After the three-week stay in the Philippines, I return to my hostel in Kuta, Bali, where my bike and luggage are stored in a storeroom by the friendly staff. As far as I’m concerned, Kuta is not the place where I want to stay for a long time, but the many advantages such as luggage storage, the proximity to the airport and not to mention “Poppies” the delightful restaurant around the corner, where I am now a well-known guest, make it an easy decision. In Kuta, however, I am immediately confronted again with numerous bear-breasted and often completely tattoo covered tourists strolling along the countless souvenir shops. I hope I am a trendsetter with my virgin skin.
Because obtaining a 2 month visa for Indonesia in Manila was not possible (See blog Philippines) I am again dependent on a VOA (Visa On Arrival) which means that within one month I must apply for an extension for an extra month at one of the Immigration Offices in the country. If I would do this in Bali it would take me five days. With a weekend in between, this quickly becomes a week. This is of course not an option for me, so I hope for a different location on one of the islands that are less touristy. My plan is to once again leave my bike and luggage at my hostel and to travel the two months along the Moluccas, West Papua and Papua to finally return to Bali to tour the entire island there by motorcycle. This route by bicycle is impossible with its large distances between the islands, long boat trips or, otherwise, the many mutual air trips. Moreover, there are hardly any roads to be found in Papua.
My first flight is to Ambon, the most important island of the South-Moluccas. One of the spice islands. During the time of the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century, the Dutch became rich here thanks to the lucrative trade in cloves. In Europe the spices had an enormous commercial value. After a troubled time between 1999 and 2002 due to religious controversy that gave the city the appearance of a second Beirut, all scars in the city have since disappeared and the peace has returned, although it continues to be submerged. For me the city has little to offer. It is almost Christmas and everywhere you see illuminated Christmas trees and you can buy Santa Claus hats in the street stalls. Actually my main goal is the diving mecca on the small Banda Isands, southeast of Ambon. By ojek (motor taxi) I allow myself to be taken to the jetty of the Express boat. After waiting for a long time and being sent from pillar to post, it appears that the boat is not leaving due to high waves on the Banda Sea in this season. In other words for the time being there is no fast boat leaving. If you are lucky, a slow boat will go in that direction, but that will only be in 3 days. The long wait and the uncertainty as to whether a boat is leaving at all, makes me decide to book a flight to the North-Moluccas, specifically the two small islands, formerly two opposing sultanates, Ternate and Tidore. They are actually two volcanoes rising from the sea off the coast of the much larger sparsely populated island of Halmahera.
The volcano landscape is beautiful. Around the volcanoes you can find some settlements connected with a fairly good road. I spend a few days exploring both islands and also a part of Halmahera by motorcycle. They are beautiful trips. Beaches of black volcanic sand, lush nature, beautiful views and an extremely friendly population. These days really come in handy because I have to wait a week for the boat from Ternate to Sorong in West Papua, at the tip of Vogelkop (Bird’s Head Peninsula) The ticket has already been purchased for this 15-hour boat trip.
I also use this waiting time to request a visa extension at the Immigration Office of Ternate. This time I am lucky. I can pick it up the next day. But first have fingerprints made of all 10 fingers and a biometric photo. This photo must be in style. My neat T-shirt, purchased 2 weeks ago, is not sufficient for this “solemn occasion” and I am presented with a shirt with a striped design. Black and white. You guessed it: A la prison clothing !!. But what is really bad is that the color white has changed over time and the absence of a wash to a special color yellow. At my spontaneous laughter and remark about the “prison-yellowed-unwashed” issue, the officer responds with a sorry, sorry. I am sure that not any action will be taken after this so that the next foreigner will have to undergo the same fate. After many smiles and a sincere handshake, I can receive my passport and leave the building with a happy feeling.
The ferry arrives in Ternate reasonably on time. The Pelni line has many boats sailing in the Indonesian archipelago. They sail a fixed route between the islands and sail back the same route. This sometimes takes a few weeks. That is why it is sometimes only possible that a boat comes by once a week or two weeks. Nowadays, flying is a faster option and the price is not too bad. But at least I want to experience such a trip once. Boats often perish due to poor maintenance and overloading, but this ship looks pretty good with my lay eyes and the number of passengers is not too bad. Although, quite a lot of people sleep in the corridors and on the platforms between the floors. I spread my mat on the deck and investigate an escape strategy by, among other things, being right next to the lifeboats. And so I lie on my back for a while looking at the clear starry sky before I fall asleep. The next morning, after 15 hours, we arrive in Sorong. Another dream wish comes true. Papua !!
On the quay, there is a fight between carriers who want to climb on the boat to be the first to claim a customer with luggage. They are beaten back with sticks by the port staff. They are not allowed to enter the ship. Outside on the quay, they have to wait neatly until the passengers have left the ship with their luggage.
The next day I am already on the ferry to the main island of Raja Ampat. This is also a diving mecca. The island is home to a considerable amount of birds of paradise, but getting close is not possible so that you can see them sitting in the trees from the ground. Occasionally busy with their famous court dance. Unfortunately too far away for nice photos. On the island I meet Marcel and Ineke from Amsterdam. They have just arrived after a long journey from the Netherlands. Their plan is to visit in one month a few islands with beautiful diving locations and then to visit the interior of Papua. So our plans match.
