03 December 2010 | sepik river, papua new guinea
After a wavering sleep in the cockpit of the boat, I woke up to multiple men from the village of Tanbanum surrounding the boat and trying to sell us carvings and artifacts. At first I was not too interested in trading as I felt more sleep was still in my future, but after they pulled out some magnificent carvings I was playing ball. Everyone else was sleeping at this point and as I started whipping out my trading gear the canoes flowed in one by one as the other guys woke up. The first guy I started dealing with had a very old hand axe that belonged to one of his ancestors. I am a total sucker for artifacts like this and wanted it badly. He initially wanted 500 kina for it which is like $200 and I then made him aware that I am here to trade and money was thin as we needed it all for fuel to get up the river. Keep in mind at this point none of us had any idea what our items were worth or what they truly felt theirs were. I just started laying all my gear out and watched his eyes wander with amazement over simple everyday items. Pocket knives, leatherman tools, tennis balls, fishing line, hooks, bracelets, arrow points, arrows, head lamps and flashlights filled the floor. It was clear to him and I that I wanted that big axe way too much and I gave up 50 Kina, a leatherman tool, a arrow with broad head, and a tennis ball for it. I thought I made a great deal until I was trading singles knives later in the day for the equivilant of that trade.
After the first trade was complete we cleared the boat of canoes and told them we deal some more once we make to the village. we were welcomed as we motored into the village by one of the counselors and a barrage of villagers. It was a surreal travel experience being so welcomed in such a remote and inspiring place. The village was composed of around 40 houses all 4 ft high on stilts to stay above the water line during there 6 month rainy season when there main mode of transportation is canoe in the village. The houses were something out of a national geographic magazine as there were all huge thatch houses in differing styles. We walked slowly through the village as all the members quickly displayed carving after carving outside there homes. It took about 3.5 seconds of checking out these carvings to see why they say these are some of best in the world come from this river system. They were even trying to trade us baby parrots and a king fisher that would happily sit on your finger on command. We’ll get back to the parrots later.
Once I got half way through th village I laid out the goods again and was surrounded by the tribe and we made offers for trade back and forth. At this point I found the best method is to show everyone what you got, bag it up and then keep walking past there stuff. Sooner or later they will chase you down and make offers to you . It works out pretty slick and you would be amazed at what you can get for a tennis ball or small pocket knife. Luckily, before the trip Alex told me to raid walmart and buy some trading goods as everyday items in the states are very valuable in some of the most desolate area in the world that only see a sailboat like ours once every 4 years. On the way back to the boat Alex started making trade after trade using a combination of bags of sugar, rice, gasoline, and Kina. by the time we left he had some pretty complex trades in the works and left with some amazing carvings. We were packing up to leave and the boat started looking pretty full of carvings. At this point I was having trouble imagining how many we would have by the end of the trip as I still have a ton of items to trade. Right as we were getting ready to leave the village the two baby parrots showed up again in one of the canoes. We were in need of a couple good mates on the ship and they were way to cute to pass up so we worked out a deal for both baby parrots before hitting the mighty sepik for another run.
Our next stop was to be a small village called Mindibit, which we hoped to hit by nightfall. As we neared the village on the GPS we came to a fork in the river. Now apparently this river changes course year to year so there is really no good map that shows your route. Our guide pointed to the left one so we cut across the river and within seconds the depth gauge read 0.0 and we were stuck in the mud After a few minutes of shifting around we were free again and within a hour we showed up a the village of Mindibit with 20 villagers welcoming us. It was nearing dark when we hit the shore and the first thought that came to my mind was Crocodile hunting. The time was perfect and the villagers were keen so we threw the 15 horse on a 30 ft long canoe and headed up the river searching for croc eyes through our spotlights. After about 3 hours and 40 miles traveled we only saw a few crocs and killed a small one. It was not’t until the trip was almost complete they told us this was a bad time of year to hunt their area, but why wouldn’t they take advantage of a free tank of fuel which I might add they proportioned perfectly to use it all before we got back At this point we had a very very long day and were head bobbing are way back to a pleasant surprise on the boat..
Bugs, bugs, and more bugs, all different shapes and sizes took over the boat when were were gone. Alex called it a biblical event and I was in total agreement. We cleaned as many out of the hatch as possible and hit the hay as we were almost to exhausted to care about our recent infestation. The only positive of this bug situation was for some reason the bugs of Papua New Guinea do not like me. Back in the States, I am always the first one to get eaten alive whenever mosquitos are present but for some strange reason we had gotten stuck in the river more then I have gotten bit in what is described at one of the buggiest areas of the south Pacific. As day three came to a close we were all in amazement of the experience we had with the two tribes and how warm and welcomed we felt as they offered us a small glimpse into there primitive, yet rich lives. I cant imagine what more we have in store as we continue on this great adventure of the one boat Sepik River Regada.