles for the roof had been erected, and a pole for poling had been cut. There was no sign of Sam. We walked back, and Roy said he’d drive us down to the end of the road, Calginas, so we could have a look), after morning tea. Kelly and I went to our room. I wrote. I suppose there was no tea, as it was Sunday, for at 10:15 am when we got to the mess, Roy summoned us to follow him. We got in the truck and headed north down the road, 13 kilometers of gravel lined by trees, running in the same direction as the river, and alongside it at times. Thus, the distance on the river to Calginas was somewhat more than 13 kilometers, perhaps 15 or 16. We got down to Calginas and looked around. It wasn’t much. There was just enough space to pull the barge, the Copper Queen (which runs supplies from Iniok on the Sepik to this place). We toyed with the idea of bringing the raft down to here tomorrow without the baggage since Roy said the river was rough down to here, but it was fairly smooth going afterwards.
We drove back. For lunch, we had a substantial meal of ham with rice and all the good things that this Melanesian cook dreams up to accompany the main portion of the meal. We went back to our room and decided we’d like to stay tonight and tomorrow night here, so that we’d fix up the roof tomorrow morning if indeed Sam had gone, take the raft to Calginas in the morning, and walk back and spend the night again if it was alright with Roy.
I went down to get a beer, but the one that I’d placed in a cold spot in the freezer had been removed along with the 23 others! I noticed the ice cream and snitched a large bowl of it and topped it with chocolate syrup. After that, I had another bowl and topped it with strawberry syrup. I didn’t feel at all guilty!! Well, I went back to the room. At afternoon tea, we asked Roy if it was O.K. – our plan that is. He immediately said it was O.K. I almost got the feeling he was relieved we wouldn’t leave. Roy is a neat guy. We talk about politics and music, etc. He’s one of those fellows that say things outspoken at times yet in a reserved manner. That is, he’ll make a statement that could be shocking but it’s so true that you just have to agree. For example, we were talking about how the colonists subdued the natives. He made a remark about punishment and how it was necessary. After all, says Roy, if there were no punishment he would just go over and take the money out of the cash box, now wouldn’t he? Or, for example, he’ll opine that the way American journalists air America’s dirty laundry (Watergate, etc., etc.) was sort of deplorable – how embarrassing for the people. And other such stuff.
Now, Kelly and I went back to our room. We made passionate love which was quite satisfying for both f us. She said she had an orgasm.
Roy had said earlier that the movie would come on at 5 pm, before dinner. Kelly slept till then. We went down and watched Oh God (Book II), which we’d seen at Top Camp just recently. After the move, which was good for both of us a second time, we had a dinner of steak (which wasn’t quite as great as usual, but rather satisfying) and ice cream for dessert. It was an early night. I went back and wrote. Kelly slept. I wrote on and finally joined her in bed, expectant about tomorrow’s run down the Frieda.
Day 30 – Frieda Strip
Monday June 13, 1983
Our 30th day began as planned. We awoke, breakfasted on delicious pork chops and beans. We grabbed a sandwich for lunch. Down at the trade store was a canopy, half destroyed by fire, on top of a beached flat boat. We had permission to take the canopy, so we cut off the burn part and carried it over the raft. (I forgot and left my shoes at the flat boat.) Excited as hell, we fixed the roof on the raft. Then, we shoved off and started downriver.
As expected, the first hour brought us immense pleasure. Both of us made a continuous battering of comments expressing how happy we were to be aboard. The raft drifted down past logs, branches, rapids of shallow water, as we maneuvered her with the crude paddles Sam had fashioned at OK Esai. I remembered I’d left my shoes at the beached boat by the store, and as we had a 13 km walk on a gravel road when we got to Calginas, that was a disappointment. We were very pleased with the way the raft was handling. Occasionally, we would pass a villager and they would look at us in wonder. Kelly had dubbed me “Captain” and herself “first mate,” but a few rough points in the journey there was some dispute as to the method we should employ to pass the point of contention.
After about three hours we both agreed it looked like Calginas up ahead. We pulled the raft to the left bank, negotiated some branches, and we arrived safely. We tied the raft up the water canal where the Copper Queen docked. It was a safe place, and I figured it was worth the extra trouble.
We began our walk back to Frieda Strip, 13 km away. The sun blared down. Kelly was glad when we passed a shady spot in the road, as she’s not one for physical exertion under the full force of the tropical sun. meanwhile, my feet were getting tender on the gravel. After ½ hour, we stopped and ate a sandwich. I fixed up some temporary protection for my feet with socks, nylon strapping and one of my gloves. Through crude, these “shoes” were adequate protection to allow me to walk with comfort, or rather, without pain.
We continued on, occasionally stopping to explain to villagers who thought we’d capsized that we had planned the walk back. At one point in the walk, as I was looking down at my feet to avoid painful rocks, a snake I had failed to notice jumped out of my way. It was a blackish-grey, and about 5 ft. long. For all I know, I almost stepped on a deadly adder.
We arrived back at 2:50 pm just in time for tea and chocolate scones with butter and jam – apples too.
Back at our room we discovered a beauty of a green and brown moth. I took a photo of it on Kelly’s hand. In our room against the screen (window) a butterfly of a type we’d been admiring in the forest was sitting, trapped. Kelly had the butterfly crawl on her hand, but we couldn’t coordinate a picture because the butterfly kept moving. Finally, I decided to hold its body, the idea of which upset Kelly. In short order, one of its legs came off as it struggled to free itself. I carried it outside to get better lighting. I had the camera in my right hand (and the white winged, a gold with black-rimmed bulls eye on the two outside wings, with a second set of white wings inside making four in all, purple eyes and gold fuzzy headed thing in my left hand) and tried to snap a marvellous picture, but the film was not advanced from the shot of the moth, so I had to advance the film. In the interim, the butterfly struggled to free itself. I was just about to snap a museum-piece photo when she extricated herself from my hand and flitted away.
Dinner was a delightful chicken with an ice cream dessert: vanilla ice cream over a sort of shortbread with strawberry sauce! Boy, was that delicious!!!
After dinner, Roy excused himself to go read while Kelly and I, and the local workmen watched “Hustle” on video. It starred Burt Reynolds and Catherine Denueve. I felt the movie relied too heavily on the reputation of these stars. It was an unoriginal plot. On the other hand, it was good enough to sit through. Out there, it’s nice to be entertained!
After the movie we went to bed and to sleep, excited with the prospect of having a day of rafting ahead of us.
In the middle of the night, a huge storm broke out, awaking both of us. The thunder was sounding so loud, it made one think of imminent destruction – Lightning crackled all around, bright as day. We both wondered what might happen to our raft during the night – would the water level rise and carry it away from its mooring? I also thought what would happen if such a storm should come when we were on the raft!
Day 31 Frieda Strip to Lover’s Sumptuary
Tuesday June 14, 1983
If it is not obvious, Lover’s Sumptuary will not appear as a place name for anywhere on the 1:100,000 Wogamush map. It was the bank on an obscure turn of the Frieda River where we spent the night.
Now, how we got there:
The last breakfast at Frieda Strip, and a sad parting it was – delicious, but sad: egg, toast, sausage, spaghetti. Then, we stocked up on groceries: big can of Milo, 2 packages, Crackers, 2 package cereal (Sanitarium Granola or “Muesli”), 2 peanut butter, 2 cans steak and vegetables, 1 can milk, matches (8 boxes), 2 cans corned beef, 1 loaf of bread, can of beans, jar of Tang.
We returned to our room and packed. We didn’t finish packing until 9:10 a.m. I earnestly wanted to have sex once more with Kelly before we left. We started kissing and I walked her over to the bed, which we laid down upon and made love.
We brought our bags down to the mess in time to enjoy morning tea before we left. We ate scones fresh baked with butter and jam, orange drink, coffee and apples. After tea, we went to pay for the stores, but the Camp manager, Kaius, said to forget it that we didn’t have to pay! We were delighted and accepted immediately. We gave three letters to Kaius to deliver for us. One was to PNG Migration apprising them of our overstay. Another was to the Postmaster at Vanimo requesting him to hold our map until July 15. The third was to Ian and Carol at Tekin. It was a personal request to them that I would like to purchase a small bilum like Kelly’s and three more penis gourds (as two of the ones we had got busted on the trail in the pack). Just before we left, both an MAF plane and the helicopter from Top Camp had landed. We gave the letter for Ian and Carol to the MAF plane as he was going to Tekin this day. Drew and Jeff McIntyre came out of the helicopter. Both Kelly and I were embarrassed because we thought that Drew might notice we’d stayed so long. I greeted them both cordially and immediately explained to them both that we were leaving momentarily by raft. Drew seemed quite friendly, though Jeff seemed sort of serious. Drew seemed very amused that we were leaving by raft! Before we parted, he offered us a bit of advice: “Be careful of the Sepik people – they’re a different lot than the Highlanders. They’ll try to steal you blind – don’t take their first offer – offer them something less than the first price – it’s the way of the people: Traim tasol!”
We left Drew and sought out Roy. We said a warm goodbye to Roy, who had also given us a new bottle of vitamins, some bandages and some cream for my tropical sores. Roy is a swell guy. Oh, he also gave us some mosquito medicine, saying we would need it on the Sepik!
We boarded the truck and were motored down to Calginas, road’s end. The Copper Queen had arrived. It was a very simple barge colored red and yellow. It looked like a box.
I walked around to our raft, freed it, and brought it around. We loaded our bags on it. She seemed a littler lower in the water than the say before. We decided to christen her the S.S. Pukpuk. I asked the Melanesian captain of the Copper Queen for a bottle. All he had was a thick little curry bottle Kelly took a picture of me trying to crack the bottle on her bow, as is customary in christenings, but the bottle wouldn’t break. I returned the bottle and Kelly and I shoved off.
Out in the mainstream, we had the immediate job of negotiating many logs, stumps and branches, which were strewn treacherously along the river, bottom from shore to shore. We paddled like mad to make progress in one direction, then the current would jolt us to another direction. Some times we would come dangerously close to obstructions, then be swung around 360 º while passing backend-first between two obstructing logs. I suppose the only credit we should get for navigating passes like this is that we didn’t try to fight the current.
For a while, we had to bypass the first stretch of logs. Then, a short way down the river was a second stretch with plenty of obstacles. After that, we had only to deal with the following scenario which recurs time and time again as the river winds its way back and forth: As you round a point on the inside bank, the river has a tendency to throw the raft towards the opposite bank, a picture: the river bends back and forth. Arrows show that the current flows into the opposite bank. Trees and branches that have been there deposited by the current, await the unaware rafter. Thus, we had to be on guard against colliding with the litter on the opposite bank.
At perhaps 2 pm, we came to a village. We docked our craft on the bank, and asked questions. We asked if they had any bananas for sale. No. Coconuts? No. We asked them where the next village was. They said it was the village on an island. I didn’t feel like stopping in this village because the people looked ignorant and ‘grody’, and they didn’t have any food. I got the impression Kelly felt the same way. We shoved off.
On we went, doing the proverbial turn, with the occasional added twist that we’d do an involuntary 360 º turn.
By and by, we came to a place where the river split. This must be the island. I had just Kelly take over the steering, and I told her not to commit until the last moment. We could not yet see which way the main part of the river went. But the current pulled us to the left, on the smaller part of the fork. We drifted along. We saw a few small banana trees, but no houses denoting a village. I was complaining to Kelly because she’d let the raft off the main river, but very shortly we met with the main part of the river. We looked up the island, I stepped onto shore momentarily. Seeing nothing, we shoved off.
