Sunday, January 24, 2010

SEPIK RIVER/WEWAK PNG-AN ESSENTIAL TRAVEL GUIDE












"ADVENTURE TRAVEL-EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED"!THIS STATEMENT RINGS TRUE WHEN YOU TAKE ON THE ISLAND OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA,THE FOLLOWING GUIDE IS A STEPPING STONE THROUGH THE EAST SEPIK PROVINCE,FROM THE PRISTINE COASTAL BEACHES INTO THE WILD RAW ALONG THE SEPIK RIVER.LIKE ALL ADVENTURISTS YOUR ABILITY TO ACCEPT AND ADAPT WILL ENHANCE YOUR EXPERIENCE.THIS INFORMATION IS CURRENT AS OF JANUARY 2010,PLEASE KEEP IN MIND THAT THE WORLD CHANGES EVERY DAY.........ALL PRICES ARE IN KINA,(1USD=2.70 KINA)(1 AUD=2.50KINA)
AFTER 20 YEARS OF TRAVEL TO THE SEPIK REGION,I HOPE THE FOLLOWING WILL HELP YOU PLAN AND ENJOY THIS TOTALLY AMAZING PART OF PNG.I HAVE INCLUDED SOME PLACES THAT "TOURISTS" NEVER GET TO READ ABOUT IN ESTABLISHED PUBLICATIONS.WITH THIS EXPERIENCE THE PLACES MENTIONED ARE MY "BEST PICKS"AND THEY RANGE FROM UPMARKET TO BASIC.
THIS IS DIVIDED UP INTO 3 SEPARATE AREAS...1/WEWAK....2/THE ISLANDS.....3/SEPIK RIVER,DEPENDING ON YOUR OWN TRAVEL SPEED AND POINTS OF INTEREST,ALL 3 AREAS CAN BE EASILY COMBINED INTO A 10 DAY ADVENTURE.THE BIGGEST CHANGE INTO PNG LIFE IS THE AVAILABILITY OF MOBILE PHONES,THIS HAS MADE CONTACT WITH REMOTE LODGES/GUEST HOUSE OWNERS VERY POSSIBLE,THE COUNTRY CODE FOR PNG IS 675..INCLUDED ARE MANY DIRECT PHONE NUMBERS TO MAKE YOUR PLANNING EASIER.


1/WEWAK,GATEWAY TO THE SEPIK...DAILY FLIGHTS FROM PORT MORESBY ON AIR NEW GUINEA(AIRPORT CODE FOR WEWAK IS WWK)YOU CAN VIEW SCHEDULE ON WWW.AIRNIUGINI.COM.PG
CAPITAL OF THE EAST SEPIK PROVINCE IT IS A LARGE SPRAWLING TOWN,THE AIRPORT AT BORAM IS 6KMS FROM THE TOWN CENTRE.ALL ESSENTIAL SERVICES ARE FOUND HERE,3 BANKS(WESTPAC,ANZ,BANK SOUTH PACIFIC)SUPERMARKETS,HOSPITAL,POST OFFICE,PHARMACY.THE STANDOUT ACCOMODATION VENUE IS LOCATED ON TOP OF WEWAK HILL OVERLOOKING THE BISMARCK SEA,"IN WEWAK BOUTIQUE HOTEL"IS AN ABSOLUTE JEWEL AND I RATE IT THE NUMBER 1 HOTEL IN ALL OF PNG,OPERATED BY LONG TERM LOCALS WHO TAKE PRIDE IN MAKING GUESTS FEEL TOTALLY RELAXED AND COMFORTABLE,IT OFFERS THE IDEAL SURROUNDINGS TO PREPARE YOUR TRIP OUT TO THE SEPIK AND TO RECOVER AFTER THE BIG RIVER TRIP.I HAVE WITNESSED MANY SUNBURT FATIGUED SEPIK ADVENTURERS STUMBLE BACK INTO THE FOYER WITH A SENSE OF RELIEF AT BEING BACK AT THE WEWAK BOUTIQUE,THAT INCLUDES YOURS TRULY!NOTHING LIKE A REFRESHING SWIM IN THE POOL TO REVIVE THE SENSES.ROOM CHOICES RUN FROM THE BUDGET WITH PRIVATE BATHROOM AT 200KINA TO STANDARD ROOMS WITH A/C 330KINA,DELUXE ROOMS WITH PRIVATE BALCONY AND QUEEN SIZE BEDS 430KINA.ALL ROOMS INCLUDE FRIDGE,PHONE AND SATELLITE TV. BREAKFAST/LUNCH/DINNER ARE PROVIDED IN THE COOLING SURROUNDS OF THE COCOA CAFE OR VANILLA ROOM RESTAURANT..SURROUNDED BY THE OWNERS INCREDIBLE COLLECTION OF LOCAL ARTEFACTS YOU CAN ENJOY A COLD DRINK WHILE ORDERING THE LOCAL MURIK MUD CRABS,CROCODILE CUTS,OR THE STEAK FLOWN IN FROM AUSTRALIA.AS WORD OF MOUTH SPREADS ABOUT THE HOTEL,IT IS RARE TO FIND A ROOM AVAILABLE,MY SUGGESTION TO AVOID DISSAPOINTMENT IS PRE BOOK,PHONE 8562100 OR E.MAIL inwewak@global.net.pg MORE INFO ON WEB SITE www.inwewak.com
GUEST SERVICES INCLUDE DAILY LAUNDRY AND AIRPORT TRANSFERS,THE GUEST BOOK COMMENTS SAY IT ALL,STAY HERE AND ENJOY THE BEST!(SEE PHOTOS)



2/THE ISLANDS..A 45 MINUTE BOAT RIDE FROM WEWAK WILL LAND YOU ON MUSCHU ISLAND,FOR THOSE WANTING TO EXPERIENCE THE RELAXED AND LAID BACK LIFESTYLE OF SMALL VILLAGE HOSPITALITY THIS IS A TOP SPOT FOR ONE OR TWO NIGHTS.A NEW ADDITION IS"CLEMENTS GUEST HOUSE"(PHOTO) RIGHT ON THE BEACH IN A BAY WITH GREAT VIEWS ACROSS TO THE MAINLAND.IT HAS 3 ROOMS WITH BEDDING AND MOSQUITO NETS PROVIDED,TRANSFER BY BOAT IS AVAILABLE FOR 20KINA PER PERSON,PRICES ARE 45 KINA PER NIGHT WHICH INCLUDES BREAKFAST.IF YOU DECIDE TO INCLUDE THIS GREAT STOPOVER TAKE PLENTY OF SUPPLIES/FOOD/WATER FOR YOUR STAY,A BBQ OF FRESHLY CAUGHT FISH ON THE BEACH IN THE EVENING IS A GREAT WAY TO WRAP UP A DAY OF SWIMMING,SNORKELLING AND FISHING.CLEMENTS MOBILE PHONE IS 72793107.



