Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Flora and Fauna

I've had a few questions about the wildlife/plants around here, so I'll describe that a bit in today's post.

Most of you know I'm an avid birdwatcher, but so far I've only seen around 10-15 species of birds here. The ones that I have seen are quite plentiful, but apparently the avian population here isn't too diverse. I have heard a rumor that someone has a bird book that I can borrow, so it's possible that I can finally identify everything I've seen, rather than just a few of them. The most exotic species so far is some kind of lorikeet, brightly colored with red, green, blue, and yellow. There are a lot of those around, and they sit up in the trees and squawk (like clockwork) every morning from about 6AM to 7AM and every evening from about 5:15-6:15. There are several different kinds of hawks here, but I hadn't seen more than one species until this weekend. Now I'm up to four, but I only know the name of one of them. There was also some kind of... well, I don't even know what family of birds to put it in... it was mostly brown but it had bold yellow and black patterns on its head, and it was like a giant robin that somehow hung around on the tips of branches and stuck its head into flowers. I also saw a flock of finches/sparrows flying around Lonetree yesterday; they were mostly brown with yellow on their backs. Again, I don't really know what most of these are yet! Hopefully soon.

As far as mammals... I've seen... nothing. (other than pet cats and dogs) That probably has a lot to do with the fact that I'm inside Ukarumpa most of the time.

Reptiles/amphibians.... the only one in that category is the lit tle green/brown gecko that I see every once in a while. There was one in my hotel in POM, and I've seen two here in Ukarumpa so far. People don't really even talk about snakes here, so I guess there aren't that many in the highlands.

I was expecting to see a lot of large insects here, but so far that's been limited too. There are a lot of garden spiders that make their massive webs in bushes and trees (and can be seen from pretty much any place where you can see the bush or tree itself). They are black and yellow and green, and the largest ones are probably a little smaller than my palm. Not that I've gotten close enough to tell exactly... I also almost stepped on a big brown hairy spider in the basement last week. That's it as far as spiders though. I've heard that roaches (about 1-2 inches long from what I've seen so far) are somewhat common, but they mostly stay out of sight. There aren't many mosquitoes here in the highlands, which is good, because that lowers the chances of anyone getting malaria or dengue fever. (I've seen two mosquitoes so far here, and killed both of them quickly) There are lots of crickets and chirping things at night, but I haven't bothered to look for those.

While the animal world isn't that diverse here, the plant world certainly is. There are so many different kinds of flowers, bushes, and trees that it would be quite a task to learn all their names. The black, volcanic soil here makes just about anything flourish. I don't even know where to start to describe them all... other than that if you can imagine a plant, there's probably something here that's not too much unlike whatever you've just imagined. :-) In looking through my photo collection so far to find good pictures for today's post, I realized that I need to go out around Ukarumpa on a sunny day and get pictures of some of the flowers here. Most of what I have is either in less flattering light (since it's been cloudy a lot lately) or is just foliage, like these below.

Monday, June 9, 2008


Today, June 9th, is celebrated as the queen's birthday, which is a national holiday in PNG. I think it goes back to the time when PNG had some ties with Australia, which was of course once a British possession. Something like that. Anyway, it means that everyone has the day off here. So instead of going in to the finance office at 8 this morning, I took a hike up a mountain outside of Ukarumpa known as Lonetree with a group of others. Most of the mountain is covered with tall grass, as you can see from the picture above. The stand of trees up top is actually the edge of a small forest that extends down the other side, but apparently about 30-40 years ago, all you could see was one tree. Thus, it became known as Lonetree. (I am told that the historic "lone tree" has since been struck by lightning, died, and become not much more than a blackened stump)

We left around 8:30, just after the night's misty rain had stopped. (of course, in the end we still got soaked, because the grass was about waist high or more, and it was still all wet from the rain) We had to take off our shoes and cross the Bae River just outside Ukarumpa, then we went through a little village where a young boy named Jack took it upon himself to be our guide. He led us up to the top on paths that he assured us (in Pisin) that would keep us away from the landowners who would charge us 20 Kina to walk on their property. The paths were very narrow trails through the grass that were easy enough to see when you were on them, but were small enough that you probably couldn't find them if you were only 10-15 feet away. We estimated that it was about a two mile hike to the top, where (with Jack's help) we made a small fire to warm up and dry off a bit. We saw misty views like the one below on both sides of the mountain, which overlooks long valleys on both sides.

On the way down, it was an adventure making our way along the paths without slipping around too much. The dirt on the little trails was hard packed clay, and since it was wet and our shoes were muddy, we had fun laughing as we all took our turns on the ground from time to time. (Jack only slipped once I think. That was the spot where all of us ended up slipping too) By the time we were halfway down (again, about 2 miles in all) the sun was starting to come out and it was getting much warmer and drier. We came out to a little village and coffee plantation where of course everyone popped out of their houses to see us and wave and smile as we passed. It really is a neat experience to be able to make everyone's day with a wave, a smile, and an "apinun" greeting.