Along the river we flow. The rain clouds built up, and we lost sight of blue sky and sun. A few drops began trickling, then a full-pledge downpour ensued. I had just let Kelly take over at the helm again, but we both became busy securing rain protection for our bags and ourselves. The raft floated into some twigs and leaves and came up against a 5-foot high mud bank. “Let me take care of these,” said I. I pushed off the bank with my paddle, which was fine, and stayed sticking out as we drifted away. Not wishing to lose one of our two “good” paddles, we maneuvered the raft over to the bank just down stream. Kelly kept the raft against the shore, while I went to fetch the paddle.
I climbed up to the bank holding on to an overhanging log. I ran barefoot on the soft mud, and I pushed bushes aside. I got to where the paddle was. Perhaps only two minutes had passed since the paddle had gotten stuck 4 inches above the surface of the water was now at water level. Unable to walk to where the paddle was, I hooked my foot around it and pulled it up to where I could grab it. I ran back to the raft while the downpour continued unabated.
We set off, quite content, fairly sheltered from the tremendous volume of water pouring down from the heavens. Kelly thought to take a picture. It was an ingenious thought at such a time. The scene before us was startlingly gorgeous. It looked like the most avant-garde fantastic Artist had meticulously painted 100,000 particles of water smashing into an otherwise serene grey river. I was in favor of a photo. She took a photo, and I took one later on capturing a patch of blue sky and puffy white in the far distance.
As we floated along in the storm, the lightning moved closer to us. I was wondering about being the highest point in the water, and thus a target for lightning. I related this to Kelly, but as she became concerned, I concluded that this old tidbit of info probably only counted when you were on a big lake. There, we had tall trees ion either bank, so it probably would hit them before us. So we continue on. Fortunately the lightning and the storm passed us soon, and we soon drifted into a warm, sunny late afternoon.
So passed the afternoon. The sun waned in the sky. We wondered if we should find a shore to pull over for the night. Kelly offered that we perhaps could tie up to a log in the middle of the river to escape mosquitoes and what not. I thought it wasn’t such a great idea. We wondered if crocodiles would bother us, and this spooked us a little. We passed a marshy inlet on our left. Onward, we passed a 90 º turn to the right. The sky became darker. Just about the time the sky got pitch dark, we abandoned any idea of travelling down the river at night, for we could certainly not see well at all. I could barely make out a bank on the right. We made for it. It was a very flat bank. We figured if rain came in the middle of the night the water level might rise [our experience of the afternoon impressed this up on us], so we used our pole as a lever and shimmied our raft a few feet up on the bank.
Now the raft was sitting on solid bank with only a few inches of water between the timbers. We set up the mosquito net along the width of the raft and laid out the green foam Swiss Army mat. We got inside and lay down to see if it was comfortable. To our surprise, we found ourselves quite content there. We were in each other’s arms. We lay there, not ready for sleep, but happy to be able to lie down and relax. And happy to share the moment.
The sky was a combination of clouds and stars. From our place we could stare out through the mosquito net and make out whether the sky was clearing or clouding. It was clearing.
Lying there, we estimated the probability of danger of crocodile. I felt unconcerned. I told Kelly that I gained my confidence and sense of assurance through remembrance of the attitude of my friend Gary Cappa on one night 12 years ago in Yosemite. This required explanation. So, with P. Pukpuk (Kelly) resting her dear little head on my right shoulder, I began to tell her the Tale of Twainhart, a story I once wrote in detail during days of waiting for Giovanna’s afternoon visits to my hotel room in a small countryside hotel in N. Italy in 1975. Perhaps having written of the account of my friends and I in Yosemite and Twain Harte one summer helped me to tell a flowing story, but at any rate, I delved into the Tale without hesitation. Perhaps, as I mentioned Italy explaining how I’d written it down, we went off on a tangent regarding Italian foods. Beneath the clearing sky, in a mosquito net, on a bush raft, on an obscure shore of an obscure river, the Frieda, I told Pita the story of how we scared by thoughts of the Sickle Killer, who slayed a group of people in a tent in Auburn California in the summer of 1971. The story told how Cappa had nonchalantly tried to remain asleep through a scare in the middle of the night. Thus, was the moral crocodile are nothing to fear here – they’re probably as afraid of us as we were of them.
This tale prompted tangential conversations of various sorts. So, pleasantly we passed the time. I have named this unnamed spot Lover’s Sumptuary for the act that ensued. On a bed of logs with knots and knobs and space between them that would swallow a leg, we tossed and turned ourselves into a heat that required satiation leading to a sumptuous banquet of body to body contact in the missionary (how apt for PNG) position so, I felt it apt to call it Lover’s Sumptuary, or the place where Lovers Sumptuate: if there is such a verb, we did it. Maybe we were the first to ever sumptuate, if I’ve invented a verb. The love was regular, but subtly intense, lovely as ever. Following the sumptuation, we slept. No crocodiles disturbed us. It was even a fairly good rest considering the level of comfort. I believe I had some weird dreams.
During our occasionally moments of wakefulness in the night, we had occasion to notice that rather than rise, the water level in the river was falling, so that by the end of the night, it would seem that the raft might be sitting in the spot totally devoid of water, presenting us with a problem to solve in the morning.
Day 32 Lover’s Sumptuary to Hornbillville
Wednesday June 15, 1983
It was no surprise, as our nightly glances foretold, that in the morning we were beached. But we were 25 ft. from the river! That was a surprise. It was dark when we got up – but that’s not surprising since it’s not the sort of place you’d sleep in till noon. Kelly wanted to get going right away; I told her I wanted to take a photo of the novel predicament of our craft. This conflicted with her plans thus leading to conflicting attitudes with which to start the day. I had a bowl of granola. She wasn’t hungry. She drew huge designs in the flat we sand. After I ate, she showed some tracks in the sand – were they bird or crocodile? Bird, I think. I went over to the raft, got out our pole, shoved it under the raft and lifted the free end of the pole thus lifting the raft and shoving it a few inches in the direction of the river. I repeated this motion and again made a little headway. As I continued like a madman towards the river, Kelly came over and tried to help with a stub of a log. I tried to show her how to use it, but she felt best suited to digging out the sand that piled up at the edge of the raft nearest the river as I shoved the other end. We worked on it for maybe 20 minutes – I had to take a few breathers. Finally, the raft was in the river’s shallow water. Dripping with sweat, I bathed in the river with Kelly. We scrubbed each other’s back. By the time we get underway, it was 8:20 a.m.
After the big rain, the water level of the river rose dramatically. When we woke in the morning, the water had receded, and the raft was stranded twenty-five feet from the river! Moving the very heavy raft back to the water was achieved by wedging our pole under it and lifting repeatedly. Inch by inch we managed to get the raft back to the Frieda River. I dubbed this site “Lover’s Sumptuary.”
IRONY: Last night we’d joked that the village was probably just around the bend. Today, we found out this was true. No sooner had we embarked than we rounded the first bend up the river and discovered a village. We paddled like mad to reach the inside bend of the river. We landed beyond the village. I walked through some mud and came to a group of 7 houses or so. Kelly waited on the raft. I searched the first house, there being no one in the village, but found nothing of interest. I looked around, but found nothing I wanted, no good food in the trees. I returned to the raft. All I could say was that we could have spent a night by a fire. But we were both glad we had spent the night at Lover’s Sumptuary.
In a while, now going downriver, we came upon some men in canoes. One sold us a large bunch of bananas (5″) for 60t, but Kelly gave him and extra 40t. Later, the man gave us three coconuts downriver.
We continued down, the sun growing ever hotter. We began a silly argument; perhaps we hadn’t slept as well as we’d thought on the raft. We came to a village at about noon. They thought it was four or five hours to INIOK, but they weren’t sure.
More than once, we saw Hornbills and Cockatoos around us on the river. At about 2:30 pm, we saw a house by the river. We docked and looked around. We decided that it would be better to stop now rather than end up downriver without a house to sleep in again, for we felt that despite the villager’s assurance that we’d make it all the way, we still had a long way to go.
We pulled the raft into a putrid water inlet next to the house. We were on each other’s nerves, arguing about any little thing that came in our way.
I walked around the nude. The sun was shining hot. The house was large and had no walls. The floor was decrepit and in some spots had fallen through. We made a fire and I went and fetched water so that we could boil it and have drinking water. We had to get water from the Frieda, which is a mucky brown, none to appetizing. Because the shore was so muddy, I had to walk upstream a little ways, dive out into the water with the water bottles or pots and fill them up while the current carried me back to the house. I did this repeatedly.
I took some photographs, as the lightning was spectacular. We heard incessant chatter from hornbills in the nearby bushes. Across the river, we could see an occasional swarm of bats flying around. Admittedly, before I came to PNG, I never thought bats flew in the daytime, but they certainly do here.
As dusk settle in, the bats began a migration to our side of the river. There must have been thousands of them, most a good size – perhaps an average wingspan of 3 ½ feet. It was a spectacular sight seeing all the bats flying together in a stream against the glowing sky of day’s end.
When Kelly said she hoped she cooked??? enough rice, and I replied “It’s enough for one,” she became indignant and refused to eat. She got under the mosquito net and I ate dinner – a can of steak and vegetables with rice (the can of steak and vegetables is mostly, you guessed it: vegetables). After I ate, I made a Milo and crawled under the net.
In little time, it was evident that there were far too many mosquitoes in the tent with us. With Kelly’s assistance, I began slaughtering the mosquitoes by flashlight. There were plenty of red stains on the white net by the time I was through. We applied plenty of mosquito repellent to ward off any stragglers.
Shortly thereafter, a rainstorm came. The wind blew the rain into our shelter at an angle. Kelly and I put up the rain tarp on the top of my mosquito net, which allowed us reasonable dryness. The storm soon subsided, and we were then able to obtain a reasonable semblance of a night’s rest.
Day 33 Hornbillville to Iniok
Thursday June 16, 1983
First thing I did in the morning was to dive into the river to fetch more water. Our previous day’s edginess was still upon us. After we’d packed, we became engrossed for a while in the bird population. We noticed a group of hornbills in the trees around us. We counted 14 that we would see, but there were others. The hornbills always travel in pairs, but I had never seen as many together. I cursed myself for not having bought a telephoto lens when I had the chance. What a picture this group of hornbills would have made! My 50 mm lens just could not get close enough to capture it. I started walking towards the trees, but the hornbills flew away immediately. Oh well!
Once we were out of Hornbillville, back on the river again, our spirit picked up. We came to a flat region with lots of pampas grass. It seemed that the water moved very slowly here. The sky seemed bigger. The colors were green, white and blue. The clouds reflected off the flat water. The sun sent a gleam to all.
We passed a motorized canoe, whose passenger told us that we should get to Iniok by 11 a.m., but we knew it was probably going to take longer.
Now, every turn became an expectation. We envisioned the Sepik to be 2 km across, as I had told Kelly my remembrance of the Topo map was that it was about that wide. Frieda with no Sepik in sight. Occasionally, we would have to paddle to steer away from a tree in the river, but for the most part, it was easy going.
Finally, as we were floating along, I noticed that the Frieda was turning to the left, but the water was flowing to the right. I immediately surmised that we must be coming to the Sepik, since the Sepik flows to the east there, and we were heading north. I pointed this out to Kelly. It was cause for a small hullabaloo. After all, we had reached a milestone in our journey. We’d reached the Sepik. Also, it was interesting to see the Sepik, though it seemed, at most, twice as large as the Frieda and scarcely ½ km across.
It looked much the same as the Frieda. They both looked like lakes. One might think that on these big, populated rivers you would feel secure about being in civilization, but actually, you can travel a long time down river and see no villages or people. We paddled to avoid “round waters” – that’s where a swirl will form heading back upriver – and to get us out into the mainstream of the Sepik. We also kept a sharp eye out for the right bank for INIOK, because I remembered that that it was close to the meeting of the two rivers. However, we say no sign of a village. We floated down the big river. It was about 12:30 or 1 p.m. We came upon some canoes, and we brought our craft to shore, where I investigated but found no sign of life. Back out in the mainstream we pondered our new situation. The Sepik was bigger, with much long straightaways and wider turns. Perhaps we could run at night.
