The Birds of Paradise

Trip Start Jul 14, 2009
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Trip End Aug 09, 2009


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Where I stayed
Village guest house

Flag of Papua New Guinea  , Northern,
Sunday, July 26, 2009

Our alarm went off at 5:30am – and just after that Elder Brother knocked on our door, saying it was time to leave. We pulled on our clothes, grabbed some water, then started up the trail. It was still dark, but, though we had our torches with us, there was enough of the gray dawn for us to – barely – see. I nearly tripped over the same old woman who was sitting in the same place – in the same position – in the middle of the track.

A few people were up as we walked through the village – a few cooking fires – and the roosters, of course, making quite a racket. As we left the village, I kept catching the glint of Elder Brother's machete and thought … why am I following, in the jungle, in the dark, a strange man who is wielding a large, sharp knife?

The light came up quickly, as it does in the tropics, and we heard the village church bell. We continued through the grasslands for over half an hour before we reached the gardens of the village: yams, betel nut, bananas, pineapples, coco. All very nicely laid out, with pieces of wood marking the borders between the different patches.

From the gardens, the track continued upwards, away from the grasslands, and we soon entered the jungle. The track became narrower – if that were possible – and much more overgrown. Elder Brother put his machete to good use. Younger Brother – who joined us just before the gardens – brought up the rear.

After another 45 minutes or so, we reached a place where men had been cutting wood. The track had all but disappeared at this point, and now were left it altogether, stepping on fallen leaves and branches: I’m always amazed, when trail-blazing in the jungle, that, because of the detritus from the trees and bushes, one’s feet never touch soil.

We climbed up a steep, slippery slope – using bamboo poles, just cut for us by Little Brother – to a ridge line. Although we had been hearing the Birds of Paradise for a while, we now knew we were getting close. We paused, trying to be silent, then heard the call. Off in the distance, we saw a flutter of orange, then the bird rested – briefly – on a branch. Then it flew off a gain. We walked closer to the tree, heard the call again, then saw it, quite clearly, near us. I tried to take a photo but missed. We waited some more, and the bird reappeared, and I have a photo of a fuzzy orange spot to prove it. They are beautiful birds – so fun to see one in the wild.

We no longer hear its call, and the mosquitoes were attacking, so we returned to the village. It was easier walking downhill, but slipperier, even with the walking sticks. We all slipped a few times. Being tired didn’t help.

The sun came out during the last little bit of the hike – we were grateful to return to our shady chill pad to rest. I had not been too nervous of snakes, even after Elder Brother spotted one in the garden on our return. I did ask then, as I had been trying not to, if they had a lot of snakes. "Yes," he said, “A lot of snakes.” Oh, goody.

Good breakfast, then shower (ah … felt great), Malaysian-bucket-style. Then resting on our platform. At one point, the person with the guest house in Siu village appeared, asking to see our itinerary. I hadn’t brought it along for this portion of the trip, especially since it all changed, but we told him he needed to talk to Aaron and Simon, not us. He was pleasant enough and soon wandered off.

We had a delicious fish lunch, followed by more reading, resting, and ruminating, until 3pm, when Laksan came to take us to the waterfall. We walked a different path, straight out from our guest house, through the tall grasses. Smoke had been filling the valley all afternoon, and now we saw its source: a large grass fire, moving slowly up the hill, towards us. We could hear the crackling of the flames, and ash fell upon us throughout the hike. I know it’s a controlled burn … but it does seem very large, and it’s a very windy day.

We reached the top of the waterfall – which was small trickle that then plunges over a precipice of at least a hundred metres, maybe more. Below, the fjord stretched out to the sea. White cockatoos and hornbills glided in the distance.

After viewing the falls from the top, we walked through more gardens to another spot along the top of the fjord, so we could view the entire waterfall. Though narrow, it was a clear cascade all the way, falling almost into the fjord itself. The last drop ran along the rocks, then entered the sea. On cliffs across the Bay, we could see another waterfall, smaller, but this left the cliff at an overhand, free-falling into the sea. Clearly, a cave reached back below the cliff – beautiful!

We returned via yet another path to the gardens, then back to our guest house. The grass fire seemed very close at this point: the crackling sounds was quite loud and the smoke intense. We could hear people singing as they tended the fire.

Kyla had fun with the kids - -taking their photos, then sharing the viewing screen. The kids thought they were very funny, which, of course, they were.

After dinner, we retired to our platform (lit by Coleman lantern) and told a serial story – a very bizarre one, which involved giant talking orchids, a white cat who channels Charles de Gaulle, bronze tablets containing Babylonian porn (“The Epic of Dildo-mesh”), leprechauns, and the secret of Lucky Charms. For about an hour, we had an audience of three young women, who found us very amusing, even though we doubt they understood a word we said (at least, we hope they didn’t!).
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