Papua / Indonesia, February 2016
The Raja Ampat Archipelago
The first week of one month long absurd hitchhiking adventure in Papua, Indonesia.
We are ready in the Surabaya Harbor. I (Nova) and my sister Desli have the boat tickets, but we are not sure if it will depart on time or not, depends on the weather. Last year, the boat didn’t show up. Luck is with us now. The cheapest way to go to Sorong from Surabaya is by boat, and it takes 5 days. We filled our backpacks with instant noodles, breads and snacks as we’re not a fan of the free meals provided in Pelni Boats. We need to wait in long line every meal time, having hallucinations being stuck in a prison. Economy class passengers sleep abuzz in a spacious room. This giant boat is carrying more than 2000 people. An officer announced that there is still plenty of empty space on Deck 5. We go there and get a bunk bed, can not stand the circumstances surrounding the stuffy and cockroaches everywhere. One of us goes to the upper floor to check there. We luckily found a better place on Deck 4 which has mattresses and just tiny unharmful insects rather than bigger ones. The boat is not every secure for valuables. Keeping eyes on our gear as the boat is not secure enough, we feel safe among mothers or families.
Arrived in Sorong at 4am. We decided to take a rest in the police station until the sun rises up. Slept on the floor with a fan on the wall. Can’t believe it we are in Papua now. A friend of mine, Ramon came with his motorbike at 6am, one policeman offered a ride to come along with us to Ramon’s place. We went to Boswezen fish market 2 times. And I found myself reacting to a racist joke there; A Local expat: Look at them, they look like a monkey!! (Pointing to young Papua man) Me : (Blow my eyes) They don’t. Darwin’s theory said everyone evolved from Apes. (First thing comes to my mind) Old Papua Man : You’re wrong!! All of us is made by God. That is a just human theory. (Talked to me) While I was shocked about that rude racist joke, the Papua people around me didn’t feel offended or angry at all, they were just laughing. I meant to say “we’re all same, from the same grand-grand”. My impression was that casual racism is seen quite often in Papua expansively. My another impression was, men sell fish, and women sell vegetables and fruits. Trading in Papua is almost same as the market in general that I observed in East Nusa Tenggara. Unlike other traditional markets such as in Java, they don’t bargain. They group products and give each group fixed price. Besides of buying and selling fish, men also gather here for card gambling.
We have an appointment with the port police who was introduced to us on the phone by the police at Sorong. He wanted to help us to get a free boat to Waisai. Our plan worked like a clock. Plans change though. Sometimes things don‘t work the way you want. We started hitchhiking to the port from my friend’s home and it took longer than we expected. We missed the boat to Waisai, Raja Ampat by only minutes. It means we need to wait 2 days to get the next boat. We found the schedule of ships and made a new plan. We decided to go to Kali Sembra in Teminabuan. We asked people around us how to get there and found a station. Most of the transportation companies are private cars as taxi cabs with local expat drivers. We told the drivers that we are on an expedition with no transportation budget, and some of them accepted us as free passengers. We waited until our car gets 3 or 4 more passengers so the gasoline is covered. Our driver, Ka Emon is so friendly and makes speed a lot. The road is mostly in the middle of jungle, we passed only a few villages. Long, dark and silent forest, creates gripped atmosphere and makes it even more bleak. With thousands of questions and anxiety hovering in the head, I’m asking myself “Where the fuck is he driving to?” Believing that my sister Desli feels the same, I’m trying to bury the negative thoughts. Quietly sitting behind looking out through the window, we hope to see a settlement. We stopped for dinner at a food stall, it turns out that Ka Emon is well known and friendly. Our confidence increased, and we started feeling that he’s a nice guy with a big heart. Once we asked him to drop us in a police station, he mentioned that his brother is a policeman. We stayed in his brother’s house. The next morning, he dropped us in Kali Sembra before going to work. Here is known for highest levels of malaria and poisonous banana trees, and stout mosquitos nesting around.
We were planning to go to Framu Lake, Ayamaru district that is 3.5 hours away from Kali Sembra. We’re back to hitch-hiking. Most of the cars are goes short distance. After waiting ride quite a long time, we decided to dry our clothes. Unable to get a ride, we started to singing, laughing at all the stupid things that happened during the day, or just talking about the people we met on the other trips. Hoping to make it to Ayamaru, we took 3 short rides. The last ride was by a construction worker on the way to Ayamaru. Because it was night time, we decided to go back to Sorong with them. It’s 1am and we’re in Sorong in the same car with 3 other construction workers and their boss driving. We don’t know where to sleep tonight, there is no one in a small police station near their office. We trust them because the boss is a family guy. There are some rooms for workers in their office, but they can’t find the key. So we ended up getting a dusty room behind the building with an unlocked door. We moved a small table behind the door, laid our backpacks to the door. Next morning, we went to the harbour. A police helped us to find a right boat and let us enjoy a 3 hours trip in the VIP room. A nice unexpected bonus. Dry as a bone, we went to Waisai market where many boats from another islands layover. Gasoline prices here are twice more expensive compared in Sorong. We met a guy who wants to go back to Mansuar Island tomorrow and he is fine if we go with him. It’s hard to find information about local village here, most of the people are from Sulawesi, Moluccas, or Flores. We go to the south part of the island and we pass a lot of resorts and homestays run by foreigners and local expats. They rent the land from local people and built their tourism business. At the end of the road is Bird Paradise, Saporkren Village. We meet some kids and asked where they live. Following them, we walked to rock jungle through a long wooden bridge under the sea. We asked permission of the head of a village to stay over here and ended up staying with his family.
