"I'm going to Irian Jaya, where the hells that?
" That was the usual start of the conversation. It is the western half of New Guinea, which is the second largest island in the world after Greenland. It lies not too far north of Australia just south of the equator.
Arrived at Sorong on the western tip of Irian Jaya mid morning on 3rd September. Our first duties were to take some medical supplies to a clinic a little way outside town and deliver them to Sister Ruth. The door had a note on it "please do not disturb - we are resting" Kris our guide and mentor still knocked the door, but received no response. We went off to do a little birding starting off the trip with Torresian Crow
and Sacred Kingfisher
. Later we were welcomed by Sister Ruth with tea and cake and warmly thanked for bringing the supplies. She pointed out the Yellow Bellied Sunbird
feeding in her garden and took us to the rear of the house where a pair of Eclectus Parrots
were in a cage. We discovered that after being a nursing sister in the area for more than 40 years the government had refused to renew her work permit and she at the age of 70 had married a Papuan to be able to stay in the only home she knew.
Early on the 4th a week's supplies were loaded onto our small boat and we set off for Waigeo island (a bit larger than Mallorca). Three hours later found us not far offshore, but then a storm blew up, waves were crashing over us on the foredeck and on into the cabin. The boatman decided to run for shore, it didnt take long to reach a sheltered beach, and we spent an hour or so in a nearby village until the storm passed. Our final destination for the day was a pretty remote village on the North coast - Kris doesnt want the name publicised. We rented a traditional "open" house, put up our mosquito nets and were ready to sleep side by side on the wooden floor. A beautifully made mat of fine pieces of bamboo was provided for us to sleep on. As I said the house was open so there were about 40 or 50 villagers and children with jaws hanging open watching our every move. I had a self inflating sleeping mat that caused some wonder. The next entertainment was to see us having our meal of rice, vegetables and tinned fish. These people are great smokers so Johan and Ian had hand rolled lots of cigarettes, those were well received and then it was time for candles out. Tomorrow hopefully we would see our first Bird of Paradise.
Any slope in Irian Jaya up to 65 degrees above the horizontal is classed as FLAT so when I asked Kris if we should wear trecking sandals or boots for the early morning walk, he said "its flat, but best to wear boots". Another local fact that one is quickly taught - a 3 hour walk can very easily turn into a 5 hour walk (climb). We started at 7am up into the unspoilt primary forest, brilliant, if brief views of Red Bird of Paradise
and others like Spangled Drongo
and the huge Blyth's Hornbill.
Back at the house by mid-day a short rest while the tide came in to float the boat and off to catch some fish for tea. We set off for the open sea and spied what looked like an isolated palm fringed beach. Johan and I elected to be dropped off on the beach while the others went fishing. It was a magic location with flocks of Frigatebirds
offshore and Glossy-mantled Manucodes
calling in the forest behind the beach. The downside was the hordes of sand flies, we spent most of the time in the sea until the unlucky fishermen came back to pick us up. All the village children were gathered together on our return to thr jetty. We had been warned to take balloons, pens etc, so we gave them out, what a joy to see so many shining happy faces, after the slightly wary ones that we had seen so far. I hope we have some happy people photographs.
The new day - a new walk - familiar birds like Common Sandpiper
and spectacular new ones like Rufous bellied Kookaburra
and Frilled Monarch
. My highlight was seeing a Spotted Cuscus; this is a large arboreal marsupial.
It was creeping about in the high canopy of the rain forest. Kris said that he hoped that it would creep off a long way otherwise our guides Ezekial and Willem would be back later and it would end up in the cooking pot.
Elevens's were unusual, Ezekial climbed a Coconut Palm and cut down some nuts, we had the milk and the cream and the fruit, it was delicious. Later we had a fishing competition, we took the boat out to sea, and it was the two guides against Eifion and Ian. The local method was to send the baited hooks to the bottom attached to stones, and then a quick pull released the stones. Eifion's method must have been better because he caught a small Tuna, winning the competition, and providing a good supper for the five of us.
