_linguistics

Tambora: The Big Bang in Practice

Exactly 200 years ago, as I am writing this, the most powerful volcanic eruption in recorded history had just started, blowing almost 2,000 meters off the top of a mountain called Tambora on the island of Sumbawa in Indonesia. It was a devastating event for whole world. The eruption caused the “Year without Summer” in the northern hemisphere when it snowed in London and New York in July and crops failed all over Europe, North America and China. There was famine in Switzerland (they must have cut down on the fondue over there). The more indirect effects include the birth of the Frankenstein story and Mormonism, some pretty works of art, real estate bubbles, cholera going global and Arctic exploration.

 

Tambora from above (Nick Hughes, June 2008)

On April 10, 1815, Tambora woke up, blew up and completely destroyed its immediate surroundings. Whole cultures were wiped out, including the Tambora people and their Tambora language that was the easternmost non-Austronesian (Papuan) language at the time (little known fact, you are welcome!). Alas!

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Cycling New Zealand: West of Auckland then north

 

Starting a long cycling trip (actually anything longer than a few hours) is not easy on the mind or the body. After buying and preparing Traicho Junior (the bicycle) in Auckland, I was ready to leave on the slightly overcast December 11.

Auckland is a city made for cars but there are some bicycle lanes. Getting out of Auckland directly north though is a bit complicated, so I decided to go west first and then north. And to avoid breathing all the car exhaust, I took the suburban train for 6 NZD to a station in the west. Bikes are allowed on trains but not on buses in Auckland.

In four days I did 224 km over quite a few hills and some rain.

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Solomon Islands

Imagine two chains of relatively big islands surrounded by reefs, blue lagoons and countless small islands, lined with coconut palms and mangroves. A high cliff rises directly from the sea here and there with caves along the water edge. Mountains rise above the bigger islands with the odd volcano. The people – always smiling, giggling at anything that life might offer and genuinely curious and friendly. Many kids running, jumping or diving around – little curly heads (sometimes blonde) sticking out behind every tree, wharf or umbrella and out of the many wooden canoes crisscrossing the lagoons. You are in the Solomon Islands.
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So after two months in Papua New Guinea of paddling, cycling and hiking, and crossing the border from Bougainville to Choiseul, I arrived in Gizo, the second biggest town in the Solomons.

Gizo's airport is on a small island. This is the airport shuttle.

Gizo’s airport is on a small island. This is the airport shuttle.

I got my passport stamp, did some shopping and some walking and cycling around in Gizo. I couchsurfed with Warwick and his wife Samantha and their lovely son Lomoso, who was the first kid in the world not to run away screaming when he saw me.

Gizo market has great and cheap fish. (3 SBD < 0.50 USD)

Gizo market has great and cheap fish. (3 SBD < 0.50 USD)

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My pancakes proved very popular. We even had them for dinner.

My pancakes proved very popular. We even had them for dinner.

At a random beach in Ghizo (the town is spelled Gizo, the island - Ghizo), this tree was probably unrooted and brought down by a huge tsunami some years ago. The thing hanging from the tree is a bra - just for the record.

At a random beach in Ghizo (the town is spelled Gizo, the island – Ghizo), this tree was probably unrooted and brought down by a huge tsunami some years ago. The thing hanging from the tree is a bra – just for the record.

On Ghizo there is a road of about 20 km to a beautiful beach called Seragi. I wanted to go there by bike. There is not much tourism in the Solomons and it’s mostly divers who come so hiring a bike was not easy. The dive shop offers bikes for hire – 150 SBD (20+ USD) a day. No gears, the bike almost works, lousy breaks and “it’s better to push it uphill because the chain is weak”. I couldn’t say yes!

Instead I took a long walk along the beautiful beach south of the town and met a boy named Kenny who told me that his uncle had a bike.

Instead I took a long walk along the beautiful beach south of the town and met a boy named Kenny who told me that his uncle had a bike.

Sepere, Kenny's uncle, had a nice bike with gears, a bit old and the brakes didn't work, but I managed to fix the rear brakes and took the bike for a ride the next day. Sepere, as most people in his village Tatiana, were relocated here from Kiribati in the 1950s by the British (both the Solomons and Kiribati were still British colonies at the time). The official reason is that their islands were sinking or that there was not enough fresh water but Sepere is sure it was because radiation pollution from the nuclear tests in the Micronesian islands to the north. "Over a few years our coconuts became from this big to this small", Sepere said. There are a few communities of Kiribati people in the Solomons. They stand out with their lighter skin.  The Kiribati language is has very interesting phonology and phonotactics. The "ti" is pronounced as "s"  so you should say Kiribas and not Kiribati. They also pronounce the name of their village as Sisiana although it is spelled Titiana. Loan words from English take unrecognizable shapes. Kiribati is how they pronounced "Gilbertese", the name the British had for their islands. Sepere stands for Geoffrey. Kirimati, the second most populated island in the country stands for Christmas (island), as it is also known. The Kiribati settlers generally live in peace with the rest of the Solomon Islanders. Only once someone told me about them: "We don't like them. They eat raw fish."

Sepere, Kenny’s uncle, had a nice bike with gears, a bit old and the brakes didn’t work, but I managed to fix the rear brakes and took the bike for a ride the next day. Sepere, as most people in his village Tatiana, were relocated here from Kiribati in the 1950s by the British (both the Solomons and Kiribati were still British colonies at the time). The official reason is that their islands were sinking or that there was not enough fresh water but Sepere is sure it was because radiation pollution from the nuclear tests in the Micronesian islands to the north. “Over a few years our coconuts became from this big to this small”, Sepere said. There are a few communities of Kiribati people in the Solomons. They stand out with their lighter skin.
The Kiribati language is has very interesting phonology and phonotactics. The “ti” is pronounced as “s”  so you should say Kiribas and not Kiribati. They also pronounce the name of their village as Sisiana although it is spelled Titiana. Loan words from English take unrecognizable shapes. Kiribati is how they pronounced “Gilbertese”, the name the British had for their islands. Sepere stands for Geoffrey. Kirimati, the second most populated island in the country stands for Christmas (island), as it is also known.
The Kiribati settlers generally live in peace with the rest of the Solomon Islanders. Only once someone told me about them: “We don’t like them. They eat raw fish.”

Allen lives at Seragi beach and is building a bungalow to accommodate tourists. He's a great guy. I shared my lunch with him and he showed me the best snorkeing spots.

Allen lives at Seragi beach and is building a bungalow to accommodate tourists. He’s a great guy. I shared my lunch with him and he showed me the best snorkeing spots.

My next stop was Munda, which is connected by road to Noro, an international port town. Munda is pretty but when I was there it rained buckets for four days. A couple of times it stopped raining so I borrowed my CS hosts Ben and Uma's bike and went for a ride in the bush only to come back completely soaked. It never stopped raining for more than an hour or so.

My next stop was Munda, which is connected by road to Noro, an international port town. Munda is pretty but when I was there it rained buckets for four days. A couple of times it stopped raining so I borrowed my CS hosts Ben and Uma’s bike and went for a ride in the bush only to come back completely soaked. It never stopped raining for more than an hour or so.

Munda couchsurfing pancake frenzy

Munda couchsurfing pancake frenzy

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View over Munda's lagoon and the airport, which is the only international airport outside of Honiara. There are a flight or two per day, the rest of the time the runways is used for promenading:)

View over Munda’s lagoon and the airport, which is the only international airport outside of Honiara. There are a flight or two per day, the rest of the time the runways is used for promenading:)

One of the few industries in the Solomons is a tuna cannery in Noro. Soltuna is very very popular and it was pretty tasty. They sell cans of chilli tuna which is just fantastic with something inside that is either cherry tomatoes or small peppers - I am not sure but they got it right.

One of the few industries in the Solomons is a tuna cannery in Noro. Soltuna is very very popular and it was pretty tasty. They sell cans of chilli tuna which is just fantastic with something inside that is either cherry tomatoes or small peppers – I am not sure but they got it right.

Noro market. See if you understand Solomon Pijin

Noro market. See if you understand Solomon Pijin

This place sells sigarettes and betel nut.

This place sells sigarettes and betel nut.

This man is 94 years old and we talked for hours while waiting for the cargo ship from Noro to Honiara. The ship was 24 hours late but it was worth the wait because the weather had a chance to clear up and the ride to Honiara through the Morovo lagoon and other islands was magical.