On we drifted. It was a long turn ahead. By and by, we head voices. We rounded a bend, and houses began appearing ion the right shore one by one. Soon, an entire village was discernable. We floated and then paddled toward INIOK. Once landed, we asked for food, but no coconuts or bananas were available. We finally bought some sak-sak (a few pounds) for 30t. The people we’d been coming across since leaving Calgines, river people, did not have as much appeal for us as did the Highlands people. These river people seemed sort of sleazy. We could see the Frieda Copper Company petrol dump downriver about ½ mile away on the left bank. The villagers at INIOK said that if we were looking for the bed we were talking about that we should go down there. Consequently, we set off right away. Just as we’d been talking to the folks at Iniok, the Copper Queen had rolled down the river by us. As we pulled up to the petrol dump, the Copper Queen had just docked and was unloading. We ere motioned to tie up to the Copper Queen, which we did. The place wasn’t much you could tell that the whites working for Frieda Copper never came own here – this place was just for the black workers.
The captain looked at our vessel and said it was no good. He referred to the fact that it was low in the water. The logs were absorbing water, and the SS Pukpuk had sunk about three inches since we’d left Calgines. The back end was only about three inches from being submerged.
We were shown where we could sleep. It was a place with two wooded bed frames and some screening to keep the mosquitoes out. No cold beer, no stores. The captain offered us some of his food free, as there were no stores, he got this food (free I think) from Frieda Copper, he was going there again tomorrow, and I had offered to pay. He gave us some coffee, a can of corned beef, some rice and some biscuits.
Kelly and I asked about other transport down the river, and we were told we should buy a canoe. They sent a message across to Iniok that we wanted to buy a canoe. Kelly was unhappy about the thought of continuing. We were both tired and worn out from constant exposure to the heat and sun of the Sepik. Kelly threatened to find a motorized canoe and take it. I told her I didn’t care what she did. I was tired and hot and the last think I needed was someone complaining.
Roy had requested that we radio to him and let him know when we’d arrived safely. I went to the boat and did so, leaving a message for him.
An older man from the Copper Queen came in out room and helped to explain the geography of the river and how long it would take to get to each place. His estimate was about 6 days to get to Amount, sleeping in OUM, KUBKAIN, SUAGAP, IASAN and IANBUN on the way. He seemed well – acquainted with the river and I felt a reasonable reliability existed in his estimate.
The afternoon grew dim as a pleasant evening sky encroached. I went outside where many people sat about some within the shelter of a roof with a fire glowing under it, and others sitting on logs on the high banks. I started talking with a young man named Justin Kulu from Ianbun, who represented himself as being from Ambunti. I didn’t particularly like his manner. Justin told me it would take two weeks to get to Ambunti. He warned me that if we travelled at night the crocodiles would swarm on deck and eat us, and he was indignant when my countenance belied even the traces of non – belief. I assured him we wouldn’t travel at night.
There apparently were no motor canoes travelling towards Ambunti for a while, and it seemed fruitless to pursue that angle unless we wanted to pay for a barrel of petrol for K141.60; not that we’d want to do it, but we couldn’t anyway; we only had about K70 between us. Justin suggested buying two canoes and putting them together, rather than make an outrigger as Kelly had suggested. He said we could buy one for K2 to K5 for a fairly small canoe. I asked him to ask around, but apparently no one wanted to sell one.
Kelly was in a stir – she was tired, I guess. She complained she hadn’t slept well the night before – I had “hogged” my Swiss Army mat again. She fixed some corned beef and rice, and then she went to bed. I ate the meal, and I drank 3 or 4 cups of tea. I went into the room. Once bed had clothes on it. Kelly was on the other one with the mat, sleeping bag and mosquito net. I crawled in with her, but after a hot meal and hot tea, I couldn’t stand the heat inside the mosquito net, as they are hotter inside usually. I like cleared off the other bed (it is more like a hard wood bench than a bed), and lay on top of it with nothing under, over or on me save my swimming trunks. The caffeine in the tea did nothing to keep me awake. I fell asleep promptly. I woke in the night and transferred to a preferred spot under the net.
Day 34 Iniok to Tauri
Friday June 17, 1983
Early morning was already boiling hot. The Copper Queen men rolled barrels on petrol on her flat red steel deck; then, the barge cast off. The SS Pukpuk was tied to a log on the shore, ‘There go the last traces of helpful civilization’ thought I. Kelly was tired of this endeavor last night, woke up this morning “as enthusiastic this morning as I wasn’t last night,” She’s a trooper.
It was apparent that no one had a canoe for sale. One man agreed to fix the raft up – to put new logs under her existing bed to lift her up out of the water. He agreed to do it for K3. However, minutes after he began the undertaking, he came back and asked if I could by a barrel of gasoline for K141.60! Apparently he had given up on the endeavor. Kelly and I were wondering what to do, and we felt forced to take our raft downriver as it was. By and by, a man came up to our door. I went to talk to him. He did not mention the raft at first, but I noticed he looked quite strong, and I felt he’d ask, which he did. His strength would make the task fairly easy for him. We agreed to pay him K5, and he began work at once. I went down to the waterside. There he was, standing waste deep in water, chopping a log that was 2 feet in diameter and 60 feet long and making it look easy. Some of these men, not many mind you, but some are incredibly strong. This man was the strong amongst those. [It might also be noted that in most places, virtually all the men of any age are with out fat. Their calves on their legs have muscles of incredible strength from all the walking they do. Also, it should be mentioned that the women routinely carry hug loads o their backs. It is not surprising here to see a woman carrying a 50 lb sack of rice for miles along with other bilums full of other goods.]
While I was waiting for the raft to be completed, I brought the sago (that we’d bought yesterday) outside to cook it. I immediately enlisted the help of a woman who crumbled it up ½ inch thick in a frying pan, I sprinkled water on it and cooked it for maybe 10 or 15 minutes until most of the whitish grey powder had turned into a gooey greyish pancake. (Sak-sak, sago, comes in many colors and forms.)
Meanwhile, the strong man had successfully chopped the 60ft log into 3-20 pieces. He was lashing them together in the water. Along came another man (who ran the camp at this petrol dump, I think) who pointed out to him that he should put the logs under the raft separately first and then lash them together. He jumped in the water in moments and began helping him. Now the two worked at it.
One man stood in the water while the other stood on one log at a time as they “ran” them under the existing raft. Soon the three logs ran under the raft, sticking out on both ends by 5 feet or so. They began to lash the new logs to the old bed with CANTA. Canta is a bush material used widely as lashing. (The rope bridge in Wesibil was a single strand of canta about 90 feet long. At the time, I thought it was bamboo, which it resembles when it is unsplit.) In order to use the canta, the user splits the solid wine into 4 pieces and strips it long ways. Some of the twiny interior is stripped away. The strong outside is found in the pieced of canta used for important lashings.
After the men had various lashings finished, I got our to the raft and began inspecting. I began pointing out where I wanted lashings, for I knew that in the course of a few days the lashings would work themselves loose and cause the logs to become wobbly.
The man who had just volunteered to fix up the raft for K3 (who had given up in minutes) sat on the shore and was saying that the raft was not fixed up and they were finished. The fellows working on it were saying that if I wanted “bikpela wok, yu mas paim K.10.” I told the man on shore to stop causing trouble. I tried to reassure the man working on the raft that I did not expect much more of them.
After they’d finished the floor, I had them start strengthening the roof. They seemed to get into the spirit, and soon, a lovely roof was built. They made hangers and seats. I was very pleased. They had done a great job. The original bed was elevated out of the water, giving us a dry deck. We paid the man K8 instead of K5 to show our appreciation and to reward him for going beyond “contract specifications.”
We gathered up our bags and collected the 8 sak-sak pancakes, boarded the new S.S. Pukpuk and cast off at 11:30 a.m.
Shortly downriver, we heard a strange sound. To me, it sounded like 100 electric saws were buzzing in the bush on the river banks. Kelly heard something different. The water all around us was suddenly choppy, but we could see downriver that it was serene and still. We figured we were riding over a shoal. Kelly suggested that the water was making the sound we heard. I didn’t believe it, but as we rode out of this suddenly choppy patch of water, the sound drifted away.
Soon, we noticed that we were being pulled out of the mainstream of the water towards the left bank. Then, to our dismay, we discovered that we were being drawn back upriver in a counter current!! So this was the “round water” we had been warned about! We knew it was futile to row against the current! Now that our raft had been reinforced, she became virtually impossible to move by rowing. She weights an estimated 1500 lbs. The improvements added a good 1000 lbs. So, we let ourselves drift upriver until we felt that we could steer her back into the mainstream. Five minutes of hard rowing brought us 20 0r 30 yards. We kept rowing, inching along. In 10 or 15 minutes, we started moving downriver again. We kept paddling to insure that we didn’t get caught up again, wasting all our effort.
Now we floated freely downriver. It required the barest minimum of effort to keep her on course. We were infinitely pleased with the way she would turn around, flat sideways, and ramble downriver, keeping reasonable away from shore without the necessity of being steered away by us.
So we enjoyed ourselves. By and by, the subject of taking her along at night came up. She seemed to perform so well that our confidence was boosted. Kelly pointed out that the moon is waxing and that we should be getting a lot of light from it should we decide to travel by night. We were heading toward a group of trees stuck in the riverbed. Dead branches and limbs stuck out in treacherous patterns. It was my idea: “Kelly, let’s see what would happen at night if we drifted into this situation.” I suggested that we do nothing to steer her away unless absolutely necessary. We neared the trees. When it was too late, I jumped up and frantically tried to avoid the inevitable collision. We came up and crashed into a log. We tried to push off, but we were pulled by the current into the most treacherous of obstacles. An overhanging branch at a height above our bed but below the top of our roof causes difficulty because riding on the river current, the current would force us into the overhanging, thus slashing through the roof supports, getting caught on the canopy and wreaking general destruction and havoc. Thus, it happened. We crashed into the 6″ diameter branch at a height of about 3 ½ – 4 feet above the water. The front roof supports were crushed. We stopped moving, as we were caught by the branch and the log on the right. The entire roof was slanted and broken. The canopy was squashing Kelly down, and I was afraid one of us would get hurt. We freed her and then I had her push off from the log on the right while I pushed with all my might against the overhanging branch to prevent us from going directly through it and to allow our back end to swing to the left, freeing us from the treachery of the branch. Our back end swung around, and as we made away from the logs we crashed one more time into the branches outer reaches, further demolishing the roof. But now we were free of the treachery. We floated down, relatively undaunted by the whole experience.
One of the first things Kelly asked me was if the collision had changed my mind about night travel. I said “No.” I was happy that she was still interested in the prospects of night travel, and I was proud that the accident had not scared her. But we both agreed that we’d have to be careful and we’d always have to have a helmsman on duty.
We looked at the roof. It was apparent we’d have to repair it. We tied new sticks to the broken ones and jury-rigged the roof as best we could in 15 minutes. It wasn’t an expert job, but it provided us with a sunshade and protection from the rain. We drifted on, happy. We had thought Tauri would be reached before 4 pm, but we didn’t pull up to it until about 4:30 p.m., where we were greeted by many children. We tied the raft up and went ashore. On the river, the main sign of Tauri was the abundance of canoes parked there. The village itself was a short walk from the river.
The houses in the village were fairly remarkable for their size. They were built on posts so that the floor was about 6 feet from the ground. The houses were about 80 ft. long and 50 ft. wide and consisted of one huge room about 15 ft. high at the apex.
