Dubobari. Papua New Guinea.

04 June 2017

“…It’s not advisable to take your cash out of an ATM on the street. You will have someone come behind you, hit you on the head with a stone and run away with all your cash…” — An advice from one Australian gal, who lived in Port Moresby.

Dubobaree. (TUFI Village. North Coast, West of Port Moresby.)

Fear pushes away love and stops the real and true life from encapsulating your every cell. Love dissolves fear, heals wounds, works wonders in more ways than one and makes even the most impossible, out of this world wish, come true.

The people that you meet on your journey — the best gift from the road. The Road without fear is indeed the best teacher.

It’s an amazing paradox — Papua New Guinea, who is a home to the best people in the world, is still very much left unexplored, simply because of fear, that is being blasted at you, dear reader, from all the press, media and social networks from all over the world.

Some of the articles and “travel advice”, that I’ve heard and read about, make me sick to my stomach. Yuk!

Meet my friend Sandra! (Oh yeah, she definitely fits the bill of a “Bloodthirsty monster with some really sharp teeth”! Be very afraid!

Tufi village. Sandra.

We were told, “you CAN’T do that!” more times than the amount of grey hair on my head (and I have a few). They told us that we have to do what everyone else does — Taking a well-established route and staying in an overpriced resort, behind barbed wire, that is there to protect you, dear white-skinned traveler, from the dangerous tribal people. It’s ridiculous, if you ask me!

We decided to follow a slightly different route… the truly “off-the-beaten-path” one. After landing in Tufi, we decided that we will go directly to the tribe (the true owners of this land), with tents and negotiate the amount we would pay them for the pleasure of calling their Palm Tree backyard our home.

I downloaded from the Internet (trip advisor) a map and marked down the route of our hike through the coastal villages. In Port Moresby we were the only white people walking on the streets and the only white people taking the public transport. Since we couldn’t find a single cafe without the barbed wire, that are strangling the last drop of authenticity out of it’s prey, we decided to buy groceries at an not-so-cheap supermarket, where we were able to buy a couple of crabs, with some local beer and have dinner at home. Our “home” was some second hand huge sea container, which people usually use to transport goods on ships or smuggle illegal Chinese workers aka cheap labor into Papua New Guinea (not kidding) for a modest price of 60 US Dollars per night! (The cheapest accommodations in town, that we were able to find on Airbnb)

Tufi Area Map

The plane landed on a overgrown by grass, a very short (as it seamed to me) runway. Near the runway local tribal people, were waiting for their relatives or friends to get off the plane and some were just there to simply observe the happenings, as one would do at a show maybe, a sort of local entertainment in a way. Lena (about whom you will find out in more detail later on) walked up to a fist woman she saw with a tribal tattoo covering her whole face and explained to her what we would like to do — to be able to crash in her “backyard” with a tent for a few days. Of-course Lena understood very well, that such deal will cost her more, than her usual charming smile from ear to ear and batting of her eyelashes…

— “You see, I don’t want to stay in a Chinese-owned only resort here, behind the barbwire… I want to stay with the true owners of this land…YOU and pay you directly, instead of giving my money to an already overweight and spoiled businessman, who is not even local. How about we give you 5 dollars each (10 Kina) and camp near your beautiful home?”  — Lena asked with such a “melting everything” look in her eyes, which made it harder to just simply say “no”.

— “I have to ask my husband first.” — Replied Mary, with so much tact and class, that it puts Harvard graduates to shame.

We were able to “camp” inside of a still in construction family house with three walls and only half of the floor, but it did seam to keep all the mosquitos away. And here are the most amazing and kindest occupants of this very house…

You see face tattoos on women mostly of older generations. They make those tattoos before a wedding. It’s like a festive, permanent make-up, that they carry through their life with pride and dignity. Every single tattoo is different, just like the fates of the women who carry them. Nowadays, youth no longer wishes to uphold the tradition and in upcoming years, you will see less and less of this type of “make-up” on women in Papua New Guinea

We daily feasted on unknown to us cooked root vegetables Taro and Yam, smoked turtle (yes, they hunt and eat turtles daily and yes, it is legal for local tribes), caviar from sea urchins and baked Java bananas, which turn red after being heated. All of this was prepared with so much care and love by Mary, right on the fire near our house.

