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Sunday, 27 February 2011

Alternative Inca Trail - A "road" to Machu Pichu

So i'd decided to walk to Machu Pichu....

The map I had was simple to say the least, it looked like it had been drawn by a child. The verbal directions were a little easier to follow. How hard could it be.... I was going to walk from Ollantaytampo to Machu Pichu; you can see the Inca Trail in red below.

I arrived in Ollantaytambo, grabbed a drink from a cafe and then asked for directions to the rail way line. Obviously, not really thinking about it, everyone directed me to the station. Lots of guards and big fences told me that this was probably not the best place to start the journey. I walked about 2km outside of town along a dusty road and found myself conveniently near the railway lines, this time with no fence! woo!

I started following the rail way lines, which was a bit awkward to say the least, I kept tripping over the sleepers for starters and the gravel was pretty hard going as well. I trudged along for a few hours in some of the most breath taking scenery that Peru had to offer in this area, the best thing of all was there wasn’t a tourist in sight. In fact there was hardly anyone in sight at all! The odd farmer or the odd water buffalo ambling along in the distance and rice paddys in every direction. The blissful silence was idyllic, I drifted off into an almost trance like state whilst listening to the sound of my walking poles clink on the rails. Just as I’d got a nice rhythm going there was a god awful noise. It pierced my soul it was so loud and I dived off the track into a ditch behind some bushes with barely centimetres to spare as the train shot past me. My heart was racing like crazy. That reminded me that what I was doing wasn’t particularly high on the health and safety list and I concentrated for the rest of the trip, ESPECIALLY on blind bends.

The sun was fierce due to the altitude and I regularly had to stop and reapply sun cream to diffuse some of the lobster colour. I had food with me for the journey but when I came across a town I decided to pop into a shop (they always have a plastic bag on a gigantic stick so people know where they are) and see what they had. I stuffed myself with bread and Inca Cola (Iron Bru equivalent) and chatted to the somewhat surprised locals. We exchanged some words in Quechua and English which made everyone laugh due to poor pronunciation by both parties (you try and pronounce Imaynalla kashanki?/How are you?) After a good laugh I set off again as it was mid-afternoon and I wanted to try and get as far as possible.

Tasty rucksack burn!

As it started to draw towards dusk, I decided to look for somewhere to pitch my tent. The only flat ground seemed to be near the train track which would have been stupid so I kept on looking. Every time I saw somewhere that might have been just passable, I would go on looking for something better but remember where the last place was just in case. This happened for about an hour or so until I started to get a little worried.

I saw a man and a woman in a field so called out to them. The man came over and once again looked surprised to see a westerner in the middle of nowhere. He asked what I was doing and where I was going etc. I told him I needed somewhere to put my tent up and could he suggest somewhere. He said he'd ask his wife if she knew anywhere and went to talk to her. Then they came back with a suggestion that surprised me. "Why don't you come and stay with us?" I was a little taken aback by this offer but also tired and wary of the time so agreed.

They told me I could sleep outside but underneath a roof which sat between the door buildings. I dumped all my stuff down and they beckoned me inside. Dinner was served and consisted of my two least favourite foods on the planet, sweet corn and fish. Not wanting to be rude I ate it all as fast as possible, desperately trying to hide the taste with more Inca Cola! Seconds were offered but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. After a few hours of entertainment I decided to hit the hay. I collapsed onto my roll mat and fell promptly asleep.

I woke up early morning to the sound of people stirring in the house and realised to my great surprise that I was covered in Guinea Pigs (a South American delicacy) I was obviously somewhat warmer than the ground. I really do wish I could have freed my hands to take a photo but the second I sat up they all ran for cover squeaking.

I offered a bit of money to my hosts but they wouldn’t accept it, so we agreed on me giving them some luxury food instead; tinned peaches!!! I slyly slipped some money under the tin as I stood it on the table and said my thanks.

The second day was a little more exciting if that is possible. Not only did I come running out of a tunnel screaming my head off as a train gained on me with the driver frantically waving for me to get out the way but I also arrived at Piscacucho, the start of the famous Inca Trail.

