It’s been four days since we returned from our first survey and, honestly, I still feel tired.
We took a boat across the ocean, landed on a small beach, and then proceeded to hike and spend 8 nights at 7 different villages over a distance of 40 miles back to a different beach where we took another boat back home—three days later than we expected.
We actually had a helicopter flight scheduled to survey other tribes on March 30th, but canceled it because we returned late. The trip was grueling, tiring, difficult, wet, rainy, and eye-opening for what life is like in the Finisterre Mountains.
We hiked through seven different language groups, crossed three bamboo bridges, picked off dozens of leaches, and ran into leaves that cause your skin to burn. For about a day and a half, I lay on a hut floor with a fever. We ate tons of fruit and more taro than I’ve eaten probably in my whole life. We talked to village leaders about what we are trying to do and heard positive responses. We talked with believers from one language group and encouraged them in the Scriptures. We learned how to hike in this terrain. We made new friends (lots of new friends) and we learned a little something about the difference between how we think about plans and how they think about plans.
The list can go on and on. Though I’m not going to give any final response as to whether we are going to be going to the tribe we went to survey (there are still questions we need to answer and talk through as a team), I can give you a short (maybe long by the time I’m done) description of the these days in the mountains.
First, I need to give a little background information of this specific area. The man who started our organization (www.FinisterreVision.org), Joey Tartaglia, spent about a decade in a language group called Ma. He preached the gospel and many believed. There was another family from another language group called Mna (pretty close to Ma) who also came to hear his preaching. The husband of this Mna family was named Bapake and he was our guide through much of our nine day journey.
Joey Tartaglia (director of our organization and friend) flew out to Papua New Guinea on Thursday, March 19th and we decided to leave the next day. We woke up, packed and headed to the boat dock.
Our plan was to take a boat on Friday, and hike into Yongem, a Mna village where Bapake lives, the first day, hike through the Ndo villages on Saturday, and then spend Saturday night, Sunday, Monday there before hiking out on Tuesday to make it back to the beach by Wednesday night, so we could take a boat home on Thursday morning.
This was our plan.
It was a good plan, I think…but in hindsight, very unrealistic. Half of our first day was spent at the dock just waiting for our first boat.
After taking a boat to the beach nearest the Finisterre Mountains, we waited for a car to take us to the next village, Gik (part of the Mari language group). This is where we spent our first night and met Bapake. At this point, we are only about 2 hours and just a few miles in to the mountains.
The next morning, we woke up and started the hike to Yongem. I remember the week before we left Cameron saying things like, “someone could get hurt, or it could take longer than you think–let’s be realistic about the time frame”.
Basically, she knew exactly what was going to happen before we left.
I was optimistic. After all, the last time we went hiking into the jungle, it was kind of easy…but this was very different from that hike! This first day was much more difficult than I was expecting. Not necessarily because it was physically challenging, but because it was technical. We often found ourselves in places where we wouldn’t be hiking up a mountain, but on a narrow path with slippery rocks. There were other parts where we hiked right next to the Mot river also on rocks which were extremely slippery. Had I slipped, I would have fallen into the river, and I’m pretty sure no one would have seen me again.
So yes, I was afraid for my life a few times…maybe more than a few. (Note: we weren’t even carrying our own packs through this–see picture below). This first day wasn’t fun for me. Here was one part of this hike where we actually had to get into the Mot river and walk through it.
Eventually, we made it to Yongem, where Bapake lives–a day later than we were planning. This village is where the family which came to the gospel presentation lived. They went and they believed the gospel, and as we learned in the coming days went and preached the same lessons that Joey had preached to the neighboring villages that spoke their languages, and many believed. Bapake in fact would hike to some of these villages to preach on Sundays.
The day we got to Yongem was our first day of hiking, and by the end of the day, I wasn’t in the best shape. Both of my legs had pains in them to the point of barely being able to walk anymore. Saturday night, we met with Bapake and others and rested. Talks continued Sunday morning, where we learned about the Mna people’s heart to reach the Ndo people with the gospel, but the difficulty in the language barrier. We decided to stay the night in Yongem again again to give everyone more time to rest and to make a plan for the coming days.
Monday morning came and we started our journey to the next village in the Mna language group called Langany. Mind you, we had to go through each of these villages just to reach the Ndo people.
At the start of the hike, we could actually see Langany in the distance.
But…there was no straight road to this village. Bapake and the others gave us two options: we could either take the “short cut” to the village which was basically go straight down a mountain and then straight up another mountain, or we take an “easier” route around the side of a mountain. Can you guess which one we chose?
The only downside with the side route was that it was filled with leaches and leaves that make your skin burn if you brushed against them. But I personally think that’s way better than the other option. We hiked that day and eventually made it to Langany.
This was also the day my shoes broke.
Langany was actually a pretty sweet village.
They had a basketball court and a soccer field. But by the time we got there, Joey felt like he was going to die. Our plan was to hike through Langany to the next village. While Joey rested, Zach and I took a tour through the village. By the time we came back, he was still hurting, and we talked over the plan of leaving Joey in Langany and Zach and I moving on to the Ndo village we were heading to or staying with him in Langany.
As we talked over this some time in the afternoon — the rain started to come down — and who likes to hike in the rain? No one here. The trails are small, slippery, and muddy, and rain makes them that much more difficult — which we would find out firsthand later on in our trip.
So we spent the night in Langany. At this point, we were officially two days behind schedule.
Though it was already Monday and we still hadn’t made it to the language group we were heading towards, this night was probably one of my favorite nights on this trip.
There were more believers in this village who had heard the gospel and there was a fledgling church just trying to figure out how to live the Christian life. In Papua New Guinea, one of the cultural things to do is to just sit around the fire in a hut and tell stories….maybe every culture does this in some way actually.
In this case, the church had a lot of questions for Joey and the way Joey answered them was to have the whole church, or whoever could make it, come over to this hut and he then proceeded to ask Zach and I questions about “America” and we would tell stories of America.
But after the first couple general questions, it turned into “how does your church in America work with elders and pastors?” Or, “in America, do people ever have things like a lucky rabbits foot, or something that would bring good things to them?” And in answering the questions and telling the stories, we addressed issues in the church. As we storied, the cups of coffee and food also just kept on a coming!
Tuesday morning, everyone was feeling well enough to hike again. Our goal this day was to make it to the outermost village in Ndo, called Billong. The people in Billong speak both Mna and Ndo.
The basic route from village to village was to start at the top of a mountain (where you would usually be able to see the village that you want to go to on the top of the mountain right next to you). But the problem is you can’t just jump from mountain to mountain…you have to hike down a steep, narrow trail to a river, cross the river on a makeshift bamboo bridge, and then hike back up another steep, narrow trail to the village. This was our route to Titaraboq as well.
We made it to Titarabok (no idea if that’s spelled right), and they had a welcoming party for us.
They fed us and we talked to the church here as well. Again, the original plan was to hike through Titarabok and make it through the first Ndo village of Billong, but the church in Titaraboq implored us to spend the night.
At this point we were now two days behind our original schedule, and so we made a compromise with them: we would stay for a couple hours to rest and story and then be on our way. After this we headed to Billong, the first Ndo village. This is where we had been trying to get to all along and we were now so close!
I’ll finish the second half of our trip with what happened within the Ndo villages in the next blog post!