I asked to look in their trade store, but it was a disappointment. They had only tin fish (mackerel), salt, soap and kerosene. I asked for coconuts. They said they were 10t each, but I said I would pay 5t. I also asked for a bunch of bananas. They said it was K4 per bunch. We walked all around the village but no one was interested in selling coconuts for 5t. I gave in and said I’d pay 10t, but we only got 5 coconuts instead of the 20 that we needed.
The demeanor of the villagers was not pleasing. For the first time since the Highlands, we had to rely on river people for accommodation. It was a different scene. Whereas the Highlanders were always ready to lend a hand, these folks seemed to sort of resent us. I was asked if we wanted to spend the night, and I answered that we’d like to. However, they replied that if we couldn’t find a house to stay in, we’d have to leave. I was a bit ticked off, because they had plenty of huge houses and there was plenty of space in them for us to throw our bags down. After some minutes of discussion, one man let us use a small house of his. Accordingly, we went to fetch our gear from the raft, followed by an entourage of children who helped us carry our goods from the raft to the house.
As evening set in, we set up the mosquito net and arranged for some hot water to be boiled. We sat around as the owner of the house brought his lantern in to replace our kerosene jar lantern that we’d been given to use at INIOK. (A kerosene jar lantern in a jar with a hole in it through which a wick or cloth is passed. The jar, once filled with kerosene, will provide a good light.) The lantern he brought in was crawling with little cockroaches. The man talked to us for a while. We reviewed our itinerary with him and he generally agreed that it was 5 or 6 days to Ambunti. When the hot water came and we prepared to eat, he promptly bade us goodnight. We were glad for the privacy we always feel uncomfortable eating in the presence of curious villagers who stare and watch your every movement. We prepared a pot of tea and snacked on peanut butter.
After dinner, we crawled into the net, first smearing repellent on our bodies. Laying down we soon began making love: Outside people were playing drums and singing in that high, stifled voice which seemed prevalent in primitive ritual. Making love was heightened by these aural enchantments, sounds of a certain type of wildness that filled me with emotions never felt before making love.
Day 35 Tauri to Oum2
Saturday June 18, 1983
We noticed sounds during the night, and in the morning, we discovered that a rat had eaten through a bag to get to the sak-sak. A rat had also eaten through a coconut, one of the ones we’d purchased last night.
Before we could leave, I needed to produce some more coconuts, as we were unsure what we’d be able to procure in the way of food downriver. Getting these villagers to sell their coconuts was a major problem even though the trees around had plenty of coconuts. Each man I would ask would say that he had none. I also ran into the typical response that the man who owned them was away in the bush. Another problem was change – Kelly and I had used up the last of our change, and we only had one kina coins and paper money. I finally talked to a man who at first denied having any coconuts but after I said, “I know you’ve got some (mi save yu gat coconuts),” he said he’d sell me some. I got 10 from him and paid with a kina coin. Then I had to pay the boys who sold me the 5 the day before, but I had no change. (One boy sold one to me, and two other boys each sold two.) I finally got one man to fetch give more coconuts for me and I paid him a kina, and he promised to pay the boys their money when he got change. We had our entourage of children help us carry our things out to the raft. By the time we were loaded and ready to shove off, it was 11 a.m.
We were always happy to get out on the water again, and we always commented how ideal it would be if we were able to stay forever on the water, as the villages on the Sepik didn’t appeal to us. On the water, we were free to lull nude in the sun, we were free to use the river as our toilet whereas on land, we were relegated to using a mosquito-infested outhouse. On the water we would eat, sleep and talk without interruption from the villagers. On the water was sun and freedom – in the villages was filth and poverty and resentment.
We passed into a routine – I would spend most of the day in the front, piloting us away from the shore, while Kelly would take care of various chores. She would be back there active. First thing, she would wash of fall the mud from the logs. Then, it would be time to arrange our baggage securely. Then, breakfast. Now that we had coconuts we could feel secure about food and drink to our hearts content on the water. We had fixed a pot of rice to bring with us to eat. I suggested to Kelly what kind of breakfast I’d like: rice with milk, bananas and coconut and sugar. She opened a coconut and we’d drink. It is amazingly delicious here. The water inside has a carbonation to it when the nut get hot. It tastes like coconut soda pop – it’s really delicious – I, who am a fanatic for sweets, actually prefer it to orange drink or coca cola. Kelly meticulously prepared the meal I suggested, slicing the coconut meat carefully (on the green drinking coconuts, the meat is a slithery white and very sweet and soft), slicing the banana thin. (The bananas we bought on the Frieda River were now getting ripe.) She called me back when it was down and she assumed the helm. I took my time and devoured the big bowl-full, savouring each bite – it was truly scrumptious, especially in our situation.
Then I went forward and Kelly would fix herself the same. After breakfast, Kelly would take a bath in the river and maybe wash a few clothes. Later, we’d have some sort of lunch. And so, the day passed pleasantly away. I love to be all alone with Kelly, and it felt ideal to be winding our way downriver together just her and me, our raft and the current.
If we wanted to clean off or cool of, we always had the river to swim in, though we sometimes felt it necessary to wait until we came to where the water was clean.
As the afternoon waned, we asked the occasional canoer how far we were from Tauri, they would try to describe how many turns we’d have to take until we arrived there. A most curious sight presented it – in the back of the canoes, just behind the canoer, was a rising smoke! They kept a small fire in the canoe with them! The women rowed sitting down, often with a pipe in their mouth, and a child or two in their canoes. What a strange picture a lone woman with a pipe in her mouth made in her canoe (with a fire smoking in her canoe) against the great water with a paradoxical sky of both sun and threatening thunderclouds. The men customarily rowed standing up. Their paddles were thus longer, sometimes 7 or 8 feet in length!
We would watch the weather carefully; threatening clouds would hover on the horizon, but seldom did rain actually come. It is June now, the beginning of PNG’s “dry” season. The water level on the river is lower, and thus it movers more slowly(2 knots) than when it is flooding in the wet season (5 to 9 knots!!).
At about 4pm, we spied Oum. We had come off a point and were heading for OUM directly on the opposite shore. We tried to row towards shore to make sure we didn’t pass it, but we got in a counter current and soon found ourselves drifting back upriver along the bank and way from the village. I dove in the water and tried to steer the raft out again into the main stream again while Kelly rowed hard. After considerable effort, we again began floating downstream towards the village. Still we struggled to make sure that we landed at the village and not past it. We slowly pulled up to the muddy shore, me still in the water. We were greeted by a throng of stoic onlookers, none of which offered to help. There was an atmosphere of unhelpfulness and stoic indifference to us, which sparked anger in me. From the water, I yelled to one young man, “Can you help us?” He smirked. As we landed, he came down and said, “Yes, I can help you.” However, his tone lacked that of cheerful compliance, but seemed to belie an attitude of affected superiority. I walked in mud and tied up our raft to a nearby log. Every child merely stared.
The young man who’s help we’d enlisted told us to wait. He said that OUM 2 was back up the canal that ran into the river at this point. Here on the river were only a few dwellings. The real village was inland. He said he would ask permission and get a canoe to bring us to OUM 2. He came back in a few minutes with a canoe. We loaded our baggage onto his canoe. The village children took five of our uncleaned coconuts saying that we could retrieve them on our return. We left only 1 small coconut on our raft.
Kelly and I had begun bickering back at the round water before the village. She had gotten defensive when I asked her to change sides on her rowing. When I yelled to that guy for help, she criticized me for being unsociable, and when he’d gone for the cone, she made a comment: “I guess arrogant white people don’t go over too well here,” “Who are you talking about?” “You.” – It was not what I wanted to hear after a long day. I felt unjustly accused. We’d been to so many places with good rapport. I had no vendetta against any villages. I felt that the attitude here was sorely lacking – it was their attitude, if anyone’s, that needed work. Thus, Kelly and I rode along in the still water. The canal opened up into a lake, and soon we arrived at a village bordering the north bank, OUM 2. We unloaded our gear, and sat under a cluster of coconut trees. We sat and talked with a group of young men. After awhile, I noticed a big bird flying through the village trees. It reminded me of the tail feathers I’d seen sticking out from behind a log on the ride into the village. I’d commented to Kelly that I thought I saw a hornbill. Now I asked, and my hunch was confirmed. It was a tamed hornbill belonging to one of the village men. I expressed my desire to take a picture, and I was told that I’d be able to go right up to it. I got my camera out, and indeed, I was able to get close up shots of my friend, the hornbill. I still regret not having a telephoto lens to have been able to capture groups of them in the wild.
We inquired about getting coconuts and the like. It turned out that the nearest store was in OUM 1, which was ½ hour ride by canoe up this inland water way. We decided, as it was later in the day that we would go there tomorrow morning.
We explained our situation – about how slow our raft was, and how we didn’t have enough money to go by motor. We asked the advice of the villagers. We were told that our raft would take about two weeks to complete the trip to Ambunti. It became the sensible thing to do to buy a canoe. We were told that one man had a canoe for sale – that it was K60. Rather than directly affront them, I told them that we did not have that much money (we had about K65 left) and furthermore, I had been told that the going price was about K20. Shortly afterwards, I was told that they’d sell it for K20. I went to look at it. It was quite long (25 feet) and looked O.K., except for a crack in the back that seemed to have been repaired. It was moored 10 feet from shore, so I couldn’t really see it too well, and the sun was fading also. Kelly had said that she’d be afraid to travel by canoe unless we could get an outrigger built to prevent it from falling over. I talked to the boys and it was agreed finally that an outrigger would be built and we would be given 2 paddles as well for K22 as a total price. I authorized them to begin the next morning. I returned to Kelly, and told her that I’d prefer if she’d look at it, but, being tired, and not up to walking, she said that she’d take my word for it. Kelly told me she’d been talking to a Daniel, who had expressed his doubts to Kelly about whether or not the folks here had experience in building an outrigger, which gave us some cause for doubt. [I found out later that Daniel was from the West Sepik were “certainly” more friendly than the people here. He was looking forward to the times when his contract to teach in OUM 2 would be finished and when he could go back and teach at home. He was working for the PNG government.]
Kelly had turned around and pointed to a man saying it was Daniel; she didn’t look where she pointed and she had pointed to the wrong man. I began talking to the wrong guy in Pidgin, and Kelly, thinking I was talking to Daniel, corrected me for talking Pidgin because he spoke English. I then began to talk to this man in English, who still seemed a bit miffed about something. Meanwhile, when I noted this man seemed miffed, Kelly criticized me in low tones “Remember it’s rude to speak to them in Pidgin if they speak English.” The whole time, she had her back turned to these men, and she didn’t realize what was going on. So ensued comic frustration. (Later, when I tried to defend myself saying the man was out of place to get miffed because I had asked him one lousy simple question in Pidgin, it came out that Kelly had been unaware what had actually transpired.) By and by, realized that the man to the left of the man I was talking to was Daniel, so we began talking together. He seemed relatively friendly among a group of stoic countenances. The man I’d originally addressed seemed to have a chip on his shoulder. We were trying to find out how much the guesthouse cost. We at first were told K5, then K10. Now, Daniel said it was K2. we asked if that was each or together. The other man (also a teacher) said ‘each’, it would be K4 together. Daniel said K2 together. The other teacher walked away angrily and said K4! By and by, we moved our gear up to the house. It was only one room, which was used by a Father Austin who was presently away. Among its merits were broken window screening and a wicker bed that fully accommodated me from my ankles to my neck. But we were happy just to have a roof over our heads. It was nice to be able to get away from the throng.
Kelly and I were both tired. It is understandable that there would be strain between us. The place seemed so inhospitable, it cast a gloomy atmosphere. We really couldn’t believe the outstanding difference between these people and the hospitable Highlanders.
Kelly went out to cook some rice. She came back saying that the other teacher had even begrudged her the use of his fire, but that Daniel had offered her his. What an asshole, I thought. Kelly told me that Daniel had said that the reason no one wanted to sell bananas was because the floods earlier this year had destroyed the crops. It made me wonder just a little – maybe the people here are crabby because they’re hungry – maybe they’re just not happy!!
