Papua New Guinea and Australia
Marcus P. Borom
Pre-trip Impressions *
Pre-Trip Planning *
Outfitting for the Trip *
Last Minute Details *
The Cairns Area *
Kuranda and the Aborigines *
Daintree and Cape Tribulation *
Departure from Cairns to Port Moresby, PNG *
Port Moresby to Ambua Lodge *
Working With Moths on Nighttime Trails *
Travels with the Asthmatic Toyota *
The Great Buai Experience *
Moths and More Moths *
MuMu with the Huli *
Huli Sing-Sing *
The Making of a Huli Wigman *
The Place of the Skulls *
Reveling in the Huli Experience *
Local Face Painting *
Chief Tondoli and the Coming of the Whiteman *
Compensation Graves *
Tari Gap and Birds of Paradise *
Repair of the Toyota?? *
Return to Tari Gap *
Small World and the BBC *
Final (?) Repair of the Toyota *
Tari to Port Moresby *
Around and About Cairns Again *
Extinct Volcanoes and Strangler Figs *
The Great Barrier Reef *
To Be Continued *
The very name, Papua New Guinea, seethes with adventure. Images of ferocious, dark-skinned men with boars' tusks through their nasal septa rise from the pages of National Geographic. Their brightly decorated, sinister faces are juxtaposed against elegant headdresses fashioned from human hair and feathers of birds of paradise. Everyone has heard stories of the primitive, stone-age cultures isolated in time and space by the ruggedness of the New Guinea landscape. New Guinea is divided into the recently independent PNG on the eastern half and Irian Jaya, a province of Indonesia, on the western half. As late as 1960, some of the tribes in the highlands had never seen another human outside of their traditional warring neighbors. The Huli wigmen and the Asaro mudmen are found in PNG. In Irian Jaya one might encounter the belligerent Asmat who allegedly killed and ate Michael Rockefeller in 1961 or a Dani tribesman whose clothing consists solely of a gourd stem which covers the male member and is strapped to the abdomen in a vertical stance . One of the unique practices of the stone age culture even resulted in the awarding of a Nobel prize in medicine to the doctor who unraveled the mystery of a strange neurological disease known as kuru, Kuru afflicts the tribes of New Guinea which engage in the practice of eating the brains of enemies killed in battle and of deceased relatives. Conflicts are still resolved in some areas by tribal warfare. It is not known whether cannibalism is still practiced, but in New Guinea one learns to expect the unexpected.
The terrain itself is formidable. The mangrove swamps of the coastal areas are the realm of enormous, man-eating, salt-water crocodiles (holdovers from the age of the dinosaurs) and health-threatening mosquitoes that carry a chloroquin-resistant strain of malaria. The last ditch defense against the latter is the administration of the drug, fansidar, which has the drawback of unpredictably causing death for some patients.
The canopied rainforests are the habitat of some of the world's most venomous snakes. All of Papua New Guinea's poisonous snakes are of the genus Elapine - members of the Cobra family whose venom debilitates the central nervous system. The venom of the small death adder (not a true adder) is allegedly so potent that the only salvation for a person who has been struck by one is immediate amputation of the assaulted limb. The alternative is death within 5 to 20 minutes.
There are estimated to be over 10,000,000 species of insects to be found on the island of New Guinea. Some of the species of beetles are several inches long and some butterflies and moths have wingspans of 10 inches. The interplay of all these living things from the smallest mites to the stone age tribes makes New Guinea a biologist's dream but a potential nightmare for an untrained city-dweller.
The native Papua New Guineans prefer to be called nationals or by the name of their specific tribe but never natives and never, never by their given names which are considered to be magic and sacred. Spirits of the forest, ghosts of ancestors and supernatural events dominate the world of many of the tribespeople. Some tribes mummify their dead by a long process of dehydration in a smoke house and then the corpses are hung in bamboo cages in the forest or placed in crevices or caves. Rituals of the cargo cults are widely practiced (a subject in and of itself).
Why visit New Guinea?? Quite simply, it is one of those rare snapshots of pre-history, when humans lived in complete balance with their resources. That snapshot is fading as we march relentlessly along our path of excessive consumption. It is imperative that we stop long enough to view and to understand what was in order to be able to alter what will, if unchecked, most regrettably be.
The plans for this trip began several years ago when I became intrigued with the possibility of participating in an Earthwatch Expedition. Earthwatch is an organization that supports a broad spectrum of scientific research ranging from archeology to marine biology. Funds are provided by volunteer participants who pay a share of the research costs and volunteer their time and talents toward its success. I had always wanted to experience life in a rain forest. Subconsciously, Edgar Rice Burroughs and his Tarzan series must have had an influence. I had gotten a taste of the rain forest in 1984 when my son and I visited the Mayan ruins at Tikal, deep in the remote jungle of the Peten district of Guatemala and I wanted more. Recently, events pointing to our destruction of the only planet we can ever call home made a visit to one of the few remaining, unspoiled regions of the world a command performance for me.
At the end of 1990, USAir announced a tie-in with Air New Zealand (ANZ) which allowed application of frequent flyer mileage toward a trip to Australia. Earthwatch also offered an expedition to the heartland of Papua New Guinea for the purpose of studying the evolutionary survival strategies developed among the 8500 indigenous species of moths. The research was to be conducted among the Huli tribespeople by a principal investigator who exuded a genuine desire to work with the local people without attempting to alter their culture. It looked like these two events could be meshed together.
I was late in entering the Earthwatch pipeline and I was not sure that a team position would be open. Earthwatch informed me on my enquiry in early December that there were still 5 openings on the Feb. 1991 team. I could not commit to joining until the other pieces of the puzzle were at least identified if not completely assembled. I went ahead and had the Earthwatch-suggested travel agency make airline reservations for me from Cairns, Australia in the northern part of Queensland to the research area in Tari via Port Moresby, PNG. This established the arrival and departure dates in Cairns that I would have to match with my frequent flyer award. I also received suggestions as to appropriate ANZ connections.
The first glitch occurred when I learned that USAir would not even consider discussing travel plans until I had my award certificate in hand. Thus began the game of rules. Once an award has been issued, it becomes difficult, but not impossible, to re-credit the miles if the award is not used. After the ticket has been issued, the itinerary itself cannot be changed although the dates of departure and return may be. Normal procedure requires about 4 weeks to obtain an award certificate. For a $30 charge, however, these delays can be reduced to several days via FAX and Federal Express mail. Before requesting the special service, I called ANZ and checked on possible connections between Los Angeles and Cairns. I was assured by the ANZ agent on Dec. 12 that flights from the end of January, even for frequent flyer awardees, were wide open and that I would have no problem in obtaining reservations. I started the wheels turning and received my certificate on Dec. 17.
On the evening of Dec. 18, I contacted ANZ to confirm that the flights I intended to request through USAir's international service were, in fact, available. I was dumbfounded to hear from the agent that flights had been booked up for months all the way through March. There was simply no way for me to consummate my plans. Undaunted, I called the USAir international frequent flyer desk and explained my quandary and the misleading information I had received from ANZ. Brenda Davis, the USAir representative, was the epitome of courteous, efficient, cheerful and sympathetic service. She spent almost 2 hours working out four complete variants for arrival and departure two weeks either side of the Earthwatch defined timeframe. Twenty-four hours later she called me back with confirmation from ANZ of my first choice itinerary. She had raised her staff and split the Sea of Red Tape. It is a delight to find that that kind of motivation and dedication to customer needs still exists. Congratulations USAir for having employees like Brenda Davis.
My original vacation plans had me flying into Cairns, connecting with the Earthwatch team and continuing on to Tari with a return to Cairns on Feb. 21. The specifics of the next days were not firm, but I planned to spend some time in the Cairns area. There are a lot of nature-related things to do around Cairns. The Great Barrier Reef is right off shore. Daintree, just north of Cairns, is one of the oldest (like 60 million years) undisturbed coastal rainforests in the world, and is filled with unique marsupial fauna not to mention the wide variety of creepy-crawlly things. The rainy season, however, might exclude travel in the Daintree/Cape Tribulation wilderness area due to mud and flooding. Kuranda, a short train trip from Cairns, is an old mining community and an area where one may encounter Australian Aborigines. A short distance further west are the Atherton Tablelands. There appeared to be no lack of things to fill the time. After Cairns, I had planned to travel to Brisbane and visit the sub-tropical cloud forest in Lamington National Park and then depart for home.
An invitation in early January, 1991 to visit scientific laboratories in Melbourne and Sydney in the southeastern part of Australia added a 12th hour wrinkle to my trip plans. Business related travel afforded the opportunity for a possible circuit which would include the outback town of Alice Springs in the center of Australia, Melbourne in the south with its colony of fairy penguins, Sydney in the southeast with its internationally renowned opera house and Brisbane as my departure point. The only down side was the scurrying around that I would have to do to solidify my itinerary and travel connections within Australia. Under the 1990 frequent flyer rules that still applied to my arrangements, I had the flexibility of delaying my ticketing and still changing my itinerary. Under the rules that went into effect on Jan 1, 1991, I would not have been allowed the freedom required to put this extensive plan together.
And then on Jan. 16, 1991, Saddam Husein invaded Kuwait and war broke out in the Middle East. Knee-jerk reactions to the threat of terrorist attacks on airlines changed the entire security picture at the airports and altered the required check-in procedures to the point that my connecting times were marginal. The trip was in danger of collapse and I had not taken out cancellation insurance.
Outfitting for the Trip
A trip of this magnitude would ordinarily require a major wardrobe to cover the range of climates from rain forests to deserts and of habitations from villages to metropolitan centers. A large amount of luggage, however, was negated by both weight restrictions on Talair of PNG (10 kg/ 22lbs.) and my desire not to be encumbered by luggage during my travels. I focused my attention on outfitting for the adventure portion of the trip, and elected to wear "casual" clothing in the cities.
Jungle rain forest work demanded that I purchase a good set of waterproof boots. My search for adequate boots took me to a number of shoe suppliers. The following encounter occurred in an establishment which shall remain nameless to protect the identity of the man I met there, not that he would necessarily require it, but because I would not want to expose his low profile to potential risk. In the store, I was inspecting some boots advertised as waterproof. An unassuming, mild-mannered male clerk was seated on the floor among the shoe racks repositioning boxes according to shoe size. There was no one else in the store. I asked the clerk what he knew about the waterproofness of the boots in question and casually mentioned that I needed some to wear for several weeks in Papua New Guinea. I pointed out that my trip would involve working in the rain forest at night during the rainy season. His answer was so detailed that I could hardly believe it. His experiences were so intriguing that our conversation lasted for almost 2 hours.
The clerk, whom I will call John, suggested that even the guaranteed-waterproof boots would have to be treated further with at least a silicone boot sealer. But, even so, my socks would get damp and rot if worn for more than two days. He suggested that whatever boots and wet-weather gear I selected should be tested by standing and kneeling in a warm shower for at least 30 minutes and then imagining what 4 hours or more exposure would be like. His answer rang of experience, and I asked him about his source of information. John had spent many years as a combat photographer in the US Army. He had served in southeast Asia in Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam. He had many rainforest tales to tell of encounters not only with enemy troops but also with jungle fauna including microscopic parasites and macroscopic leaches. Survival had become his business.
After SE Asia he had an assignment with the Israeli army as the personal bodyguard for a general which took him into Uganda when Idi Amin was still in power. He brought back spectacular photographs of African scenery and wildlife which he enlarged into huge wall hangings. From Israel and Africa, his career took him into the barracks in Germany as a narcotics agent posing undercover as both officers and enlisted men. One of the men imprisoned as a result of his work still sends him death threats. He will be released in 2007. John merely shrugs off the threats.
Because of his survival training, John was sent to Venezuela as a jungle survival instructor for the Venezuelan army. Their training site was the unique, nitrate-starved environment of the tepuis - those strange 9000 foot high limestone plateaus which are the home for many species of insectivorous plants. Spectacular Angle Falls cascades from a Venezuelan tepui. He had also plied his skills as a survival course leader in the Australian outback.
His experiences were almost fictional in nature, but the details, including his extensive knowledge of complex camera equipment, added the element of truth and reality. Why, I asked, would a man with such a wealth of experiences choose to work in a shoe store. Why not write a book. He allowed as to how he had written articles for the "Soldier of Fortune" magazine, but that his writing style was not very good. The real reason for his current job was his disability. When in Germany on his last assignment, he was in a jeep accident. The jeep rolled over and crushed his skull. He spent 18 months in the hospital during which time he was kept on morphine to dull the pain. He became a legal morphine addict with a lifetime refillable prescription. After discharge as a disabled veteran, he decided that he would not go through life addicted to narcotics.
John's uncle owned a cabin deep in the woods of Maine. It was a 10 mile hike in from the nearest dirt road. John packed in a 3 month supply of food and booze (as a narcotics substitute) and cut himself off from the outside world and his supply of morphine. He had a transceiver for use in the event of an emergency. At the end of his self-imposed isolation, he had shaken his addiction. He still has recurrent headaches and pain so intense that he cannot come into work sometimes for days, but he endures them without resorting to drugs. On the side, he owns and manages a building cleaning service. He spoke lovingly of his wife who is a nurse and who understands his periods of pain and cares for him unselfishly.
I felt fortunate for having engaged this man in conversation and having discovered a true adventurer under a veneer of meekness. I bought the boots and felt a little silly about tromping off to a place as mild as Papua New Guinea.
Last Minute Details
(Thursday - January 31, 1991)
Thank goodness for the invention of "Post its" - those little sticky notes for jotting down fleeting thoughts. Without them my trip planning would have been a nightmare. I simply could not have held all the details in my personal memory bank. Instead of cluttering my mind, I pasted little 1x1.5" reminders all over my desk top and threw them out as the tasks were completed, i.e., 20 AA batteries for jungle head lamps, camping supplies, rain suit, buy second camera body (used), test camera, pick up this and pick up that, send FAX to Australia, reserve hotel in Port Moresby, update Australian visa, get immunization shots, coordinate Australian flights, etc., etc.
As the day of departure approached, the number of sticky notes diminished and my desk top began to reappear. Last minute details are, however, the worst to deal with since options for corrective actions rapidly diminish. Concerns over the safety of international travel in this time of world turmoil and the activities of "Soddom the Insane" in the Middle East complicated matters further. A call to the State Department's Traveller's Advisory number raised additional concerns about the sanity of travel to PNG - other world events notwithstanding. There were warnings of high rates of violent crime (rape and robbery) in Port Moresby, Mt. Hagan, Lae and other areas of PNG. In addition, there were armed insurrections reported in the North Solomon Islands of PNG where over 100 people had been killed in fighting, or captured, brutally tortured and/or executed. Closer to the Earthwatch site, a missionary and 4 Americans had been kidnapped by an Indonesian secessionist group in November of 1990 and there was still political unrest along the Irian Jaya border. "Should I still go?", I asked myself. I could find no real reason not to.
