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Scouting Expeditions on the Sepik River
An Expedition Diary prepared by Expedition Leader Kristy King
DAY 1: 13th February 2018 – Madang Departure
Guests were eagerly awaiting the arrival of Jamie and Kristy at the Madang Resort with bags ready to go and excited faces. Upon arrival to Coral Expedition I guests were treated to scones and friendly faces as the hospitably staff greeted those arriving, and our very energetic Purser Amy got everyone checked into their cabins.
Following a safety briefing and introduction to the crew the ship was alive with excitement as guests checked out their cabins and the vessel.
DAY 2: Manam Island & Lower Sepik River
Day two welcomed us with rough seas that lashed the vessel as we rocked from side to side in the swell. A brave few venturing down for breakfast followed by Mrs Kidu’s presentation on how she came to be in Papua New Guinea and the work she has accomplished over the years. A truly amazing lady! We were informed by a very chirpy voice across the PA system that the scheduled itinerary had been changed and we would be stopping at Manam Island instead of arriving in the mouth of the Sepik. This was great news as it meant that we would be tucked up inside a beautiful little bay for a couple of hours.
Following lunch, we boarded Explorer with a flotilla of canoes surrounding the vessel. Jo was a little worried that her maneuvering off the platform might cause someone to overturn. The canoes followed us into shore where we were greeted by local community members and a magnificent array of fresh fruit and the biggest beans I have ever seen! We were taken for a walk through the village to meet with a few of the locals before returning to the beach. Laughter and the loud yelling of local children and our Expedition Team member Kristy could be heard, with black sand flying as a soccer ball sailed through the goal. A few people had stayed to go for a swim and try their hand at paddling a canoe, while others introduced themselves to members of the large crowd that had gathered at the beach or perused the assorted colours and tropical smells of sweet pineapples, bananas, lemons, limes and enormous papayas. The afternoon was a great break from the weather with smiles, laughter and bubbles highlighting a fantastic afternoon at this little slice of paradise.
We re-boarded Explorer and returned to Coral Expeditions I, weighed anchor and made our way for the mouth of the Sepik River. The weather that we had long forgotten greeted us with open arms as the vessel rolled around for another few hours before we were meet with calm seas and cocktails as we approached the mouth of the Sepik in time for pre-dinner drinks.
DAY 3: Lower Sepik & Mendam Village
Yay! We made it to the lower Sepik River. Guests were up bright and early to greet the lush vegetation that surrounded the banks of the Sepik as the morning light hit the sago and vines the lined the water’s edge. Canoes passed as we enjoyed breakfast before boarding the Explorer for our first excursion on the Sepik.
As we left Coral Expeditions I and sped off ahead to the barat that would take us through to Murik Lakes and Mendam Village, we were treated to several eastern great egrets and the occasional pied heron taking off as we zoomed past.
The river banks were filled with tropical vegetation and sago palms which fringed the river edge as we made our way through the barat. Pied herons and egrets galore flew past us as we meandered carefully through the hyacinth. On route, we encountered a disagreement between a white bellied sea eagle and a great billed heron with the white belly dive bombing the heron. It hit the water then quickly regathered itself and flew, swam, splashed its way into the sago to hide.
On arrival to Mendam we were greeted by the local villagers and shown around before watching a comedy show of sorts. As Expedition Leader Kristy tried to sneak around the back to get photos, she missed placed her step and ended up knee deep in the mud, having to be helped by a few of the local children. This had everyone in stitches including the young children and adults that had gathered.
During our time at the village our Expedition Team tended to a few of the locals with severe cuts and infections. We cleaned and bandaged several villagers and handed out medical supplies to the ‘medicine Mary’ who was in the village dispensing medicines.
School supplies, balls, fishing and carving equipment were given to the local elder Francis as a thank you for welcoming us into their Village. Our return to Coral Expeditions I saw a large amount of bird life as we cruised through the barat and past local villagers on the river’s edge cutting down and producing Sago.
DAY 4: Tambanum Village & Kapamari School
We boarded Explorer at 0900 for the first of our excursions of the morning, Tambanum Village. On arrival we were welcomed by the community lining the shore happy to see us. Two of the local community leaders spoke to us and formally welcomed us ashore to their village before encouraging us to have a good look around and to ask any questions we might have.
Carvings lined the pathways as we made our way through the village with more and more children appearing, hiding up trees and peering through windows, while several guests had their faces painted like the masks and carvings they had purchased, others made their way through the village attempting to get words out of the mouths of some of the children but alas! Unless you had a pair of binoculars or were willing to let them have a play on your phone or camera the only noises you got were the occasional sounds of laughter, as these funny looking westerners appeared from the men’s house with even more peculiar faces than before.
On return to Coral Expeditions I we past several smaller family houses and villages with several people out in canoes fishing and transporting goods from A to B. Following lunch, we all made our way upstairs to the forward lounge for Carol’s presentation ‘Tattooing Body Art and Scarification’.
At 1500 we boarded Explorer and made our way across to Kapamari School where the school children welcomed us by throwing petals as we made our way ashore. We were then taken to the school where a performance of one of the many games they play was given. We were invited inside the classrooms where the children had stayed long after school had finished to show us their work and ask questions about where we were from.
