Corrugated iron, fibrocement, wire fencing – and smiles – are the chief components of “modern” Motu villages in Papua New Guinea.
We were trapped!
Eleven photo-enthusiasts, photographer Karl Grobl, a couple of local guides and a bus driver – all trapped.
We had been warned: Papua New Guinea is not the safest place to travel. But, it was not tribal conflict, or spill-over from the recent election upheavals, or even tourist-targeting raskols (bandits) that had us stuck in a hot bus.
It was children!
It was if they had been wound up for weeks and fed sugar and red cordial all day before our arrival: from the moment we turned in towards the Motu village, they cheered and laughed and jumped all over our bus like mad things. It seemed unwise to try to work our way through an overly-enthusiastic crowd of sticky fingers and runny noses with our camera gear. We decided to try again the next morning, when – hopefully – everyone would be a bit calmer. Just getting the bus back out of the parking lot without running several youngsters over looked challenging.
I was glad we had more luck the next day, because these villages are fascinating and unique.
The Motu, long-ago descendants of Polynesian people, are traditionally sea-goers who are thought to have arrived in Papua New Guinea about 2000 years ago. They settled across the Port Moresby area and much of the eastern tip of the country, building their villages on stilts over the water to keep them safe from black magic and bad spirits (see: Koki Fish Market).
Hanuabada, which means “big village” in Motu, is the oldest and largest of the remaining stilt-villages. The original wood and thatch houses were destroyed by fire during WWII, and subsequently rebuilt (under the Australian administration of the day) from corrugated iron and fibrocement, on wooden pylons.
My Lonely Plant guide (2012) points out that you need an invitation to be allowed into the village; we were able to visit thanks to our two local guides who had relatives here. These women were fascinating to talk with. Although marriage within the village was preferred traditionally, obviously today’s social networks spread much more broadly: these women were educated, worldly, and had extended familial connections with Indigenous communities in Northern Australia and the Torres Strait Islands. They spoke good English, as well as Motu, and “Hiri Motu”, the local lingua franca.
The village itself was – shall we say -“rustic”: simple houses built over the waters of Moresby Harbour, connected to the land and each other by elevated and swaying wooden paths. And therein lay the challenge for me: while I was a mountain goat in my youth, these days I get vertigo easily. Even with the patient assistance of local villagers, my cameras and I could not make it too far out onto the rickety, uneven walkways of timber planks.
It was a bit embarrassing: the locals didn’t mind the loose steps or missing pieces as they casually walked around eight-to-ten feet above litter and refuse-filled waters. According to Wikipedia, more than half of the Papua New Guinea national cricket team comes from Hanuabada; I guess running around on these perilous raised passageways improves their sporting performance!
The children went wild the first time we tried to pull into a Motu village.
Kids on the Stage
Those youngsters who weren’t banging on the bus, climbed a temporary stage …
Girls on the Hustings
… and vied for our attention, as we made pictures through the bus windows.
When we finally made our way out through the sea of children, the women waved us off.
Gabi Hanuabada Village
The next morning we were able to stop our bus at some dusty roadworks …
Gabi Hanuabada Village
… to get a sense of the size of the village in the harbour, and its unique construction.
From terra fima, the walkways looks easy enough to negotiate, as they rise up over the mud …
Houses on Stilts
… and towards the tightly-knit network of simple houses.
Face in a Window
On Daddy’s Back
Houses and Walkways
Motu Man in a Doorway
Warm and welcoming smiles are everywhere – as are the signs of betel nut chewing, which is technically illegal.
Woman on her Hanuabada Village Porch
A Gaggle of Children
Once I was back on solid ground, it didn’t take long for the children to find me …
Trio of Kids
… and – without my coaching – push each other into posed positions.
There is very little work in Hanuabada Village itself – most Motu men and many of the women work full-time in Port Moresby. Our visit was on a Saturday – so there were plenty of adults around.
Spontaneous Family Group
All the children seem to favour hand gestures.
Mum and Bub
Like young mothers everywhere, this one was happy to show off her baby.
Children in the Yard
Papua New Guinea has a youthful population: more than half the people are under 25.