On the Friday six days before leaving, I answered a want ad and purchased a used Minolta XG-9 which was compatible with my Minolta X-700 lens system. A second camera would give me the instant option of shooting either slides or color negatives. The next day I shot a test roll of film and on Monday submitted it for overnight processing. On the game board of travel plans I lost a move. The film did not come back on Tuesday. On Wednesday at 3pm - 21 hours from take off - the processors called and apologized for losing the film. I got a replacement roll and rushed to a one-hour film service, photographed their office personnel, had the film processed and was pleased to find that the camera was totally functional. On to the next square.
On the evening before departure I began to worry about the image some of my luggage might present under the scrutiny of x-ray examination for international security, so I called the international number for Air New Zealand. I explained that I was going to be studying moths at night in the rain forest jungles of Papua New Guinea and was required to take along 20 to 30 AA batteries to power our head band lamps and that I had packed the batteries in the same box with piles of costume jewelry which I planned to use as barter with former cannibals. The silence that followed was broken by my adding "this is for real."
The answer I got was disconcerting. A new, Middle East driven FAA regulation, prohibited the transport of any - emphasize ANY - batteries in luggage on international flights. That was specifically interpreted as no AA batteries, no flashlight batteries, no calculator batteries and not even batteries for cameras. I was advised to leave them all at home and purchase them again in Australia.
I was not satisfied with the answer and called US Air who called ANZ and got the same message. I then called Quantas who gave me the toll number of their baggage handlers in LA. I tried to get a similar number for ANZ but it had gotten so late that the ANZ office had closed. I got the number I was seeking by calling the Quantas baggage department in LA. The ANZ baggage handlers were more reasonable than the ANZ international agent - batteries in devices were not allowed and if found in checked luggage it would not be shipped. It was, however, o.k. to pack batteries in one suitcase and batteryless devices in another suitcase - and no batteries in any carry-on luggage (including cameras). They didn't say anything about electronic wrist watches.
I repacked accordingly and was finally ready to go.
(31 January 1991)
The snowfall predicted for the evening of January 30 had stalled in Vermont and the Albany weather was clear. I checked my two bags all the way through to Cairns, Australia, but not without some concern over the probability of their making all the connections along with me. As a precaution I hand-carried my camera and a small bag with toiletries and a change of clothing.
The flight to Los Angeles was uneventful and I had the misfortune of sitting in First Class next to a boring corporate snob in a business suit who spent the entire flight working on the in-flight-magazine cross-word puzzle. He didn't complete it. I wondered what his global outlook was. Perhaps he managed 1-900 numbers.
On check-in at the ANZ ("An-Zett") counter in LA I was advised that I would have to reclaim my luggage in Auckland for security reasons and recheck it on the connecting flight. Passage through LA security was a snap. My cameras were x-rayed but I'm not sure that batteries in them would have made a difference.
Departure of ANZ flight #1 was delayed approximately one hour while a hydraulic line was replaced. Underway I slept only 4 hours in an attempt to reset my biological clock. 24-hours after leaving Albany I arrived in Auckland in a torrential downpour. At the transit counter I was told I did not have to reclaim my luggage.
During the 4 hour layover, I went to the transit lounge for First Class passengers and showered and shaved while waiting for my final flight to Cairns to depart. I had now crossed into the southern hemisphere, flown beyond the international dateline, and dropped a day out of my life. A 4 hour layover, plus another 4 1/2 hour flight, finally placed me in Cairns 32 1/2 hours after leaving Albany.
On the 747 enroute to Auckland, I had tried unsuccessfully to gain access to the flight deck. On the 767 from Auckland to Cairns I succeeded. Being a pilot and a Long-EZ builder still carries weight. The 1st officer came back to my seat and asked some questions and also asked for some identification. I showed him my pilots license and pictures of Daedalus II, my Long-EZ. An invitation to the cockpit followed. The 767 was outfitted with state-of-the-art CRT displays for altitude, attitude, and engine functions and a moving map display of position, speed, distance, etc. The radio was squelched to cut out all the extraneous traffic chatter. The air traffic controllers had an additional code they could transmit to the cockpit to alert the crew to listen for a specific message. The crew answered all sorts of questions since the aircraft was on auto pilot. They expressed genuine interest in all aspects of building and flying the Long-EZ. They were particularly intrigued with the effect of water and bugs on the performance of the plane.
The 767 crew members had spent some time in PNG and had several tales to relate. I always find it interesting to gather information about places I intend to visit from those who have been there and later compare their information and views with my own experiences. I had been cautioned earlier by an Auckland passenger about the high crime rates in PNG, particularly in the Port Moresby and Mt. Hagan areas. The co-pilot reinforced that information by pointing out that the windows of every decent building in PNG are covered with bars. He said that industrial facilities are like fortresses surrounded by barbed wire fences and patrolled by guards. Rape and robbery, even of tourists, is allegedly commonplace. I was advised to avoid any confrontation with either PNG nationals or Australian Aborigines since both peoples subscribe to the policy of "payback" - the old eye-for-an-eye philosophy. The ultimate "payback" is a stab in the leg with a wooden spear which had been stuck in rain forest soil. The resulting festering wound is a slow death sentence. All of this left me with a warm feeling for the places I was about to visit.
The Cairns Area
We landed in Cairns in a light rain under overcast skies. Both pieces of my luggage arrived undamaged although the full length zipper on my duffel bag, which covered my backpack, had broken and come open. Passing through customs was a simple walk through. The airport terminal is geared toward tourism. There is a display loaded with a mind-boggling assortment of accommodation and tour brochures. I went through and took one of each. I selected an inexpensive motel (The Floriana) which was listed in the Lonely Planet guide book and also advertised on the accommodation display. I made a reservation by pressing the indicated direct dial button.
For A$30 I got a clean room with a comfortable double bed, a ceiling fan and a cold water sink that drained directly into the gutter around the motel. There were shared showers and toilets and a carport lounge with sofas and a 2 channel TV set (usually one channel covered cricket and the other tennis). The accommodations were modest but pleasant. I learned later that there was no room service and that linen was changed only every six days.
The hotel owner told me that this had been the wettest summer in six years. They had not seen the sun since Cyclone Joy swept through at Christmas. The lack of sun was beginning to wear on the locals. I personnaly hoped for a break in the weather. With several hours of daylight left, I set out to explore the downtown area and get a bite to eat.
The Floriana is located on the Esplanade which runs along the bay shore. As I walked along the shoreline of the mudflats, which were exposed by low tide, I noticed a creature slithering, snake-like over the mud from one water pocket to another. My interest was tweaked further when I realized that I was looking at my first, real live mud-skipper. The mud skipper is a fish that is a weird evolutionary link between sea creatures and land creatures. It has 2 eyes perched like marbles on the top of its head. Its pectoral fins are used like legs as it skitters over the mud between pools. I wanted a closer look.
I walked down to the edge of the mud and tested the firmness of what appeared to be a dry peninsula of sand that led out to the hole where my mud skipper lay partly submerged. As I added weight to my extended right foot the sole of my boot sank to a depth of about 1/4" - firm enough I thought. With some caution I shifted my full weight to my right foot and took another step forward with my left foot.
The dry crust of sand collapsed under the slight weight of my left foot and my left boot sank into muck up to my ankle. I tried to back up and the suction of my left foot drove my right foot through the crust and down to knee depth. Further attempts to vertically extract my legs merely deepened the grip of the mud. The walls of the holes were beginning to collapse inward. I was in danger of loosing my boots.
I twisted around, leaned forward and broke the suction around my heels. My boots came out encased in a 1/2" thick coating of vile smelling muck. I started down the brick walkway in a light drizzle. Subdued smiles would spread across the faces of Aborigines I would meet on the Esplanade as I squished past. I found a water spigot in a small park and washed off the muck. So much for mud skippers, tidal mud flats that extend out a mile at low tide, and curiosity that kills cats.
Short pants are the dress of the day in Cairns for both men and women. The entire downtown area is geared toward tourism. Many shops sell only bookings for a plethora of tours. (A booking agent gets a 10% commission on sales.) The choices of things to do are staggering and many of the selections are expensive. I chose to spend one day at Kuranda - an old mining town in the Atherton Tablelands about 30 km from Cairns and one day on a wilderness trek up to Cape Tribulation.
I fell into bed totally exhausted at 9 p.m. local time and woke up at 3 a.m. to a pounding downpour. Back to sleep at 4 a.m. and up again at 8. Jet lag had been conquered.
Kuranda and the Aborigines
I almost missed my 8:40 bus to Kuranda and I had to run in the rain to catch it. The bus reached Kuranda around 10 a.m. I inquired about breakfast and the bus driver suggested the Honey Pot - "That's where we eat, mate." The Honey Pot consisted of open air picnic tables on a canvas canopied deck overlooking tropical vegetation and the Kuranda open air market. For A$5.00 you can get a "big Aussie breakfast" that is loaded with fats - link sausages, ham, eggs, bacon, beans and one cup of coffee.
A walk through the market introduced me to commercial aboriginal artifacts such as boomerangs, didgeridoos and bullroarers. Everyone knows what boomerangs are. Didgeridoos are the pipe-like instruments that the Aborigines fashion from tree limbs which have been eaten hollow by termites. They play it with a haunting nasal drone. Bullroarers are flat, wooden blades that are twirled around the head on the end of a string. The noise that they make are supposed to attract benevolent spirits.
I arrived early at the Tjapukai (T'-ja-pu-kai) Aboriginal Dance Theater (Tjapukai means rain forest people) and had complete seat selection. I sat front row center. As the ~ 200 seat theater began to fill with people a 10 year old boy sat down two seats over to my right. I engaged him in conversation and Mali moved into the seat next to me. He was a delight. As a Kuranda boy he was allowed to come to the theater free of charge. He knew the script by heart, the dancers were his uncles and cousins and he looked forward to joining the dance troop when he got older. He pointed out that a poisonous copper snake (?) had gotten into the theater and was hiding somewhere above the stage. I asked him about flash photography and he said that they would announce at the beginning of the show that it was prohibited. He advised, however, that everyone did it anyway and I should, too. During the performance Mali updated me on what to watch for and put names to each of the players. The show is worth seeing if for no other reason than to listen to the Didgeridoo being played.
Most of the mammals of the rain forest are nocturnal and they can be seen to advantage in the Kuranda Noctarium where the nocturnal cycle has been reversed so that the creatures of the night can be viewed by us diurnal types. The noctarium is not large but it houses both creatures of the canopy (red possums, honey gliders (i.e. marsupial flying squirrels), spectacled flying foxes (placental mammals), etc.) and forest floor creatures (echidnas and tree kangaroos).
Another highlight of Kuranda is the Butterfly sanctuary which houses over 2000 specimens. That visit was a good preamble for the upcoming study of moths in the PNG rain forest. Here I learned that there are butterfly-look-alike daytime moths. The main differentiating feature is the antennae. Nocturnal moths have feathery antennae which are used to locate mates via pheromone detection. Diurnal moths locate mates via visual displays and their antennae are devoid of side frills. Their antennae differ from those of butterflies in that butterfly antennae terminate in a bulbous end and daytime moths taper off as a thin filament. Some nocturnal moths also have filamentary antennae. So the real bottom line is that adult butterflies have club-ended antennae and moths never do.
The train ride back was an interesting step back into time. The Kuranda railroad has been in operation on the same track since opening in 1891. There are some spectacular views of the Barron River and Barron Falls. With all the torrential downpours over the last few weeks, Barron Falls was a raging eruption of brown froth.
Daintree and Cape Tribulation
The next day I arranged for a full day excursion in a 4-wheel drive vehicle to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree rain forest area. I joined a group of 8 people in a comfortable, spacious air-conditioned, 6-wheeled tour bus with 4-wheel drive. The driver guide provided a running commentary over the internal speaker system as we drove through the Barron River flood plain. Sugar cane is the major agricultural product of the Cairns area but it is yielding to tourism as the major income producer. One of the ecological disasters that Australian have brought upon themselves is the introduction of the cane toad (bufo marinus). The cane toad is a grapefruit sized amphibian that was brought into the country in an attempt to control a beetle that was damaging the sugar cane crop. As is often the case, the cane toad found other insects more palatable than their intended quarry. The farmers ended up with two pests instead of one. The toad, which is one of the ingredients in the voodoo priest's concoction for making zombies, excretes a potent toxin which can contaminate drinking water for local birdlife. The toxin is particularly agravating to farmers when the toads splash through drinking troughs set aside for chickens.
About 20 km out of Cairns there was an abrupt snap as one of the port rear axles sheared the hub restraining bolts. Peter, the tour guide, got out, removed the axle and, with gear oil draining out of the hub, drove the bus several km to the nearest phone at a crocodile farm.
After about 45 min. a downgraded replacement vehicle arrived. We had gone from a spacious bus to a mini van with no speaker system. The group was compatible and accepted the event as just part of the Australian Wilderness Safari adventure.
Our first stop was the Daintree River where we were met on the south side of the river by a pontoon boat for a 1 hour river cruise. The water was high and we failed to see any estuarine crocodiles. The highlight of the cruise for me was the huge colony of spectacled fruit bats - literally thousands of them - in the trees lining both sides of a section of the river. They hung suspended from a single foot or moved upside down on all fours from one resting place to another. An effort was made not to disturb the colony. Their main predators are amethyst tree pythons and white headed sea eagles. We saw several of the latter in trees along the river banks.
Farm land has encroached on the river banks, and in many places the sugar cane fields can be seen from the boat through the narrow band of trees that remain on the bank. The diversity of flora and fauna is considerably reduced from that of virgin forests. It is getting to be more and more difficult to find undisturbed areas. The World Heritage Foundation has purchased large sections of land in the Daintree area and has put an end to logging and commercial development of this unique rain forest region.
The tour boat dropped our group off on the north side of the river to rejoin our tour van. The van had crossed the river earlier on the cable ferry. The tour continued up into the tropical rain forest where we had overdue morning tea around noon. No one on the tour had had breakfast and all were famished. Morning tea was held outdoors at Flora Villa among heavy tropical foliage. I located a 6 foot long tree python coiled into a ball in one of the walls of an outbuilding. We left it undisturbed.
