The PNG Chronicles: Morago to Sebigo on an Empty Stomach

Morago was my first insight into authentic village life. Pindiu is undoubtedly rural, but still boasts elements of civilisation – there is a grocery store (which one of my uncles owns – he’d occasionally slip me soft drinks and plastic jewellery as if I was eight years old, which was quite sweet), a post office and an air strip that guarantees entertainment twice a week. Morago has none of this. The ‘grocery store’ is literally a cupboard in some lady’s house  – you let her know what you need, and she charges you an extortionate amount of money for a bag of rice and some chicken stock. It was my first time sleeping in a hut with a fire in the centre, and let me tell you, it’s nowhere near as pleasingly rustic as it looks. The smoke chokes you, the residue leaves ugly sooty ropes dangling from the ceiling, and all throughout the night people will helpfully stoke the fire, which is like having someone switch on your bedside lamp every hour. The huts are built with minimal head space, because New Guineans are miniature people. Mum stands as high as my cheek, and that includes her illustrious afro. If you’re taller than about 150cm you’ll brush your head against the sooty rafters, and if you’re over 167cm like myself, you’ll repeatedly smash your forehead into the door frame and fly into a homicidal rage every time. How the hell our six foot tall GOF managed to survive so many years in this environment with neither concussions nor permanent brain damage, I’ll never understand.

The toilet hut faced a sweeping visage of mountains and valleys, and in a unique design feature there was no door to hinder the view. Each trip to the loo had to be prefaced with a cautious holler from behind to check if anyone was currently using the facilities.

So after our twelve hour death march the previous day, I awoke around dawn to the sound of Mum talking to no one in particular.

Now I adore my mother to the moon and back, but in all the time I’ve known her she’s never really taken to the concept of letting sleeping people lie. Whenever I’m home visiting and have the audacity to take a nap, or heaven forbid sleep in, I’ll be awakened by a disembodied “Inga! INGA! Are you asleep? Oh. Ok. I just wanted to tell you…<insert monologue here>.” Sometimes there won’t even be that simple precursor, and she’ll just start talking to me from wherever she happens to be, with sufficient volume that I’ll be sure to hear.  This didn’t change in Papua New Guinea, and it turns out it’s not a trait peculiar to Mum; it inflicts the entire nation of PNG. These people can talk.

Back to the journey. After two nights at Morago, we departed for Sebigo. Sebigo is the name of my family’s ancestral land; an asset which is passed down to the oldest child of the oldest child (or maybe it’s the oldest son – I’m a bit fuzzy on PNG lines of succession). Apparently the ownership rights go back generations, but in all those years nobody has bothered to set up a functioning water supply or toilet facilities. The river is a twenty minute walk away, and the toilet pit was brand new in honour of our visit. I think I was actually the first person to use it, and I dutifully christened it by misjudging the size of the aperture in the raw timber and peeing all over the floor.

Morago to Sebigo was only about six hours, but the track was even more ruthless than the previous leg. I was also a little feverish, which had me wondering if I’d contracted malaria and was about to die a muddy, ignoble death in the wilderness. I was having these dark thoughts when we came to a tree that had fallen across the path. I had to bend down to go under it, but of course with my giant pack (yes, I was still too obstinate to give it up) I wouldn’t fit. In exasperation I sat down in the mud and scooted through on my arse, deftly grabbing some stinging nettles in the process.

Later Mum told me she heard my almighty yell and string of cuss words from twenty metres up the track, and said to Nicole “I bet she’s touched some nettles”.

Despite stopping for a wash in the river, we were a sorry looking bunch when we arrived in Sebigo. My 15 year old cousin Ada fell asleep almost as soon as we stopped, and I wasn’t far behind her. Sometime during the night I awoke in a panic, convinced I was going to die in my sleep because all I’d eaten during the previous day was four crackers. Fevered and starving, I mixed myself some Hydralite and sat outside the hut sipping it, staring into the darkness and thinking dejectedly about home.

The main drag through Morago. Make sure you've engaged four wheel drive.

The main drag through Morago. Make sure you’ve engaged four wheel drive.

The view from the dunny. No wonder they don't have a door.

The view from the dunny. No wonder they don’t have a door.

Morago - we stayed in the hut in the background on the right.

Morago – we stayed in the hut in the background on the right.

My beautiful cousins Ada and Nicole - Ada showing off the braids she gave Nicole.

My beautiful cousins Ada and Nicole – Ada showing off the braids she gave Nicole.

Ol pikinini blo Morago

Ol pikinini blo Morago

My uncle and I sharing a joke in the shrubbery. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry at this point.

