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What Do Children With Machetes, Dolphins, and Waterfalls Have In Common? The Best Time Ever

By Erin Boyajian

Some of the most pristine unspoiled terrain wraps around the equally pure waters of the Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea. You can marvel at these wonders from your balcony at Tawali, the only resort in the far eastern part of the region, but to immerse yourself in the experience is definitely the way to go. 
And that means to take a walk. 
Guides from Tawali are readily available to accompany you, and for those who prefer companionship, this is the way to go, although it is not necessary. It is easy to take a coastal stroll in either direction from the resort, replete with fresh mangoes at every turn, should you need a snack.   Our guide, Gilbert, was incredibly adept at picking the best ones, although his hands never touched the tree. Instead, he had dead aim with a stone, hurling it high atop the branches. A simple throw (for him) yielded the best mango I had ever tasted. And that would be just one of many while in this bay area.
What I thought was just a clever fruit getting tactic on Gilbert’s part turned out to be commonplace, as, of course, that’s how everyone procured their mangoes. No one was better at this than the children. They giggled with delight at my pathetic attempts to imitate their skills. Once, I hit the bottom of the trunk, and that was giving it my all.
But I made some friends. My new pals were a few boys and girls, ranging in age from about four to twelve, and, after lots of mangoes, we all set out on a walk through the jungle.
These kids really knew their surroundings. One girl carried a machete, or bush knife, a common tool used to hack through thick brush or vines. This way, she can bring back wood for her parents to use for the kitchen fire, or bring back a supply of yams or other tubers commonly eaten. They were knowledgeable about a vast array of plants, trees and animals, and had no problem walking over bumpy, rocky land barefoot. 
Nor did they have problems running; as we meandered through the jungle, the children kept looking at their strange looking new friends with glee. Soon, we were all laughing and running, dodging branches and pointing at wild pigs along the path. We ran up and down small hills, and I tried to keep up with their agility; they were as comfortable as a suburban child in a mowed, clear, fenced in backyard, but their backyard was the open jungle of Milne Bay, and they knew every nook. One boy attempted to run while wearing shorts that were far too large for him, which resulted in a bare behind for every ten steps taken. This was a source of endless enjoyment for the children. 
We laughed and scampered our way to the sound of rushing water. Around the bend was a waterfall, with a bed of rocks that were perfect to jump off of, into a clear, calm, natural pool. Jumping and splashing, we all cooled off and then enjoyed a quick air dry while sitting on sun-warmed rocks. A butterfly inexplicably landed on my head and stayed there for a half hour, much to my new friends’ surprise and happiness.  We taught each other hand games and played pattycake. One boy, scared when we showed him the “missing thumb” trick, received an impromptu explanation and tutorial from the older kids.   Soon, it was time to go back. 
As we were walking towards the bay, we noticed it was overcast. Our guide Gilbert looked at me and said, “The rain comes now”, and, as if on cue, it began to pour. We were in front of a home of one of the children, and they welcomed us inside. There we sat, on mats at the open ground level of their handmade home, dry as a bone. There were several adults-parents and grandparents, and newborns swathed in cloth. We ate fresh pineapple (yes, the best) and watched the wall of water outside, smiling at each other, wowing at the thunderous booms and lightening on the bay, just a hundred feet in front of us. One of the children pointed at the water and smiled- a pod of dolphins were dancing with delight in the rain, jumping, twirling, and leaping. Soon after, the boy with the shorts ran to a nearby shed, failing at the attempt to hold up the waistband. Everyone howled at the site of the naked boy in the rain; even the boy himself broke into fits of laughter. It was one of many universal moments where although we did not have much common language between us, we shared the best of times.
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