I Am Wontok
Papua New Guinea travel notes from Kirsten Louy-Nasty, Operations Manager at Asia Transpacific Journeys
Twenty-two years ago, when I was in college, I was fortunate enough to travel Papua New Guinea to visit my parents who were living there, working on various developmental projects. They lived in Port Moresby for over 3 years; I was able to visit them twice.
I’ll never forget my first night when I peered out my bedroom window and saw a man—who I was later to find out was our security guard—creeping through the backyard with his bow and arrow, barefoot. This was Papua New Guinea….However, the reason I was there was to be with my parents, to be “home,” because home was anywhere they were at the time. While we did do some exploring ourselves such as river rafting, accessing some remote tribal communities in the highlands, visiting small villages outside of Madang and testing our will for the taste of beetle nut, I was really there to be with family, to touch base, to go to the market with my mom, to celebrate being together and to reconnect. Papua New Guinea, in essence, became a home for me, because that is where my family was.
Twenty-two years later fate played its hand and I was presented with another opportunity to travel back to Papua New Guinea for business. I was invited by Papua New Guinea Tourism and Myriad Marketing to represent my company, Asia Transpacific Journeys (ATJ), to explore the lodges, the itinerary possibilities, observe a very local sing-sing (celebration or festival), travel by boat on the Karawari River and to meet our ground staff and reconnect with our tour leader. All in an effort to bring updated travel information and knowledge about travel in Papua New Guinea back to our team in Boulder, Colorado.
As the chosen representative of my “tribe” I took the opportunity with open arms. I vowed to bring back vital information, what was happening, how have things changed and what remains the same.
As soon as we flew in to Port Moresby and glimpsed the landscape, the famed bird of paradise logo on the black and red flag, I knew I was home. I came home to the level of comfort offered by the lodges amidst tribal structures and guarded negotiations for bride price. I came home to the raw sense of people living their lives still somehow untouched by forces that fill our stress levels here in North America. I came home feeling at ease with a ‘community’ I somehow already knew. I came home to the smoky earthy smell of villages and people. I came home to the muddy thick earth beneath my feet. I knew the smell of hot fresh coffee from the plantation down the road each morning and I knew the feeling when I shook hands with the people greeting me and welcoming me to their village. I knew by the smiles of those that I came in to contact with that we should be there, we should be observing and experiencing one of the most amazing still very tribal destinations on earth. I knew the value of a pig, a woman and of land (sometimes in that order) and how these three key elements play a vital role in the survival of its people, even today. And finally, I knew the meaning of “First Contact” and how the bulus, or airplane, has played a role in this rich and rugged landscape and still does today, delivering food, supplies, medical inventory, parts to machinery and the wonderful local beer.
Papua New Guinea remains the land of the unexpected and is a true mind-boggling adventure. Even after having been there some years ago, I am in awe of what I observed. Some things have changed but in a sense nothing has changed at all. I was saying goodbye to one of our business associates, who is from Papua New Guinea, the night before flying to Brisbane to begin my long journey home. She looked at me and said, “you are wantok” which means “one talk”— someone who speaks my language, part of my tribe, my relative.
I am wantok…and when we travel, we are all wantok too. We do become part of a global community, a force that is bigger than just you and I. We become part of a family of understanding, a family that crosses borders and offers forgiveness. I am wantok and every time you choose to cross time zones and borders or reach out to others and call a place home, even if temporarily, you are wantok too.
Contact us at 1-800-642-2742 or firstname.lastname@example.org for information on joining one of our signature Papua New Guinea tours to visit this amazing area.