This man is 94 years old and we talked for hours while waiting for the cargo ship from Noro to Honiara. The ship was 24 hours late but it was worth the wait because the weather had a chance to clear up and the ride to Honiara through the Morovo lagoon and other islands was magical.

For traveling in the Solomons, ship is certainly the way to go. Everyone wanted to talk to me and I got a dozen of invitations to visit people in their villages all over the Solomons. Too bad I already had a flight to Vanuatu in a few days.

I told someone that I had a laptop with me so we had a movie night that was not such a success. On my hard drive I have mostly documentaries and some TV series. “Friends” turned out to be less popular in the Solomons than where I come from and soon people started asking to see cartoons or a musical. I have no cartoons and the only thing close to a musical I could put on was Dancer in the Dark but I thought that wouldn’t go down too well so everyone fell asleep quite soon.

Note to self:
Bring some Tom and Jerry along next time you visit the Solomons.

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"Good morning. How much is the pomelo" "4 dollars for the small one, 5 dollars for the big one" "OK, I will take the big one. Here is five dollars" "Thank you! I love you!"

“Good morning. How much is the pomelo”
“4 dollars for the small one, 5 dollars for the big one”
“OK, I will take the big one. Here is five dollars”
“Thank you! I love you!”

Naturally blonde

Naturally blonde

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Market at Russel island

Market at Russel island

Honiara, the capital, is a shithole. It has a large harbor, no need to say more. I loved the market though. It is dirty, smelly and disgusting but the fish and chips go for 5 SBD (0.70 USD) in the evening (compared to 20 SBD in most other places so far) and there are heaps (literally) of pineapples for as little as 3 SBD (10 for a huge one). Back in Papua New Guinea I had been eating a pineapple a day but in the Solomons I only found pineapple once in Munda. In Honiara I ate three huge ones in two days.

I stayed at Hibiscus homestay. All the cheapest guesthouses are on the same street, one block up from the main street. They’re all too expensive still at around 40 USD and I needed something cheaper. Just as in most other places in this part of the world, outsiders only stay in Honiara if they are working here and basically someone else pays for their accommodation. At Hibiscus homestay there were two long term tenants, a Philippino guy working for a Chinese company and a Korean who was training the Solomons’ taekwondo team for the Pacific games next year. Since I have my beautiful tent that I once paid for what would be a night at the Ritz, I was determined to find a place to camp to cut the cost. The United Church Guesthouse wouldn’t hear about it, the Anglican brothers at the Chester guesthouse needed to consult the main brother, who had to ask an even mainer brother who probably also asked the top brother (it did take a while) who said no. When I stumbled upon the Hibiscus guesthouse, Sara there laughed her face off when I said I wanted to sleep in my tent but finally agreed for me to camp on her veranda with a nice view over the sea. Her only argument against was that she would feel sorry for me sleeping in a tent. She was great company, herself from the Temotu province, which is tiny islands that fascinated me when I was planning this trip. It is the most remote province of the Solomons with many small Islands, far away from each other, where people are of Polynesian descent (they settled there from Tonga and Niue) and speak Outlier Polynesian languages. She taught me some of her language.

WW2 through SI eyes

WW2 through SI eyes

a boat, an engine and beer - what a Solomon Islander needs

a boat, an engine and beer – what a Solomon Islander needs

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Honiara market

Honiara market

Marugoana is very popular in the Sollies, apparently

Marugoana is very popular in the Sollies, apparently

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Everybody loves germany

Everybody loves germany

Honiara has a nice museum. These Polynesian sailing canoes are really nice. There is a real, full-sized one on display (without the sail though).

Honiara has a nice museum. These Polynesian sailing canoes are really nice. There is a real, full-sized one on display (without the sail though).

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PRACTICAL INFORMATION
It’s not easy to find information about the Solomon Islands. The Lonely Planet is practically useless. It’s 1998 edition of the Solomon Islands guidebook is a detailed cultural and geographical study of the country. Since then they have merged the Solomons in the same book as Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands chapter is basically a newspaper article with a telephone directory of expensive resorts. Most provinces are covered by one sentence, literally. This is very unfortunate since the Solomon Islands are one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world.

Much has changed since 1998. Most of the big islands lack any roads apart from a logging road here and there. Most travel within the islands will therefore be limited to places with some kind of road or by small boats.

Solomon Airlines has flights to virtually everywhere but these are expensive. Cargo boats (slow!) run to basically every province from Honiara weekly or fortnightly or more often to Malaita. I haven’t seen schedules posted anywhere. I suspect they are non existent. The boat I was on was dirty and smelly and I suspect all of them are the same. I wouldn’t go without a mattress. The boats are also great places to meet people and get invitations to see village life. Many Solomon Islanders will love the idea of bringing a white man home to show to their friends and family. With a lot of time and flexibility a great trip could be had this way.

The price for a boat ride between Gizo and Honiara is 300-500 Solomon dollars. Right now there are three boats doing that route – LC Phoenix, Kosco and Chanella. They charge different prices and all run on the same day of the week (Sunday from Honiara, Tuesday morning from Gizo – all three of them!) Another ship – Fair Glory is being repaired in the Philippines and who knows when it’s gonna be back. I heard that the 3-day ride to Temotu province costs 500 SBD which isn’t bad at all.

Accommodation is very expensive. I liked having a tent.

Sepik River – singsing, crocs, paddling and sorcery

Update: I finally got around to putting together a video from the Crocodile festival, almost a year later:) Here it is:

I had wanted to come to Papua New Guinea for years. Its nature and cultures are quite fascinating. It is the most linguistically diverse country in the world with a few dozen language families – around 820 living languages over a population of about 6 million people. Many people here are trilingual. Almost everyone speaks Tok Pisin (Pidgin that is actually a creole), English is the main language of instruction in the schools and then most people will speak their tok ples (local language). People are very proud both of their own cultural heritage and the fact that they belong to the nation of PNG.

Still with Nico, a Canadian couchsurfer I met in Indonesia, we crossed the border from Jayapura to Vanimo one fine Sunday by taking a bus to a village half way to the border and then hitchhiking. We got our passports stamped by the PNG immigration with the wrong date (27 June instead of 27 July) so we had to get it corrected. Luckily Nico was observant enough to notice the mistake. I am planning to stay in PNG all the 60 days that my visa allows so a month is quite a difference.

We were waiting for a bus to come and bring us to Vanimo when an Indonesian man approached us and said he could drive us to town for the same price as the bus. We jumped in. I was curious where he was from because I had heard him talk to someone on the phone and use some Indonesian words I had only heard in East Flores when I went there for Easter. It turned out he was from Adonara, the small island where I spent more than two weeks. He was happy. When we got to town, I gave him my 10 kina for the ride and said “kreu” which was how people greet each other on Adonara. He handed the money back to me and said I didn’t need to pay. After all it pays off to travel to remote Indonesian islands!

This was not a bad start to my travels in PNG. In the coming days I was going to find out that Papua New Guineans are an extremely friendly bunch and super helpful.

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Click here for a GPX file to explore in Google Earth.

I have to say that I was not sure what to expect. PNG has a pretty bad reputation mostly due to coverage by Australian media. I first got interested in PNG some ten years back, at the time when George W Bush was killing innocent people in Iraq. Then I read that Port Moresby, the PNG capital, was the second most dangerous city in the world after Bagdad. You also hear stories (urban legends) of “old men being raped in the middle of a city in broad daylight” (?! – I seriously heard that one). Now, after having been here for a month, I can say that most people are extremely friendly and helpful but also very concerned about their own safety and any visitor’s safety. Walking alone in a town or village, someone would normally come to escort me to where I want to go, even if it’s to the toilet. Most potential trouble for visitors is related to raskols – young unemployed men who drink, mostly beer or stim (< steam = home brew). Walking around the streets at night is certainly not a good idea anywhere in PNG but during the day things are quite safe in most places. PNGans are generally quite temperamental people and there is a tradition of warfare and conflict but these tribal wars are usually not related to outsiders. Traffic, volcanoes, crocodiles are other dangers in PNG but more about this later.

