Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Jungles and volcanoes {photo essay}

My mum, Anna, and my cousin, Robyn, visited me in Bougainville for 10 days. It was so fantastic having family around, and taking the opportunity to have a few adventures! Once they arrived I took them on a hike through the Bougainvillean jungle with Rotokas Ecotourism, a fantastic local tourism initiative run by communities in Wakunai, Central Bougainville. After a few nights in the mountains of Rotokas, we spent some time in Buka and then headed for a relaxing few days at Rapopo Plantation Resort in Kokopo, East New Britain Island.

We had the most awe-inspiring and challenging few days at Rotokas. After catching a Land Cruiser PMV two hours south of Buka to Wakunai, we jumped on the back of a ute and headed an hour up the mountains to Ruruvu, following the Wakunai river. Perched on the tray of the ute as it traversed up and down the mountain roads, through rivers and under immense trees was vaguely terrifying. At Ruruvu (400m above sea level, a big village of 600 people) we met our guides, Amos and Pedro, and started walking further up the mountain to our destination, Sisivi (800m, 300 people). The walk took about 2 hours, a steady climb kicking off with a river crossing in which the water came up to my hips! Pedro, who owns Rotokas Ecotourism, was a fantastic guide, regaling us with stories of the history of the area, including where the WWII bunkers used by American and Japanese soliders were, able to tell us the local name for every tree and every creature. Finally, we arrived at Sisivi. Such a beautiful little village! All bamboo-walled huts, with beautiful gardens, perched on a little peak, with Mt Balbi rising behind it with such strength on one side, and the active volcano Mr Bagana smoking on the other side. To the east the jungle rolls down to the ocean and in the evening we sat outside while bats swooped only a few metres above us.

We slept in a basic Bougainvillean hut; bamboo walls, floors made from the trunk of the sago palm and sago palm leaves on the roof. I managed to sleep a few hours on my thin mattress on the floor, despite the mouse running across my forehead! On Wednesday morning we explore the waterfalls; we walked through some beautiful cascades, amongst giant ferns and vines hanging down from the trees, emerald water flowing over beautiful, ancient stones which the locals use to sharpen their knives. The scenery was absolutely stunning, and just amazed me. To be so far from Buka, and so far away from the nearest shops, up a tiny mountain track in the middle of the jungle, was incredible. I thought I’d seen it all, and then we crossed another river and came upon a beautiful waterfall. The water roared over the rocks and created a huge foaming pool 10 metres below, settling in to a gorgeous aqua pool and continuing over smooth, grey boulders to the river below. We took our shoes off on a little grassy patch under a shady tree and jumped in; I swam under the waterfall and climbed the rocks, and savoured the bite of the river after 7 months of swimming in a luke-warm ocean.

In the afternoon we sat with Pedro's wife, Josephine, and his daughter as they taught us to weave baskets. It was lovely, especially after the previous day travelling and a morning of walking and swimming for three hours. We also ate well; beautiful fresh organic vegetables cooked traditionally in bamboo over the fire and delicious fresh baked bread. Then we walked back down the mountain, through the river again, and stayed the night at Ruruvu before catching an open-back truck from Wakunai to Buka. Two hours on a dusty plank seat that I am not sad to leave behind!

After a weekend recovering from our intrepid journey in Buka, we headed off to Kokopo. Our stay in Rapopo was beautiful, a taste of luxury that is hard to find in Bougainville. We lay by the pool, drank cold beer while watching the sunset, visited extensive tunnel systems from the Japanese occupation during WWII and saw otherworldly volcanoes and hot springs at Rabaul. 

I had such a fantastic time with family, and have returned to work with renewed motivation and an excited to finish my project, something that seems so achievable after 7 long months of hard work! I have some exciting potential opportunities that may come up upon my return back to NZ, and now it feels like my final weeks in Bougainville are flying by. How can I even put in to words how much I love this beautiful country and it's wonderful people?! I can't begin to do justice to how much this year has shaped me, but in my next blog post - possibly my final blog post in Buka - I will try.

Enjoy the photos below!

Crossing the Wakunai River 

Amos and Pedro, our wonderful guides, with Robyn, me and Mum upon arriving at Sisivi

A view of the mountains and the distant Wakunai coastline from our hut

Showering under a piped spring, bush-style!

Beautiful cascades

Men from Sisivi, Rotokas

Mum and I visited Callan School in Buka, where another VSA volunteer Vasti works as a teacher. It was Teachers' Week and they invited Mum to speak about why she decided to be a teacher. She was great!

Sunset over Kokopo town

Kokopo markets - so many mangoes!

Southern Daughter in the background, a dormat volcano, with the active Tavuvur in the foreground and the beautiful hot springs. This site was formerly the old Rabaul CBD, before it was destroyed by a 1994 eruption.
My beautiful mother, with our lobster for dinner on her final night in PNG!

Gorgeous cousin Robbie, outside the old New Guinea Club in old Rabaul town.

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