View to Piscacucho's train station, Machu Picchu, Peru
This travel blog photo's source is TravelPod page: Dream accomplished

There was a fence... a BIG fence... from the top of the valley, to the bottom and up the other side. There were also lots of guards at the train station itself. I did a little visual reconnaissance and thought I saw a possible route further up to the right of the town. I caught a child watching me, he came up to me and demanded chocolate in exchange for showing me where there was a hole in the fence. Peru never ceased to amaze me by this point so I parted with valuable resources and accepted the help of “Le Resistance”. We walked a fair bit up the valley and came across a ravine that ran alongside the fence. It was probably 8 meters deep but he climbed down into it and I followed on after. The other side was shockingly steep and he told me to take my bag off. He boosted me onto a ledge, handed me my bag and told me to climb up and out where id find a gap. True to his word, at the top, I was free.

I start to hurry the pace as it was getting late again. I crossed some very precarious wild west style train bridges whilst trying not to look down and having to leap between the supports and then was once again back in dense jungle. It got dark very quickly and my mind started to play tricks on me. Fire flies kept appearing across the path ahead of me. This looks exactly like someone carrying a torch. For good reason I’d shoot off into the undergrowth like a rocket and this eventually led to me dropping and breaking my only source of light. I now always carry two....

I passed a false finish in a hydro electric dam complex which was more heavily guarded than the whole rest of the route but easy enough to bypass. After several hours of walking in pitch black, more or less feeling my way by keeping one foot on the rail, I heard music. I kept on walking for a bit longer and the music became steadily louder. I was suddenly mobbed by a gang of dogs which was terrifying in the dark! I fought them off with my walking poles and the owner came to my rescue. He apologised and assured me that Aguas Calientes was only a km down the road. I walked as fast as I could given the conditions and finally arrived, collapsed on a large flat rock outside the train station and went to sleep.

Although it had been a much harder way of getting there, I was helped by the local people and gained a unique insight into their way of life, their traditional culture and their language. They didn't seem to mind that I was cheating the system by not paying guide fees and trail passes. They were just happy someone had taken the time to pop by. I was happy to have met them.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Crossing the Andes

Believe it or not, the entire reason that this journey took place was due to a bet in a bar. An American called Sean asked me if I'd like to ride a horse with him from Cusco to Bolivia and someone told us that we would die trying. CHALLENGE!

About two weeks later we set off. Cowboy hats, horses, leather saddle bags and the open road of the second highest plain on earth. It is every man’s dream to be so carefree and on an adventure that will be remembered for years to come. Little did we know that the fairy tale would be soon over and that one and a half months of hardship lay ahead of us.

It actually took almost two days to fully get out of Cusco. It stretches far out into the valley, squished between mountains on all sides. The first night was spent in an abandoned house, something that would become quite regular on our trip. The rest of the time we stayed either in my tent or with whoever was kind enough to put us up for the night.

The temperature at night was generally well below freezing. Everything was encased in ice every morning, even to the point where sometimes the horses had ice on their manes. There were no trees and we had to rely on burning dried manure for warmth and my petrol burner to cook the food. I had come fully prepared for this sort of trip from the start whereas Sean often had to wear as many clothes as he physically could to keep out the elements and use the saddle blankets for extra warmth at night as he didn't have a roll mat.

The terrain varied quite regularly on our trip. We would find ourselves in amongst endless rice paddys for a few days, then nothing but mountains and then finally nothing, all the way to the horizon. We tried following the railway lines, power lines, rivers and sometimes roads; always heading south (ish)

We found the local people to have odd advice for us. Our general meetings would go a little something like this. We'd round a corner and there would be a local person gawking at us with their jaw on the floor. (Guess there weren't that many six foot white people on horses in the area.....) "where are you going?" they'd ask. We'd tell them and they'd smile and retort "You and your horses are going to die, would you like a drink?" So whilst hospitable they really were under the impression that what we were trying to do was impossible, yet the Spanish must have done something similar.... that thought always kept me going....

Riding into towns was an even more complex affair and usually involved being surrounded by the entire population who wanted to know everything about us and to help by giving us food for the horses. The further along we went, the less we were told that we were going to die, in fact once we’d passed the half way mark, it was barely mentioned. This definitely boosted our moral. We even had to change the horses shoes around a town called Siquani and people kindly enough offered to help us which was a huge bonus!

The main thing that struck me about this trip was how much people who had nothing were seemingly willing to give to strangers. They were more than happy to let us put the tent up on their land, show us the nearest abandoned house, invite us to stay at their house even! There was more to it than that though, they were genuinely pleased to help, in some cases sharing what little food they had, their cigarettes, getting alcohol and inviting us to drink with them! In return, we shared what we had as well, even helping to sheer a lama at one point!

