Down the River - Dunung Island

Clem’s Place - Just west of Kaveing at Three Islands Harbor (Dunung Island) Japanease armed freighter wreck and Mini-Submarine, both attacked and sunk by US bombers during WWII.
Side Note - Before anchoring here, we stopped at Tsoi-Lik Island just southeast of here. They requested a $100 Kina anchoring fee.  Mark and Matt agreed the fee was crazy for one night, so, we raised the anchor and sailed onto Clem’s place instead! No anchoring fee, just $5 Kina per dive.

This wasn’t a spot where we’d planned to stop, but while we were in Kaveing at Nusa Island Resort, the guy there said we couldn’t miss the wreck dive here. Chance to explore another wreck? Why not?
The day we arrived, Paul canoed out to greet us and led us through the reef to meet Clement at his surf eco resort on the other side of the island. He and his wife Sylvia sat down with us for an hour or so, telling us all about how the place got started and how the meager amount of clientel that came
Google Superyacht
each year was just right for them - not too busy, but just enough to keep running. In fact, they even claimed to be careful to NOT advertise too much... why ruin what they had kept so quiet? It struck me, the concept of ‘enough’ that permeated their business plan. Any American entrepeneur would scoff at them, but there was something beautiful in their easy contentedness.  This 'secret' spot was not so 'secret' to some of the larger yachts.  One of the founders of Google came here the week prior on his superyacht and had a small private wedding on their beach.  Without naming names, the 'who's who' of Google were in kinda neat to be there and hear the buzz from the locals about the wedding.

Later, when we looked through the log of visiting yachts, I could see why they weren’t in any hurry to build up business - the pages were filled with photos of superyachts! Of the fifteen or so who’d written a note of thanks, probably 12 of them were massive compared to our teeny little catamaran. My mind recalled the conversation we had with Paul when we first met him.

“We’ve got some things to trade for fruits and vegetables, too, if you like,” Mark offered, as we usually do when we arrive to a new spot.

“Oh, great!” Paul humored us with an enthusiastic reply.

“Yeah, things like children’s clothes, fishing line, hooks, material...”

“Hmm. Okay, I’ll let the folks here know.”

Fresh coconut snack!
HA! Fishing line and hooks? I wonder what these megayachts traded for - caviar and champagne?? For the first time in a while, we were the little fish in a bigger pond, and it was actually fantastic. We decided to bake some cookies for a few of the folks who were leaving the following day to go to a meeting on the main island. Figuring homebaked chocolate cookies were maybe something they didn’t often get to indulge in. Jackpot -- broad smiles all around!!!

The following day, we met Junior, Clement’s brother, who would become our contact person while Clement was away. He and his family came by for a coffee and plans were made to ride together in their fiberglass longboat up the river to “wash” (swim) the next afternoon.

They picked us up right on time (unheard of in our island experiences) and we sped over to the river’s entrance on the main island. Junior drove while his wife, Elizabeth, held their one-year-old on the bench next to me. Their three other girls were with us, their “Sarah” full of personality at the bow with Michael and Elizabeth, while the other kids shyly looked on. Plus, as is usually the case, a few unknown children were coming along, too. Surely they were cousins or some relation, but we’d gotten quite used to expecting more people to come than were originally planned. The more the merrier!

Longboat ride up the river
As we motored up the mouth of the river, Junior and Elizabeth pointed out and named the foliage along the banks. The Sago Palm was easy to differentiate from the others with its thick stalk and enormous, fanning palm branches. The tree is used in a variety of ways in the daily lives of the people of PNG. The leaves are sewn onto bamboo slats to make roof panels for the homes, strong enough to last more than five years. The tougher leaves and stems are lined up to create the hut walls. This tree can also be eaten. When a tree is ready to be harvested, it is cut down and the soft, fleshy center of the trunk is processed into a pasty substance that can be dried to make flour or combined with coconut milk, wrapped in leaves, and steamed in the traditional “moo-moo” fire created by piling hot stones on a fire and covering the wrapped food with wide banana leaves and cloth to create a type of steam oven.

The homes were fascinating both structurally and artistically. Most were up on stilts with proper balconies and thick thatched roofs. The walls were woven in intricate patterns and the surrounding yards were carefully landscaped with tropical hedges and bright flowering plants lined up along the river’s edge.

Further up the river, a man paddled past us in his painted canoe filled with ferns to sell. During our time in Tabar Island, we learned that ferns are a staple green in the diets here. I have yet to try them, but I can’t help but think about our many hikes in New Zealand where the forest floors were dense with lush ferns - a fully loaded PNG salad bar! I begin to wonder again about who decides which plants and animals are acceptable to eat. Who says that something should or shouldn’t be considered food? Throughout our travels, we’ve seen many cultures who eat foods that we Americans would never consider eating - sea turtles, fruit bats, sea worms to name a few. Easy to say when we can drive on down to Kroger to pick up any array of foods we want any time of the year. Out here, your environment is your grocer, and you eat what you can find.

Junior slowed the motor and pulled alongside the muddy riverbank. We had arrived at his mother’s sister’s house where we would stop for a wash and rest. The muddy ground suctioned between our toes as we clambered out of the boat into the cold river water. Junior’s kids quickly dove in from the other side of the boat and were splashing and playing in the fresh water while Elizabeth and Michael still bantered back and forth about who’s going to be brave enough to take the chilly plunge.

Once we’re all soaked through and cooled off, Junior asked if we would like to hike to a nearby waterfall. It had been a long time since we were on an island large enough to have rivers and waterfalls, so we jumped at the chance to do some inland exploration. We all started off wearing our flip flops, but soon realized that between the mud and the large stones we needed to climb over, bare feet were the best bet. Thankfully, the kids had opted to wear their diving booties, which allowed them to trapse through every terrain without worry.

Junior's parents house
The greenery that enveloped us on all sides was magnificent. I couldn’t even see the color of the sky above us through all the branches and foliage! In these moments I think about how crazy it is that we are here, hoisting ourselves up muddy boulders, surrounded by a moist tropical forest here on this island in the South Pacific. I imagine a satellite image zoomed in on the four of us - wet and wild- and then panning out and out and out until we are just a speck on the globe, half a world away from home. It feels like the most unreal experience, but in many ways the most real experience that I’ve ever had. Time seems to stand still.

In the end, we didn’t make it all the way to the waterfall, because rain made the going get more slippery with each step. We turned around and shimmied down the boulders we’d scaled earlier, sometimes foregoing our feet and just using our God-given seats to slide down the rocks. At one point, Junior’s wife disappeared into the bush. I thought she’d taken a ‘pit stop’ but when she caught back up to us, her arms were loaded with fern fronds to bring back home for dinner. Junior greeted us back at his aunt’s house with fresh coolau (drinking coconuts) for everyone.

The rain continued to fall as we motored back down the river and out into the sea. All of us had goosebumps and chattering teeth! Beside me, Elizabeth (Junior’s wife) sat nursing the baby in her lap and also holding up their third-born child who had huddled in for warmth and fallen fast asleep standing up! By the time we arrived back to Field Trip, all of us were ready for dry clothes, a warm drink, and a nice long nap in our warm beds.


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