The village chief called at our house, we had a long conversation, Kris translating, about conservation issues. We were trying to push the advantages of eco-tourism, saying that it would provide permanant income. The local people are being pressurised by foreign (Korean, Japanes etc,) logging companies to allow their tribal lands to be in some cases clear felled. The expensive tall hardwoods go for timber and the rest to supply, the pulp for our national newspapers. The locals get £12 for a tree which is probably worth £1000.
The land behind the coastal villages is "Steep", if it is clear felled it will be very very prone to water erosion, the villagers will end up with nothing except the meagre payment from the logging company. I think we got through to the village chief but of course he has to deal with the villagers that want the logging money so that they can have a generator and television and computers now.
Friday the 7th
- official reception by the village chief at first signing the visitors book etc, then Kris had some books and Eifion had some educational aids from the Environment Agency for the school, these were welcomed and the children sang a song for us. Kris told us later that these children were fortunate, the teacher had integrity, in lots of schools the teacher draws the pay and doesnt turn up for weeks on end. There is only one teacher per school in the remote villages and there is no check up on their activities. Then it was into the boat for the rest of the day, a long slog to Mansaur Island. We needed fuel so stopped at a logging camp at Salio, we received a very surly reception there and were told that they had no spare fuel. Next stop was at a commercial pearling operation called Pt Cenbana in Adjul Bay. This seemed to be Australian owned, we hada warm welcome, given a nice lunch and as much fuel as we needed ( paid for). As we left I could hear White -bellied Sea Eagles
calling and then spotted their nest in a large tree just across the bay. Flying fish, sharks, Red-necked Phalaropes
, several species of Terns
regaled us for the rest of the voyage which eventually took us through a very narrow channel into Kabui Bay and then to Mansuar
Max Ammer has a diving set up on Mansuar, the accommodation was built in the traditional style and was very comfortable. He had an interesting background: 15 years ago he was working in Holland, his boss had been in Irian Jaya during WW2 and at a point where the Japanese were gaining ground, had been ordered to bulldoze a load of American Jeeps into a ravine. Max knew that there was a big market for Jeep parts with collectors in the US. He got himself out to the site armed with a screwdriver and a pair of pliers and made a packet shipping bits of Jeep back to the States.
Another money spinner was Coca-Cola bottles; during the War they all had the date of manufacture stamped on them, so they were widely collected. Max would go into a village, pass the word around that he would give so much for wartime coke bottles and they would come flooding in, he said that he made as much as $7000 on one consignment back to the U.S.
He had lots of diving stories, but the following links the War with the present time. A year ago he discovered a plane on the sea bed, the Australian markings were still visible, the collapsed skeleton of the pilot was in the cockpit, and the skull only had two or three teeth, he delved around a bit further and found a set of false teeth. He contacted the Australian authorities and the pilot was identified, he had had a motor cycle accident which resulted in the loss of his teeth.
At the time of his death he had a one year old son. That son is now 57, never dived in his life but is taking diving lessons and Max will soon take him to the site, he wants to see the plane for himself.
We all went snorkling over the reef next morning, it was absolutely brilliant, over 900 species of fish and 250 species of coral have been recorded here. I was in the water for a couple of hours, I couldn't tear myself away, it was such a tremmendous spectacle. If I'd seen that 30 years ago I'd have switched from birding to diving. Loads of birds on the beach later, guess what? A Beach Kingfisher
and a Beach Thick-knee.
Up before dawn on the 9th and crossed to Gam Island, Max and Kris had collaborated to build a viewing platform near a Red Bird of Paradise
display tree. It was a very brisk walk and then we had brilliant views of two males and a female Red BOP. A group of Moustached Tree Swifts
was a real bonus a we returned to the boat. Moved on in the afternoon,a four hour trip to Wailebet village on Batanta Island, here the traditional houses are being replaced with cement block houses with tin roofs, paid for by the logging company. The map shows Batanta as a RESERVE ISLAND!
A chorus of tree frogs started up as soon as it got dark, you could swear that they are close enough to touch but still unable to see one. Eagle eyed Johan shone his torch on one, a vivid green colour with a gold ring around its eyes. The different species have their own calls, some have a typical frog croak, others sound like a phone ringing and there is a huge variety in between.