Kelly and I enjoyed a corned beef and rice dinner, which tasted scrumptious under the circumstances. There was no electricity of course, so were used our kerosene lantern. After we ate, we sat around for a while, and then turned in on our wicker bed. We made love; it was passionate and wonderful, as it almost always is between us. Sleep. (Note: Due to the circumstances, we used jars to piss in during the night, as it is a dreadful hassle, especially when it rains to tromp through to a mosquito-infested outhouse.)
Day 36 Oum2 – a 2nd and last day
Sunday June 19, 1983
It was decided last night before we slept that we would put a stop to any work on the canoe/outrigger this morning first thing – the new plan was that we would see if we could procure adequate supplies at OUM 1, and if we could, then we would just take the raft and forget all about the canoe – the only reason we wanted to get the canoe was because of the shortage of supplies – we were worried that if we could not buy supplies, we might find ourselves hungry on the raft if it took as long as the OUM villagers said it would – 2 weeks. We liked the raft. And besides, ii had to agree with Kelly where se pointed out what a drag it would be to be in a canoe all day with the sun heating down on you. (The raft had a canopy!)
Thus, first thing this morning, we went down to the canoe. The boy was already working on it. Immediately, Kelly pointed to the crack in the back of the canoe and began to complain and say how she didn’t want to buy it. It couldn’t tell if she were being serious or only putting on an act to get us out of the obligation of buying it. I told the boy that he shouldn’t do anymore work on it until after lunch – I said we’d be back from OUM 1 by then, and if we didn’t want the canoe we’d give him a couple of kina for the work he’d already done on the outrigger. I don’t know if he heard me or not, but he kept right on working. Kelly was upset, so I told her to handle it. She said in a loud voice to discontinue work, and the boy heard.
Kelly and I went back to our room. Soon, we were called to board the canoe to OUM 1. Daniel and a few schoolboys came with us – the schoolboys paddled. It turns out that at high water, the Sepik flows along this waterway, but at the present time, it was a lake. We rowed along the side of the lake, through water grasses and beside fishing nets attached to poles in the water. We were told there were plenty of fish.
We arrived in OUM1 and went to the trade store. They had no biscuits, but they did have steak and onions, corned beef, Milo, milk, cigarettes, cherry rolls, etc. We bought plenty of supplies so we wouldn’t have to worry. I believe we caused quite a stir as we cleaned the store out of a few items. Our bill came to K24.21. I remember that because it really caused a commotion.
We came back to OUM2, and I could hear the village boys outside recounting how much we had spent: “Twenty foa kina na 10 toea (toya).” I opened the door, and I corrected them: “Twenty foa na 21 toea.” Maybe they resented the fact that we were so easily able to buy so much in groceries. It must have seemed like an awful lot to them.
Kelly and I decided that we had procured sufficient groceries to allow us to continue by raft. Kelly wanted me to start a fire, but I was tired, so I took a nap. At about 3 pm, I went to build a fire and Kelly slept. The other teacher told me they were short on firewood, but Daniel led me to his kitchen hut. Outside was a large supply of firewood. (Just goes to show that the other teacher was just trying to give me (us) a hard time. I asked Daniel if we had enough groceries to make it to Ambunti. He said he thought we’d have plenty left over when we got there. Daniel said it was only 2 or 3 days to Ambunti for us on a raft. (Of course, we didn’t believe him.)
Kelly came out to tend to cooking after I’d gotten the fire going. Meanwhile, I tried to roust up a supply of coconuts for us. Daniel got a group of young boys together to climb the trees.
They began climbing. When Daniel would yell up to them to toss a coconut down, the coconut would come flying down and crash on the ground and split apart. This, said Daniel, was a sign that the coconut was not ready. It had not developed an interior of meat to give it strength. Each time a boy would throw down a coconut, the same thing would happen. I excused myself and went up and had lunch of “Braised steak and onions” and rice with Kelly.
After lunch, I went back down to check out how they were making out with the coconuts. Outside our house, Daniel sat beneath a tree; he ordered a young boy to climb a tall tree – as is customary, the young boy put his feet in a moose made of vine. As he climbed, he had his feet on either side of the tree. The noose holds the feet together, thus going part of the work. Once at the top of the tree, the young boy used the bush knife he had brought with him, and he began cutting the nuts down. As each fell, it busted open, and became useless for our purpose. I suggested to Daniel that perhaps if someone brought a bilum up in the tree, they could carry the coconuts down and this prevent them from breaking. His reply was that I was too much work. Meanwhile, the young boy in the tree was walking around up there on top of the leaves. Another coconut dropped and fell to the ground. Daniel told the boy to come down.
As it was imperative for us to have fresh drinking water on the raft (the river water was out of the question), I had to get coconuts. It was apparent that I was getting nowhere with the present methods. As Daniel was leaving, I asked him if it was all right if I went up the tree myself. He said it was O.K. I went up to our room and got a bilum out. I got a T-shirt on, because I had climbed a tree before in Malaita and I had scratches on my body. When I had climbed a short tree in Malaita (and one in Rabaul on mother), I had not used the noose for my feet; however, this tree here was much taller (25 feet?) and thin and straight up; I wanted to try the noose today.
Kelly hugged me and told me to be careful. You would think I was going out to battle the natives! [But I loved the treatment, I can assure you.] So Kelly and I hugged passionately and we went outside again. I borrowed the noose from the boy and tested it for strength. Slinging the bilum over my shoulder, I began my ascent. The boys watched me (expecting me to fall?). I made the ascent ½ way and rested. I was getting accustomed to the food noose, but I was wary that it was going to break. I inched my way up, grabbing upwards with both hands and sliding my feet up. When I reached the top of the truck, I tried to secure myself with one hand so that I could twist off the coconuts with the other. I successfully twisted off one coconut and maneuvered it into the bilum. Then another. I changed hands to get at another on my left. My knees began to wobble – perhaps the weight of the nuts in the bag was enough to make a difference. I was uncertain if I should quit or go for another nut. I figured I could fit one more into the bilum. I finally twisted off another and managed it into the bag.
I began an ascent, moving slowly – it was a long fall – I would purely break my legs if I fell. I made it to the bottom. Under my shirt, I had bruised my chest. I was really tired (I haven’t had much upper body exercise in the bush.) Maybe if my life depended on it, I could go up again, but short of that, I was through for the day. My chest and forearms were really puffed out.
I called over one of the boys and offered him 10t if he’d climb up and get 4 coconuts in the same manner I did. He slung the bilum over his shoulder. After some minutes work, he came down with three coconuts. He was visibly burdened by the bag, and he seemed worn out from the effort – I didn’t bother asking him for a repeat performance. Perhaps Daniel was right – it was too much work.
We didn’t bother to notify the boy who was in charge of the canoe that we were no longer interested, because it became common knowledge through the “bush telegraph” that we weren’t.
I went over to pay Daniel for the coconuts and the room. He had gotten 5 other coconuts from someplace, which made 12 altogether. Kelly was back in the “kitchen” (a hut) again. We fixed a pot of Kurumul tea – a tea from the New Guinea Highlands with a nice flavor. She fixed another pot of rice for our trip tomorrow. (We store it in a plastic container to help keep it fresh.) Then she tried to fix the sak-sak that had been given to us. This sak-sak was a tan color. She cooked it properly, but the sak-sak had a zingy taste that we were unaccustomed to, and we thought it had gone bad, so we threw it away. During this cooking, I was trying to clean a coconut of its husk without breaking the nut. I made a mess of the whole thing – it was more difficult than I thought, especially so because the coconuts were so young, the nut was easily ruptured.
After we were finished, I walked to the “boys’ hut”, a large dwelling which housed the older boys, in order to secure assistance in cleaning the coconuts. I offered 20t to clean them (10 of them). The boy who had been building the outrigger took on the assignment immediately and was followed by a throng of helpers in the encroaching darkness. He sat outside our house and began cleaning them with a bush knife. It was getting dark. When he’d completed about 4 of the 10, I went out and paid him and old him to lave the rest on our doorstep.
Kelly and I had a light supper left over from lunch. The boys brought up the finished coconuts. There were only 8. He said that the other 2 had busted. He promised to get more in the morning. He bummed a smoke from Kelly and went on his way.
Kelly retired and I stayed up to do some writing. I felt full of emotion. Thinking it was still two weeks to Ambunti after all our effort, and believing we would have the same unfriendly reception downriver, I felt a resurgence of spirit which came to fight off encroaching remorse. I felt the grand spirit that comes to good men when they come to obstacles that they are about to surmount. (“To charge on in the face of death,” may be a bit strong of a description – but maybe it’s the same spirit.”)
When I went to bed, Kelly was still awake. We made a love that was the most refreshing experience of a day in a deprived village.
Day 37 Oum 2 to Kubkain
Monday June 20, 1983
We effected a fitting departure from our “beloved” “OUM 2” this morning. Fairly early, we were up and ready to go. Some boys came to our door to taxi us by canoe to our raft on the Sepik. The young man who was to bring us our coconuts was “asleep”. Thus, it was “Maski” (forget it) on the coconuts and into the canoe went we. We were gliding on the water and passed the boy who was supposed to bring our coconuts. We fondly thought what an asshole! And, as a gesture of appreciation, as he summed up the attitude and atmosphere of this god-forsaken place, I flipped him the bird and inquired, “Do you know what this means?” This brought on a reaction of doubled up laughter from our canoers and vehemence from the scaly-skinned receiver of said compliment. Apparently, the bird is universal. So, he flipped it back in vain reprisal. He did not understand – the coconuts were of vital importance to us.
We got to our raft and, as is the matter of course, it was bogged in mud. I approached the villagers and asked for the coconuts which they’d been “storing for us” since we got there two days previous. They had never heard nor seen us or the coconuts they claimed. I had about had enough of this nonsense. Kelly notified me from the raft that the other coconut on board was missing as well, which made 6 coconuts missing on this end. I raised my voice in anger at the non-compliant man before me. It was not a question of “blowing it” by forgetting my human relations techniques. I was just plain pissed off, and I felt so angry at these bastards, I hardly cared for the consequences, for I felt willing to defend myself to the death. The man I talked to said he knew nothing about it, and the two other men nodded agreement. I said, “Look, when we came here two days ago, there were many people standing here watching us. They came and said they’d take the coconuts from us and hold them so we didn’t have to carry them. Don’t tell me none of you know anything about it.” There was a group of females on looking. Another man came up and yelled at the women who fled and went behind the big house. I asked him what the women were doing and he said, “Working.” This new man tried to scare me into intimidation. He said, “What are you talking to this man for in a loud voice.” He says he knows nothing so stop talking. You have finished talking – that’s it!” The atmosphere was one of tension. There was the implication that they were going to get physical. I felt cautious but no fear. I kept right on talking, now addressing myself to the new man. After I had explained to him what happened, I said, “You would be angry too it if happened to you.” He had to agree. The conversation came to a standstill. Rather than pursue the point that our coconuts had been stolen, I merely said, “Can you get someone to get some coconuts to replace the others.” (This conversation was in Pidgin.) Immediately nothing a solution, he called some boys who produced three coconuts from a nearby tree. I settled for this.