Our food sources were often few and far between and overall I lost around 12kg on our trip. The main things that we could buy in towns were sweets, bread and tins of fish. I can’t stand fish and never eat it but obviously had to for sustenance! I still have nightmares about tinned tuna/sardines in tomato sauce! Occasionally we did come across the wondrous tinned peaches..... When we got hold of them it was like my birthday and Christmas all rolled into one. Opening the tin with a gigantic machete and slurping down the sugary mess whilst sharing out the dividends between the two of us was just magical.

We also found the Church quite helpful along the way. There was at least three separate occasions when we were allowed to sleep in spare rooms within the church/monastery. This was very different to what I had imagined our reception would be but I was very grateful. Its certainly the only times we really ate properly without the help of the locals.

As our journey progressed onwards, things got slower and slower. The mental strain of the task ahead as well as being ill, not having enough food/water and just being exhausted due to the altitude was really taking its toll. The combination of the extreme sun light and lack of oxygen had led to us progressing at a trudge. We were covering a maximum of 20km a day. At one point i actually passed out whilst riding and fell to the floor unconscious, Sean organised someone to drive me to the nearest doctor/medical station, where I was rehydrated, diagnosed with a flesh eating parasite, pumped full of anti-biotics and sent on my way. We stayed put for the next few days with the most amazing local family; so that I had a chance to gain some strength. We were less than 150km from the finish line and there was no way I was giving up now!

The final stage of the journey was down the valley towards Lake Titicaca. We had to pass through both Juliaca and Puno to get to the border. This almost proved to be the hardest part of the journey. Walking the horses through a bustling city, with no way round was very stressful for both them and us. It was also very difficult to find somewhere to keep them over night. We eventually made it to the other side of Juliaca and decided that enough was enough. Once we got past Puno there was no more major settlements and we wanted to make sure we had time to sell the horses. We found someone local who looked like they needed them and sold them to them at a massive discount so that they would be able to afford them. It was a shame that we didnt make it all the way but it was still an incredible journey.

Its by far one of the hardest things that ive ever done and something that I will always remember. This was one of the first really challenging that I had ever undertaken and by the skin of our teeth we had made it work. It taught me that the native people were everything. They were the knowledge, the hospitality, the comfort and the help. Without them, the trip would have been impossible and we would have had to turn back or died in the process. This has meant that on all my other trips I have strived to learn the local language and customs and have as much interaction as possible. Because of all of these experiences, I have come to the conclusion that the poorest people, are the ones who have the most to give and the are the most willing to share it!

This was painted by a local, whilst we slept in an abandoned house. It currently hangs in The Point Hostel Cusco.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Sumatran Disaster

After whats just happened in New Zealand i thought id write about my volunteering experience and encourage other people to do the same.

On the 30th of September 2009, there was an earthquake that measured 7.6 to the North West of Padang. The effect devastated local communities with everything from government buildings through to small houses getting ripped apart.

Photo copywrite: Netaholic13

I volunteered with Hands On Disaster Response who have since been renamed All Hands Volunteers. They are a fantastic organization that really promote the truest ideal of volunteering. They are currently working in Haiti and have been there since the major earthquake last year. They offer free food and accommodation to all volunteers and also several internship opportunities to those wishing to pursue disaster relief as a long term career.
Accommodation was basic and food was always red, white or orange, but you cant really complain when its free!

The devastation was something that is going to haunt me for the rest of my life. We went past houses that were totally flattened and some that were just merely damaged. I was overcome with emotion at the plight of these people, yet they were still smiling... waving... and retorting the usual "HELLO MR!!!!!"

Work was hard, every day getting up early and straight onto a truck loaded with tools and other volunteers. The heat was fairly extreme at times but it was the humidity that really brought it home. You could hang something up to dry and unless it was in direct sunlight, it would contain more moisture than when you hung it up!

My first job was to clear rubble off a houses foundations so that they had a flat surface on which to rebuild. The family were in good spirits all things considered and provided us with tea, coffee and cake! yum! This first house was not particularly big but the mortar was solid and was difficult to break up. The idea being that you break the mortar away from the bricks in order to salvage and recycle as much of the original materials as possible! Some of the people erected tents inside their houses, despite the fact that whispering would have probably made the entire structure collapse, they clearly had nowhere else to go.

