New Guinea’s little brother

First of all, my apologies: I haven’t done a great job updating you guys on my last trip. I had been spending five months in between Australia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Palau and the Philippines october 2014 till march 2015. You might have seen my last recap video though, which turned out to be my favorite yet. What can I say? It was without a doubt an experience like no other, with high serotonin- and adrenaline-spikes especially in Palau and the Philippines. I will allocate time and catch up on writing some lines about that past trip as soon as I can.

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But for now, on other note, I will keep you posted on my two months in-between-semester-trip to Indonesia. I figured, as long as I am close to these parts of the world, I might as well check them out. Since Bali is to Australians, what the mediteranean island of Mallorca is to Germans, flights to Indonesia’s hindi central are easily booked and fairly cheap (hell, a one way direct ticket to Denpasar: 170 Euros from Melbourne!). I decided to make Bali my basecamp in order to get around the other islands, in a star pattern if you want, spending a transit night in Kuta: backpacker capital in the United States of Backpackers. All you see here are backpackers, so unless you’re 18 and you want to get hopelessly drunk, happy ending massages or getting harassed by vendors every five steps of the way, please avoid. Well, and unless you just want to stay somewhere not too far away to the airport – basically my good excuse for hanging around. (In all fairness: surfing seems to be really good here too, so I guess that’s what most backpackers are truly here for. But there are for sure better places…)

First on my todo list is Raja Ampat, a destination that the majority of you most likely have never heard of. That’s mainly because it is famous for its world class diving and like many other great diving spots in the coral triangle (the triangle pointing up above the Philippines in the north and framing Indonesia and its outer rims to the east and west on its bottom) has the most marine biodiversity on the planet. Well technically not only the diving spots have that diversity, but you get the point.

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Anyways, Raja Ampat is an area in the north-west of Papua. Papua, which most of you might or might not know because of its active cannibalism up until the 70s (and those of you more familar with foreign affairs; because of its political issues and its efforts to get colonial independence from the Netherlands as well as from Papua New Guinea). It is said that even today, in the most secluded parts of the jungle, indigines tribes still follow this martial tradition and are licking their fingers for innocent tourists. I would call the bluff, but I am really happy here on the north coast and I can’t be bothered with the heat of the ecuatorial jungle (the ecuator line is litteraly a stone throw away) further south. You might have also seen pictures of tribesman wearing really unappropriate penis-“horns” for underpants, pointing up of course. That’s those guys.

Unfortunately Raja Ampat and the entire province of Papua are not exactly backpacker material, as the minimum wage here is pretty much exactly twice as much as in Bali for instance. Tourism mostly addresses honeymooners (some families) and experienced divers – which is a shame really, as its sandy beaches are perfectly quiet and magically beautiful. As a matter of fact, I am the only person in my homestay for the first days – which is how they call simple bungalow accomodations, catered by a local family. It’s a weird contrast coming from Bali and landing in Sorong, the closest airport to Raja Ampat, where again, I was the only white person around. Everybody likes to just yell “Mista”, when I pass by. Finally I am getting the rockstar credit, that I deserve. Also: do we yell “brotha” everytime we see a black person? Because that would be equally weird.

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With no Wifi and limited electricity, I can fully concentrate on doing absolutely nothing, reading, snorkelling the house reef (which includes blacktip sharks) and diving. In case you’re wondering: no there’s absolutely no surf whatsoever, as the water could not be more quiet. I saw a documentary the other day, when I was staying in Sorong, about a region called Sewu. And they have sperm whales (please no stupid jokes, they have heard them all. Poor creatures…) and blue whales there! I’m not sure how to get there, but that would be a hell of an experience, wouldn’t it?

So, I am a couple of days in, diving with a swedish family and a couple of dutch brothers, and it turns out the diveguides here don’t really have any (official) qualification whatsoever to actually lead the dives – except for maybe not dying whilst diving, which is quite a basic skill I reckon. There is no emergency oxygen on board of the small boats, or even a first aid kid for that matter and it becomes aboundundely clear that you really get for what you pay for on this side of the world. Unfortunately the real ressorts cost a fortune, so I make my peace with the situation. However, since I have some experience and the dive-manager catches up on it quickly, he assigns me to lead the rest of the group (he calls it assisting) the rest of my stay, so he can leave and spend some time with his girlfriend in Jakarta. How conveniant. Suits me well, so I get free dives and more experience… It is pretty remarkable by the way, how the boat captain actually finds the different divesites on a large scale, with no visual reference except for the surrounding islands. On a sidenote, diving is actually quite good here, and I can totally see why there is such an hype about this place within the dive community. That being said, it’s not at diverse as I was hoping on terms of underwater topography, and also: I didn’t exactly see any sealife I hadn’t seen before. Still, a pretty great experience, definitely worth a trip.

One of the top todo’s here in Raja Ampat are its beautiful mushroom islands (those things you see, when you google Raja Ampat. Btw.: You should google Raja Ampat), which are really quite a spectacular sight. I also highly recommend a tour through the karst landscape of the nearby lagoon on the west side of Gam-island, which holds even more mushroom shaped islands, remote and charming homestays, batcaves, mangrove-forests and, as almost everywhere, fantastic snorkeling. There is also, of course, the famous red and yellow Papuan Paradise Bird, which is known for it’s super goofy and funny dance ritual (as seen on the Discovery Channel), advertising his sexyness and attracting hot females. The very early birds we get to see unfortunately got up in vain, as there weren’t enough females around worth performing for. It was a scheer saucage fest, as they say.

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This time of the year is considered beginning of the off-season (which also affected the bird watching) and you can see the dramatic change in the local climate swiftly: throughout my two weeks stay, the weather changes its face, transitioning from extremely friendly to quite harsh, with rains, strong currents and waves. Every night my bungalow gets hit by storms and more often than not, I can witness lightnings in the far, hitting the surrounding islands. The local dogs seem to like me, as they start looking for shelter next to my spartan matress- and moskitonet-configuration when the rain kicks in I don’t see how though, because I thoroughly closed the bungalow-doors. Anyway, imagine my surprise when I wake up at night hearing snorring next to me… If it isn’t the dogs, it is the decent sized huntsman spiders, who make subtle noises while climbing along my roof. Or the loud attention cries from the lizards. Or the giant rats who seek shelter underneath my hut. At times, I feel like the Arche Noa, just waiting to be swept away with the tide. I am close enough to the water, so…

Those huts are surprisingly stable though, which shouldn’t be that surprising, when you see how long it actually takes them to build one: in Germany, the work ethic is considered fairly efficient, with roughly 8 hours work a day and one hour break. But with one hour work a day here, and roughly 8 hours of breaks worth inbetween, I can see why progress takes a little longer here, and this one particular hut isn’t even finished by the time I leave the homestay. I especially like this one older family member, who basically just sits around on the “construction site” and smokes, while his friend is building the rest of the hut. Will keep you posted on the events. On my way back to Bali for now. Stay tuned!

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