Another issue with traveling in PNG is the cost of it. Apart from things that grow in the garden, everything is ridiculously expensive. Cheap hotels start at 80 kina (35 usd). I had a couchsurfing host in Vanimo – Surya from Thailand who works on malaria projects in the bush – educating villagers how to diagnose and treat malaria (sometimes it takes villagers a couple of days to walk to the nearest health center and it might be too late) and distributes medication and mosquito nets (that sometimes end up as fishing nets…) Surya could only host one person so we had to find a cheap place for Nico to stay. We went to the market and asked a friendly lady if they knew a cheap place to stay. “You can stay in my house for free”, she said. Not a bad start! This family also gave us contacts of their friends and relatives in other places where we could stay and be safe. Networking goes a long way in PNG.

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For the record :
Ambunti is not a very interesting place in itself but there is mobile phone signal and pretty good 3g. The cell tower is on a hill with nice views over the river.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W7QZnwKqopo

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So after Kaminabit we spent a couple of nights in Timbunke after an incident where Nico’s phone got stolen, then we had a short day to Tambanum, then we slept in Krinjambe and in Kambaramba.

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PRACTICAL INFORMATION

I have written on the various Wikitravel articles for this area, so that is always a good place to start. The Lonely Planet for PNG is probably good to have, but I found it generally useless for accommodation, transportation and anything that is out of the way of the tour groups.

Border crossing Jayapura – Vanimo: Visas at the PNG consulate in Jayapura are free and take five working days. They will ask for a ticket out of PNG or a ticket out of Indonesia, if you say you will come back to Indonesia overland. There is a market at the border, right on the Indonesian side, a few days a week, where PNGans come to buy cheap stuff. There should be a lot of traffic on such days. Shared taxis from Jayapura apparently ask up to 500,000 IDR for the ride to the border. That is a bit steep. We took a bemo from Pasar Youtefa in Jayapura to the village Koya Timur (only 10,000 IDR), which is half way to the border. There we were offered ojeks for 70,000 IDR to the border, but we hitchhiked instead. From the border there is a bus to Vanimo that charges 10 kina. There is a place to buy kina close to the PNG consulate in Jayapura and it had pretty good rates. When we crossed the border had just been opened after a few months of closure following a shooting. The situation is generally unpredictable. If the border is closed, it should be possible to travel by boat from Jayapura to Vanimo or the other way around, after getting the necessary stamps.

Transportation in PNG is absolutely horrendous. Most people who go longer distances fly. There are countless airstrips and flights go to everywhere. But they are ridiculously expensive most of the time. There is a relatively good road in the highlands and from the Highlands to Madang and Lae, the rest is just stretches of bad road here and there and also ships, boats and canoes for the waterways. Safety is hardly anyone’s priority. Land transport is mostly in PMVs (public motor vehicles) that can range between relatively nice Toyota minivans that ply the Highlands highway and are hardly ever overcrowded because there are police checkpoints for collecting the bribes, to any kind of truck, pickup or whatever with a space in the back where people sit wherever they can. It might be covered or not. Unless it is a short ride between two close places where there are regular vehicles, a trip between any two points will take a whole day (and maybe also the night). PMVs collect passengers around town for hours, driving around and shouting out their destination or hanging out at the market. It is always best to get into one that is full or almost full. Getting into one that is empty means you might leave in 5-6 hours. Or not. You will hear many versions of how long it takes to get to your destination and one of them is: “It depends on the driver”. That is the only truth. Drivers, as anywhere, are not usually the cream of society, and I prefer not to sit in front with them, although many times the white man will be offered that option, as it is more comfortable. The fun is in the back with the other passengers anyway. Two times the driver got drunk while driving. One time he drank six beers within an hour and a half and was puking out of the window (while driving) when we were arriving. Again, on the Highlands highway things are a little bit better but in rural areas it is like that. Another issue with transport is fuel price. Apparently PNG has its own oil but it is refined abroad (probably Australia) and comes back very expensive. Especially on the Sepik river its price more than doubles because it has to be transported there by boats. Boats run on outboarders that consume a lot of fuel. If you want to charter a boat you will probably be quoted a price that excludes the fuel (as a guy said: “The price includes the boat, the skipper and the engine”) and then you will hear a lot of confusing talk about petrol, liters, galons, kilometers, horse powers, engines and what-not and the price quickly rises by the hundreds and thousands of kina.

For this part of the country, there is a road between Vanimo and Aitape that is apparently in horrible condition and people get stuck. If a Land Cruiser goes, they charge 150 kina apparently. Most people travel by banana boat on the sea. It can get quite rough. There are departures every day and we paid 150 kina per person, but some people paid less. It seems to depend on the day and the skipper rather than negotiations. It takes at least 5 hours although they will tell you it is 2.5 hours. There is a company in Aitape called RST (Riverside transport) and their boats are supposed to be the safest and best organized. They are also very friendly people so if you are in Aitape, just go chat to them. From Aitape there is a road in acceptable condition to Wewak and the PMV costs 50 kina. Wewak is the “gateway to the mighty Sepik river”. From Wewak there are roads to Angoram (20 kina by PMV), Pagwi (40 kina by PMV) and Timbunke (20 kina by PMV, seasonal). Apparently there is also a logging road to Kanduanum 2 (downstream from Timbunke) and seasonally PMVs might be going that way. These are the roads to access the Sepik river. From Pagwi it is probably possible to find a PMV boat going upstream to Ambunti almost every day (25 kina) but few boats go downstream. Between Tuesday and Thursday there is a market in Maprik and people from the Sepik go there to sell their smoked fish. We found people from Chambri lakes who had travelled up to Pagwi and Maprik on Tuesday and were going back on Thursday. We found them at the market in Maprik. We paid 45 kina each for the ride from Pagwi to Kaminabit. Between Angoram and Kambaramba there seems to be people travelling every day to do market (10 kina each way). Kambaramba is a nice village to visit. It is pretty big and apparently in the back, in the swamps there are people living in floating houses (they build a raft and the house on top of that and just float on the lake, I think it is tied up to one place most of the time).

The famous buai (betel nut) boats pick up their cargo usually on the Yuat river and then travel downstream, passing Moim and Kambaramba and then stopping in Angoram (eastern bank) to refuel, then travel (at night usually) downstream and through a man-made channel (magical ride) to the village of Watam where a lagoon meets the sea. Here, if the boat is overloaded they will split the cargo and people in two boats and then travel over the sea to Borai, Awas or Bogia, from where there is a road going to Madang. Angoram to Borai/Awas/Bogia (the boats often say they are going to Bogia although they might be going to one of the other villages) is 100 kina. From there there is a PMV to Madang. From Madang it is easy to get to the Highlands or Lae by PMV.

From Wewak there is also a road going to Maprik and further to Nuku that runs parallel to the coast but inland (they call it the Sepik highway). Then from Nuku there is a road down to Aitape so it is easy to make an interesting circle there (they don’t see many tourists here so it is more authentic than on the Sepik river in some ways) in connection with a trip on the Sepik.

From Wewak, banana boats go to the islands around. To Muschu we paid 25 kina one way and the boat seems to bring people to town in the morning and then return around 3 pm (“PNG time”).

There are ships going from Madang to Wewak and Vanimo with Star Shipping (former Rabaul Shipping). Also from Madang to Manus Island (where the Australian government tortures asylum seekers). These are certainly not cheap but have a student price. Just say you are a student. In fact the phrase “I am a student” works wonders all over PNG. It is mostly interpreted as “I am not one of those filthy rich tourists from the tour groups, so don’t expect me to pay 100 kina for what should cost 10 kina”. Just kidding, people are very respectful really!

Also from Vanimo there is a logging road that goes inland to Green River for access to the Sepik river far upstream, close to the Indonesian border. I talked to some people who said Sepiks would take their fish in canoes to Green River, then hire a land cruiser to take their fish to sell it in Vanimo. For an independent traveller it might be possible to hitch a ride on the logging truck probably. I didn’t travel that road so I cannot say. In fact there is another border crossing into Indonesia inland, but that is certainly not open to foreigners and I wouldn’t mess with the Indonesian military. Also this road is understandably frequented by people smuggling guns (think the OPM on the Indonesian side of the border) and marijuana that is grown in PNG. Indonesian laws on drug trafficking are ubiquitous so it might be a good idea to take care who you get involved with on this road. However, if/when I come back, I might try to go to Green river and from there paddle down the Sepik.

