There are 43 birds of paradise in the world, 38 of which can be found in Papua New Guinea. Don’t get me wrong, I am most definitely not a birder, however, after spotting three of these amazing birds at the beginning of my trip to Papua New Guinea my fascination was growing by the minute and I was eager to see more.
Upon my arrival at Lake Murray Lodge I spoke with my guide Smith and he quickly cottoned on to my new interest advising me that he had the perfect excursion for me the next day. Trustingly, I set my alarm for 05:30 the next morning and woke with excitement, scrambling to get my walking boots on in the dark to head to the boat. After a 30-minute trip on the water we arrived. We crept onto the bank and Smith jumped off into the mud. Before I knew it he returned with broken logs from the surrounding bush to create a path across the mud. I say logs, they were more like trees, the strength of the guides was astonishing.
We trekked through the forest for over 30 minutes, carefully avoiding tree roots and occasionally stumbling while scanning the canopies trying to locate the calls of birdsong. Smith suddenly silences me and points to a specific spot to stop and stand in prime position. As my eyes adjust to the light I see him, ragianna, bird-of-paradise. Suddenly he calls, he dances and puffs up his feathers in a display to attract a female. Magnificent. I grab the binoculars to take a closer look and as I struggle to locate him and focus I am suddenly in awe as the crisp image is captured through the lens. The colours seem to change almost by the second and his movements are so quick jumping from branch to branch making it slightly challenging for the inexperienced binocular user.
As I stand there watching this magnificent performance I learn more about the significance of the ragianna bird which is in fact the emblem for Papua New Guinea and featured on the national flag.
As mentioned previously, I am not a birder, but I do find this incredibly exciting. A new interest. I wonder how long this will last. Knowing me I am sure that something else will distract me and my interest will be short lived. However, for that moment in time I had a new passion and fascination that made me want to go and buy my own binoculars and bird species book so I could identify him officially.
Sure enough my focus changed pretty much within the hour as we made our way by boat to a local village. Completely remote and away from any form of civilisation. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t anxious on the way to the village. I had absolutely no idea what to expect. So many questions were running through my head:
- How many people will be there?
- How will my presence be received?
- Will I feel awkward?
- What should I do?
- How should I act?
As soon as the boat pulled into the village most apprehension went out of the window as I was warmly welcomed with song, dance and smiles.
As I stepped off the boat I was encouraged to follow the tribe up the hill into the village. Enchanted by the beautiful sound of song and dance I felt like the pied piper was luring me ahead and dazed and entranced I followed.
The whole village was present, the young children were fascinated by me and I dealt with this the only way I knew how… to smile. A smile quickly reciprocated by every single person in the village that I locked eyes with. You could tell the warmth of the people by the kind look in their eyes. Suddenly I clocked onto this and found myself playing a sort of game. There were two little boys that were smiling at me and when either one caught my eye they looked at each other and giggled as if to say, ‘she smiled at me.’ It sounds like nothing, but to me it meant everything.
I started to realise that perhaps they wanted to learn about me as much as I wanted to learn about them. Worlds apart, miles apart, yet one common denominator- a smile. Smiling breaks barriers and softens any feeling of angst from either party.
This village is so remote that their only form of transport is a dugout canoe, they live off the land, make their huts from bush materials, create fishing traps, weave baby baskets from bamboo. I struggle to comprehend this way of life as it is so completely different to my own. I panic if my iPhone has 1% of battery and yet in this village most of them don’t even own a phone. I spoke with Smith later in the day and he mentioned that in these villages there are more than likely only one or two phones in total per village (if that).
After I learn about the different ways in which they live I head back to the boat. The chief of the village thanks us for our visit and says, ‘the most important thing for us is the exchange of smiles.’ Funny that this was the one thing that I had felt from the second that I had arrived here. What did I do when I heard this? I smiled of course.
As I left the village with an abundance of thanks, I waved goodbye. I look at one of the little boys from earlier and he makes a heart shape with his hands and giggles to the other little boy once more. This time I laugh with joy.
This is my first tribal encounter and what a fantastic one to begin with. I know for the rest of my trip that my anxiety is long gone, and I can’t wait for more fascinating encounters where I can learn more.