This morning we leave the Huli tribe and the Uplands and fly over two ranges of mountains to get to the lowlands and the Sepik River. Very different terrain with flooded plains, meandering rivers and humidity to rival a steam bath.
Kevin is waiting for us at the Ambua Lodge airstrip. The same little gang of locals unload the plane of its supplies and load our luggage.
We all climb in and Kevin recognises us, which at his age, we take as a good sign. Our destination is the Karawari Airport, a much more upscale airport than the one we leave behind. This one has a beautifully manicured lawn for the airstrip
and two gates, one for arrivals and one for departures, although it takes more seasoned travelers than I to distinguish between the two
We walk down to the river and transfer to a small boat which takes us to the Karawari Lodge. Our first sight of the lodge excites us allThe boat leaves us on a river bank where the driver tells us a bus will come down from the Lodge to pick us up. We look at the bus that is already there and wonder what we are getting ourselves into to
When our bus arrives we can see we have been upgraded, but not by much. It is a tough squeeze for the fearless five but we manage it
Despite the upgrade, the vehicle cannot be described as a bus. We find ourselves sitting in a truck with two benches running lengthways inside. The two front seats are missing. The driver sits on a home made metal seat riveted to the floor. No one can sit in the passenger seat because most of the floor is missing, as is the seat . The driver wears no shoes and has a name tag which says Elvis.Is that really his name, or did he just find the tag somewhere? Has Elvis left the building?
There is a large sign pasted onto the windscreen that says “seat belts save lives”. There are no seat belts.
The Lodge is up an extremely muddy and steep track. The driver has discovered that the best way to avoid getting stuck is to take a run at it and then keep his foot pressed to the floor. We approach the hill at an incredible pace and slip and slide up it. Mud sprays up through the floor where the passenger seat should be and hits Roger squarely in the chest. It wouldn’t be quite so terrifying if the back of the truck wasn’t open. It seems frighteningly possible to slide off the end of the seat and disappear into the muddy trail. Nellie and I seem to be the only ones who find this disturbing, but that is because we are sitting on the end of the benches. We make it to the top unscathed, and Nellie and I make a secret pact to never sit in those seats again.
The Sepik river winds its way through hundreds of miles of completely impenetrable jungle. There are no roads. During the war when Japan tried to seize PNG, the soldiers’ only way through the jungle was by river, where of course the enemy would be waiting on the banks for them. The only place to hide was in the villages so that was the first place to look for them.
Inside, the Lodge is fascinating.
The main room is full of tribal art on a very grand scale. And you know me, I do like GRAND. And so does the Fabulosity Meter which is coming to life.
There are hand carved bar stools and chairs that are massive, impressive,and surprisingly comfortable
A three legged table takes on a whole new meaning
I have been to many hotels, but none has offered a great room quite like this. The Fabulosity Meter is duly appreciative.
But when we are shown to our rooms, it quietens down. Charming but basic
I am always prepared to do charming, although as an adjective it is not necessarily complimentary. But I don’t do basic. But we are in PNG, many miles from the nearest road, so basic will have to do.
When we return to the great room and see the lunch table set for the Fearless Five, our bedrooms are forgotten. This is a special place .
The Fabulosity meter roars to life. I have never met a Hornbill before, and a Hornbill has never met me. I don’t know which of us is more surprised. We take to each other immediately.
He is a female who goes by the name of Mr John. But he/she has no trouble dealing with a little gender confusion, and I am way too polite to ask what caused it. She was rescued as a chick and brought to the lodge a couple of years ago. Now she is fully grown and has a mate. We are too polite to inquire as to the gender of the mate. They spend their days and nights together in the jungle, but Mr John flies back nearly every day to say hello and greet the new guests.
She is not too sure about my face (few are), but she does find another part of my anatomy much more appealing. Not only is she gender confused, but she also has a foot fetish. She spends at least ten minutes chewing on my feet.
Suddenly birding takes on a whole new perspective. I could really get into it if this is how it is. No need to get up early in the morning and I don’t even have to leave my comfortable chair. The birds just come to me. How perfect is that.
Hornbills live on fruit and consume large quantities everyday. Unfortunately it is a law of nature that what goes in must come out, and when what goes in is fruit and fruit alone, what comes out is, to put not too fine a point on it, extremely unpleasant. It is expelled quite violently with an accompanying smell and sound effect. It also has a large area of splatter. This produces a downside to my new form of birding, that may spoil it altogether.
After lunch we go off to a nearby villageto see how the sago palm is turned into sago pudding. That sentence reads almost as boringly as the actual event. Plus I still have nightmares about being force fed sago pudding at school, so what is just boring to the others is scary to me. But I hate to offend (quiet Ed) and so I watch dutifully as one of the local men cuts the palm,splits it , and pounds it to a pulp.
Meanwhile I am having a little trouble with our guide. Or to rephrase it, our guide is having a little trouble with me. My lack of attention to the fascinating display of Sago Making seems to be irritating him beyond belief.
His name is Bonny which suggests a certain amount of good humour. Sadly he has none.
“Andrew” he hisses “we are looking at this now – come over here”
When I tell him I am looking at something else, he stamps his little feet and demands my attention.
I have never reacted well to being told what to do, as my mother, several teachers, and Gordon will attest to.
And when he rather sharply tells me to walk on the grass and not on the muddy path, I am returned to the rebellious schoolboy I was so many years ago.
The more he hisses the less attention I pay. I start finding imaginary things to stare at just to annoy him. It works well, so I do it even more.
Just as I am beginning to imagine my hands around Bonny’s throat, we come to the very last demonstration. A woman with a very small clothing budget, and extremely bad makeup is making sago pancakes.We are invited to try them
I finally understand why I had such an aversion to sago
I smile sweetly and offer mine to Bonny