Old Woman Weaving
Some of the houses are over dry land rather than water; in the shade under one of these, an elderly woman sits weaving mats.
Kids in the Carpark
As we are boarding our bus to leave, more children – with their smiles and hand gestures – crowd in to see us off.
Traditionally, Motu grew some of their own produce in garden plots near their villages, the men fished, and the women gathered shellfish and crabs. They still do some fishing – although the villagers told me the fish was less plentiful – but they buy their produce from the local shops.
So, life changes.
There were few apparent resources in the village for the children, and the dusty car park seemed to be the only play area. Many of the children were chewing mouthfuls of betel nut. They had sores, runny noses, and dental decay.
One has to wonder what the future prospects are for those who don’t become members of the national cricket team. In the absence of toys, the children clearly have to rely on their own imaginations for entertainment.
Perhaps that is why they were so excited to see us.
Red Pigface on Tabarca
A native to South Africa, the Ice Plant (carpobrotus edulis) is a colourful – if invasive – addition to the rocky coastal views over the islet of Tabarca in the Mediterranean Sea.
Is there anything that says “Mediterranean” more than bright sun bouncing off blue waters and old white-washed walls? Add fresh seafood and salads bathed in rich olive oil, and the picture is complete.
The tiny islet of Tabarca, just off the coast of Alicante in Southern Spain, is the real deal.
The island was originally known as Illa de Sant Pau – Saint Paul’s Island – because it was believed that Paul the Apostle had disembarked there, or Illa Plana – Flat Island – because of its level surface.
Originally uninhabited, the islet, which is just 5 nautical miles (9 km) off the Spanish Mediterranean coast from Santa Pola, was a refuge for Barbary pirates on their raids from North Africa. In 1760, to protect against these raids, Charles III of Spain ordered that the islet be fortified and populated. A Spanish garrison, and a number of Genoese sailors who had been shipwrecked near the coast of Tunisia, were settled on the island. The sailors named it Nueva Tabarca (‘New Tabarca’), after their original home near the Tunisian town of Tabarka, which was a part of the Republic of Genoa until 1741.
Today, Tabarca is the smallest permanently-inhabited islet in Spain, with about 60 year-round residents. The islet incorporates a marine reserve (Reserva marina de la Isla de Tabarca), and tourism – especially in summer – is the main source of income.
My husband and I were staying in nearby Albir, and decided to visit Tabarca as part of day-long boat trip from Benidorm.
Do join us!
Taxi Service to Tabarca
The islet is just 8 nautical miles (15 km) from Alicante and 5 nautical miles (9 km) from Santa Pola, and relies on a number of boat services. Looking rather plain from the sea, the Church of St Peter and St Paul was finished in 1779.
Boatman on the Deck
We travelled to the islet on a large tourist boat from Benidorm: about a two-hour cruise along the Costa Blanca.
Tourist Boats at Tabarca
Once we finally arrive, we have to wait as a queue of tourist boats in front of us move in and out of Tabarca’s small dock.
Boatman and Tourists
It is nearly high-noon, and the sun bounces off the deck of the boat where tourists wait to disembark. One of the staff members watches on.
Our boatman watches carefully, still waiting for our turn at the dock.
Southeast to the Lighthouse
Our first stop, once we are off the boat, is an outdoor restaurant with a view. We were ready for a fresh seafood lunch of local specialities. It is mid-May: weeks away from the height of tourist season, …
Southeast to the Lighthouse
… so the beach is quiet as we look southeast, over the neatly stacked and empty chairs, to the Faro de Tabarca, the island’s lighthouse.
In the other direction, we can see southwest to the fortified walls designed in the mid-1700s by military engineer Fernando Méndez Ras.
Cova del Llop Marí – Sea Lion Caves
With the crystal clear waters around the island, stunning volcanic rock and limestone cliffs, and a glorious Mediterranean climate, it is no surprise that Tabarca is popular with tourists. In summer, the villas in town are full.
Portal on the Mediterranean
Most of the residences on the islet are empty when we visit; in 2013, Tabarca had only 59 year-round inhabitants. Ten-times this number stay here in summer.