As for independent paddling on the Sepik, our canoe cost us 50 kina to buy.

Accommodation in PNG has probably the worst price/quality ratio in the world. Locals travel on business, NGOs and companies pay for the accommodation of their employees and tourists are generally of the rich type and prices are absolutely ridiculous. However, there is a way for the intrepid and adventurous traveler to get around without spending a fortune. A guy from couchsurfing told me he never paid for accommodation during the couple of months he spent in PNG. Well, I am not that good or adventurous, but here are some tips. Number 1: couchsurfing obviously (not very popular but possible here and there). Number 2: Bring a tent! The Lonely Planet once again shat its pants by recommending against bringing a tent out right. I slept in my tent almost every night. And almost every night I had some kind of roof over my head, but the tent certainly protects from mosquitoes(!) (mosquito nets are clumsier and if the locals provide one it will probably be broken, so if not a tent, definitely bring a mosquito net!), cockroaches, spiders, scorpions, rats (your food should stay with you in the tent/mosquito net). Wild camping in PNG is certainly not something that locals have seen and land ownership is taken very seriously (every piece of land is owned by someone) and putting your tent somewhere without permission might get you in trouble (from the landowner or opportunist raskols). If camping, always ask permission and you will probably be offered a place under a roof anyway. 3. Talk to people! PNGans are extremely friendly. If you say you are a student and you want to save money, someone will probably offer to host you. Even if not, making friends goes a long way. Everyone and their mother will give you the phone number of their relatives or wantoks (people from the same tribe) who live in another town so you can call them and stay with them. Most locals will also be delighted to spend time and be seen with a white man. In some remote places there won’t be a guesthouse anyway, so staying with locals is just a matter of asking. When I was hosted somewhere for free, I always shared food. A pack of rice and some tinpis (tuna in a can) will be very much appreciated. They will cook for you and you will share it with the family. Groceries are expensive but things grown locally and sold at the market are cheap. 4. Get a Digicel sim card so you can call your contacts. It was around 15 kina for the card and calls and SMS are bearably expensive. I also bought internet packages and the coverage is pretty good. 5. Ask to stay at churches. Sometimes they operate nice guesthouses that won’t be cheap but other times they will just give you a space on the floor to sleep for free. The EBC (Evangelical Brotherhood Church) had a very basic guesthouse in Wewak for 25 kina a night. They said they also had guesthouses in 18 PNG provinces. Schools might also be an option.

Bargaining in PNG is not a good idea. For some souvenirs on the Sepik they have a second price (and sometimes the price tag lists both and first and the second price 🙂 ). PMVs usually have set prices and it is always best to ask the other passengers how much they are paying. Once a driver told us a higher price than normal but we had no choice so we didn’t argue and at the end he actually asked for the normal price. Now, there is another side of this story: PNG has a reputation of a wild place (both as in “savage” cultures/cannibals etc. and as in a criminal-infested place). Therefore few people make it here and most of them are on organized tours that cost many thousands of dollars. They fly in and out of places on chartered airplanes, have unnecessarily many guides, eat chicken with broccoli (one French lady I talked to was pissed off because she asked to eat some local food – sago, fish, sweet potatoes – but she was told that white men ate chicken and broccoli and not sago), sleep in resorts that cost 800 dollars a night etc. So it is easy to imagine that some locals, who have had contact with such tourists, would think that white people have money to throw around. On the Sepik they have seen tourists, it is on the itinerary of most tours. A Spanish family we met, that was travelling independently, wanted to charter a boat to take them from Pagwi to Angoram. The price started at 6500 kina (2000 euros – the high petrol prices were mentioned a few times and – would you believe – the engine, the boat and the skipper were even included in the price). Normally it is possible to get something like that for a few hundred kina I think. As always, where there are tourists, there are a few dishonest people. When we were paddling down the Sepik, most people were happy to see us, but everyone who had a boat with an engine would right away start a lecture about how dangerous this was and that they could drive us down to Angoram for ONLY this and this much. I would say you should bargain with boat charterers shamelessly. If they are still bargaining, it means they are still interested. However, PNGans are very proud people and certainly don’t like to lose face or feel offended (they are very temperamental and things can quickly get out of control), but a smile, jokes and friendliness are always appreciated. And a lot of patience. The locals say: “expect the unexpected”. Another thing I have experienced (and I have also heard from others) is to be asked for more money after your trip/hike/ride is over. You agree very very clearly on something beforehand, you have a great and friendly time and once everything is over, the driver/guide/skipper asks you for more money, sometimes with the funniest excuses ever. It might be difficult to argue (cultural differences, wanting to keep the friendly connection), but it is best to be firm (don’t forget to smile) and, if possible, show your wallet saying that the previously agreed amount is all the money you have on your person.

Guides. This is a tricky one. Since PNG is supposedly “very dangerous” the normal thing is to hire a guide even if you wanna go to the toilet! People will think you are crazy, but walking around cities during the day (don’t even think about walking around at night!) is perfectly fine. Taking public transport, paddling down a river etc is also fine. For hiking in nature, a guide might be necessary though. Landscapes are absolutely amazing and it is very very unfortunate that they are not very accessible. This is certainly not Scandinavia with its “every man’s right”. In fact the rule here is “no man’s right”. Again, if you walk alone between villages, most people will be delighted to see you, but there will be a few opportunists who will want to guide you and will say this is their land and you cannot cross without permission. And you cannot argue against that. When I went to the Highlands I did Mount Wilhelm without a guide, but there are no villages there and still it was hard to resist the insistent wanna-be guides. When you need to hire a guide, inform yourself well about the rates, because in PNG it is easy for prices to get out of proportion, so you can tell the honest from dishonest guides. In any case, guides will be there just for your safety and to show you the way (fingers crossed that they will actually know the way). Don’t expect any knowledge about flora, fauna etc. Also, it is best to hire a guide locally in a village. It might be cheaper and you might have more options, they will know the area better, and, most importantly, the local raskols will respect him. A guide from a different area is as good as no guide if the raskols want to rob you (or worse). In that chain of thoughts: there are trails through the jungles and mountains all over the country. It is easy to have an adventure walking from the Sepik to the highlands over a few days or walking between different places in the highlands. Locals know the trails and will be delighted to help. From my experience, 100 kina or less a day for a guide should be good, and you share this with your travel buddies. Other than that, in the cities someone would normally come and escort you to the bank or shop, they will insist to carry your groceries and hear your story and tell you theirs. If you ask for directions, the person will probably drop whatever they are doing and just take you there. They would not expect payment, but I have bought them donuts or icecream. Also, in rural areas kids will be super excited to see you and 10-20 of them might be following you wherever you go. Talking about how much locals will care that you are comfortable and safe, here is a conversation I had on the Sepik:
– Oh I’m sorry, I’m so sorry
– What are you sorry about?
– You paddled a canoe all day to get from Tambanum to here.
– No need to be sorry. We did it because we wanted to. We’re actually quite happy that we did it.
– Oh I’m so sorry…

Buai and Tok Pisin. Buai (betel nut) grows on a palm and is chewed together with lime and mustard (in different forms) everywhere from India to the Solomon Islands. In PNG it is absolutely the number one pastime. People spit the red stuff everywhere. I tried it – it is not my cup of tea (or shall I say my cup of spit). However, if you become a chewer in PNG that will win you the uttermost respect of everyone and their chewing mother and you will probably be adopted as one of them. Besides, when you go home you will give your dentist a heart attack (who doesn’t hate their dentist?). Actually, I don’t mind it, except it is the biggest difficulty with practising Tok Pisin – when the speaker’s mouth is full of betel nut it is difficult to understand them. Talking of Tok Pisin, it is the first pidgin/creole I am trying to learn and it is a lot of fun. Basically it is European (mostly English, German and Portuguese) vocabulary with Melanesian structure. It is most certainly not “broken English”, “bastard English” or whatever in that category. Trust me, I am a linguist! It is a fully functioning language and although it is very easy to get the gist, most people use phrases and collocations that are not as straightforward. Besides, there is a lot of variation with many people borrowing features from their tok ples into their Tok Pisin. Although many people speak English, Tok Pisin is certainly very helpful and it is easy to learn a bit. Then, when you don’t know some word or expression, you just switch to English. In fact, most locals, especially in towns, code switch between English and Tok Pisin anyway. There are some interesting non-European words. My favourite phrases: kaikai kaukau (to eat sweet potato) and Lukim yu bihain (See you later, and not, as I first thought: I am looking at your behind). Many transitive verbs have the -im suffix: lukim (to see something), bringimapim (to bring up). Some neologisms can even put Icelandic to shame: aiwara means “to cry” (from eye + water).

