Venturing to the middle of Papua

One of the things we wanted to do is see a little bit of Papua and it’s people, so we flew to Wamena. It is only accessible by plane, the road from Jayapura was given up on after a landslide several years back.

I have been pondering for the last weeks how to attempt to write this post. So far, it was my least favourite place. Though this was the place I was most excited to see mainly because it’s advertised as being able to see traditional village, the original Papuan tribes and possibly interact with them.

What I ended up experiencing, was a city with clear separations between the Papuans and the “yellow” people, Indonesians that came mainly from Java. The atmosphere was eery, it seemed every Papuan was eating betel nut, and a giant white cross comparable to a control centre is overlooking the city.

It became clear that most Papuans don’t like the situation. A situation where the other Indonesians organise the city and life for them, running businesses, making the money, and also, where tourists come to visit local villages and to meet the “real” Papuans. We, like probably many other tourists, wanted to visit a local village, but were forbidden entry by some locals. I am not sure whether that was because we were tourists or whether there was an issue with our guide. We couldn’t get a clear answer.

A bit of history, Papua used to be under Dutch rule and then annexed by Indonesia in 1969. Before that, the Dutch started a transmigration programme to move people from densely populated areas of the country to less populated areas, such as Papua and West Papua. This programme was only ended three years ago. Missionaries were also busy converting Papuans from animism or other beliefs to Christianity, and a geologist found the biggest gold mine (there’s also a load of copper) to date near Puncak Jaya, the Grasberg Mine. Naturally, it’s run by an American company you’ll have never heard of that also happens to deal with Petroleum.

You can imagine that the local, indigenous people wouldn’t be too happy about the situation and I suppose every white person coming to town wanting to visit the locals is just a reminder of their situation. If you google Papua, you’ll find that in recent news this sentiment was confirmed.

After our failed attempt to visit a traditional village, we ventured to Jiwika by hitchhiking there. A minibus of teenagers, some drunk likely escaping the Sunday rituals, dropped us off at Jiwika. It’s the hotspot for white people to see a traditional village with the locals wearing traditional outfits. Suddenly, local women surrounded us, first wearing tops, then none to resemble their past cultural lives. They have a mummy in the village to be whipped out any time a tourist comes, though we politely declined. We read about a saltwater well, Air Garam, which included a hike. The online world recommended hiring a local woman as a guide, so we did after some negotiating.

Though the video below doesn’t show it, it wasn’t the best of experiences going up to the wells and have the woman show us how they originally got salt. It was not at all about getting to know their culture, but more about the money. It was a running theme throughout our stay, at the same time, it is also a conflict and contradiction for the locals. They don’t want to be taken advantage of, but they need the money, so they “sell” their culture to a point where it feels like you need to buy air to breathe as well.

It is such a shame that the current situation is like this and I wish I had a better experience and feeling leaving Wamena. It’s infuriating and sad, really.

Waigeo – Seeing the bird of paradise and discovering underwater beauty

It’s been a while, hasn’t it. We’re now on our way to Nepal and there is still so much to share about our last few weeks in Indonesia. I haven’t written or posted anything cause, one, of non-existent or very slow internet, and two, I have been focusing on getting the videos done instead. It always takes longer than you think and as I have limited tools to get it done, it just takes more time than it usually would, if I had a laptop, unlimited storage space, internet, etc.

But here we are, on our way to Nepal, with so many thoughts and images in my head from the recent weeks. Our stay on Waigeo, to date, is still my favourite despite being at the height of a cold there. It was just dreamy. The food was amazing, the people were friendly, the sounds of exotic birds in the morning added to the jungle feeling, the beach and water was just stunning. Did I mention the food? We didn’t realise that when booking on Raja Ampat Homestay, that it was full board. It makes sense because you’re not close to anything really to quickly grab something, let alone have a kitchen available to cook yourself. Though I did get to cook on the last night with Christine, the owner, in their kitchen.

Cooking with Christine at Warimpurem Homestay

We stayed at Warimpurem Homestay, about 30 minutes drive away from Waisai, where all the boats and ferry arrive and some leave for the other islands. The airport doesn’t seem to work anymore, a local said that flights were unreliable and people ended up going by ferries in the end. It only takes 2 hours from Sorong, so it’s quite alright considering the time you’d have to wait at the airport.

Sunset at Warimpurem Homestay, Waigeo, West Papua

Back to the homestay. It was basic, clean and everything you needed. The day slows down here, starting with the sounds of birds and waves. Eventually, we strolled over to the common dining/dozing-off-on-a-hammock area where we had breakfast and pondered what we’d do next. The first day we picked up our lost luggage at the harbour on a scooter driving over bumpy roads (I think people’s bums here become conditioned at a young age. I’m afraid mine will not get used to the pain) and learning that Sundays here really are Sundays. Everything was more or less closed and we could only fuel up with an overpriced bottle from a street vendor. The second day we went on a hike early morning (read before sunrise) to see the Red Bird of Paradise, which only exists on Waigeo, and the Wilson’s Bird of Paradise. On the third day, we went snorkelling around islands nearby and I got a sunburn on me bum. On the last day we explored the local village. Our stay there honestly felt so much longer than four full days. It was the right kind of activity-relaxation-ratio considering I also tried to get over a cold.

Saporkren Village, Waigeo, West Papua

What also helped with slowing down was one of their cats, Manis. I called her Meryll, cause her meowing reminded me of one. She rendered us immobile by wanting to snuggle or sleep on our laps all the time.

Things I want to change or get better at in 2018

2018 changes

My very first blog post last year was about my goals for 2017. I managed to achieve them more or less, though half way through the year, I realised that some of the things I had put on my list didn’t have high priority anymore and they started to become a chore rather than something I liked doing. This is why I am not going to set hard goals per se. Rather, I am aiming to change or improve a few things this year.