The roads north of the Daintree are all dirt and are subject to wash out, particularly in the mountainous regions. A 4-wheel drive vehicle is definitely required. As the tour van climbed into the hills the vegetation began to change. The forest thickened. Large tree ferns became common with some reaching heights of 40 ft. Magnificent fan palms with circular fronds like huge green lollipops grew alongside the gravel and mud road. The forest canopy closed over the road and dimmed the light. We were deep in the midst of the oldest forest in the world.
The Daintree region has been spared land altering geological changes for the last 60 million years. There have been no glaciers, no inundations and no volcanic burials. The flora here are often classified as green dinosaurs. There are more rare and unique species of plants in the Daintree rain forest than anywhere else in the world.
We drove to a bush camp for a hot lunch in the forest by a clear stream. The stream was far enough away from the ocean to be free of crocodiles. Most of the tour members went for a refreshing dip. I had brought along mask, snorkel and fins which allowed me to investigate the underwater scene. There was a school of jungle perch, several large freshwater eels and several small turtles. I was able to catch some of the latter. It was very difficult to get dry in the high humidity of the forest. We had been very fortunate as far as rain goes. This was the first day in Cairns that I had not experienced rain even though the sky had been overcast all day.
After lunch we drove on up to Cape Tribulation where the rain forest actually comes down to the seashore. The cape was named by Capt. Cook who experienced a series of disasters shortly after sighting it. One may not swim in the ocean here for 2 reasons. Year round there is danger of attack by saltwater crocodiles. There are warning signs to that effect at the entrance to the beach and at many of the clear streams we crossed along the way. Secondly, during the summer months there is the danger of a fatal sting from box jellies or stingers that are swept into the beach areas by the ocean currents. The box jellyfish are similar to our Atlantic Portuguese Man-of-War, but they are a single organism with a much more deadly sting. I was afraid that I would not be able to dive on the barrier reef because of them. I was pleased to learn that the danger was confined to the coastal areas and was not a problem out on the reef itself.
The tour guide provided an interesting connection between the burgeoning population of wild hogs in the rain forest and the increase over the years in the number of box jellies. The hogs have increased so much in number that their foraging range has extended into the coastal areas where they root out fresh turtle eggs. The population of sea turtles (mostly hawksbill, green and leatherback turtles) in the area has decreased as a result. A principal food source for turtles is jellyfish. Q.E.D. lower the predation pressure and the prey will increase in number. (COMMENT ON STRANGLER FIG WITH DECAYED HOST TREE.) The rain forest ecologists have been trying to get the Australian government to put a bounty on wild hogs but without success. The biologists predict that when the stingers begin to encroach on the Gold Coast, real economic pressure will bring about legislation, but it may be too late at that point.
As we visited other rain forest areas around Cape Tribulation the overcast skies darkened and the rain began. We drove back along the precipitous gravel roads that wound around the mountain slopes. There were no shoulders on the roads and the drop-offs often reached slopes of 60 to 80 degrees. We looked right out into the rain forest canopy. I wondered about the safety of these roads when I noticed numerous vehicle carcasses hanging in the treetops 40-50 ft. below the road bed. Peter allowed as to the danger, particularly during periods of heavy rain.
As a final touch we stopped for a late afternoon cocktail at Silky Oaks, the resort that runs Australian Wilderness Safaris. Silky Oaks is a gorgeous establishment that caters to the very wealthy at A$200/person/night with meals with tours extra. It is landscaped to blend into the rain forest scenery. There are many resorts around Cairns that cater to the rich and famous
Back in Cairns I walked in the steamy drizzle to a restaurant 4 blocks away for a supper of bangers and mash (bratwurst and mashed potatoes). During supper the skies opened and a deluge poured down. In the 30 min. I was in the restaurant, so much water came down that the curbs were submerged in rivers of water 6 ft. wide. The rain in Cairns seems never to stop.
I arranged for an airport shuttle to pick me up the next morning.
Departure from Cairns to Port Moresby, PNG
I arose at 6 a.m. and ran a load of wash in the hotel pay machines before the shuttle came. On board the shuttle it became clear that, with all the pick ups to be made, I would be unable to make the time requirement for international check-in. The driver dropped me off at a taxi stand where I caught a cab straight to the international terminal.
Before going to the baggage check in, each passenger had to go through a thorough baggage inspection. After check-in, I paid my A$10.00 departure tax and went through final security. I had removed my batteries from my camera and had no trouble. In the boarding lounge I ran into 4 other members of the Earthwatch Research Team. Ann Stamper - one of the team members - had had all of her camera batteries confiscated at the security gate. I felt better about having gone to the trouble of removing mine.
In Port Moresby, PNG we stepped from a wide body jet-liner into the fringe of the 3rd world. The international terminal was way below standard, but at least customs was a breeze. Beyond the customs area the 5 of us were very watchful of our luggage while we negotiated for a taxi to the Devara Hotel. We finally contracted with a cabby with a Toyota pick-up and we piled all our gear in the truck bed. We kept a close eye on it during the trip through town.
Our concerns were substantiated by stories of theft and muggings which we read later in the Post Courier, the Port Moresby newspaper. Headlines such as "Criminals Now Control the Country" and "Pilot Loses Thumb [in the airport parking lot] to Machete Wielding Rascal" accentuated the problem. We were to learn later from Larry Orsak, our principal investigator, that "rascals" set up road blocks on the highways (gravel roads) to stop cars and even PMV's (public motor vehicles, i.e., buses) in order to rob the occupants.
At the Devara Hotel we were greeted by security guards who lightly inspected our luggage before we could bring it into the lobby. In the lobby we met additional members of the Earthwatch Team and we all agreed to divide up and share 4-bunk rooms rather than pay the cost of individual rooms.
Port Moresby to Ambua Lodge
(Wed. Feb. 6, 1991)
The day started at 5:30 a.m. after a miserable night in a steamy room in the Hotel Davara. The air conditioning was broken (and probably always is) and the room was hot, humid and filled with the taint of pyrythrins. The men in my 4-bunk room (all Earthwatch volunteers) had given up on sweat soaked PJ's and had weathered the night in the skinny.
The members of the Earthwatch team gathered in the lobby at 6 a.m. to catch the hotel shuttle to the airport. The Talair terminal is a simple, one-story, concrete block structure with a small check-in area. Signs on the wall were written in both English and Pidgin. One sign made it clear that spitting betel nut juice in the terminal was not allowed - in Pidgin "Em i tambu tru long kaikai buai na spet long dispela ples bilong balus". PNG nationals milled around in garb that was a compromise between western and traditional tribal. The men were generally short (about 5'2") and, when observed in profile, displayed prominent holes in their nasal septums. There was even one man in a Huli warrior wig.
At check-in every piece of luggage including carry-on was weighed. As the last procedure each passenger had to submit to being weighed. The gravel airstrip at Tari (our destination) is at an elevation of 5,000 ft. and weight was a concern for the small prop driven Twin Otter which would take us there.
As we walked out to the plane I noticed that there was no co-pilot. "How about taking another pilot along in the cockpit?" I asked. The pilot was glad to have the company. The Twin Otter climbed to an altitude of 10,400 ft. and flew NW along the coast. From the cockpit I had a wonderful panorama of the flood plains from the seashore to the mountain escarpments. Broad, brown serpentine bands twisted through green lowland plains and dumped their load of silt as spreading fans into the blue sea. The 10,000 ft.+ mountains which gave birth to these numerous waterways rose into the clouds in the distance. There were no roads or highways, just vast expanses of green plains which blended into rolling foothills. An occasional settlement of a dozen or so tin roofed houses could be seen along the coast. One river was dotted with thatched roof houses built out over the water. I tried to imagine what sort of clan lived there.
We finally turned inland as we headed for the highlands and Tari. The ruggedness of PNG was clearly apparent. The mountains were a mixture of heavily wooded, rolling crests and limestone escarpments that surrounded flat valleys containing marshy lakes. The elements that isolated the almost 800 cultures of New Guinea for 30,000 years lay spread out before us.
As we approached Tari, the cloud cover increased and the pilot threaded his way through holes in the clouds for a visual approach. After landing we taxied in behind a larger Air Nui Guini plane. The deboarding area was mud and gravel and was separated from the waiting crowd by a chain link fence.
The fence was lined with curious nationals with their fingers locked in the links intently observing the deboarding activity. Our welcoming crowd was marvelous. Men and boys were walking around in arse gras - Pidgin for a covering for the rear consisting of leaves draped from a waist band. The loin cover for the front is made up of bush rope cords and the thighs are left exposed. Both men and women were decorated in face paints. Women were walking around with bilums (colorful string bags) hung from either their foreheads or their shoulders. I was not sure whether this was a put on for the tourists or not.
The truck that Larry Orsak - the principal investigator for the Earthwatch project - was to use to transport us to the hostel was too small for our group. Orsak had contracted with the Ambua Lodge to provide transportation for us in their tour bus. The bus trip to the Hostel was to be one of those few moments of luxury in the next two weeks.
Since Wednesday was market day in Tari, Conrad, our bus driver and westernized Tari wigman, took us to the marketplace. The spectacle exceeded my wildest expectations. The bus parked in the muddy lot in front of the market compound. We entered the market area through a wooden gate. Within the fenced area, produce was displayed on five long rows of permanent tables. Our group of 11 were the only westerners in this crowd of shoulder-high PNG nationals. Every national was in some state of traditional dress. Many sported elaborate face painting and Kina shell necklaces. They were delightful and, with few exceptions, were eager to pose for photographs. One or two asked for money but only 20 toya (~ 20 cents). It seemed important to them to shake hands with us.
One older man in full traditional dress had agreed to let me take his picture. In setting up to get the right light, lens height and distance from the subject, I backed up onto a grade of wet clay. I lost my footing and went down in a most unceremonius fashion - right on my rump. The adjacent crowd burst into uninhibited, spontaneous laughter. I picked myself up and went about the business of taking the picture. Such response, I was to learn was typical of the Huli. There was nothing insulting meant in the response. I had, for the moment, been their version of Charlie Chaplin, and they had enjoyed the experience.
This was no tourist trap. This was a typical market day in the life of a Huli clan member. Outside the market compound, people were engaged in conversation and some type of card game for money. Women could be seen breast feeding their babies and one women was carrying a piglet cradled in her arms. Huli women often suckle pigs as well as children.
After leaving the market, the bus headed out along a mud and gravel road for the 2,000 foot ascent to the Ambua Hostel. The people along the road were dressed even more traditionally than in the market. We stopped at a village market along the way for a moment and the inside of the bus sounded like the press gallery at a presidential news conference with camera shutters firing like assault weapons. I simply did not bring enough film!
By the time we reached the hostel it had begun to rain. We worked our way down a path along a thickly forested gorge with a roaring waterfall below. We continued through a cane brake arch that led to a walkway under the eaves of our accommodation. We were all fascinated with the wide variety of moths on all the walls and vertical surfaces inside and outside. We were intrigued with the thought of being surrounded with such a diversity of insects for the next two weeks.
The abundance of roaring water had been utilized by the builders of the Ambua Lodge to provide a local system of hydroelectric power. Ten inch diameter PVC pipes had been connected to flowing water sources at a higher elevation and had been guided down the ravines to 2 hydroelectric turbines. The power generated there was distributed to the Ambua Lodge and the Ambua Hostel to provide lighting, hot water and 240 volt baseboard power. It was this power that allowed us to run high wattage lamps, deep in the forest to attract moths. The next nearest source of electricity was 25 km away in Tari. Everyone in between and beyond lived with fire as the only source of light after sunset.
The hostel is made in the style of the local huts. The walls are basket-weave sheets of split pit pit cane. The ceiling is vaulted with the beams open to the roof of thatched kunai grass. The 6, 4-bunk rooms were separated by pit pit walls that are only 8 feet high. Sound carries throughout the interior so readily that a 9 p.m. - 8 a.m. curfew had been placed on all conversation. That made sense since the night team would generally be in bed around 8 p.m.
Dinner consisted of noodles, canned tuna fish, pit pit (new shoots from cane like that along the path), boiled yams, sweet potatoes (kaukau) and taro root. We learned to our pleasure that the water was not only soft but pure and suitable for drinking. Mosquitoes are not much of a problem here because the altitude keeps the temperature below their operational range.
At 9:00 p.m I nestled down in my sleeping bag on the top bunk in my rattan walled room of the Ambua Hostel and tried to fall asleep. My mind would not turn off. The events of my first exposure in the Southern Highlands of PNG had thrown my senses into overload. PNG, away from the fears and confines of Port Moresby, had exceeded my expectations.
At midnight I gave up on sleep and got up to record my impressions while they were still sharp. It was quiet. The 2 fluorescent lights in the hallway softly illuminated the open beam structure of the high thatched roof. The jungle was quiet except for a few frog and insect calls and the incessant drizzle of rain. Two white sheets outside the large common area were bathed in light from UV and mercury vapor lamps. The light which filtered through the sheets provided enough illumination for me to jot down my impressions.
The sheets were decorated with the silhouettes of hundreds of moths of all shapes. Their sizes ranged from that of large mosquitos up through the 10" Hercules moth. Those sheets were to be my work area for the next 2 weeks starting in only 2 and 1/2 hours at 2:30 a.m. The moths attracted to the lamps spilled over into the hostel where they assumed resting positions everywhere. Along with the moths come cicadas 4" long and 3/4" wide. (We were to be offered some of these later with promises of beetle grubs, spiders and walking stick insects as PNG culinary delights.)
Working With Moths on Nighttime Trails
The first workweek passed rapidly. On Tuesday, 13 February, Larry Orsak announced that the early morning collectors (myself, Ann Stamper, C.C. McKegnie and Karen S., who had just left by PMV to return to the Ecology Institute in Wau) would no longer have to start our session at 3 a.m., but could rather wait until 6 a.m. That gave me the much needed quiet time to do some writing. With 17 people milling around in the hostel there was no opportunity to write. The only places to sit were at 2 picnic tables inside and one outside. When it was raining (which was most of the time) people gathered around the inside tables. When the rain stopped during day and the outside table dried off, people occupied both inside and outside tables. I usually took the dry periods as an opportunity to explore the trails.
So there I was, alone again, at 3 a.m. with my first opportunity in several days to do some serious writing. The only sounds to disturb me were those of sleeping people, fluttering moths banging into the fluorescent bulbs above my head and a boiling pot of spaghetti that I had put on for breakfast. This was a welcome respite from the usual crowd of people.