Safety and security. This is not an easy one. There are certainly safety issues in PNG. But as the LP says: If you believe everything the (Australian) media and the expats have to say, you will never go. It is certainly not the place for beginners but it is just another place where you need to use your common sense and, very importantly, be informed (why I am writing all this). It all boils down to the “clash of civilizations”, I guess and more specifically – alcohol. In PNG few people in the villages are starving – they produce enough for themselves, sometimes a bit extra. Of course many people want a bit more than village life and, especially in the towns (but not only) there will be the raskols (criminals) who will snatch your bag, or worse. In most cases though they will have a knife and will use an opportunity if it arises. Therefore it is good to carry a “raskol wallet” with a bit of money. You just hand it over and that will probably be it (although I am not talking based on first hand experience here but that seems to be the case). I had a wallet like this in Bali, Indonesia, even. But that was not for the criminals, it was for bribing the police. So far, with this pickpocketing and non-violent crime, PNG is not different than most European or US cities. However, things can get violent in PNG. Superstition, warfare traditions, general mistrust between people, disputes about land and women, and again alcohol and marijuana can quickly lead to weird situations that get out of control. Usually these things have nothing to do with the white man but it’s best to make a swift exit if a situation arises. The LP advises (and others too) that if you are, say, driving and you run over a man, pig or chicken, you should not stop but drive to the nearest police station. If you stop, the locals might take the law into their own hands and take reciprocal measures. The police in PNG is absolutely useless and that is probably the main problem. They seem to be afraid of the raskols most of the time. If the police catches someone who has done a somewhat serious crime, very often law is enforced on the spot (a shot in the head) – I’ve only heard that, I haven’t seen it. SP beer is popular among guys who have nothing else to do. Alcohol came to PNG in the same package as Jesus and Mary and it has taken firm roots. Most raskols drink a cheap homebrew called stim (“steam”). Luckily, guns are not widespread, otherwise things could have easily looked like a video game. I had an interesting talk with the school inspector in Ambunti:
– Can you buy a gun for me in your country?
– Yes they sell them in shops and you can buy one if you have permission.
– Send me one to PNG!
– Well, guns are forbidden in PNG and it’s illegal to send it. Besides, if everyone gets a gun, people will be shooting each other every day.
– Exactly! (his eyes shining)

In smaller places local politics seem to go a long way and having the protection of a good local man is always essential. That’s why the local village chief/counselor/leader should be contacted first.

Cannibals. I guess they draw a lot of rich tourists to PNG. But they mostl probably don’t exist. In fact many people seem to come to PNG with the idea to see some “uncontacted tribe”, cannibals or “people who have never seen a white man before”. In fact, most PNGans will be more Christian than the average European and it might be easy for some visitors to be frustrated that they did not see the promised “savages”. The chance of finding “cannibals” is higher in West Papua, I’d think, but also there it’s possible that the Indonesian army would have gotten rid of them quickly. And the Indonesian army is not very keen on issuing press releases. My friend Joseph is there right now hunting for cannibals. I will write an update when (if?!:/) he comes back. More seriously, there are certainly people who live in a more traditional way than others and hang on to their culture and rituals, just as anywhere else. But don’t expect to go to villages and see 100 people dressed in feathers and dancing around a fire in carved masks. The Goroka show is exactly as its name implies – a show.

Malaria is certainly an issue, maybe not as much in the Highlands. Most travellers and foreigners who live here take prevention pills. There’s plenty of information online. My thoughts:
– taking doxycycline for months is a horrible idea and will certainly destroy your liver, even if you don’t get malaria (you probably will anyway if you get bitten by an infected mosquito)
– same goes for the other malaria pills, although doxyxycline is probably the worst.
– there are different types of malaria, some of them quite mild, others life threatening. Chills, fever, pain in joints and anemia means you have to see a doctor as soon as possible.
– I did not take any prevention, but took very good care to avoid bites. In a month I had 3-4 bites at best, on the Sepik river. However, that night I spent on the truck going to Madang, I fell asleep and got many bites. I am sitting here in Lae, two weeks later, waiting to see what will happen. Still, mosquito repellent and mosquito net is the best prevention.
– I bought a test at the pharmacy that you can use to test for malaria at home. It costs 20 kina and looks like a pregnancy test. They also sold me drugs to take in case the test is positive and I am far away from a doctor. The pills are much cheaper in PNG than in Europe. I think this test is a great idea and I wonder why noone mentions it on the countless websites about malaria. Starting treatment immediately is might be just as (or more) important than taking prophylaxis medication.
– if you have the symptoms but no diagnosis, don’t take aspirin to treat symptoms because it might be dengue fever and that would be bad.

There are some other diseases in PNG that are good to look out for: tb, leprosis, a fungus infection called grille, tetanus, HIV is a very serious issue (probably a lot more than the official figures, so is home violence and rape).

“There is no time here”, or trekking in the Papuan Highlands (Baliem Valley and Yalimo)

“What time is it now?”
“There’s no time here!”

After over a month in Bali of working, driving a scooter and basically doing nothing, it was time for being a bit active again. Actually it was time for the real deal – I have been dreaming about visiting Melanesia for a long time. I am particularly interested in its linguistic and cultural diversity. So besides travelling, this trip is about seeing if I like it there and if I could maybe work on my PhD in this part of the world. Or at least this is my excuse for visiting this part of the world.

Through couchsurfing I met a Canadian, Nicholas, who wanted to go to the Baliem Valley at the same time as me. We met in Jayapura, the biggest city in Papua and took it from there.

The island of New Guinea is the second largest in the world and has over 1000 of the 7000 languages in the world. The area was unexplored until relatively recently and especially some of the people living in the middle of the island, isolated by high mountains, did not have contact with the outside world until as late as the 1960s. The valley of the river Baliem was discovered first when someone flew over it in the 1930s and a large amount of people were found there, using tools made of stone and bone and wearing very few clothes, despite the relatively chilly conditions.

The garment of choice for men was the koteka – a penis gourd (dried long pumpkin-like fruit) that keeps the penis upright with the help of a string around the waist. Women were topless and wearing grass skirts. On this trip I did not see any women or children in traditional outfits, but many older men, even in the center of the big town of Wamena were still walking around practically naked.

There are plenty of opportunities for trekking in the wide Baliem valley itself. We wanted to go to a neighbouring, less visited valley where different tribes lived. In the Baliem valley the people call themselves Dani or Lani. We wanted to go to where the Yali people lived – Yalimo. This would however involve going over some high mountains.

The Baliem Valley in Papua. It also took me a while to figure it out but here is the deal. The whole island is called New Guinea (second largest in the world after Greenland). It is shared by Papua New Guinea, the independent country to the east and Indonesia that rules over the western part of it. After the occupation Indonesia named it Irian Jaya, but that didn't go down really well. It is better known as Western Papua (as opposed to PNG - eastern Papua). However, to make things a bit more complicated, Indonesia actually has devided its part of the island into two provinces - Papua (the bigger part of it to the east) and West Papua (the "bird's head" to the west). So the Baliem Valley is in the Papua province of Indonesia. Sentani airport is the airport of Jayapura.

The Baliem Valley in Papua. It also took me a while to figure it out but here is the deal. The whole island is called New Guinea (second largest in the world after Greenland). It is shared by Papua New Guinea, the independent country to the east and Indonesia that rules over the western part of it. After the occupation Indonesia named it Irian Jaya, but that didn’t go down really well. It is better known as Western Papua (as opposed to PNG – eastern Papua). However, to make things a bit more complicated, Indonesia actually has devided its part of the island into two provinces – Papua (the bigger part of it to the east) and West Papua (the “bird’s head” to the west). So the Baliem Valley is in the Papua province of Indonesia. Sentani airport is the airport of Jayapura.

