Traveling Road Show 1986 (Part Two)

Outrigger canoes at sunset on Bunaken Island, Sulawesi, Indonesia
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Editor’s Note: This is the second part of the two-part series: Traveling Road Show 1986. Emerging after three years in the Pacific where he was working with the YMCAs of Western Samoa and Fiji, the adventure spark was lit. Hoisting his backpack, Jim Mielke headed off for Papua New Guinea and Southeast Asia – set to be on the road for an indefinite period:

Traveling Road Show 1986 (Part Two)

Staying in a communal round house in the highlands of Papua New Guinea

The excitement escalated daily in Papua New Guinea. From the capital Port Morseby, my brother Dave and I flew north to Madang for some world class wreck diving – descending to 100 foot depths to explore the eerie sunken remains of wartime relics from WWII.

Arriving at dusk in the Eastern Highlands town of Goroka, we were accosted by three “rascals” – the generic name for the many young criminals rampaging around the country. Fortunately, a local girl came to our rescue and invited us to stay in her village for a freezing night in a tiny house perched high in a tree. The next night we stayed in another village nearly suffocating, but warmer – packed like sardines with about thirteen others in a fire-heated round house.

Tribesmen at the Highlands Festival in Goroka, Papua New Guinea

In Goroka, we joined the massive Highlands Sing Sing Festival, where song and dance groups from all over the country gather each year in outrageous form and traditional outfits for an amazing spectacle of unbelievable variety and colors. Singing, chanting, whistle-blowing, drumming, wild-looking dudes with bones through noses and tongues, and women with painted faces and breasts.

Dancer at the Highlands Festival

Then, sharing the back of a pickup with guys who looked as though they would have eaten our livers for lunch, we barreled into the cold rainy night through rugged terrain over an 8,100 foot pass into the remote Southern Highlands, which had only recently been opened to visitors. Blowing out one tire after another, we used all the spares and arrived safely in the provincial capital Mendi.

On a day hike to a nearby cave, nine guys toting axes led us across rickety bridges half used for firewood, past intense pig-bartering sessions of colorful highlanders who had bows, arrows and turkey-tail loincloths. We went straight up a sheer cliff and along a narrow slippery ledge. One slip was certain death. Then into a pitch-black limestone cave with stalactites, stalagmites, bats flying everywhere, pools of ice cold water.

Crawling and moving deeper into the cave, our way was lit with just one lantern. Reaching a huge cavern deep in the mountain, our guides suddenly demanded a substantial sum of money to lead us out. Bargaining for our release, we finally settled on a reasonable price. We later learned that this unsavory treatment of tourists is not uncommon there.

Safely back in town after our caving expedition. (The woman in white is mourning her dead husband.)

On the way out, the grim-faced highlanders guided us past skeletons slung in hammocks along the cave walls. We declined their gracious offer to take us to another cave where the skeletons of their tortured enemies were supposedly kept. Paying off the “big man”, we headed north for a few days on the Sepik River, watching canoeists silhouetted against the morning glow as they moved out onto the river. Standing balanced, they paddled their long dugouts through the silent, flat empty wilderness.

Balinese Dancers

Indonesia greeted us with the sweet smell of clove cigarettes, pretty girls, good food, and cheap prices. On the beach in Bali, the wet wash of sand lit up bright orange as the sun set.  Small streams of water met the sea with the tide running out and shone like mirrors.

Silhouetted figures of lovers and children moved among the outriggers. A girl dashed across the sand with youthful exuberance to bathe in the luxurious brine and balmy night. Standing erect, pulling back her hair she let the seawater run out. Moving silently through the evening glow she dashed back to the village – so alive, so innocent. Beautiful in pure simplicity.

Island hopping aboard a fishing boat in southern Thailand

Dave returned to Los Angeles and I continued to explore the vast archipelago – climbing smoky volcanoes on Bali, Java and Sumatra, and bathing in naturally heated pools by crater lakes. I visited YMCAs in Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia, then island hopped through southern Thailand with endless fun, adventure and wonderful people all along the way –

Thailand’s Phi Phi Island, voted one of the 10 most beautiful islands in the world

And getting better all the time!

You can read more about Jim’s backstory, here and here




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