If I was asked, where would I like to return to and travel some more within that place, the answer would of-course be — TUFI and ALL of Papua New Guinea…

And you will ask me - “Why?!”…

Because that place is a home to otherworldly, knock-your-socks-off, the most kindest people, from whom we all can learn so much. These people have the ability to teach you a myriad of things, that are being forgotten more and more today. These things are being replaced by constant unnecessary noises and addiction to all kinds of media and man-made distractions…

People in Tufi and Papua New Guinea have showed us, that these important things are still alive… and it soothes my soul to know, that these important things still exist in this world today. Yes, maybe you have to get a plane or a bus or a boat into complete nowhere, in order to reach them and feel them once again in your cells, but that long journey, that you will take will be worth it at the end. It will be priceless.

Kindness, simplicity, sincerity, hospitality, happiness and the lightness of their musical soul — This is the true song of Papua New Guinea… In every heartbeat of this nation. Regardless of all the atrocities that this beautiful land and it’s people had to endure in the last hundreds of years. These people have carried those things through fire with such tenderness and care, how only a mother would carry her child through a land ravaged by war.

It’s the beauty in the eyes and the beauty surrounding you, that also makes you yearn for return.

It’s the past, that so hard trying to hold on, against all odds and against the rapid and unmistakable progress and development of civilization.

It’s the kids who make you cry and laugh simultaneously. It’s the ancient traditions and songs, that lift your “lost” molecules and souls up to heavens, where they are “found” once again and where you’re able to sense the infinite…

It’s the love that is so penetrating to the core and so open, that… (I have tears in my eyes right this very second…)

It’s this…

“The Last Frontier” … they say…

In Tufi you are able to rent a canoe and together with the local tribal people venture into the unknown and explore their motherland.

You may also buy a new canoe for 50 US dollars and on your own maneuver and explore around bays, hunt on the coastal reefs and at the end, you can also give this canoe as a gift to any of your local friends, that you will make here. (Trust me, there’ll be tons of those people)

You may also rent a plastic sea kayak from the resort. This decision will GREATLY reduce the time of travel and increase your mobility. The choice is always yours.

The most interesting thing for us was to leave for a whole day with our local friends into some interesting place and explore it, while paddling, taking some photographs and listing to the local songs, that left us teary-eyed and made us feel as if we were being accepted into this fragile world of old customs and traditions.

Moments such as these need to be embraced and treasured, as one would treasure a wooden chest full of gold and gemstones. If the voices of those native souls, unravel the part of you, that was hiding behind the barbwire of society, set it free. In that moment, just set it free…

Speaking of taking photographs… I didn’t want to take a single photo or record a single video… I was so swept away by the fleeting and priceless moments, that it was almost rude, to interrupt such purity, freedom and love with a camera. So here you will see only “lazy” photographs, that were taken only because it was an “order”! Guess from whom…

— “Of course! You must capture at least some of this magic! You have to be generous with the gifts that this life gives you… These moments and these people and this land, are gifts for us… And you just want to keep them for yourself?.. No! Take out the camera, Dimaaaaa!…” — breathless Lena, all swept up in her quest to inspire people to step “outside of the box” at least once in their life, will “gently” and passionately order me around.

To be honest, I didn’t want anything… Seriously… Because I realized, that I already have everything. I dissolved in the limitless infinite and I felt home. : )

And if it wasn’t for Lena… I’d probably still be in Tufi.. on that same wooden canoe, lost somewhere between the heavens and earth…

We stopped at wild secluded beaches and while we were diving amongst the beautiful corals, they caught local lunch — sea urchins and spider shells.

