Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice !
Welcome to Goroka, Papua New Guinea, the site of our 2nd stage of the adventure. This is the Eastern Highlands Province, best known for its sweet potatoes and world renowned coffee production, also hosts an annual cultural show named the Goroka Show. Though it's a country rich with natural resources (gold, copper, natural gas), that could easily make it the Saudia Arabian type of wealth, it's also filled with government corruption and false promises to the people. No infrastructure here, virtually no skilled labor or educated citizens, but rather, they import all of the professions -- people are surprised that we are here to tour and for pleasure, as 99% of the foreigners are here for contract work. The locals are all over the crowded Goroka market, streets, and the many villages, either farming their vegetables for consumption and trade, or watching the day pass while chewing betel nut for the perpetual high all day.
The betel nut is chewed, like a chewing tobacco, with lyme to break it down into a beautiful red paste that thoroughly coats the mouth and teeth. They spit the red saliva/paste concoction throughout the day, whenever the timing calls and wherever, regardless of your proximity. Or perhaps, if you're conversing with the local, you might catch a couple drops or particles of the "beetlejuice" spit out onto you (unintentionally of course!) which is always a joy. It stains and decays the teeth to oblivion, making a recipe for a dentist's nightmare, a smile only a mother could love -- oh, that's right, the women chew the betel nut too, so Mom has the same smile. . . nevermind.
The PNG Standard for Gratefulness
Papua New Guinea is not a destination for the faint at heart, or one expecting fine dining, luxury, and the finest of service. It's challenging travel in every aspect, and my friend, Ed, who I met here 3 years ago, can attest -- EVERYTHING is difficult, (have I mentioned "Expect the Unexpected"?). But ironically, it also provides some of the most rewarding moments, as I'll share further into this story.
So the daily strategy has been to lower the standard, understanding it's just the way it is here. At the same time, we acquire a level of gratefulness, realizing how much worse it could've gone considering where we are and what we're doing ! Going back to the previous Highway to Hell blog story of our drive from Pagwi to Wewak, our Aussie friend Aaron told us an interesting fact yesterday. He read of a tripadvisor review/story of some not so fortunate people taking the same road we were on, from Pagwi to Wewak, and only 10 months ago -- in the Highway to Hell blaze of glory, ripping through the pothole filled roads, they dumped one of the guys out of the truck, but managed to realize there was a man overboard sometime later and took an hour to find him in the darkness, and then subsequently get held at gunpoint by local guys. Kind of helps to put things in perspective, doesn't it ? Two takeaways here:
1) I feel suddenly plain old grateful to have made it back safely compared to the other travelers on the same path.
2) It's glaringly obvious that the other travelers didn't have the "man in fake police costume, dripping in betel nut juice, and no weapon" like we did to scare away the gun bearing carjackers !
On our first day in Goroka, we took a stroll through the outdoor Goroka Market, filled with thousands of locals peddling their home grown vegetables, clothing, cooked meats, etc. etc. No tables, structures, organization or anything - just masses of people on the dirt, sheer craziness - and this is the regular daily market. It was a good experience of local ways of life, but you certainly wouldn't want to be hanging out there when all hell breaks loose and violence erupts, as it did yesterday -- a big fight broke out and things got out of hand, but we are grateful to have had an uneventful visit to the market the day prior. Guys within their own village routinely have fist fights, and nobody really thinks anything of it. But tribe against tribe, fights become a bit more serious, as the bush knives come out and people die here, and over who know's what.
I organized private guide service here many months ago, but what you order and what you get are two different things, so once again, lower the expectations and standards, and we'll be just fine. In my observations of all the other vehicles in and around town here, there have been a few very close seconds, but I think we definitely secured the first place for s***tiest beat-up jalopy of a van. Good thing I made my bookings 11 months in advance, but I got it- expect the unexpected. But aside from dodging violence, and being transported in a 3rd class beat up vehicle, we've had the tremendous opportunity to visit quiet and remote villages of the Highlands to meet some wonderful and genuine people. They have been welcoming, sharing a bit of their culture and daily lives, and are intrigued to hear a little bit about ourselves. It's the wild adventures that make things interesting, and it's the great moments with the local people that make this adventure all worthwhile.
