Papua New Guinea with Travcoa

A “full-body mask.” Photos: O’Reilly
Tribesman with scarification body art.

In PNG, there’s a lot to go wrong, but our Aug. 7-22, ’05, trip with Travcoa (2424 SE Bristol St., Ste. 310, Newport Beach, CA 92660; 866/591-0070 or www. was just fine. It was a luxury tour — the land cost was $9,000 — so there were no hardships; we were safe in our little “bubble.” We spent one week in The Highlands and one on the Sepik River on a nice, 40-passenger cruise ship.

The other travelers were interesting, fun people — many of them ITN subscribers. We, and I suspect most of the visitors in the country at the time (200-300), attended the Mt. Hagen sing-sing, which is sort of a Mardi Gras with thousands of locals parading around in all their fabulous, colorful, photogenic ceremonial getups.

We encountered very few independent travelers. Jan, our local guide, said that business was off, partly because of “exaggerated media reports.” None of us wandered away from the tour in the reputed “hot spots” for crime. Tourist dollars are critical to PNG, and the tour operators donate to the villages, so rascals know that an attack on a guided tour would be risky.

Except in cities, I saw few people wearing shoes. There was limited telephone service, and I saw no cell phones. In rural areas I noticed only a couple of TV antennas. There were few private cars, even in cities. Except for many egrets, which apparently are bad eating, we didn’t see much wildlife.

Lots of passengers can fit in one dugout! — Sepik River.
Spirit men at the Mt. Hagen sing-sing.

It was fascinating to see how a primitive tribal culture — with 800 different languages and xenophobia/bellicosity toward all other tribes plus only a few modern embellishments — really works.

— JOHN O’REILLY, San Francisco, CA