Our Canoe was very slow and it doesn’t work really well with the large lateral wave, since the counterweight is on the leeward side. If it was my canoe, I would have made two counterweights and bend them slightly in front. Otherwise they will continue to “dig” water and the very action of “rowing” would lose all it’s value and meaning to all those defects. I decided not to interfere with my bent plastic pipes for counterweights…

— “Let everything move as it should… Let everything move at it’s own pace… Let it all be… Let the past and their traditions hold on to it’s fragile, but magical existence a little bit longer…” — I echoed to myself the message, that was delivered to me by the wind and the last gentle rays of the setting sun…

Lena…

I could never fully explain to you who she is. To be able to do that with words is an impossible task. You can only maybe feel it a little bit, that is if you will be able to survive through yet another “eruption” of this volcano. I’m not exaggerating this, guys! You have to constantly jump from one side to the other and make sure the burning lava doesn’t burn your shoes… But! You will never feel cold… Never!

I can only tell you this — I have met her on the crossroads of destiny twice and the second time our meeting was inevitable. Since that day, from time to time, we meet at the crossroads of our travel roads, cliffs, oceans, mountains, islands and pages of dusty maps, in order to come up with unthinkable and unimaginable adventures, that somehow, magically come to life.

Sometimes it seems to me, that I am this main gear of some enormous mechanism, where Lena is a pendulum.

She is like a true challenge for me (in a positive sense of the word, of-course) and greatly expands my step and journey through this world. Without a single doubt — She raises hell and makes all the strings of this universe and others sing with maximum pressure. They’ll be explosions in one place or another…

(I truly believe she has Persian blood somewhere there deep inside of her invincible soul, from the times of ancient lands, its treasures and those who stopped at nothing to conquer them…)

You’ll be able to observe her footprints and fingerprints left at the scene of the “crime” in a way that only she can leave — After yet another “launch of the missile” into parallel space, article appears in the main newspaper of the country…

She’s ready to keep maneuvering the canoe along the impassable streams and passages for days on end, to defend the rights of the local tribe and if necessary, remove the scalps… Her amazing natural ability to become “part of the tribe” without any sort of force or “trying” and her ability to completely become “one of them”, is truly unbelievable at times. It surprises even the leaders of the tribes, who themselves, due to the development of civilization, began to forget all the instructions left by the wise ancestors.

However a coconut with a local rum inside, calms her down and I’m finally able to breathe… but not for long…

In Papua New Guinea there are over 850 languages! (That’s right!) It’s one of the most diverse nations in terms of languages and tribes.

This means that more than 850 tribes each live with their own unique set of traditions, languages and rituals. It’s astonishing!

They even cook in very different manner. There are those that cook in clay pots, there are island tribes “Mu-Mu”, who cook their food on hot stones, but all those dishes have one thing in common — They are all delicious!

Tufi village was just a “training session” for the upcoming large tribal festival in Madang.

Here you can see Lena, smiling from ear to ear because she will be participating in the ancient tradition of choosing a groom…

(We are all here (especially those who know Lena personally) wishing all the luck in the world to the future groom… and as French would say “Bon Courage!”, you, brave, brave man!) Yes… I said brave twice for a reason.

Here she is getting dressed according to the local custom…

The fangs of wild boars, that were extracted by her in repeated battles, were hanging on her back for one reason and one reason only — to scare off all cowardly suitors.

There were some handsome suitors, I tell ya!

The drums rattled and swept everyone into a dance

Lena chose the most handsome and interesting groom, naturally…

The family accepted her with joy…

Her wedding gift was a drum, so she could wake her husband up early in the morning to hunt…

And sent her off to banana thicket for acclimatization…

And I would probably have to fly alone to Madang Festival, if she didn’t change her mind about marriage… (Ahhh … women… they never know what they want.)

The truth is, ladies and gentlemen, is that Lena was immediately presented with a little treasure. A treasure, that she knew nothing about before all the grand festivities — The illegitimate baby of the future groom, that was given to her for some “feeding time”… Yup, just like that, Lena became a mother… She really tried and gave it her best shot… She huffed and puffed her way around those new-found joys of motherhood and tried to feed the constantly hungry future heir to the throne, but lactation did not happen. Furious toddler started yelling and would have probably eaten half of the village if busty Papuan ladies didn’t come to the rescue on time.

