I was lucky to do the Sepik River in the most authentic way possible for a westerner, and it surely remains as one very special and unforgettable experience for me.
I did my one week river expedition with Kris, his wife Domenica, Susan and the boys from PNG Frontier Adventures. Susan has been living there for many years and is family to the locals. She does a great job by helping the communities being the connection with the outside world, therefore handles the emails and organisation prior the arrival and the boys take it from there locally.
Once there, they have guys everywhere and know everyone down the river, so wherever we went we were taken care of and welcomed as one of them.
We stayed one night at Tongujam and a few nights in Kanganaman village, as we really loved it there and by doing this we got to know the locals in a more intimate way and got a better grasp of their reality. So instead of moving around every day we decided to do day trips to the other spots and return there, rather than unpack, pack and move by boats everything every day. Bear in mind the guys were bringing our own mattresses, sheets, mosquito nets, water and most of food all the way from Wewak, which with our personal luggage is quite a lot of stuff and also time consuming.
We also visited the Crocodile Festival in Ambunti for a day, as well as the Bilum Festival in Tongujam, which was held for a first time this year, together with day trips to Pagwi village with its two House Tambarans and Kaminabit village where the ladies spread out for you a splendid selection of necklaces and souvenirs. Roni, one of our local guides has a small art shop there as well, counting with beautiful artefacts, worth checking out.
We visited many spirit houses (House Tambaran) and on a personal level I found the one at Kanganaman most impressive and beautiful. In each house you will find artefacts carved by the local crocodile men and their style would vary from house to house.
We got introduced from close to the world of Crocodile men and the process of initiation. And we also did night crocodile hunting.
Travelling on the river is as unpredictable and challenging as it may be and you have to make sure you've packed a raincoat, head torch, enough medicines (also good idea to bring for the local people in the villages, as well as candies for the kids. They were much appreciated), antihistamines, a lot of mosquito repellent, a hat and cotton light long sleeve shirts. Don't forget a good battery to charge all your devices as there is no electricity anywhere on the river.
The culture, the traditions, the beliefs and rituals on the Sepik are very bold and run deep. You almost feel like you're in a surreal world from an old fairy tale. The crocodile men, the tribal dances, the stories and beliefs of the people on the river are fascinating. And the people themselves are pure love. You'll have some of the most authentic human interactions you've ever experienced if you spend enough time with them.
Seeing this world from close is a powerful and unforgettable experience, worth doing while it lasts, and I'm definitely going back for more.
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