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Day 1: The day we decided what road to take

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Planning the trip. Photo credit: Joey Tartaglia

Joey arrived the day before we planned to hike into the Finisterre Mountains to survey the Ndo language group. We had only a couple hours to figure out exactly how we were going to get there. Out came the maps and charts as we tried to plan our course.

While we discussed the pros and cons of each road, a friend of Joey’s from the Finisterre Mountains called. He was willing to guide us on our trip if we wanted to meet him near the coastal town of Saidor. Although the road from Saidor was the longer and more rigorous of the options, hiking without a guide did not sound all that safe either, so we agreed to meet him there the next day.

Day 2: The day we did not hike anywhere

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Kalibobo Lighthouse

Jeremy dropped us off the Madang docks at 8AM. Matt and I had arranged for a dinghy (a sort of water taxi here) to take us to the Finisterre coast. The skipper had said we should be at the docks by 7:30 AM. But since PNG is not known for running on time, we showed up fashionably late… and the dinghy was gone! It did not take long to find another dinghy skipper to take us, but it did take a long time for that skipper to leave Madang. It was almost noon by the time we passed the Kalibobo lighthouse on our way out of the Madang Harbor.

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Landing at Wab

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Joey tells a story during our truck ride. Photo credit: Matt Dodd

Three and a half hours later we landed at Wab, a dock near Saidor. The skipper told us we could cut through a coconut plantation and catch a truck up to Gik, the village where we hoped to meet our guide. Some school kids coming from Saidor showed us the way and we made it to the truck just in time to wait for a couple hours for it to leave. By the time we made it to Gik it was dinner time and rain was pouring down. Our original plan was to hike half of the trail to Ndo, but we found ourselves spending that night at the trail head.

Day 3: The day we met Bapake

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Bapake

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Resting on the road to Yongem.

Up at 6 and out by 7, we hiked to the next sets of huts in Gik where we met Bapake, Joey’s friend. This native believer from the Mina language group was instrumental in getting us into Ndo territory. He and his wife offered to help carry our backpacks. And it was a good thing too. We slipped and stumbled along most of the 9 hour hike to Yongem. We took a trail that followed the raging Nankina River and it was probably one of the more dangerous roads we took. We hiked through streams and rivers, over land slides, and along cliffs. But at the end of the day, we had made it to Yongem, Bapake’s village. The village gave us a warm welcome, similar to the one we received in Nekgini (if you missed it, you can read about it here).

Day 4: The day of rest

We stayed in Yongem for the next day. Partly because we were sore. Partly because it was Sunday and all those who were going to go with us to Ndo were going to church.

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Yongem gathers for church.

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Matt and I introduce ourselves to the church in Yongem. Photo credit: Joey Tartaglia

Day 5: The day Joey won the battle but lost the war

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Resting by a stream on the trail to Langane. Photo credit: Matt Dodd

Bapake, along with four other Mina believers, carried our bags and showed us the road to Ndo. Our goal was to pass through two Mina villages, Langane and Titarapok, on our way to Bilong, the first village in the Ndo language group. But we only made it to Langane.

As we started the hike we were in good spirits. Joey even proposed a competition. The trail we were on was rarely used and so there were tons of leeches on the plants and rocks. Joey suggested whoever had the most leeches would win. Matt and I ended up with about 5 each. Joey came in at 12. So Joey won… sort of.

The problem came when we were hiking up a steep mountain side to Langane. Joey started feeling faint and dizzy. Maybe it was the jetlag. Maybe it was altitude. Maybe it was old age :). Maybe it was the leeches. Whatever it was, we ended up staying the night in Langane.

Day 6: The day Matt fell off the trail

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Above the clouds in Bilong in Ndo territory. Photo credit: Matt Dodd

Day six found us trying desperately trying to make up lost time by hiking all the way to Bilong. We hiked 3 hours to Titarapok, met with the church there, and then hiked an agonizing 6 hours from there to Bilong. We hike 3 hours down one steep mountain and then 3 hours up the next to Bilong, which sits just above the clouds at around 5000 ft.

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Matt crosses the Bamboo bridge into Ndo.

As we were coming down the mountain toward to Mot River, Matt slipped off the trail and fell about 5 feet. He was able to catch the trunk of a tree to keep from falling further toward to river. Even our national guides were a little shaken by the episode. In a place with many sharp rocks, pointy branches, poisnous plants, and steep cliffs, Matt walked away with a little scratch on his wrist. Praise God!

Day 7: The day we broke into history

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The crowd at our first survey. Photo credit: Matt Dodd

After a good night’s sleep in the hut of one of the village leaders, we conducted our first survey in the Ndo area. About 40 people showed up from around Bilong to listen to us present our work and to answer our questions.

