West Papua, nee Irian Jaya

10 Aug 2000
I fly to Jayapura in Irian Jaya while Tuk will spend another week or two in Manado.

I'm going ahead in hopes of climbing Puncak Jaya (aka Carstenz Pyramid), at just over 5,000m (16,000ft) the highest point on the continent of Oceania (Australia, New Zealand, et all), and thus one of the seven summits.

I know very little about the peak. The climbing is supposed to be fairly easy, but the mountain is surrounded by serious jungle in one of the least explored regions left on earth.

But sadly, not quite unexplored enough. Nearby is the Freeport mine, the world's largest gold and second largest copper mine. At close to US$1 billion a year the mine is also Indonesia's largest foreign tax payer and right now all that money goes straight to Jakarta.

The Irianese have never been all that keen on being part of Indonesia and the mine has become a focus of the secessionist movements. Access to the area has always been tightly controlled but right now the army has it completely shut down.

My plan is to try an bribe my way into a permit and then charter a missionary flight to the nearest town. I'll try to hire a local guide and then make my way to the mountain dodging the army, terrorists, and local tribesman for whom the good old headhunting days aren't that distant a memory.

It's all a bit of a long shot and it's doubtful I'll even make it out of Jayapura, but as usual I plan to give it an honest try.

The flight is in three hops: Manado to Sorong to Timika to Jayapura. Sorong is just another small dusty airport, but Timika was interesting, if not ominous. It's the service town for the mine, but it looks and feels like a military base. We are herded off the plane onto a bus and then locked in a chain-link cage cum waiting room while the plane is tidied for departure.

It was worth the inconvenience though because right after take off we fly along the mountainous spine of Irian Jaya, and even though we are just south of the equator, I get tantalizing glimpses of snow covered mountains peaking through gaps in the clouds.

Puncak Jaya? I as never able to find out...

11 Aug 2000
A day of researching climbing permits in Jayapura. Actually, I know the answer on the permit is "no," so I don't even bother going to the police station to ask. What I am looking for is a calo, someone who is well connected around town and can arrange the inevitable bribe.

I make a circuit of all the travel agents, trying to find one who seems familiar enough with the mountain to really know what's needed, yet still optimistic that it can be accomplished on short notice.

On my last try I find my calo at a high-end tour agency. He tries calling the head of police at home, but reaches only the son, dad is "on siesta," but my man assures me that he'll work something out for my tomorrow morning.

12 Aug 2000
The answer is "no," "hell no!"

In a county where "no" almost always means, "how much?" I've finally found a real no. The permit can only be issued from Jakarta, and that usually takes six weeks. There just isn't anyone locally to bribe, and even if there were, the answer would still probably be no.

It seems that the last party to attempt the climb ran into "trouble" with the local people and were turned back, so now tourism in the area is being rethought. Of course, no details on this incident where available...

Rats. I've had amazing luck all over the world just showing up and making a plan, I suppose my luck had to run out eventually, but this wasn't the place where I wanted it to happen. Puncak Jaya is the whole reason I've come Indonesia, and especially, this far-flung bit. It's very frustrating to come this far, and then be turned back by bureaucracy. There seemed to be such a plethora of more interesting ways to fail...

13 Aug 2000

Hati! Hati!

As we pile onto his 50cc scooter My 15-year-old driver hands me a helmet that looks like something an ice-cream Sunday might be served in during Superbowl week. There must be a law declaring, "your riding attire must contain at least one item of plastic," because clearly this has nothing to do with safety.

My family and friends worry a lot about some of my dodgier activities, but I remain thoroughly convinced that nothing I have ever done is more dangerous than just getting around town in the developing world.

Here the standard transportation is an ojek, a small motorbike you charter to get anywhere the public busses don't run. They have these things all over SE Asia and I've gone through extraordinary measures to avoid them whenever possible, but here I have no choice.

In Thailand, at least the drivers are semi-licensed. Real rupjahng drivers wear a tank top emblazoned with a number. In a country where you can buy a fake medical license for 500 baht (US$12) I'm not sure what it takes to get an "official" numbered tank top, but it's somewhat comforting nonetheless. Hey, he's a professional, right?

There is no such peace of mind here in Indonesia. Any teenager who can lay his hands on a 10-year-old scooter and half a liter of gas is in the ojek business.

