We finally got to the eastern end of Indonesia, courtesy of SMP YPJ, a Freeport junior high school for Indonesian students. We did a one-day workshop, which ended well and we followed up with small-group coaching the next day.

On arrival, we were the only two travellers who had to go into an office and watch a Freeport safety video, while our passports were copied (even though we were still in Indonesia). We then were driven to the Rimba hotel, where we stayed with three other trainers (Aini, Vini and Windi), who were working with the primary teachers. It was interesting – it was crawling with police, and, on the third morning, a number of people got on what seemed to be an armoured bus, to head up the “hill” to the mine area. The police on it were literally armed to the teeth. This was because, on our first evening in Timika, a local had been shot and killed by a policeman, and a few of the locals were very, very unhappy about it.

After a successful two days at the school, Plan A was to head up to the emerging tourist area of Raja Ampat, but the flight schedules would have had us cutting it too fine to connect with our flight back to Jakarta. So, we stayed with friends, Stuart and Simone, and offspring, and did a couple of day trips. Their place (and the school)  is in the Freeport enclave of Kuala Kencana, about a half-hour drive from Timika. We were surprised at how much it looked like an Australian, Canadian or American housing estate, and could see the attraction for people with young children.

Our first trip entailed us checking out of our hotel and booking a driver, from a contact of Stuart’s. The man still had not arrived by lunchtime, the appointed time, and Helen had difficulty understanding him on the phone. Eventually, the vehicle turned up, and it looked perfect for a bit of spotlighting (night hunting) with half a dozen halogen lamps across the front of it. The driver clearly wasn’t the person with whom Helen had spoken on the phone. He was a very young-looking chap, who didn’t seem to know much about the local area. We had to stop in town for the driver to swap mobile phones, and his employer (whom, we assumed, was the person Helen had failed to understand on the phone) came out to get it. His haircut was clearly done with one horizontal sweep of a whipper snipper, and his naked torso had enough tattoos for him to get a game with Collingwood. I surmised that he was probably a retired army sergeant who was running a few “businesses”. Anyway, we then, we headed out to an area that a porter at the hotel had assured Helen was interesting, and it was.

The climate and soil conspire to make agriculture very difficult, which probably accounts for why many of the local people continue to be hunter/gatherers. There were bananas and some coconuts, as well as some corn crops, and a few folk have attempted to grow rice, citrus trees ands a few other edible plants. Pigs and fish tend to be the main fare of carnivores. We ended up at a bend in the river, and got out to look at the boats. Helen struck up a conversation with a roadside purveyor of bananas, and, after the obligatory photo, bought a bunch (which we gave to the driver). Everyone around looked very poor, but most seemed well enough nourished.

We had a very late lunch at a restaurant back in Timika. There were quite a few police there, dining, and a large scout group. Every male over the age of 16 was smoking, except for the three most senior policemen. We headed back to our hosts’ residence for a very convivial evening.

The next day, we had organised with a chap from the school to take us on a day trip to go on a river cruise –  Plan B was an overnight river cruise, However, because of the shooting incident, safety had become an issue. So, we embarked on Plan C, and Nelson, our driver (whom, we suspect was taking advantage of his status as a Papuan and really should have been back at school) was a pretty good tour guide. He explained that Freeport had built all the roads, and had built the innumerable little besser brick shacks along them. Nelson’s theory was that most locals (men, that is) had decided that some fish from the river and some sago from the jungle was enough for the necessities of life, so taking advantage of offers of employment from Freeport were unnecessary. It seemed that the local communities suffered the same social issues as every other community in which men sit around all day, and have access to alcohol.

Everyone was very friendly though. We stopped on the way to take a few photos, and found out that a good-for-eating pigeon cost the equivalent of ~AU$10, much more expensive than in Java. Nelson also informed us that the “cost” of running over a pig was calculated by multiplying the number of its nipples by $100! As we neared the “port” area (a place where boats pulled up along the river), Plan C looked like turning into Plan D, as Nelson seemed to be reluctant to seek out cruise options. However, a local pulled the metaphorical rug out from under him when his answer to Helen’s question about boats for hire up ahead was “Banyak” (Lots).

We had a choice of a dugout with an outboard and a fibreglass option. We went with the latter, mainly because the crew seemed more likely to be able to deal with a crisis. So, we negotiated an outrageous (for Indonesia) price and boarded the craft, without life jackets. We suspected that the crew of four had no indemnity insurance, but it seemed that, even if the boat capsized, it would still float.
The 90-minute cruise was fun. The two men at the front were spotters for logs and other floating hazards. About a kilometre from the Freeport loading docks they let us down. There was a thump, and the boat shuddered to a stop – the outboard had been fouled by a hessian bag. We poled over to the mangroves for a bit of stability while the offending object was unwound from the propellor and we were on our way again. The Freeport docks were impressive. The copper ore is literally pumped 75km down from the mountain to be loaded on the ships.

A bit further on was one of the many villages where the houses were all on stilts in the river bed. They looked a bit precarious to us, but there were quite a few people living in them. It seemed that the children had the choice of playing in the mud or the muddy water. The village was on a sort of island, so we circumnavigated it and headed back. There were quite a few boats out on the river, some of them with people fishing, but most transporting people. Our crew informed us that animal life was fairly much restricted to birds and crabs. We saw some seagulls. The road trip back to Kuala Kencana was very leisurely – every time Helen asked Nelson a question, he slowed to almost stopping to answer it.

The next morning, Stuart and Simone took us to see a village with Komoro people who did wood carving – years before, Kal Mueller, a Timika/Freeport identity, had brought a group to Surabaya for some demonstrations, and we bought a small carving back then. It was a bit if a magical mystery tour, because several locals sent us in the wrong directions, but we eventually found it. We arrived in time for a truck to come and collect two huge carvings for a school. Apparently, they cost ~AU$3500 each. Most of the able-bodied men in the village were pressed into service to load the carvings on to the truck. The carving seemed too heavy even for the assembled multitude. However, after rolling, lifting and straining, they got one of them on to the truck without too much damage. We headed back to Kuala Kencana for our fourth lunch at the Papua Cafe – there is a sort of shopping centre with a supermarket, a variation on a small department store and a couple of cafes.
The last morning was spent at the school for the mandatory Independence Day assembly. It went well, and the teachers all seemed very pleased to see us again, if the number of group photos was any guide. We then packed and pottered about until it was time to go to the airport. The plane was leaving 3 hours after its appointed time. About 20 minutes before boarding, I checked out my backpack and was horrified to find my passport missing. I could not work out how that could happen. We rang Stuart who assured us it wasn’t at his place. He suggested we try the hotel, but I was 99% sure I had cleaned out the safety deposit box meticulously. As well as the expense, a missing passport was a disaster, because we were to be on a plane to Hong Kong in 36 hours (as well as needing it for a visa renewal and an up-coming month in Dubai). After brainstorming our trip, I realised that they it had to be in my day pack, in my suitcase, on the plane. Seven hours later, I ripped the suitcase off the carousel and opened it, to find, luckily, that the passport was in my day pack.

We enjoyed our visit and were able to work around the frequent torrential down pours. Our hosts were very accommodating and made sure we enjoyed our stay. Everyone we spoke to seemed to enjoy living there, and Freeport seems to look after their expatriate employees very well. The Papuans we met, at the school, hotel and around and about, were all very friendly and helpful. There is a strong possibility that we will do a return visit.

Magician’s End: Book Three of the Chaoswar Saga
By Raymond E. Feist
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