This is our route in the highlands. First we went north of Wamena to the village of Jiwika. Then back to Wamena and to the end of the road in the south to the village of Kurima. From Kurim we trekked for two days in a beautiful valley to Kiroma, from where we had a hard, wet, dirty and exhausting trek over two mountain passes to reach Angguruk.

This is our route in the highlands. First we went north of Wamena to the village of Jiwika. Then back to Wamena and to the end of the road in the south to the village of Kurima. From Kurima we trekked for two days in a beautiful valley to Kiroma, from where we had a hard, wet, dirty and exhausting trek over two mountain passes to reach Angguruk. It took us five days to reach Angguruk from Kurima.

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Sentani is a town a bit outside of Jayapura where the airport is. The hill next to it is a memorial to some general from World War II

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Getting to Wamena is straightforward. In the sense that there are not many options. Triana air flies up to five times daily from Jayapura to Wamena on Boeings with a lot of space in the back for pigs and such. On some maps there is a road to Wamena but that doesn't seem to actually exist. The terminal building at Wamena airport consists of a roof and baggage is delivered directly on forklifts. Wamena is the biggest town in the Papuan Highlands. Migrant workers from the rest of Indonesia, including women covered head to toe, coexist with local Papuans, sometimes wearing nothing but their modest koteka.

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The village of Jiwika

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We arrived in Wamena on Sunday morning and everything was closed until 1 pm so we killed some time at the church, then had lunch at a hotel and then left for a small village called Jiwika, 1 hour to the north of Wamena by public transportation. There's a traditional village close to Jiwika with traditional houses and a 200 year old mummy that can be brought out of its hut. That was recommended somewhere on the Internet. Well, once we got there we were asked for whopping amounts to see the mummy and then some more to take pictures. By the time the price went down to acceptable levels the whole thing looked more like a circus so we walked away. If you want to see the mummy, there must be pictures on the Internet. After staying the night at a small guesthouse nearby, we went for a hike in this valley , up to a salt water spring.

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The salt water spring itself was nothing crazy - just a pool of water. I tasted it to make sure we are at the right place. It is quite salty. Local people extract the salt by soaking dried banana tree trunks in the salt water, then letting them dry and burning them. The salty ashes are then used as salt.

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After spending the morning trekking in Jiwika, we took a "bus" back to Wamena. The "bus" broke down a bit before the town so we had to walk for a while. Then we visited an Internet shop called Papua.com that we knew sold a map of the area where we wanted to go trekking. The Japanese man there was a lot less helpful than the Lonely Planet described him but we got the map and managed to get the last bus to Kurima (easy name to remember for Bulgarian ears). It was already dark when the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere. The road had been washed away by a river and we had to walk the last couple of kilometers to the village. We had some locals to show us the way across the knee deep river and then on to the village. They kept asking where we would sleep and we kept saying we had no idea. We ended up on the floor of a church and had a nice one hour lesson of the local language. The shower and toilet were down in the river. There's a police station in Kurima where we had to register our travel permits and then it was only walking from here on.

In the language of Kurima the counting system is of base 29. The words for numbers are body parts. You start counting with the fingers of the right hand and up the arm to the top of the head (15) and down the other arm and hand until 29.

In the language of Kurima the counting system is of base 29. The words for numbers are body parts. You start counting with the fingers of the right hand and up the arm to the top of the head (15) and down the other arm and hand until 29.

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Just when we arrived at the village of Hitugi it started raining. We wanted to continue to the next village and stay there that night but as we were waiting for the rain to stop we were invited to a pig feast up the hill. Someone had died a couple of days earlier and the person is commemorated with three days of eating pig. In Papua pig is cooked by making some big stones really hot, then putting them in a pit in the ground, then the pigs and some sweet potatoes. The whole thing is covered with earth and left like that for many hours. We joined just as the food was being taken out, which involves a lot of hot stones being thrown around and a lot of impatient looks. Pigs are very important for most highlanders. They are the main source of protein and can also pay debts, buy wives etc. I overheard that the going rate is four pigs for a wife. And you can buy more than one.

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The photographers became the photographees

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In Hitugi, as in most other villages, very few older men were wearing their traditional outfits

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The kids took their positions around the... table

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Kids are the same everywhere

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I love Papua too

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After the pig feast we stayed the night in Hitugi and the next day continued to Kiroma. That meant we had to go slightly down to the river, cross a bridge (here you can choose to go back to Wamena on the other side of the valley) and then ascended a whole lot to reach Kiroma. On the way we made a longer stop in Yogosem, which had an airstrip and we had lunch with a very friendly and very Christian lady.

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The lunch party at Yogosem

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Washing sweet potatoes

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This lady hosted us in Kiroma. They had a special room for guests with mattresses. She cooked for us and helped us a lot. She and her very young daughter got infected with malaria after a visit to Jayapura. Kiroma itself is way above 2000 meters so there shouldn't be many malaria mosquitoes. Her slightly older sons smoked already. And she holds the copyright to the quote in this blog post's title. I'm more than ashamed to say that I forgot her name.

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The guest room

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The honai (round hut for men) of the village chief in Kiroma had the distinctive solar panel perched on it. We first asked the village chief to be our guide for the next two days for the difficult pass ahead. "What do we need for the trip?, we asked. "Well, cigarettes...", he started prioritizing. His Bahasa Indonesia skills were kind of worse than ours and we had initially imagined someone younger coming with us so we ended up going with someone else. It was not an easy choice though. For some reason there were very few, if any, young men in Kiroma.

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HIV awareness campaign

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Kelapa asli is the fruit of a mountain palm.

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Nicho and Julius

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Forest is cleared to make space for gardens. The tree roots prevent landslides.

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The way up from Kiroma follows a river valley surrounded by impenetrable jungle. The "path" was basically the river itself.

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Julius wanted us to spend the night here, most probably trying to extend our trip by a day and get paid for a day more. The weather was nice and there was plenty of time so we pushed on to the hut on top of the pass where most people spend the night.

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On the top of the pass the views were pretty amazing. From here on the path was slightly going up and down or flat, but in all cases featured loads of mud.

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This is the hut at the top, locally known as Pelantara. The roof leaks (I know since it rained all night). That night there were around 15 people sleeping there and two fires were kept burning the whole night to prevent everyone from freezing (the altitude is 3500 m). The trick was to lie down all the time and stay as low as possible and allow the smoke above to escape from the sides of the hut. Fun times.

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Did I mention the mud? It was everywhere. For three days we were walking in mud except when going down a vertical rock. Most times there would be some rocks or tree trunks trunks to step on. But it's easy to lose balance or just mistake a chunk of mud for a rock. Then your feet go deep down, sometimes knee deep.

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The next morning we woke up early. Julius told us he had malaria (?!) and wanted to go back to Kiroma. We followed two brothers from Piliam, the next village down the path. When I say "down" I mean it! After a few hours on a very muddy and flooded plateau, the path goes down a vertical cliff. In the most difficult places ladders were put in place sometimes consisting of just a bunch of tree branches tied together with lianas.

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Another one of those "ladders". Going down here when it's raining is out of the question.

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We went down this cliff face, in the middle there. Looking back towards it, I think it was a bit crazy

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In Piliam we slept at the office of the village chief. As soon as we arrived and were shown into out quarters, a crowd of kids and adults gathered outside and watched us doing nothing basically. For hours. Someone said they had a TV in the village but that was probably broken or there was no electricity. Nicho said that he also heard someone coming to out window in the middle of the night. This is genuine, friendly curiosity.

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Goodbye picture at Piliam. Eki, one of the brothers who walked with us the day before tried on my backpack. He didn't like it.

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These local...well... street musicians were happy to entertain us and for lack of anything better to do they followed us to the top of the pass for about two hours while also trying their slingshot skills on the birds in the forest. By now we were so tired and the blisters/sores on our feet so bad, that I couldn't wrap my head around anyone wanting to walk up this mountain voluntarily. I wish I were a kid again.

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The second pass awaited us on the way from Piliam to Angguruk. This one was certainly lower and less challenging than the Mt Elite one but equally muddy. Someone said it took them 4 hours from Piliam to Angguruk so we took it easy. Well that someone must have been Superman cause it took us almost ten hours. There were many ups and downs that day.

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From the top of the pass we could clearly see Angguruk with its airstrip. So close yet so far away.

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These planks had to be delivered higher up the hill where a new house was in construction for the needs of the village chief.

