alex rust, reed whiting
10 December 2010 | Ambunti, Sepik River, Papua New Guinea
We were up before the sun and on our way upstream within minutes. The reflection of the neon pinks and oranges of the sunrise danced in our wake as we pushed ahead on the otherwise flat calm river. Morning was the most enjoyable time of the day on the river with the cool air and absence of bugs. Every river bend brought a new jungle waiting and just when you thought you had seen every type of palm or mangrove you would spot a new tree or bush never seen before. Birds of all types filled the skies and banks ranging from the stork-like egrets to colorful parrots and their many songs filled the air.
We pulled into Ambunti just as the last of the morning mist was evaporating to reveal the jungle covered hills that now surrounded us. There was no road connecting Ambunti to anywhere but there was a small air strip that came right to the river. We went to anchor and for the first time on the river had a little trouble grabbing (probably due a flat rock bottom) so we pulled up and tried again. We had most the village out on the bank watching us and like it usually goes with a sailboat when you need something most is when it breaks and as were dragging with current towards a rocky bank the the transmission went out. I yelled for Ben to come grab the helm as I dashed below. Access to the engine compartment was blocked with stacks of huge wooden masks, local bows and arrows, carved paddles, pig tusks, crocodile bones, flutes and drums which I began throwing everywhere before finally being able to reach the access panel to remove it. Luckily I knew which lever to pull and just in time for Ben to motor us to safety and away from the rocks we were just feet from losing the boat on. The shifter cable had snapped from corrosion but no big deal cause we can still shift by hand using the lever and will be able to get it fixed in Palau and thats less than a 1000 miles away.
In the mean time my infection was back as strong as ever so I stayed on the boat while reed and ben went to meet the village. Reed caused quite the uproar amongst the kids with bubble gum and tennis ball handouts while Ben quietly entertained his crowd by sitting under a tree painting them a picture. After a while the crowds grew to such a size around each of them that they were no longer visible and I could only tell where each was by knowing that Reed would be mobile with the noisier crowd while ben i knew would stay put under that tree painting. I heard an uproar of laughter and commotion from Reed’s audience and found out later it was because he found another box of 60 pieces of gum in his bag all of which was gone in a matter of seconds.
Reed here. Ill Pick up where Alex left off.
After a wild hour of trading with the locals and quick visit to the local market we came back to the boat to find Alex in worse condition then before and we told him he should go see the supposed doctor in town and so he was off. I guess the doctor was only a nurse and had no real advice for him besides recommending a hospital immediately. The nearest hospital is in wewak which in order to get to is 4 hours down river to the closest road then another 4 hours by 4 wheel drive truck. His condition was worsening day by day and the medication was only helping with some of the pain and irritation. Alex was not ready to quit on this adventure yet though and he wanted to give it one more day before he decides if he should go in for surgery or not.
Night came fast along with my anticipation of our 3rd Crocodile hunt. These guys seemed like they knew the ropes and hopes were high on killing a big gator. Minutes after Ben and I left on the hunt rain came pouring down and we posted up under some random guys hut to wait it out. Minutes later we were on the trail again for one last stop and the Home of the Master Croc hunter in this area for some advice.
When I met eyes with him I knew he was the real deal. The self proclaimed PNG Crocodile Dundee. He told us stories of days past in is killing of two large crocs over 20 ft long and how it took a whole village full of spears to bring them down. The hunting of the Crocodiles in PNG is a very spiritual process and they believe the Crocs take on traits of a man as they age. The do this by taking on the spirit of the man during the skin carving ceremony as his blood is shed in the river bringing life full circle between there lives and the Crocodiles. Listening to him explain these stories was a awe inspiring experience.
The action of this hunt was much different then the rest as we were running full speed at shore after the sightings of a Crocs eyes. Most of them were a little to keen for us and barely made it into the water outside the reach of our spears. Finally on our third charge at the bank the spear was thrown at a nice two meter croc only to be missed by inches. This type of hunting was packed with adrenaline as we were basically running onto the bank with the Crocs to corner then and spear them. This was my type of game for sure. I was very pleased with the night as we saw over 20 Crocs with many 3 – 4 meters in size. Though we didnt kill one on this night the experience of the hunt was just as satisfying to me.