Saturday, April 21, 2012

Biak, Papua, Indonesia

Population 60,000

Biak is a laid-back town on the south side of Biak island.  During the 90’s and early 2000’s Biak saw several violent confrontations between separatist protestors and police/army.  Today the separatist movement is still very much on everyone‘s mind, but the atmosphere is peaceful.  Fuel, very basic hardware and repairs, and supermarkets are available.  A basic bus network makes land exploration of parts of Biak and Supiori possible.  We enjoyed the mossy landscaped paths and local bird collection of the Taman Burung & Anggrek (Orchid and Bird Garden), a 45 min bus ride NE of town, past Mokmer.  Biak Diving  (ph# 26017 Jl Ahmad Yani 39) is the only dive agency in the Biak/Papaido area.  Local surfing/bird watching guide Matheus Rumbarar (ph# 082199064326) lives next to the small boat harbor and was a great help to us.

Biak harbor is an elongated, deep stretch of water inside a set of deep barrier reefs.  It is fairly open to swell and wind from the south.  We anchored in 60’ of mud, in front of the small boat harbor and blue awnings of the waterfront tables at the Intsia Beach Hotel CafĂ©.  Beware of debris on the bottom, poor holding, and sudden sharp squalls here.  We watched several small fishing boats on rope-and-rebar anchor systems drag in squalls here, and we almost drug onto the reef ourselves in a night squall. 
We were able to leave our dingy in the small boat harbor just east of Hotel Intsia Beach.

Customs was friendly but wanted a Rp 500,000 bribe before inspecting the boat.  We told him we had no money and the matter was forgotten.

We were not able to fill jerry cans or arrange to buy commercial-price fuel here from any fuel vender.
Venders at the small boat harbor sold fuel for about Rp 6500/L out of small jugs; we ended up paying Rp 6500/L for fuel siphoned from a minivan’s fuel tank. We also unfortunately got some bad fuel from a local fuel yard, which looked OK but gave us engine trouble.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Museum Loka Budaya, Jayapura

In Abepura, near Jayapura, on the grounds of the Cenderiwasih University, is the surprisingly good Museum Loka Budaya.  It has a large collection of Papuan artifacts.  If you're lucky you will get a get a lengthy personal guided tour from a volunteer English student.  The museum was partially funded by donations from the Rockefeller family.  Michael Rockefeller disappeared in 1961 during an art-collecting/adventure expedition to the Asmat region of Papua.
Traditional tools/weapons

Fish Trap

Model of traditional sailing boat



Arrows and armor

Traditional fishing spears


Traditional pillow!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Cruising Jayapura, Papua, Indonesia

Population 200,000

For us, coming to Jayapura from PNG was a huge culture shift- Jayapura is a typical Southeast Asian city- noisy, dirty, good food, low prices, safe streets at night.  Locals were friendly and outgoing but few spoke much English- lots of ‘hello misters’, even for Gini.  Jayapura has a sheltered, picturesque harbor and road links to scenic lake Sentani and shopping in Abepura.

Good shelter in most conditions can be found in Jayapura harbor. 
Approach. From the East: there are two shoals, one of which is marked, lying offshore to the southeast of the harbor entrance, south of the shipping area.  From the north: there is a large shoal NE of the northern harbor point. Be aware of many fishing platforms at the harbor entrance. 
Once inside, the harbor is generally clear with the exception of two well-marked reefs near the commercial docks and fringing reef around the two stilt-village clad islands.  A deep channel between the two reefs is marked by a red buoy on the northern side and a yellow buoy on the southern side.  Deep anchorage- 20m in mud can be found beyond the reef.  There is steady small runabout traffic through the anchorage and the concussions from nearby dynamite fishing were frequently audible through the hull.
We were able to tie up our dingy securely to the pilot boat dock, adjacent to the ferry wharf, behind customs.

We checked in at Jayapura and had no issues.  Customs was very friendly and helped us with a number of questions during our visit.  There was no mention of the recently revoked bond law.
Immigration wanted no less than three copies of Everything- CAIT, crew list, ship’s papers, passports, visas, sponsor letter. 
Our surat jalan for all of Papua was free and fast of the city police station.

