The Medina of Marrakech

Welcome to the Medina. The Media translates to city, and is the old part of Marrakech. It’s well protected behind the red walls surrounding every nook and corner. Merchants display their finest teapots and rugs for curious passerby’s. A trip to Marrakech is not complete without getting lost in the Medina, while haggling your way through the Souk. Here’s a photoseries to spark your wanderlust.

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Sweep me into the desert

No matter where you go, it never seems like enough time. These 3 days in Marrakech has flown by. I barely managed to plant my feet, before another adventure is sweeping me away. But not any kind of adventure, no this is something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time. The adventure I’m seeking, is no other than a 3 day desert trip to Fez. Camels, sleeping in the Sahara desert under the stars, visiting Berber towns and driving across the Atlas mountains. *Squealing*. Of course I didn’t read the part about not departing back to Marrakech from Fez. So me and my big ass suitcase will have to take the train. I’ve heard the scenery is stunning, so yeah sure what the heck. I can probably survive another 7 hour of my bum being glued down to a seat in a confined space.

As promised here are the photos from my gorgeous breakfast on the rooftop patio yesterday. In Morocco the most important meal of the day, is the breakfast. So of course it will be a magnificent feast. Two platters with pancakes, freshly baked bread, croissants, cakes and fruit. Freshly squeezed orange juice and a pot of Moroccan mint green tea. As I was munching down on a slice of oranges, morning prayer started like clockwork. Distant chanting spreading across the Médina. “Allahu Akbar”. The sun felt amazing on my frosted cheeks. It was one of those moments where you fall in love with life, and you feel blessed for the opportunity you’ve been given.

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I’m in love with Morocco, and I’m certain I’ll just fall harder the longer I stay.

My ride is here to sweep me off into the desert. Whatever you guys are doing this weekend, I hope you have a good one.

Love, Chris.

My home for the next night

Every now and then when I travel I like to indulge myself in the finer things in life. We all want nice things in life right? I’m just like you. This trip I’ve decided I’m just gonna treat myself and stay in a very nice room, all by myself. I’m still staying at Riad Le Rihani, but I downgraded to a cheaper room. I don’t know if I would call it downgrading per se, because my new room is still insanely nice. More like a minimizing of space. Ah, how much easier (and cheaper) everything would be if I had a man candy by my arm. But no, I’m an independent woman who don’t need a man. Except for these cold ass nights here in Marrakech. Any takers on being the big spoon for the night? No?

Ok, back to my gorgeous room.

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Staying in a Riad is something you can’t go without trying when you are in Morocco. It’s a very authentic way of experiencing the Moroccan hospitality. These rooms and homes are exactly what I imagined before coming here. And it’s giving me serious inspiration for what my future home is going to look like. I’ve always been attracted to the moroccan, balinese and Indian type of decor. You can imagine my struggle of not buying the whole damn pot and bring it home with me.

And if you thought the the rooms where nice, have a look at the breakfast set up. Can   someone just buy be me a house looking like this already? That would be much appreciated. I hear Christmas is coming up soon.. *hinthint*

Today I’m going to try the breakfast up at the sunroof deck. Stay tuned!

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Good morning from Marrakech

Good morning from the beautiful city of Marrakech. Today I woke up in a stunning Riad in the heart of the Medina. I arrived late afternoon yesterday, after a long busy queue to get my passport stamped, I was thrilled when my driver awaited me by the exit at the airport. Ibrahim, my driver explained where everything was, and what I shouldn’t miss on my visit. I’m staying in the Medina, the old city of Marrakech. Here the streets are quite narrow, so we had to park the car about 5 minutes walking to our Riad. A hotel employee came to escort me, while a porter transported my luggage in a trolley. This is quite common here, and I’ll post a photo to show what that looks like next time I see one.

I was greeted by the owner of the Riad, a lovely French woman named Cecile, and had my first taste of Morrrocan tea and pastries.