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The last big river to cross. Luckily there was a bridge (a covered one) over the impressive canyon. From here it was mostly up up up (and some down + up up up) to Angguruk.

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Approaching Angguruk we could see a difference. Villages were tidier, the path was better maintained. Still every step was painful.

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Arriving in Angguruk was different than other villages. Instead of traditional honai we saw mostly modern buildings including this villa as I would call it. No idea who lives here. Angguruk was chosen as the base for missionaries working with the Yali people and therefore it has the best transportation and other facilities. And the only place where the solar batteries actually worked and it was possible to charge batteries.

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The Yali, as many other tribes practiced anthropophagy (cannibalism) until recently. As always it was related to a certain ritual - in their case, they would eat parts of the body of a killed enemy. Inter-village fights were "disputes over women, pigs and gardens, as it says in the article where these pictures were published. The first missionaries that came here in 1960 were killed and eaten. Since then the missionaries have made sure that as good Christians the locals would satisfy their protein needs by eating pigs only. Interestingly, we saw chickens only in Angguruk but in the other villages there were only pigs.

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Angguruk had some pretty nice views of the surrounding valleys.

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The grass airstrip at Angguruk ends with a 22 degree slope to make sure the planes come to a halt. For extra safety there's a cross at the end of it.

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Mr. Zöllner is one of the early missionaries who converted the locals. Everyone was telling us about him arriving in a couple of days and here he is, fresh off the plane from Jayapura with his family. He comes to visit almost every year all the way from Germany. That was lucky since the plane that was apparently chartered for him, had some free seats for us on its way back to Jayapura.

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MAF (Missionary aviation fellowship) is a Protestant organization providing flights in remote areas of the world for the use of missionaries on Cessna planes like this that can land on grass air strips. We managed to get seats on this one going back to Jayapura. We wouldn't have minded going to Wamena instead and spending more time in the Baliem Valley but we couldn't be too picky. The day before there was a flight to Wamena but it was full. Locals (and their luggage and pigs) as well as missionaries a and NGOs have priority over tourists. We certainly didn't want to walk back to Wamena so that would be the end of the Highlands trip for now. The ticket from Angguruk to Jayapura set us back 1,320,000 rupiah (around $110) per person after the local MAF agent and the pilot performed some calculations. Before that we were also asked for a 100,000 to. departure tax. We didn't get a receipt for that and the money disappeared too quickly for me to see if it departed for the drawer or the agent's pocket. The flight was well worth it. I asked for a window seat and got to sit next to the pilot.

The time has come for me to leave Indonesia. When I first arrived here I was going to stay three months. A few hours after I landed, I thought: “Let’s make it four”. Many years are not enough to see a country that is held together by little else than its diversity (and a pinch of military power). What it’s 17000+ islands have in common is their natural beauty and their smiling and easy-going inhabitants. I’m sometimes jealous of this easy-goingness that makes traveling much easier if you just let it be. In Angguruk, while waiting for an airplane to happen to appear and take us back to somewhere, I had time to finally finish the Swedish book called “The hundred year old man who crawled out of his window and disappeared” (highly recommended!) In there Indonesia is called “the land of possibilities”. And it is! It’s a place where you need to be prepared for anything and yet you can’t be prepared for anything.

I had big plans to visiting most of the major islands (Java, Sulawesi, Kalimantan, Maluku, Bali, Lombok, Flores, Papua, Timor…), but ended up not even reaching Java. However, apart from a short, quasilegal stop in Sumatra earlier this year, I only managed to explore some of Flores, Bali, Sumbawa and Papua on this trip. Slowly but with style and with many new friends. All in all, 12 islands, big and small. 16988+ to go. I’ll have to be back.

Next stop: Papua New Guinea

Practical information

Transportation – flights to Wamena from Jayapura cost 925,000 rp one way on Trigana air. Around the Baliem valley there are bemos that go to where there are roads. MAF, AMA and Susi air fly to air strips in the villages from Wamena, Sentani and sometimes between villages. Tourists have last priority. Church people, NGOs, locals, supplies and pigs are more important for sure. Angguruk seems to be one of the best served air strips with flights to somewhere almost every day.

Travel Permit – besides the Indonesian visa, for travelling in Papua one also needs a special travel permit – “surat jalan”. I got mine without any problems at the police station in Jayapura. Some people have apparently been asked for money but it should be free. I only showed a copy of my passport (my actual passport was at the PNG consulate) and I got a nice stamped piece of paper with my picture on it. I could travel with this to Wamena and beyond without having my passport on me. In fact noone really ever looked at our documents really well. We only registered our surat jalan in Wamena and in Kiroma. There are no police stations in the villages after that. We asked someone if there was police anywhere and we were told something like: “We don’t allow the police to come here”. When getting the surat jalan it is good to mention all areas in Papua that you plan to visit. Even to see the memorial on the hill above Sentani, you need the surat jalan. Only in Jayapura itself it is not necessary.

Accommodation – we couchsurfed in Jayapura. The local CS community is very friendly. Jayapura and Wamena accommodation is generally more expensive than in the rest of Indonesia. In the villages on the trek, we paid 100,000 per person to sleep in a house. At the church in Kurima we donated 50,000 to the church.

Food – at the villages there are sweet potatoes in abundance, you can buy rice for as much as 50,000 per kilo and instant noodles for 5000 per piece. If are lucky there will be something green as well. We usually asked the locals to cook for us. It is good to bring some protein with you – tuna cans for example, all the way from Jayapura. Wamena is very expensive. We drank water mostly from the streams, purified with iodine. In the villages they boil it. For the two-day passage without any villages we brought a lot of sweet potatoes and rice and cooked at the top. Our guide carried this for us.

Routes; guides and porters – more or less unncessary (if you speak some Indonesian)! We hired someone to carry the food for us and show us the way over the pass through Mt Elite. We probably would have gotten lost if we had been alone, but there are many locals walking this route, so it was never long before we met someone. For the routes around the Baliem Valley a guide is absolutely unnecessary. If you get the map from Papua.com, it is absolutely enough. From Kurima it is possible to walk for a couple of days on the way to Kiroma and then, in the village before, after the bridge, go back on the opposite side of the valley through some other villages. The views are super nice, even if you don’t go across the mountain to Yalimo. Most tourists actually do exactly that route in five days, strangely having guides and god knows how many porters tagging along and also paying hundreds of dollars a day. We met two Dutch guys doing that route – the only tourists we met. For going to Angguruk, there’s apparently another route described by this guy. I tried asking a few locals about that route but most seemed not to consider it an option at all for some reason. Only one person confirmed it existed but said it was a bad path. Although it’s difficult to know for sure. The path over Mt Elite was not good either. I’m sure it’s used often enough by the villages in that area.

Equipment – I brought too much stuff. My lightweight tent I never used. The sleeping bag was useful. I had too many shirts. Basically with a sleeping bag and a warm and waterproof jacket and a change of clothes you will be fine. I used my old sandals that I bought in India for $5 most of the way and that was very good – there is a lot of mud and rivers to cross. Someone mentioned rubber boots – I am not sure how comfortable these would be for such a tough trek. Most locals walk barefoot, but their feet are well trained. So basically sandals is the shoe of choice.

Presents – it is good to bring presents to the locals. Many people mention cigarettes and indeed many locals seem to smoke. Rolling tobacco is cheaper and a better present than a pack of cigarettes that will disappear very quickly. If you smoke, some people will be all over you. A lady told me once very proudly: “My sons (aged 9 and 10) already smoke!”, which was supposed to mean “Give them some cigarettes please!”. Coffee, but not the instant one that is just sugar and milk – they will give it to the kids instead. Sugar might be good. I gave some notebooks and pens to children.

Language – most people speak Indonesian. Without some Indonesian skills, you might have to go to the hundreds-of-dollars-a-day English speaking guides in Wamena. Still, even if Nicho spoke much better Indonesian than me, misunderstandings were common and answers to questions like “How long does it take to walk between village A and village B?” easily vary between “I don’t know how to think in hours” to “two hours” to “two days”. After some language skills, the most useful skills are patience and a smile.