Meanwhile an English pilot crawled out of the jungle, where he was lost since World War 2. He has completely lost his marbles and the only thing that gave away he’s origin, was what seemed like the remains of the Canadian pilot helmet on his head, with the words “Tommy Hilfiger” proudly shown on display.

In the evenings we all gathered on the lawn in front of the house and listened to unbelievable stories with a background soundtrack to chewing sounds that everyone makes, while chewing The Betel Nut (more about this later…)

Green Gold.

Everyone, even the kids chew the Betel Nut. So what is this thing really and for what?

Betel Nut is the seed from the palm tree, Areca Catechu species. It’s similar in size and shape to a regular nut. It is cleared from the skin, by biting and chewing a slightly pinkish core. Having chewed a root, a stem or a mustard seed is added to whole mix and is put behind the cheek, (prior to that it was mixed with saliva and dipped into a white powder - lime. The Lime is made from mangrove shells, which are prepared in this order — pre-calcined, dried and then crushed into complete dust. Many locals use crashed coral — it has a much stronger effect.

That’s how these palm trees look like —

Nut, mustard and lime together, mixed with the abundant amount of saliva, give a chemical reaction, which is accompanied by a change in the color of the well-chewed mass into red. The substance formed during the chemical reaction is absorbed in the oral cavity and creates the effect of euphoria, it also relaxes and gives energy. In actuality it’s simply an authorized and greatly endorsed drug, that everyone chews, all the time.

Without the constant chewing of the betel Nut, person becomes drowsy, uncommunicative, slow, dull, incapable of anything and irritable. I’m sure you’ll agree, that that’s a pretty unpleasant state to find yourself in, right?

Literally, everyone in PNG are incredibly addicted to this Betel Nut drug. I saw how they lose their mind in the constant search for yet another “hit”. They simply can not do anything until they chew. They call it: Green Gold for a reason…

It is sold everywhere… And you can become very wealthy almost “overnight”, if you know the best places to collect a lot of Betel Nut in the off-season…

The extra saliva is being spit out, hence all the sidewalk in cities have semi-red color. (On the first day, Lena thought it was blood) The teeth of betel nut chewers first turn red color and then in time darken to almost black. Whatever is left of the whole shebang in the mouth, gets clogged in the gums and because of that, the smile becomes truly stunning, but for everyone here, it’s all very normal and even, dare I say, attractive.

In my humble opinion, I believe this infernal concoction was invented by a few very smart men in order to pacify the whole nation. Well how can you live all your life in the jungles and accidentally eat a palm tree seed, mustard and smash coral into dust together in order to get smashed? (No pun intended)

There are no problems with bringing this super drug and it’s hell of addiction into young generations — Babies receive the Betel Nut taste with their mothers breast milk and then of-course kids like to imitate adults — after school or away from the house, they will be chewing it. I have seen with my own eyes, how a young girl was breast-feeding her child and simultaneously chewing the Betel Nut. So this means that that little toddler that she is breast-feeding is already an addict!

At schools, they are not allowed to chew, naturally, but as soon as they are over the fence, it’s Betel Nut time! Some just chew the nut, without the hell of this mixture, but that is only the training days, before the full-blown addiction of a grown-up.

Well, I guess such is the culture there at present time.

In the photo above is Tea (Teah is how you pronounce it correctly), our very close and kind friend. She’s demonstrating her red smile.

Of-course Lena and I chewed this crazy concoction. (I’ll try almost everything once… Lena is the same.) I could feel my mind slowly sliding off into some Neverland… everything was slowing down and I couldn’t do a damn thing… nothing! I was lost to this world and Lena’s yet another “gentle” order to pick up my camera and film the whole process, seemed completely undoable… especially now. I believe I entered the precise state that locals experience, when they are not chewing. No euphoria or buzz. The same thing happened to Lena…

“That is not true, Dima! I felt the buzzzzz! But yes… I was also taken away to that very same never never Neverland and could barely manage to take a step or move my hand… everything seamed too chaotic and all I wanted was — nothing. Oh and by the way, Dima… you have got to show our readers the videos sometime!… Aren’t you glad I made you take out your camera and film this once-in-a-lifetime adventure! (That’s a rhetorical question, Dima. : ) “

Once again, my dear friends, my story that I so carefully have written, gets interrupted by this “always ready to argue and fight” rebel, with no manners whatsoever, by the name of Lena. Please excuse her non-existent manners. Let’s continue shall we? …

So we were told that this state was actually normal for first-timers (Oh what a relief!) and that in a few days we will get used to it, meaning we will finally become addicted and feel the buzz.

