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This is an article based on interviews I conducted with Mr. Trevor Ellis, who also graciously shared some of his photos with me, scanned from his film originals. Please note all photos included here can be viewed larger by opening in a new tab (right-click). 

 

Three men saw the enormous white bird land in a clearing, creating thunder and unearthly wind, and a white spirit fell out. The bird flew away and left the spirit — or was it a creature? — on the ground. The men ran down the hill as fast as they could to investigate but by the time they got there the bird was high in the sky and the white mystery had bolted into the jungle.

Long spears in hand, they searched through the jungle for some time but never found the white man who was lying flat on his stomach on the ground, still as a tree root.

*

“I could run pretty fast and I didn’t have that much gear with me, not even my two-way radio.” Usually Trevor tried to get his sediment samples via trekking on foot from his base camps, but some places he was supposed to sample would take so long to walk there, it made more sense to fly. Helicopters were the mode of transportation in the jungle. On this day, the helicopter dropped Trevor off in a clearing at about 11,000 feet, the highest the helicopter could fly, near a gravelly stream cascading down a mountainside. The helicopter hovered and Trevor jumped out; it would come back four hours later to pick him up.

As the sound of the helicopter faded away, he heard hoots and hollers. “About 100 yards away up the stream slope, natives were running down the hill toward me just wearing penis gourds, nothing else, and I was thinking, ‘I don’t know that these guys are friendly.’ The way they were waving their spears around, I decided not to stick around to ask them, so I sprinted off into the forest.”

When the natives gave up the search after about 20 minutes, Trevor got up from lying on his belly and continued on with his work, collecting the samples he was tasked to. Four hours later the pilot returned to the clearing but the men with spears were not seen again.

“They probably had never seen a helicopter or a white man before. In those days this area was incredibly isolated. I never saw a jet airplane fly overhead in my entire time [spanning two years] in Papua New Guinea.”

Tribal men in Papua New Guinea demonstrating the use of their bows and spears.

Photos: Above men holding arrows and spears similar to the men he hid from; the spears have different tips on them depending on what animal they are intending to kill with it. Below a typical penis gourd worn by some tribal men. 

Penis gourd worn by some tribal men in Papua New Guinea.

I asked Trevor, “Did you or do you dream about these experiences? I’m wondering what kind of  impact they had on your psyche.”

“No. Actually I didn’t find it all that disturbing. By this time I’d been through so many things that were sort of near death. Close shaves were very common in my work. I’m not sure I even told the other people I was with.”

Of course not; what young geologist in 1973 would bother with such a mundane story as being chased by naked natives with spears while collecting sediment samples in the highlands of Papua New Guinea? Although to be sure, most of his camp mates might not have been impressed, as they were other natives hired for him as translators and porters. He seems to feel bad about it now – it would probably be considered a bit un-PC in this age – but he often paid his crew in tobacco for their work. The company he was working for provided him the tobacco. At that time currency was just starting to be used in PNG, and day labor could be paid for in tobacco or currency.

He mentions a few such "sort-of-near-death" things with his disposition toward understatement. One night a big rainstorm high in the mountains caused a flash flood that tore through their camp lower down in the middle of the night, bringing snakes and debris right through his tent. There wasn’t much higher ground to climb to but they managed to get out of the way. The native crew were terrified as they didn’t know how to swim. But Trevor says, “It was rather exciting.”

Temporary base camp in the jungle of Papua New Guinea.

Photos: Above typical base camp set-up for 10 days at a time; Trevor's tent and field supplies set upon a platform made of felled trees by the porters. Below a typical lean-to the porters built for themselves at base camps.

Temporary base camp in the jungle, Papua New Guinea. Porters eating their dinner under the lean-to they built.

A more disturbing time was during one of his regular camp relocations, which were often conducted via helicopter —a far more expedient way to move than carrying everything through the extremely difficult terrain on foot — "the helicopter flew away with half my crew and didn’t come back." It was supposed to return for the other half of the people and supplies. "But it turned out the engine on the helicopter went bad.  We screwed up and uh, well, he also had our food. The remainder of us went for three days without food."

I asked, “Were you starting to get worried?”

