Part Three: Madang and the North Coast

Although the time we spent in the village was altogether new, exciting, beautiful, and humbling, something about cool weather, daily rain, and a steady diet of boiled root vegetables that lacked what the term “vacation in the tropics” evokes. To remedy this, Dan and I set out with my aunt, uncle, and cousin on the road to Madang, a coastal town with some nice beach resorts and beautiful coral reefs.

As with every trip in PNG, just getting there was an adventure in itself. The road to Madang took us down a mountain pass, through a flat valley full of sugar cane and oil palm plantations, and turned to a muddy dirt track cut through thick forests that roller-coastered up and down huge hills. Fortunately we were driving in Kathy and Neil’s truck, so we didn’t share the fate of the overloaded PMV’s we passed as they wheezed and struggled up the slippery road. We later encountered a river ford, which involved driving over a concrete slab laid in a riverbed with about six inches of water flowing over it. Once the road turned back to pavement, it was smooth sailing… for about a quarter mile at a time. The sections of smooth pavement allowed the truck to reach about 40mph, at which time the headlights would reveal  a gaping void. We’d brake just in time to roll over a set of monumental potholes, accelerate and repeat the process about a dozen times.

Ramu Valley, on the road to Madang

We got to Jais Aben resort late and fell into bed. The next morning we could see how beautiful the place was. The rooms at the resort were made up of little duplex cabins right on the water, with huge trees stretching out over a bank undercut by waves. We were so close that the spray from the high-tide waves would get our windows wet.

Sunrise from our cabin

The resort itself was fairly typical for tourist accommodation in the country: a very nice location, grounds and facilities, but lacking in the consistency that the first-world traveler would expect. One good example came at every meal, when whatever one or two of us ordered was out. It was never the same thing twice, but you could be assured that something was out. Once, when my cousin ordered a chocolate mousse, I noticed that it didn’t look like it had in the past. With a closer look and a taste, I determined it to be cake batter. On the whole, the food wasn’t boiled vegetables, so I’m not complaining.

On the upside there was… everything else. The weather was beautiful, hot but not very humid, the snorkeling literally right out our door was beautiful, and thanks to my uncle Neil, we made the acquaintance of a local villager named Chris, who gave us a great local perspective on the area.

Chris and his son on the canoe

He took Dan, our cousin Tony and I on his canoe to a little island close to his village, where we snorkeled around the island and combed the beach for seashells and coral pieces, which were everywhere.

Dan and Tony

We also got to witness Chris climbing a 50-foot coconut tree with ridiculous ease.

It’s hard to see in my lousy video, but the trickiest part comes when he’s directly under the top of the tree and has to pull off any dead fronds that could give out when he wrestles his way to the treetop where the coconuts grow.

The next day we decided to head up the coast to another hotel where we ate lunch and went swimming at the black-sand beach.

There’s a huge volcano in the background, at right half obscured by clouds.

The next day Chris also made us some harpoons out of metal rods cut from heavy fencing and launchers rigged up from rubber tubing. We took them out to the beach next to the village for some practice trying to skewer some pretty little reef fish. Fortunately for them, I’m a very bad shot and after a couple of hours, I hadn’t done more than annoy the fish that easily escaped my harpoon. Of course, when I finally gave up for the day, the six- to ten-year-old kids who were hanging out borrowed my harpoon gun and proceeded to get a bunch of fish.

For our last day, Chris borrowed a boat and took Dan, Tony, and I on an all-day spearfishing and beach hangout extravaganza along with about a dozen kids from the village. We all piled onto a decent-sized motor boat and took off for an island that’s a popular hangout for people in the area.

Our crew on the boat

When we got to the island, the festivities began. The kids who had scuba masks or swimming goggles took off into the water and immediately began hunting fish mercilessly. Dan, Tony and I joined in and despite my best efforts, I managed to get a nice little fish right through the head. In the meantime, the kids had already put together several strings loaded with little fish.

Meanwhile, another boat overflowing with adults and kids came ashore, and several games of rugby/soccer/keepaway started. Everywhere there were kids running around, yelling, and doing flips into the water.

After several hours of swimming and playing around on the beach, we finally headed back to the village for some dinner. Although the kids caught a bunch of fish, they had already eaten most of them on the island, so we “caught” some fresh tuna from some Filipino sailors on giant tuna boats anchored nearby.

They also made us some Kava, which is a drink made from a crushed root that produces a sedative effect. They all made a big deal of how strong it was, but the effect was pretty mild, kind of like the opposite of coffee, with some slight facial numbness.

What is that?

Baby in a bag!

After the meal, we went about the long process of saying goodbye to Chris, his family, and everyone else who was hanging around. This of course required a long session of group photos!

Chris’ sister and her neice

Chris and a bunch of the kids from the village walked us back to our cabin at the resort. We thanked Chris, trying our best to successfully convey how grateful we were. He and his family made our last week in the country really memorable and pretty damn fun.

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