We decided not to do this…

“Ummm, I’m sorry, that’s is simply not true! I actually did try it one more time, when we were in Madang… it was rude to refuse a half of Betel Nut from a family we stayed with!…”  — The “gentle” voice from Neverland echoes through time and shakes all the walls of my apartment, in which I am trying to work.

Can someone put her in a straight-jacket, so I can finish my story here… thanks!

So let’s get back to Teah…

Her front teeth ached a lot and since she didn’t have enough money to travel to a dentist from the outback, she took pliers, went to the sea and tore all three teeth by herself.

She said — “It’s much better to feel the unbearable pain for five minutes, than to suffer for months on end without ability to sleep.”

After Teah pulled out her own teeth, she rinsed her mouth with sea water and soon everything was healed. The sea truly is a great medicine… for the body and for the soul…

It’s impossible to fully describe on a piece of paper the life and all the amazing stories of the inhabitants of this magical place, by the name of Tufi.

Go there yourself! Don’t be afraid! Dive into this wonderful world with your soul wide open. Teah lives next to the “Airport” aka the grassy runway strip and if you mention us, you’ll have no problem finding her and all other interesting characters of Tufi, that we were fortunate to stay with. You can stay with Teah for as long as you wish for basically a donation. (10 Kina per day) Maybe someday, she’ll be able to get her wish — new teeth.

This story is turning into a pretty long one… I hope you’re still interested enough to stay with us to the end…

Here you can see Damian (The husband of Mary, whom we stayed with) preparing sea urchin at the stake.

Here’s pandanus roof for a new home…

Sandra — The Seafarer…

Fun in the sand …

The time has come to leave Tufi and fly to the Tribal Festival in Madang. All our friends came to say “goodbye” to the runway… They didn’t leave until the plane was gone.

“Teah and I gave each other the warmest, most pure, love-filled huge hug and froze in that moment for a couple of minutes near the runway, while tears ran down our cheeks…”  — Lena adds this very quietly this time… it’s almost a whisper… (a very unusual state of being for her)

Madang. Festival of Tribes.

Madang Festival is a must when you’re visiting this part of the world! It’s a chance for you to meet, greet and chat with different tribes from remote corners of Papua New Guinea. They are all so different and identical at the same time. They are the kindest people, who not only keep and look after traditions and customs of their ancestors, but live by them. It’s the past that has been frozen in time, in spite of progress and development…

It’s also a chance to not only observe the festivities, but become part of them… just like Lena did.

The most important and grandiose festival takes place in the town of Goroka, that lives in the mountains, almost in the central part of the island. It’s also a home to the best coffee in the world…

However our dates in PNG didn’t match with the dates of the festival in Goroka, so we decided to experience a slightly smaller, but not less extraordinary festival in Madang.

The Simbai tribe, arrived in madding on foot and it took them a week to get there. On their journey to the festival, they hunted and slept in the forest. Lena was becoming part of one colorful tribe and then waltzing across the field to another… all while shocking the public, local press, organizers of the show and the dancers of Sing-Sing… I’ll just post pictures here, they’ll do a faster and much better job at expressing to you, my dear friends, all the happenings of those days…

Lena was accepted as part of the family pretty damn fast, she was smothered with body paint by bare bodies of other dancers and given jewelry as gifts. (They were rubbing their faces and bodies against hers and in that way, painting her own body, so she could fit with the rest of the family.)

They actually almost managed to take her away with them, because she was so completely lost in a trance and the joy of this dance, to a point she didn’t even realize, that they were leading her away from the field in the direction of their tribal home…

So of-course I ran as fast as I could across the field, covered in sweat and grabbed her by the hand… (I regretted that action later… should have let them take her away..) Maybe if I let her go she would have raised hell in that tribe and put things in order… But you see, I felt deep compassion for these gentle men and women and decided to let them continue living a peaceful life. (Idiot! Should have let her go… : )

After all the festivities and action-filled hours, (running around after Lena, making sure, she’s not taken away, but yet another tribe, that she joined to dance with) we were wiped out!