3/SEPIK RIVER..THIS IS WHERE YOUR TRAVEL GETS SERIOUS,PREPARATION IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING,ONCE YOU LEAVE WEWAK THERE ARE NO BANKS,NO CREDIT CARD FACILITYS AND NO TIMETABLES.TAKE WITH YOU PROVISIONS FOR YOUR LENGTH OF STAY,RICE,NOODLES,TIN FISH,BISCUITS,COFFEE,SUGAR ETC.THE RIVER RUNS AT 1200 KMS IN LENGTH WITH 3 ROAD ACCESS POINTS,ANGORAM(LOWER SEPIK),TIMBUNKE(MIDDLE SEPIK) AND PAGWI(UPPER SEPIK).MOST TOURISTS HEAD TO THE LOWER AND MIDDLE AREAS,SO LET'S GO TO THE INCREDIBLE REMOTE REGION OF THE UPPER SEPIK WHICH REACHES THE INDONESIAN BORDER OF WEST PAPUA!THERE ARE 2 WAYS TO REACH AMBUNTI,OVERNIGHT RIDE FROM WEWAK TO PAGWI(6HOURS)IN A TRUCK(40KINA) THEN BY DUGOUT CANOE TO AMBUNTI (2HOURS=30KINA)OR FLY ON MAF AIRLINES(380KINA)TUESDAY AND THURSDAY FLIGHTS FROM WEWAK(8562500)MY CHOICE IS ONE OF EACH...ROAD IN/FLY OUT,KEEPS YOU A LITTLE LESS FATIGUED.THE AMBUNTI LODGE IS A GREAT SPOT TO BASE YOUR TRAVELS AROUND,IT HAS SEEN BETTER DAYS BUT NOW ALL ROOMS HAVE SELF CONTAINED BATHROOMS WITH BEDDING AND MOSSIE NETS PROVIDED,MANAGER VALENTINE AND HIS WIFE COOK MEALS FROM THE FOOD YOU BRING AND WITH THE GENERATOR PROVIDING POWER IN THE EVENINGS,THE POSSIBILITY OF A COLD BEER AFTER DINNER AND THE A/C UNIT COOLING YOUR ROOM IS VERY WELCOME,AS A LOCAL MAN HE PROVIDES GREAT INSIGHT INTO THE UPPER SEPIK REGION AND HIS SON GEORGE CAN BE HIRED TO GUIDE YOU ON JOURNEYS OF INTEREST,ALSO ASK FOR CHRIS BARAS TO TAKE YOU ALONG THE RIVER,HIS SKILLS ARE SECOND TO NONE FOR THIS AREA,HE COMES HIGHLY RECOMMENDED(71420214),THE NIGHTLY RATE FOR THE AMBUNTI LODGE IS 200 KINA..CONTACT VALENTINE 76368508 OR LANDLINE 8585151.YOUR GUIDE WILL ADVISE OF BEST DESTINATIONS AND COSTS..PETROL ON THE RIVER RUNS AT 25KINA PER LITRE,MY "BEST PICK"IS AN OVERNIGHT STAY AT "WAGU LODGE"RECENTLY OPENED WITH 4 LARGE ROOMS ON THE SHORE OF THE WAGU LAGOON WETLANDS AND NESTLED AT THE BASE OF THE HUNSTEIN RANGES,SPECTACULAR SCENERY AS YOU RIDE IN THROUGH THIS AMAZING WETLANDS OFF THE SEPIK RIVER,CONSTUCTED WITH BUSH MATERIAL IT HAS A GAS STOVE FOR COOKING ALONG WITH FLUSHING TOILET,SHOWER FACILITYS AND MOSQUITO NETS ,IT IS POSSIBLE TO BUY FROM LOCAL WOMEN SMOKED FISH,SAGO AND YAM SOUP TO MAKE YOUR DIETRY INTAKE MORE INTERESTING.25 KINA PER PERSON PER NIGHT ,MATTHEW IS THE MANAGER OF THIS EXCITING NEW LODGE,ADDED TRIPS ONCE HERE INCLUDE CROCODILE WATCHING,BIRD OF PARADISE VIEWING(EARLY MORNING)AND FISHING.THIS IS THE REAL PNG THAT PEOPLE REFER TO IN TRAVEL STORIES,OTHER GREAT DAY TRIPS INCLUDE WASHKUK HILLS,CHAMBRI LAKES,SWAGUP(HOME OF THE INSECT CULT)FOR LONGER TRIPS TRY FREIDA RIVER THE SITE OF A NEW GOLD MINING OPERATION,MAY RIVER OR YELLOW RIVER.ESSENTIALS FOR THIS TERRITORY INCLUDE LARGE SUNHAT AND SUNBLOCK,LOTS OF BOTTLED WATER,TORCH AND BATTERYS,HIGH TROPICAL STRENGTH MOSQUITO SPRAY, PLENTY OF PATIENCE AND CASH!!!A TIP TO SAVE MONEY ON MOTOR/BOAT/PETROL PRICES IS TO TRAVEL WITH AT LEAST ONE OTHER TRAVELLER,THIS WILL HALVE YOUR EXPENSES.
AS A LONG TERM VISITOR TO THE SEPIK/WEWAK AREA,I TRUST MY COMMENTS AND CONTACTS WILL ENHANCE YOUR EXPERIENCES IN THIS WONDERFUL INDIVIDUAL PART OF THE GLOBE,LET ME KNOW IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS ON THIS BLOG.



DON FOSTER/JANUARY 2010

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

TOUR DE TIMOR-LESTE,ACROSS THE MOUNTAINS TO THE SEA.