Our eight days boat hire was up - back to Sorong - the children calling out "allo meester, ow are you". Had a nice meal with Kris and his wife and daughter, Betty and Putre, bought Papuan Bird Club tee-shirts, increased the list with birds like Spotted Whistling Duck
. Sorong airport is on an island 45 minutes boat trip from Sorong, a Chinese businessman on the boat was adamant that we should go and see the primatives at Wamena, these are the tribes that are still naked apart from penis gourds.
Biak was the next stop, a very early morning start rewarded us with sightings of Biak Paradise Kingfisher
, a visit to a war museum gave us little sightings of anything other than spome ancient guns and tanks because the man on the gate didn't have a key. An afternoon trip to the Orchid Garden showed us some unusual orchids. Lesser BOP's, Pheasant Pigeons
and Two-eyed Parrots
in the garden.
We experienced a 10 out of 10 tropical rain storm when we took a look at the Biak market the next morning, all sorts of fish, vegetables and fruit, very colourful and a tremendous ambience.
It was so dark because of the storm some of the stall holders had lit candles to show off their wares, water was running off the roof in torrents. The sun burned off the rain and a 14 seat Twin Otter took us to Manokwan. The Hotel Arfac was our base, it was built as a base for Dutch Marine Officers but in the intervening years it has declined a little. Prawns with spicy sauce and a large beer were a fitting end to another day of marvelling at the scenery unfolding beneath the wings of a low flying prop aircraft, you could see the miles of rain forest and the coral reefs just below.
We are now up to Sat 15th Sept.
My neice Rachel works in New York and on the 12th I was able to send her an e-mail with a hotmail address, so very very happy to get a reply today that she was safe.
A forest walk near Warkopi added Marbled Frogmouth
and Ornate Fruit Dove
and a marathon shopping expedition provided the stores for the Arfac Mountain expedition
A combination of 4x4 and lorry took us to the end of a rough road, in places the 4x4 had to tow the lorry because of the very steep gradient. We were met by Zeth and his wife Cristina, everything was loaded onto us and the nine porters and an hour's walk got us to the first campsite. Zeth had built a good house witha tin roof and plank floor so there was no need to use the tents here.
We had great fun in the afternoon while Zeth and co made us a bench and table out of branches and small trees tied together with ratan creeper, there were photos at each stage of the building, this led to lots of smiles and laughs.
The Western Parotia
is about 25 cms long, has an irridescent throat patch and twelve spatulate head wires, we had a long slog up near vertical slopes to reach the dispaly area, Seth had previously built a hide. Good views of the male bird but no actual display, then a further climb to a bower of the Vogelkop Bowerbird
. This is utterly amazing, the bird builds a suspended domed roof about 5ft in diameter, it is composed entirely of dried orchid stalks, then in f ront of that the ground is cleared and it puts neat piles of coloured fruit, seeds, wood ashes, flowers and coloured leaves as decoration. Zeth made another hide in no time and we watched the bird as it meticulously arranged it's bower. They build a new one each year, presumably the best bower attracts the best female!
I reckon that the next few days were Kris's way of training us for the big trk, we were up and down 1000 meter high steep slopes seeing Superb BOP's, Brown Sicklebills, Red Collared Myzomellas
and loads of other birds. One night we slept in Lemon's garden house, this was built of wood and wattle and was about 2300 meters above sea level. At this height it can be cold and damp , so we had a fire inside the house, it was lit on a base of sand and stones. There was a gap between the top of the walls and where the thatched grass roof overlapped, the smoke seemed to filter out through it.
The next morning I started off to fast and just ran out of steam, so I went back down to Lemon's house, three of the porters had stayed there, they were Onasiporous Wonggor, Paulus Wonggor, and Yosep Ullo. The local people belonged to the Hattam tribe, they had their own language which was spoken only in the Arfac Mountain region. We often had to interpret twice. Hattam into Bas Indonesian and then into English. Bows and arrows are the main tools for hunting, with sign I asked Paulus and the others if they would give me an archery lesson. Paulus picked a kind of melon from the garden and set it up as a target at a range of about 15 meters, Paulus was the only one who scored a good hit.
