November 16th 1983

posted in: The way back | 0

The family we stayed with

Breakfast + packing, then Ralf drove us to the airport.  There was one more person staying at the hostel, a Canadian girl called Kay, who was also travelling our route, for the first section or 2 anyway.  I’m rather pleased than otherwise, since she’s not out type, but she’s got some courage, I must say, travelling on her own.  Wewak airport was thoroughly uninspiring, nothing more than one barn-like room with some plastic chairs, + some ceiling fans which they deigned to turn on… eventually.  The plane, tho’, was on time, so we didn’t have to wait long. 

It was no more than a short hop to Vanimo, where we had to disembark to go through PNG immigration, time for no more than juice, coffee + biscuits.  One frustrating thing was that as we came down to land in Vanimo airport, we saw the ship we had got off from in Wewak, sitting at the dock.  We had known it was coming thro’ to Vanimo, but had rejected carrying on with it, since we couldn’t be sure of it getting to Vanimo in time.  Obviously, we should have taken the risk, + saved ourselves a lot of money, but it’s easy to be wise after the event.

Immigration was a piece of cake (except for 2 French guys, who didn’t have visas), + then it was back on the plane.  The flight to Jayapura was even shorter, but, presumably because it was an international flight, we were fed on this one – the same 4 puny sandwiches we had been given on the flight out from Cairns.  I tried what Greg + Paul had tried then, + asked for some more, but I didn’t have the success they had had – all I got was an extra packet of biscuits.  The scenery along the coast was beautiful, + then there we were, coming down into Indonesia, with the stewardesses desperately scurrying around clearing away food.

Immigration was a piece of cake, just a matter of handing over passport + landing card + receiving the appropriate stamp.  Customs, tho’ was considerably more chaotic.  The baggage handlers seemed to be the same as the customs inspectors, so as each bag was flung onto the counter (no neatly revolving counters here) it was pounced upon both by its owner, exercising his proprietorial rights, + the officer, exercising his official ones.  As usual, we escaped relatively lightly, though there were suspicious looks at the small piece of tin foil we are for some reason carrying with us, as well as the bottle of kerosene.  And then we were free.  A little confused  + disoriented, but in the country + on our way.

We emerged thro’ the gates + into the airport lobby to see Kay besieged + surrounded by taxi-touts.  Naturally we went to her rescue, but we were not much better off.  The German couple had given us the name + address of a guy who was likely to be hanging around the airport, but it seemed he wasn’t there, so after dispensing with the services of the taxis (despite several severe reductions in price) we walked out to where we could find a bemo, or public minibus.  We had somehow secured the services of Linus, who had attached himself to us as guide + interpreter, + we took the bus with him to town, about 40 kms away, + costing 750 rupaiyah each.  A horrific sounding figure, but in the region of 75 USc. 

There were a number of immediately striking differences from PNG.  Obviously, Irian Jaya had been the target of massive immigration from the rest of Indonesia, since the vast majority of the faces were Asian.  Generally, the people were a little better dressed – long trousers +, most noticeably, shoes + socks.  There were motorbikes bombing around – something virtually unseen in PNG – with, quite often, a girl sitting side-saddle on the pillion seat.  The houses were not in particularly good condition, but nearly all were of brick or concrete – apart from some shanty communities on stilts down by the shore, there was nothing approximating to PNG’s native housing.  Basically, the change could be summed up very simply – in one short plane ride over just a few miles, we had left the South Pacific + entered SE Asia – another small step towards home.

We received a first shock when we disembarked from the bus + discovered we were expected to pay for Linus as well.  It seemed, tho’, we had no choice, + also we thought he might be useful in finding us some accommodation.  There were chores to perform in town – we had to visit the Garuda office.  It was, however, shut for lunch, so I minded the bags, while V + K went off to look for a losmen, or guest-house.  They returned, unsuccessful, so it was my turn next to check out the Pelni shipping office, to see if we could find a boat.  Again, no luck.  There was one heading direct to Jakarta, but that was in 5 or 6 days or so.  We had disposed of the services of Linus, by the way, temporarily at least, arranging to meet him again at about 5.30.  We then took turns minding the bags while we had a look at what the city of Jayapura had to offer.  I spent some time sitting at a coffee stall, looking after the bags, drinking coffee + chatting to a local car salesman.  The conversation was limited, but the coffee was dreadful, made with dollops of condensed milk as well as loads of sugar – sickly sweet.

