Things just couldn’t get any smoother, less hot nor more comfortable, when leaving Makassar and Sulawesi for good and heading on to the wild and wicked corner of Indonesian archipelago, to the land which stereotypically provokes thoughts of cannibalism and naked people living up on trees.
I stress again, stereotypically. Yet the truth was that we were going to Papua, and oh, I had been looking forward to get there for years. But the truth was also, that I had no idea how harsh it can be to get there!
As it was mid-January, there were huge crowds heading to back Papua to work after some Christmas holiday break at there families in surrounding islands, like Maluku and Sulawesi. Namely, Papua is probably the most well-off area in Indonesia, where there’s plenty of mineral resources, thus the need for work force and not so many people to carry out the need. The population in Papua is not more than 3 million, while the land is huge. The rates of pay are supposedly double from what is paid elsewhere in Indonesia, but also everything is more expensive. But at least – money is moving.
So together with around 4500 people in the ferry that is normally meant for 1500 people (indeed!) we were heading towards the promised land. It took us 3 days and 3 nights. People were sleeping everywhere – inside, outside, in the corridors, on the stairs, heads and legs all together, in this heat and humidity, along with rats and cockroaches, but pleased by the warm sea breeze and great view over Maluku islands.
Short stopover at Ambon, Maluku – great chance to stock up with some sweet fruits from local market.
I only had one problem with the ride – and that was my health. For all the travels I’ve done in my life, rough times in South America, Russia, Africa – I have never had much trouble with myself. Traveling mode does its job to keep me fit in whatever circumstances. But perhaps this was all too different here, as I was not only traveling for my own self-interests and joy, but I had a job to do here, I was here to conduct some fieldworks, I had some serious responsibility, and I was so very passionate about it, and still I was all alone doing the rough travel as always, where you have to improvise and figure out the next step every moment in this heat and sweat, so lovely when I come to think about it again.
But the moldy rooms I had been sleeping in the village of Sulawesi, had caused some allergic reaction n me, which couldn’t get any better with the lack of sleep and pressure from the police and all the guys that wanted to meet and talk to me, get married or pose together for some photos. Life had been a mess. Which is common for a traveler, and I love it, but I was far from my best.
Another thing you should never do when feeling weak and sick – take some pills of malaria. As Papua is a serious area of malaria threat, I did that mistake, and that bloody pill did nothing but knocked me down for another three days. I was so weak I could barely move, nor breathe. But this was a great excuse for us to hassle out a room in the ferry’s hospital after a night we had shared with hundreds of people and thousands of cockroaches. Even though I was sick as hell, we still had to bribe to get it. This, by the way, is a very common practice on these ferries, as most of the crew prefers to earn some extra rather than sleep in their bed, so they give it away for passengers for 500 000 rp or 2 million rp, however, everybody’s happy.