Into the Jungles of Papua New Guinea

jim and rachel pre pngWhen I was three years old my father set out to the jungles of Papua New Guinea (PNG) to research his book The Ghost Mountain Boys. He had been there a number of times before, with my uncle in 1989 and later with my mom on their honeymoon (!). They all loved the country even with the threat of malaria (which my mother contracted) snakes, and overwhelming heat. So, naturally, I have been hearing stories about Papua New Guinea for a long time. Not just about the bad and the dangerous times, but about the wonderful people, the rare birds of paradise, and the beautiful jungles, mountains, and beaches. Now, I  get to experience it for myself.

This Friday, July 20th, my dad and I are leaving for PNG to do a 22-day trek across the Papuan Peninsula. PNG is shaped like a bird with long tail feathers, the tail being the Papuan Peninsula. kokodamap2
We will walk from south to north across the Peninsula, from a village on the coast called Gabagaba to Buna on the north coast. Along the way, we will cross savannah, jungles, and the peaks of the Owen Stanley Mountains, just like the U.S. soldiers, whom my dad wrote about in his book, did in 1942. Training for this trip has been a long process. Although we trained most of the time in Wisconsin, we took a 3-week trip to Colorado and Montana to train and adapt to altitude. We later returned to the green hills and heat and humidity of Wisconsin, saying goodbye to the Flatirons of Colorado and Yellowstone National Park.

As hard as training had been, packing was almost as hard. In an effort to keep our backpacks as light as we could, we had to keep packing and unpacking, winnowing down what we would need to the bare essentials. In preparation for this trek I made countless trips to Target for pharmaceutical supplies, browsed through thousands of outdoor clothing companies online, took a Wilderness First Aid course in case anything went wrong, and worked out hard so that I could climb the mountains with energy.

Here’s is a partial list of the essentials:

  • Gloves for holding onto trees and roots on the steep hills and for protection against salat, a plant like stinging nettles
  • Smartwool socks to keep the feet dry
  • Silk and Smartwool underwear
  • Moisture wicking shirts and a lightweight rain shell from Outdoor Research
  • Knee-high gaiters to keep out leeches and keep mud and debris out of the boots
  • Trekking poles for the steep inclines and declines
  • Lots of electrolytes to prevent dehydration
  • Garmin Oregon 600 GPS
  • A Garmin watch (Forerunner 735XT) to record details of trip (provided by Garmin)
  • Mosquito net for sleeping
  • Malaria Medication (Malarone)
  • Immunizations against Japanese Encephalitis, Typhoid, and Rabies, too (a bit overkill)

In addition, we will be carrying lots of moleskin, topical antibiotics, antiseptic pads, and ointments, especially ointments that prevent rubbing and chafing. But we are also bringing along stronger medications for more serious circumstances such as cephalexin for skin infections, cipro for UTIs, fever, and nausea, azithromycin for sinus issues, bronchitis, pneumonia, and a cough and fever, prednisone for rashes, and allergic reactions, benadryl for allergic reactions, and finally, eye antibiotics and anesthetic.

Finally, my dad and I have also been studying the language of PNG: Tok Pisin/Pidgin. Pisin is a old trade language that uses a mixture of French, Spanish, German, and English, but most of the words resemble English. Here’s a quick sample of some of the words and phrases we’ve been learning:

  • Liklik raunwara- Small lake
  • Nem bilong mi- My name is…
  • Biknait- Night (11 p.m.-4 a.m.)
  • Mi gat liklik wari bilong mi- I have a little problem
  • Inap mi malolo liklik- Can I take a rest here?
  • Food- Kai kai
  • Breakfast- Kai kai bilong moningtaim


Lukim yu (see you later)!