The hostel consists of thatched huts on a long wooden pier. Crystal clear blue water and a beautiful coral reef on either side. Immediately during my first snorkeling trip I am treated to some turtles, a school of barracuda’s, large schools of colorful fish and a sturdy black-tip reef shark that shoots past me towards the beach. That promises a lot of beautiful things in the coming days!
We arrange a boat that takes us to the island of Arborek. An idyllic spot with coconut palms, turquoise and azure blue sea in front of the door and a hammock on the porch of the wooden cabin. Paradise!! We make beautiful dives, but there is also a lot to see in snorkeling, such as the many manta rays that swim along here. I make one of my most beautiful dives of my life. Once we are surrounded by 10 to 18 giant flying carpets at a so-called cleaning station. We stay at this location for a full hour until our tanks are almost empty. The mantas come so close that you could touch them. When they swim over you, you feel like a tiny creature under their 4 meter long wings. An unforgettable experience.
We celebrate New Year’s Eve on the jetty and enjoy the unexpectedly grand fireworks display.
On Kri, another island, we do more diving. Also here, manta rays, reef sharks, turtles and large schools of barracudas circling around you. All this with beautiful colored coral as a backdrop.
Via three separate flights I reach Wamena, in the heart of the Baliem Valley in Central Papua. In the meantime it has grown into a large provincial town. Both Indonesians and the original inhabitants, the Papua, live there. The middle class is completely managed by the Indonesians. The Papua actually want to be independent, but Indonesia prevents this by, among other things, encouraging as many Indonesians as possible to move to Papua. In this way the original population becomes a minority so that this dream of freedom is further suppressed. I have experienced the same phenomenon once in Tibet, where the Chinese are now in control of the entire economy and the original Tibetans are losing out.
I am here to visit the Dani people. More than half a century ago they still lived in the Stone Age, but nowadays the penis gourds has given way to Western clothing and the smartphone is very popular. Because I travelled some days ahead of Marcel and Ineke and they also suffer a considerable delay due to a defect in the plane, I stay in Wamena for 4 days and can therefore make all preparations for a five-day hike through the mountains around the Baliem valley to visit various settlements of the Dani. I arrange the guide, 3 porters and a cook, negotiate the price and do some shopping on the market for the coming days with the cook. Through WhattsApp I maintain contact with Marcel and Ineke. Immediately after their arrival we start our journey. In the first village we already get to see a demonstration of a so-called war dance. We have arranged and paid for this “show” in advance (not cheap). Although no longer authentic (happy that it was not real) it is nevertheless a beautiful spectacle. With a lot of screeching, the men attack each other with spears, swords and arrows and bows. Their faces are painted and some wear beautiful headdresses of cassowary and bird of paradise feathers. Some have pierced their noses with curved boar teeth. The “clothing” consists only of the penis gourd, made from a kind of calabash. Afterwards we see women singing and dancing in the courtyard of the fenced settlement, only wearing a wicker skirt. We get an explanation about their culture. If a man is rich enough, he can have several women. He has to pay for this. Five to six pigs per female. A pig costs 35 million Rupiah. That is more than 2000 Euro’s in the current rate. Thus, a man can have up to three to five women.
See some footage (made by others) on:
A pig is an important part of the Dani community. When they say hello they say wa-wa. Pig means wa. That is also where the name Wamena comes from. Wa means pig and mena means small. The men stay in the men’s house where the boys start living from the age of 15. This round hut is at the head of the village. On the left are the separate family huts and on the right the pig pens. Sometimes the villages keep their old mummified chief of 350 years old in the men’s house. This is shown to the tourists against payment. The blackened body is then carried outside every time. The mummification process takes place through smoke. Hence the blackened color. By keeping the mummy in the men’s house, one wants to retain some of the power of these chiefs in their village.
We follow the boisterous Baliem river along goat paths to various villages and get an explanation of the flora. There are leaves that have a cooling effect on the skin, but also leaves that can best be used as toilet paper. Which leaves do you use for the well-known betel and which for rolling a cigaret. We sleep in thatched huts and cross the river via hanging bridges made from liana’s. Fortunately it only rains at night. The paths can become very slippery. Although most people wear Western clothing, you will occasionally come across older men who still wear their penis gourds. All of them photogenic figures. Women no longer walk around with their upper body bare.
After five days we return to Wamena. We say goodbye to our guides and thank them for the beautiful and interesting trip. I also say goodbye to Marcel and Tineke. They fly back to Raja Ampat to spend their remaining time relaxing and diving in this paradise before returning to the Netherlands.
For me this means the end of the Papua adventure and fly the next day to Bali where I use the last two weeks of my visa to explore the entire island by motorcycle. It is a beautiful island. Especially the southeast is very busy with tourists. Farther north and west it becomes quieter. Volcanoes, rice terraces, colorful ceremonies, traditional Balidances, gamelan. I can certainly write a full blog about it, but I will not do that, because I am already behind schedule.
The flight to Singapore has already been booked. I have to leave the country again to apply for a new visa.
TAKE A LOOK AT THE PHOTO’S AND VIDEO’S OF Moluccas, Papua and Bali
TAKE A LOOK AT MY DIVING VIDEO’S IN RAJA AMPAT:
MY TRAVELPHOTO’S FROM 1987 CAN BE BOUGHT HERE AT STOCK PHOTO AGENCY