I picked this driver because he assured me knew the location of the travel agency I needed. At least that's what I thought he said, between his pigeon English, and my less than pigeon Indonesian, it was hard to be sure.

But either he lied or I misunderstood because we spent half an hour going by all his friends' houses asking for directions before he finally gave up and stopped at a payphone to ask for directions.

Thus informed we found the place in five minutes and even though he ripped me off on the fare I did arrive safely.

Emboldened by that modest success (success = arrival: yes + blood: no), I was less apprehensive when the demonstration closed the post office based email cafe in Jayapura and I had to nip over to the next down to use theirs.

"After all," I thought to myself, "between the traffic and my big white behind on the back, how fast can these things get?" "Usually not more than 40k (25mph), and I've ridden bicycles lots faster than that with only slightly more protective gear. Right?"

The missing element in my rationalization was hills. Jayapura lies in one valley and my destination, Apebura, lies in another. The two are connected by a steep, serpentine, single-lane, death-dealing stretch of tarmac.

I looked up in shocked horror as we rounded the first bend and I saw this tar and gravel clad nightmare stretching up into the mountains. It seemed a propitious time to break out one of my few Indonesian words, "hati hati" (be careful) I murmured into my pilots ear.

There was little he could do though. Driving here is always a "size matters" obstacle course with smaller vehicles diving onto the shoulder to avoid oncoming trucks on the wrong side of the road overtaking anything that didn't quite manage to make it onto the shoulder.

I was a shaking, sweating mess by the time we crested the final rise and I gazed down at the roller coaster road below us. "Oh dude... hati hati," I begged as we began picking up speed into the first curve.

Halfway down I gave up, closed my eyes, and began making deals with every god I'd ever heard of about things I'd do and not do if I survived.

Drenched in fear and with me twitching like a junkie after a long dry night I dismounted in Apebura and swore I'd pay whatever it cost for an actual cab back home.

Of course, internet connectivity in this far-off town is a fragile affair and it was 9:30 p.m. before I returned to the street to consider my transportation options. "Jayapura?" I queried random people over and over again trying to find someone with helpful advice. Finally I stumbled across an English speaker who gave the news. "Too late for a taxi, only ojek."

In denial, I vainly tried hitching for a while before, I succumbed to the inevitable and returned to the ojek stand. In an ill-conceived fit of inspiration I choose a driver with an actual motorcycle as opposed to a scooter, completely missing the fact that the reason scooters were invented is that they are easier to drive.

By the flickering light of his headlamp the driver popped the clutch for the first time and I implored "hati hati," a pattern that would be oft repeated.

We'd just reached the base of the big hill when the first raindrops began to fall, and quickly mustered themselves into a full-on squall. By the time we reached the top we were both drenched and torrents of water were rushing across the road.

"Hati !*&#%ing hati," I screamed each time the tires slipped as we ponderously made our way down the rain slicked switchbacks, the overtaking trucks now pushing us off into puddles and dousing us with muddy water as the roared boy.

At the bottom of the hill I paid-off the sheepish driver and walked the final distance to my hotel. I needed to breath air, to flush the noxious taste of fear from my mouth, and to repeat the adventurers motto.

"I swear, no matter how long I live, I'm never doing anything that stupid again. Never, ever, ever-- or at least until next time, which ever comes first."

It's been a long time since I was that afraid.

14 Aug 2000
Stuck here until Tuk arrives from Manado, I decide to walk around and do a little exploring. I discover a climbing shop, complete with climbing posters, climbing magazines, and a 10m x 2m (30ft x 6ft) climbing wall. The only thing they were missing was any climbing equipment.

Down by the seashore I found a few pleasant little restaurants, much nicer than anything in town. One dining area was even circled by a child sized train modeled after San Francisco street cars!?

I finished my day as usual, at the post office internet cafe. But as I left with a cheerful, "see you tomorrow." The woman replied, "Oh, we won't be open tomorrow. You know about the demonstrations, don't you?"

No, I didn't.

15 Aug 2000
Like the early morning worm, I carefully poke my head out of the hotel to check for any menacing birds, or in this case-- the rampaging bands of rioters I've led to expect.

The street is quiet, too quiet, and all my usual breakfast haunts are sealed shut behind heavy metal grates. With little else to do, I grab my camera and head out to see what's going on.

