In the morning the Fearless Five set out for a little more bird watching. We take a boat up the river for fifteen minutes to a place where our guide knows the twelve wire Bird of Paradise likes to perform its morning display. This time we are in luck and can see the beautiful bird quite clearly. As an added bonus I can also see it through the lens of my camera, but the resulting photograph is a disappointing blur. But just so you don’t think I am making the whole thing up, here is the photograph, and the Bird of Paradise is the fuzzy little dot in the middle. He is doing his courting dance where he shimmies up and down the tree trunk.How exciting is that!!
After breakfast we return to the airport where Kevin is going to take us on to our next stop. We are worried that all this work may be too much for him, but he seems to be holding up well.
We fly to Timbunke on the Sepik River where the boat will be waiting for us. We will sail back up the Sepik and return to the Karawari Lodge. It is only a twenty minute flight. But the river is so long and winding that it will take three days on the ship.
Ahead of us is another terrifying runway. There seems to be a struggle for space between the grass and the jungle. The jungle appears to be winning, leaving a very narrow strip of grass for us to land on. The runway ends in a football field, so I guess it is important to land when there is no game going on.Kevin hits the runway perfectly, but the plane skids and slides and seems to tip forward as we come to an alarmingly quick stop. When we get out of the plane we find it is bogged down in piles of recently cut and burned vegetation. It appears that the runway has just been cleared for our landing, but no one thought to clean away the resulting debris. Kevin is beside himself with anger and is yelling at the locals. We are worried he will have a stroke and keel over
Meanwhile a huge crowd of locals has lined the runway to watch us arrive
Between the runway and the river is a sizeable village and every one of its inhabitants has come out to greet us. Once again we realise how few tourists come this way.
The plane is delivering not just us, but supplies for the boat. Several villagers help carry the packages
As we walk through the village to the river, a few things strike us. The people here have a completely different body type from the Huli tribe. These people are taller and slimmer.
The weather is much hotter than in the Uplands and it is very humid indeed. As we venture up river we will see that the tribes people here wear very little clothes and many of the children wear nothing,which seems very sensible in this climate. It is also more evidence of how cut off from the rest of the world they are. The missionaries are here but have not had time to persuade them to wear clothes.
These people are not as immediately friendly or welcoming as the Hulis. They stay back from us and there is none of the waving that we encountered everywhere in the Uplands
As we emerge from the village, we get our first view of the Sepik River. It is a disgusting brown colour. We immediately christen it the Septic River. We also get the first view of our ship
It looks good, but it doesn’t have a chance. We have already christened it the Septic Tank. It bears little comparison to the cruise ships we have travelled around the world on, but it is far from basic and much more comfortable than I had expected
On board, there is an air of panic. The previous passengers have not yet disembarked and show no signs of doing so. Kevin is supposed to be flying them off somewhere, but he is still having a melt down on the airstrip and has announced that he will not move until the strip has been completely cleared of all of the debris. It is a large job and no one seems to want to take responsibility for it. John is in charge of the ship and is trying to get some of the locals to do the job, but it takes several hours.
Meanwhile we have the opportunity to get to know the other group of people. We wish we hadn’t. The group is dominated by three of the loudest East Coast women I have ever had the misfortune to meet (and believe me I have met some). They, on the other hand, are delighted to meet our group as we offer them the first chance of fun that has come their way since their tour started. And when we meet the rest of their group we understand why. The three loud women bounce excitedly all over us doing a fine imitation of Tigger in Winnie the Pooh. The rest of the group are like Eeyore, but without the dry sense of humour. They look sad and miserable with drooping hairdos that have given up the unequal struggle with the humidity. They make no effort to greet us, because that would involve getting out of their lounge chairs, something that would clearly involve a great deal of effort. Walking sticks are propped next to each chair attesting to that fact. Their downturned mouths and unhappy dispositions are brought on by their failure to have read the many warnings in the brochure that this trip was not suitable for the aged and infirm.
The brochure clearly states that you need a certain level of fitness to tackle the daily outings. You must, for instance, be able to climb up muddy river banks. These people need a winch to pull them up and several guides to push them from behind. You need to be able to walk several miles, often up hills. These people can do neither, which has resulted in them being left on the bus, or the ship for several hours while the three loud American women got on with the tour. You need to have good walking shoes that would survive in muddy fields. These people, including the loud women, all wander round in flip flops, each pair more glittery than the last.
We realise just how lucky we are. Chance has played a big part in our trip. It has brought the five of us together, and we are really enjoying each other and the trip. If we had been placed with this new group we would have had an entirely different experience, albeit one that might make for a more entertaining blog. The loud women emphasise this point when they claim to have heard stories about us already. It is these New Yorkers who had christened us the Fearless Five even before they met us.
We also meet the two other people who will be joining us on the Septic Tank. There is Richard, much better known as Dick, and his wife who always wears a superman T shirt, with the slogan “This is my Boyfriend”`written over it.
That way we will never forget that her name is Lois.
It is not an auspicious start.