He replied, “Well the real problem was we couldn’t get communication either. So we didn’t know what was going on for those three days. I could guess, though."  He had mentioned earlier he had a voracious appetite during his time in the PNG highlands, so he must have been painfully starving, but it’s hard to get a statement of alarm out of him.

"We ate beetle biscuits." I.e., little beetles they popped into their mouths live. "They were bland and crunchy." But not remotely filling. The remaining crew stranded with him, though natives, were agricultural people from a different part of the island who didn’t know how to catch or select edible foods from the jungle.

I had been wondering after a few hours of interview if he ever faced these rather extreme situations with anything but equanimity or secret glee, when he mentioned a moment of "extreme fright." Climbing around rocks and cliffs they didn’t have ropes or anything like that with them. One time he was on a ledge in a vertical cliff face near a waterfall, high above the river, and needed to jump over to where he could take a sample from the sediment in a small pool. As he jumped over a narrow channel, the rock on the side he landed on was slipperier than the one he left, and he slipped and landed on his belly on a rock ledge hundreds of feet up from the ground. He says it felt like ten seconds but was probably just one as he pushed himself back from the edge of the abyss that would have been his death. 

But perhaps the most alarmed he felt in his work, I finally learned, was a time when he was working in remote northwest Australia, his home country. He was camped on a dried river bank next to a little lake. One afternoon swimming across the lake, "a pair of nostrils came up in front of me." A bit of laughter escapes him before he continues, "And then a pair of eyes a long way back from the nostrils. I just thought I was dead, I didn’t think I had a chance.”

A large salt-water crocodile was trapped inland for the season when the river dried up. About 20 yards away on shore, a co-worker happened to witness the scene, grabbed a hunk of wood and threw it at the croc, and hit it dead-on. "The croc rose up out of the water, all four feet in the air, water pouring off of him, while I swam by it. That was a really, really close shave.”

*

“They just told me where I was going and dropped me off.”

Trevor had been on his way to another job in Australia when he got a call that told him to go to PNG instead. On a dime he switched gears, got himself some vaccination shots, and he was over there in ten days from the call. U.S. Steel Corporation was trying to diversify into copper mining; Trevor was contracted through a middle-man company to explore the Western and Central Highlands region to the Indonesian border, taking sediment samples to test for the presence of copper.

“I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. I’d been working in a pretty isolated place in Western Australia, but Papua New Guinea was taking it to another extreme.”

At the time Trevor was working there, PNG was still a territory under Australian rule; it established its sovereignty in 1975, just after he left. PNG is one of the most culturally diverse nations on the planet, and most citizens still live in traditional communities. But given the diversity of tribes, the types of communities and living quarters can vary widely, just like "clothing" or lack thereof, body modifications, etc. There are over 800 known languages!

Even today, PNG is one of the least explored countries, mostly due to the extreme terrain. Still today, air transport is the primary means of getting around, there are few connecting roads, even to the major cities. The interior jungles likely contain numerous undiscovered species of animals and plants. I've read that some people theorize there remain "uncontacted" tribes therein. A big reason I was keen to interview Trevor on his experiences in the 1970s is because I was spellbound watching films, and reading articles, documenting Westerners' first contact with some tribes in PNG ... people living with stone age-caliber technology and frightened of the white people, fascinated with things like ballpoint pens. (I had the same interest in first-contact documentaries with tribes in the Amazon.) About 80% of the population continues to live in traditional, and often very isolated, communities with few or no modern "conveniences."  

I knew PNG had been pretty infamous for the number of tribes engaging in headhunting and cannibalistic practices. Apparently by the 1980s, these practices had all but died out except in the more isolated areas, where it was still going on in the 1970s. Trevor encountered at least one village where the large huts had human skulls hanging all around the outside like decoration. In the photo below, you can see three of them hanging from the floor boards to the left of the man leaning against the hut. 

Community hut in the jungle of Papua New Guinea with human skulls hanging around the outside of the floorboards.

