Three international flights, one domestic puddle jumper, and 30 minutes worth of oar strokes in a hollowed-out canoe—I finally made it. The very edge of the world, or so it seemed, was a lonely tooth of land protruding from the mouth of a jungle-clad fjord in Papua New Guinea. My destination, a humble assemblage of twigs and thatch, is the first indigenous homestay in the Airbnb universe. And I was the very first guest.
Without a single stitch of technology—let alone electricity—to call their own, the local Tufi tribe members rely on the cooperation of Tufi Resort, a diving-focused hotel near the airstrip, to manage their Airbnb profile. Guests are kindly requested to spend one evening at the hotel before they depart for their homestay to allow for final site preparations, food rationing, and safe transport across the fjord. The experience, which includes accommodations in a private sleeping hut and all meals, costs $80 per night.
The eastern recesses of Papua New Guinea’s Oro province were once the impenetrable lands patrolled by ferocious Tufian marauders and their tattooed brides. Today, the region has become a haven for those not afraid to go off-the-beaten-path in search of unspoiled beaches and pristine dive sites. And the Tufians, too, have changed: noticing an influx in outsiders interested in homestays, they turned to the Internet in order to welcome explorers into their huts, rather than repelling them with spears.
When I arrived, smiles were the currency of communication exchanged among the young men who greeted me. Without a single word in common, we cautiously traipsed through the unforgiving brush and dug for wild taro. A saucer-eyed boy, no older than eight, eagerly led the pack, machete in hand, while we jumped between boulders to find a hidden beach. (Other activities include canoeing, weaving, and cooking.)
As the afternoon waned, a clan elder returned to the group after picking up supplies upriver and broke the silence with a hearty welcome in English. “I see you’ve met my son Garry,” he said, pointing to the boy with the saucer eyes. In a land almost 10,000 miles away with more than 800 foreign tongues, it seemed wholly implausible to stumble across someone named Garry.
Garry, it turns out, was the first foreigner to visit the tribe eight years ago, when homestays were only for the most intrepid of travelers—and definitely not available with a swipe on a smartphone. The man’s wife was pregnant at the time, and their child was named in honor of this first guest.
As I bit into my boiled taro spiced with the powder from a ramen noodle sachet, I thumbed through a damp notebook—a log of brave guests who found their way, pre-Airbnb, to the remote tribe—and discovered that fewer than 25 names separated mine from the original Garry in all that time.