In Cyril's shop down on the wharf we bought some crackers, some canned meat and two extra batteries for my torch. We were ready to go.
Walking through the back forests up to Tumari village on the northern coast of the Tufi peninsula had been on my 'things-I-really-wanna-do-list' for quite some time. I was thus very excited when William and I entered the boat - Glen was going to take us down to Bauwame village, which would be a good starting point.
We expected to be away for six days. First we would do the long rainforest path to Tumari; then stay there for a couple of days, before moving on by canoe. Finally we would cross the ridges back to Tufi. William had many ideas for a good and varied week on the move: we would visit many villages and walk through many different landscapes; we would meet with many people and we would be looking for birds - I hoped to see the birds of paradise.
William was to be my guide and buddy on this walk. He is a most well-travelled bush-walker, and is also an experienced bird watcher - a perfect companion.
Bauwame was quiet when we passed through at mid-day, moving along the path towards Orotoaba village, our first stop on the way. After an hour on the grassy ridge we came to Barabara where William stopped to talk to some wontoks for a while. He knew everybody in every village it seemed, and this also gave me the opportunity to say hello and chat with people along the way.
From Barabara to Orotoaba one can choose between a couple of paths: one can stay on the ridges, making it into a wide U-turn, but there is also a short-cut down to the bottom of Ibura Bay and then up the steep slope on the other side. The wontoks said we'd be alright taking the short-cut, and young Robbie came along to make sure we stayed on the right track. This is how you have to do it here, because the paths are narrow and sometimes a bit overgrown, and side paths to gardens, creeks or small hamlets will confuse anyone who is not on home grounds.
It was quite steep getting down to the creek. While holding on to vines, ferns, trunks and branches one also had to be concentrated about where to put ones feet. Robbie helped me with my backpack, which was quite heavy, since some places were quite slippery. Their bare feet did better than my hiking joggers. When we were down by the creek at the bottom William concluded that this would not be the path to choose for most visitors, but I was glad to see that he was quite relaxed about having me as a walking companion.
Robbie then returned back up to his village while we started up the southern slope. This was even steeper and at one place we had to climb up some vast, tangled vines. Straight up, but not really difficult. Above the forest the grass took over again, and we
stopped to watch a Dollar Bird and some parrots while catching a bit of breath before the next stretch.
We entered Orotoaba from the top - the west, and it is really quite a sight. The houses are framing a long green lawn where the path bends down on a palm-lined boulevard. It's one of the largest villages in the Tufi area, and both wonderfully located and beautifully kept. We were to stay at Jackson's guest house at the opposite end of the village, and here we rested on the veranda with a grand, elevated view of the fjords, the ridges and the sea.
This stay was only for the night, but when I returned here later, Jackson's place turned out to be a great bird watching spot. We spotted a whole list of birds just sitting on the veranda. Among these were a couple of Manucodes, the black and not so rare Bird of Paradise, who flew by time and again. They made short stops on different perches in the open landscape, and seemed to be nesting in the rainforest off the ridge slopes below us.
We had time to take the short walk down to the waterfalls at the end of Uramanoa Bay. The path follows a small creek down to the cliffs by the top of the main falls. The scenery here is very beautiful, and when we walked around to the next little hilltop we had a wonderful view of the falls. Not much water at this time of the year, but still pretty.
___ Day 2 ___________________________
The next morning we were up at six o'clock, and moving on shortly afterwards, after a quick breakfast. The early start was partly to increase our chances to see the Raggiana Birds of Paradise and partly because we had a long walk ahead of us. The morning sun gave the forested valleys and ridges a golden tone, and behind the higher mountains were lining the western horizon. The path soon followed the narrow, forest-covered ridges, most of the time ascending very gently. We could hear the Raggianas a couple of times among all the other bird calls, but we didn't see them. We saw lots of parrots, some pheasant coucals, drongos and many others.
We were three now. William's friend Damian had joined us from Orotoaba. One really must be three on a walk like this, because traffic on the path is quite scarse. Days can go by with nobody passing, even in the dry season, and if something happens - well, you have to be three. There is also the danger of running into snakes. One can easily forget to be careful in the pleasant quiet of the forest, but twice Damian, who walked in front, had to stop with a jump: first for the lethal Death Adder, and then for the even more poisonous Papuan Black. Strong reminders.
Around one o'clock we had reached the top of the trail, and started to head down towards the Tumari river. The slopes were not as steep as the ones we had walked the day before, but we still had to be careful not to slip and slide. Under a huge tree we stopped to enjoy some fresh, tasty nuts.
Down by the river we soon spotted Bryson and Danny, two young men who had come up to meet us. They had a fire going and we had brought some rice, so soon we had a nice lunch break. After a quick dip and the river that is.
From here we had three hours or so to walk down the river to get to the garden shelter where we would spend the next night. The walking here was easy. We had to cross the river seven or eight times - a bit slippery, but not difficult in the modest dry season flow. Half way down we heard some Raggianas, and this time we were lucky. In a tall tree just beside the path two male birds were jumping around up in the canopy. When they took off and flew away we could see them really well, their characteristic flank plumes silhouetted against the sky. This was my first Bird of Paradise spotting in the wild - so one of the expedition's missions was accomplished!
The garden shelter was a nice little roofed platform, like a small house without walls, on a neat lawn in between banana, buai and coconut palms. The valley had widened down here with just a few very tall trees rising above the gardens, and with the forested ridges a bit further back.
I used the small tent we had brought along this night, but only after another wash in the river and some dinner: coconut milk and the rest of the tucker from our packs. This was a wonderful spot to stop after a long days walk; so quiet and peaceful, and not even any social obligations. One could just lean back and relax, and let ones thoughts meander back over the first few days of the trip. Above us the night sky showed more stars, and a vaster and deeper Universe than I had ever seen before.
This photo of a Reggiana Bird of Paradise is 'stolen' from an unknown internet source.