From New England to New Guinea: Noël Explores the Final Frontier

  • Unmistakable Papua New Guinea. A place where the Mosquitos are a national sports team, sea shells were once the currency, and some locals still live closer to the past than the future. Growing up in Connecticut, where family getaways consisted of slow summers on Cape Cod, the prospect of uttering the words, "I'm off to Papua New Guinea" was an extreme unlikelihood.
  • But this past June, I found myself saying those very words to an inquisitive New York City cab driver as he drove me to the airport. My first night was spent above the clouds at 7,100 feet. I woke up early the following morning and headed to the lodge's botanical garden where I snapped this photo. The vibrant flowers gave way to wide open vistas allowing views for miles over the Wahgi Valley. Coffee in hand, I stood there in awe, wondering how I'd gotten so lucky.
  • Next stop: Wahgi Valley! Here, a reveler covered in black paint from head-to-toe takes a break from performing in the 8th annual Wahgi Sing-Sing, a celebration of culture and tradition showcasing groups from Papua New Guinea's highlands. Though we were the only Western spectators at the sing-sing, we were warmly welcomed and found that people were as curious about us as we were about them.
  • Future Wahgi Sing-Singer!
  • I will never forget watching the sing-sing performers get into costume. Ironically, it felt like being backstage at the Fashion Week tents in Bryant Park (maybe a little different!). Men and women adorned themselves in feather headdresses, painted their faces, and traded in their western garb for outlandish hand-woven costumes, every bit made from natural materials extracted from the environment.
  • The local people are a photographer's dream. As onlookers, it was clear to us that the extravagant displays of song and dance are an emblem of pride and identity.
  • As the festivities began to wind down, we headed to the village guest house, an adventure in and of itself. After an unexpected and comically vigorous climb up a beautiful yet mud-covered mountain, we arrived at our house in the jungle. I barely slept a wink that night thanks to the large-winged insect sharing my pillow, but I wouldn't have traded it for 800 thread count sheets and a private plunge pool.
  • Trading in Le Creuset cookware for good old-fashioned banana leaves!
  • Comfortable and durable footwear is a must in Papua New Guinea! (Intrepid attitude recommended.)
  • The next stop on our journey was so remote it could only be reached by boat and light aircraft. Here our pilot, an expat from Australia, poses with the official airport greeter who personally welcomes and sees off every single plane that comes and goes through the airport. You certainly won't find service like that at any airport in New York!
  • Locals along the Sepik depend heavily on the river for transportation, water and food. Despite the threat of crocodiles, children splashed in the water.
  • As we floated down the river, children out fishing for their families motioned for us to check out their trophies from a hard day's work. This boy showed us the impressive catfish he caught moments before.
  • My moment as a Huli 'Wigwoman'. Largely unknown to outsiders until the 1930s, the Huli are an indigenous people who have lived in the Southern Highlands for about 1,000 years, making them one of the last discovered peoples on Earth.
  • When it started to rain, the Hulis traded in their wigs for more familiar headgear.
  • In an effort to look like birds of paradise which they greatly revere, Huli Wigmen wear necklaces made from cassowary quills, vibrant feathers in their wigs and hornbill beaks on their backs. As they dance and sing, their grass skirts move up and down resembling a bird's plumage.
  • After a bow and arrow demonstration by this Huli warrior, Ally tried her hand at it and surprisingly gave him a run for his money!
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