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I decided to treat myself and booked a suite for the first night. For those wondering what a Riad is, it’s a type of mansion people used to live in back in the day. Now most Riads have been turned into hostels and guesthouses. The characteristics of a Riad is the rooms, typically no more than 10, surrounding a big open aired garden in the middle, with a sun roof terrace with day beds. Today in most Riads there will be a pool along with lounges to enjoy Morrocan tea.

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It’s quite cold this time of the year, and every room has stone floors, I would recommend to bring slippers or some wool socks so you don’t get cold on your feet when walking around. Luckily in the Riad I’m staying at, they have a portable heater to help keep the room warm. As I’m writing this I’m siting with my feet pressed against the heater, in sweatpants and a hoodie, cursing myself for not bringing my winter jacket. I haven’t been outside yet, but I’m sure with the sun warming my face I’ll be fine. I did bring a warm scarf, so I’ll just have to layer it up incase I get cold, or worst case scenario, just buy a new one.

Another reason I haven’t gone out yet, is because I had a rather unpleasant experience yesterday, leaving me quite shaken up. As I was walking home in the dark, a man (Italian) followed me back to the front door of the Riad, trying to start up a conversation, asking if I spoke Italian or French, while coming a bit too close. He was quite persistent, and as I struggled with my keys I could feel him getting closer. I finally managed to open the door, and as I was closing he pressed on through the door, asking me if wanted to have sex with him. The employees heard me starting to scream at him, as I was about to punch him, they came and chased him away. None the less, he wasn’t a local and nothing happened. But it’s still very uncomfortable, especially when you’re a solo female traveller. Why the hell do men think it’s okay in any way to behave like that? Using sex and violence as a way of having power over women and girls, leaving us afraid of walking alone. I think I’ll just stay inside after sundown, to take proper precautions. Before I left I was considering if I should bring my pepperspray, but I didn’t. Now I kinda regret it. But I’m gonna get dressed anyways, walk around and experience this city I’ve dreamt about visiting for so long. I refuse to let that idiot ruin this trip for me. My advice ladies, just be careful when walking around at night alone. As much as it sucks to have to say this, because it shouldn’t have to be this way. You just never know what can happened, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Madang, the northern coast of Papua New Guinea

Madang is located in the Northern coast of Papua New Guinea. It’s one of the biggest cities along with Port Moresby. In this region alone there are roughly around 200 languages spoken. Madang is great for diving and cultural experiences, it’s famous for bird watching. It’s one of the more tourist friendly places in PNG, being one of the easier destination for independent traveling.

We made the mistake of not planning anything before arriving, but luck would have it, that we stumbled upon Kalibobo Village on booking.com. With flights leaving almost everyday with Air Niugini, it’s easy to book the tickets yourself. Most hotels in Papua New Guinea offer free airport transportation, due to taxi’s being highly unreliable. Together with the opportunity of booking your own flights and accommodation, it should be easy to get around without a travel agency. One thing to note is that there is only 4 hotels/resorts to choose between in Madang. Kalibobo Village is part of Madang Resort, leaving two more options for accommodation. The region is big while the city center is very small.

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The majority of the population live on neighboring islands, using boats and homemade rafts carved out of wood, as their main transportation. The city is considerably more quiet on Sundays because people attend church, and spend the day relaxing with their families at home. As we walked around, friendly faces greeted us with a smile and “hi, hello how are you?”

Papua New Guinean’s are famous for their excellent carving skills. Vendors line up their beautifully wooden carved pieces outside hotels, for tourists and locals to buy. The locals are more interested in buying spears, knives and shields for battle, while tourist often buy wooden sculptures. What better travel souvenir to bring home for showcasing, than a wooden carved battle shield? I’m sure that will get the conversation going around the dinner table, with your crazy uncle pretending to be a warrior and you telling crazy stories from your time in PNG.