Free Papua?

Free Papua from whom? Why from Indonesia of course.

Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch until the end of WWII when they were forced by international pressure to withdraw. They remained in Irian Jaya though until 1962 when under US pressure they finally relinquished that as well. A UN mandate in 1962 directed Indonesia to allow the Papuans a free choice in whether to join the then nascent Indonesian Republic, but the election, a "consensus of elders," was widely believed to have been a sham.

This is a forbidding land of rugged mountains, impenetrable jungles and vast swamps, but it also sits over incredible mineral resources. The native people are racially and culturally distinct from the rest of Indonesia (itself a melange). They are a tribal people, dark skinned and fuzzy haired. Although widely Christianized by missionaries they still live and dress much as they have for hundreds of years and they have long resisted the Indonesian influence.

For Indonesia, this both the cash cow and the new frontier. The Freeport mine is Indonesia's largest foreign tax payer and Indonesia has an active transmigration program. People are encouraged to move from the crowded islands of Java and Sumatra to the wide open, albeit inhospitable, spaces of Irian Jaya. On the street I've met a lot of young optimistic Indonesians who have come here to seek the fortunes.

But, the Papuans see all this as the exploitation of their lands and the dilution of their culture; conflict seems inevitable.

Throughout the 1990s there have been sometimes violent clashes between government forces and pro-independence groups. As recently as 1998 even displaying the proposed West Papua flag was considered a crime and harshly dealt with.

But, with independence in East Timor and the strengthening separatist movement in Aceh these are delicate times in Indonesia and the current government seems willing to listen, at least for now.

With images of rubber bullets and water cannons running through my mind I went out looking for the demonstration. I found several hundred people gathered in the central square listening to speeches. It was clear that the "Free Papuans" wanted to keep things peaceful. Their militia set up a perimeter around the demonstration and was searching people for weapons as well as keeping things orderly.

I'm not quite what the criterion for weapon was though, because there were many tribesman about armed with bow and arrows and even the city folk carried stout wooden staves.

Political speeches aren't that interesting when you don't speak the language so I was touring the area when I came on the troops guarding the parliament building. A hundred or so police in full riot gear, enduring the tropical sun, waiting.

Police in riot gear keeping a close eye

They were pretty damn scary so I went back to listen to more speeches in Indonesian. But, just as I got to the rally point, the final speech ended and to my horror the crowd began moving en masse towards the parliament building.

I stood back stunned, thinking I was about to witness a massacre, but it was all obviously prearranged. The soldiers looked on passively as the demonstrators entered the parliament courtyard, reformed at the doors, and resumed with the speeches. The free Papua pseudo-soldiers again formed a line keeping the stray trouble maker away from the guys with guns. The whole thing was incredibly orderly and peaceful. It was obvious that both sides wanted it that way and I've been to many a rowdier sporting event.

Demonstrators head for the parliament building. Speaking for independence.

I wish I could report more on the substance of the issues and the speeches but while everyone there seemed to know enough English to ask where I was from, I couldn't find anyone to really translate.

Some of the speakers were sedate and some fiery, some led songs and other prayers. The crowd was an incongruous group of tribes people in ceremonial finery, militiamen in uniforms and field equipment, business people in suits, and all the rest that you find on the streets of Indonesia.

By the end of the day the soldiers had put down their helmets and shields and were standing in the shade lending an ear. May it always be so peaceful here.

16 Aug 2000
Move to Sentani, a smaller quieter town by the airport.

17 Aug 2000
A writing day, waiting for Tuk to arrive in the evening from Manado.

18 Aug 2000
Tuk and I made the road trip to Jayapura to pick up a "surat jalan," the travel permit we need to visit the Baliem valley, the tourist center for traditional culture in Irian Jaya.

At the police station, it became apparent that I had been "marked" and investigated for shooting pictures at the rally. They knew who I was and which hotel I had been staying at, etc...

They questioned me at length about why I was in Irian Jaya and just to be sure I knew the rules, they went over the "dos" and "don'ts" of our surat jalan in excruciating detail. "You will not work, You will engage *only* in tourist activities, You will not photograph anything even vaguely military, etc..."


19 Aug 2000
Fly to Wamena in the Baliem Valley, land of the penis gourd.
It takes several pigs to buy a good wife.   Tuk with a Lani tribesman.