I asked a by standing boy if he would help us move the raft out of the mud. He replied, “Nogat.” (No). I asked another man and the same boy said No again. I turned to him and said (in Pidgin) “Look, you don’t want to help. O.K., that’s all right. Now we are finished talking. You and I don’t have anything more to say to each other.” I knew fairly well that we had little chance of procuring help from these men, to whom I had shown contempt, but I note it was unlikely they would help us anyway, thus being the mature of these men. The reply was that they would help us if we paid them, and I immediately dismissed the idea as impossibility, as a further demonstration of my contempt. The two boys that had brought us there offered to help. So, Kelly and I and these two boys huffed and puffed, wedging the raft back off the mud and into the river, while the group of men watched us stoically. We made short work of it to the surprise of everyone. The two boys who helped us wanted to sell us the paddles, which was their prime motivation for helping us. I gave them my address, gave them each a banana and a cigarette and bought a paddle for one kina, ½ of their original asking price. Funny, after we bought the one paddle, we desired to shove off, but we still had one edge on the mud, and I said, “Can you give us a hand?” The boys replied they wanted money, but then one boy convinced the other to give us a last shove for free, which they did. The transparency of their greed amazed me. They help us for free, we buy their paddle and extend our friendship, and then they want money for an additional 15 seconds of their time.
We shoved off and drifted very slowly way from the village of stoic onlookers. It was a welcome departure from an unwelcoming village, OUM2, FUCK YOU was my parting epithet.
Once again, as always, Kelly and I relished being on our own, away from the hassles of being on land, i.e., mosquitoes, unfriendly people, inconvenience for washing and toilet. So welcome was the water! Our raft very slowly separated us from our anathema, OUM 2. a motor canoe cruised by with Daniel on board. We tried mostly jokingly to hitch a ride, and he called out that they were going a short way. We waved our only friend of OUM 2 (a non-native) into the distance downriver, and we followed slowly but in the steadfast manner of a raft on a large flat river.
So we began the day.
We began the day quite uncertain as to the future week. We dared not believe Daniel’s estimate of 2 to 3 days to Ambunti. We thought the own villager’s estimate of two weeks seemed uncommonly long, but did believe it might be perhaps 9 days. And we were dreading having to stop in unfriendly villages, and so thought seriously about going at night. But our fate was not to be grim.
We delved into the aforementioned activities of a day on the raft: cleaning, preparing meals and snacks, steering, bathing and swimming. At about noon, we came to a village. I was extremely pleased when the villagers yelled from shore a familiar name “BOWAMI.” It was the one place I remembered seeing besides INIOK on the Wogamush map. To my recollection, it was about ½ way across the map, which led to all sorts of conjecture. The map joining the Wogamush quad was the Ambunti quad which meant that if Bowami was ½ way and even if Ambunti was on the rightmost side of it’s quad, then, since Iniok was on the Wogamush’s left most side, we were about ¼ of the way to Ambunti. And, if we were 1 ½ full days’ run from INIOK, then we could expect to get to Ambunti in approximately (3 ½ ) 4 ½ days!! This was promising, and it was the first concrete information we had to judge our progress. We drifted by Bowami without stopping.
We had one accident earlier this day, before we got to Bowami. We were going along nicely, and I was at the helm. I saw the obstacles ahead. The major one was on the right. It was necessary to skirt the left obstacle to its right and then make for the left of the right obstacle (!). I tried my best to judge the currents, which are mostly stronger than any rowing we can effect. We skirted the log on the left and were approaching the one to the right and downstream. I was probably one stroke too late; as we approached it, we could plainly see that a fast current ran water to the right of the overhanging branch. As we had endeavoured to its left, and were being hopelessly pulled to its right, we plowed straight into it! We quickly freed ourselves, with only minor damage to our battered roof supports.
The paddle that we’d bought this morning was obviously superior to our others. I was about 7 feet long, which allowed me more reach, thus greater control. The small, flat paddle blade gave great torque, and at the end of the stroke it would pull back sideways swiftly through the water. In accordance with local custom, I would stand when I rowed and Kelly would usually sit. This was also in accordance with personal preference. I would usually sit on the front “bench,” and to row I would stand on the protruding logs in front.
As the afternoon waned, we thought we should be coming to Kubkain, but saw no signs of it, and we begun the usual round of conversation on what action to take supposing we did not get there by dark.
There we were, floating downriver in late afternoon. There was a large straightaway that we’d just come to, and there was a waterway (either a canal or a river) that ran off to the right with reed banks. We noticed a few canoes coming into the Sepik from this adjacent waterway. They were heading toward us.
First, two came, and then two more, and gain two more, all coming for us. They looked friendly. As the first two came up to us, more and more canoes came from the waterway. We greeted the canoers and at once began to answer their questions as to our status: we were looking for Kubkain – these men were from Kubkain, we had only this raft – to our disbelief, the fellow we were talking to said they would give us a canoe, and when I mentioned an outrigger, he said that they could build one. The canoe men had a hold of our raft, so we drifted together. One by one, their canoes came up, each canoe being held to the other by hands and paddles laid across, until there were 14 canoes floating with us downriver, about 8 on one side of us and 6 on the other side of us. We were thankful that they were friendly! It was such an amazing scene that I secured approval to snap photos, and I crossed from canoe to canoe until I stood on the outside canoe, from where I took a panorama shot of the scene – four photos from left to right – Kelly lucked out, as she ended up in the middle of the scene. In each canoe, there were from 2 to 6 men, so we had a fair sized gathering. I came back to our raft. We talked as we floated. At one point in the talk, I was informed that they were about to do a traditional song. However, they were waiting for one of the “big men” to start singing. Apparently, the “big man” (important man, usually older) must have died, for they never did sing. One man on my left, took our some sak-sak. This was a tan color and was wrapped in leaves. It was the first time I’ve seen it prepared like this. It was a solid chunk about 9 inches long and a float oval about 2″ x 1″. The surface was shiny and it had a rubbery consistency, which you could bite into. It had a zingy taste. (The sak-sak Kelly made yesterday thus turned out to be good.) it was not delicious but only passable. The man gave us two sticks of it, though at first we turned it away, we finally accepted it. This man was small and had a benevolent face highlighted by a mouth of red and black teeth (where they were not missing) corroded by chewing beetle nut with lime (and mustard seed). He incessantly pointed at the sky and then to himself while mumbling something about his close association with the bikpela man upstairs: obviously, a man of God.
Another man offered me some fish. This fish was about 7″ long and flat and black and brown and whole. They must cook directly on a fire. By breaking the rough, scaly exterior off, we exposed the white, tender meat inside. Another man gave us a 10″ fish. It was delicious. We commented this was the best treat we’d been offered in PNG, which it was.
The initial excitement must have been too much for them, for after minutes of gliding with us, the canoes separated from convoy one by one and sped off downriver. As it turned out, Kubkain was close to, and we soon were boarded by two village men who tried to assist Kelly and I to dock our raft. We were only 20 yards away but we had to row against a small current, and with 4 people rowing we barely managed to gain the “harbor” of Kubkain.
We were very grateful that we had met friendly, helpful people instead of the other type we’d been bumping into. The Kubkainian who had first introduced himself on the Sepik, and subsequently invited us to stay at his house, now assisted us in tying up. He asked for some of the canta that we’d brought from Tauri for tying things. He took the un-split canta. Using his teeth he broke it into 4 quarters and split it lengthwise. Then he tied two pieces together and, lashing one end to our raft, he threw the other end to a boy high on the step branch, who in turn tied it to a tree. We were helped off with our bags. By the time I followed up, Kelly was surrounded by villagers in the quickly dissipating sunlight. We were led without delay to a very big house. We climbed up the “pole stairs” and dropped our bags inside.
We fixed some tea and shared it around. The man who had assisted us in tying up our raft introduced us to his relatives who were present. Later, I was given some greens with fish, which I mixed with some rice Kelly and I had left over from breakfast. All in all, it tasted pretty good. The greens dish was tasty.
I was shown where the toilet house was – it was a little walk. Later, Kelly wanted me to show her where it was. I was tired, but started her out anyway. On the way back alone, I thought something attacked my foot, but it was only my imagination.
We were helped to erect our mosquito net. Without much fanfare, Kelly and I crawled inside the net and, placing the green foam in the center (note: to expect to comfortably and without hassle share a mat that’s scarcely 30″ wide is expecting too much from two tired explorers) of the sleeping area, we donned mosquito repellent in place of clothing and slept.
In the middle of the night, we woke up, and got into an argument about something unimportant, which brewed into seething whispering. It was one of those confrontations that begins from nothing and ends with both parties really angry. I pulled “my” green mat to my side. We slept.
Day 38 Depart Kubkain – Riding on river through the night
Tuesday June 21, 1983
I awoke before dawn and went outside to “relieve” myself (pis-pis). I walked down to the “harbor” and I checked out our raft. To my dismay, I found a horde of mosquitoes on the raft, and I hoped they would leave when daybreak came. I went back to our house and slept till dawn.
Upon awaking, Kelly and I silently (through demeanor of action) apologized for the bickering we’d committed in the middle of the night. Kelly made a batch of rice, and I went to see if the store had biscuits. The store had no biscuits. Kelly and I packed up our things and left. (I got some tank water.)
We drifted around towards the right shore that curved to the left. As we were thrown off to the left shore, we paddled to steer us straight down river. We were trying to avoid adverse currents on either side of us. The current on the left ran back upriver, and the current on the right ran over to a big lake-like portion of the river. Through our effort, we avoided these two traps.
Ahead of us, the river opened up like a big lake. If it weren’t for the noticeable progress we could make against the passing shore, I would think we were standing still! Off to our right were plants on the surface of the water that were moving faster than us. Such was their character, that they looked stationary, giving us the impression that we were moving backwards! I looked off to the right, and calculated we were moving backwards. Then, I would look to the left and see that we were moving steadily downstream, as the bank appeared to be passing us upstream. I would back to the floating shrubs and think we were going upriver, then look back at the bank on my left and concluded we were going down-river. I looked back and forth until I finally convinced myself that we were proceeding downriver and correctly deduced that the plants to my right were floating with us, and they were not part of a marshy shoal as I had at first suspected. Without hindrance, we proceeded with the current. And so we began our longest run in the S.S. Pukpuk.
At about 12 pm, we came upon a big body of water off to the right. It looked like a river, but we weren’t sure because the water was so flat and still looking. We passed a couple of men from Kubkain in their canoes. They informed us that this was the April River.
Just after we passed the April River I decided to fix up a burden support on the roof. Kelly, I could tell, didn’t want me to disturb her sunbath with working, and said sarcastically “If you’re going to fix it, why don’t you do it right?” To her later lament, I took her seriously. Soon, we were both disassembling the roof. There were some supports that had been broken twice and had as many extra sticks attached to them to reinforce them. We took the entire roof down. (Now we were passed Bowami.) With one of the oars, I banged the supports back into the logs (they were spiked on one end and were originally beaten into the logs with an axe).
Some of the supports were just wedged in between the logs and tied to other supports. These were re-tied with canta – bush rope. We methodically strengthened the roof supports, including adding a new “main mast,” for which we employed the crudest of the three paddles that had been cut by the original builder at OK Esai. We now had the extra paddle where we’d bought at OUM 2. All in all, spent about one hour repairing the roof. Kelly was anxious to get it done, for the sun was merciless. We ere pleased with the product of our efforts: our new roof was strong and allowed us more comfort. We floated and gloated.
We had to now be especially careful that we did not have another spiked roof accident that would strip our roof again, which would required a renewed support effort. We were finished with the roof just after 1 p.m.
As the day wore on, it became apparent that the mosquitoes that had joined us at Kubkain were planning on spending some time with us, it seems they had set up house on our raft. Before the improvements at Iniok, the mosquitoes had no place to hide, but after the original bed was boosted out of the water, a space was formed between the old bed and the three large logs beneath it. There was a heavy rain in Kubkain during the night, which had apparently forced the mosquitoes to take refuge under our canopy. By late afternoon, we subdued them somewhat by throwing water all over the place, lighting mosquito coils and driving them away with our hands. However, whenever we moved a piece of baggage, we’d uncover a hoard of hiding mosquitoes, and it was evident that many still were present on our raft.