Cala del Llop Marí
As we walk around the island, we have views east, back across Sea Lion Cove, …
Lilies on the Cliff
… west across the Cala del Francés, …
La Cantera and the Old Fortifications
… and across the low-lying rocks of the neighbouring island to the mainland.
Platja de Birros
Sun-bakers take advantage of the beautiful weather.
Jesus on a White Wall
The light bounces off the white stucco walls of the quiet houses.
Light and Shadows and Murals
Painted murals add to the tidy charm of the orderly streets, while birds fill the blue sky over our heads with sound.
The streets are hot and quiet. You can tell how important tourism is by the number of restaurants nestled into every corner.
It was a unique and enjoyable – albeit quiet – place to wander and lunch.
Until next time,
A elderly Burmese woman gives me a gap-toothed beetle-nut grin as she pulls weeds in a public park in Yangon. So many people still perform hard, physical labour with no early-retirement, but are never-the-less ready with a smile! (11September2012)
It was a “simpler” time …
I visited Myanmar late in 2012, with photographer Karl Grobl from Jim Cline Photo Tours and local guide Mr MM. The country had just opened its doors to international tourists, and was on the brink of change. Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest, and was still locally and internationally revered.
But not all the current troubles are “recent”: when I visited, our planned trip to the Rakhine State was aborted following the violent conflicts (8 June 2012) between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhines.
Even without that portion of our tour, the two weeks we spent in Myanmar was a richly rewarding experience, about which I have posted many times (see: Ursula’s Weekly Wanders: Myanmar).
I think of the country often: the golden beauty of Schwedagon Pagoda and other Buddhist temples around the country (e.g.: Bago, Bagan, and the Sagaing Hills); the iconic images of sunset silhouettes of the wooden U Bein Bridge or the leg-rowing fishermen on Inlay Lake; the unique lifestyle around Inle Lake (e.g.: “Life on the Water”, “Indein Village”, “Handicrafts and Tribal Colour”, “Thaung Tho Kyaung Market”, and “Tomatoes!”); the heat, confusion and noise of the colourful fresh-food markets (e.g.: Bago, Bagan, Nyaung Shwe, Mandalay,) and the flower markets of Pyin Oo; the profusion of purple-robed monks, novices, and pink-clad nuns going about their daily prayers and study (e.g.: “Light the Way”, “Lining up for Lunch”, “Morning Alms”, Nyaung Shwe, “Mandalay Temples”, “Sagaing Hills”, Mingun, Bagan); the mystical calm of the Bagan stupas (see: “Living Landscape”, “Dawn to Dusk”, “Heat and Dust”); the unique gold craft, lacquerware, marble carving and marionette making; the ancient architecture (“Kingdom of Inwa”); and most especially the shy smiles of the people everywhere, as they go about their lives (e.g.: “A Burmese Village”, “Riding the Ring Train”, Mingun, Pyin Oo Lwin, Mandalay).
When I first arrived in Yangon, it was raining – the kind of relentless, unremitting tropical rain that W. Somerset Maugham described so well in his stories of Southeast Asia. The pounding on the roof was deafening as the waters streamed down the colonial iron lattice-work on the windows of my hotel and bounced back from the pavement below.
At the first available break in the weather, I ventured out and met my first smiles.
Washed clean by the tropical rains, a golden statue rises out of the parks around Kandawgyi Lake, near my hotel. (11September2012)
Myanmar’s ornate architecture is unique and distinctive. One of Yangon’s newer landmarks (completed in 1974), the gilded Karaweik Palace, is modelled after the Royal Barge used in the past by the Burmese Kings. Shaped like the mythical Karaweik bird, the restaurant complex looks like it is floating on Kandawgyi Lake. (11September2012)
Writing a Letter
We visited the Kyakhatwine Monastery, Bago, to watch the monks line up for their last meal of the day (Lining up for Lunch). The lay people around the monastery were as interesting as the monks themselves: this elderly woman was hunched over her work when I approached her. (12September2012)
Her total focus as she painstakingly copied the text she was writing was palpable.