The local people were incredibly happy for us to be there and be helping them out with something that they didn’t have the money to accomplish. We were saving on average about 20-25% of the brickwork from a house and then also the majority of the tin and wooden structure from the roof. if you look at that in terms of a house in the uk that costs 400,000 pounds, that’s 100,000 we are saving them on the cost of rebuilding their homes. In terms of Rupiah, we were saving them a few years’ wages.

During my time with HODR, my role as a volunteer progressed and my responsibilities expanded. I led various teams on clearing sites and also got involved with deconstruction teams, constructing temporary shelters, I became the tool re-handler and I also got to go and work in an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp which is basically a refugee camp in one’s own country.

This was by far one of the most rewarding experiences of the trip. We lived in the IDP camp during our stay there and helped construct a guttering and water collection system to ensure that people were provided with clean water. I also got down and dirty and helped plough, make a machete and got involved with some of the traditional cooking. The people were so friendly towards us and helped us as much as they could. Their hospitality knew no bounds and amounted to more than I could ever express in gratitude. This particular IDP camp consisted entirely of Minang people and is where I learnt the majority of my Minang vocabulary. They were very helpful in learning new words and it seemed to bring great joy to them to hear you use their own language.

We finished the water collection system with a minimum amount of problems, although every project has its hiccups. I was at one point pushed aside by a man claiming to be in his 90's and more adept at sawing then I was! He proved very quickly that this was indeed the case.

The work part of the trip aside, I really enjoyed the atmosphere. New volunteers would come and go as the months went by and I met a lot of fantastic people that I will hopefully stay in touch with for years to come. The amount of interaction with the locals was fantastic. I regularly used to go and play dominoes with the people who lived next door and developed a taste for Gado-Gado (peanut sauce with noodles) I also learned Indonesia to a standard where a conversation was possible! What a bonus!

Overall HODR taught me a lot of things about volunteering that I hadn't really thought about before. This was and still is a totally non-biased organization. They accept anyone from any background and put you to work. Yet they also encourage you to grow as a volunteer. If you think something sounds interesting but you don't know how to do it, someone will show you! When you first arrive, you may have never held a tool in your life, by the end of your stint, you will be adept at plastering, chiseling, shoveling, fixing, labouring, constructing, building, demolishing and you will also be a better person!

This video really sums up how fantastic the project was and what an experience it was for me:

Like I said at the start, this company is currently out in Haiti along with a few others I'd recommend, like Grass Routes United. So if you are on your gap year, out of work or generally just bored, why not go do something that will stick with you for the rest of your life....

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Thailand - A spiritual journey

Thailand is supposedly the land of smiles. I found this to be true in some respects but it was clear that their culture had literally been raped by the influx of western tourists. After spending some time there and cutting through the standard tourist garbage, I managed to find the old Thailand. A Thailand that few western people bother to go and see.

I had always been fascinated by monks that had tattoos. In the western world this would be a complete oxymoron, but to the monks of Thailand it is something that is highly prestigious. I set off to the famed Wat Bang Phra to find out more about the process behind the tattoos and the meanings associated with them.

After managing to find Wat Bang Phra, written in Thai on the Internet, and getting someone Thai to write it down for me, I set off on a mayhem of public transport. The temple is located about an hour or so from central Bangkok and was not THAT difficult to find, my tiny scrawled bit of paper seemed to do the trick! The final bit of my journey was by tuk-tuk. The temple was not really as I had imagined. It was very open and modern looking but also had an air of antiquity. I assumed that it had just been very well looked after.

Almost the first thing I ran into was a monk sharpening his tattooing stick, so i knew I was in the right place.

As my Thai is fairly shocking, it was difficult for me to ask him where to go or what to do.... So i walked around a bit more and tried to find a Monk that spoke a little English. Eventually I found what I was looking for. I was greeted with an enormous smile and beckoned inside a large room, filled with statues.

In my broken Thai and the monks broken English, we had a brief conversation about why I was at the temple and what I wanted to get out of it. I said that I was interested in the tattoos and their meanings and hoping to get one myself. He then asked some interesting and personal questions about me, I really felt like i was being scrutinized, almost like an interview. Eventually he said that I should get a tattoo that protects travelers. This for me was a thrilling response and he showed me an image of it:

It is a Buddhist compass called Paed Tidt. The three tiered oval shapes represent a seated Buddha and there is one for each cardinal point. This means I gain protection from Buddha in which ever direction I travel.

I was overjoyed as this was exactly what I wanted and the fact that he could tell that from my persona made it even more special. Preparations were made and we began. Firstly I had to present an offering to the monk, some flowers, a packet of cigarettes and a fiscal donation were hastily got for me by a lay person and then I made the offering. Some time was needed for reflection and the monk to prepare the implements.

