First, I would like to underline that I am not a professional writer, nor am I into any kind of travel business or industry. The reason why I am writing the stories and tales I've been experiencing during my previous trips, is simply because I would like to share some funny, hilarious, sometimes scary moments I've been facing along the way and besides that, I like to memorize it for myself. Please excuse me for any written faults as I've never been studying for English in school but just by myself. This text will be accompanied with some images, however for full picture-reports please refer to the different slide shows from Asia or other countries.
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I hope you will enjoy reading the travel reports as much I enjoyed them by writing them !
After a 4.00am wake up call in Brisbane’s Mercure Hotel, I’m finally on my way to “The Land of the Unexpected”, “The Last Frontier” or simply PNG. Sounds complicated ? Well, I’m talking about Papua New Guinea.
On arrival in Port Moresby, the nation’s capital, I met a traveller who’s flight was cancelled. The airline's system went down and it resulted in a complete chaos on the airport floor. Yet another domestic flight was cancelled and while I had a 5-hour transit at POM airport, it allowed me enough time to imagine what I would do if my flight would be cancelled as well.
Did I mentioned that I am in “The Land of the Unexpected” ?
Anyway, my departure was on schedule and before I realized it, I was in Milne Bay’s capital Alotau. A neat little harbour town. 3 nights I will spend in this magical place.
At the Napatana Lodge, I had a sea-facing bungalow with a huge verandah . All amenities at this eco-friendly lodge are provided. Hot and cold water, fan, coffee- and tea facilities, there’s mosquito spray in the room for both the human body as for the room. Among other hotel facilities is the upstairs open-airy bar annex restaurant a very popular place, specialy during weekends when locals gather here.
Immediately I met some interesting locals and travellers a like. One of them Lonely Planet author Dean who was here in PNG for updating the new 2008 edition of Papua New Guinea. I can strongly advice this guide book. I bought the latest 2005 edition and found it very useful.
But if there’s one thing I can recommend you besides the LP guide book, it would definitely be the Napatana Lodge. The food is very tasty. So is the service and your hosts Pam and Gretta. Together with their husbands they operate the Napatana and will do anything to make your stay a memorable one.
Florah, the daughter of Gretta is your perfect private guide. She’s able to plan your daytrips with you and arrange DIY tours using just local transport like a PMV (Public Motor Vehicle) or a dinghy (small boat).
With the assistance of Florah, Dean and myself took off with a PMV to East Cape. A PMV is the local bus and anything goes inside. Goods, bags of rice, a dog and as much people as possible. Between this, myself.
As the name suggests, East Cape is the most easterly point of PNG. There are a number of islands off shore. The nearest Boiboiwaga Island is just a 2-minute dinghy ride away. We had chosen to go here instead of the little more distant islands because between June and October the sea can be quite rough and unsafe. There are no lifejackets available this side of the planet and we opted for safety instead of sorry. As we bought a drum of fuel in Alotau, the dinghy’s outboard motor was filled up and on we went after I took use of the local toilet, a fenced pit in the bushes.
We were about far enough from the shore when all of a sudden the engine gave up. Too far to swim back or to call for help. Luckily another dinghy passed by and noticed our problem. He tow us back to shore, we switched into another small boat and made it safely on Boiboiwaga island where plenty of colourful fish and coral are waiting to be explored. The island is deserted, with lots of vegetation plus a true coral garden in the shallow waters in front of it. Go there with your loved one, carry a cooler with a couple of SP's (local beer) and fresh fruit. Bring snorkelling gear and the island is all yours for the day.
Today is Saturday and that means party-time ! Only on Saturdays there’s dancing at the “Jetty”, a club for locals. Wherever I go in the world, I find it always interesting to check out the local nightlife. And I can tell you that I came across some unusual sights and sounds in the past.
After a security check, I was given green light to get in. But not alone ! I had 2 private body guards with me from the Napatana who surrounded me wherever I moved my feet. Apart from this, 3 more staff members who where there also to look after me. Definitely this was not wasted luxury as I later found out. Minutes after I took my first beer, next to me a local was beating his wife like a mad cow. Not him, but the lady was dragged outside by night-club security. Right after that, a similar situation took place in another corner. I had heard that abusing women in this country is still a common practise but I had never seen it with my own eyes until today. Here in the club, it was clearly a domain dominated by males. But the fighting escalated and it went on at different corners with bottles, stones and anything which was’nt too heavy to throw. It was really a scary experience.
