Saturday, September 27, 2008

Crossing rivers and jungle

VAST virgin rainforests and mountain Rivers form the basis of life in the north Mekeo area of Central province.
It is in a remote location within the Kairuku district with a population of about 8,000 people and is situated beneath Mt Yule along the Owen Stanley Range.

A canoe lying idle in the Akaifu River at Apainapi village

North Mekeo borders with the mountainous Goilala District and are the main mustard (eaten with betel nut and lime) suppliers in Port Moresby and Central province.
When jungle land is cleared for gardening, a section of the land is taken up by rows of the mustard plant while bananas, and kumu (greens) make up the rest, where man hasn’t stamp his mark wild pigs, wallabies and cassowaries go about their lives.

Passengers loading up the canoe at Apainapi village for villages up the River with containers of kerozines , zoom petrol fuel and house hold items bought in Port Moresby from the sales of mustards. The opeartor (left) is collecting fares.

As wild animals, reptiles and other ground creatures inhabit the land, Birds of Paradise, parrots, cockatoos and flying foxes soar well into the skies. Schools of various river fish, prawns, lobsters and other marine life inhabit the numerous rivers and streams that form the Akaifa River.
To take a breather from the hustle and bustle of the city life I ventured into this remote area for five days with my friend Richard Kange.

Upriver villagers waiting at Apainapi village with mustard parcels for a Port Moresby bound pasenger truck to sell .

Mr Kange who is a local from Ioi village and I got on a passenger truck in Port Moresby last week loaded with bags of rice, flour, sugar and other store goods for the 200km trip to Apanaipi village.
Containers and drums of kerosene and zoom were also piled onto the truck for the trip. The villagers had bought these items after selling their mustards in Port Moresby.
After a dusty three hour trip we arrived at Apanaipi where we then got on a loaded motorized dugout canoe and traveled for another three hours to Maipa village.
The trip up the 50 meter wide brownish river was no joke, either. A slight hitch and it will be everyone for himself.

Passengers on the motorsied canoe along the Akaifu River bound for Ioi village.

Among the passengers were women and children who we had traveled together from Port Moresby on the truck.
However, the canoe operator was an expert along these parts and avoided all the tree stumps and other obstacles that littered the River.
As it was a busy river and main route for villagers living along the banks, we past non motorized canoes loaded with garden food and people returning from their gardens situated away from the banks.
As the motorized canoe got closer to Maipa, the river flow became faster as the banks became narrower.

Young girls helping their mothers taking the dirty dishes to the river to be washed at Maipa village

About 50 meters from the village the canoe stopped and every one disembark for the walk home as the River had become shallow.
Only our cargoes remain on the canoe which was pushed along the river toward the village.
It was about 5pm when we arrived at the village, home to about 500 people.
Retrieving our bags, Richard and I walked to the Ngope (Richard’s friend) family’s house.
Although they were unprepared for us, they made us comfortable as best as they could by sharing their normal evening meal of boiled bananas, creamed rice with hot black tea.

Elders on the village chief's platform at Maipa village

It was nightfall when we strolled down to the River and had our bath and return to sell under mosquito nets. The next day (2nd day) we toured the village to see the villagers’ daily activities.
The following day (3rd day) at about 9am, we walked for an hour through a muddy bush track passing food gardens and crossed two icy cold streams to Ioi village.
While relieved to see Richard, his family again was surprised to have me there as they were unprepared to have a visitor. However they made me feel at home and took me once again on a tour of their village. I also swam in one of the crystal clear creek to soak up the cool waters as I do not have that opportunity back in the city.

A child helping his father stack parcels of mustards at Maipa vilage under their house to sell in Port Moresby.

That creek is also a tributary of the main Akaifu River. That evening we had freshly smoked wild pork meat with boiled bananas and black hot tea.
The next day (4th day) also about 9am after a breakfast of boiled bananas we left Ioi village and head south for Inauwani village situated along the Angabanga River.
This was the most grueling trip for me as we once again slugged through mud for six hours. Although grueling, it was bearable as the slugging was along flat land.

Maipa villagers in front of a classroom at their Top Up Primary school. The empty gas cylinder is the school's bell.

There were no villages or gardens along this track but thick jungle made up of various vines, ferns and towering trees. These tress with thick branches also blocked out strong sun light to make the walking bearable.
Along the way had to cross the Inaugavanag, Vangama, Vavaunge and the Ma’avunga Rivers along the way.

Ioi village lass Anna Fiabia sorting out her newly harvested mustrads for sale in Port Moresby . This heap will fetch her over K800.

These Rivers are also the tributaries to the main Akaifa River.
The Inaugavanag and Vangama proved dangerous to cross. The Inaugavanag about 30meters wide and over a meter deep was fast flowing.