Just simple smile connected us with people easily. Positive energy comes from soul to action. I can’t say villagers live a poor life. I see them living in harmony with fresh air, no traffic or pollution. The kids are amazing, they make strong friendships in simplicity, dreaming together. In here they have a program for kids to keep the village clean that collecting trash and sell it. Before sunset, they are enthusiastic do it together. Then they go to the jetty, where we do fishing together and tell each-other stories until the night. Mona’s 5 years old boy, came to our place many times just for ask when we will come back. It makes us don't want to leave but we have an appointment in the market tomorrow.
11:00 in the market, we’re looking for a free boat. After asking people for one hour, one small motor wooden boat says ‘yes’. We are going to Saonek Island. Where is it or how long does it take ? We don’t know. Then we arrived. It’s just 15 minutes away. Tonight there is a wedding. Everything is prepared by family and relatives, not a wedding planner. Women are preparing food and drinks. Men are building the tent in front of the bride’s house. This is not what we’re looking for though. We crave wooden houses. Let’s find a boat back to Waisai. Someone said to go to market, but there is noone selling anything, empty. We saw some boats passing far away from the island, wondering if we can jump off and get lost. What a gloomy day, I started to get annoyed with myself and my endless wishes. While looking for a way out with waved and shouted where are they going, this circumstance teaches me to control my desire and live it up where I am now. We try to initiate positive spirit with walking and discovering around. Suddenly heavy rain starts on a cloudless day, and a mother finds us hiding in an abandoned house without door, next to the beach. She asks us to move and have a tea in her house. She offers us to dwell in her house, we can also go to Waisai tomorrow with her husband and eldest son. She is smiling and winking to us while having conversation with her husband. We do not know what they are talking about or what’s the meaning of that but I see the spark of romance in marriage in old age.
We had lunch together, her husband and her grandchild poured the coffee on rice and fish. We feel the same thing, odd. We laugh. She didn’t allow us to help for cooking or cleaning. With the limitation of clean water, they use rainwater for washing dishes. And they sell drinking water and gasoline. Me : How much do you sell water per gallon? Wife : Rp. 10.000 ($ 0.7) Me : How much do you buy? Wife : Rp. 8.000 ($ 0.6) I try to calculate their profit with transportation fee, I don’t think they make any profit. Me : Wow, how much your profit then? Wife : Tired. (with laughing). No one sells drinking water here, just us. They need it. We woke up when the sun’s shining under the sea. We helped them to move water gallons to the boat and go to Waisai to refill the water and say goodbye.
We are desirous of Pianemo or Wayag. It’s a panoramic desert island with crystal clear water by a climb up to its highest platform. Burning passion and bold face that we had since our born, we kept us asking all the boats in the market for a half day. Ka Oni who work in one of homestay in Kri island accepts us to go with them after three times we asked. We saw some people walking in the ocean island by island. I guess I had hallucination because of the blazing sun. We can’t go to the dock, the water too shallow for a speed boat. They dropped us in the middle of the wide water. We saw small manta passing through before we got off. We were following other people going to the village. In midway, we figured it out by finding a path between marine plants to the small mangrove forest. People in the village are wondering in incredulity how brave we are, walking from another side of the village without guidance. Partly in the outside of the world, some people still view Papua as primitive and feel afraid to come here, because of the inter-ethnic conflicts just as the media proclaimed. One of our intentions is to change the perception.
With the chief of Yenbuba village, Pak Ayub accepted us to stay here until we find the boat to our next destination. Ka Yuris who recently moved here, invited us to stay together. We are glad to accompany her. She is a new primary school teacher in the village who dedicated herself to living away from her family with employment contract for 10 years. There is ceremony in the school every Monday morning. Our place is just next to the school, so we wake up with the national anthem sung by the students in the field. We had permission to getting inside in the class. At first, children look embarrassed when we entered the classroom. A smile makes easy to mingle with them. After school, the children gather and play ‘throwing bottles‘. I am not too familiar with this game, but someone is hiding in a dry ditch right under my feet.