As you, my readers, may know my interest in witchcraft culture through my friendship with Berrie Holtzhausen and the film I was involved with making about him, African Witchfinder, I will mention that witchcraft and witch killings are rampant in PNG. I watched a documentary with Ross Kemp that revealed the "witches" are also often horrifically tortured for hours and even days before being killed. Recently Berrie was involved with a Zoom meeting with people from PNG on the topic, perhaps combining knowledge and experience in combating the problem (I haven't actually gotten the low-down on the meeting yet).

So in light of how unexplored and unglobalized the country remains in context of today, imagine what a wild land it was in the 1970s.

"I had no idea what it was going to be like," says Trevor, "what the conditions were like, I didn’t have a concept of how isolated it would be. I learned all this as I went along. And gradually I learned what happened to the fellow I replaced." The guy originally tasked to do this work had a nervous breakdown. The heat, the insects, the extreme isolation, the river crossings and continual hacking through a jungle that blotted out most sunlight — it wasn’t particularly uncommon for foreigners in these situations to break down. That guy had to be flown home.

(The next job he took in Australia after PNG, Trevor again replaced a man who couldn’t take the tough conditions.)

Like early polar explorers seemed to have superhuman abilities to tolerate cold, Trevor had the good fortune of being able to tolerate heat. Before coming to PNG, he spent some time working in the harsh desert sand dunes in northwest Australia. He drank 10 gallons of water a day and was coated in a white crusty layer of salt at the end of each day. He had to take salt tablets each day to replenish what was lost through his sweat — every fourth gallon of water had a tablet with it. He said one day he sat next to an Aboriginal man in a pub and his white-man skin was darker than the Aboriginal’s.

He was able to handle mosquito and other insect bites without much trauma, even when he was coated in bees and had to run to the river like a cartoon character being chased by the angry stingers.

He learned to have exceptional balance, crossing rivers and gorges on skinny little trees that served as the natives’ bridges, machete hacking his way through dense soggy jungle and slippery tree roots, walking through rivers on super slippery rocks. Never using ropes climbing rock faces. Below are some photos of river crossings and typical "bridges." The native men are his porters.

Native Papua New Guineans carrying supplies with a shoulder pole, crossing a river barefoot on a slim tree as a bridge.

Crossing a wide, swift river carrying supplies in Papua New Guinea.

Native Papua New Guineans carrying supplies with a shoulder pole, crossing a river barefoot on a slim tree as a bridge.

A fancy bridge with railings crossing a wide river in Papua New Guinea, the bottom branch to walk on barely wider than a twig.

Looking down the fancy bridge with railings crossing a wide river in Papua New Guinea, the bottom branch to walk on barely wider than a twig.

The man sitting on the rock below was Trevor's "head" porter for a time (he had different tribes as porters in different areas of the country). His only duty, though, in the actual "portering," was to carry Trevor's two-way radio. That was the single most important piece of equipment, the only contact he had with the outside world. He said that it only worked about half the time, but it presented the only possibility of communicating with the company headquarters on the island to request supplies or an evacuation or exchange any other important information. 

Native porter carrying a radio, the only means of outside contact with the world.“I was pretty darn good with a machete,” he says, which I'm sorry, but you just would never imagine that meeting him today. Even though I'm a serious introvert, I do enjoy talking to people, especially older people for precisely this reason — the things you would never imagine about a person. The most ordinary person picking out an orange in the grocery store might have an epic background. Maybe they are a decorated war hero, maybe they invented something really important, maybe they escaped from the Khmer Rouge or China's Cultural Revolution, maybe they nearly starved to death one year. This is also one reason I love traveling the world — the stories behind peoples' lives in other countries are often even more astonishing than those in America because of the different conditions and histories of those countries. Anyway, I digress. Merely to say, don't ever judge a book by its cover.

He had teams of 10 natives with him at most locations to carry gear, and an assistant to help with the field work. He went through a lot of boots that rotted out from walking through the rivers. He eventually started to go round barefoot like the natives but he was warned about getting hookworm and decided to try going back to boots. Then there were the leeches, the rashes he would get, the mosquitos .....

He showed me a photo taken of himself standing the jungle with his shirt off, his hair and skin almost painfully pale (hard to envision him once looking like an Aboriginal!), and his back covered in beetles, the ones they ate as "beetle biscuits." I would have already run screaming from the jungle the moment my back became a porch for so many insects.

