Back in Papua Indonesia

After crossing back from PNG to Papua Indonesia. I took an ojek (motorbike taxi) and then three separate buses to get back to Jayapura. I stayed one night with my wonderful couch surfing friend, Indra before flying to Manokwari, capital of West Papua. Once there I met up with Edwin, who took care of me for three interesting days. We drove into the Arfak mountains along bumpy steep track roads, crossing rivers without stopping or slowing down – a very bumpy and bouncy ride. Eventually we arrived in the small village of Anggi. Edwin is an engineer and oversees a project to bring electricity to the mountain area. Once his work was done, we proceeded to Lake Anggi. A lovely peaceful spot. The following afternoon, accompanied by a funny nice guy in his early twenties and a lovely girl named Evo, and Edwin, we headed to Mansinam Island. This is where the first German missionaries landed in the mid-nineteenth century. We walked up a steep slope after taking a small local boat to the island. At the top of a steepish hill stands a white statue of Christ with his arms outstretched, similar to the statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A lovely afternoon spent with nice people.

The following day I flew to Sorong, the westernmost town in Papua. I spent one delightful day and evening in the company of Edwin’s sister and brother-in-law, in their luxurious hotel before heading to Ternate. Here I had no couch surfer so spent three hot days in a reasonably priced hotel in the main town. A young guide named Batri took me around Ternate and Tidore islands for a small fee. A nice guy. On Ternate we visited the former Sultan’s Palace and mosque, plus several old forts built by the Dutch, who fought for control of the island of spice against the Portuguese, Spanish and British. The Dutch were eventually removed in the early twentieth century. Whilst visiting one fort we heard a traditional musical performance and headed down to watch the dancing and in my case hear and feel the music. First just drumming and metallic instruments, but later replaced by something sounding like a violin, but not, and drums and also accompanied by loud singing. This went on for over an hour. My guide also took me to Batu Angus, a rock of lava which had spilled from Gamalama Volcano high above. The lava had hardened into this large black rock. Two crater lakes were also visited where I was able to enjoy the tranquillity away from the traffic din of the many motorbikes that traverse this island.

The following day we travelled to Tidore by a basic simple wooden boat, a journey of roughly 15 minutes in hot sunshine. Once on the island, Batri got his motorbike, and off we flew for an hour’s drive in strong sun and wind to explore, Soasio, the island’s capital. And we visited more forts and another grand palace. Here we climbed many stone steps to each building – some of the steps were broken and dangerous! Lunch was rice and fish, which was delicious, before another long drive back to the small port of Goto for the even hotter boat ride back to Ternate.

Next came Abon Island.

More adventures

After my trip on the lower Sepik River near Angoram, north Papua New Guinea. I relaxed with my local friend Dony before getting ready to take a night boat to Bogia in Madang province. Unfortunately no boats were available due to rough seas and strong winds. I was low on money, and Angoram being run down and having no bank, off I set back to Wewak at 3AM to get money. I bumped and bounced for three hours reaching Wewak at dawn. I hoped to meet up with Francis, owner of the Wavi guesthouse in Angoram. He was eventually found and we had rice and chicken for breakfast. Once I had obtained money from an ATM machine with Francis’s help I took another PMV bus back to Angoram, this one taking nearly four hours in blasting heat. I arrived in Angoram in late afternoon and returned to Wavi guesthouse where Dony met me and we had a lovely dinner prepared by the lodge’s lovely staff.

Next I took the betel nut boat to Watam village at the mouth of the Sepik River. I sat on bags of nuts and tried to get comfortable. We slowly motored down stream.The six boay from the betel nut industry who were taking their product to the highlands to sell at market and me. It was another motorised banana boat, basically a long wooden canoe with an outboard engine. It took eight or nine hours to reach the mouth of the river where it meets the open sea. Here a driver change was made and with extremely calm weather, we set off across the sea to Awara on the other shore. Some four hours later we were almost ashore and roughly a hundred metres from land when the petrol ran out! Another boat brought us the needed fuel, but then the old spark plugs refused to work! The boys paddled us to shore and I rested in a small forest. A bus arrived four hours later to take us plus several villagers to the nearby villages and eventually onto Madang, the nearest city. Was dropped at Bogia, a small village on the coast. I spent one night at Anua Negu Lodge owned by Jackie, a lovely lady who lives in Madang. Charles and his wife looked after me and feed me more local food, this time fish and rice. I had a lovely self-contained room to myself and could hear the ocean lying in bed.