20 Aug 2000
Sit in bed and watch in rain.

21 Aug 2000
Another rainy day.

22-30 Aug 2000
I had this dream...
(about climbing Puncak Jaya)

Last night I had a dream. I dreamed I met this guide, and when I told him how sad I was at not being able to get a permit for Puncak Jaya he said:
"Oh, we don't need a permit, we just won't tell anyone we are going."
Gee, why didn't I think of that?

The dream was so lifelike I've decided to write about it:

He's a Lani warrior, tall and strong, almost naked except for the war paint streaking his cheeks, the woven bands that clench his biceps, and of course, the large gourd covering his penis. Pig tusks pierce his nose and a long knife dangles from his waist, his bow and quiver of arrows are close at hand. On his head he wears a crazy feathered crown that proclaims him king of anything he chooses.

I walk on over and say hello.

"Whahhh..." you say here, while taking someone's hand. The word and touch both have a long lingering quality as if you're considering whether this is someone you really want to greet.

He's flattered by the attention and soon his warrior's scowl is replaced by a boyish grin. Like most things here in the heart of West Papua, he is both more and less than he seems.

Puncak Jaya, or as it's sometimes called, Carstenz Pyramid, is the reason I'm in Indonesia to begin with. Ever since I caught a glimpse of the north face of Mt Everest in Tibet I've harbored this vague notion of trying to climb the seven summits -- the highest point on each of the continents.

The tranquil valleys of central Irian Jaya belie the many difficulties in traveling here.

At just over 5,000m (16,000ft) Puncak Jaya is the summit of Oceania, Australia, New Zealand, et al, and one the easiest of the seven. The primary obstacle isn't the climbing, but rather the bureaucracy around getting a permit, the arduous approach to the mountain, and the political instability of the region.

People have been taken hostage here, and just plain killed. The mountain is quite close to the Freeport mine and as such is the epicenter of both the Papuan resistance movement and the Indonesian military buildup. With what I've learned since I've been here, my original plan of trying to bribe my way into a permit and then flying in alone now seems comically stupid.

But my newfound guide, Titus, is both Papuan and connected to the local military and although it's all still extremely dodgy for the first time it starts to sound like it just might be possible.

War Council

It would be funny if my life didn't hang in the balance. I'm crammed into a tiny room with 15 members of OPM, the militant group for West Papuan independence. The "general" has just given a 30 minute speech that's been translated for me as:

We don't want autonomy, we want freedom. Last time we went like women, this time we will die with weapons in our hands.

What can you do for us?

Now, through my translator who can't seem to get right simple phrases like, "No, don't kill the pig," I'm expected to give a speech in return.

I mumble a few words about there being little information on the Papuan cause in the western press and the difference between the American people and American foreign policy.

As I sit back and watch them go through the "friend, hostage, or example" decision making process. I can tell from the translation that Titus has ignored what I said and yet again told the story of me getting in trouble with the Jayapura police for taking pictures at a demonstration.

As Titus's translation ends the general looks into my eyes and pronounces "Terima kasi (thank you)." I seem to be accepted.

This scene has been played out in many of the villages we've visited. I've met four "generals" and heard talk of several more. But this time, there seems to be an edge on things. Titus is either in awe or scared, I can't tell which, and it's making me nervous.

The journalist in me is incredibly frustrated at not being able to get decent translations. Here are clearly a people in anguish, but all my questions about their plight get answered in obfuscated history lessons.

At this meeting is a survivor of the 1977 massacres and through Titus he tries to tell me stories of thousands killed. I feel a sham as a he looks to me with tears in his eyes as if I'm a savior come to take all his pain away, but even so I can't follow the story.

Regardless of their ability to achieve it, I do believe the Papuans deserve their freedom. The legal basis for Indonesia's acquisition of the territory is dubious at best and over the last three decades they have ruled oppressively. Sadly, as long as Western financial interests are tide up in the Freeport mine I think the Papuans are unlikely to get the chance for freedom offered the Timorese.

To legally climb the mountain requires three permits, a Surat Jalan issued by the Jayapura police for entry into the region; a travel pass from the Indonesian military who control the region; and a climbing permit that can only be issued from Jakarta, requires four passport photos with red backgrounds, your climbing resume, an application fee, and a six week wait.