Eventually V + K returned, bearing a very large cooked fish, as well as a bag of sundry tropical fruits.  The fish was tasty, but too dry to eat very much of, + the fruits, I’m afraid, were not to my taste.  But I was quite satisfied, having had in addition a couple of spring rolls + a banana fritter.  By  now, tho’, quite a massive + rather intimidating crowd had gathered around the 3 white strangers picking at a fish with their fingers, so it was quite a relief when Linus appeared + led us off to the taxi-bus stand.  He had made some noises erarleir about us staying at his place,  but he had now decided we would be better off at his friend’s house, so that was where we were going.  It was on the outskirts of Jayapura,  but still a bus-ride away, + then a walk up a hill.

When we arrived tho’, we were quite charmed.  I don’t know which was Linus’s friend, as it was a family house – very clean, very neat.  We were introduced to the family, + tho’ there were some obvious communication problems, we got on generally very well.  I dug out my photographs of mum, Geoffrey + Jennifer, all of which raised approval.  And then we were shown our bedroom, which couldn’t have been nicer – very clean, + with 2 beds, one single, one three quarters double.  Val + I took it in turns to have a shower, which in Indonesia consists of dipping water from a bucket or tank, + pouring it over oneself.  There is a special bathroom fitted out for this, so it is quite private + very pleasant.  I was just completing my ablutions in this way, + compliment myself on our good fortune, when all of a sudden the dream turned into a nightmare.

Val was outside the door, telling me to hurry up, because a policeman wanted to see our passports.  It turned out that Val hadn’t seen a policeman, but was simply passing on a message received from Kay.  I hurriedly dressed + rushed outside, of course, but discovered no policeman, but Linus waiting to escort us to one.  Not far, he assured us.  Meanwhile Kay, having begun (or contributed to the beginning of) the panic, had now grown suspicious, + was refusing to go.  She sounded a bit paranoid to me, +, anything for a quiet life, Val + I trotted off with Linus.

He was right – it wasn’t far, just the next-door house, in fact, + at first everything seemed fine.  The policeman was somewhat pompous, but affable enough, + his wife brought us a cup of hot milk (ludicrously sweet, of course) plus a plate of sandwiches.  Except that they were sandwiches whose fulling was hundreds + thousands.  We managed one each for politeness, + that was all.  Then came the bad news.  The policeman looked at our passports, (page by page, from the beginning), + could obviously make no sense of them.  So he had passed the buck by radioing his HQ, + they had come back with the inevitable reply – tell them to report in.  This evening.  I was dumbfounded at first, then tried to find a way around it.  Why did we have to report in?  Everybody did, every foreigner, throughout Indonesia?  Couldn’t the officer report in for us, by radio.  No, he had already done that, + they had said we must come in.  Couldn’t we do it in the morning on our way to the airport?  No, they were expecting us, waiting for us.  And then Linus used his most powerful argument of all – if we did not go in, the Police would come for us, + would take away not only us but the family as well.  This decided me to go, not because I thought it would happen,  ut because I thought the family would think it would, + I didn’t want to upset them.  But I was furious nonetheless – mostly with Linus, whose interfering ways were causing me a great deal of trouble.  And money too, since I would have to pay for fares for both myself + him – I could find my way into town alright, but would never find my way back.

Fortunately, Linus did not insist on Val going too, since I was her “husband” + was taking her passport, but Kay flatly refused either to come or send her passport with me.  I admired her tenacity, tho’ I was still annoyed with her for having started the panic,  but by Val’s account – I wasn’t there – she made herself pretty unpleasant, + made a lot of noise.  By contrast, I said nothing to Linus on the journey down – I couldn’t trust myself to speak.

The ordeal at the police station was  no ordeal at all – mere bureaucratic  nonsense.  We finally managed to find someone to attend to us (thereby scotching the notion that they were waiting for us, + having a patrol ready to come out + pull us in) + he read my passport (page by page, tho’ I would have thought the date we entered Mexico was a little irrelevant.)  He then searched for 5  mins or so thro’ various old files before discovering 3 copies of a form for us to fill in.  Bring them back tomorrow, I asked?  Yes.  Hurrumph.

So back to the house, in the same manner as the journey out.  The only good thing about the journey out had been that it hadn’t taken long, just over an hour.  And one note of interest.  I was sure that in the courtyards of the police station I saw a black man, wearing only shorts, tied to a post + shouting.  Only, for obvious reasons, I didn’t look too closely.  At the house, I was in no mood to talk about anything (V + K had already discussed the whole matter at great length) so I accepted gratefully the oversweet cup of Ovaltine I was presented with, + went to bed.

I suppose this was our first view of Asia proper, and with it our first experience of being the centre of attention, simply because of the colour of our skin, and our rarity value.  It was also our first re-entry into the world of bus touts; we’d experienced a little of that sort of thing in Mexico andf Central America, but it seems far worse here, far more aggressive.  But it was to be something that would plague is for quite some time to come.  Linus was by no means the worst thing that could have happened to us; we did end up with a comfortable place to stay.

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