Fixing stuff in West Papua

Local kids visiting by canoe at Tifore

Apart from the brief message posted by my lovely sister, we've been unable to add to this blog since we left Bitung three weeks ago. We are now sitting in Sorong, in West Papua. Yes, there is internet of sorts, but it is excruciatingly slow. Sorong has been, um,  interesting – more below.


I recall that when we entered Malaysia last year, we found it all rather tame and bland after Indonesia and I am now on the other side of that coin. After Malaysia, with its friendly people and relatively organised and occasionally prosperous towns, this part of Indonesia is the wild country. There were relatively few tourists in Sulawesi; there are absolutely none where we are now. It seems in some villages that we are almost the first Westerners to have set foot there. This does not always make for a comfortable experience.


Our first stop was the small island of Tifore, 70 miles from anywhere. A local fisherman was kind enough to guide us through the channel through the reef into a perfect lagoon, where we stayed for a couple of days. The village there was dominated by a large Church – some of the villages here are Christian, some Muslim; the two religions co-exist in towns but villages are either one or the other – and also had a school. The local kids immediately paddled out in their wooden out-riggers and hung around the back of the boat looking at us, giggling and smiling.
Anui anchored under the volcano at Ternate


And so it begins. It's always so hard to know exactly the right thing to do. We always smile, say hello, exchange a few words and then wait. If we are too friendly, they try to jump onto the boat and it would then be tricky to get them to leave without being outright rude. If it's kids, we hand out a few lollypops and they are happy; with adults it can be harder to know the best thing to do. Sometimes people are just curious and friendly – we are a novelty in their back-yard and they want to have a good long look – fair enough, I reckon. Some locals want to find out where we're from, try out a few words of English, perhaps trade some fish or bananas. Sometimes the people are obviously very poor, with their clothes in rags and their canoe patched and leaking. For those, we sometimes give a t-shirt or some food; these people have nothing to trade and generally do not ask for anything to be given.


The third category are the hardest. They come to Anui, bring their boat alongside, sometimes tie on to the side rail and then make it clear that they want to come on board. They are always small groups of men and they may or may not smile. Mostly these men do not look poor and their boats are motorised; their intentions are unclear. The difficult thing is to firmly state that they cannot put their foot onto the boat without being unnecessarily rude. Sometimes they come when I am on the boat with the kids and Scott is elsewhere – spear-fishing or ashore – and our friends with us will keep an eye and radio me if they see the boat there for a little while. It's great to have that back up and we are all glad that we chose to stick together through this region. All the types of onlookers are probably entirely harmless, but it's unsettling nevertheless. In the islands we have passed through lately, there is sometimes the request made to ask permission to anchor from the head man of the nearest village. This permission normally has a cash value – another dilemma. If we pay the high price asked initially, the yachts coming later will have to pay more. If we bargain it down to a smaller price, should we pay then? The money goes to one pocket and does not benefit the village.

This part of Indonesia was the centre of the riots and 'religious problems' of a decade ago, when Churches were burnt and 'revenge killings' took place in villages and towns. Such problems have not recurred but the region has, for us, an uneasy feeling. We do not feel entirely welcome. A man in the market at Ternate aggressively asked why I did not speak Indonesian better; the men coming close to the boat in their motorised canoes sometimes do not smile. Time to move on.


Since Ternate, we've covered some long miles but found a jewel worth all the hassles and long motoring hours. Wayag – a magnificent handful of limestone islands, peaked and green, rising smoothly from clear water. We found a small bay with our two boats of friends and didn't move for 5 days. Fishing, spear diving, kayaking, barbeques on the beach – it was heaven. And the best bit – Wayag is uninhabited and we saw not a soul.
Our lagoon at Wayag

In arriving at Sorong yesterday we had the usual list of jobs to do – finding spare parts, locating the market, getting the internet working. Most importantly, we have to buy a new alternator (ours finally died last week, curse it. I'm sure we must have accidentally run over a black cat somewhere). Scott managed to source one and will try tomorrow to get it to work. He is so clever. The old generator was, last night, sitting in the cockpit in a backpack waiting for Scott to take it to the auto-electrician's to match pulleys or something. This morning when we got up it was gone – someone had been on the boat during the night but thankfully that was all they stole. This is the first theft we've had and I bet they were really annoyed when they realised they had come away with only a broken piece of machinery. Nevertheless, tonight we are taking shifts with our friends at watching out over our three boats. The local police are patrolling the bay at intervals, thanks to a friend of a friend who is a policeman in Jayapura... they did offer to sit in the cockpit with their machine guns but we gently declined.
Sarah and Seth kayaking at Wayag


So, things in Indonesia continue to be challenging. Finn still refuses to go to town; Seth is thankfully more relaxed about it. Scott is getting some sleep before getting up to fix more stuff. And I am sitting at midnight in the cockpit with a cup of tea and the slowest internet connection in South East Asia, writing to our friends.

Comments

  1. An interesting time for all. Sorry to hear about the generator but clearly you had back up power - to send the slow internet report! Good to concentrate on the positives and I would say they far out way the uneasiness you've experienced. Magic discoveries - keep enjoying!

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