I give Titus 200,000Rp (US$25) and a few hours later he returns with a form stamped by the local military commander and entirely in Indonesian except for my name and the name of the mountain. For all I know it could say, "This man shall not go anywhere near this place," but I'm only in the market for plausible deniability and this seems to fit the bill.

Our plan is to charter a flight to Ilaga, the nearest village to the mountain, and then to trek for a week to reach the peak. The climb itself should take only a day, unless the lack of preparation, equipment, clothing, or competent partners should cause any problems. In the interest of time we will exit via Tembagapura and Timika, the service towns for the Freeport mine. It's a place where strangers are not welcome, by either side, but at that point I'll just be trying to get back to Jayapura anyway.

I leave Titus trying to arrange the charter to Ilaga, while I fly back to Jayapura the easy way. I need a few days in the capital to stock up on the cash to fund this little adventure. Commercial expeditions the mountain cost US$3,500 to US$4,500, I lay hold of US$2,000 and hope it's enough.

Livestock on Parade

Part of the culture here is that the rich eat better than the poor, so I'm expected to be at the top of the food chain. Each night a succession of animals is marched before me, rabbits, chickens, ducks, and I'm expected to choose one for dinner.

The closet vegetarian in me rebels and I resolve to deal no more death as we march into another small village.

"The people want to kill a pig for you," Titus announces proudly, "only 200,000Rp."
"No more killing," I told him, "Don't kill the pig."
But that night I hear it's death squeal and there is two days of pork for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Well, a sacrifice shouldn't be wasted, should it?

When I return to Wamena, Titus still hasn't been able to organize a plane and I begin to worry. Our itinerary calls for two weeks to climb the mountain and return, and my visa expires in two weeks plus four days. Not a lot of room for error in a plan that is inherently fraught with uncertainty.

I'm just about ready to give up and head back to Jayapura when Titus comes up with another of his truly inspired ideas:

We don't need a plane, we'll just walk.

It seems the two weeks he'd been budgeting had assumed that Tuk, (mama as he refers to her), would be coming with us. Without "mama" he thinks there is enough time to simply walk to Ilaga. I'm skeptical at first, but the idea of walking almost the entire way across Irian Jaya has a certain aesthetic appeal to it, and by nightfall, with the earliest possibility of a plane three days away, I'm convinced.

Do I really need all these people?
Titus insists on bringing his "staff," two assistants plus six porters, making for a total of nine people to accompany me. This seems like a ridiculous escalation from my original plan of just going alone, but he seems to be the only one in town willing to attempt it, so I guess I have to do it his way.

For our first day we charter a "taxi" to the proverbial "end of the road." The road is wet and goes from bad to worse. If nothing else, the large team proves useful for pulling the truck out of the mud.

Our second day: we are up at dawn, and on the trail shortly after. Despite the abundance of porters I insist on carrying my own pack. The trail rolls through gentle farmlands and I'm quietly smug as I'm easily able to keep ahead of the porters despite my recent training regimen of lying on the beach.

Rickety bridge in the flatlands.
It turns out the porters have been saving themselves and I've been acting like a fool. The trail turns off into the jungle and the trekking gets hellish.

I totter along with my pack up the narrow, densely wooded valley. Back and forth across the river, sometimes on rough hewn suspension bridges, but more commonly on wet mossy logs. Up and down the steep side valleys, my legs throbbing, my body in shock now over the unaccustomed strain.

With more principle than sense I stubbornly refuse to give up my load and by lunch I've sunk into a catatonia, my world reduced to the notion of placing one foot in front of the other, again and again.

Despite their bare feet the porters are far ahead. But surprisingly, even in my wretched state, I am making better time than Titus, my "guide." He is having trouble with his boots and at lunch staggers in nearly an hour after me.

I lost my watch in Jayapura, and in my timeless stupor I mistake a post-lunch break for the end of the day. I'm roused from my nap to the cries of "jalan (go)," and as late afternoon fades into dusk we break out of the jungle and the terrain softens into swamp.

We plod down trees where they've been felled to make a sort of trail and wade through the muck where there are none. In the last light of the day we crest a final ridge and below me is spread out a pastoral valley with a beautiful lake nestled against the hillside.

We manage the descent in the dark and settle into a school for the night. Titus claims we've come 50km (30 mi.) and I fall asleep to dark thoughts of two weeks on this pace.