Our time in the classrooms was filled with laughter and smiles as the children sung. Then it was everyone’s time to join in singing and spinning around until you’re found a new person to introduce yourself to.
Thanking the teachers, we said good-bye to the students and let them go home for the day. As we made our way down to the village a few seemingly familiar faces appeared. Kristy our expedition team member had found herself a mini-me – name badge and hat included! As we made our way into the village bilum bags and multiple handicraft items lined the grassy area outside the men’s house. Whilst the women shopped the men sat in the cool shade of the men’s house, talking all manner of nonsense I suppose.
As the afternoon grew hotter we re-boarded the Explorer and headed back towards the air-conditioning.
The evening was topped off by the men from Kamindimbit joining us on the sundeck to play their sacred flutes – a special treat for all.
Day 5: 17th February 2018 Chambri Lakes, Wombun, Aibom & Kamindimbit
We boarded Explorer at 0800 and made our way towards Kamindimbit to pick up a local guide Cyril then began making our way towards Chambri Lakes.
At Wombun Village we were welcomed with flowers and palm fronds that lined the walk towards the Haus Tambaran. Once inside the Haus Tambaran we were treated to the playing of garamut drums and flutes. Following this, guests spent their time speaking with the men in the men’s house and speaking with the women and children who had made a market place of sorts on the grass outside the Haus Tambaran
We re-boarded explorer and made our way back down stream towards Aibom. On arrival to Aibom we made our way through the village to a pottery demonstration, and what a treat it was with the local women sitting and creating. They showed us the various stages of how they create the pots all the way through the drying and firing process. On the return down the water way we were treated to yet more birds and women fishing, however their canoes were now lined with fish.
Following lunch, we made our way to Kamindimbit where we were treated to a “sing sing” with local community members in their traditional attire. A few guests got up and danced which was great to see and the crew members who had come across for the afternoon joined in as well.
Day 6: Pelambei & Kanganaman Villages
Everyone was up early and eager to go this morning as we headed across to Pelambei Village at 0730. Once we made it ashore it was a bit of a walk into the village but well worth it with hundreds of egrets flooding the rain trees and beautiful pink lilies lining the water ways. On arrival we were shown through to one of three Haus Tambaran and sat inside whilst Arron (the community head for 35 years) spoke to us about what happens in the village and the traditions. The middle Haus Tambaran had been destroyed during WWII and just the main pillars remained.
Many people made their way upstairs to see the artifacts and carvings, and even more carvings were visible in the second Haus Tambaran across the lawn. The work here was just spectacular and unlike anything that we had seen to date. On the periphery of the Haus Tambaran grounds women gathered their many handicraft items for purchase. Before we knew it our time here had come to an end and we started the walk back through the tall grasses to the explorer and Jo who was waiting our arrival. As a treat for all the exercise we had done coconuts were on standby – we happily guzzled down the refreshing coconut water as we re-boarded Explorer for the second part of our morning activity.
With coconuts in hand we made our way across to the opposite side of the river to the village of Kanganaman. Here we had a much shorter walk through a beautiful village towards the Haus Tambaran where we were welcomed before being shown into the Grand Haus Tambaran. We were again explained about the significance of the Haus Tambaran especially as this one is of national and cultural importance. We were also lucky enough to witness two young men who had been through the initiation process and scarification.
Following lunch, we made our way to the forward lounge for Bruce’s presentation on ‘Art of Papua New Guinea’. Over the course of the afternoon many people visited the bridge and were on the outer decks as we made our way back down the Sepik passing multiple villages on route to our next stop.
Day 7: Bien & Kopar Village
A beautiful day greeted us as we boarded explorer at 0745 and left Coral Expeditions I for Bien Village. On arrival the village seemed quiet but as we made our way ashore people started appearing from across the village and before we knew it we were surrounded by women and children as we made our way through the village towards the school grounds and market place. Bilum bags, masks and even donuts were for sale with so much to see it was hard to know where to look.
Due to a death in the community the previous day there were no “sing sings” or performances for cultural reasons. So, we said our many thanks and re-boarded Explorer and made our way back down stream towards Coral Expeditions I who had gone ahead. As we continued towards the mouth of the Sepik River we were passed by canoes and villagers waving on the shore line as we floated by.
Following lunch, we boarded Explorer one last time and made our way ashore to Kopar Village where palm fronds and flags lined the shore to welcome us. We were greeted by local council member Kelly then treated to the dragon dance. As the garamut drums played the dragon appeared from the men’s house and slowly made its way towards us. With dancers in traditional headdress and clothing surrounding the dragon it was something to behold. However, for most the two small figures in the background swinging palm fronds and dancing and skipping from side to side had their attention. Two small children had joined in and were dancing up at storm!!!
After the dragon dance we made our way through the village and met with local community members and spent the rest of our kina before once again re-boarding Explorer and making our way out of the Sepik River and into the Bismarck Sea.
Our journey had come to an end – all 140 nautical miles of it. From the vibrant colours and gorgeous smells of tropical fruit on the first day to the smiling faces, artefacts, laughs, sweat, mosquitoes and connections made along the way, this is an expedition like no other and one I’m sure we will never forget.