 

There were also Night Shows that we were invited to by the organizers of this show. They came up to topless Lena (are you still asking why? Seriously?) who was still beaming with ecstasy after the dances and invited us to the “after party”…

I am unable to fully share all the happenings of our days in Madang…

“Yes, Dima, that is why you have so many video clips (that you still have to edit… wink-wink) on your drive right now… to show our readers, the things that are almost impossible to transfer onto paper with a written word alone…”

Here she goes again… if this doesn’t stop, ladies and gents, there’ll be murder before this story is finished…

The last night we camped behind the house of the relatives of our friends in Tufi, who graciously let us crash “on their porch”. We made “Mu-Mu”, chewed Betel Nut, told stories and even ventured out of town in the back of their truck to the nearest beach. The table that night was just as festive as all the days in Madang…

Lena was taken to jail for her bad behavior… and I tag along knowing that she’d be bored to death all alone in there with no one to torture. (really, I’m kidding… but this dame, has definitely done some “jailhouse rock” time before… more than once… are you really asking as to why?… Just look at her… it’s written “wanted dead or alive” all over those, at first, mistakingly warm and inviting eyes.)

At the airport Lena, as a dangerous fugitive from justice, was put in a special holding area… and until the last moment was kept there, because she swore to return and finally put things in order in the country.

But I was cool as a cucumber, because I know she always asks permission from the sea first…

…And so do I…

We made our way to Vanimo. At the airport we met an incredibly kind lady, who let us stay at her house for free. And also invited us to a dinner at a restaurant also as a kind gesture from her to us.

From Vanimo, we crossed the border by land into Indonesia. We needed a visa, but it’s not mentioned on the Indonesian government’s website. We didn’t have visas, because when you fly into Indonesia, it’s visa free for Russian/American passport holders (Lena.. yes, she’s a double agent actually..) and visa free for Australian/Russian passport holders (Me). But they refused to let us through without those visas. So we had to rush back to Vanimo and turn the whole Indonesian embassy (aka hole in the wall) upside down in order to get our visa stamps …

(this was the last public transport available to take you to the border and the next one was only in a few days and we had plane leaving in just a few hours from Indonesian side… to take us to….. well that you will find out in the next story…)

I can only add that we should have just stayed in Papua New Guinea. We would have made it to other nearby small islands and to Alotau, and of course peeked into Lae, Moro Bay, because not far from there, people place their dead ancestors on tree branch. Prior to placing them on branches, they dry them and get them ready for mummification. Ok, next time we’ll definitely go there and have a conversation with the deceased…

You can spend your whole life around your very own “trough”, but never see the sky….

Cut down those ropes, let the stars show you the way and don’t be afraid of anything! Fearlessly dance on the burning coals, do what you always dreamed of and listen to your hearts…

…and Love…

“Oh you’re always so sentimental Dima… but yes, I agree… Love… that’s all there is at the end… all that will matter is if we loved… all that we will regret is that we didn’t love enough, more and more often…

I would like to end this story by asking you, my dear friend, who’s reading these lines, one question — What do you think is the meaning of the word “Dubobaree” that you see within the name of this very story?

Since Papua New Guinea has more than 850 languages, it will be pretty hard to figure out… or not… my wish is that all those crazy pilots, who crawl out of jungles, (and many other characters of our world) had this very word sewed to their dusty pilot helmets and souls, instead of “Tommy/Timmy/Tammy Hilfiger or Chanel or Dior and other similar nonsense…

Ok, Lena…. This is the end of the story… that’s it! Enough! They’re all tired! I’m writing the last words here…

The End.

— “Ummm…. Actually no… it’s not the end… it’s just the beginning!

See you all in the next story!

Let There Always Be A Road ... and Rum! : )                                                               by Elena Levon & Dimi Kash