Maz Livingston from the Explore! - North America office visited Papua New Guinea last September with a small group of Explore travellers and witnessed the Goroka festival. Here she shares her impressions of what turned out to be an intense cultural adventure.
This trip has been at the top of everyone's wish list for years. We’ve all been saving and waiting for the right time to visit, looking for the perfect itinerary and, now we’re here! One Dane, a couple of Scots, a Bulgarian, Hungarian, Irish, Australian, some Brits and some North Americans and we’re all excited and quick to agree that half a day in Port Moresby is enough. By afternoon, we are on our first flight of six that will span this enormous, inaccessible and staggeringly beautiful country. We visit 3 very different areas, the Sepik, New Britain and the Highlands. It’s like 3 trips rolled into one.
We spend three sultry days in canoes on the Sepik, sleeping in villages with families, visiting colorful Spirit Houses and walking through thick jungle in search of the elusive Bird of Paradise. It’s sunny and hot. I think the hottest I’ve ever been. Time slows down. We are invited to a scarification ceremony. This rarely happens. The men of the village dance all night. We meet an elderly German missionary who shares his amazing collection of masks and spiders with us. Honestly, if you can, go now. This is not Port Moresby but could be some day. As one isolated villager told me “We don’t need money. We help each other build houses; grow our own food and fish”. They have little and they share it with us. It is a privilege to be here. There are over 1000 languages spoken and very few cell phones but change will inevitably come.
Another flight takes us to the islands. A hazy blue and pink tropical paradise. We snorkel in crystal clear waters and have lunch on a desert island in New Britain, surrounded by smoking volcanoes. A local family cooks a delicious traditional meal for us over a fire of hot stones. We are welcomed with flowers and smiles the next day as we visit schools, churches and are invited into people’s houses. They are as happy to see us as we them.
And, finally, off to the Highlands and Sing Sing. Leaving paradise behind, we fly to the cooler Highlands to mingle with over 100 tribes decorated with feathers, beads, paint, foliage and mud. Its two days of high energy dancing and posturing, a surreal spectacle. Groups have travelled for days to come together, strut their stuff and be admired. Our presence is incidental. We are guests of honor but it’s really their festival and time for them to unwind and celebrate their rich tribal heritages together.
This is a very special trip. If you’re a traveler and not a tourist and are looking for a full cultural immersion in a faraway place then this trip is for you. When you sleep in the villages, you will sleep on mats on the floor and possibly not see a shower for a couple of days. If you take the discomfort you will be well rewarded. If you’re adventurous and my story makes you smile then go to Papua New Guinea and go now.
Find out more about Papua New Guinea Revealed (BNG)