South Pacific Seas: Papua New Guinea & Indonesia travel blog

Port of Jayapura

Welcome dancers

Drivers talisman

Humboldt Bay

Kuru head

Lake Sentani

Huts with fishing nets

Tourist skiff

Village hut with fishing net

Assey dancer

Girl with mini iPad

Hut with TV

Bird of paradise headdress

Girls in a canoe

Jayapura mosque

Near Hamadi Market


Funny lady

Muslim woman

Chicken vendor

We arrived Saturday morning in Jayapura, Indonesia, and immediately knew we were in a different country. The busy pier was full of containers waiting to be loaded, and our ship was greeted by a troupe of grass-skirted dancers who varied between native dances and couples line dancing. The people look much more Polynesian. A customs group of five men entered and did a "spot check" of a room occupied by two younger women traveling with their parents. Later, one of the women said the customs officer wanted to know if her medicine was an amphetamine. (I realized that none of my meds is labeled anything.) Other officials wanted the ship to give them some beer so they could settle in for the day (sometimes they want whiskey and women as well), and we went off on our tour.

Andre was our tour guide, but we were also accompanied by an Indonesian official whose job was to make sure Andre kept on topic. He never said a word to anyone, but ate a good lunch with us. We also had a police car escort that sounded its siren at every turn. Very dramatic. It was all very disconcerting because our bus driver had a decal on his windshield of a fat man smoking something and wearing a turban decorated with a five-pointed leaf and the word "Maryjane." Holding or selling illegal drugs is punishable by death or at least a very long prison sentence in Indonesia, so go figure!

We drove up the hill to a Buddhist temple so we could see the view of the Humboldt Bay - a bay within a bay. Andre told us that 60% of the population in Jayapura is Christian and 20-30% are Muslim, leaving only 10% as Buddhists. This was surprising since Indonesia as a country has more Muslims than anywhere else on the planet. Afterwards, we went to a very well curated collection of Asmat carvings at the Museum Loka Budaya. The museum, now part of the university, was established by Nelson Rockefeller after his son went missing in the area in the 1960's. One of the displays was a skull with a hole in its temple where the celebrants removed the brain for ritual kuru feasting; this practice had to be stopped in the 1970's because a prion disease (like mad-cow) was crippling the tribe.

We all piled back into the busses and went to Sentani Lake where we took skiffs across the lake to a little village. The cool breeze was a welcome relief. Dancers from the Sentani Assey tribe welcomed us. This village had electricity and television, and one young woman was using a mini-iPad to record the dancers. I saw a beautiful bird of paradise head dress. Pigs wander freely among the huts, and villagers catch fish in nets lowered beneath their houses.

From the lake, we drove back in sweltering heat and humidity. But first we had to stop at an ATM, which happened to be in the middle of a construction site. The jackhammers added to the general confusion of operating the ATM, doing the math for converting 12,000 rupiah per $1, and reassembling back onto the bus. All the passengers were very helpful and good-natured, and so we rolled on down the hill to the Hamadi Market.

The produce market was very near a large, green mosque. Several women were veiled, and everyone was very friendly. For some reason, one woman put her hands on my face and stroked my nose. After I recovered my surprise, I swiped my own fingers over my nose and popped my thumb up, as if I had taken my nose away. The woman thought that was hysterical.

We all dragged ourselves back to the ship and cleaned ourselves up for dinner outside on deck, followed by dancing. I think everyone from the tour slept very deeply that night.

Ship activities are full without being overwhelming. There is a small but adequate gym; a spa for massage and beauty treatments; lectures and movies; cocktail hour for recapping the day's activities and setting out the next day's schedule; and dinner either inside the dining room or outside on deck. The only real glitch we've encountered was in recovering artifacts we'd bought. After the staff de-bugged them with vats of "Off", they wrapped them up in plastic bags and lost the cabin numbers. Our Sepik River mask went missing for two days before a passenger finally realized it wasn't his.

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