|Joseph, looking for a superb bird of paradise that we have been tracking for over an hour.|
It’s 10pm, Mom and Dad, do you know where your children are?
Probably not, but in an exciting and unexpected turn of events, Ms. Cupcake and I headed deep into the jungle with Joseph after a delicious dinner (sautéed chicken in a passion fruit sauce) to search for possums and tree kangaroos. With headlamps and large flashlights, we set up climbing up Mt. Rondon. After a bit more than an hour, Joseph saw some nuts on the ground that had been gnawed by possums. He flashed his light overhead and, sure enough, two possums moved about, annoyed at our disturbance.
It was the perfect last day in PNG. We spent the whole thing in the jungle with Joseph tracking animals and birds. Throughout the day we saw five different birds of paradise, countless lorikeets, parrots and honey-eaters and eventually, the possums. We hiked more than 12 miles through both trails and jungles as he scurried from one spot to the next to make sure that we not only saw each animal, but got an award winning photo.
This was never more true than in our search for the Superb Bird of Paradise (this is the black one with the bright blue chest that is in Planet Earth). There were four in a specific area of jungle that Joseph knew well. As he heard one call out, he would dart off of the trail into pure bush and we would follow, bags and camera in tow. Through mud, branches, steep descents and over streams we ran to try to catch the perfect shot of the bird. After a couple of hours, we finally got it. We watched it dance around for a while on a tree and then it afforded a great photo attempt. We were happy just in the pursuit – it was good exercise and quite exhilarating – but try telling Joseph that.
We spent time in his jungle. He created the landscape through his carved trails to the secret bits that he shows only to those who spend a lot of time with him as we did since he is then afforded the time to search for the more special stuff. He walked us through the orchid garden he created with great pride. During only a few months, he carried six trees at a time for replanting in the garden and then harvested orchids to plant on their trunks. The display is beautiful and even offers two ponds and a waterfall!
Joseph does all of this out of pure passion. He complained repeatedly about the state of his trail and his garden because they were not perfect. He wants to build a few more trails as well, to take people to some other great birding areas on the mountain and to a huge waterfall, but he just doesn’t have the time or the help to do it. He loves his work so much that he even works gathering orchids and observing the birds on many of his days off, but he still doesn’t have enough time to do everything that he would like to make Rondon Ridge just perfect for nature enthusiasts of all ages and abilities.
I admire Joseph a great deal. He is completely self-taught. He doesn’t even know all of the names of the orchids in his garden but tries his best to learn when he can (Ms. Cupcake and I are going to send him a book). His ambition and passion are unbound and when you hear him speak of his jungle, it is like a father speaking about his son. We became very friendly throughout the day and exchanged addresses, etc. to stay in touch. He wants to send bilum bags to us just because and actually gave us one of his treasured birding books as a present before we left. We really resisted because he has so few resources, but he positively insisted. We will really miss Joseph Ando.
As I hiked down the forest steps this evening contented with my possum viewing, I thought about just how wonderful our trip to PNG had been. We had been so excited about going that I felt it was going to be very difficult for the trip to actually live up to its expectations. That it did in spades.