Balimo Is Beautiful – Her People, Her Culture, Her Nature
Word Count 2532. Estimated reading time: 3 minutes. Photos: Only the Best of Balimo!
Balimo is beautiful. The sun rises and sets on the most beautiful lagoon in PNG created by the floodwaters of the dark, fresh water Aramia River that winds its way down from the highlands of Western Province.
Along the Balimo shores white, pink and purple water lilies blossom as canoes cross the dark fresh water and moor along the vivid green grass as the gentle lagoon winds whisper through the water reeds.
Pelicans, pigeons, doves, hornbills, kingfishers, ducks live and die here and above eagles soar high to gracefully dive the waters like brown and white arrows, talons extended at the last minute to catch silver fish.
Balimo is located in the Middle Fly District of Western Province. Special thanks to PNG Tourism for their assistance.
I flew in here on a 2hr flight from Port Moresby. The Airlines PNG flight first touched down in Daru, an island of the tip of Western Province and a stone throw away from the Aus-PNG border.
From Daru, we headed back over the mainland of Western Province, following the giant Fly River and then turning away from it, crossing over the giant Bamu River up to Balimo.
Below us, the water’s of the giant flood plains reflected the sunlight so brightly as if the sun was shining from under the waters, calling us to visit the mysterious water land below that curved with the earth.
We landed at the grassy Balimo airport. Despite the look of the airport, the landing was pretty good. There is no shade here. Later I found out that there was shelter here, but a bolt of lightning tore through it and killed a man. They didn’t rebuild after that.
It was just an Indian missionary and I arriving in Balimo. The Indian looked like a Papua New Guinea, or a Papuan. It was only when he asked me ‘Is this Balimo?’ that I realised that he was from another country. ‘No idea’ I said, ‘But I hope it is.’
We asked the guy opening the door of the plane. Yes it is, he said. Great.
There was a crowd of people at the airport, mainly people waiting to get on the flight.
I jumped off and stood there a bit lost. I knew no one here. No one at all – I was in the middle of Western Province, with my cameras and backpack surrounded by perfect strangers.
I walked over to a gentleman who looked like he was in his late 40’s. “Mate,” I said. “ Is there a guest house or something here in Balimo?”
He asked if I was working with a contract company here or something. “Local Tourist, “ I replied.
‘You want to see Balimo?” He asked. Yes I said.
He was a great chap. He put me onto a truck that he explained would take me to a workers accommodation in town. Less than a minute later we were in town and I was at the Beamaya donger, a shed of about 8 units with single beds in each one.
From there, I tried to plan my adventure. I had set my mind on getting to the giant Wawoi Falls from Balimo. There is such a lack of information in regards to getting to Balimo and the Wawoi falls that I was just operating on pure guesswork.
I thought I could get there and back in a day and then wander around Balimo.
I found out later, after travelling one whole day by boat to the nearby Kamusi logging camp and stranded at a logging firms accommodation, when I was broke, with only enough money to make the trip back to Balimo, when I had failed to get to the Wawoi falls, that I had totally messed up even with my over estimations.
I will further elaborate on this on the next post on travelling the Bamu River.
But one story at a time. And I wont bore you with the details. So what are the awesome things about Balimo?
The People off course
The Balimo people’s hospitality is something I can never repay. I had over estimated the cost of getting to the Wawoi falls and did not have enough to make it there. I only had enough to make the return trip to Balimo.
This also meant that I wouldn’t be able to stay at the local guesthouse because I was really down cash wise.
I had already spent three days in Balimo trying to book a flight on the MAF flight to Wawoi, but the flight would not land at Balimo. I had already spent more than I estimated for on three days accommodation.
The boys on the boat I hired spoke to me when we were returning from failing to get to Wawoi Falls. They said ‘Kaks,’ don’t worry, you can stay with us.’ (Kaks means big brother).
The boy who owned the boat, 20 year old John Kiwa and his in-law, Tibini Kemeda of the Wabadala clan Balimo Village said they had helped many others who set out for a great adventure in Western Province and got stranded.
I stayed with them for three nights and enjoyed it. During the days and nights I was surrounded by young guys who told me stories after stories of their lives and the legends of Balimo and the Gogodala people.
They have formed a band called the ‘Lightning Boys’ and let me record some of their songs on my digital camera to play back.
It was through them that I got to see a Balimo that many people don’t see. I met many people who were interested in why this perfect stranger was hanging with these kids who wore torn jeans with colorful designs.
They told me stories about the Gogodala people everywhere I went.It was great for them to as they learnt more of their own culture through my conversations with others.
Many of the older boys would offer me soft drinks and smokes, would wave at me and come just to chat and treat me like one of them.
The boys are very interested in tourism and want people to be part off it somehow. When I left I gave them my camera and told them to take pictures of birds. There are some many birds here, so many types.
Birdwatchers would love to come to a place like this. John was keenly interested. He wanted people to see his world and stay with him. At 20 years of age, he was cool, calm and showed a sense of maturity that attracted a large group of boys to him.
His father was a policeman who had passed away and with his mother’s permission, he had used his pension to purchase the 50hp motor and boat that I was to use to travel down the Aramia River, up the Bamu River towards Kamusi.
They are great people. How I was treated really illustrated the idea of Melanesian hospitality – you can easily make friends for a lifetime.
As I write this, I wonder what they are doing…probably sitting under John’s house, strumming on two old guitars that are missing 3 strings each and singing their songs.
There are some adventures in life that are hard to describe.
The Sepik culture is the most famous of Papua New Guinea’s river civilisations, but in the flood plains of the Aramia also exists one of the worlds most unique river cultures, that of the Gogodala people.