For “The Lady”
The old woman proudly told me that her work was for “The Lady”. Everywhere I went, I saw revered representations of Aung San Suu Kyi. In spite of the current ambivalence about her outside Myanmar, I doubt very much that her image is at all diminished among every-day Burmese. (12September2012)
Flowers of the Cannonball Tree – Couroupita Guianensis
These unusual flowers are usually only seen in Hindu and Buddhist temples. (13September2012)
Cannonball Flowers – Couroupita Guianensis
The hooded flowers are said to look like the sacred snake, or nāga, and the tree resembles the one (Shorea robusta) that Maya was holding onto while she was giving birth to the Lord Buddha.
Lady at the Loom
In a hot, dark room in Mandalay, women sit working large looms. (14September2012)
Hands at Work
The silk lace that the women are making is complex: requiring different coloured threads and a great deal of concentration. (14September2012)
Novice on a Bench
Monks and novices are everywhere in Myanmar; …
… this particular novice is sitting outside a barber shop in Heho. (20September2012)
Inside the small shop, a man is getting his hair cut.
The barber pays attention to his work …
Monk in the Mirror
… while the novice watches.
The men are a study in concentration …
Barber and his Client
… until the cut is finished, …
The Happy Customer
… and they show off the finished product. (20September2012)
You are never far from freshly-made food in Myanmar! (23September2012)
Sticky Dough on the Griddle
Young Boy and his Mother
It is the people that make travel special; the open face of a young boy on Yangon’s Ring Train brings my trip full circle – pardon the pun!
As I said: when I visited, the country was on the brink of change following the 2010 election of a nominally civilian government. Clearly, however, not all the anticipated transformations have worked out as positively as some of us had hoped. The election of Aung San Suu Kyi’s party in 2015 has not eased the ongoing ethnic conflicts.
The generous, gentle people that I met all over the country belie the current news headlines. I can only hope they can work out a positive way forward.
The Three Sisters
Back in the Dreaming, there were seven sisters who lived in the Jamison Valley in Australia …
Sitting high above the Jamison Valley, in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains of Eastern Australia, three unusual rock formations stand out. Collectively known as the Three Sisters, Meehni, Wimlah, and Gunnedoo were formed by the ongoing erosion of wind and rain against the soft Narrabeen sandstone of these mountains.
According to locally-told tales, these three sisters – who were members of the Gundungurra people living in the Jamison Valley – were turned to stone by their father, an Elder named Tyawan. In one version of the story (q.v.: Myths and Legends), he is protecting his daughters from an evil bunyip – a locally feared creature with a terrible voice and a penchant for eating young girls and women. The bunyip, angry at being woken and deprived of his meal, chased and cornered Tyawan, who used his magic bone to change himself into a lyre bird and escape. Unfortunately, in the process, he dropped the bone! To this day, lyre birds scrabble in the undergrowth looking for the bone, and the stone sisters wait to be changed back into the beautiful young women they once were.
Another version of the story is more like the classic tale of Romeo and Juliet: the three sisters fell in love with three brothers from the neighbouring Nepean tribe, but marriage between these groups was forbidden by tribal law. The brothers decided to capture the young women by force; Tyawan turned the girls to stone to protect them, but was killed in the ensuing battle and could never change them back. It has been suggested that this popular narrative is likely to be the recent invention of a non-Aboriginal Katoomba local, Mel Ward, rather than a genuine Indigenous Australian Dreamtime legend.
The Aboriginal traditional owners, the Gundungurra, point out that there were once seven pillars of stone jutting out into the Jamison Valley at Echo Point, and say that they were part of the Gundungurra’s Muggadah or “Seven Sisters Dreaming” that is linked to the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades star cluster. “The Star Dreaming story of the Seven Sisters is one of the most widely distributed ancient stories amongst Aboriginal Australia.”
Part of the area is also sacred to the local Darug people: in times past, women would give birth in a cave near Echo Point and the men would watch the third sister for a sign that the birth had occurred.
Whatever their stories, these outcrops are amazing in their own rights, especially as their moods and colours change in the shifting light. They are also extremely accessible: just 110 km (68 mi) west of Sydney, they are visited by busloads of tourists – mostly foreign – daily.
Rather than wrestle with parking at the popular Echo Point Lookout, my husband and I chose to walk the 2.3 km down the hill from our charming 1930s guesthouse in Katoomba, the chief town in the Blue Mountains.
