Corruption, crime and cock gourds
Trip Start Apr 01, 2008
13Trip End Aug 2008
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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
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
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
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.