AS DENI AT RENTLO CAR HIRE IN DILI TOSSED ME THE KEYS TO A MITSUBISHI 4 WHEEL DRIVE,I KNEW THE NEXT 10 DAYS WOULD LEAD ME ACROSS SOME OF THE MOST AMAZING "ROADS"IN EAST TIMOR,AND THE CHANCE TO MEET SOME INCREDIBLE PEOPLE AND COMMUNITYS.MY BATTERED MAP OF EAST TIMOR HAD ONLY JUST SURVIVED THE LAST VISIT,THIS TRIP HELD TOGETHER BY STICKY TAPE IT RARELY LEFT MY SIDE!DRY SEASON IN TIMOR(APRIL TO NOVEMBER) WOULD ALLOW ME TO REACH REMOTE AREAS,USUALLY OFF LIMITS WHEN THE RAINS COME,THE PLAN WAS TO REACH THE BORDER WITH WEST TIMOR,TREK ACROSS THE BIG MOUNTAINS THEN ADVANCE ONTO SUAI.AFTER A NIGHT IN THE FAMOUS TURISMO HOTEL,THE SUN ROSE ON A PERFECT TIMOR MORNING,THE HARBOUR REFLECTING A SHIMMERING LAZY CALM AS THE FIRST BIG CONTAINER SHIPS EDGED THEIR WAY TOWARDS THE MAIN TERMINAL.FIRST STOP WAS LIQUICA,30 KMS FROM DILI,WALKING ALONG THE BLACK SAND BEACH AND THROUGH THIS TOWN IT'S CENTREPIECE IS THE SAO JOAO DE BRITO CHURCH,MARKED IN HISTORY FROM IT'S MONUMENTS,JUST 20 METRES AWAY A SCHOOL FULL OF NOISY EXCITED CHILDREN SHOWS THAT EAST TIMOR IS CARVING OUT A NEW ENTHUSIASM FOR THE FUTURE,THIS WAS FURTHER ENHANCED AT THE SMALL TOWN OF MAUBARA,WHERE TO MY SURPRISE LOCAL WOMAN HAD BEEN GIVEN SMALL BUNGALOWS TO MAKE AND SELL THEIR HANDICRAFTS BY THE ROADSIDE,I CAN ONLY HOPE THIS SENSE OF DIGNITY AND PROUDNESS EXTENDS TO THIS EXERCISE BEING IMPLEMENTED IN OTHER DISTRICTS.THE OLD DUTCH FORTRESS STILL STANDS HERE ALONG WITH AN ORIGINAL CANNON FACING OUT TO THE SAVU SEA,THE PORTUGESE SWAPPED THIS AREA WITH THE NETHERLANDS FOR FLORES ISLAND!SOME OF EAST TIMORS BEST BEACHES AND SCENERY ARE LOCATED ALONG THE COASTAL ROAD LEADING INTO VATOBORO AND BATUGADE...WHITE SANDS,WARM WATERS AND TRADITIONAL FISHERMEN SETTING THEIR NETS MAKE UP THE IDEAL REFLECTIVE REST STOP.FROM BATUGADE YOU HAVE 2 OPTIONS..2KMS AROUND THE CORNER IS THE BORDER CHECK POINT FOR WEST TIMOR(INDONESIA),TURN LEFT AND THE ROAD SNAKES IT'S WAY UP THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS TO THE SMALL TOWN OF BALIBO.HISTORICAL EVENTS AND NOW AN AUSTRALIAN MOVIE DETAILING THE "BALIBO 5"HAS PUT THE SPOTLIGHT ONTO THIS VILLAGE,DURING THE 1999 PEACE KEEPING OPERATIONS,THE 400 YEAR OLD OLD PORTUGESE FORTRESS WAS HOME TO AROUND 1,000 UNITED NATIONS PERSONEL,RECENTLY THE VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT PURCHASED THE HOUSE WHERE THE "BALIBO 5"HAD STAYED WHILE REPORTING ON THE INDONESIAN INVASION,NOW SERVING AS A MEMORIAL TO THE JOURNALISTS IT IS ALSO USED AS A COMMUNITY CENTRE.WINDING MY WAY BACK DOWN THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS INTO THE MALIANA VALLEY,THIS IS WHERE YOUR DRIVING SKILLS ARE TESTED,AS EACH SHARP BEND IS APPROACHED YOU START SENDING A MESSAGE TO ANY ONCOMING VEHICLES WITH THE CONSTANT USE OF YOUR CAR HORN WHILE KEEPING THE WHEELS ON THE ROAD,ALONG WITH A NEVER ENDING STREAM OF GOATS,PIGS,CHICKENS,HORSES,BUFFALOS,DOGS AND THEIR HUMAN COMPANIONS CRISS CROSSING,IT MAKES PEAK HOUR ON CORONATION DRIVE SEEM TAME!AS YOU APPROACH MALIANA,RICE FIELDS STRETCH FOR MANY KILOMETRES ACROSS A BEAUTIFUL SPRING LIKE VALLEY FED BY A HEALTHY WATER SUPPLY FROM THE RIVERS RUNNING FROM THE MOUNTAINS,DRIVING UP THE BIG HILL THAT OVERLOOKS THE TOWN I FOUND THE POUSADA(HOTEL)MALIANA,IT'S BEST DAYS MAY HAVE PASSED BY,BUT THE SPECTACULAR VIEWS DOWN THE VALLEY AT SUNSET WIPE AWAY THE HARD DAYS TRAVEL,WASHING OFF THE FATIGUE AND DUST WITH A COLD TIGER BEER,I WATCHED A SPIRITED BUNCH OF LOCALS PLAY VOLLEYBALL UNTIL THERE WAS NO LIGHT LEFT,IT WAS ANOTHER INDICATION THAT THE PEOPLE OF TIMOR LESTE ARE PLAYING THEIR OWN GAME.NEXT DAY I RAMBLED THROUGH THE MAIN MARKET AREA,GATHERING MY BREAKFAST OF DONUTS AND MANDARINS,THIS DAY WOULD TAKE ME UP THROUGH THE BIG MOUNTAIN PASS AND INTO BOBONARO,FROM THERE ONTO THE COASTAL TOWN OF SUAI NEXT TO THE TIMOR SEA.IN THESE REMOTE REGIONS TRANSPORT IS NON-EXISTANT,SO MANY FAMILIES HAVE TO WALK LONG DISTANCES TO TAKE THEIR FARM PRODUCE TO MARKETS,YOU PASS MANY FULLY LADEN HORSES ON THE TRACKS TO REGIONAL CENTRES,SO IT GAVE ME GREAT PLEASURE TO HELP MANY GROUPS MAKE THE TREK EASIER,IT WAS MY PAYBACK TO LAST YEARS VISIT WHEN LOCALS AFFORDED ME LIFTS, BAGS OF ,CORN,PEANUTS AND CHICKENS ALL HELD EQUAL SPACE IN THE BACK WHILE CHATTING IN MY BROKEN PORTUGESE/BAHASA/ENGLISH COMBINATION TO THE EXCITED PASSENGERS,AFTER THE TORTURE OF THE GOAT TRACKS AROUND BOBONARO, IT WAS A SENSE OF JOY WHEN I SPOTTED THE TIMOR SEA WAY OFF IN THE DISTANCE,MANY OF MY "TAXI" PASSENGERS WERE STUDENTS GOING TO SCHOOL,HOLDING RIPPED EXCERCISE BOOKS FULL OF BASIC ENGLISH,THEY ASKED FOR HELP IN SPEAKING MORE WORDS AND PHRASES.A COUPLE OF BOYS FROM ZUMALAI ESCOLA SHOULD NOW BE FULLY VERSED IN THE TERM "I AM PLEASED TO MEET YOU"!THE RUN ALONG THE COAST TOWARDS SUAI RATTLES THE BONES WITH 30KMS OF CORRUGATIONS,NORMALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO GET TO IN WET SEASON,NEW BRIDGES ARE BEING CONSTRUCTED TO HOPEFULLY ALLOW ACCESS TO SUAI ALL YEAR AROUND.AFTER CHECKING INTO THE EASTERN DRAGON HOTEL,MY TRUSTY PAIR OF THONGS TOOK ME OUT INTO THE BLAZING AFTERNOON SUN TO EXPLORE,WITHIN 10 MINUTES I HAD THE SENSE THAT SUAI WAS ONE OF EAST TIMORS BEST KEPT SECRETS,AN INCREDIBLE COMMUNITY PRIDE MET ME EVERYWHERE,EVERYONE WAS HAPPY TO TELL ME THEIR STORIES OF STRUGGLE AND HOPE,A NEW HOSPITAL HAS OPENED IN SUAI CREATING MANY JOBS AND HELPING PEOPLES HEALTH,THE FRONTEIRA GUEST HOUSE WAS ADDING EXTRA ROOMS AND A NEW RESTAURANT WAS NEARLY COMPLETE...SCHOOLS WERE FULL AND THE 'FRIENDS OF SUAI"AN AUSTRALIAN VOLUNTEER GROUP HAD MADE THE COMMUNITY CENTRE A PLACE OF VISION FOR LOCALS.EVEN THOUGH THE TOWN SEEMED BUSY WITH ENDEVOUR,THE FEEL WAS LAID BACK,IT REMINDED ME OF VANIMO IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA.AS I WANDERED INTO THE RESTAURANT ATTACHED TO THE EASTERN DRAGON,IT SEEMED LIKE THE WHOLE TOWN HAD GATHERED FOR A PARTY!A BIG GROUP OF UNITED NATIONS POLICE,AID WORKERS,AUSSIE VOLUNTEERS AND A HEALTHY MIX OF SUAI LOCALS ALL GATHERED INTO THIS TRADITIONAL HUT,THE FOOD WAS FANTASTIC,FRESH SEAFOOD FROM LOCAL WATERS FILLED MOST OF THE MENU,WHEN SOMEONE TOLD ME THIS IS THE BEST RESTAURANT IN EAST TIMOR,I COULD NOT DISAGREE.WHAT A NIGHT!THANKYOU TO ALL THE INCREDIBLE PEOPLE AND FAMILYS I MET ON THIS LEG OF MY "TOUR DE TIMOR".

DON FOSTER
JUNE 2009

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Timor Leste - The Tracks to Independence












TIMOR LESTE,THE TRACKS TO INDEPENDENCE.

AFTER ALL THE YEARS OF FOLLOWING EAST TIMOR'S TRACK TO AN INDEPENDENT NATION,IT WAS FINALLY REWARDING TO BE ON AN AIR NORTH FLIGHT FROM DARWIN HEADING TO DILI THE CAPITAL OF TIMOR LESTE,MY FIRST TRIP TO THE EX PORTUGESE AND INDONESIAN COLONY,MY PLAN WAS TO GET OUT INTO THE RURAL AREAS AND SEE WHAT THE PEOPLE AND COUNTRY HAD ACHIEVED 10YEARS AFTER INDONESIAN OCCUPATION ENDED IN BLOODY SCENES AND MASS DESTRUCTION IN 1999.AFTER 24 HOURS OF WATCHING CONTINUAL STREAMS OF WHITE TOYOTA FOUR WHEEL DRIVES WITH THE BLACK AND WHITE INSIGNIA OF THE UNITED NATIONS ATTACHED DOING LAPS AROUND DILI, I WAS HAPPY TO BE ON THE ROAD AND HEADING ALONG THE COASTAL STRETCH TOWARD MANATUTO,MY DRIVER ALPHONS AND HIS BATTERED OLD CAR ALSO SEEMED HAPPY TO ESCAPE THE U.N. COMPOUND OF DILI,AS WE STRUGGLED OVER THE MOUNTAIN RANGE,I LOOKED DOWN ON THE CAPITAL AND BID FAREWELL FOR THE NEXT MONTH.