Photos – many people warn you that you will be asked to pay for photographing people. That might be the case around Wamena, especially at that circus village with the mummy. In the villages on the trail noone asked for money for photography. However I always asked for permission of course. The only exception was one guy who was carrying a big gun in the middle of the forest. I asked if I could take a picture
“What will you give me?”, he asked.
“I can give you cigarrettes!”
“What kind of cigarettes?”
“Rolling tobacco”
“I don’t want it”, he said and left.

Safety – I never felt threatened. Everyone was smiling and super nice. There is no Indonesian military or police in the villages. However, Papua is a place of conflict between the Free Papua Movement and the Indonesian government. None of them seem to target tourists or regular citizens anymore. However, in the past, the Indonesian government carried out a de facto genocide in Papua. Many things in Papua are related to one name: Freeport. It’s a mining company that operates the world’s largest gold mine in the south of Papua. That’s a lot of money flowing towards Jakarta and quite a bit of pollution. I had a chance to see it with my eyes when my flight from Bali to Jayapura made a sunrise stopover in Timika, close to the mine. There’s a lake next to Timika where all the chemical waste from the mine collects. It’s a sad view. Part of the reason why the Norwegian Petrol Fund sold its stake in Rio Tonto (Freeport’s parent company). More on Freeport.
Back to the point – the trail conditions and weather might be the biggest concern when it comes to safety.

Mosquitoes /malaria – you hear so many stories. Papua is considered to have high levels of malaria. Jayapura and the coastal regions certainly do. In some places you ask if there is malaria and they will say “noooo”, although there actually is. In other places the word “malaria” has become synonymous with “being sick” so people might say they have malaria as soon as they cough twice. I had mosquito repellent and used it in the evenings, except when we were quite high above sea level. I don’t take malaria prevention pills but have doxycycline with me just in case.

Fleas. Well, there are some. Both me and Nicholas got bites three nights in a row. Or maybe they were bed bugs? But since we hardly ever slept on anything even reminding of a bed, I’m holding on to the flea theory.

Money – sit down before you google “trekking in the Baliem valley”. The prices you will see are whopping. Some even promise to take you to people who have never seen a white man before. This is crazy – missionaries, governments and mining companies went there before you, for sure! We did it the cheap way. We carried our bags and had a guide only for two days. I bought few souvenirs. A noken – á bag made of string made from wood fiber that is the bag of choice in the Highlands. I just needed something for when I’m out in cities. I also managed to find a koteka. It took a while to find my size but finally I got lucky. Later I found a dead cockroach inside so I haven’t tried it on yet. This is a breakdown of the prices per person in rupiah:
925,000 one way flight Jayapura to Wamena
1,420,000 one way Angguruk to Jayapura
800,000 for sleeping in villages
200,000 for guides (our guides charged 200,000 per day for two days)
around 500,000 for food and other expenses

All in all around $340 for a total of 9 days with the flights being around 2/3 of that.

Sailing east from India

As some of you may know, I am currently in Kochin, in the south of India. Together with two other people, captain Gerd and Andres, we are preparing the sailboat Liberty to sail east from here. We have been here for over a month now, working hard on everything from repairing sails to cleaning to working on the engine and self-steering. Liberty will be slowly making its way to New Zealand in the next 12 months. The first leg of the route will be the longest open ocean passage of the whole trip. From India to East Timor passing west and south of Sumatra and Java.

The route for the beginning of our trip. This leg should take 40 to 50 days of sailing, a lot in open ocean without much connection and certainly no Internet.

The route for the beginning of our trip. This leg should take 40 to 50 days of sailing, a lot in open ocean without much connection and certainly no Internet.

In East Timor we are planning to stay some days, explore, pick up some new crew members, provision and continue more east, where the real exploring will begin, all throgh Melanesia: Irian Jaya (the western part of New Guinea, that is part of Indonesia), Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia are on the route before the end of the trip in New Zealand.

The others in the crew for now are:

Captain Gerd from Switzerland, who owns Liberty and has spent a lot of his life sailing and living around the Pacific.

Ali (left) and captain Gerd planning out the self-steering

Ali (left) and captain Gerd planning out the self-steering

Andrés is from Mexico. He has spent a lot of time travelling and certainly wants to be a sailor too.

Andres at work.

Andres at work.

Originally we were going to be six people sailing out of India. Ali, Majed and Ryan spent time with us, helping preparing the boat but had to leave for different reasons. For the time we spent here together we had a great time and it was a bit of a downer for me that they would not come with. Hopefully we will be able to travel together later.

Ryan is from Alaska. He is 21 and took a year off his geology studies to join this trip. A very polite and mature guy. I really hope he will be able to join us in East Timor.

Ryan is very good at all things mechanical

Ryan is very good at all things mechanical

Ali, from Iran, lives in San Francisco and is a sailing instructor. He wants to make it by sailing from Iran to San Francisco through the Pacific Ocean

Majed interviewing Ali for the film

Majed interviewing Ali for the film

Majed is also from Iran and is a documentary filmmaker. He wanted to make a film about this trip. He has filmed a lot in war zones in Afghanistan and Lebanon so he should be pretty well prepared for this adventure.

Besides a filmmaker Majed turned out to be a very taleneted cook

Besides a filmmaker Majed turned out to be a very taleneted cook

And last but not least: my humble self. I joined this trip for a few of reasons. Firstly, I have been interested in visiting Melanesia (Papua New Guines, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands etc.) for a long time. This part of the world is not very easily travelled due to its remoteness and lack of infrastructure. All of it is islands, big and small, so travelling by boat makes perfect sense. When I was in the Cook Islands and Fiji in 2008 I found Pacific islanders to be very friendly, sane, proud and relaxed people and I certainly want to explore more. The land- and waterscapes are of course picture perfect. But most of all, for some time now I have been thinking about working with endangered and/or undocumented languages and Melanesia has the highest linguistic diversity in the world. More than 1300 of the world’s 6-7000 languages are spoken there, many of them undocumented and certainly a huge number are endangered. So my most important mission on this trip is to get acquainted with the cultures of Melanesia. Other than that I want to learn how to sail better (I had a great sailing trip of a few weeks in Croatia with captain Zeljko last year). Also, sailing, although quite challenging on the body and mind, can be quite relaxing and I hope to have enough time to catch up on reading books and my video and photography skills. When I first came here I added one more mission: learning Persian since we had two nice Persian crew members onboard willing to teach me (one day I will travel Iran by bicycle but that is another story). Now that they are not coming along, I still hope to be able to make some progress by myself.

And me with a Kathakali traditional dancer. We attended a show organized for us at the place where we are staying. It takes 3 hours for the dancer to get prepared for the show.

And me with a Kathakali traditional dancer. We attended a show organized for us at the place where we are staying. It takes 3 hours for the dancer to get prepared for the show.

And finally, ta-dam! Liberty is a 15-meter ferrocement boat, built in New Zealand but now travelling under the Vanuatu flag. Gerd has owned and sailed it since 2008. Liberty is by far not a luxury yacht but all of her equipment is very well maintained (we are spending quite some time here in India making sure everything is as it should be after all). Liberty would have made very good friends with my South American bicycle Traicho, with his milk crate instead of panniers. She has two kitchens, comfortable berths and a lot of space on the front deck. We are taking good care of her and I am sure she’s gonna take good care of us in the coming months.

Liberty was docked at the international marina in Kochi – the only marina in India and the only marina between Dubai and Singapore. This is where we did most of the preparation work. We had plenty of space on the pier to do our work and have a good time. The marina is on the island of Bolgatty – the first island settled by Europeans in India, basically where the colonization of the whole subcontinent began. The marina is attached to a five-star (well…) resort that is housed in a Dutch palace from the 18th century. There is a nice swimming pool that we use for free and the views of the city across the river/bay are nice. A very quiet place and perfect for us.

We also managed to get to see some of the area around Kochi. We spent some time in Ernakulam, a satellite city of Kochin, across the water, mostly for shopping. And we did a great day trip in our dingy up the backwaters of Kerala. I am certainly coming back to India – an ocean of cultures, landscapes, people and smells in itself.

So this is the first and long blog post, therefore a bit dry, from this trip. I hope to be able to update as much as possible from where the real adventures will happen.

We are now anchored in the bay of Kochin and hopefully tomorrow we will finish doing the paperwork for clearing out and leave on the long voyage to East Timor. 40-50 days of sailing, probably not much connection to the outside world.

We have a facebook page about the trip: https://www.facebook.com/libertygoingeast