Trying to Find a Tree Kangaroo in the New Guinea Highlands

 

After hitching a ride from a pickup truck up the absolute continuously bumpy road I have ever been on, Danny, Thomas, David, Kiuau and entered one of the main villages where we would get some supplies and start our journey.

Thumbs up with the village kids

Thumbs up with the village kids

A de facto marketplace formed every day at the main village gathering area, where mainly women would sell cucumbers, fried flour cakes, raw peanuts, sweet potatoes, leaf greens, carrots, some kind of really fatty meat that I’m still unsure over what it was, and a host of other foods.

Two Women at the De Facto Market

Two Women at the De Facto Market

I gave Danny some money and he bought us sweet potatoes, cucumbers and raw peanuts. Those would be our supplies – we hoped we’d be able to kill a cus cus for dinner if we got lucky.

 
After some chit chat and pictures (I was the first white guy to roll through the village and hang out with the people in a long time apparently), we set off. They had pointed to the peak that was our destination from the valley, but it was hard for me to gauge what the trek would be like. In Papua New Guinea, time estimates are pointless. Plus, I had a pretty egotistical view of my hiking/trekking abilities, and kept telling myself that running around in Yosemite was probably more taxing than anything they had here. I probably also made a subconscious effort to deny any impending hardships; I knew we were going to sleep in the bush but didn’t ask how. I’m not a big camping guy so I didn’t really want to think about it.

Me, David, and Kiuau on the path

Me, David, and Kiuau on the path

 
As we set off from the village we followed a pretty well-traveled path that wound its way up along the river, passing through little huts and even gardens. There were women carrying bilums (their traditional woven bags) back from chores and boys carrying fish they had just speared. We bought five from one of the boys for the equivalent of probably around 50 cents.

Kiuau with our fish

Kiuau with our fish

 
Though I tried not to dwell on it because it was still early in our trip, thus far our luck hadn’t necessarily been good. Our bus driver insisted that we wait around in the highland town of Goroka for 4 hours so that he could fill the van up to capacity for the remainder of the trip to Hagen. That had made us arrive much later than Danny wanted, meaning we were getting a really late start. Danny said there was a small cave halfway up we would try to get to to spend the night in. He seemed anxious, and I could see why: clouds were forming and did so daily. It was September and the rainy season was officially starting.
 

Danny and some boys standing under a huge pine tree. The vegetation up there was alpine mixed with jungle - incredibly unique.

Danny and some boys standing under a huge pine tree. The vegetation up there was alpine mixed with jungle - incredibly unique.

Also, the hunter in the village with a kangaroo-hunting dog had gotten into a fight and hurt his leg, and couldn’t come with us. I was still hopeful we could find a tree kangaroo, but they said that a dog was necessary to sniff one out in the dense jungle.

These were the bridges to cross the river around the village. They only got worse from here.

These were the bridges to cross the river around the village. They only got worse from here.

 
After about 2 hours of walking we still had yet to reach the dense jungle, when suddenly a light patter of rain began to fall. As it is with Papua New Guinea, within literally two seconds that patter became a torrential downpour, and we were getting buckets dumped on us. And we were running. I had absolutely no clue where, but we all were in a full on sprint. We ducked under some rocks that gave us minimal cover, and Danny and Kiuau had a brief pow wow in their native tongue. Danny then turned to me and said, “we go,” and we were sprinting again. After a few minutes I saw our destination: a tiny round grass hut with a small plume of smoke escaping from its tiny doorway. We sprinted to it and ducked in. This is where we’d spend our first night.

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Gulliver helps students Study Abroad. Our blog covers: current issues in Study Abroad; featured posts by Study Abroad students; and Gulliver updates, news, and behind-the-scenes peaks. Thanks for reading!

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