Over the past week our Earthwatch team had collected over 3,000 specimens of moths and had mounted, dried and labeled over 1,000 different species. They came in all sorts of colors and shapes and had assumed a wide variety of resting postures. The defense strategies displayed are almost as diverse as the number of species but can be grouped into several categories: dry leaf mimics, forest debris mimics, beetle, spider or distasteful species mimics, twig mimics, lichen and moss mimics and others. Additional defense strategies when disturbed are added in to the foregoing such as emission of noxious smells and/or froth, emission of sounds (squeals, buzzing, etc.), the use of startle displays via underwing coloration, etc.
The objective of the research is to develop a technique by which inexperienced individuals can use changes in the biodiversity displayed by moths in the forest to assess ecological damage to the area. These populations of insects respond very rapidly to forest disturbances and should be good potential early warning signs of ecological damage. It is a good feeling to be making a contribution to the overall well-being of the only habitable planet in our solar system.
When not working - which actually filled 8-10 hours of each day, I tried to engage in country oriented activities. The Ambua Hostel is situated at an elevation of 2,020 meters in heavily wooded mountainous terrain with deep gorges and steep slopes. There are several well maintained trails that wind their way through the rain and moss forests. On the first afternoon at Ambua, 3 of us (Anne Stamper, Rich Bartlett and myself) started out downhill along one of the trails that led to a waterfall somewhere down the gorge.
The forest is filled with so many unfamiliar plants that there is a real conflict between watching your footing on the wet, slippery and sometimes treacherous trails and trying to assimilate all the new forest information. There is a mixture of deciduous trees and palms with some random conifers. Pandanus palms were frequent members of the forest community. Their growth, however, was stunted by the towering canopy of deciduous trees. The pandanus grows from an open trusswork of widely spread roots which makes the tree look like it is standing on tripods. The tree is important in the Huli culture since it provides kairuka nuts as an important food source. The raw kairuka nut tastes like coconut and when cooked it tastes like boiled peanuts. Everything in the forest was covered with moss and fungus and at night on the trails there was abundant foxfire (phosphorescence) emitted by the fungus. The moss on the tree trunks and the dead and down branches created a surrealistic topography of soft green in this dim and damp environment.
The trail wound ever downward through a seemingly endless series of switchbacks, and then we were at the edge of the ravine above a raging torrent. A suspension bridge spanned the 70 ft. wide chasm. Not a bridge of steel beams and cables, but rather one of natural materials - pitpit cane for lashing, saplings for rails and 1/2 inch thick lianas for suspension ropes. This was a thrilling first encounter which would fade, as all others, with acceptance of this as a common feature of the local environment.
With some trepidation we crossed the span one at a time. I lost count of the number of photographs I took of this magnificent feat of primitive engineering. With each new bridge the focus changed from discovery to appreciation of how well the structures blended into the forest scenery.
The trail beyond the bridge led along the ravine and down to the stream bed where the water leapt out over a vertical wall 150 ft. above the canyon below. Were it not for the vegetation on the cliff side obscuring the precipitous drop, there could have been a strong sensation of vertigo on the trail so close to the edge.
Back across the bridge, the trail continued downward to the spray at the base of the falls. The falls from below were even more spectacular than from above. The roar was deafening and the mist fell like heavy rain at the nearest approach to the base of the falls.
Water and waterfalls abound in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. There were several other grand examples in the Ambua area which were reached by trails which criss-crossed forested ravines on vine suspension bridges. My favorite sprang from a narrow, high walled trough in a sheer granite wall. The flume cascaded in a graceful arch into a deep bowl festooned with mosses and ferns 60 feet below.
Even the climbs of 700-1,000 ft. back up some of the trails were rewarding and contributed to deep sleeps in the cool, unheated hostel. I was glad that I had brought a sleeping bag and I was particularly pleased with my waterproof boots.
Not all the trails started out downhill. From the hostel we made several forays uphill and eastward along the narrow gravel road to the crest of the mountain. There where the forest was less heavily wooded the pandanus palms reached heights of 40-50 feet. The deciduous trees stood 70 to 100 feet tall and were decorated with large clusters of epiphytes on their trunks and on their sparsely leafed branches making the branches look like the tails of oddly groomed poodles. The reward for this hike either at dawn or in the hours approaching sunset was the sighting of birds of paradise displaying in the upper branches of the tall trees. I had been fortunate to see the Stephanie's Astrapia with its iridescent breast plumage and two, long, trailing, tail feathers.
Travels with the Asthmatic Toyota
On two occasions in the past week I had made trips into Tari with Larry Orsak in his not-so-reliable, heavily used, beat up, white Toyota pick up. Both trips were adventures. The first trip was on Friday Feb. 8. It was not raining so he took 5 passengers in the cab and 4 in the pick up bed. As we descended the bumpy grade from the cab I noticed that the hood was bouncing up and down about 6 inches. I commented to Larry about the disturbing excursions and he seemed unconcerned since this was a normal action for the truck. Just as I was about to suggest that we strap the hood down, a combination of bump and air flow lifted the hood straight back and obscured the driver's vision, but only momentarily. The hinge bolt on the right side detached and the hood twisted to the left and peeled off on the passenger side (which is the left side in English influenced countries such as PNG). Larry brought the car to a stop before the hood completely detached. There could have been a real disaster had the hood flown off and passed over the cab and into the heads of the passengers in the truck bed.
We placed the hood in the truck bed and proceeded on. Actually, free access to the engine was a benefit. At the crest of each long pull the truck would stall out. Larry would get out, disconnect the fuel line and blow into the carburetor bowl. I never figured out what that did and he didn't know either but the truck would restart. The scene was reminiscent of the events with the cantankerous land rover in the movie "The Gods Must Be Crazy." The real concern with no hood was that rain, when it came, would wet the distributor and the engine would not fire at all.
We were low on petrol and had to stop at 2 service stations before we found any available. A service station in PNG is not an establishment with pumps under a canopy with car bays attached. A PNG service station is a thatched roof shack with several 50 gal. drums within a fenced-in yard. The proprietor hand pumps petrol from the drums into used, 1 gal. plastic oil bottles and pours them one at a time into the truck at 5 kina a shot.
This operation always attracts a crowd which is even more interesting than the fueling process. We were intently watched by an elderly man dressed only in loin cloth and arse-gras and sporting a kina shell necklace and a cuscus skin cap adorned with bird feathers. He was blowing lightly on a cluster of bamboo pan pipes. I asked him if I could try to play them and he permitted me to try. They were not playable in the normal sense of the word - even for a flutist like myself. I gathered that all these pipes were mostly for show since I had never heard any of them being played. In actuality, the Huli take pleasure in the changes in the soft, whiffed tones which are produced by lightly blowing across the tops of the tubes. This is an instrument that would only work in the peace and solitude of a moss forest.
On into town we found a lesser assemblage of people than our first encounter since Friday was not an established market day. The people were interesting never-the-less. With business accomplished we limped back to Ambua.
Frank Perkins from Melbourne, FL and I set out to solve the carburetor problem. Frank detached the fuel line at the carburetor and found debris. We thought this was the source of what appeared to be a problem of fuel starvation. Road tests, however, showed that more serious attention needed to be given to the task. Major carburetor disassembly was indicated.
On disassembly we found no debris in the bowl but the float seemed to be riding too high. The bowl gasket was also broken. On Saturday morning, Frank did a magnificent job of carving a new gasket from a sheet of gasket material with an Exacto knife . Having repaired everything we could see that might be wrong, we reassembled the carburetor and tried to start the truck. The battery went (as they say in Australia and PNG) flat. There were jumper cables which I could see in the maintenance shed but the mechanic was off until Monday.
We had the option of pushing the truck out to the steep downhill grade and starting it mechanically. If it failed to start we would find ourselves down the canyon without power. We chose to wait until Monday.
On Monday we borrowed the jumper cables and the engine fired right up. A minor adjustment of the idle speed and the engine sounded great. Fifteen people piled into the truck to go to Tari for various purposes - to go to the post office, to make flight arrangements, to buy supplies and just to re-experience the Tari scene. Since there was no more sitting room, I rode in the rear standing up. About 10 min. down the road, the rain started. With only a rain jacket on, I ended up with the front of my jeans completely soaked.
Standing up, however, put me in a position to see over the high mud walls that defined property lines and into the private compounds. The Huli are extremely territorial and fights and wars often occur over boundary violations. To protect their property, the Huli men will build a fence 6-8 ft. tall of split logs with sharpened ends at the top. Once constructed, the wooden fence is encased in a smooth wall of mud around 6 ft. wide at the base and tapering to about 1/2 ft. at the top with several inches of sharpened points exposed. Access to the compound is through a "fighting gate" which is a fortified portion of wooden fencing with a small, window-like gate that forces the guest or enemy to have to both step over and bend down at the same time to get through. That places an opponent in a very compromising position during an attack.
Adjacent properties are delineated by two adjacent walls rather than by a single, common wall. The space between the walls form an intricate network of passageways. Overgrowth with kunai grass and pitpit cane turns these alleys into clandestine tunnels which are used for massive movements of warriors during times of strife. I suppose that directions through the maze are kept as tribal secrets passed down by word of mouth.
Huli battles actually are conducted under a rigid set of rules. Battles are never conducted at night and never on holidays. Phalanxes of warriors face off at a distance beyond arrow range. The braver warriors run forward within arrow range and either shoot at or taunt the opposition with degrading cries. They then turn and run back to their own line (a rather serious version of "Red Rover, Red Rover. Won't you come over?"). Several Huli warriors proudly showed us their arrow wounds - in their buttocks.
By the time we reached town the rain had slowed to a drizzle. We conducted the business at hand, which gave us some free time to slog around the muddy market. One of the primary pastimes of the Huli (and of many of the peoples of SE Asia) is chewing betel nut. The practice always evokes a response on first time encounters like "What is that disgusting red crap all over the ground?" Chewing betel nut causes copious salivation and the product is bright red. It ends up in huge splats everywhere. Larry Orsak had bought some for us to try but it had mysteriously disappeared from the hostel.
The Great Buai Experience
In the market there were dozens of vendors sitting on the ground with green, walnut sized, oval nuts spread out in front of them. These, I learned, were betel nuts. For 40 toya I bought 1 nut, 1 piece of betel pepper and one small bag of slaked lime. I had a lot of fun squatting down and trying to get the chewing instructions straight. Consuming of products in the market compound was not permitted so I took my purchase back out on the street.
I asked in Pidgin for more chewing instructions and found myself surrounded by a circle of consultants 5 people deep. Everyone was anxious to see the reaction of the white man to this stimulant. The husked betel nut is a sphere about 3/4" in dia. I was encouraged to put the whole thing in my mouth and chew it up. I felt that this was some sort of crowd conspiracy to get the tourist to fall into a stupor - whereas it actually was not. I only bit off 1/2 of the sphere. It was bitter and unpleasant. The most important instruction I got was not to swallow anything or I would get pekpekwara (diarrhea). Salivation was profuse and I had to overcome the strong urge to swallow. After chewing the nut into a mush one dips the "pepper" into the slaked lime and chews that into the rest of the mush.
I dipped the pepper into the lime and several people agitatedly warned me that I had too much and that I would burn my mouth. I adjusted appropriately. When I could no longer control the urge to swallow I stepped away from the crowd and began to spit the pulp and goo out of my mouth. The Huli response is always spontaneous and concerted. A big wahoop rose from the crowd each time I spit.
I don't know what effect this stuff was supposed to have but I could see no benefit at all. It is colorful, however, if you like red crap on the ground and red teeth and gums. I could imagine the 5th Avenue marketing approach - "It sweetens your breath while it reddens your gums." So much for betel nut.
Larry bought some more betel nut later and I enjoyed watching similar responses from the other Earthwatchers as they lined up under the eave of the hostel in a light evening drizzle and chewed away. Imagine a row of beyond-middle-age adults bending over, drooling red juice and spitting into a dirt rain ditch. I thought smoking was the epitome of sophistication but betel nut chewing takes the cake!
The ride back was more pleasant since the rain had stopped. Everyone along the roadside would wave. We learned that if we waved back and shouted "hallo" we would get an enthusiastic "hallo" back. The more we yelled the more they yelled. The children would just go crazy. Great fun.
The little white Toyota performed well even on the steep climbs back to Ambua. We thought we had licked the evil spirits, but we were wrong.
Moths and More Moths
The next day, Tuesday, 12 February 91, was another full day of working with moths. I guess I will never again be able to look at a moth without contemplating its coloration, camouflage or display pattern, wing position (i.e., degree of overlap, angle to substrate, degree of contact with substrate, etc.) antennae position and all the other differentiating features we have been recording.
Dinner again consisted of a large boiled mixture of vegetable greens, potatoes, pitpit cane and tinned fish (mackerel). It was nourishing and warm, but it was beginning to lose its appeal. Animal protein had not been a major factor in our diet which was very heavy in roughage and ultimately led to "the great t-paper crisis" and imposed t-paper rationing. A graph of daily t-paper usage was posted on the wall with threats of severe penalties if more conservative practices were not observed.
Wednesday morning was the last day we were to collect at the trail site in the forest below the hostel. The trip down the mountain trail in the pitch blackness of the rain forest under an overcast sky was always an interesting experience - particularly with a box full of moth killing jars and only a headband lamp with a weak beam to search out the trail. We only had one minor accident. One of the women, C.C. McKegney, stepped off the trail and fell down the steep slope. Her injury luckily consisted only of some leg bruises and a jammed little finger. She spent much of the morning after sunrise walking around holding a package of frozen hot dogs on the black and blue injured joint.
With all this early morning rising I had hoped to have some spectacular views of the sky in the southern hemisphere. Not so. Most nights were overcast or fog shrouded. One rare evening was cloudless and the southern cross was clearly visible on the southern horizon. I learned from other Earthwatchers who had been in the southern hemisphere before how to use the axis of the southern cross in concert with the bisectrix of two other stars to locate the position of the south pole. Even though the southern cross was visible, only higher magnitude stars could be seen due to the slight haze from the high humidity. The nighttime skies here simply did not compare to those I had experienced in the southern Caribbean.
MuMu with the Huli
Larry had arranged with Howard, a Huli tribesman whose land was near the little stream-side market about 6 km from the Ambua Lodge, to provide us with a mumu or Huli lunch prepared in a covered fire pit for K5 each. We all looked forward to a break from the six intense and long days of work and for an opportunity to experience Huli village life - and at such a bargain price. The little Toyota pickup was to be our means of noontime transportation.