The day was smooth and clear. The afternoon grew late. We decided that we would chance a night run. We had seen no sign of Saugap, which was supposed to be a short day’s run from Kubkain.
The evening sky is wonderful. I write in my diary.
The still evening panorama, the water reflecting a broad sky, as peaceful as heaven, it is absorbing. The river is bevelled glass. A godly palate of soft hues paints incredible peace. Straight downriver is the silhouettes of mountains with pink clouds above. I am awesomized, happy and at peace. In happiness, I feel no unsatisfied needs. I feel full and content.
And so, day passes into night. The moment the sun goes down, there is a swarm of mosquitoes whose collective buzz is frightening as it grows, sounding similar to an electric razor. This naturally causes the immediate question if our decision to stay on the river at night is a good one. Luckily, we have the big bottle of RID that Ray gave us for just this purpose (Ray at Frieda Strip). We apply copious amounts of this pleasant-smelling ointment, and it seems to have a favourable effect for although the mosquitoes are swarming all over us, they aren’t biting. We light mosquito coils in a few spots. We set up the mosquito net in the rear of the Pupuk in case we have to seek shelter, for we’re not sure if the mosquito problem is going to grow out of proportion. When the mosquito first came on, it was alarming as the sound was growing – we thought that they might be coming from shore – perhaps their number were unlimited.
The moon illuminated beautifully. It is near full. We can see fairly clearly, and certainly well enough to avoid the normal treacheries we’ve been encountering during the day. It is really lovely out here. The mosquitoes have died down to a reasonable extent. We are both excited about the prospects of the coming night.
I suggested to Kelly that we could use our kerosene jar lamp to heat up a can of Peck’s Steak and Onions to have with our rice. The kerosene jar lamp is placed on the bottom log and the can of meat is placed above it, wedged between the logs on the original bed. When it is boiling, we open the can completely (while it cooked, we made 2 small openings to let gas escape) and have it with our rice, which is quite satisfying.
As the hours pass, the moon moves barely perceptively across the sky – i.e., it is still hovering overhead (it made its appearance when the sun was still out). Our happiness continues unabated, and the excitement of expectation of completing a night on the river grows.
The sky is basically clear in our immediate vicinity, with just a few roaming, harmless clouds. But we notice off to our right, threatening lightning beginning. A thundercloud, perhaps 10 miles away flashes like an atom bomb. If this cloud came over the river, it would certainly damper this perfect night. Presently, it only offered us excitement. As we proceeded east on the water, the cloud to the south of us was heading northeast. It was a question of whether we would meet or whether one of us would pass before the other. We continually watched the sky for signs of storms brewing, constantly assessing the probability of threat in the night sky. The thundercloud was moving fast, and we figured it would cross the river within an hour.
At about 9 pm, we came by a large body of water to our left. As it opened up to the site of the passing rafters, I concluded from its size that it must be the Wogasu River, the only other large river entering the Sepik between the Frieda and Ambunti (beside the April, which we passed at noon). Another moment of excitement. In the daylight, it was often heard to judge where the Sepik was going downriver, at night it was even a bit more difficult to detect the flow of the river. As we flowed by the Wogasu, even then it took us time to assess whether the Sepik was going to carry us to the left (up the Wogasu!) or to the right (as it turned out down the Sepik). We came to the straight east bank and the water bogged down, but with me rowing, we were carried slowly to the right – so for sure this was the Wogasu River. The flow coming down from its mouth was noticeable.
I got out my Papua New Guinea map, which was large scale map and only crudely depicted the Frieda, the Leopard Schultye (I can only figure this was the waterway just upriver from Kubkain), the April, and Wogasu entering the Sepik.
Since we’d taken 9 hours to go from the April to the Wogasu (12 pm to 9 pm), we were able to judge the time it would take to go to Ambunti from the Wogasu. I estimated we had a chance of getting to Ambunti tomorrow evening. We were excited – just yesterday morning in OUM 2 we had been told it would take us two weeks! Now we concluded that perhaps they had been bullshitting us just so we’d buy their canoe! We were happy!
The thunderstorm had now moved in front of us, and it was still a few miles away. It was moving away from us rapidly, and we figured that we had nothing to fear from it.
The map depicted long straightaway between the Wogasu and Ambunti, whereas upriver from the Wogasu it showed the curly – Q river that we’d been experiencing since Iniok (and since OK Esai on the Frieda). True to the map, we looked downriver to see a huge straightaway (2 ½ miles) with a turn far off downriver.
Kelly was handed the helm, as we figured it would be good for me to sleep while the going was easy, so that I’d be wake for the second half of the night. I went to the rear of the SS Pukpuk, and I went inside the mosquito net. It was necessary to pull the edges of the mosquito net on top of the green mat, since otherwise, they would come in between the logs. I lay down and tried to rest, but no sooner had I got settled but I felt and hard some mosquitoes, I decided to investigate. Kelly handed me the flashlight. I shined it up around the inside of the net. There were 20 mosquitoes inside. I began to exterminate them by holding the flashlight in my teeth and slapping the net together. (I had experience in doing this from Hornbillville where we massacred a horde inside the net.) There were very many I couldn’t get. I got Kelly to assist me. I would chase the mosquitoes up into a corner, then shut off that corner with my hands. Kelly would then twist and squash the closed-off corner of the net obliterating the contents within.
By 10 pm, I had eradicated the mosquitoes inside the net, and I lay down to sleep. I dozed for an hour or so, exchanged a few words with Kelly, and then I dozed off again until midnight.
Day 39 to Ambunti
Wednesday June 22, 1983
At 12:04 a.m., I awoke. I had only gotten 2 hours of half-sleep, but I was ready to stay up the rest of the night. Kelly was inspiring me as she said that she was ready to stay up the whole night (even though she’d gotten no sleep). Kelly told me about her experience of the previous two hours. She had had an easy time of it, going slow the whole time; she’d taken a few turns in the river, which surprised me. The last 5 minutes, she related, the water had begun moving faster.
According to our plan, we opened a can of tuna and ate it with crackers for our midnight snack. This was a leisurely process. We enjoyed a cup of Milo afterwards. Our next scheduled snack was at 3 a.m. We continued down the river, talking and watching. The moon was still high in the sky. Many sounds came from the shores. There was a cracking sound in the forests lining the water, echoing through the spaces. Insects, water drifting through broken branches in the river, jumping fish. At 3 a.m. the moon became obscured behind clouds, and the river became very dark. We could see very little now. We postponed our snack until 4 a.m., and Kelly laid back to rest as our raft made its progress around a turn to the left in the river. I cheated. I closed my eyes for a few moments. Opened then. Shifted. Lay back and closed them again. When I opened them, I noticed we had drifted 20 feet of the left bank, which was lined with marsh reeds. I thought I’d better put some distance between the bank and us. I grabbed my oar, and in the process of doing so, I knocked it against the roof front left support, making a cracking sound. In the water, between the bank and us, a huge commotion was raised. I don’t know how it lasted. Perhaps three or four seconds, but surely at least two. Instinctively, my mind registered: CROCODILE TO ATTACK, but I realized a moment later that the crocodile must be afraid and making for the river bottom. The water thrashed violently. Whatever made the sound must have been big. A 10-foot crocodile is common on the river, and I would not be surprised if this was one. The sound was so noticeable that Kelly, who had been drifting off to sleep, jumped up and nearly fell overboard. She stayed on board though, but her arm and leg got wet.
As quickly as we could, we lit a kerosene jar lamp, which cast light upon the reed bank. We saw nothing of a crocodile. Most probably what had happened was that we had startled a crocodile resting on the shore.
We continued down in the darkness, our conversation chattering about how fortunate we were to have such an experience! We noticed an increase in our speed, as the dark banks whizzed by. There, way off to our left was an ungodly racket. It could have been a sound from hell! The hugest crashing in the dark, way off on the left shore (we were now drifting near the right bank.) Then, following the huge crashing came a thunderous roar of birds startled. We could not understand what was happening. Was it a crocodile, or was it a chunk of the bank falling in the water? Another huge crash and the sound of birds. We were about ¼ mile away from these sounds. We were afraid that the current would bring us there; whatever was happening over there, we didn’t want to find out! A third crash came and the clamour of the birds arose. We could barely see where we were going, but we felt pretty sure that we were being pulled past his hellish noise. We were picking up speed, which was all right unless we hit something. We had to rely on our ears for warnings. As we raced down, we were alerted to a sound close off the port bow. We soon could barely make out a log sticking at an angle out of the middle of the river. In the rapid current, we were helpless against the fateful flows, and it was luck which saw us pass about 25 feet to the right of it. Had we hit it, we might have been in serious trouble because: i) it was a bulky timber ii) it stuck up enough to smash us from the deck to the roof supports iii) the water flowed swiftly by it. We might have hit it and been hurt by the splintered supports, or perhaps one of us could have been knocked down by the log itself. (We had taken the precaution at dusk of rolling back our canvas roof so that in case something hit us, we might avoid being pinned down by the canvas of our roof, as Kelly had been on our worst daytime collision.) [There is also the story of the Israeli couple that “packed” for the night in their outrigger canoe in the middle of the river. A log came by, knocked off their outrigger, the canoe capsized, and they were caught up in their mosquito net in the water. Once freed, they grasped in the water for their gear, but turned up only with their flashlight and mosquito repellant – the two best items they could have found in that situation.
Just downriver from this log was a strange sound that appeared suddenly on the left bank, which we had been forced near. To me, it sounded like water rushing over a timber. Kelly said she was scared. She began insisting that the sound was following us! I tried to calm her down, but I felt a little spooked, because it didn’t seem to be diminishing; finally it subsided into the distance.
The sky and river were black, and we could not see. I could barely make out what was ahead. It appeared that there were a few water inlets, perhaps they were swamps. I was afraid we would get forced into one and have a hard time getting out, so I began paddling. We paddled until we were sure that we were safely beyond these “creepy canals,” we laid back and sighed relief – the last hour was quite exciting.
Our snack was a little overdue at is was just past 4 a.m., so we proceeded to heat some water in a cup [by placing it over the kerosene jar lamp). When this was ready, we opened the cherry roll (Big Sister), which we’d saved for the occasion. Kelly hogged most of the hot coffee, so we made a cold coffee to supplement it.
We were watching the clock now. We knew that full dawn came about 6:15 a.m., so we were expecting lightness sooner. We were both in good humor and fairly wide-awake. At about 5:25 a.m., we experienced what Justin Jones called “false dawn,” that is, the first light. We suddenly began to see clearly what was minutes before invisible. We felt some rejoicement that we had successfully endured the night. We watched as the sun lighted the sky – there was crimson in the clouds, but I wasn’t sure if the adage, “Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning,” was appropriate or not. I took out my camera as I had at the last dusk, and I took only 1 shot, while I looked at birds, which flew in every direction greeting the morning light.
With the treacheries of the night behind us, we began to think about the coming day and what our situation was.
Kelly swore she wasn’t tried, which I found amazing. We began wondering how much we’d travelled in the dark, and made idle speculations on the worst and best possible outcomes of our travel.
Before long, we were on a lengthy straight away, and I corroborated this evidence on the map, and I thought it resembled a long straight away on the map, which would put us close to Ambunti. Though we’d never visibly verified seeing Saugap at all since we left Kubkain yesterday morning, we assumed (correctly) that we must have already passed it during the night. We soon saw some canoers, who provided us with no idea of where we were in our fleeting interview, but who pointed out a village downriver.