The following morning, Charles took me in a small banana boat to Manam volcanic island, about an hour’s cruise away. Unfortunately, we were unable to land due to more strong winds and large waves. I was soaked several times and burnt yet again by the strong equatorial sun.  Later Jackie sent a car to bring me to her lovely family home in Madang. They were wonderful and treated me like family. I stayed two nights and visited a machine gun used by the Japanese army when they occupied PNG during World War II. And also a memorial to the coast watchers, who secretly gave information about impending bombings and Japanese ship movements during the war.

A day later I was collected by Joel and we took a local bus 17 km to his lovely village, Hobe. I had more local food cooked on an open fire built by stones to keep the heat. Joel took me around the village to visit local homes. The buildings are mostly made of wood with sago leaves for roofs. The kitchen is separate from the house in case of fire. Many husbands and wives sleep separately in traditional conditions. We walked down a long steep hill to where a large WWII bomb dropped by an Australian plane disguised as an American plane dropped on hiding Japanese solders. However, the bomb failed to explode and remains. We walked the forest to a Japanese fox hole, now full of water, but once used by Japanese solders to hide from the Australians and Americans. The Japanese occupied the village but treated the villagers respectfully in this part of PNG.

The following morning Joel escorted me back to Madang where I caught a PMV bus to Goroka, capital of Eastern Highlands. Unfortunately, several bridges had been washed away due to heavy flooding. A guy who was heading to Lae, a large city on the north-east coast decided to help me go to Goroka and ensured I crossed the bridges safely. I later paid for his bus to Lae. We drove for about two hours before crossing the first bridge, many rocks and two narrow pieces of wood hastily constructed by locals. We had to pay two kina, 50 pence to cross each bridge! Once over the bridge we walked through several large pools of rain water that had flooded the road. Once across we trekked for about two km along the rough road in the midday heat before tackling the next obstacle. The second challenge was climbing over a large mud landslide. The mud was thick and sticky. I was stuck on several occasions as we climbed over the large mound. Once across and after stepping over more large rocks, we re-joined the bus and continued. The third and fourth broken bridges were similar to the first but easier and more stable. I took photos of the loud bodies of moving water, one sounding like a waterfall. Once all obstacles were crossed it was back into the PMV for another 3-4 hours of bouncing and bumping up into the highlands and at last after ten hours of travel, I reached Goroka.

I had arranged to meet a couch surfer, but had been calling the wrong number, so on arrival in Goroka instead of meeting my local contact, a guy named Martin, from Asaro Mudmen village was there to greet me. As it was late, around 8 pm and dark, I travelled the twenty minute drive to Asaro. Martin’s lovely family fed me with lots of cooked veggies and some fruit before I retired to a simple but comfy bed. Early the next morning after a hearty breakfast of rice and more veg, I climbed a large mountain with the help of a lovely guide named Jona. It took me about an hour to reach the first part of the mountain where I rested before ascending to the top, nearly 3,000 metres above sea level. We visited several caves and I climbed down several very steep rock steps cut into the mountain. The Mudmen wear masks made of mud to scare their enemies and then take their land. They used to hide in caves when under attack. One cave for women and children, another cave for the men. I crawled on hands and knees into a small hall over rocks to enter the men’s cave. Once inside, I was able to stand. It was nice and cool inside. After exiting the cave again on my belly, we walked down the upper level of the mountain to the village mountain hut. The Mudmen, about five in number, eventually performed a dance in front of me, I couldn’t hear it, but they let me wear a mud mask and I had my photo taken.

In the afternoon, after rain, I returned to Goroka and met my host, Martin. A cool young guy who lives with one brother and a sister. In the evening we had a party and they all got drunk, stayed up all night playing local music, great fun. The following morning I bought a ticket to Port Moresby, PNG’s capital and early Sunday morning the guys escorted me to the airport. An hour later I was in Moresby and back to the intense heat. I relaxed with my couch surfing host Rob and in the early evening met a lovely Australian lady named Celina. She works for a hotel resort in Tuffi and helped me plan much of my trip around PNG. We visited the yacht club and had a delicious pizza, western food for a change! Next morning, Monday 23rd March, I flew back to Vanimo, met Mr Wasa the lovely funny teacher I had stayed with at the beginning of my PNG trip and after acquiring my visa for Indonesia and two days later returned to Jaypura, capital of Papua, Indonesia. Tony is now in Manokwari, West Papua. 