Parceling the mustards

I almost lost my footing when crossing it (Inaugavanag) with my bag hoisted above my head and water level at my stomach (I’m 172cm tall). But directions from Richard helped me through to the other side.
On both sides of the Vangama River, Richard warned me to follow his footstep. A slight deviation will see me sink into puddles of quicksand.

Villagers at Ioi village with loaded bags of garden food and mustard parcels on a motorised canoe ready for about a three hours trip down to Apainapi village.

After an endless walk with my bag cutting into my shoulders and leg muscles aching, we arrived at another of Richard’s friend Charlie Au’Au’s house at Inauwani at around 4pm.
After a refreshing bath in the Angabanga River, I again had some boiled bananas with hot black tea and went straight to bed net due to the tiring trip.
Next day (final day) after a tour of the village, Richard and I got on a passenger truck at about 2pm and return back to Port Moresby.

Richard wading through one of those numerous bush creek enroute to Inawani village.

When entering the city limits after about three hours drive, I began to realize that I miss the North Mekeo people’s hospitality of sharing their available resources with visitor. Even at a sudden notice.
Such hospitality is rarely experienced among the city residences


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Pacific Way

The Pacific Adventist University(PAU) outside Port Moresby erupted in to displays of exciting and colorful traditional cultural dances, food and drama during their Open day last Sunday (31/08/09).
And you Samoans, Tongans, Kiribatis, Solomon Islanders, Vanuatus and Fijians can identify your wantoks hotly dancing away ha ha ha.

Kiribati students swaying to their traditional beat

The Pacific Island students relaxed from their busy academic studies to ensure that the crowd received the similar scenario and excitement that was displayed and felt at the 10th South Pacific Festival of Arts held in Pago Pago American Samoa in July.
The dynamic students displayed their respective unique dances and drama to depict legends of their daily traditional livelihoods before non Pacific Islanders arrived on their isolated white sandy shores and tropical rain forest islands.

Samoan students displaying their traditional dance

Their performances truly expressed their rich traditional Melanesian, Polynesian and Micronesian political, economical and social activities before the Westminster Government system superseded their traditional activities.

The displaying of their cooked traditional food also expressed their love of preparing various dishes from nutritious garden food like, sago, taro, yams, bananas, pumpkins and greens like aibika and cabbages. A string band by Vanuatu students performing for the girls to dance

These tasty dishes were also prepared with land and marine proteins prefered by the Adventist church faithfulls.

A Vanuatu traditional dish comprising of mumu chicken and taro that was quickly eaten by the hungry crowd

Apart from the dances and food, the Tongans apart from dancing also performed a moving and well expressed drama depicting how the kava and sugar cane plants originated in their island

Vanuatu girls dancing to the beat of their boys' string bag

Southern region students of PNG performing a traditional dance from the Kiwai area in the Western Province

Island region students from PNG performing a traditional dances from the Manus Province
The Fijian students performing their traditional dance
Solomon Island girls putting heart and soul to the beat of their traditional music
Tongan students swaying to the beat of their traditional music

Apart from displaying their cultures, the Open day was held to show the public what educational programs and facilities were offered at PAU.

For more information about programs and activities offered at PAU please access

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Romance on Tasman Island Paradise

Tasman Island in the Autonomous region of Bougainville truly resembles a romantic tropical south sea island that can be found throughout the Polynesian region of the South Pacific.
It has 32 small island covered with evergreen vegetation and pandanous trees.

Visitors walking towards the shore on Tasman Island after disembarking on dinghies from MV Sun Kamap that anchored about 100 meters offshore.

Only one of this island is been inhabited by over 2000 people of Polynesian origin and the other a wild life sanctuary . The rest are for gardening and for obtaining materials for medical herbs or to built house and canoe.

Margaret Saba preparing fish for dinner on the white sandy beach on Tasman Island.

Surrounding coral reef prevents the on rushing powerful waves of the deep blue ocean from rushing in to create a peaceful lagoon and that’s where ships anchors out at about 100 meters away while passengers disembark on dinghies to go ashore.

Children standing in the main street in between neat rows of houses in their village on Tasman Island.

At the edge of the lagoon stretches the long white sandy beaches with rows of coconut trees alongside it.
Over 200 neat rows of pandanous leaves thatched roof and coconut leaves woven wall houses built on mangrove timber frame are built on the ground with the floor made up of a paste of fire ashes and water. The floor becomes like a concrete after it is been dried up.
A Mortlock Island girl Eroi on board MV Sun Kamap bound for Tasman Island with coconut husk ropes and colourfull mats to trade for Solomon Island brand house hold items .