He sharpened up his tools and we began. The pain was immense. For some reason I found this even more painful than that of the tattooing sticks in Borneo. Maybe its because it was a double pointed and fairly large stick, or maybe it was because it was right on my spine, but I was certainly aware of how much it hurt.

Unusually, there was no outline done, no markings of any kind, he just went straight on with it. It became obvious later on that he knew every single tattoo off by heart and didn't need any templates for any of them. You can see the various stages below.

In the video, right at the end you can actually hear him sharpening mid tattoo.

As soon as he had finished (the pain stopped which was nice haha) he flicked oil onto the tattoo, said a prayer and then exhaled onto my back. This is supposed to install the magic of the tattoo under your skin so that it remains with you forever. As he did this i felt an odd tingling sensation around and on the tattoo and felt very relaxed.

He then insisted that he got a monk higher up in the order to come and bless me again. The process was similar, more oil, a prayer and then exhalation into the open skin. Again I felt a calming effect and knew that I had received something special.

I then helped someone else get theirs done, by having two people stretch the skin out, it makes the tattoo clearer and also helps the monk to sit more comfortably. I ended up staying for a third person as well. It fascinated me the lengths these people would go to in terms of having mantras tattooed on their body. Some of them were totally covered. They both got several done at once as opposed to just the one. They asked me if I wanted another one and I thought about it for a while, but then decided that the one I had was special enough for the time being. Below you can see the devotees back and also (if anyone needed clarification) the monks chest:

I eventually decided it was time to be on my way. I thanked the monk from the bottom of my heart and went to leave. He stopped me mid stride and handed me the tattooing implement. I thought it was another ceremonial act, bowed to it and then handed it back. He turned me round, opened up my bag and slid it inside and then winked at me. I felt extremely privileged as, from seeing the others getting theirs done, this was not customary. He then led me out and into a room where the mummified remains of the famous Luang Por Phern rest. He is the person that made religious tattoos so famous in Thailand. I was encouraged to say a little prayer and then was walked to the nearest bus stop.

This again had been a journey that had taught me not only about a different method of tattooing, it had also taught me about other things too. I had learnt more about myself, but had also gained a unique inside into a world that is (once again) a far cry from anything we have in the west. I finally felt attached to Thailand, the real Thailand.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

People of Papua

Papua New Guinea is another mystical place that has been on my dream list for a very long time. However, as I was in Indonesia already and there were flights more readily available, I decided to go for West Papua instead. Two countries, one island, much like Borneo, separated for political gain but united in culture.

Even through the plane window, as you head into Jayapura, you can tell that this is an incredible place. Surrounded by the most incredible mountains, Jayapura really is a mash of cultures in a mystical back drop.

I met with a local guide called John who was very informative. We had a long chat about the resistance movement in Papua and how i could meet up with some of the ring leaders once I had gotten further into the interior. For the time being I had to sort out finance and permits to visit the interior. Money was a bit of a problem as my card didnt work at a single ATM and my mother kindly sent me a loan via Western Union.... to Papua New Guinea... which I was not in....

Money was eventually sorted and I started the rather laborious process of applying for my interior permit. I had to get passport photos done, then photo copies of tickets, itineraries, my passport and list the name of every place I intended to go to. Without a map that last bit proved quite difficult so I relied on my guide to list off random villages that he thought were of note. I got everything sorted and went down to the police station. I was told by John that I needed to sweeten the deal as that's how everything worked in Papua. So whilst my paperwork was being processed I practiced the classic and age old art of shaking hands and transferring clandestine tips. I convinced myself I was ready for the challenge, the policeman came out of his office to ask me some more questions about my trip, I reached out, shook his hand and the money floated gently to the floor like a feather. He merely looked at it and said, you dropped some money, turned around and walked off. I hastily picked it up and looked over at John who looked like he'd just swallowed his own tongue in fright; he shrugged, I stowed the money in my pocket ready for round two.

Some time later the policeman came back and made me sign something else and then gave me all my paperwork back and told me I was free to go. I didn't see another opportunity to "say thank you" so left as quickly as possible. Maybe he just wasn't the bribing type (odd as every other man and his monkey after that wanted money for even the slightest thing!)

I read through my visa and noticed that even though we'd listed all these amazingly complicated place names off that the clerk had just written the name of the district they were all in. Had we thought of that earlier it would have saved a lot of head scratching. I set off to get my ticket for Wamena and then went to bed early as I could.