Amazingly, he never got sick or diarrhea drinking water straight out of the rivers in PNG, eating local food, munching on live beetles in the jungle. However, all his scrapes and cuts, inevitably accrued traipsing through dense jungle, would suddenly become infected at the same time. About every six weeks, he would fly out to recover for a couple weeks on antibiotics and then happily return. 

It’s as if his body was especially made for jungle exploration. It seemed to know its destiny way before Trevor’s mind at the helm discovered it.

"At the time, I really liked the work [the remote assignments]. Being from a little country town, a coal mining town, youngest of three boys, it was great to get away and be totally independent and develop my own confidence. I was a really shy kid. In college I worked like a dog just to get passing grades."

When he managed by the skin of his teeth to get accepted into university, all freshmen had to undergo an intensive psychological examination. It was here he learned that all his questionnaire answers indicated he was on track to be the most average kind of person. Average number of kids, average income, average house on an average street, average humdrum career.  

This – like a crocodile coming for him in the water – was alarming. He studied his brains out, so to speak, in order to graduate university, determined to thwart that prophecy. At that time the university system in Australia weeded out about three-quarters of the students — roughly a quarter of freshman made it through to graduation.  

Straight after graduation, Trevor took a job and was sent off into a remote corner of Australia, his first taste of geological exploration, I guess you would call it. That type of isolated field of work attracted some "interesting" personalities. "For someone to be working out in those remote areas, they typically seemed to be running away from something. I mean really running away from something." Some personal demon or the law.  

He found out one day that one of his coworkers was a murderer when the guy hopped in a truck and tore off and never came back. Trevor didn’t know why until the police came through and revealed his coworker’s crimes. If Trevor was running, I think it was simply away from his shy, average, unremarkable self into his real self, running toward his heart.

*

In its main base camp building in PNG, U.S. Steel had a big topographic map of the island on the wall, stretching from floor to ceiling. But in a large northern portion, it was just a blank white space, no lines or data. “That’s where I was hired to go,” testing for samples of copper in the silt on the land U.S. Steel had leased. He was directed to sample every stream valley.

Not even the Australian governing administration knew anything about what was in that area.  Fifty miles x 100 miles of uncharted territory. There wasn't even aerial photography of the area because of the persistently cloudy skies. So Trevor had no idea what he would encounter in terms of the terrain he would be confronted with or the people he would meet. Three men that he decided not to meet were the ones who ran toward him brandishing their spears.

One thing he did have was aerial radar images at 4 inches-per-mile scale and his compass. He could make out the streams pretty easily in these images because they were breaks in the vegetation. On the ground, his compass was all the GPS he needed. One evening trekking back to camp from a ravine he was sampling, his porters had not paid attention and they found themselves in the wrong ravine to go home. As it was getting dark, there was some anxiety among the natives and it was Trevor with his trusty compass who led them back to their own camp ... they could hardly believe the white man knew the way better than them! 

The company specified spots he was to reach and take samples. He would then fly around in a helicopter sketching out the terrain on a letter-size plastic sheet on his lap and then tell the pilot where to set him down, with the directive to come back in ten days and pick him up at the same spot.

"It could be very rough terrain and the managers didn’t have any idea the reality of the conditions. They asked me once to traverse a certain area from one drainage system to another in five days. I estimated it would take at least two weeks, then came to find out two other parties had recently attempted the crossing and had to turn back, so I didn’t attempt that one." Rather than argue with his superiors about it, he simply went somewhere different without consulting them, and that happened to be where he landed on his belly above the abyss in extreme fright. 

I guess mostly on account of nature shows I've watched on television about PNG, I had thought living and working in the jungle would be a story full of slithering snakes and exotic colorful birds. But the reality for Trevor was that the jungle was so dense, mostly all he saw was flora —  leaves, vines, roots, trunks, and more leaves, and mostly all he heard, rather than exotic bird calls, was insects, cicadas and the like. One time he saw a tree kangaroo, but unfortunately his native porters shot it with a bow and arrow and ate it.

Extremely dense jungle, Papua New Guinea.