I gave it a good try but it needed a lot of strength to bend the bow, the others had returned by then and Eifion really strained to take a shot, and Ian and Johan tried, but we had not the powerful arms of the Hattam. It turned out that the melon was meant to be part of our lunch, there was little left to eat after the target practice. It was back to base in the pm, torrential rain, so soaked through. Eifion thought of the fire the previous night, we made a base of stones and soon had a cheerful fire going in "our" house. It was really amazing what a moral booster that fire was, we changed from being wet and miserable to being dry and happy.
The next night we stayed in Zeth's fine wooden house in Mokwam village, all the houses had front gardens full of bouganvillias and poinsettias, very colourful.
The village had an airstrip which in the past had been used regularly by the Missionary air service. The Indonesian Government has forbidden any new christian missionaries in the country so the service is running down, it would take three weeks with many villagers working with machettes to clear the runway for use. Two new churches were being built in the village, I presume for different branches of the church, in my mind I compared it with the building of Baptist and Methodist chapels very close to one another in the Wales of 150 years ago.
A crowd of people gathered outside Zeth's house in the evening lit a fire and sang songs, mostly hymns, two of the boys were very good with guitars. Tillo asked about traditional dances and Zeth said that he would ask around to see if we could see some the next night. He came up against a brick wall, missionaries has said that the dances were wicked because they were mostly "war" dances, so we thought that was the end of it. Eventually we did see a dance, a group of teenage boys put it on, it was much like the New Zealand rugby teams "Haka" which is performed before each match, much stamping and loud shouting, and they had bows and arrows to wave in the air. I was disappointed later to find out that we had been charged to see the dance.
Next day was Sun 23rd Sept, Zeth was a Sunday School teacher, his class finished at 07:30 so we went along to meet everyone, it was all age groups, not only children, we sang a hymn with them and gave out even more balloons.
Now the start of the "hard part" that Kris had warned us about. I must admit I had some feeling of trepidation, it was downhill at first, two hours to the Pravdi River, easily forded, then an interlude. Eifion gave out the line and hooks and we all had a go at fishing, one of the porters caught a small fish. The climb up from the river was near vertical. I was hanging on to tree roots to pull myself up, and at one point there was a small traverse across a rock face. Zeth and Lemon had made a ladder, I just climbed it looking nowhere but straight in front.
We stopped a minute to see a Mountain Peltop, a startling red, white and black bird and got to a flatish camp site by 3pm.
Johan was collapsed in his tent by 6.30pm and I was in mine soon after. This was the place where there was a chance to see Flame Bowerbird
, an amazing gold and orange job. Early next morning I had walked a little way into the forest when I heard a loud call "Where is David" I rushed back to discover that all the others had been watching a "Flame" for several minutes, but it had just flown. I was lucky I had a good view later.
8.30am, it was time to go for the summit of Umsini Mountain, I thought I'd give myself a good start so set off with Lemon as guide (Lemon was 60+). Within minutes the swear was pouring off me, Lemon stopped after about 45 minutes for me to have a breather, we were on a fairly flat bit, I looked down and there were two leeches on my ankle, I instinctively knocked them off.
Lemon went off into the forest and came back with some large leaves, he rubbed them on his arms and legs and gestured for me to do the same. I did so thinking that they were some protection against leeches, within seconds my skin was on fire, but the feeling soon passed. Kris told me later that the Hattam believe that the hot feeling gives them strength, Lemon was trying to give me more strength for the climb. We were walking/climbing on a very narrow, winding path through primary rain forset, people only a few yards away could be out of sight, at one point I was like that and I came to a divide on the path, I took the more worn one. After a short while my instinct made me stop and listen, I could hear sounds some way off and knew that Johan and some of the porterd were behind me, I waited for them to catch me up. They didn't, the sounds were getting fainter, I shouted very, very loud, Johan heard me and stayed where he was until I retraced my way and got back on the right trail. The path I had been on would have taken me to Anj, a village about 10kms away.