Come join us!
Rhododendrons on the Street
Katoomba, with its elevation of 1040 metres above sea level, has a subtropical highland climate. On our visit in October, the spring flowers were in full bloom.
Petals on the Ground
Spring Blooms in the Trees
Flowers on a Wall
The town of Katoomba came into its own in the late 1800s with the start of ‘Crushers’, a commercial metal crushing plant, the opening of the Katoomba Coal Mine, and the development of health and recreation facilities. Some of the buildings and infrastructure date back to this time.
Built between 1915-1916, this lovely federation bungalow is typical of houses in the Katoomba area.
The Jamison Valley
As we cross from Lurline Street to Echo Point Road, we start to get views through the trees …
The Jamison Valley
… and over the valley.
Echo Point Lookout Services
Just before we reach the Echo Point lookout itself, we stop to have a peek into the very modern shopping and food centre, …
Coffee Shop with a View
… where customers sit with panoramic views over the valley.
The viewing area at Echo Point lookout is perched overlooking the Jamison Valley and the iconic Three Sisters. I always enjoy visiting the Echo Point Visitor Centre – which has added a roof of solar panels since my last visit. What was more surprising was the lack of crowds! In spite of the beautiful spring weather, there were not the usual hordes of tourists.
Walkway to the Three Sisters
Echo Point is the gateway to a number of walks: along the clifftops or into the valley below. We settled for the easy 500 metre pathway to the Three Sisters themselves.
Flowers and Roots
In contrast with the non-native flora of Katoomba, the Australian bush features delicate flowers and subtle colours.
Blue Tongue Lizard
Australian fauna can be skittish and hard to spot. These delightful life-size sculptures along the pathway represent those animals hiding in the bush.
Track to the Three Sisters
The concrete pathway winds along the cliff edge …
Taking in the Views
… with overlooks giving access to panoramic views.
Moss in the Crannies
The porous sandstone in the cliff-side walls along the walkway are home to mosses and small plants.
A life-size sculpture of one of Australia’s unique monotremes.
We catch our first glimpse of one of the sisters from the walkway. Until 2000, the Sisters were popular with hang-gliders and rock climbers; these activities were stopped on on environmental grounds and out of respect for the Gundungarra and Darug people.
Archway to the Sisters
The Giant Stairway down to the valley floor and the Honeymoon Bridge across to the first Sister were officially opened to the public in 1932.
Stairs down to the Honeymoon Bridge
People take photos on the steps to Meehni, the first of the Sisters – and the only one that visitors are now allowed on.
Grass on the Sister
A closer view of the rock formation shows off the strong vertical jointing properties of the Narrabeen sandstone, interspersed with erosion-resistant ironstone.
A Quiet Moment
A man checks the photos on his phone at a Jamison Valley overlook.
The Three Sisters
Ironically, the best view of the Three Sisters is from the Echo Point lookout – back where we started from! The coloured striations show the effects of erosion: with the lighter orange and yellow sections being the freshly exposed rock.
The Three Sisters are a unique Australian icon and a symbol of the Blue Mountains. I was very impressed with how much Echo Point and the pathway to the Three Sisters had been improved since my last visit; the whole area was enjoyable and easy to explore.
Of course, we still had a long walk back up the hill to town centre, to a well-earned lunch, and to our hotel.
Until next time,
The Marble Mountains, just outside Danang in Vietnam, are a honey-comb of niches, many with a shrine or deity inside.
The Marble Mountains: I kept calling them “Magic Mountains” by mistake.
But they are a bit magical!
Near Non Nuoc Beach, nine kilometres south of Danang in Central Vietnam, five marble and limestone outcrops rise up dramatically from the flat plains around them. According to legend, a dragon climbed out of the East Vietnam Sea onto the beach and laid an egg. After a thousand days and a thousand nights, the egg hatched, and a beautiful girl emerged. The broken pieces of shell that were left on the beach eventually grew into the five mystical Marble Mountains. (Story paraphrased from Hotels.com; I want to know what happened to the girl!!)