PASSING THROUGH METINARO WE WITNESSED THE LAST OF THE DISPLACED PEOPLE CAMPS IN EAST TIMOR,SET UP AFTER THE TURMOIL OF 2006,THEY HAVE FILLED THE VOID OF PEOPLE WITH NO HOMES TO RETURN TO.WITH THE FRETILIN FLAG FLYING ACROSS THE ROADWAY,IT SERVED AS A REALITY CHECK THAT THIS COUNTRY IS STILL ON STRUGGLE STREET.AS WE DROVE THROUGH MANATUTO SEARCHING FOR SOME ACCOMODATION,IT WAS EVIDENT THAT THEY HAD COPPED THE BRUNT OF INDONESIA'S EXIT IN ANGER,ONCE A MAJOR STRONGHOLD OF INDONESIAN MILITARY AND ADMINISTRATION,A LOT OF THE TOWN RESEMBLES A WAR ZONE WITH A MULTITUDE OF BUILDINGS JUST CONCRETE SHELLS,RE-BUILDING IS UNDERWAY AND PEOPLE ARE GENERALLY UPBEAT ON THE FUTURE PROSPECTS OF THIS DISTRICT CENTRE.

AFTER ENJOYING THE HOSPITALITY AT THE CATHOLIC CHURCH GUEST HOUSE FOR TWO NIGHTS,IT WAS TIME TO LUCK MY WAY ONTO A BUS HEADING TO BAUCAU..AS MY BAG WAS THROWN ON TOP OF THE BUS ROOF,I FOUND A SPOT KNEELING ON A SACK OF RICE NEAR THE BACK WINDOW,AS WE TRAVELLED ALONG THE COAST THE TERRAIN REMINDED ME OF THE HARSH LANDSCAPES IN THOSE MAD MAX MOVIES,ALMOST LIKE A GRAVEL PIT WITH THIS SNAKY ROAD STUCK IN THE MIDDLE..THE CROWDED BUS WAS FULL OF SLEEPY LOCALS RETURNING HOME,THEY SEEMED LIKE THEY HAD DONE THIS ROUTE TOO OFTEN,THE WAY TO SIGNAL TO THE DRIVER TO STOP IS TO TAP A COIN LOUDLY ON THE METAL SUPPORTS,NOTHING FANCY HERE!TOWELS SHOWING EAST TIMOR'S FLAG ARE PROUDLY ON DISPLAY ACROSS THE FRONT DASHBOARD ALONG WITH THE PORTUGAL SOCCER TOWEL.

ARRIVAL IN BAUCAU WHICH IS THE SECOND LARGEST CITY PUTS YOU IN THE AREA CALLED "NEW TOWN",THIS SECTOR IS WHERE INDONESIA ESTABLISHED IT'S ADMINISTRATION CENTRE AND THE SURROUNDING MARKETS AND SHANTY STYLE SHOPS STILL RESEMBLE MOST INDONESIAN TOWNS,JUST 2 KILOMETRES DOWN THE ROAD IS THE ORIGINAL PORTUGESE CENTRE-"OLD TOWN",FULL OF FINE OLD BUILDINGS INCLUDING THE FAMOUS POUSADA de BAUCAU(HOTEL),MUNICIPALMARKET,CHURCHES,SCHOOLS AND THE SURREAL SIGHT OF A SWIMMING POOL WITH DIVING PLATFORM AND STARTING BLOCKS,YES THERE WAS WATER!AS YOU WANDER THROUGH THIS FORMER GRANDIOSE AND OPULENT STYLING IT IS EASY TO FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE STEPPED BACK TO 1948,AND YOUR THOUGHTS GATHER ON WHAT THE PORTUGESE HAD PLANNED FOR THIS SMALL OUTPOST?THE TIMORESE HAVE HELD ONTO THEIR LOVE OF ALL THINGS PORTUGESE,SOCCER,WINE,FOOD,NAMING OF CHILDREN,HORSES,STREET NAMES AND AREAS,THEY EVEN RE-INTRODUCED THE LANGUGE INTO SCHOOLING,AND IN A STRANGE TWIST OF FATE MOST PORTUGESE BUILDINGS SURVIVED THE DESTRUCTION OF THE MILITIA FORCES AND INDONESIAN ARMY AS THEY FLED.BAUCAU HAS A PROUD VIBRANT CHARM TO IT'S PEOPLE,SURROUNDED BY BEACHES AND MOUNTAINS IT IS A LOCATION THAT TOURISM WILL FIND AGAIN,LET'S HOPE THE AIRPORT RE-OPENS FOR FLIGHTS DIRECT FROM AUSTRALIA AND INDONESIA,AT THE MOMENT THE U.N. PEACE KEEPERS ARE BASED THERE AND ONLY USED FOR U.N. MISSIONS.

BIZARRE FACT:IN THE EARLY 70S MORE TOURISTS VISITED TIMOR THAN BALI!WITH A LACK OF TOURISM COMES A LACK OF TOUR OPERATORS,DILI HAS A SCATTERING,BAUCAU NONE!SO YOU HAVE TO IMPROVISE,FOR MY JOURNEY OFF THE MAIN ROADS I HIRED A TRUSTY 4WD FROM DIANNE AT THE MARIST BROTHERS SCHOOL,ENLISTING THE SERVICES OF LOCAL WOMAN FELICITY AS MY GUIDE AND HISTORIAN WE HEADED OUT ON THE ROAD TO VIQUEQUE,OUR AIM WAS TO FIND THE JUNGLE MONUMENT ERECTED TO RESISTANCE LEADER AND NOW PRIME MINISTER XANANA GUSMAO,ALONG THE WAY WE VISITED THE FRETILIN CEMETERY,INDONESIAN MILITARY CEMETERY,THE NATURAL SPRINGS POOL WHERE ONE END IS COLD ,THE OTHER IS WARM(THE BISHOP OF BAUCAU MAKES A VISIT HERE ONCE A YEAR TO BATHE),THE JAPANESE WORLD WAR 2 CAVES,MT ARIANA,VENILALE TOWN,OSSU WATERFALLS AND THE MOUNTAIN PASS WHERE THE INDONESIAN ARMY GENERALS TRIED TO LURE XANANA TO SIGN A PEACE TREATY.

WHAT IS AMAZING ABOUT THE HISTORICAL MONUMENT ERECTED TO XANANA IN 2003, IS THAT THIS IS THE EXACT AREA HE HID IN CAVES FOR 2 YEARS TO AVOID CAPTURE FROM THE INDONESIAN ARMY,THE LOCAL PEOPLE HELPED HIM SURVIVE. I WAS TOLD STORIES OF THE LENGTHS THEY WOULD GO TO IN FOOLING INDONESIAN ARMY OFFICERS SEARCHING FOR HIM,SECRETLY SMUGGLING FOOD HIDDEN UNDER SCRAPS MEANT FOR THEIR PIGS,AND PLACING FOOD IN HOLES COVERED BY LEAVES.THE SIMPLE BUT POIGNANT STONE MONUMENT IS ALREADY BEING ABSORBED BY THE JUNGLE WITH A THICK MOSS COVER,A SMALL FLAG POLE AND STONE SEAT ADD THE FINAL TOUCHES TO THE PEOPLES GIFT TO XANANA.