We want to know how local people do fishing here. During the school hours, we get ready for fishing. Tools needed are nylon yarn, hook, fake fish made of plastic rope and hand. Pak Ayub is already poised over the boat. We followed the directions where the birds fly towards to, the mother nature guide. From far away we saw a flock of birds flying in a circle and pounce sharp fall into the sea. The first roll of nylon yarn in the palm of the hand then we threw the bait into the sea. Boat still sails in the ocean. I was very nervous and excited. I nearly jump out of the boat in my first catch. We caught 11 fishes, 1 fish escaped during my second catch. Please don’t ask what’s our dinner ;p
Today I don’t want to miss the sunrise. 3 of these kids follow me in behind walking to the jetty. They taught me a lot about the names of the fish here. In my marrow, these kids learn things more than me, a knowledge never taught in school. Tried institutions of the mind and soul It only taught me what I should not know Oh and the answer well who would have guessed Could be something as simple as this Something as simple as this - Jake Bugg, Simple As This -
We’d like to visit Ka Oni in Kri Island, but local people call it Small Mensuar Island. Swimming and walking cross the island almost one hour and passed some islets. Weary struck us, on the spur of a moment there was a boat pass. We : Murawe dio? ( where are you going ) A guy in the boat : Kri We : Can we join?
What a luck. We met Mr. Ruben, the owner of the homestay where Ka Oni works. Both of them were born in Yenbuba Village. He says if you‘re blessed today you can see the mermaid. Shamelessly, we need fins and one more goggles and he lent it to us. We spent 2 and a half hours snorkeling in here and joined a diving boat back to Yenbuba.
Being around children kills all the existing fatigue. Staring at the set of the dawn as if the call to the fishermen returning from sea. A Swarm of plankton popping above the surface of the sea, herding us back to the village. After we took shower, children began coming one by one to our place to join for english class. From grade 1 till 6 in the same circle and we teach them how to say hi to each other and provide guidance to dare speak english. We also remind them to speak their native language, Beser language.
We were lying on the floor enjoying the rain does not wipe the blue sky in the afternoon. While Ka Yuris tells the story of a marriage life. Her husband was a soldier when she was giving birth to her first child. Her husband had stints for ‘The insurgency in Aceh‘ for 2 full years. Now, her mother helps taking care of their two children in Sulawesi. A tough decision to leave her children had to made for material needs that made here come her for work. Cessation of rain closed the story. Let’s get some air and laze on the beach at the other end. In sunset time, children make the relay race with a tree branch near the jetty.
All the women here participated cooking for the event at the church this afternoon. They‘ve bought groceries from Waisai since yesterday. Everyone knows its duty of each, we help cultivate vegetables and eat more :)
Children are not desperate to make a game. There was a large lemon tree behind, they pierced with a stick to play “throw lemon into the circle”. I ran, picked up my notebook and back. Write their names one by one down to be organized in taking turn. No prizes for achieved, needless to say, time by time queues get longer. I had to put an end to this game, it‘s lunchtime and my throat began to dry.
These three children were rowed to the island across from where we were in a tiny wooden boat. They were very happy to find us here, so we do. They made us feel like going back to childhood, here and there somersaults without distinction of age. Since the load is too much, some of us had to get off the boat. In the swamp, there are jellyfish stings that can only be seen under the sun the size of the palm. Must be careful.
Always have a graceful time waiting for dusk to come.
We saw turtles and sharks around the jetty. A ship was carriying dozens of local tourists. Some of them just sit in the boat and some enjoy the beauty of the underwater. They had just come back from Pianemo. We asked how to go to Pianemo to one of the crew, and they took off from Sorong. We called crew’s friends to get ship schedule.
The village was deserted when the kids at school. Once they are out of the school, all the kids pop out in the jetty. Appointments aren’t needed. We meet at the jetty, which is our playground. Besides of friendship, we have a teacher-student relationship. We teach them how to swim, or how to do snorkeling… A real squad in the island.
Electricity source here is diesel subsidy from the government and a little help from the homestay owners near the village . One day there was no electricity the whole night. The power is on in uncertain time, but usually between 8 pm to 1 am, is the only way electronic devices could come back to life. Not all residents have televisions, sometimes children go to principal’s house to watch TV.
There is no class on Saturday. The line of march listening to instructions from the teacher on the ground to clean up all the classrooms, and they’re introduced to a new teacher. Here, there is often a shortage of teachers. It’s not because there is no candidate, but because of the frequency of holidays. The teachers take holidays more than 3 months sometimes. So the learning process is not effective. Each school has to report attendance to the central government, and I lack understanding of how things are not working, don’t know where to complain to. We didn’t say anything about our last day, just brought memories in the pocket.
Some people measure wealth by how much money, power and comfort they have. Here, we do not see it all. Just as simple as this.