By Dave Lornie
KALAM guesthouse in the remote Madang district of Simbai is the ideal place to visit for those who really want to get away from the pressures of modern life. You really can’t get a more remote place and it is certainly peaceful.
The guesthouse was built in 2004 as a community ecotourism initiative led by local Dickson Kangi who retired from the Education Department to launch the project. The area surrounding Simbai is inhabited by the Kalam people.
Kalam is also their language and it is the largest language group in Madang, spoken by an estimated 50,000 people. Simbai is serviced by third-level airlines that fly in several times a week from Madang and Mt Hagen. There is no other way to get there unless trekking is your thing.
And Kalam offers the trekker several unique adventures, depending on your level of fitness. Local man Philip Koy, who is currently studying tourism and hospitality at Simbai Anglican Vocational School, takes visitors on several routes through the jungle.
“I am good at talking,” he smiles. “So Dickson asked me to go (on a trek). I went to Aiome with two Dutch people in 2005,” he says. “Two months later a Mexican wanted to go canoeing at Aiome.”
And Philip has been taking trekkers through the Madang jungles ever since. The shortest trek offered by Philip is up to Waim, near the Western Highlands border where there is a waterfall and magnificent flora to observe. This trek takes around two hours from the guesthouse. Apart from nature itself, the other attractions of the area are the locals and their culture.
Due to the remoteness, the locals live a fairly traditional lifestyle. The huts are constructed from natural bush materials and the villagers exist as they have for centuries, give or take the odd bag of rice or flour which they can buy at the Government station.
The Kalam culture is strong and male initiation is still practiced. Cultural displays are provided for tourists and yearly, around September, is the Simbai Cultural Show. This is a spectacle recognised as one of the best in the country. Philip is proud of his people, saying, “our culture is very unique. The beetle hat is the main attraction.”
The hat he refers to is the stunning green headdress worn by male initiates and dancers. It is made from the heads of the fluorescent green beetle known locally as “mimor”. The beetles are found between January and April and congregate in rotted logs or in the grasslands around the area. The locals attract the beetles by laying either chewed sugarcane or pitpit flowers out in the grasslands.
The insects are drawn towards white material and congregate around the bait where they are trapped by the villagers. Up to 500 may be caught at a time. The heads are removed and threaded onto strips of bamboo to decorate the hats which are constructed from cane. The hats are also decorated with animal skins and bird feathers.
Whilst Simbai is not so well known internationally it does attract tourists from Europe and Australia seeking a unique and niche holiday experience. There are a couple of operators, both in PNG and overseas who include the area on its tour schedule. Dickson would, of course, like to see more people visit his lodge and hopes to increase the guesthouse’s footprint on the Internet by developing his own Website.
His nephew is currently studying at Divine Word University in Madang and Dickson say he will help with marketing this tourism product. The guesthouse is set in colourful, landscaped gardens, the surrounding scenery is soothing and the fresh mountain air makes you feel years younger.
Daytime weather in the mountains is crisp but warm – what Westerners would call “Spring Weather” and the temperature drops at night so blankets are provided. As there are no sounds beyond the bedroom walls apart from those of the natural world, you are guaranteed to experience the most peaceful nights of sleep, undisturbed by the grating cacophony of modern life.
The Kalam Guesthouse staff, led by Dickson and his manager Ronald, provides exceptional service and are knowledgeable about the area’s culture and geography. And, really, the quality of any holiday experience is dictated by the care given by the staff. The Kalam people are naturally friendly so customer service comes easily to them.
Although the facilities are basic at the guesthouse – it is, after all, many miles from modern life – they are comfortable. There is no electricity but Dickson has a solar lighting system and cooking is done over an open fire.
There is a shower cubicle with hot water boiled daily for the use of guests. Kalam Guesthouse is not for those who want luxury, excitement and a vibrant nightlife. But if you want to really relax and have time for silent contemplation, this isolated mountain valley might be just the thing.
FOOTNOTE: Simbai Airstrip is serviced by MAF and Island Air from either Madang and Mt Hagen airports.