Finding authentic experiences around the world is getting increasingly more difficult, you have to go further and further afield to really feel like you’re ‘traveling’ but once you do that, you’re in for a real treat. Papua New Guinea offered me the sweetest of those treats.
I arrived in the Capital Port Moresby from Australia but as soon as I landed in the international airport I went straight to the domestic airlines office and did something I’ve always wanted to do. It was my first time I went to the booking counter with literally no idea where to fly to, after a couple of conversations about where I could see the ‘real’ PNG, I had myself on a flight into a remote area of PNG, Medang. This was also when I realised PNG ain’t gonna be cheap! The 90 minute return flight cost me $400, welcome to Papua New Guinea johnny boy!
I hung around in Port Moresby for 2 nights so see what that had to offer, and the next day I was off to Medang. Once there I was desperate to organize going to stay with a local village and watching one of their local dances – face paint and all. So I was running around trying to organize just that and it finally paid off when someone said that I could go to visit a village, witness a ‘sing-sing’ (more on that later) and then on to stay with another village, as long as their Chief Ok’d it.
Before long I was off. On the way to the village we picked up the family we’d be staying with, complete with a handful of kids and a pig in a hand stitched net bag. The journey wasn’t 2 minutes old until the pig had sh*t all over the car. So now with the kids crying, the pig snorting and the whole car smelling of sh*t we drove out of Medang and into the jungle. Our driver’s name was Busybee and he delighted in telling us that 20 years ago he was Pierce Brosnan’s driver for 6 weeks as they filmed Robinson Crusoe in the Medang Jungle, very nice man apparently (Sean Connery was stil a better James Bond though).
We soon parked up and hiked 30 or 40 minutes through the dense jungle, it had been raining all night so my flip-flops weren’t the wisest footwear choice, after 5 minutes of getting stuck in the thick New Guinean mud I was mixing it with the locals and going barefoot for the rest of the hike.
We arrived at the village, were invited into the hut of the extended family we’d be staying with. Busybee, a former villager himself, told us all about their subsistence living. We walked into the dense jungle and Busybee cut us off what looked like a fruit, he sliced it open with his machete and handed half to me and kept half himself. A white gooey core with almond shaped lumps spread throughout stared back at us, but he quickly bit into the mess and began sucking. “You like chocolate Johnny, this is our Cadbury’s, these are cocoa beans, suck them – very sweet”. Traveling is bloody awesome.
Someone in the village started banging a drum, he was summoning the other villages in the vicinity to gather for the ‘sing-sing’. There was a tropical storm and the rain was began to pour down, not ideal, but nothing was dampening my enthusiasm, I was in a local village in Papua New Guinea – this is traveling, and I love it.
Over the course of the next 45 minutes the other villages gathered, in dribs and drabs they filtered in from the surrounding areas, some of them were semi painted, others were carrying their dance accessories. Once they all arrived they began to prepare themselves for the sing-sing. They covered each other in red paint, they adorned them selves with bags made from dogs teeth, bird of paradise feathers, local shells and once ready they filtered down to the main area of the village. About 20 villagers were participating in the sing-sing, ranging from 8 year old boys, to 80 year old men and women. Both the men and women were topless, and they really looked impressive in all their gear.
One of the young men yelled out at the top of his voice, and again, and again. Another starts banging a drum, the chief starts spinning around and the dancing commenced. Each different dance told a story – a dog chasing an iguana, a dance praying for good crops, a love story between two young villagers, it was amazing. The sing-sing went on for quite some time. It was so energetic and seemingly tiring that at one point I said to Busybee that if they needed to stop, or take a break, it’s fine with us. He passed the message on to the Chief, but the Chief was having none of it – this was their time to shine, they were proud of their village, and their stories, and they wanted to continue. For about an hour they danced, and sang, with vigour. I stood there, jaw-dropped, as I witnessed one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen on all my travels.
The national language of PNG is Pigeon, but their education is in English so people could communicate with us very well. They were proud to pose for pictures for us and with us, and delighted in watching back the videos we filmed and checking themselves in the pics on our digital cameras. It was a really fun, laid-back environment and I didn’t want it to end.
But alas the rain picked up more, the sing-sing was over and it was time for us to go. The other village where I’d be spending the night was preparing dinner for us so we were off, countless handshakes, wide-eyed smiles and blessings later and finally I tore myself away. I’ll never forget watching the sing-sing in the village in Papua New Guinea, it was nothing short of magnificent and I hope my pics and vids can even come close to doing it justice. Happy travels!
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