| My Amazing Paradise | Edited extract
ON THE ROAD - Balimo is beautiful. The sun rises and sets on the most beautiful lagoon in Papua New Guinea.
It’s created by the floodwaters of the dark, freshwater Aramia River that winds its way down from the highlands of Western Province.
Along the Balimo shores white, pink and purple water lilies blossom as canoes cross the dark fresh water and moor along the vivid green grass and water reeds.
Pelicans, pigeons, doves, hornbills, kingfishers, ducks live and die here and above eagles soar high to gracefully dive the waters like brown and white arrows, talons extended at the last minute to catch fish.
Balimo is located in the Middle Fly District of Western Province. I flew in here on a two hour flight from Port Moresby. The Airlines PNG flight first touched down in Daru, an island just a stone’s throw from the Australia-PNG border.
From Daru, we headed back over the mainland of Western Province, following the giant Fly River and then turning away from it crossing over the Bamu River up to Balimo.
Below us, the waters of the vast flood plains reflected the sunlight so brightly as if the sun was shining from under the water calling us to visit the mysterious riverland below that curved with the earth.
We landed at grassy Balimo airport. Despite its appearance, the landing was pretty good.
There’s no shade here. Later I found out there was shelter once, but a bolt of lightning tore through it and killed a man. They didn’t rebuild after that.
Arriving in Balimo was just an Indian missionary and I. The Indian looked like a Papua New Guinean. It was only when he asked me, “Is this Balimo?” that I realised he was from another country. “No idea,” I said, “But I hope it is.”
We asked the guy opening the door of the plane. Yes it is, he said. Great.
There was a crowd of people at the airport, mainly people waiting to get on the flight.
I jumped off and stood there a bit lost. I knew no one here. No one at all — I was in the middle of Western Province, with my cameras and backpack surrounded by perfect strangers.
I walked over to a gentleman who looked like he was in his late forties. “Mate,” I asked, “Is there a guest house or something here in Balimo?”
He asked if I was working with a contract company or something. “Local tourist,” I replied. “You want to see Balimo?” He asked. Yes.
He was a great chap. He put me on a truck that he explained would take me to workers’ accommodation in town. Less than a minute later we were in town and I was at the Beamaya donga, a shed of about eight units with single beds in each one.
From there, I tried to plan my adventure. I had set my mind on getting to the giant Wawoi Falls from Balimo. There is such a lack of information I was just operating on pure guesswork.
I thought I could get there and back in a day and then wander around Balimo.
I found out later, after travelling a whole day by boat to the nearby Kamusi logging camp, I was broke with only enough money to make the trip back to Balimo.
I had failed to get to the Wawoi falls. I had totally messed up my estimations.
The Balimo people’s hospitality is something I can never repay. I was really down cash wise which meant I wouldn’t be able to stay at the local guesthouse.
The boys on the boat I hired spoke to me when we were returning. They said kaks don’t worry, you can stay with us.’ (Kaks means big brother).
The boy who owned the boat, 20 year old John Kiwa and his in-law, Tibini Kemeda of the Wabadala clan, said they had helped many others who set out for a great adventure in Western Province and got stranded.
I stayed with them for three nights and enjoyed it. During the days and nights I was surrounded by young guys who told me stories after stories of their lives and the legends of Balimo and the Gogodala people.
They had formed a band called ‘Lightning Boys’ and let me record some of their songs on my digital camera to play back.
It was through them that I got to see a Balimo that many people don’t see.
I met many people who were interested in why this perfect stranger was hanging with these kids who wore torn jeans with colorful designs.
They told me stories about the Gogodala people everywhere I went. It was great for them too as they learnt more of their own culture through my conversations with others.
Many of the older boys would offer me soft drinks and smokes, would wave at me and come just to chat and treat me like one of them.
The boys are very interested in tourism and want people to be part of it. When I left I gave them my camera and told them to take pictures of birds. There are so many birds here, so many types.
Birdwatchers would love to come to a place like this. John was keenly interested. He wanted people to see his world and stay with him. At 20 years of age, he was cool, calm and showed a sense of maturity that attracted a large group of boys to him.
His father was a policeman who had passed away and with his mother’s permission, he had used his pension to purchase the 50hp motor and boat that I used to travel to Kamusi.
They are great people. How I was treated really illustrated the idea of Melanesian hospitality — you can easily make friends for a lifetime.
As I write this, I wonder what they are doing. Probably sitting under John’s house, strumming on two old guitars that are missing three strings each and singing their songs.