THE ACTUAL AREA IS NAMED WAIDABA NEAR THE VILLAGE OF BERCOLI.NEXT STOP WAS A VISIT TO THE TOWN OF QUELICAI
(KELIKAI IN INDONESIAN RULE)AT THE FOOT OF EAST TIMORS SECOND HIGHEST MOUNTAIN-"MATEBIAN"(MOUNTAIN OF DEAD SOULS),AROUND 2 HOURS DRIVE FROM BAUCAU THROUGH
LAGA AND UP AN IMPRESSIVE SCENIC ROAD WITH GREAT VIEWS BACK TO THE COAST,THE AIR IS COOL AND CLEAR,PERFECT FOR SOME TREKKING,HERE THERE IS A DISTINCT WET AND DRY SEASON,THE BEST TIME FOR CLIMBING IS THE APRIL-NOVEMBER "DRY".THIS AREA PROVIDES A BIG PART OF TIMORESE HISTORY,FROM 1976-1979 ALL LOCAL PEOPLE FLED THE INDONESIAN INVASION AND LIVED IN THE HIGH MOUNTAINS,HIDING IN CAVES AND LIVING OFF WHAT THEY COULD FIND IN THIS HIGH TERRAIN,BY 1980 LACK OF FOOD FORCED THEM TO RETURN TO CONTROLLED PEOPLE CAMPS SET UP BY THE INDONESIAN MILITARY.

A NEW GUEST HOUSE IN THE TOWN IS OPENING, OFFERING A GREAT CHANCE TO TREK AMONG THE HISTORY AND TALK WITH LOCALS WHO LIVED THROUGH THIS BLOODY PERIOD OF RESISTANCE.THE LOCAL MARKET ON SATURDAY MORNING IS A GREAT CHANCE TO "RAMBLE"AMONGST THE STALLS AND BUY FRESH VEGETABLES,FRUITS AND MEAT.OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS I VISITED VIQUEQUE,BEACU,LOSPALOS,TUTUALA,LORE,COM,LAUTEM..ALL PROVIDE INSIGHTS INTO THE STRUGGLE THESE PEOPLE HAVE ENDURED AND THE HARDSHIP IS EVIDENCED IN THE AMOUNT OF POVERTY THE MAJORITY HAVE TO LIVE WITH DAILY.IT IS NOW COMMON TO HAVE CHILDREN IN RURAL AREAS CONSTANTLY ASK FOR MONEY FROM FOREIGNERS,AND WOMEN YOU PASS ON ROADS ASK FOR BOTTLED WATER,SURVIVAL ON THE MOST BASIC LEVEL,DIMINISHING DIGNITY IN DANGEROUS TIMES!

I REFLECTED ON ALL THESE STRONG INDIVIDUALS I HAD HAD THE PLEASURE TO TALK AND WALK WITH AS THE OVERCROWDED BUS WOUND IT'S WAY BACK ALONG THE COASTAL TRIP TO DILI IN POURING WET SEASON RAINS,I HOPED THAT WITH SO MANY AID ORGANISATIONS AND U.N. PERSONNEL IN THE COUNTRY,TIMOR LESTE COULD TAKE TINY STEPS FORWARD FOR ALL IT'S PEOPLE,AND NOT JUST AID THE LIFESTYLE OF THOSE PROVIDING THE AID!TO ALL THOSE TIMORESE I MET,AND THOSE I HAVE NOT,"OBRIGADA"(THANK YOU).
DON FOSTER /JANUARY 2009

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

TO THE TOP OF INDONESIA - BANDA-ACEH AND SABANG









ACCORDING TO THE FAMOUS INDONESIAN SONG OF UNITY THE HEART OF THE INDONESIAN REPUBLIC IS SAID TO EXTEND "FROM SABANG TO MERAUKE" - FROM THE MOST NORTHERN POINT IN THE WEST TO THE SOUTHERNMOST POINT OF THE ARCHIPELAGO IN THE EAST. AFTER VISITING MERAUKE, THE TOWN JUST NORTH OF AUSTRALIA, IT WAS TIME TO VISIT SABANG - THE TOWN THAT SITS OPPOSITE THAILAND! FLYING INTO BANDA ACEH AUTOMATICALLY BROUGHT BACK THE TRAGIC IMAGES OF THE TSUNAMI ON DECEMBER 26TH 2004. WITHIN MINUTES OF LEAVING THE AIRPORT THE TRAGEDY OF THAT FATEFUL DAY FLOODED BACK TO ME AS SOON AS MY MOTORBIKE TAXI DRIVER REPEATED TO ME THE PHRASE "TSUNAMI IS DANGER", TELLING ME OF THE FAMILY MEMBERS HE HAD LOST. BUT I WAS HERE ON THE HUNCH THAT THIS REGION WAS REBOUNDING AND SHOWING POTENTIAL AS A SERIOUS TOURISM DESTINATION. WITH A NEW AIRPORT NEARLY COMPLETE (DUE TO BE COMPLETED IN 2009) IT WILL BECOME AN EASY FLY IN FROM THAILAND, MALAYSIA, SINGAPORE AND INDIA. ALREADY THE WORD IS STARTING TO FILTER OUT ABOUT SOME GREAT SURF BEACHES WITHIN AN HOUR OF BANDA ON THE WEST COAST. ONE OF THE BEST SPOTS I FOUND WAS A VILLAGE CALLED LAMPUUK WITH SOME NEAT BUNGALOWS ON THE BEACH NOT TO MENTION GREAT WAVES. ONE OF THE MORE INTERESTING TOUR OPERATORS I CAME ACROSS OFFERED A GUIDED TOUR OF THE SECRET HIDEOUTS OF THE ACEH REBELS IN THEIR LONG CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE INDONESIAN ARMY - AN INTERESTING ACTIVITY FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN THE HISTORY OF THE AREA. THE CITY ITSELF IS BACK ON ITS FEET AFTER THE DEVASTATION OF THE TSUNAMI, WITH NEW HOTELS SPRINGING UP - ONE WAS THE HERMES PALACE HOTEL (A 4 STAR INTERNATIONAL HOTEL). THE CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT WAS ALSO BOOMING; FULL OF RESTAURANTS AND SHOPS. THERE IS AN ENTHUSIASM IN MOVING FORWARD.

MY NEXT STOP WAS THE ISLAND OF PULAU WEH TO THE NORTH OF BANDA. THE ONLY WAY TO GET THERE IS BY FAST FERRY FROM THE PORT OF ULEELHEUE (15 MINUTES FROM THE CENTRE OF BANDA). THE TRIP IS ONLY 60 MINUTES AND LEAVES EACH MORNING RETURNING IN THE AFTERNOON. THIS IS THE NORTHERNMOST TIP OF INDONESIA AND MOST PEOPLE REFER TO IT AS SABANG (NAMED AFTER THE MAIN TOWN) AND IT HAS ATTRACTED DIVERS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD LOOKING FOR A CHILL OUT EXPERIENCE AND GREAT DIVE SITES. THE FAST FERRY PULLS INTO THE TOWN OF BALOHAN AND FROM THERE YOU CATCH A TAXI INTO SABANG (30 MINUTES). AS ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS ARE LIMITED IN SABANG MOST HEAD TO THE COASTAL BUNGALOWS AT GAPANG OR IBOIH WITH INCREDIBLE WHITE SAND BEACHES AND DIVE OPERATORS. THIS WILL GIVE YOU A REAL FEEL OF PARADISE, SWINGING IN A HAMMOCK AS THE TURQUOISE OCEAN LAPS UP THE SUN, WAITING FOR THE BBQ DINNER OF FRESH FISH. THE WHOLE ISLAND IS VERY LAID BACK COMPARED TO THE HUSTLE AND BUSTLE OF OTHER PARTS OF INDONESIA. YOU ALMOST FEEL IT IS PHUKET 20 YEARS AGO! SABANG TOWN HAS KEPT ITS INTERNATIONAL FEEL, MAINTAINING ITS PAST AS A PORT TOWN FOR WORLD SEA TRAVELLERS, CHINESE TRADERS, FISHERMAN, AND A STRONGHOLD TO JAPANESE FORCES IN WORLD WAR II. TAKE A WALK THROUGH THE CEMETERY AND THIS TALE OF WORLD VISITORS UNFOLDS! ON THE SOUTH COAST YOU WILL FIND NATURAL HOT SPRINGS AND AN ACTIVE VOLCANO AS THE ROAD WINDS THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS AND DOWN TO THE COAST. THE COMMON FORM FOR TRANSPORT IS SIDECAR MOTORCYCLES AND THEY WILL GLADLY TAKE YOU TO THESE PLACES, INCLUDING A GREAT TREK ALONG THE EAST COAST ROAD ENDING IN A SUNSET DINNER AT THE TUNA BEACH RESORT. THIS SPOT IS AS RARE AS A NEW AC/DC ALBUM, INVITING, EXCITING AND A GREAT LOCATION WITH VIEWS ACROSS THE MALACCA STRAITS. GO AND TOUCH THE TOP OF INDONESIA, AND SAY YOU DID IT BEFORE THE REST!