We reached the summit of Umsini Mountain (2960 meters) at 15:30hrs in thick mist and rain, I couldn't see the point in camping there but Kris said that we should. We were all so glad we did, the mist and rain cleared and we had STUNNING, AMAZING, DRAMATIC views above the broken clouds, over the vast expanse of forest with it's mist filled valleys, to the sea 30kms away, and it was even better later when it was combined with the sunset.
We talked with Lemon after supper (usual interpreter) he reckoned that he was 5 or 6 years old at the end of the 'Japanese War' in 1946. His father had told him stories of how they would ambush Japanese patrols and kill them with bows and arrows and machetes, and find them dead or dying of starvation after becoming lost in the forest. Up until 1958 there was still inter-tribal fighting in the area, for women and land. Lemon said that the best thing in his lifetime was when the American missionary Griffiths, managed to make peaceful contact with the people, converted many to Christianity and stopped the fighting. Up until that time, he felt that he lived in constant fear.
The trade in Bird of Paradise skins and live birds started when the birds were first discovered by the developed world and is still very active, the Indonesian Government needs to do much more to enforce it's protection laws. Near Jayapura we were told that Lesser BOP skins fetched $140 and live one $400. In 1946 Lemon told us that Dutch military personnel were giving a rifle for 5 BOP skins.
It was cold that night, I kept all my clothes on and when I got into my sleeping bag I pulled it over my head and breathed inside it to warm it up. The porters had no extra clothes, just shorts and a shirt, they slept on the ground, under a plastic sheet, huddled around the fire. Awake for the sunrise, again incomparable views, then the long trek, 20kms, it took us seven hours to reach the nearest road. Kris sent a boy on a bike, to the nearest village to organise a taxi and we returned to the Arfac Hotel in Manokwari, it seemed like LUXURY. We had lived mainly on rice and sweet potatoes for eight days so it was fish and double chips that night, Eifion was the wisest, he had seen sizzling steaks on the menu and had one of those. Children were walking across the runway on their way to school when we reached Manokwan airport the next morning. The twin Otter took off two hours late for Biak, it gave us a chance to look around and we added Oriental Plover to the ever growing list.
In Biak we caught up with international affairs at a cyber cafe where we got talking to a guy who said he was a gold trader (smuggler). He bought gold in Indonesia and took it to the USA or Europe where he sold it at a 100% profit.
27th Sept, we'd reached Jayapura, the regional capital in the morning, we were now much further east near the Papua New Guinea border. Some notices are in Pidgin as well as Bas Indonesian. Being a muslim country pork is not on the menu, Kris asked if we'd like pork for lunch and took us to the only restaurant in town that served it. They also served dog, the others tried it, but I gave it a miss. More store shopping in the pm, and then a real downer, Ian had left his camera on the seat of the taxi we had waiting for us, when he got back it was gone. We were relaxed after being with the honest mountain people we didn't switch fast enough to be on our guard in the city. The local police were helpful, they sent plain clothes officers out to the market to check on known undesirables but to no avaial.
The Ermasita Hotel, a small ex-colonial type of place provided a bed for the night, and then we moved to the up market Sentani Lake Hotel in time to have a good boat trip around the lake. It is a huge lake about 30kms long, ours was the only outboard engine we heard ona three hour trip. The women and children we saw fishing were in dugout canoes. We went ashore at a village and the women rushed to show us bark paintings, very reminiscent of work by the aboriginals of Northern Australia, there was one painting of a Lesser BOP, I grabbed it before the others had a chance!
More birds, a great view of a Long-tailed Buzzard
on its nest, Johan had a good shot of adult and juvenile Brahminy Kite
, and we got close to a huge roost of large fruit bats, it was a spectacular sight to see hundreds of these animals flying around their tree roost. Ian and Kris had to go back to Jayapura in the pm to get the police report for the stolen camera, so the rest of us had a laze and a swim in the hotel pool.
The final few days we spent camping inside the forest near Nimbocrang, about 4 hours by road West of Jayapura.