After that, it was about a 4-5 mile walk on a dirt road back to Ukarumpa. Now it was quite a bit warmer, since the sun had finally broken through the clouds, but it was still a nice hike. We got to enjoy seeing the sun and clouds playing across all the grassy hills, which is when I took the picture you see at the top of this post. We got back and were all ready for a rest, considering the whole hike was about 8 miles. Jack stuck with us the whole way until he had to take a trail back to his village towards the end, and patiently waited from time to time for us whiteskins to catch up to him on the steep climbs up the mountain.

It was a nice hike, and sometime I'll have to go up there when it's sunny so that I can see what's it's like when it's clear. It was still neat to see the mist and clouds rolling and moving across the top of the mountain and falling into the valley below. Now, after taking a shower and cleaning up a bit, I'm just relaxing and enjoying the day off.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


Well, now I finally have some time to update you on my weekend. There were two high school music concerts this weekend that I very much enjoyed. The first was Friday night's jazz concert, and the second was Saturday night's band and choir concert. The kids here are very good musicians, and it was fun to hear what they could do.

Saturday afternoon, I took a hike with a few members of the audit team around some of the area south of the centre. It was nice to get outside of Ukarumpa for a little bit and see more of PNG. We came to this one little village where a big crowd of kids came running out to meet us. They absolutely LOVED having their pictures taken! I got some fun videos of them all screaming and laughing and jumping for joy as one of the other guys was getting ready to take their picture. It was fun to be the highlight of their day!

Today, I went with the audit team to the PNG Bible church just outside Ukarumpa. The service was in Tok Pisin, and the congregation was almost entirely nationals. It was interesting, even though we couldn't really understand much of what was being said. The sermon was about how Jesus needs to be Lord of our lives, we can't be going after materialism or spirit worship (something that was, and still is to some extent, a part of the culture here).

Afterwards, we went to a traditional PNG "mumu". That's their name for a big meal. What they do is they dig a pit in the ground, then put rocks in the bottom. They build a big bonfire on top of the rocks, which heats up the rocks. When the fire has died down, they scrape away most of the ashes and coals and leftover charred wood, then throw bundles of food (wrapped in huge green banana leaves) on top. They lay more banana leaves on top of that, then cover what is now no longer a pit, but a mound, with dirt. Typically they will also stick bamboo pipes in so that they can pour water into the mound through them, which creates lots of steam when the water reaches the hot rocks. They pull the pipes out and seal off the mound as well as possible so that they've essentially created a giant pressure cooker in the ground! About 2 hours later, they'll start digging the food out, and the meal is ready to enjoy. Here's a sequence of the food being uncovered:

The food was pretty good, mostly a variety of starchy items like 3 varieties of kaukau (sweet potatoes), some real yams (not what we call yams in the States, which are really sweet potatoes), some cooking bananas (which are meant to be cooked rather than eaten raw), and this grass/root thing (I forget the name) which I tried, and don't really know what to compare it to. Others said it tasted like cooked cattails, though I can't really vouch for that, as I've never had cooked cattails. If any of you have, well, then maybe you know what this tasted like! We also had some chicken, pork, and sausages to go with all the potatoes. Usually that's about the extent of the course options, but considering that we were a large group of "whiteskins," our host put out some fresh fruit as well. The pineapple was amazing! I don't think I'll be able to enjoy it in the States anymore. It has so much flavor here!

We also tried a few coffee "cherries" that were growing nearby. You would never know that we get coffee beans from them, if you didn't know better. It really does look like a small cherry, with something that looks a lot like a bean seed inside. The cherry part is fairly sweet, and the bean really doesn't have any flavor. Apparently the coffee beans we're used to seeing only get their flavor through being roasted. Speaking of which, apparently the coffee here is so much better than what we have at home, and it's a reasonable price too. (I don't drink coffee, but people who do have told me this) If any of you want me to buy some for you and bring it back with me, let me know, and I'll get a definitive answer on what the price would be.

There's a group that just got in yesterday who will be staying here in the same house I'm in for the next 2 weeks. They're doing a missions trip around the world, stopping in Australia, PNG, Thailand, India, Nepal, the Netherlands, and then back to the US. One of their leaders is named Jacob, and he and I are sharing the same room right now. They thought that would make things easier, having both of us in the same room. All they have to do is say "the Jacobs' room" and it's clear what they mean. The place is quite lively now that they're here. I may get to go out and around the valley with them from time to time too.

There's something here you can be praying about, that I don't think I've mentioned in any of my other posts. SIL members all have to have visas to be here, and I think they're valid for three years. Unfortunately, they are done in a large batch, so they all expire at the same time. Normally this isn't a problem, they just send everything in for renewal processing and within a month or two it's all taken care of. Well, this year, there's a big backlog in Port Moresby (which is where they're all processed) so a lot of people are without valid visas. The government is ok with letting them stay here even though their visas have expired, because the government knows the situation. Members can't, however, leave the country without a valid visa. There are a lot of people who are planning to go back to the States or elsewhere in the next few months for furlough, to take their kids to college, etc. If they don't get their visas on time, they can't go, which is anywhere from a $5000-20,000 loss depending on the size of the family and the number of airline tickets involved. At this point, people have been able to get their visas sometimes just days before they leave, but the whole situation is quite stressful for those with plans to leave. Pray that the offices in POM will be able to process everything quickly and that everyone who needs their visa will be able to get it on time.