Thursday, 23 October 2014

PAPUA NEW GUINEA - People and scenes

We came across this amazing funeral procession during our first day in the highlands. (Click on the image to enlarge). The men have smeared face and torso with yellow clay. They were so pre-occupied that no-one noticed our vehicle going past. The funeral was for a local business man who had recently been taken ill in Port Moresby. 

At our first lodge we spent time with Max, local birder and orchid-grower. Living not far from the lodge, he invites guests for a tour of his orchid garden, which he has built up over several years. He has 200 species, and knows most of their scientific names. He also helped us find several birds of paradise and many other strange species such as ploughbill, ifrit, melampitta and bowerbird.

Temperature and humidity were quite different at the next place, a lodge in the Sepik lowlands in the north. We spent mornings and evenings out on the river, keeping cool in the breeze and watching flights of lorikeets, cockatoos, imperial pigeons and birds of prey. 

The river is full of fish including the delicious barramundi. Boys learn to spear them from a young age. The kites, herons, egrets, darters and cormorants also had fishing in mind, though when we were there river levels were very high. There were few places for herons to perch. We had a spectacular thunderstorm that lasted most of one night.

 A speedy charter flight soon had us back in the highlands. We spent four nights at the beautiful Ambua Lodge, where many species of birds of paradise feed in the garden. From here it's a short drive up to the tree-line at 2800 m, but most of the time we stayed near the lodge and explored its magnificent Waterfall Trail.

The river that flows through the lodge grounds has many impressive waterfalls, and quieter stretches like this. Here I saw a Torrent-lark, a New Guinea endemic that had eluded me on previous trips. I took this shot from one of the three suspension bridges - all built by a bare-footed forester whom we met with his umbrella (but no machete).

The wood is all lashed together with strong lianas - all cut locally. Both bridge and builder deserve a photo of their own! 

One of the highlights of a visit to Ambua is an opportunity to watch the local Huli people perform their traditional war-dance. Traditionally this was a prelude to battle with neighbours, usually over land, women, or pigs. Between them they are wearing a frightening number of bird of paradise and lorikeet feathers! 

Yellow and red clay is smeared on the face. The black 'hat' is in fact a ceremonial wig made of hair which is grown and cut at a local wig-school. The blue feathers are the breast feathers of the Superb Bird of Paradise, with lorikeet feathers above. Now that they are forbidden by law to fight with their neighbours, they keep their culture alive at annual shows, school openings, etc.  

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