At 11 a.m. on the intended day, Jack McNeel, Ann Stamper and myself walked down to the Ambua Lodge to pay for two days of excursion trips provided by Trans New Guinea Tours - the parent company of the Lodge. These were to be our guaranteed 2-days off. From the lodge we walked down through the trail to the road and started out walking to the mumu site. Jack had walked down this road several days earlier and had encountered many people. We saw no one. This day, it turned out, was an unscheduled holiday due to the death of a prominent Papua New Guinean, John Guise, who was a former member of parliament.
This was the sunniest day we had had and I was glad that I had applied sunscreen. The equatorial sun can be brutal. We had all learned how capricious the rain forest weather can be and each of us carried full rain gear in our day packs.
About 3 km down the road we were picked up by Larry in the Toyota truck. At the stream side market we were met by Howard's brother Paulus (Huli name Hiraho). A crowd gathered around as we piled out of the pickup. Paulus was dressed in face paint and arse-gras. He said that we were permitted to photograph everywhere and that he would arrange for photographs of anyone we chose. The opportunities were almost limitless. There were old men and young men in traditional garb and some were carrying bows and arrows. Women were all seated in a long row with their market produce spread out in front of them.
The people were proud to have their pictures taken. As an expression of appreciation I offered Paulus a choice of one of the 3 necklaces I had worn to the mumu. He chose a gold colored one with an oblong golden pendant. As he proudly hung it around his neck and down his perspiring chest, I hoped that his body salt would not corrode it into green before we finished the day. I did not want to have to deal with any payback. I later offered him a second necklace of beads which he was pleased to receive.
During our market excursion one of the Earthwatch women, Carol Lines, created a real scene by stepping across the line of women selling produce and even stepping over a display of sweet potatoes. The Huli women were furious and emphatically indicated that Carol should leave the area. What she had unknowingly done was to defile the food by stepping over it. No man would eat food which had been stepped over by a woman. This was a real tambu.
After the market excursion, Paulus led our group along a very muddy trail through the pitpit cane at the bank of the clear stream. We came into a clearing where the bank was about fifteen feet above a deep pool at a bend in the stream. Young boys were enjoying the sun and warmth and jumping from the river bank into the clean, refreshing water. I suppressed an urge to join them. "Children are the same the world over," I thought. They are the hope for the salvation of our planet.
We continued on through well maintained, large gardens of sweet potatoes, and taro. Paulus explained the farming procedures. The land in the Tari basin is rich and fertile and has produced, non-stop, for hundreds of years. The men prepare the soil and the women nurture the crop. The women also care for the pigs which are almost like members of the family. The pigs are treated like prized pets. It is common to see women carrying piglets and walking with hogs leashed by the left front hoof. Pigs are not considered to be a staple food and source of protein. They are reserved for ritual sacrifice, expression of wealth, payment of compensation claims and purchasing of wives.
Paulus stopped in front of a rectangular mound of dirt about 6 ft. high which was capped by a roofed rectangular enclosure about 2 ft. x 4 ft. This, Paulus explained, was his father's grave. In the event of a family crisis, his father's bones would be disintered, a ceremony would be performed, his bones would be reburied, a pig would be sacrificed and all would be right again. There were two crude, wooden crosses displayed at the grave site. Paulus said that they signified that he had converted to Christianity.
We finally arrived at the hut where the food was being prepared. A log had been placed alongside the covered cooking pit and we were entreated to sit down. While we were waiting for the opening of the fire pit I took out a giant-bubble maker and a 1/2 pint bottle of Joy detergent that I had brought along from Schenectady. I mixed up some bubble solution and amused the adults and children by creating 3 ft. diameter soap bubbles.
Banana leaves were spread out in a line in front of us as a table/plate combination and the leaf covering was removed from the pit of hot stones. Underneath there was a steamed array of pitpit, ferns, sweet potatoes, taro and a small amount of pork. The latter was a special treat. An assortment of each was spooned out onto the banana leaves before us. We ate with our fingers and enjoyed the food.. Water and soap had been provided earlier for washing our hands and fingers. Passion fruit and papaya were served for dessert.
After lunch Paulus made a gift of an arrow to Larry, our leader, and later to me privately. Paulus seemed to feel obligated to me for my gift of 2 necklaces. The shafts of the arrows were made from ~ 5/16" dia. pitpit cane. The tips were made of either spearhead shaped pieces taken from the wall of a large diameter bamboo stalk or fire hardened, pointed shafts taken from black palm which must be traded from lowland areas.
Their bows are made exclusively from black palm. The bow string is a strip of bamboo ~ 1/4" wide. They seem never to have learned to make bow strings from sinew. The shaft of the arrows are not even notched. Even so, the bowmen are skilled enough to shoot birds of paradise out of the treetops with their primitive weapons. Legend has it that in the early days every time a Huli man tried to make a bow he would break it in an attempt to bend it to attach the bamboo string. The men always bent it such that the outside tree fibers would be on the leading edge of the bow. One day a woman bent the bow in the opposite direction and it did not break. Ever since, bows have been bent with the inner tree fibers on the leading edge. The bows have about a 40 lb. pull.
Paulus led the group back along an alternate trail, out through a fighting gate, and back to the marketplace. We milled about the market and mingled with the people. One man was trying to play a bamboo flute which had a notch in one open end and 2 finger holes in the other. He was blowing into the notched end and across the edge of the notch without much success. I asked if I could give it a try.
I was equally unsuccessful in making a tone in the intended mode. A large crowd had gathered around me. I turned the bamboo tube sideways, plugged up the far end with my left thumb, and the finger hole nearest the notched end with the first finger of my right hand and blew, flute-like across the remaining open finger-hole. The sound was a rich, mid-range note to which I added some vibrato. The crowd responded with a concerted "whooo." I ran through 3 octaves of the same note and the crowd responded with a more enthusiastic "whooo." I ran through 3 octaves again and triple tongued the highest note. The crowd literally went wild with a uniform, loud "WHOO." Smiles broke out on every face except that of the owner.
When I returned the flute to the owner, it was clear that he had not enjoyed the experience. I certainly had not intended any insult. I wondered if he would go into the bush somewhere and try this unorthodox technique in private or merely lie in wait for me along an Ambua trail.
Half the group piled into the little Toyota truck and started out for Ambua in a light rain. Six of us stayed behind to wait for the 2nd trip. While waiting, Jack McNeel had someone try to pick his pocket. We felt a little vulnerable but Paulus was close by and kept an even more vigilant eye out.
The return trip seemed to be a long time in coming. We had about decided to start the 6 km uphill hike in the rain when Larry showed up. The Toyota was spitting, sputtering, backfiring and quitting on the uphill pull again. We got home through a series of ten yard rushes on the steepest grades. I pledged to solve the problem but not for a few days. The next two days had been committed to Ambua Lodge Tours, although we could not imagine that they could top the village experience we had just had.
Thursday morning we were picked up by Toyota, 4-wheel-drive, land rovers from the Ambua Lodge. We were taken to the Lodge to join a group of 10 travel agents who were making the same tour, but in the larger, air conditioned tour bus.
We drove west in the land rovers back into Tari and on beyond the town. The road became narrow and rougher as we got off the main, although unpaved, highland highway. We descended into the much broader Tani Valley. The road was apparently used more for foot traffic than for vehicular traffic since there were paths made by bare feet on each of the shoulders, but the crown of the road was not heavily rutted.
I was constantly amazed by the neat sweet potato gardens and the richness of the soil. We passed a pond where a woman was standing waist deep in pond water harvesting watercress. Our convoy of a bus and 2 land rovers finally pulled into a large, flat open area that appeared to be a playing field of some sort. The vehicles stopped in front of a wooden wall with a fighting gate in it.
We were invited inside and greeted by an old man in traditional Huli garb. "E keri' Paki," he intoned in Huli to wish us a good morning. We were led to another flat area the size of a basketball court. The sun was shining brightly - we had been blessed with a rare, dry day.
At the far end of the open court, dark skinned men, with oil covering their nearly bare bodies, glistened in the morning sun. They were decorating their faces in brilliant red, yellow, and blue paints outlined in borders of black. They wore ceremonial wigs of black and of red. We were to learn later how the wigs are made and the difference between daily wigs and ceremonial wigs.
We were allowed to photograph the face painting operation. I got many close-ups showing face and headdress detail. The wigs are adorned with puffs of brown or black cassowary plumes. The black plumes are from adult birds, the brown from immature ones. Feathers from various species of birds of paradise added a colorful flair. Long black or white tail feathers from the Astrapia and Sicklebills, iridescent green breast plumage from the Superb Bird of Paradise and delicate red and yellow plumes from the Red, Lesser and Greater Birds of Paradise. Complete tails from Papuan Lorikeets provided additional bursts of red and yellow.
Cassowary leg bone knives with pigtail tassels were stuck through the right side of vine waist bands. An apron of bush rope made from tree bark and tipped with yellow beads made from orchid stems hung from a woven tree bark waist band. Their bare rears were covered with bustles of arse-gras. Each man carried an hourglass shaped drum about 2 feet long called a kundu. One end of the drum was covered with lizard skin which was kept in tune by wetting the inside with frequent applications of a liquid made from tree sap.
I approached the group and asked who was the bikpela man (the man in charge). I was directed to a well fed man with a large belly and a Seiko wristwatch. He was a college educated Huli who held a prominent position in the government in Port Moresby He was on leave and was participating in the sing-sing as the leader. His English was perfect. I showed him the array of 4 necklaces I was wearing and asked if he would like to choose one. He picked a silver choker with an elaborate, heavy pendant. He then pointed out the numba twopela man. Numba threepela and numba fourpela lined up behind him and my necklaces were gone. Each hung them over their cassowary leg bone knives during the sing-sing dance.
The Huli costumes were elaborate and spectacular in the bright sun, but the sing-sing dance was disappointing. The men lined up in two rows facing each other with a young, virgin at the facing end of each row. On a signal they started pounding on their drums and hopping in unison with both bare feet together.
The drum rhythm was simple and accompanied by the chant "Haya'-Haya'-Haya'-Ha'-Ha'." The men were evidently not in good aerobic condition since they could maintain the activity for no more than 1 minute at a shot. During their rest period they gave the impression of "well what do we do next?" and "is this enough?"
During the active periods they danced both in facing files and as a single row. There were many photo opportunities in the bright sun and there was free access to the dance field. The display was exciting and we knew that, in spite of the lack of choreography, our photos would look great.
At the conclusion of the 15 min. performance the dancers stood around for photos with the tourists. Some obese members of the touring travel agents went up to the college-educated head man and spoke to him in the most embarrassing me-Tarzan-you-Jane baby talk I have ever heard. Consistent with the US attitude toward exporting health risk items to 3rd world countries, the fat woman passed out little black cigarillos to the dancers at the conclusion of the sing-sing. That really trashed over photo opportunities. These people who would return to the USA as tour consultants were truly not ecological tourists.
We were then directed to a display of for-sale items - kina shell necklaces, cowrie shell necklaces, war picks with cassowary bone points, cassowary leg bone knives, stone axes, etc. It was doubtful that any wild animal parts would be allowed through US customs and rightly so. Why should tourists increase the extinction pressure on native animals? Haven't we learned our lessons? I did buy a boar's tusk necklace, but that is a domesticated animal that plays a major role in Huli life. It was interesting to note that the price asked was never the selling price unless the buyer chose it to be. A request for numba twopela price usually brought an instant response. A K40 item would drop to K30. There was no 3rd price.
The Making of a Huli Wigman
From the sing-sing the land rovers took the Earthwatch group down narrower and rougher roads and over a bridge which crossed the wide, muddy Tekali River. We followed a muddy, deeply rutted side road which paralleled the Tekali with its intermittent white water. Occasional washouts reduced the width of the road considerably which added to the apprehension of the outboard passengers as they looked down the gaping embankment at the river 60 feet below.
The 2 land rovers stopped along a steep hillside at an impressive fighting gate. Beyond the fighting gate was a narrow clay corridor with sloping walls covered with a soft layer of green moss. Clay steps with log risers defined the steep stairs that led upwards through a series of narrow fighting gates. This was a well fortified installation.
At the top of the rise there was an intersecting path with fighting gates at each branch. We were met by a wigged, Huli elder in a brilliant kina shell necklace and traditional dress. He led us into a compound with an open walled hut, thatched with the usual kunai grass. This was the site for the initiation of bachelor boys and the place where they grew their wigs. The old man was their teacher.
The rather amazing thing was that we were allowed to come there - particularly with women in the group. We were told that permission had been granted only a few weeks earlier and that we were among the first outsiders to view this site. The Huli elder had hidden all the sacred and secret totems and would have to re-purify the area after our visit.
We had a picnic lunch in the compound and ate sitting on the ground . (I picked up chiggers here. Larry Orsak warned me to watch for signs of bush typhus which is carried by PNG chiggers. The signs are the appearance of purple spots. Immediate administration of internal antibiotic will stop the progression of the bacterial invasion. Left unchecked, the disease claims 30% of its victims.)
After lunch the old man showed us his gift shop display, and then led us through another fighting gate to an area where there was a cave-like crevice in the rock wall. The entrance had been painted with red clay. After sacrificing a ceremonial pig, its entrails were thrown into the crevice to propitiate the spirits of the mountain.
We ascended a ladder bridge to reach the next level in the compound. There we were greeted by 2 bachelor candidates who were in the process of growing their wigs. There were 18 boys at the site but the others were in the fields gathering food.
This site was the only one remaining in the Tari area for bachelor instruction. The others had been destroyed by missionaries. Visions of Bishop Landa and the destruction of nearly all the written information regarding the Mayan culture came to mind. At this site, the boys are first administered a sanctified liquid to cleanse their system of all food touched by women. During their stay they learn to live separately from women as they will for the remainder of their lives.
Their heads are fitted with a wig frame and their hair is trained through the meshwork. The wigs the boys were sporting were of living and growing human hair. There was a ceremonial pool of mineral water at the site from which water was sprinkled on the wigs several times a day. The minerals in the water turned their black hair brown and, supposedly increased its rate of growth.
At the end of 18 months the wigs are cut away from the head with a bamboo knife. During the 18 month period, the boys are not allowed to leave the site or even to go out on the road. Contact with females results in immediate expulsion. This process is sort of like getting teenagers off the street by sending them to a military boarding school.
We learned that the ceremonial wigs have a high, sloped front and rear, and rise to points on either end. In contrast, the day wig looks more like an oval umbrella. The ceremonial wig is not grown but rather is fabricated from 2 day wigs. The production of a day wig and a ceremonial wig, therefore, requires about 4 1/2 years.