DON FOSTER
JUNE 2008

Thursday, April 10, 2008

POSTCARD FROM THE WETLANDS OF WEST PAPUA










AS I FLEW BACK INTO MERAUKE ON THE SOUTHERN COAST OF THE INDONESIAN PROVINCE OF PAPUA,I KEPT THINKING OF THE WORDS MY FRIEND MARCO FROM THE WORLD WILDIFE FUND TOLD ME ON MY LAST TRIP,"YOU MUST GO EXPLORE DOLOK ISLAND",AFTER SCOURING OVER MAPS AND GOOGLE EARTH,I HAD SET MYSELF TO TAKE HIS ADVICE AND FIND OUT WHAT THIS LARGE WETLAND ISLAND HAS TO TELL. GETTING THERE IS HALF THE STRUGGLE,WITH ONLY A WEEKLY SMALL PLANE FLIGHT ON MERPATI OR THE MONTHLY PASSENGER FERRY BOTH DEPARTING MERAUKE,YOU SOON REALISE THIS IS NOT A TOURIST PATH.THE 45 MINUTE FLIGHT ALONG THE COAST AND OUT ACROSS THE ARAFURA SEA GIVES YOU A GREAT IMPRESSION OF THE REGIONS REMOTENESS, WITH HUNDREDS OF RIVERS RUNNING ACROSS THE COASTAL DELTA AND OUT TO THE OCEAN. AS YOU SWING IN LOW OVER DOLOK ISLAND IT RESEMBLES A SWAMP WITH WATER COVERING MOST OF THE LAND MASS. OVER THE YEARS IT HAS ASSUMED VARIOUS NAMES; IN DUTCH COLONIAL TIMES "FREDERIK HENDRIK"AND WITH THE ADVENT OF INDONESIAN RULE, "YOS SURDASO". DOLOK ISLAND IS SIMILAR IN SIZE TO TASMANIA BUT WITH NO ROADS. MOST TRANSPORT IS BY CANOE OR BOAT THROUGH A MAZE OF WATERWAYS. I ARRIVED AT THE AIRSTRIP CLOSE TO THE MAIN TOWN OF KIMAAM, WITH NO DETAILS OF ANY ACCOMMODATION. MY FIRST STOP WAS TO CALL INTO THE CATHOLIC CHURCH FOR SOME INFORMATION. THE ADMINISTRATION BUILDING IS THE ORIGINAL DUTCH MISSIONARY OUTPOST BUILT IN 1932,INSIDE ARE PHOTOS OF THOSE HARDY MEN AND WOMEN WHO ARRIVED TO SPREAD THE WORD OF GOD. AROUND THE TOWN CENTRE MANY OF THOSE FIRST BUILDINGS STILL STAND STRONG,AS A FURTHER TESTAMENT TO THE INFLUENCE OF THE DUTCH. INSIDE THE CHURCH, I SAT NEXT TO AN ELDERLY PAPUAN MAN WHO WAS STILL READING FROM A DUTCH LANGUAGE BIBLE. WITH HELP FROM FATHER "NICCO",I WAS INTRODUCED TO A VERY FRIENDLY LOCAL FAMILY WHO RUN THE ONLY HOMESTAY ON THE ISLAND,"HOTEL FLORENT" WHICH WAS TO BE MY BASE FOR THE NEXT WEEK OF ISLAND ADVENTURES. MY NEXT STOP WAS TO PRESENT MY TRAVEL PERMIT(SURAT JALAN)TO THE POLICE STATION WHICH ALSO ACTS AS TRAVEL AGENT AND TOUR GUIDE HIRE CENTRE! THE ESTIMATED POPULATION OF DOLOK ISLAND IS 18,000 PEOPLE WITH FOUR LOCAL LANGUAGES IN USE. WITH ONLY FIVE DOCTORS TO SERVICE THE ENTIRE ISLAND THE EUROPEAN UNION IS FUNDING A PROGRAM TO ESTABLISH HEALTH CENTRES AND QUALIFIED LOCAL NURSING STAFF TO LOOK AFTER REMOTE VILLAGES. MALARIA AND INFECTIONS HAVE PREVIOUSLY BEEN A HUGE MEDICAL PROBLEM ON THE ISLAND. THE PROGRAM IS ALSO INSTALLING NEW WATER WELLS TO REPLACE OLD ONES SO THAT CLEAN WATER IS AVAILABLE. THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE OF DOLOK REMINDED ME OF THOSE OF THE COASTAL SEPIK REGION IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA,MANY CHARACTERISTICS ARE SIMILAR, GOOD NATURED LAID BACK PERSONALITYS,THE USE OF "RADIO AUSTRALIA" ON TRANSISTORS, THE HOUSING DESIGNS ARE THE SAME SHAPE(RECTAGANOL ON STILTS) ,SAGO AS A STAPLE FOOD DIET, AND THEIR LOVE OF PLAYING SPORT. AFTER SCHOOL THE PLAYING FIELDS IN THE TOWN SQUARE ARE FILLED WITH EVERYONE PLAYING SOCCER OR VOLLEYBALL,THIS GOES ON FOR HOURS UNTIL IT GETS TOO DARK TO SEE THE BALL! THE TOWNSHIP OF KIMAAM IS ONLY SERVICED BY ELECTRICITY FROM 6PM UNTIL MIDNIGHT EACH NIGHT,WITH NO TELEPHONES OR MOBILE COVERAGE THE COMMUNITY ARE KEPT UP TO DATE WITH ANNOUNCEMENTS OF COMMUNITY IMPORTANCE WITH A LOUD SPEAKER/PUBLIC ADDRESS SYSTEM ATTACHED HIGH IN A TREE IN THE MAIN STREET.I HAD HEARD OF AN AMAZING GROUP OF NOMADIC PEOPLE WHO MAKE SMALL ISLANDS ON TOP OF THE SWAMPS WITH SPECIAL MUD COLLECTED AND TRANSPORTED MANY KILOMETRES IN CANOES,ONCE THE MUD "ISLANDS"ARE CONSTRUCTED,THEY THEN START TO BUILD HOUSING AND EVEN USE THESE NEW ISLANDS AS BURIAL GROUNDS,THE AREA I WAS HEADING FOR IS CALLED YOBY,ABOUT SIX HOURS BY DUGOUT CANOE THROUGH SHALLOW WATERWAYS SOMETIMES ONLY A FOOT DEEP.HAVING SPENT LONG PERIODS ON THE SEPIK RIVER AND CONSTANTLY SUBJECTED TO MOSQUITOS I THOUGHT I HAD SEEN THE WORST,BUT THE RECEPTION THE"NYAMUK"(MOSSIE)GAVE ME ON THE TIDAL RIVER SYSTEMS ON DOLOK WAS INCREDIBLE,SOMETIMES SO THICK YOU COULD WIPE A HANDFULL OFF YOUR FACE OR NECK JUST BEFORE THE NEXT SWARM ARRIVED! AS WE PADDLED AND PUSHED ACROSS THE INTERIOR OF DOLOK,NATURE PUT ON GREAT SHOW,FISH STARTED JUMPING IN FRONT OF US,LARGE WATER BIRDS GLIDED OVERHEAD,AND THE SOUND WAS SO CLEAR YOU COULD HEAR AND SEE A QANTAS JET BOUND FOR AN ASIAN DESTINATION 30,000 FEET ABOVE. THIS SILENCE OF TIME WAS ONLY BROKEN WHEN YOU WOULD MEET ANOTHER CANOE COMING IN THE OTHER DIRECTION,THIS WAS THE MAIN HIGHWAY THROUGH THE MIDDLE OF AN ISLAND,BUT NO TRAFFIC JAMS OUT HERE,ALTHOUGH WHEN THIRTY FEET CANOES MEET ON A TWISTING CORNER ON A THIN PATH OF WATER IT CAN TAKE SOME FINE TACTICAL MOVES.TRAVELLING ACROSS A LARGE INLAND LAKE AND THEN INTO A THICK SAGO PALM SWAMP,WE ARE NOW IN THE YOBY AREA,SMALL CLUMPS OF ISLANDS WITH FINE BUSH MATERIAL HOUSES AND OUR FIRST SIGHT OF PEOPLE IN SIX HOURS,THE DAILY ACTIVITY IS CONSTANT WITH THE MEN BRINGING IN THE VALUED SAGO PALM WHICH IS THEN BEATEN AND PULPED BY THE WOMEN,TURNING THIS INTO THE STARCHY BUT FILLING SAGO,USUALLY BOILED IN WATER AND SPUN, THIS TURNS INTO A GLUE LIKE SUBSTANCE,ALONG WITH LOCAL GREENS FROM THE GARDENS THIS SERVES AS MOST MEALS,MOST DAYS.THE LOCALS TELL ME THAT THE MUD ISLAND IDEA CAME FROM THE NEED TO BE CLOSER TO THE SAGO PALM SWAMPS,SORT OF LIKE A HOLIDAY HOME NEAR THE BEACH!AS AN INDICATOR TO WHEN THEY CAN START BUILDING A HOME ON THE RAISED MUD,THEY PLANT A SMALL SEEDLING,WHEN THIS STARTS TO SHOOT,THE TIME IS RIGHT.OUT HERE BUSINESS OPPORTUNITY'S ARE RARE,BUT RECENTLY MEN HAVE BEEN CATCHING YOUNG EXOTIC FISH AND TRANSPORTING THEM LIVE FOR EXPORT TO FISH FARMS IN ASIA.AFTER A WEEK OF MEETING VERY SPECIAL PEOPLE AND FORGING SO MANY IMMEDIATE FRIENDSHIPS,I TREKKED OUT TO THE SINGLE BUILDING AIRPORT AND WAITED FOR THE SOUND OF THAT CANADIAN OTTER PLANE TO DROP DOWN AND TAKE ME AWAY TO A WORLD UNAWARE OF THE CHARM AND CHARACTER OF THE ISLAND OF DOLOK.
DON FOSTER-JANUARY 2008

