Corruption, crime and cock gourds

Trip Start Apr 01, 2008
1
4
13
Trip End Aug 2008


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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Thursday, May 8, 2008

The next destination was Jayapura, the capital of Indonesian Papua (as in the OCCUPATION by the Indonesian government of half of the Papuan island, their interest maintained due to the 10% they receive from the American (surprise surprise) company who are mining gold in Timika.) It took two and a half days of ferry, planes, bemos, motorbikes and, particularly, waiting. It then took a further 5 days obtaining a new visa and getting to my proper destination, Baliem Valley, central Papua. With 6 days remaining on my Indonesian visa I had plenty of time to dash to Papua New Guinea and get a new one, or so I thought. The consulate officer had other ideas, the corrupt bastard.

Jayapura is an ugly town in stunning settings. Steep hills covered in jungle surrounds on 3 sides, on the other side an enclosed bay with a long stretch of sand sits between the town and a lake dotted with little islands, many with their own individual langauges. Blood red spit covers the pavements, projected from the mouths of Papuans as they chew on a mixture of nuts, lime powder and a red tobacco like substance for a hazy, teeth rotting high. As I avoided the fresh, glistening spit and gaps in the concrete between myself and the sewer, I met another traveler. He said I should forge an onward flight document or the officer at the PNG visa office will cite it as good reason to charge me 1,500,000Rp (100 pounds!!!). So I spent two hours running back and fourth in the humid sweaty climate of JP between internet and copy shop, becoming more and more frustrated at facilities and the repetitive mistakes my drained brain was making.

The officer in fact latched on to ANYTHING as a 'legitimate' reason. The amount he was asking for was ridiculous for this part of the world, for any part of the world - where would you pay 200USD for an unrushed visa?? The fee was conveniently just less than a flight to Singapore, the other escape route faced with an expiring visa. I sat in that damn office for a day and a half refusing to pay his corrupt fee. The office was to be closed for 4 days at the end of the week due to holidays (just my luck) so I had just a day to get my PNG visa after my little protest. At this point I was shitting it a little because overstaying the Indonesian visa would mean dealing with the far more frightening Indonesian bureaucracy, layer upon layer corruption. An overstay of 5 days would lead to jail. So I withdrew the 1,500,000Rp (put relatively that is a ten day budget here in Indo) but instead of handing it straight to the guy, I pursued. My stubbornness reached new meaning at this point. Luckily, though, this paid off as the secretary happened to walk through at this point. She was not in with the two criminals at the front desk and I got my visa in 10 minutes, but not without the threat from Mr corruption: "I am in contact with the Indonesian officials at the border", he grinned. "If you are on a visa run the fees charged will be even greater there". This played at the back of my mind for the next few days.

The Papua New Guinea I saw was poor, prices were high and so was unemployment. It is a new country with a population of ten million and occupies half the second largest island on earth. The towns are barely connected with one another if at all. Black outs were just as common as Pakistan and one night I couldn't even wash as the water was off. Many people worked at stalls by the side of the road selling homemade cakes, individual cigarettes and the aforementioned red chew. Groups wandered around barefoot during the day on wide sweltering roads bordered by warehouse aesthetic shops. I spoke to a man who described the capital, Port Moresby. No taxis could be trusted other than this one catholic company. Women were raped in broad daylight on the buses. As a white man you can guaranteed being held up. It is easy to be critical so I asked what really can be expected of a country shaking tribal systems for unity and modernity, trying to keep up with the rest of the world. As late as the 1950s some areas still practiced cannibalism. In Vanimo 'town' (one street) I couldn't help but see similarities with aboriginal towns in Northern Territory, Australia. Ethnically the groups are relatively close and both have recently moved from tribal systems to modernity. The only thing that stops the aboriginals tipping over the edge is they are surrounded by a British system. So although the white settlement screwed them side ways in the first place it is the whites that keep them from disorder. PNG, on the other hand, struggles.

