Welcome to Indonesia – big bureaucracy and big brother

The view!
Looking down- way, way down- at Totem. Jayapura, Papua, Indonesia

We arrive in Jayapura at midday (is 12 pm on 12/12/12 auspicious?) and go through the motions of checking in with immigration, customs, and quarantine. This eventually takes two days, but considering the amount of bureaucracy involved this ends up feeling fairly efficient (typical of the experience at any of the official offices: “take this paper, go down the street, make 5 copies and come back”). Naturally, these offices are also in different parts of town. At least the “taksi” service (actually a shared minivan used for public transportation) is cheap- about US$0.20 for a ride across town.

I make the fatal error of leaving our ship’s stamp on board. Until now, this has been a novelty- something we use to stamp the inside of our books or imprint for fun on notepaper. Now, the immigration official gives me a look that can only be described as aghast when I tell her I don’t have a ships stamp to put on that piece of paper she’s holding. She allows the process to continue with just my signature, but clearly isn’t happy about it. OK, note to self, bring stamp next time!

What we don’t realize initially is we’ve missed two critical stops: the harbormaster, who it turns out is rather offended that we did not visit him first, and the military police, who issue permits specific to travel in Papua (the surat jalan).

The harbormaster is readily resolved once we realize our error. It turns out we’ve been using his dock as a dropoff for the dinghy shuttle for some time– although we were clearly from new yachts in the harbor, it was days before any the guys who waved us ashore thought to mention that possibly we should step inside instead of walk around the side to the main road. Oops!

Getting the surat jalan was another experience altogether. The Indonesian half of New Guinea is currently divided into two provinces, Papua and West Papua. Independence movements have rumbled here for years. The indigenous Melanesian people from New Guinea are culturally vastly different from the Asiatic Indonesians. In many places, indigenous people have been forced off their land to make way for extraction- and, big surprise, they receive little to no benefit. In some cases are literally kept outside the high fences from their traditional lands. This independence movement has had increased activity in recent years, making the surat jalan a tool for the Indonesian government to watch and monitor foreigners in the area.

A visit to the anchorage by police kicks off the process. We are told to report into the intelligence police, and show up as quickly as we can- I was ashore and had to scramble back. What followed was entirely unexpected. It soon becomes apparent that we are being interrogated. Respectfully, yes, but definitely interrogated.

We are shuffled through a couple of different rooms, with a couple of different people questioning us. There is the Lt Col with a very large quantity of gold stitching and various metal insignias of rank hanging off his uniform. Later was the intelligence colonel, in a tailored version of the Indonesian suit (leisure suits never went out of style here) but specifically unmarked uniform- no name, no gold, no medals, nothing. Another round of interrogation ensues. I’m sure he was very good at getting information from us, although we couldn’t tell him much about things that we didn’t know about!

A few stories dribble out. We are told that visitors, westerners in particular, have been smuggling things in to support the Papuan freedom movement. This was not idle threat: in the last few months, there have been arrests, deaths, and extraditions for people involved with smuggling arms or knowledge or other undesirables to the rebels. It took up all of an afternoon, but eventually we were given our paper and sent off with a “we’re watching you” smile. OK. Whew. Can we go now?

Vanimo, part 2: So you’re from the yacht!

“Oh, you’re from the yacht!” It’s not a question, but a statement I hear from almost everyone with whom I have more than a simple transactional interaction. From the woman who helps point me to the consulate, walking home from church. We’d only just arrived- how did she know? And yet she did, because she asked if it was the green or white boat… and we had arrived with our friends, in their green boat.

Totem at Rabaul
Totem at anchor. OK, so this is actually in Rabaul…I didn’t get the camera out much in Vanimo

I woke up our second morning determined to get a fresh perspective. Dawn has yet to lighten the sky, but I’m up anyway so I sit in the cockpit and watch the lights on shore. After all this time among islands lit only by fire, it’s a novelty.

Just like the prior night, a fishing boat drifts uncomfortably close. They pass a dozen yards from Totem, but are getting really close to Sea Glass. The big outboard off the back is pulled up, and the boat is being silently maneuvered with a wooden oar instead. I give a low whistle, thinking this will wake up Jamie. Instead, it gets the attention of the fishing boat. OK, here they come. Now what?

There seem to be several people aboard, most of them sleeping or resting on the bottom of the boat. As they get closer, it appears to be a family: parents, a grandmother, and two young children. I stand at the side of the boat as they come close, and offer a stem of bananas. There must be at least 50 left on the stem we were given in Ninigo, and we can’t possibly finish them before we clear into Indonesia. It seems a good peace offering. They were just curious, of course. Where are we from? Do we like Vanimo? The children immediately eat bananas, and look up with wide eyes.

Later in the morning, I go for a walk around town while waiting to pick up our visas. The public market was on, and I could get lost for hours wandering through even the smallish area it takes up. A woman with an impressive boar tusk pendant sells me a few papayas. I’m dying to talk to her and learn about the necklace, but am shy. Another woman is selling krupuk. Despite the fact that these crisp shrimp crackers bear more than a passing resemblance to Styrofoam, I’m so happy to buy a package. They are distinctly Indonesian and remind me of what’s ahead. I stop to talk with the seller. “So, you’re from the yacht!” Again, it’s not really a question.

Down the row, I play peek-a-boo with a baby, snuggled against his grandmother in a sling as she sits before her vegetable wares. The little boy gives me a wan smile; after some work, I finally get a giggle. “He’s sick,” granny tells me, and puts my hand on his back- it’s burning. What an awful feeling- what can I do? She presses a cucumber into my hand, and I walk away feeling a little dazed, not sure if I’m being thanked or sent away or a little of both. Sweet-smelling kretek smoke floats through the air. I detest cigarettes, but this smell of the Indonesian smokes throws me back to living there twenty years ago, and I am immediately nostalgic.

Back to the consulate, our paperwork is delayed again, but I am assured it will be ready after the lunch break. I stop to talk with Malaysian businessmen, hydrographers who work with the timber extraction business in New Guinea. They’re trying to get visas too. “So, you’re from the yacht?” – it’s still not really a question.

Outside the market, the roads rapidly vanish into lush mountains. The PNG border town could be called sleepy, if it weren’t for the busy harbor. Trucks roared down the causeway, loaded down with massive trees. Cranes lifted the awesome trunks (easily 75’ long and a meter thick diameter, which only suggest at the ultimate size of the tree) into ships and barges, their sound of their impact below resonating even inside Totem. Tugs were jockeying barges into position for loading, spinning and manoevering at an occasionally uncomfortable proximity.

The sheer scale of the timber is impressive, but it’s depressing too. It’s just highly unlikely that any of it is from sustainable managed forests. We have heard too many stories about government corruption, and about the manipulation of the local landowners by international timber companies, to imagine anything else. It is a massive area being felled to support this constant flow.

With a few more hours to wait for paperwork, I take our laptop into a surfer’s hotel and get an internet hookup. It’s been months since we had a decent connection! This still isn’t decent, by first world standards, but it gets the job done. I use my entire hour of time downloading about 300 emails, and manage to just check our bank statement before getting cut off. The staff is helpful, and I’m tempted to just sit in the air conditioning for a while- what a luxury it feels like! They ask if we’ll be back, and I hear once again- “oh, you’re from the yacht!” Yes, that’s me.