Hours after arriving into Goroka, we jumped on an opportunity to visit a village to experience a Courtship Ceremony, where the young adults can meet with others from their tribe and decide who they might be compatible with before marriage. The 4x4 truck took us out into the evening darkness, down roads that were beyond driveable, at one point the truck tilting 25 degrees to the left. Into the pitch black with flashlights we went, after just meeting this guide, trusting him that we are in safe hands of course. First we cross the stream, then along the path that got narrower and at one point was 2 feet max with a 20 foot drop on the right into a ravine below. I can only imagine what Rosanna was thinking after just finishing our Sepik River adventure. We arrived at the village, and the ceremony was inside a small hut with no lighting (no electricity), just our cell phone lights. Interesting indeed, as the way it works is the young adults will pair up, about 12 in all, boy/girl boy/girl fashion. They are sitting across from each other, legs intertwined across from each other, arms crossed with each partner next to each other, 6 on each side. It's somewhat of a cross between a singalong and an orgy, with bodies all rubbing on each other, thrashing, rubbing, singing, shaking , etc. It was just Rosanna and I and the 12 villagers in this soiree, and after about 6 songs we felt we got the experience, good to go. We started to walk out, and our guide said, no, we're not done yet. Oh, thank you, this was wonderful, and I think we're all good -- but no, he forced us back in for 4 more songs and young energy, until everyone was convinced we've completed this event. Cultural and interesting, glad we got the experience.
Goroka Show 2019
The main attraction all year is the Goroka Show, held for 3 days each year, to exhibit the traditional dress, songs, and dance of 146 local tribes from the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. I've uploaded many many pictures to view in the album (over 100, so much to share !!), and the video production I will complete hopefully in the next couple days will do more justice.
It's overload of the senses -- 146 tribes crowded into the showgrounds, all singing & dancing at the same times throughout the day, performing their "sing-sings". There are only a few hundred foreigners, the thousands of others are all locals, waiting outside the gates for the floodgates to open when they annouce at 2PM that free entrance is now granted. It was a great time, first day being all the children performances, and 2nd and 3rd day with all of the 146 tribes performing. Wild wild stuff !!! They love their photos to be taken, and many invite us foreigners to jump in and perform with them. They're honored to share their traditions with us and love for the world to see them.
MOKO MOKO !!!
The other big component of our trip to Goroka PNG involves the story of the Aipos Moko Moko tribe. It began in 2016 during my first visit to Goroka, and on the first day of the show, I befriended Graham from the Aipos Moko Moko tribe, at which point he invited me to come visit his village on Sunday morning. I went with my friend Ed, and the rest became one of the most memorable days of my life. Anyone who followed my previous blog knows the story, and I ended up being painted with the tribe and performed for the entire day in the Goroka Show, surrounded by thousands of locals and foreigners. Outrageous, amazing, memory of a lifetime, all of that ! After an action packed day, I spent time back at their village, had my treevine waistband hacked off with a bush knife, and bathed in the river with the tribal men. We all shared speeches and special moments, and I vowed to return to them again, and introduce my wife to them. They made it clear that I am one of them, and I belong there at home with them now. Graham and I stayed in contact for the last 3 years via email, and as promised, we reunited once again for a Moko Moko experience !
The Aipos Moko Moko tribe is sensitive about keeping their cultural identity and traditions sacred and for this reason, they choose to only perform in the show and in public once every 5 years or so. The last time they performed was in 2016 when I was with them, and while they performed off and on for the last 50 years, this moment in 2016 was the first time they had a foreigner perform with them in the show. While I was slightly disappointed to hear that they wouldn't be performing in the Goroka Show this year while Rosanna and I are here, they had something else planned for us. We invited our friends Aaron, Pablo, Marina, Amina & Elena (from Australia, Spain, Mexico, Russia & Romania) who we met on the Sepik River to join us for this special reunion event at Moko Moko.