Their belief system is amazing. They believe that all humans belong to three family – Red, White and Yellow. And that all things that exist in the world also are members of the different families From the living things such as ant which belongs to one clan, to the innate phenomena like fire or lightning or water which all belong to another clan, to even a house which belongs to another clan, or a bed or a door or a knife. Everything in the world, everything that is in existence has a clan, has a family.
Their art is colourful, of carvings and paintings using their dominant colors of Red, White, Yellow and Black to show their clan designs. If I started to elaborate on what I saw and learnt, it would be an essay of over thousand words so I will live that to the next post where I talk about the Gogodala and a visit to the Kini Village.
Balimo Lagoon System
The waters of this great flood plain stretch forever. When the rains come, this giant catchment swells and floods the grassy plains several meters deep and several kilometres wide. Large ships can journey all the way up to Balimo, right up to the township and further inland.
There is an explosion in bird life, turtles and more here as the seasonal changes creates new habitats and more food.
You wont catch much Barramundi here when the tides swell, but Saratoga, carp and catfish are plentiful. Canoes can be seen all over the waters as women fish all day, some of which they take to the local market to sell, and the rest for themselves.
Water lilies, reeds and wild water flowers are everywhere. Children head out with their grand parents or in little canoes and can be seen diving overboard for water lily ‘fruit,’ the unopened purple pod of the flower. Sweet and filled with water lily seeds, the also sell them a the local market for K1 for a whole bundle.
The insect and small reptile life here is quite diverse. I don’t think I have seen so many different dragonflies in PNG in one place. From giant golden dragonflies to smaller blue ones, you wake up each day to a brand new dragonfly hovering in front of you.
When I was there, I spotted an eagle flying high over the lagoon. It would dive the lagoon and come with fish. It would take the fish to a nest high up on a communications tower of the Balimo Administration building. There were two eagles, and they must have had a nest of young. One would do the fishing and hunting while the other would watch the nest.
Not many people in our cities and towns can get to see the behaviour of a wild pair of brown eagles nesting their young. It was a rare privilege that the Balimo townsfolk go unaware off.
Birds are everywhere here. All over the waters you can see them. You wake up in the early morning hours to strange birdcalls. In the nearby woody areas on the headlands, parrots, hornbills, kingfishers and more emerge, to fly and rest on floating islands of reeds in the lagoon.
If I was there longer, I would try to get as many pictures as possible of these birds and share them here, but maybe on the next trip.
Balimo town is actually named after the Balimo village. This is the place where Lutheran missionaries first landed and built their first church around the early 1900’s.
The Gogodala people are pretty organised people so they arranged the village with the church and community meeting place at the centre of the village.
Later, as the colonial administration and the then the National Government increased their services and presence in the Aramia River area, they built upon the work of the church and the villagers and established Balimo as an important small town in the Middle Fly area of Western Province.
It is here you can find the main medical centre for the Middle Fly area as well as the administration offices for education and other services as well.
There are several high schools, a large technical school and several community schools at Balimo as well as the airport.
Recently, the Western Province Government has relocated its offices from Daru to Balimo and maybe in the future, when Daru becomes more important to ships, the Western Province capital may become either Balimo or the mining town of Kuinga.
The town itself is a ‘one main street’ affair. The road runs from the Balimo Airport, passed the high school, community school and vocational centre, pass the Balimo Hospital and into town with small stores that line both sides and sell almost everything that you can find in stores in Port Moresby.
The main Balimo market is a central social point of the Balimo community and is located in the epicentre of town.
The road continues a bit further and forks around a field.
One street leads down towards the provincial administration building and the other leads to Airlines PNG point, where many Government public servants houses are and the Airlines PNG office can be found.
When you are at Balimo, you will realise that you are on a headland, created by the flooded plains. So you will have a different view of the Balimo at different places. One thing I recommend is wake up in the morning to watch the sunrise. Its strange, like watching the sun actually rise from the space between the waters and the grass…doesn’t make sense? You have to go see it yourself.
Balimo is a colourful place. There are so many types of flowering plants and creeping vines growing all over the town. As well as that the Gogodala art can be seen on every store, on carvings at the soon to be opened Bank of South Pacific officeand the at the Administration office.
Also the local people have Gogodala art outside their houses, on their clothe as well on giant painted posters supporting their local rugby league teams.
They love rugby league. You can watch their games on the weekends. These tall, very muscular men form teams representing their clans. In friendly competition, screaming their clan war cries they run into each other, the thud of muscle and bones crashing into each other is so loud you can hear it on the sidelines. They can play Rugby League here that’s for sure, they can also bring the pain to each other.
Gogodala Canoe Festival
Every year they have the Gogodala Canoe Festival where each clans brings out their finest canoes and their best rowers. These men, 50 in total stand shoulder to shoulder in the long dug outs and race the other clans canoes. This is an extreme sport. I was told that almost every year, one person has died during a race, collapsing from the sheer exhaustion of the sprint race through the waters. They told me that if the person collapses on the boat, they don’t stop paddling they keep going, faster and faster, harder and harder.
How to Get to Balimo and Get Around
Interested in Getting to Balimo, Airlines PNG has weekly flights out that way. It will cost you around K2000 return trip. There are two guestshouses, the Beayama Guest House, which provides breakfast and dinner (K140 per night), and the Mana Guesthouse (K80), where you cook your own meals on kerosene stoves.
When you get to Balimo, just jump on any truck or walk there, its not very far from the Airport to town and they will drop you off.
To get around the waters ask for John Kiwa of Balimo village and hire his boat. He will take you to great places. I’ll be putting more Balimo posts up soon. Learn more about Western Province here.
Enjoy the pictures and share your thoughts below.