Tasman is just about 60 nautical kms away (one hour trip by dinghy )from Pelau Island in the Ontong Java province of the Solomon Island and 90,000 nautical kms east (two nights on MV Sun Kamap to Buka) from Bougainville and the people are Polynesians.
I had a rare opportunity to visit the island in May 2005 when I sailed into this chain of islands on MV San Kamap with 18 polling and four Police Officials to conduct elections for its 2000 inhabitants for the Bougainville Autonomous election.

Tasman Islanders boarding dinghies on MV Sun Kamap to go ashore to Tasman island

This island was also the last leg of our trip after a week of conducting polling on other similar tropical islands of Feat (Nuguria), Caterets (Tulun), and Mortlock (Nugutoa) that constructed the Atolls district.
It was a relieve to sleep , eat and mingle with the people for a night on the Island after spending every night with the same people and eating the same food on the ship when visiting the other islands.

Tasman children on board MV Sun Kamap approaching the Tasman Island.

I was also privileged to be invited to the Tepure's family house to eat rice boiled with coconut jam with a coconut creamed boiled freshly caught skip jack tuna for breakfast to be washed down with sweet hot black coffee the next day . I also had kanokano. A type of cake made from swamp taro which was mashed up and boiled with coconut cream. This is also their staple food apart from coconuts and various marine lives that are abundantly found in the reef.
Poti Kibau on the coconut tree to checking out the home brew to be fermented into jam on Tasman Island.

Although Papua New Guineans they received much of their goods and services from the Solomon Island Government as it takes about two hours by a speed boat to reach Pelau then two nights on MV San Kamap to reach Buka town.
They then travel on a ship that weekly serve the island to Honiara. Their only source of income is from the selling of Beche-De-Mer, copra and trochus shell. But the main income is from Beche-De-Mer which now fetches K100 per kilo.

Peni Sele’s family on Mortlock Island who invited the Reporter for lunch in their house during a brief stop on Mortock while on the way to Tasman Island.

Tasman Islanders working throughout PNG in various professions also send money back home.
With money fetched from these products and people they then travel to Pelau to buy rice, sugar, flour, clothing and other house hold items branded with Solomon island name.

Mortlock islanders given the rare opportunity also travel on MV San Kamap to Tasman to obtain this Solomon house hold items product and Tasman made coconut jam by trading colourfull pandanous mat and coconut husk rope with Tasman Islanders.
With money fetched from these products ,they quickly travel to Pelau to buy goods and return to board MV Sun Kamap for about an eight hours trip back to Mortlock .

Kiribati island visitors (l-r) Kapou Ukiripi and Kotinato Roata with their host Miriam Apera smoking fish on Tasman island.

Tasman true to their Polynesian origin are hospitable and will welcome any tourists to their island to share their rich traditional culture and daily island way of live that has not been influenced by outsiders for years due to its isolation.
For more information for trips to the Tasman, Mortlocks, Catrest and, Feat islands, please access .

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Unforgetable memories of Kokoda

The famous rugged and mountainous 96km Second World War Kokoda track that runs between Oro and Central Provinces will never be forgotten by any one who had walked it.
It has undisturbed tropical rain forest inhabited with various wildlife’s, birds with icy mountain waters ranges from gentle shallow creeks to dangerous raging streams that flows along boulders.

Spectacular waterfalls are sights that will always be marveled by every one. Apart from these scenic surroundings, villagers living along the track will also contribute to your livelong memories of the track. With whatever available resources they will always ensure that tiring trekkers forget their grueling journey.
The outgoing Miss World Australia 2007 Caroline Pemberton crossing a slippery log bridge with the help of the local guides over the icy and rapid mountain Eora creek along the rugged 96km Kokoda track between Central and Oro Provinces

But the significance of this track is its war history.
This track had stopped the threats of the invasion of Australia and Papua New Guinea in 1942 costing 625 Australians who fought and died against the Japanese soldiers between July 23rd - September 26th.

Sydney man Ian Luff having a much earned rest next to an icy mountain creek along the track after leaving Abuari village

This is probably the only place where Australians and Papua New Guineans forgets their colonial differences to appreciate each other’s company as human beings to survive.
This track is now an icon for Australians to retrace the steps of their fore fathers as a pilgrimage to experience the hardship of how their (fore fathers) fought and died under rain and sunshine in the cold and muddy tropical rain forest mountains.
Queenslander Jo Clark with other Australians carefully descending the steep muddy track with the help of the local guides after leaving Alola village

I was privileged to experience the hardship that the Australians soldiers with the Papuan soldiers and carriers went through on this the track when trekking with Adventure Kokoda trekking company led by an experienced Kokoda war historian and former Vietnam veteran Major Charlie Lyn from April 14th -23rd .
And what an adventure it was to walk with the outgoing Miss World Australia 2007 Caroline Pamberton and New South Wales State cabinet Opposition Leader Barry O ‘Farrell with 32 other Australians and 70 local porters from Kokoda and the Koiari.