There's a large family hut in the tree below if you can pick it out. 

Corresponding to a wide variety of tribal customs and languages, types of dwellings also varied from region to region. Often they were erected in clearings, either natural or man-made, and typically many people sleep together in one big room and they often have a fire going, filling the hut with smoke. Perhaps as a form of insect control. One evening Trevor and his porters ran across an empty hut and decided rather than setting up a camp, why not use the building that was there. Once nighttime fell, Trevor lit his gas lantern and flying ants came out in droves ... picture Daphne DuMaurier's The Birds but with flying ants. Ewww. He quickly decided it was better to spend the night in darkness.  

Below is a beautifully decorated community hut – it served as the main administrative and police building for the area. The guys sitting on the bench on the right are prisoners. Pretty sweet prison cell, eh?

Administrative "building" and police "station," prisoners on the right, in a tribal village in Papua New Guinea. 1973.Administrative "building" and police "station," detail of pillar and ceiling, in a tribal village in Papua New Guinea. 1973.

The first building below is a post office (for whatever pittance of correspondence came to the administrative center), and then what is probably a ceremonial building (Trevor couldn't remember exactly) fronted by totems. 

Post office in a tribal village in Papua New Guinea. 1973.

I asked about his cultural interactions, like what all he learned about different tribes — if it had been me, I would have asked all kinds of questions about their traditions and ways of life, and of course bride prices. But cultural learning wasn't really on his table for a couple reasons. One is he was mostly just focused on his work, at that time his interest was in dealing with the tough conditions and completing his assignments. But also, a significant inhibitor to chit-chatting was the language barrier. As mentioned earlier, there are over 800 different tribal languages and no lingua franca among the more isolated tribes.

Just asking "directions" could be challenging, as in "how long to reach the river" or "how far away is the next ravine." Like many folks living traditional lives in jungles and deserts and savannas, they have no need for and therefore no language for precise times. "A little ways away," "not long," etc., were the typical answers.

Often it would be a chain of three translators before words got from Trevor to the locals he was interacting with, and another chain to get the local's response. So asking complicated questions requiring lengthy answers would have been tedious. He had to scout for someone who could translate from the local tribal language to a tribal language that his porters spoke, and then his porters translated that into the pidgin English they spoke (which Trevor learned to understand). I listened to a course once on the evolution of language, and one of the modules was about the pidgin English in PNG, it's pretty interesting how pidgins start and evolve, and how quickly they can do so.

But he could actually tell me something about one of my biggest interests: bride prices. He said a cassowary bird like the one hanging out with him and a colleague at a headquarters camp, was extremely valuable and that "a man could get two brides" for one of these birds. 

The language barrier was often unnerving, and just as unnerving for his porters as for himself, if not more so, as they were intimately familiar with how unfriendly and violent other tribes could be. Trevor knew this as a fact, but they surely knew it from experience.

One time a little tribe of about 30 natives followed Trevor and his porters for about a month, spying on them through the trees. Eyes in the jungle always watching them. The porters didn't know how to communicate with them and they were really spooked. But eventually their shadows decided to officially join up with them, I guess deciding the pale man was benign and interesting. This came in handy when  Trevor unexpectedly needed to be evacuated by helicopter as quickly as possible.

He had been stabbed in the eyeball by a hard, sharp and pointy leaf on a tree — it slammed into his iris when the person in front of him brushed by it and it swung back into his eye. “I didn’t worry about it for a couple days, but then my eye got infected. So I had to get hauled out of the jungle by helicopter to get it treated in Mt. Hagan."

But in the thick jungle, helicopters can't just land willy-nilly. It would typically take a crew of native porters several days chopping down trees to mark a flight path — an approach and take-off — and stacking them into a thick mat to make a helicopter landing pad. In this emergency situation, the shadow tribe gladly pitched in with their stone axes to help quickly clear a landing pad for the rescue. By "quickly," of course, I mean in PNG jungle time: two days.

See the little kids of the shadow tribe standing around wanting to help while the men cut down trees:

Small tribe of Papua New Guineans helping Trevor's porters build a helicopter landing pad in the jungle.

