Staying with Locals
Finding a place to stay will rely on your ability to find people willing to accommodate you. Locals often consider their dwellings below the standard acceptable to ‘white’ folks, and although you would gladly roll out your mattress on their floor, the feeling may not be reciprocal. This is where the knowledge of a local guide is invaluable. Villagers who have travelled beyond the Sepik are generally less reserved with foreigners. A lot depends on whom you meet and how receptive they are to an unannounced guest. In the Middle Sepik villagers are generally more used to visitors than the remote places on the Upper Sepik.
Bear in mind that you can’t just pitch a tent on some deserted stretch of the river. Not only is this unsafe but like all land in PNG, none is considered deserted by the local who owns it. Landowners have a tradition of fighting over land, and their forefathers didn’t spend centuries holding off marauding neighbours just to have some tourist paddle up and camp on it. Instead, ask to speak to the village chief about village guesthouses or local families willing to let you stay or camp with them.
If you stay in someone’s home, compensation is expected. How much to give can be vexing. If you give too little, you run the risk of abusing the hospitality of some of PNG’s poorest people, and if you pay too much, you’ll distort the local economy, drive up the prices for other travellers and help create a myth that all tourists have money to burn. Somewhere around K20 to K40 per person, per night would be reasonable, especially if you share some of your food or buy some betel nut for your hosts. If, on the other hand, you end up eating their food, a little more would be appropriate.
Guesthouses come and go along the Sepik from one year to the next and there can be little difference in quality between staying in a guesthouse and staying with a local family. If you’re lucky there may be a generator, although this is the exception rather than the rule. Like most Sepik dwellings, they are usually stilt houses constructed out of local materials and reached by a series of rickety stairs. Inside you’ll be given a room, a place to keep your bag and shown where you can unfurl your sleeping mat. Most (but not all) guesthouses will provide you with a mattress, mosquito net and some even light mosquito coils for their guests at night. Typically they charge around K50 per person, except in Angoram and Pagwi, which are more sophisticated than those elsewhere and charge around K100 per person but include electricity and running water. Meals can usually be arranged for a bit extra.