As part of our presentation we read some of the letters that the Ndo people had sent 7-10 years previous asking for missionaries. We explained that these letters were part of the reason we had come to visit them. As the information began to soak in village leaders stood up one after another and said that they had given up hope of someone coming. One leader said he’d forgotten they’d even written those letters. “You are breaking into our history with this visit,” he said. Before we left Bilong, we were offered our first formal invitation to work amongst the Ndo people. Praise God!

The people of Bilong ran ahead of us to the next villages to alert them of our coming. Before we had made it to Yokea 1 we already had invitations to work both there and the next village, Mawelelo!

Day 8: The day Zach did all the talking

It was a cloudy, cold, and wet day when we woke up in Yokea 1. The village came together to hear us speak at about 9am. Matt, however, was not feeling good. His stomach was uneasy and we were certain he had a fever. He joined us at the village meeting, but I did all the talking this time with Joey helping me clarify some points.

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Beautiful sights on the way to Mawelelo.

After the big meeting, we went back to our hut with the village leaders to ask questions about the villages and the Ndo language itself. Matt went straight to bed. Joey was tired too and when I began to gather language data, Joey fell asleep as well. I spent the next four hours with the leaders asking questions about their language, society, customs, and economy. It was interesting work, but my brain hurt by the end.

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Surveying in Mawelelo. Photo Credit: Matt Dodd

Although we were not feeling good and the weather was bad, we really wanted to keep moving toward the coast so we hiked around 4 hours to Mawelelo. When we arrived, the village was already assembled, so once again I presented our work. By this time, Matt was really not feeling good. His fever had spiked and he was struggling to keep food down. Joey was feeling exhausted from the hiking. We began to wonder if we were going to make it out of the mountains without a helicopter rescue mission.

Day 9: The day it rained on our dreams

We awoke to beautiful sunny weather. Matt’s fever broke in the middle of the night and his appetite had returned. Joey was feeling energetic, and we were all feeling optimistic. We were hoping that maybe we would be able to hike all the way to coast in a desperate attempt to catch a dinghy before Sunday came, when all sea traffic comes to a halt in PNG.

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Another bamboo bridge. Photo credit: Matt Dodd

As we hiked down to another branch of the Mot River we were all doing well. Joey did not crossing the bamboo bridge at the bottom of the gorge, but other than that our trip was going smoothly. But then Matt’s shoe broke again. And again. And again. We kept trying to tie it all together with paracord, but to no avail. Every few minutes the cords would slip off. Then the rains came. It was not the usual gentle rains we’d experienced so far, but a torrential tropical downpour. By the time we made it up another mountain to the village of Seremore, we were too tired, too wet, and too muddy to continue. We actually wanted to keep going, but the offer of a warm fire in a dry hut was too much to pass up.

Day 10: The day we carried our own backpacks

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The view of the sea as we finally made it out of the mountains. Photo credit: Matt Dodd

Up until the last day of hiking, we had help carrying our backpacks. Once Bapake had to leave us in Yokea 1, we found it harder and harder to find help and guides. That help ended altogether in Seremore. Someone had just died the day we arrived and everyone was going to be at the funeral the next day. No one was available to help. So we strapped on our bags, asked them to point us in the right direction, and we started the descent to the coast.

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Joey and Matt on the trail to Seremore. Waterfalls and clouds in the background.

We hiked for nearly 4 hours through the rainforest without meeting another soul. Finally, we made it to Maibang, where a family gave us some cucumbers and coconuts. I think we probably would not have made it to the beach if it were not for the rest and refreshment they gave us. The rest of the hike was a miserable march through tall, sharp Kunai grass with the hot sun overhead. But we were thankful because we could see and smell the salt water below us.

When we made it to Biliau (a coastal town), we immediately met a family who offered to take us to Madang on their boat the following morning even though it was Sunday. We had to pay $240 for a trip that normally costs just $60 on a regular day, but it was worth every penny. And the family fed us and let us sleep in their comfy new hut, just yards from the crashing waves.

Day 11: The day we sailed at sunrise

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Sunrise from our dinghy. Photo credit: Joey Tartaglia

We woke up at 4. The mosquitoes were part of the problem, but I think we were mostly just excited to finally be going home. Our boat departed just before six. We were well out into the bay by the time the sun came up over the horizon. Exhausted and weary and craving salty food, we arrived in Madang at 9am. Despite the challenges, we are so grateful to the Lord for allowing us to suffer little pains and deprivations for the sake of his name going to the nations. Lord-willing, surveys like this one will help us find a place to settle and work in the Finisterre Mountains.

Trip Summary:

Number of words recorded in the Ndo language: 137
Number of miles hiked: 48
Number leeches pulled from our legs: 24
Number of villages visited: 13
Number of nights on the trail: 9
Number of language groups we passed through: 7
Number of invitations to work in tribes: 5
Number of bamboo bridges crossed: 3
Number of shoe pairs that did not survive the journey: 3

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Matt’s shoes at the end of the hike when we’d reached the shore of Biliau.

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