Searching for a Tree Kangaroo: To the Highlands

I got up to the New Guinea Highlands through a friend at Divine Word University, the local college that housed us for the first few nights in New Guinea before we shipped off to Karkar Island. I had gone back sporadically to work on a a project and, when I got potassium poisoning, had befriended an associate professor named Sam, who was from a village in the Highlands.

After finishing up at Karkar some of us went to crash with Sam at his house at the University. Sam and the others wanted to stay there to watch a Cultural Show, but I was eager to get going to the Highlands. One of Sam’s students instantly made that happen, introducing me to Daniel, who was from a village near the town of Minj, in the Western Highlands Province, and was willing to take me up to try to find a tree kangaroo as long as I paid for both of our ways up. I was more than happy to do so.

tree_kangaroo2Danny was a short, stout, really muscular guy, characteristic of a Highlander. Danny spoke a bit of English, but by that point I spoke a bit of Tok Pisin (Pidgin… Coolest translation: naked = ass-nahthing), so we mixed it up. We caught a “bus” at 7:00 am that next morning, which was really like a really big VW van. And they packed it as much as they could, mixing in tons of food in addition to people. Three guys operated the bus. One drove, one sometimes slept (they alternated), and one just stood in the doorway shouting Hagen! Hagen! Hagen! (a city in the Highlands the bus was eventually headed to) at everybody he’d see on the side of the road.

After 12 hours of bus ride we got off in Minj, a small settlement about 45 km east of Mt. Hagen. Danny quickly introduced me to is tribesmen, one of whom told me about a spot where he’d take me to see some Raggiana’s birds of paradise once we got off the mountain. Danny pointed to the mountain we’d be climbing. It looked far. Damn far.

We got a lift in a pickup truck up the initial road, which was the absolute bumpiest, most pothole-filled dirt roads I had ever been on. And the pickup truck broke down twice, but that was actually below the usual over/under.

Finally we arrived at a village where we got off. Danny quickly bought some sweet potatoes and raw peanuts at an ad hoc market that formed in the center of three clans’ (factions within a tribe) different villages. I took some pictures with the people (they loved pictures), got to see a Cus-Cus a hunter had caught and they were holding a cage (for either an important feast, a bride price asset, or something they could give in reconciliation of a tribal conflict), and talked tree kangaroos with one of the villagers.

I then met the villagers that would go with Danny and me up the mountain: Thomas, Kiuau, and David…

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