On our arrival, we were met by bells ringing, the entire village coming out to greet us with hugs, cheers, and comments of "welcome back to your homeland". They prepared a traditional bamboo barbeque meal, consisting of chopped lamb, local greens, garlic, spices all shoved into a bamboo shoot. The juices stay in and create an amazing flavor and fragrance that we all enjoyed by placing on sweet potato and eating by hand. The next few hours would turn out to be just absolute fun and laughter from every angle. Believe it or not, Rosanna took the plunge and did what she vowed she would not do -- get painted up to dance in the Moko Moko tribal dance with me !!! Check out the photo album, you're in for a treat !! And many more video moments are coming in the video production, with the Moko Moko dance footage. Amina and Elena had the courage to go in with Rosanna for this adventure, and the girls went off with the women performers from the tribe to get dressed (and a lot of laughter in the process). Meanwhile, I was getting painted up with the men, and Aaron and Pablo were raising quite the raucous with the tribal boys, drinking their tribal "brew" wine from beer cans sliced into a shallow shot glass, perfect for cutting your mouth open ! Lots of yelling and excitement in every direction, some sporadic "MOKO MOKO" shouts, and Aaron acting as the white devil ripping his shirt off and growling to the kids to frighten them into wanting more and more.
It wasn't the Goroka Show, it was a private party for us and all of the village. We performed several rounds of the Moko Moko dance -- which entails some chanting, singing, and then a series of pelvic shaking and spanking of the rear ends while bouncing the head side to side, chanting "Moko Moko Moko Moko Moko" (word for sex). The crazier we acted, the more the villagers laughed and screamed. It was wild once again, and this time, Rosanna got to experience it all with me.
Afterwards, we presented various gifts to the tribe and a few individuals. One special gift was for Tony, who was the teenage boy that painted me in 2016, and gave me a photo of himself and his email specifically for my son Bobby. I brought a Seattle Sounders jersey of Bobby's, specifically to give to Tony as a gift. That afternoon I was told the terrible news that Tony died at approximately 19 years old last year from some sort of heart defect. I presented Bobby's jersey to his mother in front of the tribe as a tribute to Tony, with a big hug and resounding applause from the village. Then, I presented a gift I have been working on leading up to the trip, about 18 hours of work in my workshop, creating an exotic wood serving tray with a custom inlay of the Papua New Guinea flag (my first project after taking a 2 day inlay woodworking class). The photos are in the blog photo album. Their reaction was priceless. Graham announced that once the new tribal house is completed, they will be installing a case that will include the photos of us together along with this new wood serving tray to be kept for their memories of Rosanna and myself. WOW !!!
Souvenir PNG Baby
Rosanna told one of the moms at Moko Moko village that her baby was so beautiful, asking her how old she is, etc. She responded 3 months old, and handed her to Rosanna to hold and love on, and they talked a bit. Rosanna called over to me jokingly, "Robert, look I have a cute baby I want to take home". Later after the festivities and we were saying our farewells, she approached Rosanna with the baby swaddled up and said in this very sweet voice, "I want you to take the baby with you, I know you will take good care of her". Rosanna, a bit stunned, replied, "Oh, no, thank you, but I can't do that". We received gifts of bilum bags, a blouse for Rosanna, and even a souvenir PNG baby ! But rest assured, Chris Haley & Bobby, no souvenir baby coming home, you're still our only 3 children !!
It was once again the highlight of our time in Papua New Guinea.
So, in the morning, we fly back to Port Moresby PNG, for a 1 night stay before our international flight to Brisbane Australia. It's been an adventure to say the least. I'm happy we did it,
I'm proud of Rosanna for jumping way way outside her comfort zone to do these things with me, and I'm happy we could enjoy these memories together.
Farewell to Papua New Guinea soon, and onwards to Australia and the South Pacific.