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Field Notes
Cascade Cave
Photograph by Stephen L. Alvarez
Stephen L. Alvarez

What was your best experience in the field covering this story?

It was such a privilege to be one of just a handful of people who have explored the caves on New Britain island in Papua New Guinea. I've worked a lot in South and Central America, and people there typically use caves for religious rituals or some kind of pragmatic day-to-day function. So it was astounding to find a place with huge cave entrances and no sign of human activity whatsoever.

What was your worst experience in the field covering this story?

When you're rappelling off a waterfall, there's a point where you're hanging on your rope but also floating in the water. I was at that point when I came off Myo Falls. The water was flowing fast underneath me, and it flipped me over. So I was upside down in the water and still attached to the rope. I had to think very carefully about how I was going to keep myself from drowning because there was no one who could help me. Even if I could have raised my head above the water to scream, no one would have heard me because the waterfall was so loud.

I finally got my leg around the rope and pulled myself back up. Then I ended up using the rope to pull myself across Lake Myo because it was still tethered to the other side. I don't know how long the whole ordeal lasted. It could have been anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes, but it was terrifying to think, Well, this could be it.

What was your quirkiest experience in the field covering this story?

It would have been too difficult and expensive to import our own food supplies, so we decided to buy our food in New Britain. The British members of the expedition went out and purchased it, but that was a mistake. We spent the next few months eating cases of Spam. The Brits all loved it—and apparently the locals do too—but the Americans would have rather gone hungry.