New South Wales State cabinet Opposition Leader Barry O ‘Farrell in front of a water fall near Eora creek along the track

It was a grueling nine days walk mostly in the rain slogging and sliding when ascending and descending the various steeps of the muddy and stony track. And if one miscalculated his/her steps one is heading for a nasty fall on to huge boulders.
Icy rapid flowing mountain streams and water falls of all sizes from big to small were encountered to refresh exhausted and thirsty trekkers.
Logs were placed across the dangerous streams with safety ropes firmly tied to strong trees at both banks to support one with the help of the porters when crossing of which the logs have become slippery due to the rains.
Local Adventure Kokoda trekking porters preparing their baggage’s at Diggers camp along the track

Various bush ferns and gigantic tropical rainforest tress grew wildly along the track and some times one cannot be bothered about the rain as the thick tree branches acts like an umbrella.
A fire in camp for the night is a luxury for every one to dry our selves and our clothes when getting wet in the rains.
Everybody whether Australian or local were always ready help each other when one needs assistance.
I got such assistance when I sprained my left knee while descending the steeps from Alola village to Eora creek on the third day of trekking after leaving Kokoda in the Oro Province enroute to the Owers corner at Sogeri in the Central Province to get home by vehicle to Port Moresby.

Gold coast man Phil Browning carefully descending the steep muddy track with the help of the local guide after leaving Isurava memorial park

The porters helped by having turns carrying my heavy bag as they also were carrying their own heavy bag with the group’s food supplies .
They also hold my hands steadily when crossing slippery logs and sliding along the muddy tracks.
Australians Kevin Boyton and Chad Sherrin helped by giving me voltaran (anti-inflammatory) tablets and strapped my knee with bandages as I painfully limped for the next six days to Owers corner.

Australian trekkers having a much earned rest next to an icy mountain creek after leaving Abuari village along track

Along the way Mr Lyn briefed us on the war events that took place at Kokoda, Deniki, Isurava, Alola, Eora creek, Templeton crossing, Myola, Brigadier Hill, Manari, Ioribaiwa, Imita and Owers corner when arriving at each spot.
Mr Lyn said that it’s good to start from Kokoda to experience the retreat of the outnumbered ill equipped, poorly trained hungry and sick young Australians of the 39th militia Battalion and how they went through when fighting along the track to stop the 9000 crack infantry Japanese soldiers who had fought and won battles in the tropical jungles of South East Asia.
Mr Lyn also told us about how the local carriers (fuzzy wuzzy angel ) took about three weeks to take the wounded Australian soldiers to the hospitals at the back of the frontline at Sogeri in the Central Province on make shift stretchers from as far as Isurava in the Oro Province .

A cold Australian trekker keeping warm with local Adventure Kokoda Trekking porters besides a fire in a tent at Diggers camp along the track

The locals made them comfortable in various weather conditions under enemy attacks when taking them to the hospitals and returning to the frontline with food and ammunition supplies.
To reinforce us more about the war events , Mr Lyn took us along the original war track between the Isurava battle field and Alola village to show us the Australian army headquarter during the battle of Isurava and the make shift first aid post at Alola.
Isurava battle determined the war’s outcome as it delayed the Japanese’s rapid advancement to allow the experienced Australians from 2/14 Battalion returning from the North African desert battle to reinforced the 39th Battalion.

The Reporter (with his sprained knee) and Queenslander Derek Munsell with other exhausted Australian trekkers and local guides having a must earned rest on Imita ridge on the second last day of trekking before descending to the final campsite at Goldie River during the nine days of trekking from Kokoda in the Oro Province to Owers corner in the Central Province

We also met a fuzzy wuzzy angle at Naturi village. 104 -year -old Ovoru Nidiki is one of the very few surviours.
Mr Lyn then took us along the original Ioribaiwa ridge and the golden stairs at Imita ridge.
Ioribaiwa ridge was where the Japanese turned back and Imita ridge was the last Australian’s defensive line.
Mr Lyn said that he discovered these tracks with a GPS and old war maps as the current tracks between Isurava and Alola and on Ioribaiwa and Imita are not original war tracks but are tracks conveniently used by trekkers.

New South Welshmen Chris Mitchelson and Dale Martin with local guides at Owers corner near Sogeri in the Central Province after completing the 9 days trekking

The ending of the tiring trekking will also bring satisfaction to any one who have successfully completed it as such experiences are rewarding.
For more information on trekking the Kokoda track , please acess