Monday, November 26, 2007

MERAUKE: LAST STOP IN INDONESIA









AS THE DAILY MORNING FLIGHT ON MERPATI AIR FROM JAYAPURA SLOWLY DESCENDS ACROSS THE SOUTHERN COAST OF THE INDONESIAN PROVINCE OF PAPUA, YOUR SENSES TELL YOU THAT AUSTRALIA'S TOP END IS REAL CLOSE, AND AFTER A WEEK OF TREKKING AROUND INDONESIA'S EASTERNMOST OUTPOST OF MERAUKE AND THE WASUR NATIONAL PARK, WHICH STRETCHES RIGHT TO THE BORDER WITH PAPUA NEW GUINEA, I AM CONVINCED THAT MANY YEARS AGO THIS AMAZING AREA OF SAVANNAH LAND WAS CONNECTED TO THE KAKADU REGION OF AUSTRALIA.

NOW SEPARATED BY THE TORRES STRAIT, THE SIMILARITY OF THESE AREAS IS UNCANNY. TRY TELLING SOMEONE IN AUSTRALIA THAT KANGAROOS AND PLATYPUS EXIST IN THE WILD IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY! THE LOOK WOULD BE DISBELIEF? SOMETIMES IN LIFE YOU JUST HAVE TO GO AND SEE FOR YOURSELF. THAT IS THE REASON WHY I AM LANDING AT MOPAH AIRPORT WITH A SLEEPING BAG AND BACKPACK (ALONG WITH A SURAT JALAN-TRAVEL PERMIT FROM THE INDONESIAN POLICE).

MERAUKE WAS FIRST ESTABLISHED BY THE DUTCH IN THE EARLY 1900'S, AS THE ENGLISH SETTLERS IN NEW GUINEA COMPLAINED THAT HEAD HUNTERS CONDUCTED RAIDS ACROSS THE BORDER FROM THIS REGION. TODAY THE CITY TOTALS AROUND 80,000 PEOPLE AFTER A HUGE TRANS MIGRATION PROGRAM WAS INTRODUCED BY INDONESIA IN THE 1970'S.

MERAUKE IS A DRY AND DUSTY CITY THAT EXTENDS FOR UP TO 7 KILOMETRES FROM NORTH TO SOUTH. BECAUSE OF IT'S CLOSE PROXIMITY TO THE OCEAN, MOST STREETS ARE SANDY SOIL, WITH NOT A SINGLE ROCK OR STONE IN THE ENTIRE CITY. BEING VERY FLAT, PUSHBIKES ARE PROMINENT AS A FORM OF TRANSPORT, AND PROBABLY HAS THE MOST TRAFFIC LIGHTS IN A WEST PAPUA CITY!!! IN FACT THE KIDS LINE UP AT NIGHT ON THEIR "PUSHIES" AT THE LIGHTS LIKE A GRAND PRIX RACE START, WAITING FOR THE GREEN LIGHT!

FOR THE TRAVELLER MERAUKE OFFERS MOST FACILITIES LIKE BANKS, INTERNET CAFES, AIRLINE AGENTS, RESTAURANTS, MARKETS AND GREAT CHEAP ACCOMMODATION. THE BEST TWO PLACES ARE HOTEL NAKORA ON JL ERMASU (322287) AND THE MORE UPMARKET ASMAT HOTEL ON JL TRIKORA(321065). THE HUMIDITY IS HIGH SO ROOMS WITH AIR-CON ARE A MUST, BUT POWER BLACKOUTS OCCUR OFTEN. A WALK AROUND THE CITY IS EASY AND WILL REVEAL SOME INCREDIBLE INSIGHT INTO THE PAST. OLD GRAVEYARDS AND LOTS OF HUGE CHURCHES AND THE CHANCE TO WANDER ALONG THE MARO RIVER WITH ITS FISHING BOAT POPULATION. A TRIP TO LOCAL MARKETS WILL BE AN EYE OPENER FOR THOSE NOT USED TO REGULAR FOOD STUFFS (SEE PICTURES). IT IS COMMON TO SEE CASSOWARY AND DOGS FOR SALE AS PROTEIN!! ON SUNDAY THE CITY SEEMS DESERTED AS MOST WANDER OFF TO THE MAIN BEACH FOR DRAG RACING ON THE MUD FLATS AND THE CHANCE TO COOL OFF IN THE MURKY SEA WATER.