School Days

Lani school boy.
"Do little Lani boys have nightmares about waking up in school with clothes on?"

This is the giggling thought that I can't get out of my mind as I watch the children play.

Actually, most of the children have some clothes, and the issues seem much more complicated than just money. With the resurgent independence movement traditional dress has become retro-hip, and many of the boys go starkers by choice?

In fact, with two days to study it, the entire dynamic on the playground seems odd to me. It takes me a while to discover the missing ingredient, but eventually I conclude it's meanness. These children just aren't mean to each other.

An exercise left for the reader, "why?"

I spent hours watching them play volleyball on a homespun net. Always three hits on a side, never keeping score, and each ball hit only with the intention of someone else being able to return it.

Watching them, my jaded heart melted just a bit, and I spend a long while musing over the idea of trying to send them a high quality net and ball, before I came to grips with the ridiculousness of the idea. There are so many things they could use more.

In the morning, the lake is gone but the pain in my legs is still there.

It seems this is where the great Baliem River goes underground for a spell and periodically the passage stops up. When the water isn't flowing, it forms the majestic lake I'd seen in yesterday evening's twilight. But when it releases, as must have happened during the night, the lake drains into what I see in this morning's cold light, a muddy torrent running through an ugly brown basin.

There is no interesting story about my legs, they just hurt.

Today has been billed as one long climb and then gently rolling for the rest of the day. I make it five minutes into the climb before surrendering my pack to one of the porters, yesterday's pride dissolved in a pool of lactic acid.

It's early, before the brutal midday heat, and on the flats my legs feel better, so I'm even beginning to enjoy myself when we stride into another small village and Titus announces we're done for the day.

Each night I've been reviewing the money and days, cogitating for hours over the consequences of running short on either, so I'm sorely irritated at the idea of stopping so early.

Titus explains that he thinks we're moving too slowly and that we won't make it to Ilaga in time. He has a friend in this village who works for MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship, one of the missionary flight services that had refused us in Wamena), and assures me that this friend can arrange a flight for us -- in two days.

While Titus and his staff may relish the idea of getting paid to lounge, I'm really unhappy about the idea of spending two days in this village. I can feel the valuable days slipping by, each lost hour ringing like a warning bell in the back of my mind. If it works, his new plan will put us one day behind schedule and we haven't even reached the "difficult" part of the journey. It seems I have little say though, Titus releases the porters and we settle in for the wait.

Permit Roulette

Driving down the road we're stopped every hour or so at a Papuan checkpoint. These are grass huts flying the Papuan flag and manned by volunteer "soldiers" armed with wooden sticks and bows.

They've latched onto all the easiest facets of soldierdom and exiting the vehicle with a snappy salute is de rigueur for passing through smoothly.

They are ostensibly here to defend the flag and guard against arriving Indonesian immigrants or police. The Papuans take their role very seriously, and I don't mean to poke fun, but whatever other flaws they might have, the Indonesian military are well armed and well disciplined. It's not a fight I'd care to witness.

In the larger towns we need to stop and have our permits checked. My still just barely valid surat jalan for the police, our bogus military pass for the army, and my good natured charm and wit for the Papuans.

All a bit of a stretch.

After two days of waiting, I peer nervously up into the dark clouds and listen intently. I breathe a huge sigh of relief when I finally hear the plane's first faint droning and get positively giddy as the sound grows from a buzz to a roar.

The pilot circles once to check out the sloping grass strip, and then delicately touches down. After taxiing up to the gathering crowd, he gets out, takes one look at me and says,

MAF doesn't fly tourists.

And my dream of climbing Puncak Jaya is over.


There is a lot of hemming and hawing, begging and pleading, but even after a final check over the radio the verdict is still the same, "no." Actually, MAF's policy would be better stated,

We don't take tourists where they want to go.
Because for the same 1.5 million Rp. he is willing to take me to the last place in the world I want to go, back to Wamena. The irony of this seems lost on him, and my complaints are drowned out by the roar of the propeller as we pull up off the grass and turn back towards Wamena.

The little plane that could, but wouldn't.

What took us 2.5 days by foot and truck takes less than an hour in the plane and we're quickly back on the ground in Wamena.

Adventure over. Maybe...