Just 90 minutes after I had entered the place, my private bodyguards brought me back to the hotel safely. By then the bar ran out of alcohol anyway - maybe because this Belgian was there, hihi.
Outside, the troubles kept going on while my guards instructed me to walk slowly by and avoid eye contact with the fighting groups. Welcome to the Land of the Unexpected !
After quite an exciting night, it is good to have a relaxing day and enjoy some of the best that PNG has to offer…its stunning natural sources. I decided to explore the rainforest around Halowiya. Following the river up to a great waterfall and you’ll notice different kinds of colourful butterflies and birds alike. I spotted several species of gorgeous birds, the White Cockatoo being one of them which I could easily recognise. Walking back towards the beach, there’s a tiny little islet, with good snorkelling according Florah – my local guide. Unfortunately, today it is Sunday and no dinghy available to get me there. A good swimmer would surely be able to make it as the distance is really short. Driving back to Alotau, we stopped along the way as I noticed another phenomenal gift from nature. A group of about 30 dolphins were frolicking about 100 meters off shore (see picture). The flat sea today made it very easy to follow them. A great end of the day.
Just a short 35-minute flight over the Coral Sea brought me into a totally different world that goes beyond your imagination. I had been doing research since the past 2 years about this mysterious string of Melanesian island-gems spread out in the Coral Sea. They belong to Papua New Guinea but that’s about all they have in common.
The Trobriand Islands, known as the Islands of Love celebrate their annual harvest of the yams with fantastic festivities as canoe races, traditional dancing, funny cricket games and more. It usually lasts about 2 weeks. It really is by all means the absolute highlight of the year and a must for every traveller interested in culture. Several anthropologists have been here before myself, but this time I could finally step into the world of this magical place on earth.
The start of the "Milaa Malaa festival" as it is officially called, takes place somewhere in july/august while the yam cultivation cycle is the basis of their calendar. It starts with the Kula expedition canoes at Luba area, encompasses Wawela to Okaiboma villages.
The second day, the Kula Expedition sails to Kitava Island while the 2 following days canoe racing elimination rounds are taking place.
On day 5 the Kula exchange Feast take place at Kitava Island. Next day the Kula Expedition departs Kitava Island for Kiriwani, followed by 2 days of rest.
It was the second rest day that I flew into the smallish airstrip where a sort of pick-up welcomed me to bring me to Butia Lodge, the best available accommodation on the island.
The second part of the Milaa Malaa festival sounded the most interesting in my opinion, that’s why I decided to arrive here today, because part 2 should start just about now.
However, on arrival I was told that the whole festival was (sigh) cancelled !!!
Who ever said that PNG is often referred to as the Land of the Unexpected ? I had travelled more then half-way around the globe to witness this colourful event. I took off a great deal from work, bought a very complicated (and expensive) air ticket and last but not least, collected a pile of research about the island group to hear minutes after I stepped foot on this magical ground, that all activities were simply cancelled.
This 2007 Milaa Malaa festival was previously announced by the official PNG PTA and a detailed program was sent to me… All for no reason. Even the organiser, who I met the day before in Alotau and who owns Butia Lodge, did not informed me about the cancellation. Perhaps to secure my bookings at the lodge, I don’t know. Anyway, I reduced my original stay at the Lodge from 7 to 4 nights because of that reason. So did a fellow traveller who came from New Zealand with the same thing in mind as myself.
Deeply disappointed but still amazed about the warm people of the Trobriands, I explored the Station which is nothing more then a couple of small trade stores selling basic stuff.
At the Station, which functions as a sort of meeting point for locals, there’s always some local way of life to witness. Some people (not to mention most of the people) are chewing beetle nut, others buying fresh fish straight from the dinghy while the women are doing some shopping at the small local seaside market. Always full of photo opportunities.
As we heard that a funeral was taking place this morning, always an interesting place to visit too, except in your own country of course, we headed toward the gathering. I had no idea where all this people came from but I estimate several hundreds, if not thousand people showed up. Some only to watch from the top of car wreckage. Children played inside of what which was long ago a car too. Actually the deceased passed away already a while ago, but relatives wait until they have enough funds to held the feast, because that’s what it is – a feast.