Craggy and steep, these impossible-looking mountains are topped with Buddhist pagodas, and riddled with tunnels and caves. Alcoves and crannies are filled with Buddhist and Hindu temples and shrines, many many of them more than 300 years old. More recently, the tunnels provided hiding places for the Vietcong, very near the military air base maintained by the Americans during the Vietnam War.
It is not just me who finds these peaks magical. They are a popular tourist attraction and well-known pilgrimage site.
Their name in Vietnamese is Ngũ Hành Sơn, or “five elements mountains”: referring to the five elements that, according to ancient Asian philosophy, make up everything in nature. The individual outcrops are named for – and said to represent – one of these elements: Thuy Son (water); Moc Son – (wood); Hoa Son (fire); Kim Son (metal); and Tho Son (earth)).
My husband and I were staying at a coastal resort nearby (see: Resort Living) and it was an easy cycle to Non Nuoc Village at the foot of Marble Mountains. The village is famous for its stone sculptures and handicrafts – although, these days the marble used by the local craftsmen comes from nearby provinces or China, so that the precious mountains here are not destroyed.
We had a look through the shops before heading to the entry to Thuy Son or Water Mountain. We bought our modestly-priced tickets and started up the 150+ stone steps that rise and wind through the caves and alcoves to the lookouts at the top.
Non Nuoc Village is crowded with outlet shops selling marble carvings: from the smallest jewellery, through souvenir knickknacks, to the largest religious and decorative objects for public spaces.
Bright Lights and Crafts
The shops carry a range of local handicrafts; the teapots come in all shapes and sizes.
Stairs up the Mountain
There are said to be 156 steps up to the viewpoint at the top of Thuy Son, …
Kwan Yin (Quan Am) in a Niche
… but there are plenty of things to look at along the way.
Marble Bodhisattvas and Nagas
Around every corner, the visitor is met with Buddhist imagery.
Buddha over a Reflecting Pond
The rising steps are broken by landings …
Buddha in the Garden
… where visitors stop to rest and pose for pictures.
Tam Thai Pagoda
Inside Tam Thai Pagoda
Some of the shrines are wildly colourful and garishly decorated.
Shrine in an Alcove
Others are more subdued: carved from stone and aged with a patina of moss.
Prince Siddhartha on Horseback
Buddhism has strong ties to it’s Hindu roots: the Kshatriya Warrior Prince Siddhartha, was the ninth incarnation of the Lord Vishnu, the second god in the Hindu triumvirate. After his enlightenment, he was known as Siddhārtha Gautama, or the Gautama Buddha.
Buddha in an Alcove
As we follow the tunnels through the limestone caves, we come across more altars, …
… and more Buddhas.
Images of deer are often found in Buddhist gardens. They remind us of the first sermon Buddha gave after his enlightenment: to five beggars in Sarnath, a deer park in what is now Uttar Pradesh, India.
Pagodas in the Garden
From our first vantage point, we can see north west to Danang …
Marble Mountains and Prickly Pear
… and west over the outcrops towards the mountains.
Coconut is a refreshing energiser after a long hard climb!
The Bodhisattva of Compassion
All over Vietnam, you will see statues of Quan Am, the Bodhisattva of Mercy or Compassion.
Local Buddhists pray to her for guidance, fertility and protection.
Stairs into the Caves
In most places, the stairs up and down through the caves are well formed.
Look up through the Limestone
In other sections, we were literally climbing through rough gaps in the craggy limestone rock.
Shrine in a Cave
Another cave: another shrine; …
Buddha in a Niche
… another alcove: another Buddha.
Tháp Xá Lợi
We come back out into the open behind the Xa Loi Tower.
We make our way through Heaven’s Gate …
View over Non Nuoc Village
… and up to another lookout.
Back at the bottom of the mountain, we admire the sculptures awaiting packaging and transport …
Giant Kwan Yin in Marble
… as we pass under the blessings of a giant Quan Am …
… and past a Laughing Buddha who looks as though he’s been abandoned.
Before finding our bicycles and pedalling back to the resort, we stopped into the shops for another look around. We found a small piece of marble to take home with us; the stone might have its origins in China, but the carvers live right here – in the shadow of these magic Marble Mountains.
Until next time,
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