At 60USD a night, the minute I was armed with my Indo visa I launched myself towards the border. I sent a kid screaming to tears with my grey eyes (result!) and then walked across the border. Over optimistic taxi drivers touted prices of 300,000Rp to Jayapura (16 quid) so I took a seat on the curb waiting for them to come to their senses. A group of five and a kid offered a lift for 50,000. To cut a long story short, by accepting it I went on to have my mp3, phone and 50 quid stolen. I only realised the following day on the plane to Wamena and so started my trek in one serious grump.

The Baliem Valley is famous as an area where some of the last humans on earth were discovered in the mid 1940s. This was the huge pull for me, going to a place described as one of the last truly fascinating, traditional areas on earth. The trek itself was the toughest physical thing I have ever done. My knees are still sore now, 3 weeks after. Sakit!! The first day I had path, and I found my way stopping in villages and trying every pronunciation of the next village on my route. Day two onwards, however, saw the conventional term for path change and I wisely picked up a local guide. The next 3 days were some adventure. Ten hour shifts saw me balancing along trunks across rivers, pulling myself up streams, squelching through Lord of the Rings mist covered swamps, across nerve wracking rock faces and climbing up, through and down jungle covered hills/cliffs. It rained everyday, hard, breaking my camera on day 3. Nights were cold. I would sit up every half hour, climb into my t-shirt and breathe heavily saying aloud 'Fuck. Its cold. Fuck its cold!'. Night 3, in a shelter made entirely of natural materials that Ray Mears would be privileged to stay in, a quick stab of our feet in to the ash of the fire allowed us to sleep a reasonable amount. One night I had to cover myself in clothes found in the corner of my room as I tried to sleep on my wooden bed. I will never forget the smell of a Papuan, but then again I couldn't anyway.

With this energy sapping, knee killing trek across mud slides, rivers, jungle, swamp, cliffs and potato fields came the most incredible sight of primitive human culture I think I will ever see. A large number of men and boys were completely naked, running around with just a shaft of wood on their cocks, held in place by a string around their belly and another around their balls. Some of the older women also wore traditional dress - layered bamboo bundles sat across their belly like bum-bags, bare chested and with net bags hanging from their head & resting on their behinds. In wooden hut villages I would arrive to the population in a line on a ridge waiting for my arrival that kids had run ahead to announce, screaming "TOURIST!!!". It was amazing.

Sadly, though, by the end destination I was dreaming of Bali. I was on a very small diet because I didn't want to take much of the locals potatoes - most of the children had swollen bellies either due to hunger or malnutrition, I did not know. Handing out the food I had brought on the last morning was a moving occasion, the small squabbling that accompanied it made the moment even more poignant. Climbing in to wet socks and shoes each day with aching muscles and knees in cold weather had taken its toll and even in this enchanting (I don't use this word lightly!) land I wanted out.

So the next morning after arriving in Angurruk I was on a missionary flight, a 4 seater, peeling off the grass runway and up into clouds above. Sitting in the co-pilots seat, the controls and steering wheel moving in front of me, I asked the large friendly American pilot 'This is all locked, right?'. 'Eh...not really.' was his reply. Needless to say I sat back and enjoyed the ride, staring out the front as we sliced through the odd cloud at hundreds kmph and over villages with not a single modern material in sight. The misty swamp seemed small from the air but after spending a day indirectly crossing it I knew otherwise. In twenty minutes we covered what took me four days on foot, four days not to be forgotten anytime shortly.
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Comments

pdonelly
pdonelly on

A bit tough on PNG
I enjoyed your article as it is always interesting to read comments from people with little understanding at all about a culture and to see what they think. PNG is a country of a bit over 5 million people with 800+ languages so I can understand the reason for you inaccuracies.

martyt
martyt on

tough on PNG
Appreciate the comment.

As I go, I go on the information I'm told. I got the 10 million figure from a citizen. Please let me know my other inaccuracies, I'd rather stand corrected.

grantrough
grantrough on

Oh My God!
Dude, doesn't sound like the best part of your journey so far. I can't believe you got your phone and mp3 player stolen, that's gotta suck! That trek also, bloody hell, sounds rough, I don't envy you. Although, I can't imagine how incredible it must be to see places like that, even if it is not that enjoyable at the time

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