Wigs are decorated with dried, everlasting daisies. The greater the number of flowers the older the owner. Not all wigs are grown in the ceremonial site. Some are grown in town without the restrictions of the ceremonial area, but they carry less prestige.
The Place of the Skulls
From the bachelor compound we proceeded further down the narrow, seldom traveled road to a lower elevation and parked the land rovers on the shoulder. We crossed a ditch on a log and bent through another fighting gate. The fields and wetlands beyond the gate were like a botanical garden. The pathway was lined with plants with purple, red, and yellow leaves. There were many varieties of flowering bushes along the way, bananas, kaukau (sweet potatoes) and taro were neatly appointed on the hillsides. We were treated to a special ornithological surprise when a huge hornbill alighted just above our heads in a lone, frilly conifer along the trail.
We stepped through a second fighting gate into the private yard of the village chief. He was magnificently adorned in his wig, with his face brilliantly painted and a boar's tusk through his nasal septum. He reminded me of a Sioux warrior in a buffalo headdress and full war paint. In any other situation he would have been terrifying.
The chief haltingly spoke some English and Pidgin. Our Huli guide bridged the language barrier by translated from his native tongue to English. The Huli language seems like an endless connection of heavily rolled r's. I was beginning to separate out individual words but could put no meaning to them. It is fascinating to consider that this country of 4 million people boasts almost 800 individually developed, unrelated languages with each associated with a different culture. Some useful Huli expressions which produced more favorable responses from the Huli people than Pidgin expressions include:
E keri paki (good morning)
Ar' en do' (good afternoon)
Ar' ame (thank you and you're welcome)
A Huli village is not a close gathering of living quarters, but rather a dispersed area of gardens joined by family ties. There is a Huli rule that prevents marriage within ones own clan. Division of property follows a complex set of rules.
The chief led us up to a family cemetery where there were both buried bodies and disintered bones. When a body is buried, a wooden, roofed frame is built over the grave site. When the wooden frame has rotted, the bones are exhumed and placed, exposed in a painted, roofed tray, above the old grave. There were examples of graves in each of these stages in the cemetery.
On beyond the cemetery there was a rock alcove surrounded by manicured tropical vegetation and flowering plants. On one side, a recessed rock wall rose from the floor. About 10 ft. above the floor a shelf made of saplings had been placed in the crevice. Ten skulls decorated in face paint stared, hollow-eyed from the shelf out into the alcove. These were skulls of the chief's ancestors.
A path led up the left side of the rock wall to a higher crevice. Within the crevice were painted, spherical rocks varying in size from billiard balls to grapefruits. These rocks were gods to which the traditional Huli prayed prior to battle. The Huli warriors gained strength from resulting dreams which would forecast the outcome of the battle. Less sophisticated, but basically not much different from any other religion.
After our guide had explained the significance of the place of the skulls, our group started back down the trail. Larry Orsak and I stayed behind with the chief. Larry spoke with him in Pidgin and explained to him what the Earthwatch team was doing in PNG to help preserve their environment. I sat down with him afterwards and showed him a picture of my grandson, Neil, playing in the snow of Schenectady. He was amazed at pictures of the plane (balus) that I had made. I wished that I had had another necklace to leave with him.
As we passed by his house again, his wife showed up dressed in a traditional grass skirt and bare breasts. The chief gladly consented to several family portraits. I kept thinking, I didn't bring enough film as I rationed my shots until I could get back to Australia where I could buy more film.
Rain had held off the whole day until we were on our way back to Ambua. This day had been a wonderful cultural immersion and I looked forward to what the next day had to offer.
Reveling in the Huli Experience
Back at the Hostel, I borrowed a machete and went into the bush to cut some bamboo and make regular flutes. I found a tall sprout about 1 inch in diameter with 18" long segments. I brought 8, 2 foot lengths back to the hostel and proceeded to fabricate flutes from each segment leaving one end closed by its own septum. I could get a good note from each piece but attempts at making finger holes destroyed the tonal quality of every one.
As we sat around the outside picnic table overlooking the Tari valley and the cloud capped mountains beyond, we pondered the experiences of the day. Rich Bartlett picked up one of the defunct bamboo flutes and began to tap it on the table in the rhythm of the morning's sing-sing. Others joined in. Almost without instruction we all stood and began the kangaroo hop and chant of the Huli warriors. Haya Haya Haya Ha Ha.
Our circle moved clockwise around the table as our enthusiastic chant rolled down the hill to the Ambua Lodge below. The small Huli children from the adjacent maintenance area chimed in. We stopped in exhaustion from this highly aerobic movement and broke into laughter over our feeble attempt to emulate Huli warriors. There is always the risk that such behavior may be interpreted by the local residents as being a mockery of their culture. Our reaction was spontaneous and enthusiastic and, hopefully, was not taken as an insult.
Local Face Painting
The next morning we set out on another day long Ambua Lodge tour, but only with Earthwatch team members on board. The touring travel agents had gone on to another cultural immersion in the Sepik river area. Our first stop was at a site where face painting with traditional materials was demonstrated by two village elders. This was a site along the road to Tari. It was sort of like a local salon where Huli men could come and adorn themselves before parading along the roadside or going into town. The process was interesting but we gleaned very little additional information about Huli culture.
The highlight of the stop was the sighting of a Lawe's Parotia in the trees that enclosed the face painting hut. Our guide had to stop his monologue as all eyes were directed upward toward this elaborate Bird of Paradise with its delicate, trailing head plumes.
We made a stop in Tari at the Hela Huli Cultural Museum. (The local Huli belong to the Hela clan.) The cultural center consisted of a traditional, conical roofed, circular structure with walls of upright split saplings. The roof was thatched with kunai grass and the floor was dirt.
The only light within the structure came from a smoldering fire glowing in a recess in the dirt floor. Once our eyes had adapted to the low illumination, we were treated to a vast array of Huli crafts - all except spherical god-stones were for sale. Several arrows, necklaces and carvings were purchased by our group.
Chief Tondoli and the Coming of the Whiteman
After lunch by a clear stream at a quiet, private area (not free of chiggers) our guides drove us to a village area and up to a hut that was protected by neither a wall nor a fighting gate. In front of our host's hut was a flag pole from which an American flag flew. Our host was an elderly man. His wig was filled with everlasting daisies and small blue flowers - consistent with his advanced age. From later conversation we guessed his age at between 60 and 70.
Chief Tondoli was glad to have us and he started out his tour of daily Huli activities with a demonstration of fire making. His tools consisted of a 2-foot long, quarter inch wide longitudinal section of bamboo, a 1" dia. debarked dry branch that was split 3/4 of its length with the split held open with a small rock, and a handful of dried bark shavings. The chief placed the shavings on the ground. He laid the bamboo strip over the shavings and put the split stick at a right angle over the bamboo. He placed a foot on each of the ends of the stick and began rapidly pulling on the bamboo strip in a sawing motion against his foot pressure. In less than 15 sec. smoke began to rise from the pile of tinder. He carefully picked up the tinder and began to blow on it. In less than one minute total he had produced flames. This was particularly remarkable in that we had to wait in the land rover for 10 minutes until a torrential downpour had ceased.
Chief Tondoli spoke only Huli and our Ambua guide had to translate as the chief described the way he and his family lived. He had been a young man of about 20 when the 1st white man walked into the Tari area in 1949. The entry had been made near where we were standing. Tondoli said that the Huli all ran in fear of the white skinned person. They thought that the white men were spirits of their own dead or of their enemy.
The Huli then gathered in a garden and sacrificed a pig and made magic. With strength gained from the magic, they took up their weapons against the spirits, but the white men had come with guns. The white men first shot a pig and then shot a man. The Huli submitted in terror.
The Huli warriors watched the white men very closely to learn more about these spirits. They watched in secret as the white men went through their daily activities. The Huli realized that these men were mere mortals after they determined that the white men's pekpek smelled the same as theirs. Even so, the Huli yielded to the upper hand that the white men held weapon-wise. The white man began to look for gold and paid the Huli to work for them. The pay was 1 small cowrie shell for 7 days of work.
The Chief led us down a path to an area where large woven mats for hut walls were standing alongside piles of pitpit cane. He demonstrated how a single cane was split and flattened into a piece of webbing 1 to 4 inches wide (depending on cane diameter) for use in the mat. This pitpit matting is the traditional wall material for Huli huts and is the wall material used at the Ambua site.
We followed Chief Tondoli through another of the weedless kaukau (sweet potato) gardens. The sweet potato was introduced to Europe from Cuba and South America in the 1500's by Portuguese explorers. The Portuguese then spread the sweet potatoes eastward around Cape Horn to the Pacific and to PNG where it became the staple crop of the Highlands via limited trade with the lowland tribes.
The Chief's daughter was busy in the garden jamming kaukau sprouts elbow deep into the loosely packed, empty hills of red soil. She was dressed only in a skirt of strips of pounded bark. Her bare breasts swung .rhythmically as she bent forward at her work. A large bilum, secured in traditional fashion from her forehead, rested across her back. A faint whimper from the bilum netting rose to a more demanding cry as her child's hunger increased.
She stopped her work and placed the bilum on the ground. With absolutely no self-consciousness, she lifted the one year old baby out of the bag and began to nurse her in the most natural of ways. The scene was reminiscent of one of Paul Gaugin's Tahitian paintings.
Chief Tondoli explained that Huli husbands and wives live in separate houses and never sleep together in their houses. Love is made in the fields or in the bush. There is a real fear of things female among the Huli men. The most dangerous fluid in their culture is menstrual blood. Women are actually banished to a separate hut during their period. This separate existence has provided a natural birth control scheme over the years. Missionaries have begun to erode the practice of separate quarters and the birthrate is now on the increase.
Another practice that has been changed by the department of health for reasons of sanitation is the role women play in the rearing of pigs. The principal roles played by women in the Huli culture are tending the gardens (planting, weeding, harvesting, and marketing - the men do the cultivating)., feeding and caring for the children (the men prepare their own food and eat alone) and caring for the pigs. In traditional Huli women's huts there are special stalls where the pigs are kept overnight. The women care for the pigs from birth to slaughter even to the point of suckling the piglets. The women treat the pigs as special pets but they must give them up to the men on demand whenever a ceremonial kill or a compensation payment must be made. Health regulations now prohibit keeping pigs in living quarters. A separate pig house must now be provided.
Chief Tondoli was carrying a black palm bow and a sheath of arrows with pitpit cane shafts and black palm points. We asked him if he had ever participated in a tribal battle. His answer was yes. Through our interpreter he agreed to demonstrate fighting tactics.
There was a palm pole about 5 feet high standing in the kaukau patch. The old man approached the pole within about 50 ft. and explained that during battle opposing warriors are constantly moving to avoid becoming an easy target. Consequently, arrows must be fired while on the move. He began to weave rapidly back and forth between the kaukau mounds keeping his shoulders parallel to any potential enemy arrow trajectory.
In one smooth motion he positioned an arrow in the bow and pulled back on the bamboo string. Without warning, he planted his right foot, swung abruptly to the left and fired. The arrow flew straight and true across the 50 foot separation and buried itself at Huli chest-height deep in the palm post. Impressive. The next four arrows were close to the mark but failed to strike home. Impressive nevertheless.
I tried a shot from a standing position. The arrow dribbled out of the bow with a mind if its own. The shafts are blunt ended with no notch for the bamboo string. The Huli warriors have a special follow through technique that keeps the butt of the arrow squarely planted on the string up until it takes flight. Maybe with several years of practice I could get an arrow to fly straight. Until then I decided to steer clear of any participation in Huli disputes.
After the instruction in Huli warring techniques, Larry Orsak asked about the chief's family. Two of Tondoli's sons had left home and moved to the urban areas to ply a newer livelihood. Larry asked our interpreter to inform the chief that we had great respect for his knowledge and wisdom. We recognized that he had a tremendous grasp of forest life, trees, animals, insects, farming, and daily life on the land. A wealth of information that was as comprehensive as many things that could be taught in the greatest universities. The chief thanked us for the comments.
Before we left, we shared pictures of our home states. C.C. McKegnie had some postcards of Vermont in winter and fall. The chief did not know what snow was or that leaves on trees could change color. I showed the daughter a picture of Neil in the snow. She shared it with the women there. I suddenly realized that I had irretrievably given the snapshot away. I imagine that my grandson's picture is now proudly displayed on a pitpit cane wall somewhere in Huli land.
Enroute back to Ambua we encountered a group of men repairing a rain-damaged property wall along the side of the road. All the work was being done by hand. In driving down these roads for the first time, a traveler gets the impression that the road has been cut through clay hillsides. The road sides are, of course, all man-made walls. These walls are sometimes 15 ft. high.
There were many instances of grave sites built just inside the roadside walls. Because of their elevated nature, the highly decorated grave covers were visible from the road. Many were marked with "Tambu - no kissim pikture" - (photography prohibited), and they meant it.
We were told that these were special grave sites of people whose deaths required compensation payments - battle deaths, automobile accidents and other life taking events. If compensation is not paid, the body is exhumed and a grave cover with a raised box for the bones is displayed to announce publicly that a debt has not been resolved. Compensation can amount to up to 1000 pigs (between $100,000 and $500,000). There is no assessment of fault - the killer must pay the clan of the killed - even if the victim committed suicide by jumping in front of a moving car. Even the clan of a rascal who was shot by police in the act of committing a murder will demand compensation from the police force.
On the final stretch back to Ambua we came to a screeching halt as Mimi Abers began shouting incoherently from the rear seat. She was so shocked to see a baby cassowary alongside the road that she could not formulate the words.
Buni, our Huli driver, backed the land rover up and we all got out. A contingent of Huli people were herding the young cassowary along with their pigs. There was some controversy as to whether photos were allowed. Buni said that photos could not be taken. I thought that there might be some restrictions regarding cassowary captivity. Not to be deterred, I asked myself, "Me likum kissim piktur, o.k.?" The response was positive and the photo session began. I had trouble keeping the cassowary from pecking my lens.
A bit of trivia - Ambua means yellow (amber?) and is the name of the mountain that is the source of much of the yellow clay that is used locally in body and face painting.
On our return to the Hostel I learned that Conrad, the Huli mechanic for the lodge, had looked at the misbehaving Toyota and determined that the points were burned out and needed to be replaced. Joe Somp, Larry's able assistant from the Anga tribe, was appointed to the task of taking the PMV on Sunday to Mt. Hagan to secure parts on Monday and return on Tuesday. All of this with the real fear of a rascal road robbery en route both ways. We let the car issue lie for awhile.