Titus has lots more ideas and although I humor him in one final check of all the charter air services, the reality is that I'm out of time, money, and patience. What I suspected before is obvious now, that he's been lying to me from the beginning and will promise anything to string me along just a little bit longer.

When he claims the real problem was that it was a new MAF pilot who just didn't know the way to Ilaga, I finally lose my temper and vent my opinion on the quality of his, "guiding."

That evening, after exhausting all possibilities for more quixotic misadventures, it comes time to pay off Titus and his staff. I'd agreed on 150,000Rp.(US$18) per day for this helpers and 300,000Rp.(US$36) per day for him. Ridiculously high wages for Indonesia even by the inflated standards of Irian Jaya.

I pay the helpers, mostly because they don't speak enough English to be worth arguing with, but I refused to give Titus anything.

He's incensed and we wrangle for hours but I just can't make him see my side. That he repeatedly lied to me, causing me to waste time and money and I refuse to reward him for that. His view is that I got five days of trekking and that I should pay him for that. (Blithely ignoring the fact that as he knew from the beginning, I wanted to climb, not trek).

Things escalate from talking into shouting and finally into scuffling when he decides he's just going to take something of mine as payment.

This has all been happening in my room, and now I want him out. As I push and shove we tumble out into the hall where I find myself staring up into several very large, very angry Papuan eyes.

Slipping out of control?

Feeling things slipping out of control I start screaming for the police, but the Papuans want to try and mediate things before involving the Indonesian officials. I tell the story as best I can, but we are both still intransigent so the hotel manager finally agrees to call in the cops.

All the Papuans seem just a little bit too comfortable with this, and I'm expecting some sort of scam when a truck pulls up outside and 10 soldiers in full combat gear rush into the lobby.

It's been an eventful year since the last time I was surrounded by an angry group of soldiers pointing assault rifles at me, and this time I handle it a bit better.

Titus and I again laboriously go through our stories, but the police decide this is much too much fun not to share so we are both loaded into the back of a truck for the proverbial, "ride downtown."

Entering the police station I get just enough of a glimpse at the lockup to begin having serious doubts about the wisdom of involving the Indonesians in this. The "tourist police" I'd been promised turn out to be three pimple-faced teenage soldiers who speak even less English than everyone else I've tried to explain this to so far tonight.

With Titus and I on one side of the table, them on the other, and every cop in Wamena with nothing better to do (that's just about all of them), crowding around the edges, I painfully go through my story one more time.

Obeisance seems to be what's expected here and I "yes sir," "no sir," "speaking only when spoken to, sir" along with things, but I gradually feel their sympathies slipping away. In Indonesian, Titus seems to have them fascinated with the details of just why the plane wouldn't take us, while in broken English, I can't seem to make them understand that if he'd been honest, we wouldn't have been there in the first place.

I'm about ready to give up and be done with it, when one of them stumbles onto the obvious question:

Hey, this is a pretty dodgy trip, let's see the paperwork for it?

Ooo, problem. Which permit do I show them? The (forged) military one that at least (I think) says I have permission to go to the mountain? Or, my official surat jalan that says I'm restricted to the immediate vicinity of Wamena and due to leave in three days?

Vainly trying to look like a proud father unveiling a wallet-full of baby pictures, I unfold my woefully insufficient surat jalan and lay it on the table.

I give the officer my best doe-eyed look as he chuffs incredulously and begins screaming at Titus.

It went on for a long while, and I didn't really follow the Indonesian, but it was apparent that it went something along the lines of,

You were going to take him where?!
With this permit?!!
Why you're lucky we don't blah, blah, blah...

In the end, they made him apologize to me obsequiously, but then let us both go without any money changing hands. I felt bad that my issue, that he'd been utterly dishonest, got lost in the fray, but was glad to escape without anyone getting pummeled, at least not yet...

For what to do? The police are none to impressed with me and I've just caused the utter humiliation of a well connected member of the Papuan community. A beating and robbery still look to be a very possible events in my near future and worst of all, I don't know where Tuk is.

While I was climbing Puncak Jaya, she was supposed to come here, to Wamena, for some sightseeing. I've been searching for her ever since I got back to town but all I've gotten is conflicting reports. She's been sighted in the company of French, Japanese, Australians and Koreans. Some say she is off trekking, others say she is due to fly out tomorrow.