We floated up to Yessan 2 at about 8 a.m. We weren’t sure whether it was or if we wanted to stop there. When we found out that we’d come to Yessan 2, we were disappointed. The captain’s helper on the Copper Queen had given us the following order: Kubkain, Saugap, Yessan, Moiyo, Praconouri, Yanbun, Ambunti. The folks at Yessan were friendly, and I tried my best to behave myself so as to keep it that way. They husked some of our coconuts for us, allowed me to boil some rice and sold us two tiny bunches of bananas for 40t. They felt bad for us and said that if we paid for petrol they would let us use their motor canoe for nothing and take us to Ambunti. At first, they needed 5 gallons of fuel, but later it grew to 6 or 7 or 8 gallons – perhaps they had reassessed fuel consumption as being higher to account for the increase their imaginations had rendered in the weight of the coin in our pockets. The trip would cost us about K20 – K25, which would leave us with about K20 in Ambunti. Kelly was trying to eradicate (in vain) the mosquito problem on our raft, while I discussed this matter in a shelter nearby but out of sight of Kelly. I went down to talk to Kelly about it, and although she was excited at the prospect of being in Ambunti in hours, when I said that I would rather stay on the raft, she was ready to forge on. I went back up to talk with the fellows. I told those under the shelter that we’d decided not to take the motor canoe and that we were going to leave, they insisted that I wait – that perhaps they’d be able to secure a free canoe. One man gave me a banana leaf wrapped around 4 fresh eggs – a generous gift. A woman caught a catfish. When she pulled it out and brought it up and put it on the table, it sat there making rather loud noises. It was strange – it sounded like it was crying for mercy. I finally said I’d wait on the raft. I returned Kelly urged me to eat, so I had some steak and onions over rice, which tasted great but made me tired.
Some men came over to the raft and I apologized for changing my mind about the canoe (they’d expended effort searching for the petrol). They said it was all right. As a last minute gesture, one of the men on shore offered to give us a canoe! That made us feel very happy, but we said that although we appreciated it, we’d just continue on our own raft. As we were pulled away by the current, children ran along the shore. I let out a whoop and they responded. I screamed and whooped a few times, and to me it sounded unenergetic and I figured I was tired. The whooping from shore seemed of an inferior sort, and I was thinking that the Highlanders had it all over the Sepiks when it came to whooping.
Well, thought I, here we are on the water again. The weather was gloomy, overcast. The river looked ugly, grey and scummy. The mosquitoes were still flying around our raft. I was in dire need of rest. It was about 10.30 a.m. Kelly claimed she wasn’t tired (remarkable); so I tried to sleep a bit in the brightness. It was hot, but that didn’t keep me awake. It was the mosquitoes! They wouldn’t leave me alone. I tried wrapping myself up in the mosquito net, but that was sort of hot! After awhile, I managed to drowse off a little. Kelly woke me once to declare that some men were following us in a canoe. She figured they had their eyes on her and referred to them as bastards. At about 12 noon, I got up. It wasn’t much use to sleep. We were both fatigued. I felt a bit crummy but not too bad. Kelly remarked that she was afraid that we were going into another round water.
A canoe with three men in it and an outboard motor that was not running rowed up to us. As they approached, Kelly mentioned that she though they’d been following us. When they go closer, we recognised them as Yessan 2 men. They informed us that we indeed were in a large “round water” and that they had come floating down river with us so that they could help us by this spot. I held on to their canoe, and they paddled us into the mainstream. Observing the round water, it became apparent that we might have possibly been stuck there for over an hour trying to escape its clutches. My fear was that we would get caught in a “round water” that we could not escape. The canoers stayed with as a ways. The communication between us was lacking, but I thought they said there was another round water down ricer, and that they would row ahead, meet us down-river, help us through the problem and return from there to Yessan 2 through a short-cut canal (being incorrect in my understanding however as they rowed off and we never heard from them again). Kelly and I welcomed their departure as it permitted us freedom, which soon manifested itself by removal of clothing and dipping in the water -a sure refreshment. We drifted on. A motor canoe sped by, and although I tried waving it down, it sped by without slowing down. The mosquitoes kept at us, and we had a few provoked words between us, but just for the heat, nothing serious. I helmed while Kelly lay down for a short bit. We came up to a turn, beyond which was a village, which we bypassed. Down-river a bit was another, more well kept village. Coming towards us in the distance was a woman in a canoe. I watched her approach from a distance as minutes past. Kelly and I commenting on the house on a hillside that looked like a white person’s dwelling. The woman in the canoe pulled up to us as we neared the village and we floated by the village talking to her. The first thing I noticed about her was her large full tits. They were beautiful, and I found myself attracted to them. (After all the tabular breasts of PNG women that lay flat and empty to their bellies, this woman was a happy sight.) She had carvings for sale – carvings of soapstone made to look lie they were old. I said I wasn’t interested and passed them to Kelly who handed them back. We asked for vegetables or fruits, and this woman called out to the village informing any potential sellers. This woman took her leave of us.
Kelly and I floated on in the hot sun, which had made its appearance from behind the clouds. (The house at Yessan 1, the village we’d just passed, was owned by the two women who we’d heard of the whole way since Tekin – i.e., Divanap – I can’t remember their names now.)
A motor canoe turned the corner by Yessan 1 and was heading toward us. I was going to try to hitch a ride when Kelly asked me what I was doing. I thought she was pointing it out to me that it was futile, and so I started sitting down instead of waving down the motor canoe. I told her that I had planned to hail the canoe. She said it was worth a try. So as the canoe sped by, I waved and stuck out my thumb in the hitchhike position. Another canoe sped around the point the first canoe made a U-turn, and to my surprise the driver brought it up to our raft. I yelled out: “Where are you going?” He yelled back: “Ambunti.” “Can we come with you?” “You are most certainly welcome aboard!”
There was one other young man beside the driver in the canoe. Kelly and I immediately began loading our things into their canoe. I doubt there has ever been a vessel that has been as faithful as the SS Pukpuk that has been abandoned as quickly. The canoe men said they’d like the raft canvas, so we removed it and gave it to them. We left the SS Puk-puk a few hundred yards downriver from Yessan 1, baggage-less, roof-less and abandoned). As we sped away, I shot a parting photograph of our faithful vessel. She looked alone and it was almost sad. She became a floating particle in the distance, and we wondered what would become of her. (Perhaps she’d reach Ambunti in about 12 hours.)
We arrived in Ambunti in less than two hours. On the way, we saw treacherous water – whirlpools, round waters – near Yanbun, which turned out to be a huge village. We came up to Ambunti, in a pleasant setting with a backdrop of green mountains. We stepped ashore. We’d reach civilization.
We brought on baggage to the mission HQ, to inquire about a room. A young lady approached us, and before we could say anything, she immediately ran down the list of prices of accommodation and meals. The only thing we could afford was the last item – a hard floor and a good roof for K3. We went down to the store and Kelly had an orange, and I had a beer and we split (I ate) a package of coconut kina cookies. When we returned to mission HQ, we sought out the lady to show us to our hard floor. We asked an older lady where it was. She looked around for the young lady, couldn’t find her, and came back to us and asked if we wanted to come to dinner. I asked her “how much.” She told us it was free, that she was inviting us. We walked outside and bumped into her husband who also asked us to dinner. He said to be there at 6:30 p.m. He asked where we were from. I said, “California,” and he asked what part. I said, “San Francisco,” and he shoed some surprise. I asked where he was from, and he said, “Palo Alto.” (Which is only about 30 mile away.) I.e., it’s a small world. We asked where the “passenger house” was and he said we could sleep in a room we had. We were shown to the room. In side was a double bed with a mosquito net. In an adjacent room was a toilet and shower. He asked us to write our names and address (we posed as married) on a card, and he left us to get ready for dinner. Kelly and I showered and dressed for dinner. We were ecstatic to have a nice bed to sleep in. We showed up for dinner on time. We talked, met their son, ate dinner and dessert, and retired to the couch after dinner. After a short chat, we went to the bedroom. We lay down and slept amongst the deepest dreams of our lives.
Day 40 Ambunti
Thursday June 23. 1983
We weren’t really in a rush to leave. We woke up at 11 a.m., and I went out to look for a canoe (motor) to Pagwi (which connects by road to Wewak, a costal center – whereas no roads lead out from Ambunti, only river and air travel from there), but by this time no more canoes were going there, so we were “forced” to stay another day. I went to the store, bought an orange drink (out of beer) and went back and shared it with Kelly, who was napping when I came in. Neil invited us to dinner, and said that normally they charge for all this, but “under the circumstances” (since we were short on money and come so far) it was all right. Neil is a real Christian.
Kelly and I bought a pack of cards. We had been craving cards for so long, there had been so many idle moments to pass away on our Trek, for which I reminded her that it was her idea to send the cards on to Vanimo to conserve on weight – but we really should have brought them. We played a few quick hands of Gin rummy before dinner.
Over dinner, Neil brought up Christianity, “Well, since we are of missionaries” (SIL – Summer Institute of Linguistics). We told them our backgrounds: me, Roman Catholic, Kelly, Presbyterian, but neither of us practice anymore. Neil described his place with the Lord. He said astonished at the thought of controlling his own life, “Well, I couldn’t even imagine making my own decision – I let the Lord make my decisions. Making your own, well, that invites Satan to take over.”
I asked Neil if the fact that we weren’t Christians diminished his liking for us. He answered indirectly, saying he felt grief, commiserating grief, for us. He said that Christians looked after one another, that they had a brotherhood. His wife, Jan, put in that “We couldn’t treat everyone like that.” Them she went into some fanatical interpretation of reality depicting the Lord’s intervention in their mundane daily task. I think the Lord could care less. Besides, Jan looked like she hadn’t dicked into about ten years. Poor thing.
Later, we talked about how things were when they first came here in 1060. At that time, there were restricted areas where cannibals were not yet subdued. Often, villagers would be imprisoned for cannibalism. Jan and Neil reckoned that even at that time nearly ever tribe had been contacted.
Neil was saying that they just recently started working with a tribe that was remote and devoid of Western goods – they had no kerosene, no mosquito nets – it was pretty miserable out there.
I reflect now on that conversation: the first white men came into the interior of New Guinea when: in the 20’s, the 30’s. So by the 60’s, Western men had already contacted most places. Neil said that about 1965 a woman anthropologist was there to discover “untouched” tribes, but found none. The New Guinea that we expected was long gone in one sense – the people all had awareness of Western Culture, and most had some small degree of goods – steel axes, lanterns. But still were the rough bush tracks through difficult country (although they are probably now more well – travelled). The wantok system manifesting close ties among villagers was ever present. The houses were still made usually entirely of bush material. The people relied on their gardens for food. Perhaps now two major things have altered since Western intervention: i) less tribal fighting and ii) more plentiful food supplies because of the introduction of steel (axes).
I am left with one central impression: that primitive isn’t so primitive – the men who lived here before whites came were intelligent naturalists – they can build a bush house in two days that will stand for years. They can build a bridge of rope across a 100-foot wide body of water in a day – this is made of canta or bush rope. (Modern tools enable them to finish these tasks more quickly.) In most senses, thus, I feel that this land is very much in the same state as in the 1800’s. But I missed the nudity, the fearfulness of the people and undoubtedly the wreaking poverty that must have existed then.
The land is rapidly changing. The people are losing their culture in a trade for what we have, little realizing that they are destroying a priceless tradition.
Without going as deeply into the bush as we did, it is doubtful we could have gotten an ‘adequate” idea of what the heritage of New Guinea isÃ¢ÂÂ¦????
Kelly and I enjoyed another night in the double bed, and in the morning, we caught a motor canoe to Pagwi and a truck to Weak and civilization.
|Day of week||Date||Day||Place slept|
|Monday||9-May||A1||Tari (from Mendi)|
|Monday||16-May||2||Gaua via Strickland Gorge|
|Tuesday||17-May||3||Tekin via Oksapmin|
|Monday||30-May||16||Slept on path in rain|
|Tuesday||31-May||17||Shelter on Ok Milai River|
|Friday||10-Jun||27||Ok Esai Camp|
|Tuesday||21-Jun||38||riding on river through the night|