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One aspect I truly admired with the people in Papua New Guinea, was the social interaction that happens daily. In western societies we spend the majority of our time on social media, our eyes and hands glued to our phone. Constantly mentally stimulated with sounds and pictures, often going a whole day without having an conversation IRL. It was beautiful to watch how the Papua New Guinean’s interacted with each other. As I mentioned, Sunday is a holy day meant for relaxation with the family.

A group of men have gathered down by the boats while the women buy fish and beetlenut. On weekdays the city is filled with people coming from the highlands and the mountians, ready to trade fruit and other merchandise.

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There was one thing I noticed in Papua New Guinea, no one uses a baby stroller. The child is carried on the mothers hip, or with a baby wrap. Already before the age of 1 the child has to learn how to hold on to the mother, because she is carrying food and clothes in her hands.

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Curious eyes followed us as we walked by. Friendly faces greeted us and more than once were we approached, by curious passerby’s who wanted to know where we were from. To our surprise, most of them knew Norway was a country in Europe, and that it was very cold. It seems like the people enjoyed our visit, and gladly posed for a photo. Our guide in Madang explained that people are trying hard to show that Papua New Guinea is a safe destination, with tourism being a major source of income for the country.

P1120531P1120544P1120543One of the locals approached me to take a photo together.

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Most tourist coming to Papua New Guinea are often in their 30s and 40s, working as volunteers, christian missionaries or simply here for the unspoiled nature. Me and Morten being very young, with visible tattoos, we attend to attract a lot of attention wherever we go. Especially as a woman, people tend so stare more than they do with men. This was one of the people who were drawn to our body art, and wanted to know where we’d gotten all our tattoos from. He himself was a tattoo artist, and showed us the tattoos he’d done with his homemade tattoo gun.

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Want to know my advice for planning a trip to Papua New Guinea? Read my 17 things to know before visiting PNG.

A visit to Balek village

One of the amazing things to do in Madang is of course a visit to a village. Yes an actual village where people live in huts without electricity and running water. Our hotel helped arrange everything for us, on a half day tour with a private guide chauffeuring us around. He gave us a thorough explanation on every single question we had about Papua New Guinea, and you bet did we ask.

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Before visiting the Balek village, we stopped by a side road market to pick up some fruit and beetlenut. Me and Morten wanted to try one, but we ended up forgetting by the end of the day. As you can see in the picture, to get a high from the beetlenut you will need 3 ingredients. The nut, the white powder and the stalk. Together they give you the feeling of being high. Our guide stopped doing it because he always ran out of one of 3 items. Children in Papua New Guinea are given their first taste of beetlenut by the age of 6, already becoming addicted at such a young age. Parents don’t give a second thought of how damaging the side effects are.

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The women in Papua New Guinea is the one who has to do all the heavy lifting. Raising the children, preparing food, cleaning the house and carrying groceries. The women carry up to 25kgs on their heads, starting training from a young age. You would think that because the men are strongest sex, physically, that the heavy lifting was done by them. Not in Papua New Guinea.

Getting closer to the village we could see how quiet and relaxing the surroundings were. Beautiful green mountains on each side, palms soaring up to the sky. It truly looked untouched. The first village we visited was the Balek tribe. The Balek tribe consists of 3 clans, forming one tribe with around 300 people. In Papua New Guinea 90 % of land is private property owned by farmers. The knowledge is passed down from generation to generation. Because there are no official government documents of ownership over land area, this cases a lot of conflict. Mostly just talking and bickering.

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The water in the village is crystal clear, coming down from the mountains. A woman sits  by the river cleaning tomatoes grown in their backyard, ready for eating. She is waiting for the eels to come out, which she hand feeds. It was an incredible tranquil thing to experience. Sometimes I still look back to this day and wonder what my life would be, if I left comforts behind, and became more at one with the universe.

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The villagers of the Balek tribe takes great pride in keeping it clean. To quote “we have to take care of our home”. He explains that the city people have no regards for the amount of trash they produce, or care where the garbage and plastic bottle end up. The villagers don’t like it, because it’s contaminating their home. They spend a great amount of time encouraging others to help pick up trash, to keep it nice and clean. The bottles collected are brought into town and sold.