My uncle and I sharing a joke in the shrubbery. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this point.

A vegetable garden on the hillside. If there's anything that could make taro harvesting more fun, it's a 70 degree incline.

A vegetable garden on the hillside. If there’s anything that could make taro harvesting more fun, it’s a 70 degree incline.

Munching crackers and pondering hurling myself off the cliff.

Munching crackers and pondering hurling myself off the cliff.

Gesing making sure the white girl doesn't pitch head first down the hill, while Bobby in the background brandishes his cabbage.

Gesing making sure the white girl doesn’t pitch head first down the hill, while Bobby in the background brandishes his cabbage.

This is what happens when pollution is nonexistent.

This is what happens when pollution is nonexistent.

The vines are all choko - which, incidentally, is used as a filler in commercially produced apple pies. I would've killed for a pie at that point.

The vines are all choko – which, incidentally, is used as a filler in commercially produced apple pies. I would’ve killed for a pie at that point.

Has anyone figured out how to adequately capture angle of incline on camera? Because this looks about a tenth as horrifying as it actually was.

Has anyone figured out how to adequately capture angle of incline on camera? Because this looks about a tenth as horrifying as it actually was.

The church at a village called Hobo (no, it's a short "o" pronunciation, as in "hot"). I love how it has little devil horns.

The church at a village called Hobo (no, it’s a short “o” pronunciation, as in “hot”). I love how it has little devil horns.

Sebigo: it's literally two huts, a clothes line and a cemetery. If I had been born three years earlier with a penis, it would be all mine.

Sebigo: it’s literally two huts, a clothes line and a cemetery. If I had been born three years earlier with a penis, it would be all mine.

 

 

More precision engineering.

More precision engineering.

 

 

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18 thoughts on “The PNG Chronicles: Morago to Sebigo on an Empty Stomach

  1. Utterly amazing.

    I know you weren’t actually asking for an answer, but the incline would have shown better if you’d taken two or more photos panning upwards from the ground in front of you and stitched them together – a vertical panorama. With all that mud it looks like a pretty terrifying slope to me anyhow.

    Amazing photos. Despite the misery of some of the experience, I so wish I could see (and photograph) some of those things.

  2. I am almost speechless. Those are tough people. It’s so beautiful, but so danged far out in the middle of nowhere! I think I would have had exactly the attitude you did.
    Were there any insects after you in the thicker brush? Anything biting. That’s the only thing that would have made it worse.
    We hiked through nine miles of rainforest in Alaska and the mosquitoes. Oh lordy.

    Fascinating and amazing post!

    • They’re really tough – we have everything so bloody easy! I guess it’s still beautiful precisely because it’s so far away from everything!

      Nothing bitey, surprisingly (and thankfully!). We still slathered on the mosquito repellant every day, but I think we could’ve done without it.

  3. I bet you lost some serious weight and gained lots of muscle on the trip.

    I can appreciate that incline in the picture. Looks so steep it might be advisable to use all fours.

    Love the precision engineering.

  4. “How the hell our six foot tall GOF managed to survive so many years in this environment with neither concussions nor permanent brain damage, I’ll never understand.”

    Are you sure about the lack of brain damage?

    It still looks like an interesting trip … which I am enjoying vicariously while comfortably seated at home.

    • You know, even as I wrote that I KNEW I could count on you to pick up on it 😉

      I’m enjoying retelling it from the comfort of my couch. It’s so easy to tell people how rewarding it all was when I’m sitting here in cosy slippers, watching Friends with a bottle of wine.

  5. How in the name of Jabberwocky did Nicole keep her white shirt so sparkling clean? Amazing! Anyway…….lovely pictures. Especially that view from the restroom. I never thought I’d be saying that…….

    And the 70 degree incline for the taro. That is amazing. I love seeing crops grow in a rainforest setting.

    I heard malaria pills give spectacular nightmares and are almost as bad as getting the disease. Still, is it common out there? I bet you had one hell of an entomology lesson hiking those trails. Sounds like close quarters too – I’d be afraid my hair would catch on fire after I fell asleep!

    • Depends on the breed of anti-malarials. We got Malarone doled out to us in Indonesia and the list of side affects was minimal compared to some of the other stuff available. The only one I suffered from was mouth ulcers. Better that than the alternative, however.

    • I have no idea how she kept her top clean. She did get mud all over her pants from all the falling over, though!

      Apparently malaria isn’t so common up in the mountains, but in the coastal cities you have to be careful (at least that’s what my parents kept drilling into me). When we stayed in Lae, one of my cousins at the house had malaria, so I was slathering on the repellant like crazy. Not a nice ailment.

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