As a way of respect, many local visitors donates money on top of huge piles of something which I never learned what it is (see picture). The ceremony is a very exciting event with laughter and rumour, something never seen at a funeral. In the afternoon, I decided to jump on a truck, our chartered vehicle that brought us under a downpour to the beach of Kaibola. As I arrived I noticed two dolphins who made a perfect spin in front of my eyes, as if they were welcoming us to the village of Kaibola. The beach here has a coral bottom which make it a bit hard for sensitive feet to wade through but offers perfect snorkelling because of its splendid views under the surface.
To continue this exciting day so far, Toku, the Butia Lodge’ manager brought us to another fantastic village settlement, Okaiboma where a young Trobriander lady just gave birth 4 weeks ago. Under Trobriand tradition, the young mother can only go outside her hut typically dressed in a very short grass skirt and shoulder coverage but other then that, naked.
The least I could say of this village visit that it was a memorable one in any ways. As soon we, the white men, were spotted by local kids, they start screaming “Dim dim” which means something similar as “white man” (or female in that matter). Children were very very excited each time we drove our truck through their playgrounds. The same ritual took place upon leaving a village. The locals ran after us in excitement, waving and screaming but smiling all the time, while adults were as friendly as their younger fellow citizen expressing that by reaching their hands to shake.
When I stand upright behind the truck’s cabin to catch a forward glimpse of where we were heading to, I felt like the pope himself, waving hands to everyone passing by, which without exception was answered by the same way of greeting. As there’s just power supplied at the Butia Lodge between 6 and 10pm but more likely between 7 and 9, the telephone line is about 25% of the time in operation too. Running water was sometimes another small inconvenience, let alone warm water of which I just had the final night of my stay.
This night again no running water came out of the shower. But God must have kept an eye on me because after dark it start raining again which offers the greatest natural shower outside one can imagine. I must admit that apart from this minor inconveniences, the Butia Lodge is a great place to stay with great staff and delicious food. I specially loved the fresh mud crabs. Hmmmm…. And it was constructed alongside an old WW II runway. If you’re a typical organised package tourist, don’t go to the Trobriands or Papua New Guinea. But if like myself, you enjoy to live and mingle with locals, ready to accept their lifestyle and don’t wear a watch, you’ll have a blast !
As we had again an agreement with the driver for a chartered vehicle today (se picture below), we told him yesterday to pick us up at the lodge at 8.00am. So as expected he showed up again with a big smile on his face as if nothing happened, somewhere around 11.00am which was just as yesterday a few hours too late. Well that is Trobriand lifestyle. You take it or leave it. Nobody cares about time and watches are a rarity for the Trobrianders. When I planned my trip, I had asked myself whether or not I should bring along cheap watches as a gift. Someone on the Lonely Planet forum had informed me not to do so because they simply don’t wear watches this side of the planet. I believe him now. Anyway, the excuse for the delay was because of some problem with the vehicle. This I immediately believed too because each time we want to stop somewhere, the driver made sure that the vehicle was parked facing downhill. Not a bad idea because the engine never made it by its key-start. It was pushing and puffing all the time. Besides from that, a second local guy came usually with us in the back of the truckload to pump tires by hand. Usually the truck had 2 spare tires inside and they were needed badly. I can’t remember a single day that we used the truck without having to replace a tire. The “highway” has been made of hard and sometimes sharp coral.
After a short bumpy ride, one tire being changed and a push start, we arrived at the Paramount Chief’s village to be introduced. Nothing special in my eyes besides that the dude seems to be big Ronaldinho fan as he was wearing an oversized T-shirt with the football-star’s head on it. No tv’s on the island so I ever wondered if he realized who’s face he was promoting by wearing a T-shirt of the Brazilian football player.
Little later I arrived in Oweria where a Milaa Malaa practising was taking place or was it just set up as a private performance to us because of the cancellation of the original Yam festival ? I don’t know. Anyway, no matter what reason, it was a very colourful and attractive show. Spectacular and one of the most beautiful performances in terms of dress and appearance I ever had witnessed during my past 15 years of globetrotting.
During the performance, we were spoiled with fresh pomelo, coconuts, bananas and great photo opportunities. The third stop for today: Oyuveyova, where we could see the make up of the performers. Ladies are traditionally made up by their mothers while gentlemen are face-painted by relatives or friends. By the end of the day, a group of males appeared on the scene to give a short show on the sport fields. By all means a day to remember !