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This adorable woman who didn’t speak a single word of English came over to give us a taste of a strange fruit.

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We walked across the road to a botanical garden. The garden is naturally formed with crystal clear pond created by natural formations. The water comes down from the mountains, with a river going across the street and into to the village. Beautiful trees, lush mountains surrounding the garden, paprika growing in the trees and a family of tiny turtles. I was sold with the word turtle. The turtles come here to give birth to their babies, and this is where they spend the rest of their lives. The locals leave them be, trying to hand feed them everyday, almost like a pet. Except the turtles doesn’t care for human interaction. I’ve said this so many times already, but I truly loved the quiet way of life around here.

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After our little visit we had one more stop before heading home. One experience I’d been dreaming about for so long. A sing sing! Read my Sing sing – a show of bursting colors to find out how and what it was like to experience a cultural performance.

First stop: Port Moresby

Port Moresby is the capital of Papua New Guinea, and the first pit stop when entering the country, before continuing to your final destination. With the lack of infrastructure and flights only leaving on certain days of the week, it’s advisable to spend your first and last night here, as cancellations and delays are quite common.

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We stayed with Holiday Inn express, a short 15 minute drive from the airport, we arranged airport pickup with our hotel before coming here, which is free might I also add. Our driver were kind enough to point out different landmarks as we drove by. I wasn’t sure what to expect when we arrived, but Port Moresby was more developed than I had imagined. As we drove on further away from the airport, we were struck with the sights of little sheds in the hills, where poverty is so clearly prominent.

I can understand why you should refrain from flashing your western luxuries.

In the city itself there isn’t much to do. The city tours offered by the hotel were the national park and the Parliament House, costing 80 USD. The city is dirty, chaotic and besides a mall it’s quite boring.

It’s not safe to walk around after sunset, even during the day it’s advised to pay for a escort for safe passage. We were approached by a man who offered to escort us around, but since we were only walking 100 meters to check out the mall, we should be fine. The worst day to walk on the streets, is on Friday, which happens to be payday. Large groups of men will gather after sunset. Take precautions and stay inside to avoid being a victim of opportunistic crime.

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We were both excited to arrive at the hotel to start making arrangements for our next destination. Little did we know how much stress we were in for. I made the mistake of not booking nor planning anything before arriving, beside our first night of accommodation. It’s not an easy task to plan a itinerary in a country where independent travel is near impossible. We read before coming here that it was possible to arrange tours through your hotel. Wrong. Hotels can only help with arranging tours in the city itself, nothing outside of Port Moresby.

Locals sit outside the mall selling beetlenut.

With terrible WiFi and nearly none existing 3G, we scoured the internet for whatever we could find. There had to be something. Finally we found a great dive resort I had read about a couple of months ago. After checking availability online, we tried calling ahead to make arrangements, but had to respond via email, taking forever to receive a reply. This is when we learned the hard lesson of how painfully slow everything is here, and the lack of airplanes leaving only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. By the time we knew the price tag, the last tickets were gone. We only had one week, and there wasn’t enough time to fly out on another day. Later we learned that Tufi dive resort is one of the only resorts left in Papua New Guinea, still arranging overnight stays with villagers, who dress in traditional clothing. Also one of the more affordable options in PNG.

Finally we found a great resort in Madang, who offered different tours and activities such as diving, village tours and bird watching. Bingo! We ended up staying with Kalibobo Village. Now that we had it all sorted out, we could finally relax and shake off all the stress of the day, before yet another day of traveling.

Stunning sunset in Port Moresby. Isn’t it beautiful? 

