Sepik Day 6

alex rust

04 December 2010 | pagwi, sepik river, papua new guinea

By the morning of the 6th we were at the settlement of Pagwi and I was in pretty bad shape with a growing infection from my tailbone to by lower back (making it impossible to lay down) either caused by a cyst of abscess. Because of the lack of freshwater (it hadnt been raining much and almost every village we stopped at could only afford to replenish our daily drinking supply) and the fact the Sepik is rampant with cholera and many other tropical bacteria (over a million people poop into it) we havent been able to wash as much as we like and my infection was getting much worse at a faster pace. The heat, humidity, and lack of sleep (mostly due to bugs) all played roles as well.

I had started into the boats antibiotics (thanks dr. marion!) but this wasn’t cutting it so I finally agreed to go see someone although the ambulance reed arranged was a little over the top. I reluctantly got into the 4-wheel drive ambulance after finding out the distance to the clinic wasn’t walkable, there were no other vehicles in sight and it was a free ride (it was more like an off-road rally car with snorkel and all). When we arrived to the boarded up clinic (under construction) they hammered off a board that blocked the entrance and unlocked an open air room. I didn’t have a Papua New Guinea medical card and that they said was a problem but also they could get me one on the spot for 3 kina ( about US$1) which I agreed to in hurry. They explained there were no doctors this far in the bush but that they were all trained paramedics. The three that attended to me seemed knowledgeable and competent despite each of them having a mouthfull of red beetlenut which they occasionally had to spit.

Their verdict was that I needed to get to Wewak (the closest city with a hospital) for surgery but I explained I couldn’t leave my vessel and so they gave me a shot of antibiotics which caused me to pass out (luckily two of them caught me) and then gave me three other bags of pills (anitbiotics and pain medicine) with instructions. There was no charge so I gave a small donation. The world was still spinning from the shot when i stumbled outside and so I explained to the boys that I had to get back to the boat instead of being able to head inland with them in search of some badly needed supplies. I passed out on arrival to the boat.

I woke at 4pm when Reed, Ben and Mobo got back with what we needed – fuel, food, more trading supplies and soonafter we weighed anchor and were up river once again. I was at the helm feeling much better (whatever was in that shot it seemed to have worked). We were starting to get to know the river quite well hugging the outside going around the bends and trying to stay in the current because thats where the deep water is but the straight stretches continued fool us. The water is so suspended with clay that 1 inch deep looks the same as 100 feet and in fact the depth sounder read 124 feet (over 200 miles up river) only seconds before the familiar lurching of the boat and the depth sounder flashing 00.0. We were stuck once again but because of our slow speed, opposing current and softness of the mud we were out again in only a few short minutes.

We finally dropped hook later that evening after the logs became too numerous in the darkness and with everyone losing steam. Tomorrow we would try for Ambunti the last major outpost on the Sepik.

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