Small tribe of Papua New Guineans helping Trevor's porters build a helicopter landing pad in the jungle.

I said it sounds like that would have been a very painful experience. He said, “Oh I can tell you, that was really incredibly painful during those two days waiting to get out of there.” But he wouldn't have mentioned the pain unless I had asked.

"It was tough conditions all the time, really tough," he said. So I asked, “What was the most uncomfortable aspect?”

“Well, it suited me quite well.” Getting a complaint from him is as difficult as raising a sign of alarm. “I didn’t mind it, I really liked the work, the solitude and independence it gave me, it gave me a lot of confidence in myself. Although those things got me fired from other jobs where I told it like it was instead of what the company wanted to hear. Working alone I had only myself to answer to. Why should I tell anyone else anything but the truth?”

Now sitting in his office full of bookshelves as we Zoom, his phone rings at regular intervals, rerouted after a few rings to voicemail. He sips on water, though not much more than I do. He even tolerated radiation for throat cancer in such a way that shocked his doctor, who had prescribed three months of therapy and recovery time after the radiation. Trevor had quit therapy and was back working after two weeks.

He often takes a minute to chuckle at a memory before relaying it. The stories he’s most fond of are of the feats of others, rather than his own, namely the helicopter pilots. They sometimes landed and took off from places Trevor was convinced were impossible, even after having spent so much time landing and taking off as a passenger, regularly moving base camp and getting resupplied by helicopter every seven to ten days. 

Helicopter hovering over jungle trees in Papua New Guinea. 1972.

Helicopter pilot skilled in landing and taking off in the dense jungles of Papua New Guinea. 1973.

He recalls one rather thrilling ride when his favorite pilot, who was fresh out of Vietnam, executed a perfect take-off at a 45 degree angle, basically redlining both the motor and the rotors. The pilot was so excited, he explained to Trevor all the numbers and specifications about how everything worked perfectly, so Trevor suggested they go back to a site they’d passed up earlier because he (Trevor) thought it would be impossible to land.

The pilot knew so precisely what was needed to perform this, he told Trevor they had to get the fuel tank down to having only just enough to get back to camp, so they flew around for 20 minutes just using up fuel before descending through the canopy, where there was just enough room underneath the canopy for a helicopter. Not really descending, though, “He just drops the helicopter down through a hole in the trees” and then hovered beside the stream while Trevor jumped out.

While he was collecting his sediment samples, the pilot had fun doing laps back and forth beside the stream underneath the canopy. To leave, he revved up the motor and rotors again like a race car at the starting line, then "just flat-out acceleration and shoots the helicopter up vertically straight up through the trees."

Another time after a pilot picked him up from his sampling spot, they’d just barely gotten into the air when the pilot told him to get out, the copter was losing power. So Trevor jumped and then the pilot just disappeared. He waited there in confusion for awhile until the pilot came back. But instead of picking Trevor up, he pointed downstream and dropped a machete out of the helicopter. So Trevor had to spend about thirty minutes hacking his way along the river to where he finally saw the chopper was waiting for him on a little island. It had gotten caught in a downdraft which is why the pilot made Trevor bail, but Trevor didn’t know why at the time as he was grudgingly muscling his way through the jungle.

His time in PNG was ended by a case of appendicitis, at which time he had to fly to a hospital in Australia for surgery. He had a subsequent assignment in remote Indonesia. The living and working conditions weren’t as rough but he had more engaging cultural encounters, he says. There, a parasite entered his blood stream through his skin and shut down his kidneys. By a stroke of luck he got medical treatment at the British Embassy in Jakarta, where he was told he would have been dead in the next 24 hours if he hadn’t gotten proper treatment. But this isn’t what ended his days of high adventure in what were some of the wildest places on earth at that time. 

It's a common end to even uncommon tales. The lives of many an explorer were becalmed and domesticated when their heart strayed into the territory of a woman and let itself be captured and drawn into a different realm of adventures in family life. After he was married he got offered many jobs to other exotic locales around the world. He would have been keen to take them but was quickly told by his beloved, “That wasn’t going to work.” So he never took any more.