Papua New Guinea, A land of mysteries and wonder

Papua New Guinea, a land of mysteries and wonder. One of the last unexplored territories left in this world. If you’re seeking the off beaten track untouched by mass tourism, look no further. No other place will you find such a diversity in bird species, culture and language. To this day there exist over 800 different languages spoken across the country. Active volcanoes, dense rainforest and hiking routes like the Kokoda Trail is some of the many things that attracts visitors to Papua New Guinea. When I told friends and family where I was going, you can imagine their reaction. Yes Papua New Guinea’s reputation precedes it, and I fully understand the concern for safety.  Inter-tribal rivalry do happen in some parts of the country, but tourist and visitors are not the target. Like anywhere in the world you could become the victim of bag snatching or pickpocket thiefs. If you take sensible precautions and listen to local advice, this can easily be avoided.

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Papua New Guinea is still in the early stages of development, the country is rich while the citizens are poor. You should prepare yourself for a cultural shock. The majority of people live without water and electricity, so expect modest conditions when visiting remote areas. The infrastructure is basic and the closest to public transportation you will come by, is minibuses or open trucks. Comfort and style is not a priority, neither is a set time table for departure and arrival. Outside of the main towns, there is only a few, poorly maintained roads making internal flights inevitable. The flights only leave on certain days of the week, and is weather-dependent. Delays and cancellations is not uncommon, being flexible with traveling dates will come in handy. Getting around is also difficult, and near impossible without a hired driver. There isn’t GPS, so unless you know the direction it’s advised to hire someone rather than renting and driving yourself.

The way of life in Papua New Guinea is very relaxed. Time moves differently, and Papua New Guinean’s don’t bother themselves with trivial things like material items. They wake up when the sun rises, go to the local market to exchange merchandise, and sleep when the sun sets. Children and teenagers play ball game by the water, and while we were walking around taking photographs, two boys winked us over to proudly show all the fish they managed to catch with their spear while snorkeling. People are incredibly social, and interaction is an important part of the day.

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Another aspect of Papua New Guinea to be aware of, is the male dominated society. Almost everyone I met before traveling there, advised me not to travel alone as a woman. Personally I felt 100% safe while walking in the streets. I did travel together with a male friend, therefore I can’t answer what it’s like for solo female visitors. But covering up legs, and dressing modest will get you a long way. Being a woman in Papua New Guinea is hard. Domestic violence is common, and 80% of all women have experienced in some way, domestic violence. This is only the statistic of the reported cases. It’s not unheard of men having up to 5 wives, the reason behind this I don’t know. Papua New Guinea’s culture is also highly influenced by superstitious beliefs. One of those believes is that a dog is a guardian, to protect their home from evil spirits. If the dog gets sick, it’s a good thing because that means the spirit took the dog, rather than them.

One of the biggest misconception about Papua New Guinea, is that the people are cannibals. That was true, back in the day when the tribes went to war, they would eat the flesh of their dead enemy to consume their power. Today, according to our guide, the only people practicing cannibalism is people living in demonic cults. Cannibalism was made illegal in the 1950s, and the tribes stopped doing it once they learned the dangers of passing on diseases, such as Mad Cow disease.

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You’ll need to get organized and plan ahead of your visit. Port Moresby, your first city of embarkation there are plenty of accommodation to choose between, consisting of modern and overpriced hotels. We stayed at Holiday Express Inn, costing 200$/night for a room with two twin beds. This was one of the cheapest accommodations available. You can also stay in in-expensive church run guesthouses with christian missionaries, but must abide by the no drinking, no cursing, no smoking rules.

Papua New Guinea is one of a kind when it comes to experiencing bird watching and diving. There are diving and birdwatching lodges, who specialize in activities to experience local culture, like a sing sing. Getting in contact with the lodges can be difficult, because many of the accommodations are not listed on hotel sites such as booking and hotels.com. The main form of communication is per email, and often through a tour operator or travel agency. While there is wifi and 3G, with Digicel and Vodaphone mobile reception through most of the country, this is extremely expensive. Maybe going incognito and just enjoying your trip, without social media, is not the worst idea. I’m sure instagram and facebook will be there when you return to civilization. We did buy each a simcard, paying around 25 USD for 2.5 GB. If you absolutely can’t go without, I would recommend buying Digicel. It had better reception than Vodaphone.

