I awoke in the men’s house in the misty mountains of Yongos in Simbu Province. Today I would begin my search for a vanished Sepik crocodile. It was 5:30 on a Friday morning in January 2009.
I crawled sleepily from the cane bed towards the fire place to warm my numb body. I did it reluctantly, not knowing what to do next.
A thought came into my mind. I looked through the door with a burning knowledge that I had to move to an unknown destination.
I moved slowly towards the open door. And I set off empty hand without telling my dear mum what was in my mind.
I regretted leaving my loved ones, but I was filled with enthusiasm for a long journey into an unknown paradise.
Through the mist, I rushed along the slippery mountain path to the peak of Mt Porol. By now it was 6:45 and normally light but I could not even glimpse Ku or the Four Corner town of Kundiawa through the dense fog. I carefully descended into Ku modern village.
I stood eagerly at the bus stop and looked anxiously for an early morning bus headed for either Goroka or Madang. At 7:40, I caught a 15-seater and, at a cost of six kina, set off for Goroka.
The trip was fast but quite bumpy due to the rough road. The fog still crept along the snaky gorges of the Siane Valley as we reached Watabung station before ascending cautiously up to the famous Daulo Pass.
As the bus descended from the Pass, the passengers looked nervously through the engulfing fog to the Asaro valley.
Leaving behind the sharp bends and corners of Daulo, we reached the Mando plateau and Asaro valley. At last, at 8:40, I arrived safely at Goroka bus stop. My buttocks were paining but I ignored them and rushed into another 16-seater bus heading for beautiful Madang.
I chatted politely with the crew to obtain the lowest possible fare and was excited that things worked out well. The bus left Goroka at 9:40 and drove through the valleys, gorges and plateaus of Kimi and Kafe.
We listened to fantastic Madang music, everyone listening to the hottest hits like ‘Beautiful Madang’ and ‘Modern Wali’ from Gedix Atege, and after two hours reached the top of Kassam Pass. Finally, we descended into the greenish valley of Ramu.
Soon the bus was running through oil palm plantations at speed. Some passengers who had been sleeping awoke and welcomed the sweet Ramu sugar cane fields.
As we admired the fields of oil palm and Ramu sugar, I heard the hit song from Basil Grek, ‘Sepik Meri’. I was astonished and full of eagerness to orbit to a place known as the Sepik. However, the bus continued its bumpy ride to the home of the Flying Fox.
As we entered beautiful Madang, I told the crew to drop me at the entrance to the Lutheran shipping wharf. At 3:00 pm, I was walking anxiously towards the Luship sales counter. I politely enquired about the sailing time of the ship Momase and the fare.
The beautiful Raikos lady said the ship’s fare was K110 for adults, and students with ID cards would pay K93. However, she said, the seats are fully booked and you are too late for this voyage. The next trip would be on Monday at 5:00 pm in three days’ time.
I heard this information and was downhearted. I turned away and walked of feeling irritated.
No one to blame but Nature and I walked along looking for a possible refuge. I looked longingly for some wantoks who I could stay with.
At last a familiar face popped up at the bus stop. I aggressively dragged at his collar and he danced around and saw me. We screamed softly, burst into tears and hugged one another. Without further ado, I explained the situation.
We jumped on a 7A bus and set off to Sisiak 3 village. At the market I saw quite a lot of my country men and women. We hugged one another warmly and told stories while sharing buai and daka.
We chewed and spat and I decided not to regret but thought of the Monday to come when I would try again to sail to beautiful Wewak. Meanwhile I would be accommodated by my wantoks.
At midday on Monday, I went to the Luship yard again and headed promptly towards the counter. I presented myself and smiled at the beautiful Raikos woman and placed my ID card with K93 on the counter.
She soon returned my smile with a ticket and the ID card. I sounded a word of thanks and moved aside for the next client to be served. Then I dashed to the main market to pass time before the 5:00 pm departure and buy some food for my supper on the ship.
Just before 5, I went to the wharf and queued to check in for departure. I took a seat on the ship and sat quietly but bombarded with thoughts before the floating giant sailed off.
The giant ‘Momase’ set course off the coast of Kalibobo at 5:30 pm. There were about 200 passengers on board. The weather was quite fine but the surface of the sea was not looking so friendly. As it came to Kranket Island towards the eastern point of Karkar Island, the ship turned and set its course course for Manam Island.
As the sun set there was a spectacular view of Manam and Karkar islands. By now a head wind was blowing at 25 knots. The ocean turned ugly and the ship shook and danced according to the rhythm of the sea.
The waves rolled and folded like the rugged mountainous terrain of Simbu. The ‘Momase’ threw herself at the ocean until everyone on board blew off what they had in their tummy.
Most people have had such an experience in their lives but a foreigner like me for the first time travelling at sea experienced a regrettable but memorable event.
I pretended not to let anyone on the ship know I was extremely scared but tried to look confident.
As dawn broke, I asked when the ship would reach the wharf. The Yangoru and Wasara people I spoke to told me that it would berth at 8:00am.
From some miles out to sea, we saw Moem Point, Kreer Heights and Wewak Hill. To the north-east were the Mushu and Kairu islands. I turned anxiously towards the talkative Yangorus and Wasaras and asked them to name few of those places so that my fear would be gone and I may look warm.
But the Sepiks knew I was scared and came to my aid to comfort me. We had a lengthy discussion and the ship gradually approached Moem Point.
The roughness of the waves calmed as we approached the shore of beautiful Wewak. I took a deep breath to restore strength and confidence as the huge ‘Momase’ cruised gently and comfortably into the gorgeous harbour.
It was at around quarter past eight when the ‘Momase’ berthed at the wharf. None of the passengers raised their voices but took their belongings and headed towards the exit. I did the same not knowing where to go.
I had brought myself to the land of the beloved crocodile but I did not see any. The day was young and the place was warm. I saw many Sepik people but not the admired crocodile even though I stood on her homeland.
What a terrible and a wasteful journey into the land of the crocodile. I regretted terribly that the beloved crocodile had been tamed by another unknown crocodile.
I wish I could have glimpsed her face but I could not. As it was precisely sung by Basil Grek: ‘‘Sepik Meri wanem hap bai mi lukim yu gen” (Sepik woman where will I see you again?).
The chorus was plainly meant for this writer to evaluate. Once this Sepik crocodile returns then it may not be meant for others but for me.