Trevor met my dad after he was married and working a more civilized job. The two of them eventually worked on many consulting projects together in the synthetic and alternative fuels industry.  That’s how I came to know him, and many years after my dad passed away I looked him up to learn more about his early adventures I had heard him mention in passing. 

I asked what kind of tools the natives used to cut down the trees – stone, wood, metal? He gets up from his office chair and disappears off screen for a few seconds and comes back holding a stone axe with a beautifully decorated wooden handle. In his living room he has two large bows hanging on the wall. Not souvenirs, they were ones his porters carried as they made their way through the jungle, similar to the one the man below is using.

Papua New Guinea native pulling a bow.

To meet him today — an expert in computer database programs and a court witness for minerals evaluations, dressed in crisp professional attire, blonde hair, pale skin, slight frame — the last thought that would cross your mind is that those bows were from his job, like emptying out your cubicle when you leave a job and taking the office stapler with you as a memento. Those were a part of the world his personal day-to-day living experience took place in.

He says he plans to retire next year, and I hope he will. He’d like to travel around a bit, maybe go back to Indonesia, but not PNG. "The Australian government pulled out too soon," he says. "The country wasn’t ready to run itself yet." And indeed it’s now one of the most violent countries on the planet. Tribal warfare is endemic and now guns are being imported and so revenge killings are no longer you shoot one guy with an arrow, their tribe shoots one of your tribe with an arrow in return, and back and forth. Now Tribe A shoots 20 people of Tribe B in retribution, so then Tribe B ups the ante and mows down 30 from Tribe A, who has to up the ante by burning down an entire village, etc.

What I would call my "top list" of places/experiences I've most wanted to see since I started dreaming of seeing the world still has a couple un-checked boxes, and one of them is to see a traditional sing-sing in PNG at Mt. Hagan or Goroka. (Another, if you're interested, is to travel the Karakoram Highway.)

I could still have the opportunity to see these things, but the opportunity for me or anyone to explore places completely off the map, not having any idea what we might encounter, like the "golden age" explorers (my favorite reading genre, btw), is no longer available. So I really enjoyed speaking with someone who had that uncommon experience. I hope you enjoyed a little overview of our conversations and the interesting photos.  Which aren't over yet ... below are photos of some of the native people he encountered. My favorite is this first one, if you look closely you can see that dangling from the ends of his headdress are bits of soda cans. A lot of Western materials were used as adornments when the native people first started encountering them. I remember seeing a photo of a man with a ballpoint pen through his septum, the way this man has a stick. 

Native Papua New Guinea man surveying his banana fields. 1973.

Above, a man surveys his banana fields. Below, a market day, where locals gathered to trade goods. Although clearly some of the people have had access to Western items (clothing, and I believe that's an umbrella in the background), this was in the region Trevor said the Australian administration had no real idea of what or who was here.  

Market day in tribal Papua New Guinea Highlands. 1973.

Although the photo of the man with the soda can bits is my favorite depiction of a tribal custom in the form of the headdress, I think this one below might be my favorite photo of the ones he shared with me. Beautiful women and girls he crossed paths with. The scanned film photo is really grainy, but it looks like the woman in green has facial tattoos. 

Lastly, a picture of Trevor standing in a creek bathed in golden jungle light, isolated from the rest of the world — in his happy place.

 *

 

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Iceland

 

Greece +Refugee

              Camp

 

 


-- ASIA --

 

China I

 

China II

 

 

 

CENTRAL AMERICA

 

Costa Rica

 

Panama

 

 


- NORTH AMERICA -

 

Ixtapa, Mexico

 

Maui, Hawaii

 

Puerto Rico

 

Keepers of the Wild

 

Maine

 

Colorado

 

Utah

 

California

 

 


Trip posts for Trazzler

 

(worldwide)

 

Travel Essays

Most Recent Additions

1. The Tiny Woman added to Travel Essays

2. Things People Told Me: Conversations in African Landscapes added to Travel Essays

3. Interview with Shara on Traveling in Uganda added to Interviews

4. Interview with Shara on Traveling in China added to Interviews

5. The Orange Road added to Travel Essays

6. What Travel Has Taught Me: Empathy & Global Citizenship added to Travel Essays

 

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