In the morning I checked in at the airport. I had one giant rucksack and a smaller one. Other passengers had spears, pigs and bags the size of a Mini Cooper yet no excess of handling fees were even mentioned. The flight was in the twin engined plain shown below and was once a day. The sheer expanse of jungle between Jayapura and Wamena is unimaginable. 300km of the most unexplored jungle and mountains in the world. The scenery took my breath away even from the plane window.

I finally landed and unloaded my gear.

I got in touch with the head guide for the area. His name was Issac and he was a VERY strict Christian who also ran an orphanage. He took me to the police station get all my paper work sorted and then invited me back to his orphanage for some food and to stay the night. This was the first time I encountered sweet potato in Papua. It is virtually the only thing that some of them EVER eat. For dinner I was handed an enormous plate of sweet potato and told to tuck in! I LOVE sweet potato, but by the end of my time in Papua I was sick of the sight of it.

I spent the night in an gigantic bed with the orphans. They ranged from about 12 - 20 years old and were all found on the street.

We sat down that day and planned, did some shopping for provisions on set off for the mountain tribes. I found the climate quite different to the jungle tribal areas that are often shown on television. Everything was very dry, the sun was beating down ferociously and the going was slow due to the altitude. As Baliem valley has only be open to the outside world for a few decades, it still retains a vast amount of traditional Papuan culture. Penis gourds, local languages, and stone age technology were all rife. The valleys were littered with small settlements, hamlets of wooden, round huts.

After a day or so, we came across the first large village and asked if we could stay with them. I ended up sleeping on the floor of one of the main families houses. Darius (my guide) slept with the other Dani tribe members in small room in the back. This room was lined with lots of straw and had a fire pit in the middle. This was great, although this house had a much more modern construction due to the new found wealth of the family, they still preferred to sleep in their original way.

The host was great! A nice pair of boar tusks were shown off via a massive hole in his septum.

We sat round having a conversation about Christianity and how they felt about it. Everybody was quick to state that they were overwhelmed with joy at being saved from the fires of hell and how it had bettered their lives etc. However, when I asked what the first missionary was like, there was an unusual silence.... everyone looked everywhere else but directly at me.... then someone at the back went: "tasted nice" and they all fell about laughing. Apparently they cut him up into six pieces and spread them out amongst the villages in the valley. They then went on to tell me that the chief of the next village originally had six wives but decided to eat one during a particularly poor harvest.

In the morning I was glad to leave. Fun as the night had been, discussing various ways of eating each other, I was eager to get further away from the airport and find people who had had less contact with the outside world. The next village we hit was far more traditional and nestled neatly on the steep side of the valley. The view was breath taking.

The houses were round, with the multi purpose rooms and main kitchens being rectangular. The men all lived in one house, with they wives and children occupying a house each.

The insides of the houses had two floors, believe it or not. The womens houses were also split into 1/3 pig sty and 2/3 ground floor living space.

This village had a lot more traditionally dressed people.

The doors of the houses were so damn small that i felt like I was living with pygmies, it was virtually impossible for me to get in an out in a dignified manner. I had my standard portion of sweet potato that night and we sat around the fire discussing hunting methods, hunting tools, fire making methods (see video at the bottom), their language, culture, their lives in general and after having inhaled my life times limit of smoke from the fire we all fell asleep. I slept like a baby, even though it was cold outside the house was like an oven.

As I completed my time in Western Papua, we had time to loop back and visit a village that was very famous in the local area. They had mummified their chief some 150 years ago and still had him intact. In order to see the chief, we had to have a ceremony and get all dressed up which was awkward to say the least.....

It was an eerie site as they bought a crouched mummy out and stood him on a stool. The man holding him was in the exact same position, wearing the same clothing..... Was almost as if it was the same man....

That was my trip over and done with. It hadnt been anything like id imagined. Visiting the hill tribes as opposed to the jungle people had given me a totally different and very unique perspective into their culture. This was the second place in as many months that I had stayed where cannibalism and head hunting had been, and in some cases still was, an integral part of their culture. Now that I understood their belief systems and reasons behind such an unusual activity, it made a lot more sense and I was more comfortable with it. The Papuans were so stone age with their technologies that I really felt as if i had gained an insight that most British archaeologists would die for. Right down to the continuing use of stone axes, which stopped in Britain thousands of years ago.

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