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One of the amazing things about Papua New Guinea, is the different cultural shows taking place during the summer months of July and August in the highlands. The shows is a flash of color and a sensory overload, in the good way. We had the pleasure of experiencing a Sing Sing in Madang. To learn what a Sing Sing is continue reading here.

Papua New Guinea is one of those places that will tug at your heart strings, and bring out your inner explorer. I encountered some of the warmest and friendliest people I have ever met. It will make it hard for you to believe all the craziness going on. You are guaranteed a trip like nothing you’ve ever experienced before, with some of the most beautiful sunrises you ever laid your eyes on.

“Expect the unexpected, in Papua New Guinea.”

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Want to know my best tips for a pain free trip to Papua New Guinea? Read my 17 things to know before visiting PNG.

Sing sing – a show of bursting colors

Ever dreamt about escaping the ordinary and just for once in your life, witnessing something completely different from what we grasp as normal? Experiencing a cultural show in Papua New Guinea was a dream come true. As our guide drove us further away from civilization, a stunning scenery of green luscious mountain hilltops unfolded in front of us. “Wow, this is so beautiful. Is this what the world used to look like before it became industrialized?” The car is getting closer to the village, people is waving and smiling at us as we drive by. We reach our destination, and are greeted by two women and two girls.  One of the girls is holding a knife in her hand. What a friendly welcome, no not worried at all. Me and Morten look at each other, and we both have the same “yikes” on our faces. Please god, don’t tell me this is a village of cannibals.

P1120788Our guide goes to park the car, and tells us to follow the women. We can hear drums, and our eyes sparkle with excitement. Is this actually happening? I feel like a child about to open her first Christmas present. My heart is racing and all I wanna do is run towards the sound of the drums. The sound is getting louder, the pace is getting faster and we can hear distinct sound of singing. We walk 100 meters, and we catch our first glimpse of one of the performers. My jaw fell to the ground. Beautiful headpieces covered in colorful feathers, red body paint, yellow flowers around their arms. The women are topless, and only covered with a pink skirt made by the Sago plant. The men have a cloth to cover their private parts, with tasles around their ankles. The villagers of the Haliku tribe show us to a couple of tree logs under the shade, where we could sit and enjoy the show.

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“What exactly is a sing sing and what are they singing about?” We ask our guide. “A sing sing is a dance and song about everyday life. They come together and sing about motherhood, fatherhood, about life in the village. The birds, the bees and the insects. They sing about life and death. Every village has a different sing sing, with different costumes and clothing.” The guide goes on to explain that a village will have a sing sing for different celebrations, like when a boy in the age of 14-16, leaves boyhood and enters adulthood. Every year there is a big cultural performance in Mt. Hagan for 3 weeks where all the villagers come together, and put on one extraordinary show. This is your best chance of seeing the different tribes, and the different sing sing. As I sit and enjoy this once in a lifetime experience, I promise myself that I will come back in a year or two to experience the annual sing sing.

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This man was one the most energetic performers. To quote the guide “when they first start, they won’t stop.” We were worried that because we payed for a private show, they would feel forced to perform. But they loved it, the show went on and on because they genuinely love to show their culture to visitors. The Haliku tribe takes great pride in their heritage. And we can see why. It really is something emotional to encounter people who are so in touch with their culture, and lives in harmony with nature. The culture of Papua New Guineans is special. It’s different from what we know. In this world that we live in, and take so for granted, where we are so preoccupied with social media and materialistic things, it’s beautiful to see that there still exists communities where social interactions is more important, than materialistic items, like a cellphone. Papua New Guinea has without a doubt found a special place in my heart.

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A part of the womens costumes consists of body jewelry made of shells, horns of a wild hog, flowers in their hair and yellow plants as an arm bracelet. This little girl is concentrating on the guide as he tells them where we’re from. 

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