I'm not sure what to think. I know *I* don't want to stay here, but I can't leave and let her stumble blindly into my mess. It's late now, near midnight, and I scurry through the shadows making one last check of all the hotels before returning home to lie sleeplessly and listen to the dark.

No dreams here tonight.

31 Aug 2000
I'm up before the dawn to check the airport. Thankfully Tuk is on the list for today and there is room on the flight. I buy a ticket and pace for a few hours until I find traveler who knows where she is staying.

I race over to her hotel for the surprise reunion and a quick version of this story before together we run back to the airport and make our escape to Jayapura.


1 Sep 2000
Errands and email.

2 Sep 2000
Even more errands and email.

3 Sep 2000
A writing day.

4 Sep 2000
Now that we've manage to alienate all possible sides of the law, I think it's time to be going. We haven't been able to buy a real guidebook here for Papua New Guinea, and all we know is that it's supposed to be a scary, crime-ridden place, but that's where we're off to.

The journey is a study in contrasts. Our taxi is manned by a crew of three adolescent Indonesians. The numbers needed, they explain to us, "for safety," holdups and extortions are common on this road. The official manning the Indonesian border post performs a little extortion of his own and takes 40,000Rp. (US$5) from us.

I relent and give up the money because Tuk and I don't have ongoing tickets and a different official at the Papua New Guinea consulate in Jayapura has warned us that we'll be turned back by PNG Immigration (unless of course we pay him for the "ongoing tickets viewed" stamp).

But at the PNG border, the situation, things couldn't be more different. The Immigration official never asks about the tickets and instead offers us a soda and the use of his phone. Taxis are scarce here but we are welcome to wait, and have a friendly chat while we do. Eventually they organize a ride for us, "for free," they finally manage to convince me.

So much for the horrors of Papua New Guinea.

Evan & Tuk's top five destinations in Indonesia:

  1. Togean Islands
      Rustic but charming islands with great beaches and diving. Far enough off the beaten path to still have that "undiscovered" feel and well worth the trip.
  2. Baliem Valley
      A people still living a fascinating traditional culture, not just putting on shows for tourists. Despite my problems, a generally warm and friendly place.
  3. Tana Toraja
      Another pocket of interesting culture, more accessible than the Baliem, but also more touristy.
  4. Gili Trawangan
      An easy place to get stuck. Good food, diving and a social scene.
  5. Mt. Rinjani
      Daunting trekking up a beautiful volcano.

Our five favorite things:

  1. Arts and textiles
      Indonesia is a shopper's paradise (just ask Tuk). Throughout the country there is a great variety traditional arts, crafts and weavings.
  2. Beautiful scenery
      From the blue seas and tranquil beaches to the towering peaks and magical lakes, there's an incredible geographic variety, all stunning.
  3. Great diving
      The Gilis, Togeans, Komodo, and Bunaken -- few countries can boast so many top quality dive sights.
  4. Cheap, high quality accommodation
      Through much of the country, US$10-15 gets you not just a place to crash but often times a lovely room with views and amenities.
  5. Post office
      The one functional piece of the monstrous Indonesian bureaucracy. The mail is fast and efficient, the staff are friendly and helpful, offices are open early and close late, and, to top it all off, they maintain a nationwide network of internet cafes. Truly a first class operation.

The five things we'll miss the least:

  1. Corrupt officials
      Virtually everyone in any sort of an authority position lied, cheated, or leaned on us to give up some cash. Bastards, all of them. They foul the country with their stench.
  2. Rude Smokers
      All Indonesian men smoke sickeningly sweet clove cigarettes. From restaurants to crowded minibuses the notion that it's rude to blow smoke into someone else's face has never occurred to them.
  3. Endless scams
      Not since Egypt, have I been to a country so rife with scams. The non-stop assault of hustlers and touts kept us continually on the defensive, and really took some of the fun out of visiting.
  4. Local transportation
      Ferries threatening to sink, post-apocalyptic bus rides, etc...
  5. "Hello mister"
      Standing guard in every Indonesian town is a squad of young boys. They must work shifts or something to guarantee continuous coverage, because it's not possible for a tourist to set foot on the street without being assailed by screams of "HELLO Meesterrrr!" It's cute the first time, mildly musing the second, but by the 4,397th...

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