By BART NAPIERALA
IT’S been a while since I came back from my second, and very long-awaited trip to the Land of The Unexpected.
After visiting the remote Highlands in 2013, I decided to explore the tropical coastline for a change. Consequently, my choice fallen on Milne Bay with its distinctive, annual Canoe and Kundu Festival held in Alotau.
Before I joined the pure sensory overload festival, I stayed in Port Moresby for a couple of days. Re-visiting PNG’s capital was an important point in my itinerary, in spite of the bad reputation created by media overseas. Firstly, I wanted to meet the friendly people I came across a few years ago. Secondly, I was curious how the city has changed since my last stopover. Frankly, I like the city!
As soon as I had accommodation at a missionary guest house in Boroko, I caught up with my friend Jack who I met in Wapenamanda a few years ago. Jack had moved to Port Moresby shortly before my arrival, so there was no way to ignore a chace to catch up again. Reunited, we jumped into a PMV bus – my favourite kind of transportation in PNG – and we headed to the city.
A stroll on the raddled, wooden jetty at Ela Beach, which I will always associate with my first ever buai chewing experience, was my target. Where is it? – I was wondering, thinking that my spatial orientation simply sucked.
When I noticed a building I did not see when I enjoyed the beach the last time, I realised that it actually replaced the jetty! As a result I did not get to have the sentimental walk I was longing for. On the other hand Port Moresby gained a beautiful Apec House – a new icon of the capital.
At a glance, from a traveller perspective like mine, Papua New Guinea’s capital has been changing for the better without any doubts – it is becoming prettier, cleaner and friendlier for both, locals and tourists.
The developed and refurbished Ela Beach’s waterfront, or well – maintained, new roads with its all infrastructures along the way from the airport to the CBD, are only some of the noticeable examples. It is fascinating to watch the transformation in such short period of time!
After a busy time spent in the urban environment, I put on my hiking shoes and headed into the bush nearby to Port Moresby. How could I have missed the picturesque Varirata National Park when I visited Papua New Guinea for the first time? The park with its lush flora and vivid fauna, especially flamboyant birds of paradise, made a great impression on me.
It was wise to hire a local guide Daniel, due to his impressive knowledge and broad experience. I am pretty sure, that if I had gone to the park by my own, I would not have seen so many different species.
The last two weeks of my journey I dedicated to remarkable Milne Bay. Coming before the festival and staying longer after, in contrast to most foreign visitors who came just for the event, gave me many opportunities to interact with the locals.
I simply loved mingling with the people while visiting the vivid and busy Alotau market.
Discovering that Highlanders live in Milne Bay, and in such a great number, positively surprised me. I felt proud telling them that I had already been to their home land, especially when I came across someone from hospitable Wapenamanda where I spent a memorable two weeks in 2013.
A well-known guest house in Alotau and a lodge made out of bush materials in Wagawaga became my homes while living in Milne Bay. Particularly the familial guest house located at Sanderson Bay, popular with locals transiting around the bay and remote Louisiade Archipelago, stole my heart due to its friendly owners, helpful staff and visitors full of fascinating stories.
“You live like a local and eat like a local!” I heard once from Adelia and Autu, lovely capital journalists, who saw me carrying a bag with prawns and juicy pineapple bought on the market wharf. I find it extremely complementary!
Actually, they were not wrong because my daily routine became visiting the Alotau’s fantastic food market where I got my food supply each morning. I wish I could have such healthy and organic products back home in Poland! The taste of fish and lobsters grilled by myself in the guest house’s backyard I will remember for a long time!
The Canoe and Kundu festival was a cherry on top of my journey. I did enjoy every single performing singsing group or a traditional long boat race. Being adopted for a while by one of the groups was the best thing that could happen to me.
Thanks to Richard, the leader of the charismatic Kaikuwali Theatre Group from Waema, I could join the team and even dressed up in traditional costume! Watching their engagement in cultivating their ancestors’ culture combined with passion they performed, was absolutely fascinating and made me feel a great respect for their culture.
Unfortunately, my spontaneous trip came to an end. Fortunately, my head was filled up with many unforgettable moments.
I took some great shots, gained a few new friends from the other part of the world I would love to stay in touch with. Nobody knows, we may reunion one day again.
This journey made me realise that it is not only the Papua New Guinean unique nature and distinctive cultures that are the country’s treasures, but also people’s kindness and hospitality towards tourists are another underestimated quality. Therefore I want to share my positive experience and I feel like visiting Papua New Guinea again in 2019.
I would like to say thank you to every single person with whom I exchanged avinun on the streets, shook hands with or chatted for a while. You all made my journey special and memorable.
And you know what? There is nothing more complementing than being called wantok by you.
Tenk yu tru. Lukim sampela taim bihain!
By BART NAPIERALA