Papua New Guinea – continued

Tony has now been in Papua New Guinea for roughly 16 days. After crossing into PNG from Indonesia, he spent two nights in Vanimo then took a banana boat to Aitape along the north coast. Sitting in the hot sun getting soaked by constant waves of seawater he didn’t realise he was getting sunburnt until it was too late. Three hours later the boat arrived in Aitape beach. Because the last bus to Wewak was full, Tony was invited to spend the weekend with the boat captain’s family. On the 8th March, a Sunday. Tony’s new friends, including a Seventh-Day Adventist pastor travelled with Tony to Wewak. Unfortunately the road was very rough and on the way, the vehicle became stuck in deep mud. Some three hours later, the vehicle was pulled clear and the journey was continued.

Tony arrived at Gala Lodge on the outskirts of Wewak at 3 am. Tony stayed four nights, hoping the weather would become settled enough to take a local boat to Kairuru Island, unfortunately, the wind remained strong and the ocean rough. On the morning of 12th March the owner of Gala Lodge took Tony to Mission Hill, a site of fierce fighting between Australian and Japanese solders during the last days of World War II. Tony learnt how two individual Australian officers on separate occasions took on Japanese machine guns single handed. They both received the Victoria Cross for their gallant efforts. From the hill, Tony was driven to Cape Wom, where more fighting occurred. It is also the site where the Japanese surrendered to the Australian army in September 1945.

Once back in Wewak, Tony jumped on a PMV and headed to Angoram, a town on the lower Sipek River, about a 3-5 hour drive from Wewak. Angoram was once an important station on the river but is now largely run down. On arrival in Angoram, Tony was taken to Wavi Guesthouse and looked after by two lovely ladies and an interesting local gentleman named Dony. Because the guesthouse is spread out over a large field, Tony was given a bucket toilet to pee in with the water being changed the following morning. Due to the proximity to the Sipek River, all rooms have mosquito nets. Tony was fed rice and fish – local food. The following morning he along with Dony took a local boat to visit a couple of nearby villages. First visited was Shundo, which had a Haus Tambaran, meeting house. Sadly, termites had eaten away most of the wood and only a few posts remained with local carvings. Tony received a description of the villagers making Sago, the local flour, which the people of the Sipek use as their staple food. Sago is a plant, the leaves and tree are used to make the houses. It takes two days to break down and wash the sago to make it into flour to sell at market. Sago can be fried or boiled. The boiled variety is slightly sweeter.

Next Tony and the crew continued along the river and into a lake to head to Kambaramba. Here people live on the lake on houses built with stilts. Tony met some locals and more photos were taken.

More to follow…

Country 99, Papua New Guinea

Tony is now in country 99, Papua New Guinea. He crossed into the country from Jayapura, Indonesia on Wednesday 4th March. Since then it has been an interesting and eventful journey. Tony is couch surfing on this trip but was unable to contact his first host in PNG. After crossing the border he took a PMV, public motorised vehicle, to Vanimo, the first large town in the country. This lies on the north coast in Sandaun Province, the westernmost province in PNG. The PMV driver dropped Tony at the Catholic Mission Guesthouse where he was accommodated for one night and relaxed. Next morning, Tony’s couch surfing host finally located him and took Tony to his house up on a hill over looking Vanimo. A wooden structure, simple but comfortable. Tony met Wasa, the host’s house boy, Andrew who is blind in one eye, and another boy, Michael, who is totally deaf. You can imagine the scene! Tony later met the neighbours and chatted while enjoying local food of rice, fish and vegetables.

The next morning Wasa and Tony headed to the beach for Tony to take a banana boat to Aitape to change to a PMV for Wewak, his next destination. These boats are long wooden canoes with outboard engines, there is no cover and passengers sit in the sun, rain, wind and get wet by the splashing waves. Once out of Vanimo Bay, the fun began. Waves crashed against the left side of the boat soaking Tony continuously. Tony removed his left hearing aid for protection. The canoe rolled, twisted, bumped and turned all over the Ocean. The wind eventually dropped and the soaking lessened. However, the sun beat down and Tony was badly sunburnt, something he only noticed later. After three hours of bouncing, rolling and twisting with yet again more drenchings by the sea, the boat finally arrived in Aitape. It was mid-afternoon by then and all the PMVs had left. Therefore Tony spent a delightful weekend recovering with the family of the boat captain, his name Gabriel. A lovely kind man in his 50s and owner of Riverside Transport. Tony was looked after by his wonderful adult children. Raylin, Maryan and Alexander, plus Lazarus, Otto, and several others. Tony was introduced to a priest on the Saturday, Martin, who resides in Wewak. Gabriel’s family are Seventh Day Adventists. I listened to their daily family service and enjoyed the singing.

