Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Day 1: Bali to Timika to Sugapa

My mother and I stayed up all night in order to catch our domestic flight from Bali to Timika which left at 2am. The flight was 3 hours long and I slept the whole way. It was surprisingly comfortable as I had three economy class seats on which to stretch out.

At the airport in Papua before flying into the jungle.
Once in Timika, we immediately recognized our two other expedition companions: an American-Australian named Robert and a 21-year-old British guy named Ed. We picked up our luggage--thankfully it all arrived--and met our guides outside...except we were stopped by local government officials before we made it out the doors. They brought us into a separate room and asked us about our plans and for our information. After almost half an hour of waiting and discussion, they wrote our names and passport info in a book and kept photocopies of our passports. We finally made it outsides and met our guides Yosh and Poxy.

I had thought we would spend a night in Timika, a ramshackle town with a very culturally interesting and provincial feel. Papua had a very different vibe from the other parts of Indonesia; I'm not surprised that they are seeking their independence. The locals are culturally, ethnically, and even racially distinct from the majority of Indonesians. People in Papua are predominantly Moni, and are darker skinned with very prominent cheekbones and tightly curled black hair. The adults do not smile often, but the children are always laughing and sneaking smiles at you. It isn't that the adults are unfriendly, often just saying 'hi' and smiling is enough to elicit a shy grin, but they just seem more withdrawn and less outgoing with us foreigners.

Anyways, much to my surprise our guides immediately brought us to the building next door and I realized that we were flying straight into the jungle. We repacked some of our stuff and collected it in one bag to leave in Timika for our return. Since I had thought we would be staying in Timika, I had worn normal clothes. This meant that I had to change into my junglewear in the middle of the domestic terminal with amused locals looking on.

We waited several hours for the weather to clear before jumping into a small Cessna for our forty minute flight to Sugapa, the last real civilization that we will experience on this end of the trip. By 'civilization' I mean cell phone reception (but no 3G or data service or Internet access) and roads (unpaved, of course) and actual huts for shelter. It's my understanding that there is one more small village beyond this and then after that...jungle. 

(To make matters more nerve-wracking, the day before local separatist militia members had stormed the runway in Sugapa, not allowing any planes to land...we were hoping that there were taking a day off today.)

During our flight, as we entered the highlands, an automated female voice suddenly said 'Warning. Warning. Pull up.' I trusted our pilot, but it was quite scary. The clouds were so thick that it wasn't clear how far above the mountains we were. Then a hole opened up and trees were poking through! After that, I was praying for a safe landing until we finally got to Sugapa.

We were greeted  on the muddy airstrip by a crowd of locals. I think a local sport is watching planes come in onto the airstrip because it seemed everyone in the village was out there.

We unloaded our bags and began walking into the village. It was about 1km from the airstrip along an only slightly muddy dirt road. We walked through the main street of the village before turning into a small hut. The hut actually was larger than it appeared at first sight and we unpacked our bags in a room. My mother took the bed, I got the floor. Because we had not slept much in the night, we took a nap before lunch and then again between lunch and dinner.

The food so far has been excellent. Fried chicken and French fries, curry and rice, Oreos, and fried soy beans have all been in the menu do far. That said, one of our teammates--Ed--is already sick and having diarrhea. I'm pretty sure that we'll all get stomache issues on this trip  eventually so I think he might actually be lucky to get it now, sooner rather than later.

We've also been joined by mosquitos...and large ones at that. I'm glad that I'm taking anti-malaria medicine. Wouldn't want to get that out here...

Off to bed now. Hopefully we will start our trekking tomorrow without incident or delay!

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