Fuel can be obtained at commercial price through mobile fuel trucks or one of the Chinese shopkeepers.  Try the small boat operators for a possible subsidized fuel delivery.  We were able to fill jerry cans at the service station at the subsidized price US$2/gal.

The main business centre consists of a number of small hardware, electronics, general retail shops, and restaurants on Jl Percetakan, Jl Ahmad Yani and Jl Sam Ratulangi.  Along the Jayapura-Sentani Road there is a long strip of upscale retail stores in Kotaraja/Abepura.  On top of a hill, just before Kota Raja there are a couple interesting temples with nice views- Hindu and Buddhist.  Sentani is full of small shops similar to those found in Jayapura but more run down.  Many Sentani shops were looted or destroyed in riots associated with the Papuan separatist movement in 1998-2002. 
The two night markets in town offer a modest range of vegetables.  10 min.s away by bus, the Hamadi market is one of the biggest in the region and open all day.  For limited western food products try Gelael in Jayapura, Sentani Square in Sentani, or the several large supermarkets in Abepura.
Bus fares along the Jayapura-Sentani road were as follows in 2012: Jayapura to Hamadi 2000Rp.  Hamadi to Entrop 2000Rp.  Entrop to Abepura 3000Rp.  Abepura to Waena 3000Rp.  Waena to Sentani 3000Rp.  Unless you are bus-lucky you may end up changing taxis in all these places if enroute to Sentani!  Taxi charter is about 50000 Rp/hour.
We discovered a knowledgeable electronics guy at Dok Lima in the northern suburbs.  Ask a taxi to take you to dok lima (5 min from the centre) and ask around for the computer repair guy.

The Rumah Sakit (hospital - literally “House of the Sick“) in Jayapura is not up to Western standards but has a lot more testing/treatment capabilities than you’ve seen recently if you’re coming from the Melanesia/most parts of the Pacific. 

Sailing Solomon Islands and PNG - some cruising basics 2012



In spite of certain negative points listed below, we found Melanesia to be, with a couple exceptions, a great place to visit- a true adventure. 

We traveled through the Solomons (Santa Cruz, Makira, Guadalcanal, Florida Islands, Russell Islands, Marovo and Vonavona Lagoons, Gizo, Choiseul) during October 2011 - Jan 2012, and PNG Feb-April 2012. 

Customs/immigration were simple, fast, and easygoing.  We had an extendable 3 month visa.  We met a boat that had actually been in the Solomons for several months before getting around to checking in.
Places to anchor were somewhat limited and often deep/exposed.  Alan Lucas’s guide was OK, but sometimes inaccurate.  ‘Solomon Islands Cruising Guide’ by Dirk Sieling was much better with good detail on lots of anchorages.  We rarely had enough wind to sail, but diesel delivery was generally easy to obtain at larger towns at about US $6-7/gal.  Most islands are sparsely populated with small villages.  Supplies and repair services were very limited and imported goods relatively expensive, even in large cities.  Local produce was real cheap- if you are on a shoestring budget stock up on used tshirts- you will get a week’s worth of veggies and sweet potatoes for one or two at isolated anchorages, and between that and rich fishing you should get by on $500/month or less unless the boat falls apart.  There are several small haul out facilities in the Floridas and Western Province, but they tend to be booked up.  Try Vella Lavella’s Liapari Bay.  The people of the Solomons are extremely friendly and helpful.  Most places we stopped, we were quickly besieged by  a dozen or more canoes full of curious, friendly kids and adults.  Pidgin is quite close to English and we generally had little trouble communicating even in very remote areas.  They were eager to learn about us and exchange local goods (carvings, sweet potatoes, plantains, island spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, papayas, mangos, and bananas)  for manufactured goods.  Popular trade items from us were used clothing, fishing line and hooks, cheap dive masks, seeds, batteries- especially D size, carving tools and sandpaper, books and magazines, DVDs, and candy, marbles, and balloons for the kids.  Bring a bag of goods into a village and you will see a veritable feeding frenzy!