Tari Gap and Birds of Paradise
After completion of our tasks Saturday afternoon, I set out alone to head up the hill toward Tari Gap some 12 km and 2000 ft. higher up. The skies were overcast and showers were imminent. Several km along the way I was passed by an Ambua Lodge land rover transporting a film crew from the BBC. There was an empty seat. There, I thought goes my ace-in-the-hole for a return trip to the Hostel.
The higher elevation forests have a character quite different from the moss forests at 7000 ft. There are single, towering giant trees standing above a secondary lower scrub growth. The giants are covered with thick clumps of bromeliads - non-parasitic air plants that house food communities for the indigenous bird life. The clusters of bromeliads give the giant, sparsely leafed trees the appearance of poorly groomed French Poodles. Stands of pandanus palms compete for space. Huli women hike all the way from Tari to Tari Gap (almost 40 km with a 4000 foot rise.) to collect the kairuka nut from the pandanus palm.
I had hiked about 5 km and was beyond the bridge between the Lodge and the Gap. I had become frustrated with bird calls which I could not identify and birds which I could not locate. Drizzle and steamed up glasses and binoculars added to the irritation. It was getting on toward 5 p.m. (1 1/2 hours until sunset) when the BBC crew crested the hill. I flagged them down (use of the hitch-hiker's thumb in an area of the world influenced by Australia is a vulgar sign equivalent to our middle finger bird). They had, in fact, planned to stop where I was standing to observe a King of Saxony Bird of Paradise. I then began to learn the secrets of sighting these elusive creatures.
The Huli guides for the BBC taught me the bird calls and the places in the trees to look for motion. Each bird has a distinctive call. The King of Saxony sounds like a plastic baby rattle, the Brown Sickle Bill sounds like a low drumming flutter almost like a Woodpecker pounding on a tree. The noisiest and most melodious of the high canopy birds, in my opinion, is Belford's Melidictes and they are not very colorful or exciting.
With the aid of the guides I was able to sight the following birds:
Ribbon tailed Astrapia
Papuan Mountain Pigeon
The Papuan Mountain Pigeon was courting and performing interesting strutting dances on naked branches and fantastic aerial maneuvers in the spaces between trees. He would strut on a lofty branch then dive downward, pull up to a high, vertical hammerhead stall, fold his wings against his body and plunge earthward for a second time. Fascinating to watch. The BBC crew dropped me off at the path to the Hostel and I reported in with my newly acquired skills.
Repair of the Toyota??
Sunday, after early morning moth collection, which sort of counted as a communing-with-nature religious service, I decided to look more closely at the car problem. Time was short since Joe was scheduled to leave for Mt. Hagan before 10 a.m.. Chris Yala (another Anga national who assists Larry) and I went to the maintenance yard and disassembled the carburetor to the point that we could fully remove the top with the float mechanism. We also removed the points.
We packaged up the float, accelerator pump and the points for Joe to match in Mt. Hagan. In my assessment, the points were o.k. as were the spark plugs, except for one which I cleaned of carbon deposit. A new fuel line filter was not on Joe's list of things to get. I insisted that he add that and give it priority over points and plugs if funds were short.
Joe missed the first 2 PMV's that passed by and his chances of reaching Mt. Hagan on Sunday began to diminish. As a last resort he tried flagging down a passing car. In PNG private autos and trucks augment the PMV system by picking up riders and charging PMV rates. A land rover with an elderly white couple stopped and Joe asked for a ride to Mendi where he could catch up with the PMV. The couple seemed hesitant. I stepped forward and asked if they would take good care of him and their hesitancy turned to acceptance. Joe was on his way and trying to figure out how to hide his K100 from the rascals in the event of a roadblock robbery. His trip is a story in itself and I am unqualified to write it.
That afternoon, I discovered, by reading the repair manual (when all else fails - read the directions), that there was a small finger filter buried in the carburetor top. It was accessible only after the top had been removed. I knew there had to be one and this was it.
Attempts to remove the threaded valve seat that held the filter failed. Even the widest bladed screw driver available only succeeded in damaging the removal slot. The back of a key-hole saw blade turned with a crescent wrench finally did the trick.
The exposed fine screen filter was fully clogged with debris - sand, hair, trash and maybe even moth parts. This was the source of the problem. The cause of the problem was verified later to be the in-line fuel filter that had broken apart due to the corduroy roads. With no in-line paper filter, all the trash passed on through to the last ditch filter in the carburetor and caused engine angina on the steep, high-altitude grades. The frustrating note was that the engine should now run but the necessary parts were in Joe's sack somewhere between Ambua and Mt. Hagan.
Return to Tari Gap
Sunday at 1 p.m. a group of eight bird watchers (Ann Pierry, C.C. McKegney, Rich Bartlett, Jack McNeel, Jim Lee, Mimi Abers, Anne Stamper and myself) headed off for Tari Gap in search of Birds of Paradise. With bird call experience in hand we readily logged the birds of my previous sightings and added the brilliantly colored Papuan Lorikeet (red, blue and yellow) and the interesting Painted Tiger Parrot. Regulars included the Glossy Swiftlet which darted constantly across the road in search of flying insects, the Friendly Wagtail and flocks of nervous, hooded Manikins.
The hike became somewhat of a competition since the women kept pressing forward. Jim and Jack turned back after 2 1/2 hours leaving Rich and myself to uphold maleness against superior numbers of competitive females. We pushed on. About 8 km into the hike we reached the flat, winding section of the road signaling the beginning of the Gap. The forest had thinned out and pandanus palms were more abundant. At 4:15 in light rain, we declared an end to the march. As a last gesture of male dominance, I took several steps further down the 9000 ft. high road before turning back. The downhill trek only took 2 hours and we arrived before dark.
On the way up we had passed a group of PNG nationals tending a large fire just off the road. Two of the men were turning a large animal in the flames. Closer inspection revealed the plucked corpse of a mountain cassowary undergoing a singeing if its pin feathers. The Huli men around the fire assured us that the large bird had been road-killed by a truck. I requested and was given several cassowary plumes from the bushel of feathers piled on the ground.
When we reached the cassowary singing site on our downhill trek, I was walking ahead of the others with Mimi and Anne. The men had erected a tent and were still cooking the immense bird. In the declining light they implored us to join them for supper. Their insistence was so strong as to be suspicious.
We declined and continued on down the hill. Mimi, forgetting the admonition that the angel gave to Lot's wife, looked back over her shoulder and was tossed some two-handed explicitly sexual signals. That would have been a dinner none of us would have forgotten. Were our intending hosts the rascals who had been conducting PMV road robberies along this stretch in the past few days? We, thankfully, will never know. Early Monday morning Mimi Abers, Anne Stamper and Jack McNeel left our group to take a side trip to Tembunke, Ambunte and Karawara on the Sepik River.
Small World and the BBC
The world is small. Monday evening at twilight I was walking down the narrow drive to Ambua Lodge. An elderly male tourist was ahead of me. From several paces behind I greeted him with "Arendo." Without turning around he reached back and checked for his wallet. I apologized in English for startling him on this poorly lit stretch of road.
He responded with a halting "I do not speak English." He was, in fact, an MD from Bochum, Germany. We had a long conversation in German and I had to explain that I was not from Bavaria and that my accent was of Swiss origin from my days in Zurich as a graduate student.
The significance of Bochum is that the largest student exchange program in Germany is between Bochum and Niskayuna where my wife, Maxine, is a German language teacher and a regular participant in the program. Dr. Gerhard Schwarz knew of "die Lessingschule" but could not complete the loop by knowing any of the German program leaders, not even the originator of the program, Gerd Niggeling.
Yet in the small world category - Larry Orsak got his Ph.D. in entomology at UC Berkeley where I did my graduate work in materials science. Dr. James Oliver was teaching in the entomology department while I was at Berkeley - Jimmy was 2 grades ahead of me in high school in Waynesboro. I asked Larry if he had known Jim at Berkeley. Larry knew Jim but he had not met him at Berkeley. Larry had done post doc work at the University of Georgia in Athens and had met Jim at Statesboro College during this time. To go from Athens to Statesboro, Larry actually drove through my hometown. Small world!
Tuesday I walked over to the Ambua Lodge to meet the other Germans but their tour had departed for Karawara on the Sepik River. The BBC crew were the only ones in the lounge overlooking the beautiful Tari Valley. I drew a cup of coffee from the unattended guest urn and joined them. They had gotten several good shots of bop's the day before and were waiting around for the sky to clear for some late afternoon shots.
They were an extremely pleasant group and highly traveled. Phil Chapman, the assistant producer in charge of this segment, is a tall, easy going, congenial chap with a smile that could effectively diffuse any tribal conflict. Rogier Fredriks was in charge of sound and his recordings of bird calls were being used to bring the bop's into range of the 800 mm lens on their 16 mm Aireflex movie camera. Allen Hayward was the cameraman on this trip since Kevin, the previous cameraman, had refused to return to PNG.
Kevin had been on assignment previously in the Baiyer River area near Mt. Hagan and had contracted a mixture of bush typhus, and two forms of chloroquine resistant malaria. He almost died and had to be medivacced out by helicopter. That bit of information got us into a comparison of risks and all the terrible diseases one can contract in equatorial regions.
We ran through the gamut known to me - schistosomiasis (not a problem in PNG), Chagas' disease, malaria, invasive amoebeiasis (produces dehydrating diarrhea and death), and staph infections. Rogier added several more from both personal experiences and a comprehensive book which serves him as a complete reference. This scene of 4 men sitting around an open fire in an exclusive jungle lodge trying to top each others terrible diseases reminded me remotely of the scene in the movie "Jaws" where the shark hunters compared shark tales while sitting in the galley of their boat. If you want to assure that you will never travel in the 3rd world tropics I suggest that you get a copy of Rogier's reference book:
How to Stay Healthy Abroad
by Dr. Richard Darwood
Oxford and NY Press (1989)
On one trip, Rogier felt a catch in his throat and coughed and sneezed. A piece of spaghetti-like material emerged from one nostril. He slowly pulled out an 18" long worm that had been living in his lung. Then there are the Guinea worms of Africa whose eggs are ingested in drinking water. The eggs hatch in the intestines and the larva bore out and roam around under the skin. When they are ready to return to the streams to lay more eggs, they release a toxin that causes large boils to form from which they can emerge. Phil told of the great patience he once exerted over an hour's time as he slowly and carefully pulled one of these long beasts out of a boil on his leg by gently twisting it around a match stick. To have broken the worm in half would have caused serious infection and required surgical removal.
We had all encountered chiggers. With the conversation focusing on disease, we all began to feel itchy and carefully inspected ourselves for the purple-spot-signs of bush typhus. There were none present.
The subject of local culture also came up. The BBC crew had borrowed some Huli wigs for photographic purposes and had regrettably tried them on. These mats of human hair, grown over an 18 month period, become micro ecosystems. They are, at a minimum, loaded with head lice. The whole crew itched all the way down to their wrists. Heavy, hot showers and plenty of Head & Shoulders shampoo cleared them out. I was fortunate that I had not been permitted to try a wig at the bachelor boys' retreat.
Before heading back to the Hostel, I arranged to accompany the BBC crew on their filming outing at 3:45 that afternoon.
By mid-afternoon there had been no sign of Joe Somp and we tried not to imagine scenes involving Joe and road-robbery rascals. I took off from the frantic activity of spreading and cataloging the final batches of moths to keep my appointment with the BBC crew.
We drove in a land rover up to the King-of-Saxony display tree. The bird was there but the sky was overcast and the light level was low. After setting the heavy tripod and camera equipment up on an embankment, it began to rain. The set-up was disassembled and returned to the land rover. There we sat for the next 2 hours waiting for a break in weather that never came. Such is the life of a wildlife photographer. We take all the beautiful photography of reclusive wildlife that we see on TV specials totally for granted without realizing the patience and dedication required in obtaining the footage
Final (?) Repair of the Toyota
Back at the Hostel around 6:30 p.m. there was still no Joe. I had about given up on car repair when Joe walked in after dark around 7 p.m. He had succeeded in getting sparks, points, a new carburetor float-valve-seat which included a new finger filter and the all-critical and last-minute requested in-line fuel filter. A new float was unobtainable but I felt that the old one was serviceable. I reassembled the carburetor top components to specification. While the others headed off to the Ambua Lodge for Larry's presentation on moth research to the Museum of National History Tour Group, Frank Perkins, Chris Yala and I trouped over with head band lamps to the darkness of the maintenance yard.
Taking extreme care not to drop tiny items like "C" rings, cotter pins and float pivots down the carburetor throat or, even worse, into the blackness of the mud below the engine, we reassembled the carburetor. We used the old points and plugs, inserted the new in-line fuel filter, set the point gap with a makeshift paper feeler gauge, buttoned it all up and turned the ignition key. She cranked and, with a few tweaks, sounded great. I was not to be a party to the road test the next morning and it would be weeks before I was to hear of the results. I was confident, however, that the problem had been identified and eliminated.
We joined the others at the Ambua Lodge in time to catch most of Larry's lecture to the $6000/person (land package only) tour group. He maintained their rapt attention and continued with 20 minutes. of additional questions. Orsak makes moths very interesting.
Word on the trip back to Wau in the little Toyota truck finally reached me after I had returned to the USA. Tom Slone was one of the staff members assisting Larry at the Ambua Hostel in both computer programming and general biodiversity studies. He had the distinction of accompanying Larry, Frank Perkins and several others on the road trip back to Wau. It is appropriate to close that chapter now with comments from the letter that Tom Slone sent me after his return to Berkeley in March.
"The staff and equipment made it safely to Wau, even though the truck did not. The truck broke down in Lae, and is waiting for a cash infusion from Earthwatch. We were held up at gunpoint near Mt. Hagen, but fortunately no one was hurt, and the rascals only took watches and a little bit of money.
"The government building, including the post office, was burned down by arsonists in Wau. Currently, all mail for Wau is being held in Lae (about 4 hours away by truck), but I believe the Wau Ecology Institute is picking up their mail periodically in Lae."
and an additional quote from a letter from Frank Perkins.
"My trip down to Mt. Hagen with Larry was plagued with the normal truck problems, and an armed encounter with rascals outside Mt. Hagen. They were stopping all the vehicles on the highway, but they only took what money you had out - sort of like armed toll collectors. The police in town said that there was nothing they could do - if they went out the rascals would destroy their vehicles."