Before departing for Aitape with Gabriel and the priest, Tony was taken to see the World War II American plane, a B27, which resides outside the high school just outside of town. After viewing the plane the journey to Wewak was begun. A long 9-hour bumpy journey over gravel roads with many potholes. At one point the large 4 by 4 vehicle became stuck in mud when crossing a river and the party was left stranded until Gabriel’s son arrived with a larger truck to pull them free. Tony finally arrived at Gala Guesthouse on the outskirts of Wewak at 3 am.

Baliem Valley, Indonesia

Tony visited Wamena, capital of Baliem Valley, with a couch surfing friend, Raymond. Raymond is from Wamena, and Tony stayed with his lovely family just outside the town. The Baliem Valley is home to many cultural tribes most noticeably Dani, Lani and Yali. Raymond’s family are Lani.

The only way to reach Wamena is by plane. Trigana and Wings have several flights a day from Jayapura. Almost all produce is flown in by transport plane, hence it is an expensive area. Petrol is three times the price compared to Jayapura. Once Raymond and I had landed, we visited the local police station to obtain a Surat Jalan, a pass allowing me to visit the region. A passport photocopy was required plus two photographs.

We rented a taxi for a half-day visit to a couple of local villages. The main stop was at Jiwika. This village is home to a 371 year old mummy. I was allowed to take photos with the mummy for a fee! The bones felt like wood and he has a large mouth and no teeth! This is a tourist village and the locals take off their clothes when tours arrive. People used to live naked in the mountains but modernity has come to the area in recent times. For 10,000 Indonesian Rupiah per person, approximately 50 pence, I could have my photo taken with the naked villagers, men, women and children. Raymond gathered about 20 people and I had a quick feel of one naked women – she was very nice!

After this we headed to Raymond’s home about one kilometre from downtown Wamena. I met his family, sister, and his aunt and uncle plus their three daughters. We sat on the grass chatting, Raymond translating. I said ‘Halo’, Indonesian for hello, and shook hands. His house is a simple affair with a front room where I slept on a mattress then several other rooms leading to a simple bathroom. The toilet is a hole in the ground and flushing is by putting water into the hole afterwards. The shower is a bucket of cold water over the head! It rained every evening and on my first night there I met a local priest. He was impressed that a blind man could travel the world and prayed for me. We ate sweet potato and cooked vegetables. I played with kids who spoke some words of English. Everyone has tight curly hair like African people.

On my second day, Raymond hired a motorbike and we explored some of the valley. Visiting local villages and taking photos of the rocky mountainous and tree-lined terrain. Grapes, watermelon, bananas and many other fruits line the roadside and the grass had a coffee smell. We attempted to drive to the mouth of the Baliem River but had to turn back due to dense grass. The water was sighted and also the old Iron Bridge across the Baliem River. Eventually we reached an area called White Sand. A beach-like place with many rough rocks and some trees. The sky was blue with clouds forming. Local kids took photos but we had to pay to visit the area! We raced the rain clouds but they soaked us before we reached Wamena.

My second night was spent by the fire in Raymond’s small honai – a local traditional sleeping house. In the villages, the men and women have separate honais. More sweet potatoes and cooked veggies were eaten and I tried a local delicacy, Red Dragon Fruit. It is somewhat spiky and oval in shape. It is full of oil and your fingers and lips become red when eating it. They boil it on the fire and this creates a pan of thick oil which is drunk with seeds being spat out. It tasted thick and heavy to me, oily and not too delightful!

The third day was spent visiting more old villages and hiking to Napua Waterfall through the forest. This was fun. Raymond lead me and we had to cross the river twice. The second time I removed my shoes and socks and went bare foot. The water was cool and inviting. The ground was very muddy with recent rain and I slipped several times. We climbed down the trail and finally reached the waterfall, a wonderful sound to my ears. After 15 minutes rest Raymond pulled me back up the steep incline of muddy steps to the trail and we retraced our steps. Recrossing the river, Raymond made a video of me walking through the river. Naturally I fell and swore. I made it to the other side and Raymond helped me up the bank, where I once again fell over with Raymond landing on top of me. Ten minutes later we exited the forest and rode back to Wamena.

My fourth and final day was Sunday, everything was closed and most people went to church. Raymond and I relaxed. The previous evening I had bought pork and we shared it around the fire. In the early evening we visited a village where Raymond was born and where his Grandma had recently died. The villagers were overwhelmed to see Raymond and fascinated with me! Again it rained. To leave the village in the dark Raymond had to take the bike up to the road because the fields were muddy. I had to walk in the rain and climb over two fences! That night we had chicken and rice Nasi Aiam at midnight. The following morning we flew back to Jayapura.