Getting into the tent at night was like becoming part of the forest, there was a symphony of sounds and noises, such a great variety of tree frogs, cicadas, cuscus, nightjars
calling, it was a truly wondrous place to be. Jamil was our local guide, he had come from Java as a transmigrant 12 years ago, was a bird trapper for a while but now wanted to preserve the birds and be a guide. As you would expect his local knowledge was superb. We were up before dawn each day trekking in the forest and along a road seeing more stunning birds, King BOP, 12 wired BOP, Vulturine Parrot
amongst them. The last full day in the field, at one point Kris and Jamil heard a Blue-breasted Pitta
calling, these birds are secretive and we couldn't see it. We stalked it for some time, it is not easy walking soundlessly in a rain forest, the floor is littered with leaves, twigs and debris, but you do your best. We stopped and Jamil moved a few yards, then gestured to us and pointed up, we moved over to him and looked up. What a sight, this brilliant blue, green and scarlet bird just above us. Kris got the scope on it and we were able to take a full description, it differed a bit from the 'book' illustration in having a deep red crown and nape, it was my first sighting of a Pitta, so more than well pleased!
We had a day in Jakarta on the return journey, took a taxi tour. Saw the huge contrast between people living in tin shacks built on rubbish tips and others living in huge "mansions" built inside compounds with armed guards on the entrance gate. Couldn't resist adding more birds, Java Sparrow
and Brown Shrike
and then non stop back to Swansea.
Thanks to Kris Tindige
Kris can be contacted at: email@example.com
and all the other people we met, I'm sorry if all the names are not in the text, to Ian (Tillo), Eifion, and Johan for their unfailing good company and spirits even after the special "water" ran out.
Dave Hanford, Swansea, November 2001
. Northern Cassowary
Great Frigate Bird.
Lesser Frigate Bird.
Brown-collared Brush Turkey
Wattled Brush Turkey
Little Pied Cormorant.
Little Black Cormorant.
Eastern Reef Egret.
Spotted Whistling Duck.
White-bellied Sea Eagle.
New Guinea Harpy Eagle.
Spotted Marsh Harrier.
Beach Stone Curlew.
Great Cuckoo Dove.
Black-billed Cuckoo Dove.
Brown Cuckoo Dove.
Beautiful Fruit Dove.
Ornate Fruit Dove.
White-breasted Fruit Dove.
Wompoo Fruit Dove.
Pink-spotted Fruit Dove.
Orange-bellied Fruit Dove.
Orange-fronted Fruit Dove.
Zoe Imperial Pigeon.
Spice Imperial Pigeon.
Papua Mountain Pigeon.
Elegant Imperial Pigeon.
Pinon Imperial Pigeon.
Biak Red Lory.
Moluccan Red Lory.
Western Black-capped Lory.
Papuan King Parrot.
Buff-faced Pygmy Parrot.
Large Fig Parrot.
Salvadori's Fig Parrot.
Double-eyed Fig Parrot.
Modest Tiger Parrot.
Lesser Black Coucal.
Tanysiptera galatea riedelii
Biak Paradise Kingfisher.
Papuan Spine-tailed Swift.
Moustached Tree Swift.
Pitta erythrogaster macklotii
White-bellied Cuckoo Shrike.
Hooded Cuckoo Shrike.
Black-bellied Cuckoo Shrike.
Black Cuckoo Shrike.
Spotted Jewel Babbler.
Wallace's Fairy Wren.
Broad-billed Fairy Wren.
Emperor Fairy Wren.
White-shouldered Fairy Wren.
Mountain Mouse Warbler.
Vogelkop Scrub Wren.
White-bellied Thicket Fantail.
Lesser Ground Robin.
Common Golden Whistler.
Western Mountain White-eye.
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Western Smoky Honeyeater.
Common Smoky Honeyeater.
Papuan Parrot Finch.
Twelve- wired Bird of Paradise.
Superb Bird of Paradise.
King Bird of Paradise.
Magnificent Bird of Paradise.
Lesser Bird of Paradise.
Red Bird of Paradise.