Our adventure in Mount Hagen was the last encounter we had with tourists for the rest of our trip. We decided to first travel to the Sepik River, then to Lake Murray and end in Tari.
The Sepik River is the longest river in Papua New Guinea and has a large catchment area, and landforms that include swamplands, tropical rainforests and mountains. For most of the Sepik’s length the river winds in serpentine fashion, like the Amazon River and visiting the local villages in our canoes was extremely interesting. We visited tribes that have lived along the river for many millennia and the river has formed the basis for food, transport and culture. Lots of the villages don’t share a language and have lifestyle ways which differ from one another just like if you would compare a Spanish person to a Swedish one. What really surprised me was the fact that they knew nothing about rainwater collection or western agriculture and I loved the fact that people took from the jungle only what they needed for the day, quite a contrast to the life many of us live back in London.
Lake Murray is the biggest lake in PNG. This place hosts the most incredible bird wildlife on the island… and crocodiles of several kinds which terrified me at first but got totally used to the idea of my children bathing in the lake with other local children without anything happening. One of the chiefs of a tribe told me “don’t be afraid, crocodiles are clever…if they get one of us, they know we will go for them!” I found this thought particularly comforting and I must confess that being aware that I could come across as totally neurotic if I didn’t let my children get in the lake, I did let go… and in a way, it was a wonderful feel! Watching birds, visiting villages around the lake and going to the only shop in the area where the only drink they sell are cans of coca cola that dates from 3 years ago was a reflection of the remoteness of this place.
Our last stop was Tari, the land of the Hulis. The Huli people live in the rainforests of the PNG highland. Many still lead a traditional way of life and the land on which they live has steep hillsides and dense rainforests and determines what they can cultivate and how they cultivate it, mainly sweet potato which is the base of their food. In contrast with the Sepik area, they produce food in a traditional way for their villages using manpower and basic agricultural techniques to farm the land. Pigs are the biggest asset someone can have, they buy you anything and it was interesting to see how well taken care of these animals were. A particular highlight was to visit a Huli men wig school where men grow their hair and make hats with it.
After nearly three weeks in PNG, we felt completely detached from anything material we had back home. Our children got used to playing with local children with toys they were making with banana leaves or bows and arrows made from trees, going to bed at 6pm and waking up when the sun rose… We could have stayed there for a lot longer as there is so much we haven’t seen…but we will be back one day and the beauty of it is that it is unlikely to have changed much because access to most of these places is just so difficult. Do feel free to send me an email if you ever wish to visit, I would highly recommend it as a destination and as a life experience for you and the rest of the family.