In a subsequent phone conversation with Tom, I learned that the problems affecting the Toyota were more extensive than the fuel starvation which we had treated. The truck was finally abandoned with no fear that it would be driven off. This closes the issue of whether road robberies actually occur in PNG.
Tari to Port Moresby
At 6:30 Wednesday morning, Carol Lines (from Oshkosh, WI) and I trudged out in a light drizzle to catch the Ambua Lodge bus to Tari for our 9:30 Air Nui Guini flight to Mendi and on from there to Port Moresby. The large comfortable Ambua bus covered the distance in about 20 min. We felt remote and removed from the people as we sped by in our air conditioned glass bubble.. The sense of contact with the local ambiance that we got while bumping along in the back of Larry's little asthmatic Toyota was missing.
Larry had given me the task of sending a FAX to the Ecology Institute at Wau while waiting for our flight. The entire FAX message was written in the first inch of the length of the 8 1/2 x 11" sheet of paper. There is so much noise on the transmission of the message that only the first bit is legible. Anything else is just wasted information. I walked down to Sullivan's Numbawan Holsel (local warehouse) to send the FAX. I used the outing as a last opportunity to toss a few "E keri paki's" since I was to leave this language group area in a short while with little likelihood of ever returning.
On the flight back to Port Moresby, I bummed another passage in the jump seat of the cockpit, including all take offs and landings. I was interested to learn from the pilot en route that there are no radar installations in PNG. Flight control and aircraft separation, even under instrument conditions, are done with flight plans and radio contact alone. All the approaches to remote airfields are made without instrument assistance, (i.e., no ILS <inst. landing syst.>, no NDB <non-directional beacons>, no VASI lights <visual approach slope indicators>, no VOR <radio beacons>, no nothing - just find it and land). The pilots call flights into these remote areas "checking the traps."
Our flight arrived late in Port Moresby due to delays out of both Tari and Mendi. We left out luggage in the baggage claim area while I tried to locate a hotel courtesy shuttle. As we were waiting for the hotel courtesy shuttle to show up, the flight from Ambunte arrived and Anne Stamper and Mimi Abers stepped off and joined us. After some degree of frustration we finally gave up waiting for the Devara Hotel shuttle. We learned that the Devara is one of a series of hotels owned by the same corporation and that we could, in fact, get a lift on one of several shuttles.
We finally reached the Devara and found Jim Lee just checking in. This reassembly of Earthwatch team members was not a planned event but it was welcomed. I teamed up with Jim to share a room. We had only one constraint on the room. It had to have a functional air conditioning unit - no more sweaty nights in Port Moresby. Anne and Mimi shared a room. The real luxury for Carol Lines was a room alone. Carol had been the only smoker on the Earthwatch team and after two weeks of being extremely considerate of us non-smokers, it was a real pleasure for her to be able to light up in her own room.
After refreshing showers, we reassembled in the lobby for a daylight walk along the Esplanade and a search for one of the restaurants listed in the Lonely Planet guide. The area around the hotel did not seem intimidating or risky but we were advised to stay in a group and be cautious of rascals (they don't wear uniforms and are hard to identify prior to assault).
There were numerous groups of PNG nationals playing soccer on the beaches and in the open areas along the Esplanade. It was hard to believe that we were at risk. Our walk took us up over the ridge of Ela Beach Town, through a crowded market area with buai splats all over the sidewalk and to the quieter area of the yacht harbor.
The docks at the harbor were within a fenced and locked compound. We gained access as a boat owner passed through the gate. There were all sorts of power and sailing craft tied up to the docks - from 17 ft. run-a-bouts to 40 ft. sport fishing boats with flying bridges and 70 ft. triple masted sloops. There was a lot of money floating in the water.
Our goal was dinner at the Yacht Club across the street from the harbor. The Lonely Planet Guide had advised ignoring the "members only" sign. We were greeted at the downstairs entrance by a standard, 2-meter Aussie bouncer. He informed us that the club was closed to the public. So much for guidebook information. I stayed behind to try to negotiate further - but without success.
As I left to catch up with the others, I met them marching back with smiles on their faces in the company of several Australian expat's. Mimi and Anne had caught the expat's eyes and were being escorted back as club guests. Our success was short lived, however, since the club was, in fact, closed for a members-only, commanders meeting.
Our Aussie host drove our entire group to a newly opened Bistro run by a family from Thailand. The restaurant was well appointed, the food was exotic and the prices were reasonable (dinner with drinks and dessert was only K12). We were the only guests and the owner gave us special attention and shared his photo album of the grand opening ceremonies. We wished him the best and promised to write the guide book about his new restaurant. It was well after dark when we finished and, consequently, to lower the rascal-risk we took a cab back to the Devara.
After a full breakfast, we all checked out of the Devara and stored our luggage there for the day. We reserved the hotel shuttle to the airport for 3;30 p.m., and set out by cab for the PNG national museum.
The museum is an absolute must for anyone traveling in the country. It covers geology, archeology, biology and anthropology of PNG. There is a section devoted to the geological origin of PNG and its influence on the development of unique flora and fauna. The diversity of cultures and languages are put in perspective through displays emphasizing the isolation produced by the terrain. There is a fantastic collection of ritual carvings with an abundance of spirit masks and totems from the Sepik River areas. The island cultures are also represented. It is awe inspiring to stand in the main gallery and contemplate the life governing forces represented by these elaborate and fascinatingly grotesque sculptures. I tried to imagine the impact these carvings must have had on the first white explorers to encounter them in a jungle village.
The languages in the interior of New Guinea are all distinct. The coastal areas, however, share a language base in common with other Pacific Island cultures. Ocean trade routes have succeeded in linking cultures from Madagascar to Hawaii and as far south as the Maori's of New Zealand.
The museum also has a small area with native wildlife (tree kangaroos, cuscus, some birds and a few snakes). While we were there, the keepers placed about 2 dozen chicks in the glassed enclosure housing 2, 8 foot long pythons. The women could not watch the feeding activity.
After the museum, the next stop was devoted to shopping. There are two principal PNG artifact outlets in Port Moresby within walking distance of one another. We went looking for a PMV to the artifact centers. As we stood at the bus stop, an unmarked panel van with about 9 male PNG nationals pulled up. An occupant threw open the sliding door and asked where we were going. I told them and they said they would take us for K2 each. I objected to the price being out of line. It dropped to K1. We all piled in the belief that this was the way that the private sector worked in PNG. And so it did. We were delivered straight-a-way to the PNG Hut for our shopping.
The PNG Hut is like a big, open warehouse crammed with carvings from everywhere in Papua New Guinea. Sort of like a "Cost +" in California. They have the annoying feature of using letter coded price tags. The customer has to obtain a handwritten decoding sheet to do any serious shopping. I don't know why they do this. It adds unnecessary mystery and annoyance.
Spirit masks which Anne and Mimi could have bought in the Sepik region for K15 to K40 were valued here from about K45 to K120. I later priced other similar authentic spirit masks in Cairns and in Sydney and found them all to be over A$350. Price seemed to increase almost linearly with distance from the source.
I finally became frustrated with coded tags, items hung too high up to read the codes and variations in prices for similar items that I could not understand. The others had bought some small items and we moved on to the PNG Hut competitor, Hanaus (named for a Sepik River village). Hanaus was supposedly set up as a Peace Corp project and is run by Nationals from the Sepik River area. Hanaus was smaller, prices were clearly displayed and not coded, the selection was good and I bought 5 spectacular spirit masks. The masks were decorated in traditional colors and pigments - white, red, yellow and black - and embellished with cowrie shells, boar's tusks and cassowary plumes.
I filled out the shipping papers and pulled out my credit card to pay. I don't care what the ad says - they didn't take VISA. My Mastercard was back at the Davara in my luggage. No problem. Two members of the staff loaded me and the others into a microbus along with the credit card impression machine, and headed back in the rain to the Devara Hotel.
Enroute, Anne, Mimi, Carol and Jim were dropped off at a PNG audio shop to buy some cassette tapes of tribal music. I did my credit card thing at the hotel and my Sepik River entrepreneurs returned me to the music store. I realized that I had just signed over a fair amount of money for items to be shipped by surface mail. I had only a receipt and a promise that the items would arrive safely in 5 to 7 months. To relieve my anxiety, my salesman agreed to throw in 2 penis gourds as a bonus. Wearing one of those at the GE R&D Center lab should cause quite a sensation!
A walk in the rain plus a real PMV got us back to the Devara in time for our 3:30 p.m. courtesy bus to the airport. Rich Bartlett met us in the boarding lounge on his way back from the Sepik River. Our group was partially reassembling only to disperse again in Cairns as we went our separate ways the next day.
Around and About Cairns Again
We arrived in Cairns at 11 p.m.. Since we were carrying various animal products (shells, feathers, boar's tusks) and had walked in areas with livestock (pigs) we had to pass through the quarantine line. We declared everything, even down to road killed cassowary feathers, and were passed through without a hitch. I was glad to have had a reservation at the Floriana again. A familiar bed felt good.
The next morning I had several items to verify before I could solidify my plans for the next 4 days. First I determined that there was a special-price wait list space available on the Nimrod III for its 4-day dive trip. I then postponed my departure to Alice Springs by one day and signed on board the Nimrod III.
With my Sat. - Tues. plans in place I joined Anne and Mimi at the Acacia Court for breakfast. Mimi returned with me to the Floriana to book a snorkeling outing on Sat. for herself and Anne. We decided to rent a car and drive to the Atherton Tablelands on the plateau west of Cairns. We were picked up by the rental agency and transported to their office where we rented a small 4 door car for $40 including a 200 km allowance.
Renting the car was not a problem. Driving it away was something else. Everything is a mirror image of American cars. The steering wheel is on the starboard side of the car. The gear shift is operated with the left hand. The turn signals are activated with the lever on the right side of the steering wheel and the windshield wipers by the lever on the left. It took several left hand turns before I stopped signaling left with the windshield wipers.
Then, of course, all the traffic is left handed. The most dangerous turns are right hand turns which are equivalent to our left hand turns. I thought of a friend of mine who many years ago rented a car in Cairns. He had a head-on collision on the highway from driving in the wrong lane. His wife ended up in the hospital with 400 stitches in her face. Mimi acted as a constant reminder for me to keep left, keep left, keep left. She was more calm than she she was entitled to be.
We drove to the Botanical Gardens in Cairns. The gardens were a surprise and a delight. While we were walking the track admiring the many species of fruiting and flowering rain forest flora, we were engulfed in the ambiance of a tropical downpour. Fortunately our New Guinea rain gear was at hand. We met Anne in the covered patio restaurant in the garden and had Quiche Lorain and Orange Roughy to the strains of Mozart and the background of rain.
The 3 of us drove south through the traffic of Cairns towards Innis Falls and turned west to begin our climb up the narrow winding road to the tableland plateau. I thought driving on the mountain road would be difficult, but it was easier than driving in the city.
Extinct Volcanoes and Strangler Figs
We stopped at Lake Barrine and saw our first brush turkey. Lake Barrine is a clear crater lake from an extinct volcano. A short walk along the shore line took us to the bases of two enormous Kauri Pines. They went straight up and must have been 10-12 feet in diameter. Magnificent trees reminiscent of Sequoias.
The highlight of another forest stop was the Curtain Fig. A strangler fig had parasitized a large beech tree which had finally succumbed to the additional weight and had toppled. The uprooted tree came to rest at a 60 degree angle in the crotch of an adjacent tree. The Strangler dropped roots straight down and developed enough of a buttress system to maintain its own weight after the host tree rotted away. This is a unique and spectacular quirk of nature.
The tableland is mostly pasture land for cattle. It is green and rolling and not terribly interesting. We stopped at a small community, Kairi, devoted to pottery. Mimi Abers is a sculptor and works in clay. She was particularly interested in the large scale batch kilns used by this enclave of potters.
One unusual feature of the plateau region is the large ant hills. These are red mounds about 5 ft. high and 5 ft. in diameter. They dot the countryside in scrub brush areas.
The afternoon in the tableland had been dry but there were puddles to remind us of recent showers. We drove on into Kuranda where I planned to show Mimi and Anne around. We arrived at 4:30 p.m.. The last train for Cairns departs at 3:15 p.m. and with its departure Kuranda rolls up the streets. The shops and tourist attractions were all closed. Loud music was blaring from the saloon near the railway station. Inside, the jukebox was playing to an empty house.
Anne and Mimi enjoyed the Victorian elegance of the 1891 train station with its exotic hanging plants and resident tropical birds. Having "done" Kuranda as best we could we drove on back to Cairns.
With confidence built from having logged over 200 km, I drove back through Cairns and parked downtown. We had a delicious seafood meal with a bottle of wine. I tried barramundi (a coral reef fish that looks like a snook and has white, flaky filets). Anne had coral trout and Mimi indulged in a shellfish medley.
We dropped the car and keys off at the closed rental office and walked the several kilometers back to our hotels. The streets were quiet and dark, but pleasant and safe. I bade goodbye to Anne and Mimi and wondered if we would ever meet again in some other remote corner of the world. They had been good company.
The Great Barrier Reef
The next morning I got up at 6 a.m., packed a small bag for my 4 day stay on the Nimrod III and stored the bulk of my luggage in the linen closet of the Floriana. The diveshop bus picked me up around 10 a.m. and delivered me and several others to the diveshop for a relinquishing of rights and a releasing of all accident responsibility. No one ever asked me for a C-card (divers certification card). The boat was to have a full complement of 16 divers.
After the brief formalities, we were all transported to the Cairns airport for a 1 hour flight to Lizard Island in 2 small twin engine, low wing planes. I got a cockpit seat for a panoramic view of the N. Queensland coast, the Barrier Reef and the approach to Lizard Island. Lizard Island is an exclusive, semi-rustic but fully catered resort frequented by the rich and famous. The daily cost per person is in the neighborhood of $350. Lizard Island got its name from the local population of Goannas, a medium sized type of Komodo Dragon. The island is also famous for Cook's Look, the observation point from which Capt. Cook plotted his escape from the clutches of the Barrier Reef's maze of coral.
"Sinbad", our boat captain, met us at the airstrip and escorted us to the beach where Nimrod III lay at anchor.
To Be Continued
Reef Encounters of the Aussie Kind
Uluru - Desert Dehydration and Flies by the Bushel
Melbourne - Philip Island and Fairy Penguins
Sydney - The Opera House and Flying Foxes
Brisbane - Bare Breasts and Giant, Venemous Snakes