THE WASUR NATIONAL PARK IS UNDER CONTROL OF WWF AND THEIR OFFICE ON JL MANDALA IS A GREAT START TO THIS TRIP - ASK FOR MARCO OR RONNI FOR HELP (DROP MY NAME). THEY WILL TAKE YOU TO THE PARK HEADQUARTERS WHERE YOU WILL PAY A FEE FOR PERMIT (40,000rp). YOU CAN EITHER HIRE GUIDES HERE OR TAKE THE TREK ALONE. THE MAIN ROAD LEADS TO SOTAR ON THE PNG BORDER (60KMS) AND IT IS COMMON FOR PASSING CARS TO OFFER YOU LIFTS ALONG THE WAY. IT IS ALL FLAT TERRAIN WITH THE OCCASIONAL BIRD WATCHING PLATFORMS SET UP ON WETLAND AREAS. TO SPEND 2/3 DAYS EXPLORING THIS AREA IS AMAZING AS NO TOURISTS DISTURB THE WILDLIFE. BE CAREFUL OF SNAKES IN THE GRASSLANDS. TAKE SLEEPING GEAR AS YOU WILL SPEND NIGHTS IN VILLAGE HUTS (PAYMENT IS MINIMAL). ALSO BRING YOUR OWN SUPPLIES OF FOOD AS THERE ARE NO STORES OUT HERE. THE LANDSCAPE IS FULL OF HUGE TERMITE MOUNDS, WITH SMALL LAGOONS OFF THE MAIN TRACKS. THIS IS WHERE YOU CAN VIEW AN INCREDIBLE SYSTEM OF WILDLIFE (BIRDS, KANGAROOS,PLATYPUS, ECHIDNAS AND MORE). ONE OF THE WORLD'S LONGEST SPECIES OF LIZARD (SALVATORI) IS A COMMON SIGHT WANDERING THROUGH THE SAVANNAH IN SEARCH OF THE RED TERMITES. FOR THOSE ART LOVERS LOOKING FOR SOME ASMAT WOOD CARVINGS IN MERAUKE,THE RANGE IS SMALL AND HARD TO FIND. TRY A SMALL SUPERMARKET ON JL ERMASU (200 METRES FROM NAKORA HOTEL). YOU WILL NOTICE THE CARVINGS HANGING IN THE FRONT WINDOW. THE OWNER HAS A GOOD RANGE AT THE REAR OF THE SHOP.

HOPE YOU ENJOY THIS GREAT LAND.

DON FOSTER/JULY 2007

Monday, September 3, 2007

THE BIRD'S HEAD PENINSULA OF PAPUA. SORONG AND SURROUNDS.


















THIS JOURNEY TOOK ME TO THE VERY TOP OF THE ISLAND OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA,INTO THE INDONESIAN PROVINCE OF PAPUA AND THE AREA CALLED "THE BIRD'S HEAD",DUE TO A STRIKING LAND THAT RESEMBLES A BIRD WITH BODY AND HEAD ON MAPS.THE AREA AROUND SORONG(PAPUA'S SECOND LARGEST CITY BEHIND JAYAPURA)HAS RECENTLY ATTRACTED WORLD ATTENTION FROM MARINE BIOLOGIST'S FOR IT'S ABILITY TO SUSTAIN GREAT ECO SYSTEMS IN THE WATERS AND JUNGLES,MANY SPECIES OF PREVIOUSLY UNRECORDED MARINE LIFE HAVE BEEN IDENTIFIED IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS.THE CENTRAL HUB IS SORONG WHICH EXPERIENCED A BOOM IN THE LATE 1930'S WHEN DUTCH SHELL DISCOVERED OIL CLOSE BY,UP UNTIL THE MID 60'S THE TOWN WAS SITUATED JUST OFF THE MAINLAND ON DUM ISLAND,THE WORD DUM IN LOCAL LANGUAGE ACTUALLY TRANSLATES TO ISLAND,THE ISLAND IS STILL A VIBRANT MIX OF LOCAL CULTURE,EASILY ACCESSIBLE FROM SORONG BY LONGBOAT FERRYS,WITH THIN PATHWAYS ALL AROUND THE ISLAND IT'S A FANTASTIC HALFDAY ADVENTURE.WITH A NEW AIRPORT SORONG IS A BUSTLING CITY,BUILT ALONG THE SEASIDE IT STRETCHES FOR AROUND 5 KILOMETRES ALONG THE HARBOUR WITH INCREDIBLE SUNSETS AND SEARING AFTERNOON SUN OFF THE EQUATOR.ACCOMODATION IS BASIC WITH THE BEST VALUE HOTEL'S BEING WAIGEO AND TANJUNG ON JL JOS SURDASO,AIR CONDITIONING IS A MUST IN THE HEAT, AND ROOMS COST AROUND 225,000 RUPIAH(35 AUSTRALIAN DOLLARS)PER NIGHT.LIKE MOST OF THE LARGER INDONESIAN CITY'S,RESTAURANTS SERVE GOOD VALUE TASTY FOOD,WITH SEAFOOD HIGH ON THE LIST HERE,TOP PICK WAS THE SUNRISE CAFE ON JL JOS SURDASO RIGHT NEXT TO THE HARBOUR,GOOD SERVICE AND BINTANG BEER AVAILABLE!!THE BEST PART OF BEING HERE IS THE AVAILABILITY TO GO AND EXPLORE SOME MIND BLOWING AREAS LIKE THE "RAJA EMPAT" ISLANDS,WHICH RATE HIGHLY WITH WORLD DIVING GROUPS AS A SPECIAL PLACE,THE FOUR ISLANDS ARE "BATANTA","WAIGEO","SALAWATI"AND "MISOOL",ALL ARE SANCTUARY'S FOR BIRDS OF PARADISE WITH AN INCREDIBLE RANGE OF EXOTIC BIRD SPECIES,WITH NO TRANSPORT SYSTEMS IN PLACE SO YOU WILL NEED TO USE YOUR SKILLS IN OBTAINING LIFTS TO PLACES,LONGBOAT HIRE IS AVAILABLE FROM THE HARBOUR IN SORONG,THE TRIP TO BATANTA TAKES AROUND 4 HOURS,VERY LITTLE ENGLISH IS SPOKEN HERE ,SO YOU WILL NEED TO NEGOTIATE PRICES IN BAHASA.I USED "OJEKS" (PRIVATE MOTORCYCLE HIRE)TO TAKE THE JOURNEY NORTH ALONG THE COAST,A FANTASTIC MORNING TRIP IS TO HEAD OUT OF SORONG TO CASSOWARY POINT WHICH IS ABOUT 10 KMS FROM SORONG AND USED AS A WEEKEND GETAWAY FOR LOCALS,GREAT SWIMMING WITH WHITE CORAL SAND BEACHES.FOR A FULL DAY TRIP TRY THE JOURNEY NORTH TOWARDS SAUSAPOUR,YOU WILL PASS THE INLAND LAGOON AREA CALLED MAKBON DISTRICT WITH SWEEPING VIEWS ACROSS THE OCEAN AND ALONG THE COAST,A SHORT DISTANCE LATER ASKED TO BE TAKEN INTO MALAUMKARTA VILLAGE,WHERE IF YOU ASK NICELY AND MENTION THIS ARTICLE,FOR A GOOD PRICE THE LOCAL VILLAGES WILL TAKE YOU BY BANANA BOAT OUT TO THE ISLANDS WHERE YOU CAN VIEW THE ECO SYSTEMS IN FULL SWING,THE WILDLIFE/BATS/TURTLES/SHARKS WILL ASTOUND YOU ,THE LOCALS FULLY UNDERSTAND HOW THIS SYSTEM EVOLVES AND DON'T BE SCARED TO ASK LOT'S OF QUESTIONS!!THE TRIP BACK ACROSS THE REEF TO THEIR ANCESTRY VILLAGE WILL GIVE YOU A SENSE OF PARADISE LOST.DO NOT RUSH THINGS AS MELANESIAN CULTURE IS WORTH SPENDING TIME WITH,ALSO ASK TO SEE THE GIANT CAVE OF BATS ON THE WAY BACK TO THE MAIN ROAD.FURTHER NORTH ALONG THE COAST IS THE VILLAGE OF SAUSAPAUR("THE PLACE TO COMMEMORATE THE DEAD"),THIS IS WHERE IN OLDEN TIMES THE PAPUANS LAUNCHED RAIDS INTO THE ASIAN SEAS AS PIRATES OF THE SEAS,THEY WOULD RETURN AS HEROES TO HERE.WITH SORONG HAVING A NEW AIRPORT,FLIGHTS ARRIVE AND DEPART FREQUENTLY,THE AIRPORT CODE IS SOQ,YOU CAN ALSO GET CONNECTING FLIGHTS TO SMALLER REMOTE LOCATIONS LIKE FAK FAK AND MANOKWARI.A WONDERFUL FRIENDLY WELCOME IS ON THE CARDS WHEN YOU STOP BY "THE BIRD'S HEAD".INDAH TEMPAT!!

DON FOSTER.