An extraordinary OPEN AIR MUSEUM
Holding onto the rope attached to the door of the thirty-year-old Suzuki taxi van offered me safety from the hot asphalt snake dominating my day. The wood benches lining the walls seemed invisible because of dozens of people held in place by each other. Handmade bags of cuscus fur called bilum covered the holes in the floor. Only females carried bilum bags sized small enough for a child to carry a few vegetables or an adult managing small pigs home from the market. Bilums have long straps which hang around the forehead and balance the bag over the shoulders and down the back.
Rice sacks (filled with yams or 1000’s of betel nuts), children, and baby chicks pleading for their mothers, fought for room to breathe. A child sitting on my feet peeled an orange and discarded the peelings in my lap after quickly wiping her hands on my pant leg. Everyone seemed to be hugging a neighbor, holding on tight as the taxi driver maneuvered the corners while he looked for a CD hiding under his seat. The 12 kilometer trip to the first village took almost two hours, not a concern for the locals. Time stopped hundreds of years ago on their island.
The decade-long fantasy of unraveling the mysteries of the island of Papua New Guinea became a reality when I finally decided I wasn’t getting any younger! Five days from Los Angeles, after crossing many borders and finally boarding boats and missionary planes, I reached that crazy taxi driver taking me to my first adventure.
A thunderous sound called attention to the cabin window. The unexpected view was so astonishing it was hard to contain myself. Struggling to open the window, I witnessed huge, fractured pieces of ice crashing down from the glacier’s ice walls. Colliding with the water, the gigantic iceberg cracked, becoming unrecognizable. Floating ice islands hit the ship like a slow-motion tidal wave. The water, emerged with a jump, spraying me.
Frozen fingers reached for a camera. Fierce and unrelenting wind from my open window tangled my long hair. The glacier rumbled again. I was silenced by my insignificance in the vast immensity of this place.
I barely paid attention to the phone’s ringing, still captivated by the wild beauty of this place called the end of the world. “Buenos Dias, es el medio pasado siete.” The 7:30am wakeup call from my steward reminded me that I had one hour to prepare for disembarkation. In the distance, three dolphins crossed the wake of the ship, plunging over and under the icy ripples.
Across the channel, where life concealed itself, the natural habitats would allow us to travel, at least in our imagination, to the origins of time. Spaniards, when they arrived in the late 1500s name this magical realm, ruled by ice and snow, Patagonia (Land of the Big-Footed). They saw what they thought were the huge footprints of the Tehuelche Indians. It was later discovered that the prints were exaggerated because of the fur wrapped around the feet. Mesmerized, I took a deep breath of some of the purest air on earth.
Two decks below the passenger cabins, a string of chefs along with a cavalry of waiters eager to please pointed to tables of glorious food including an endless variety of Chile’s fresh fruits. My smile broadened as I realized this was only the beginning of a glorious love affair with nature, unbelievable food, and a ship staffed with friendly, caring crew members.
The expedition cruise ship called the Australis started my first day with eyes wide open.
Nourishing the soul benefits the more important inner landscape. By expanding your world, you make invisible lifelong changes.
Hidden pathways in the Meherangarh Fort reveal families living as ancestors taught. The shawl-covered woman, preparing pancakes of flour and goat milk, motioned me to stand behind her table. Sticky white fingers removed yards and yards of a fabric apron, shook the flour dust free, tied the garment around my waist, and pushed my fingers into the midget sized bowl of gooey dough.
Preparing pancakes inside the fort India
Holding onto the rope attached to the door of the 30 year old Suzuki taxi van was my safeguard from the hot asphalt snake gracing my first day in Papua New Guinea. The wood benches lining the walls were invisible because of dozens of people being held in place by each other. Holes in the floor were covered by handmade bags called bilum. Children, baby chicks pleading for their mothers and rice sacks filled with yams or 1000’s of betel nuts, fought for room to breathe. A child sitting on my feet peeled an orange and discarded the peelings under her feet after quickly wiping her hands on my pant leg. Everyone seemed to be hugging their neighbor, holding on tight as the taxi driver maneuvered the corners while he looked for a CD hiding under his seat.
Papua New Guinea
Fields of scarecrows caught my attention as women bent at the waist with sickles cutting grass looked more like mounds of weeds topped with red flowers. The bodies without heads shouted phrases back and forth until my approach changed their posture to upright and almost fearful stances frozen. Waiting for some kind of change in my activity, their stares led me to walk slowly as Tibetans don’t like their pictures taken. Again “knee how” (hello) broke the ice and quickly they began their rhythmic motion of bending, cutting, standing, piling mounds of winter grass feed and bending again. One woman opted for a break, pausing to remove her gloves and tall rubber boots followed by digging deep in her apron for an apple. She removed her traditional red padded headdress revealing two more layers of fabric wet with sweat. Men moved yaks to new greener pastures yanking the long ropes tied to control their roaming too far from home.
Shangri La, China
Laughing abruptly stopped as my white skin, hiking boots and pocket covered shirt startled a group of teenagers crowding the concrete pad of the local well. Paint from local plants and roots spilled out of small round gourds balancing on the flat surface. The creativity of the individuals showed on their bodies with brilliant reds and yellows.
“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Tennyson’s words shielded me, along with a mosquito net for protection of my sweet blood. Toothpicks allowed my watchful eyes to remain on the lookout for any kind of movement like a wild rodent with a sweet tooth. My dried fruits soothed my soul at times when the trail led to a dead end. I have had rats and mice eat huge holes in my canvass luggage just to sample my protein bars in countries like Burma and Papua New Guinea. Hearty explorers bathed in the virgin waters of the Sambu River. A bucket of river water met my needs quite nicely. Suspicious eyes disappeared after the first day of my wandering the village. River fishing, walks to visit neighboring families and an invitation to meet the local medicine man for explanations of medicinal plants and their uses gave me opportunities to understand the pride these Embera people felt.
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