Customs/immigration was pretty painless.  We applied for a 60day visa in Honiara.  It’s rumored to be a painful process to extend one’s visa.  We had no difficulty finding good anchorages in PNG.  We used the Southeast Asia Cruising Guide, which we don’t like because it is strangely laid out and only has info on major ports.  As in the Solomons, there was rarely a sailing wind during the northwest monsoon.  We had great difficulty progressing up the north coast Wewak-Jayapura against the NW monsoon in April- we made three attempts to leave Wewak, and two from Vanimo.  It blew 20-25 knots down the coast, with some nasty squalls, pretty consistently for the 3 weeks in March we were there.  PNG is a lot more developed than the Solomons, with a number of large cities and tin-and-wood villages instead of thatch huts.  Availability of supplies and repair facilities in cities was not great, but better than in the Solomons.  Diesel delivery was readily available in towns at about US $6-7/gallon.  Local produce was very cheap (about the same price as the Solomons) and our manufactured trade goods were in demand in the more isolated anchorages.

Solomons and PNG have some of the most beautiful islands and coral in the Pacific.  Melanesian people are some of the nicest we’ve met anywhere.  During our seven months here we saw only 6 other sailboats and met the most interesting expats…
But there was obvious political unrest and violent crime problems in both the Solomons and PNG.  The majority of it in Solomons seemed to be between locals, and was unlikely to involve foreigners.  The day we pulled in to Honiara, the government was overturned in a vote of no confidence.  The city was closed down, riot police and troublemaking crowds owned the streets, and there were (fortunately untrue) rumors that they were burning down Chinatown again.  There were three other sailboats in the harbor.  One had a guard aboard, one had been attacked by pirates in the Floridas and suffered machete wounds, and one had been boarded by opportunistic thieves twice in the Floridas. That said, we never felt threatened in the Solomons, and we found it easy to avoid the few trouble spots (eg parts of the Floridas).  We’re glad we went; it was one of our favorite countries.  If you do go to the Floridas, we would highly recommend starting at Jonny Ruka’s (ask other cruisers or look for the village on the southern side of  the northeastern-most bay off the Sandfly Channel)- he and his village will provide night-long security boats, information on where to go/not to go, and a great welcoming feast if you desire.

In PNG, Kieta, Buka, New Ireland, Rabaul, and eastern New Britain had a pretty safe and laid-back vibe and not too many rascal problems.  Most people were really, really friendly and outgoing.  In Kimbe and point west the atmosphere in town seemed a little more sullen and aggressive, and we started hearing expat statements like “Don’t walk around alone” “don’t go to the Talasea Peninsula”.  We felt that these were exaggerated and didn’t pay too much attention.  Once we got to the mainland (Madang, Wewak, Vanimo), there was a definite aggressive attitude and some verbal harrassment of Gini and attempted touching from lots of unemployed men hanging around the city centres. 

PNG is very different from the Solomons.  It has a high violent crime rate against both locals and foreigners.  Rape and domestic abuse are very common- estimated to occur in 90% of families in parts of the Highlands.  The justice systems is pretty much non-functional.  PNG is rich in natural resources, but it would appear that over the past 30+ years most of the revenue from these has gone into politicians’ pockets, rather than into infrastructure and services for the people.  To anyone planning a trip to PNG, I would strongly recommend getting a feel for the place by spending a week reading the online headlines of the two major newspapers- The Post Courier and the National.  You will be amazed.  All this was balanced by the fact that there are many reasonably safe, beautiful destinations in PNG.  Many sailors, tourists, solo female travelers, etc pass through every year without having any problems.  The culture and diversity is amazing and most of the people are wonderful.  For us, PNG was a great adventure, but maybe not a family destination.

Some of our interesting PNG experiences:

-     While we were in Buka (Bougainville), armed elements of the former Bougainville rebel forces seized three ships and held them and their crews hostage.  They demanded compensation payments for deaths in a recent ferry sinking that killed 200+ people.  PNG police and army were powerless to do anything.  The affair ended when the rebs released the crews and towed the ships out to a reef and burnt them.
-     Some young men came out to the boat at night in canoes at Lavinia anchorage in south New Ireland at about 1800.  We heard a bump against the boat and came out to look around and apparently scared them off.  We noticed in the morning that some things had been stolen- a couple shirts and trunks, small pieces of hardware and some rope.  We had made some friends in the area who immediately told us who did it, so we went into the village with them and talked to the chief and got most of it back.
-     The morning we arrived in Madang there were four separate armed robberies of businesses in town.