My Jalan Jalan in Irian Jaya

Click here to go to the South Pacific page. Click here to go to the main sabbatical web page.

Irian Jaya is the last place on earth. Period. It's so far off the beaten track that significant parts of its topography is unknown. Maps have the phrase "no data" written on them where the cartographers don't know what's there. In the highlands there are tribes of stone age people who have never seen such modern conveniences as cloth. During the 1990s representitives from two tribes emerged from the jungle. They lived among people who had never developed vocal speech, who relied on sign language as our ancestors did in millennia past. The Cenderawasih, or Bird of Paradise, lives in the jungle canopy. Walking in Sorong, the children come to see the odd-looking fellow with the white skin. They enjoy giving "high fives", like kids anywhere.

In the indonesian language, a jalan is a street or a walk, and to go jalan jalan is to explore on foot. It's a like a "walkabout" in Australia. The following notes are records of my exploration on Irian Jaya.

A giant clam in Irain Jaya.
Click to enlarge the photo.

I went to Irian Jaya to go scuba diving. It's hard to imagine, but most of the rest of the planet has been "discovered" by divers and Irian is the last frontier. I flew in from the more developed region of the island of Bali, via the island we call "Sulawesi" these days. Sulawesi was previously known as "Celebes", just in case you remember that name.

I didn't spend much time on Sulawesi, but I'll be back someday to look around. There are no direct flights to Irian Jaya and the only connection I could make from Bali was via the city of Ujung Pandang on Sulawesi. Ujung Pandang is also known as Makassar and was at one time the seat of power for the eastern part of the Dutch East Indies. The city is still described as the "capitol" of eastern Indonesia. The diving in the north of Sulawesi is supposed to be as good as Irian Jaya, and the indigenous people are quite interesting, too. For example, the Toraja is a facinating place. People in the Toraja practice ancestor worship and place carved effigies of their dearly departed in niches adjacent to the crypts which hold the mortal remains. The photos I've seen show what appear to be "cities" of small, doll-like effigies crowding the cliff-side crypts. It's hard to explain, but the visual impact is startling. The architecture of the area is also unique, with impressive wooden structures having curved rooflines and sweeping gables. Further, the men race water buffaloes. They ride them standing upright on the backs of two of the beasts, one foot on each and a halter on each snout. I've got to see that someday.

Be that as it may, I flew from Makassar to the Jefman airport offshore of the city of Sorong. Jefman is offshore of the New Guinea mainland and you have to catch a boat ashore. Once ashore in Sorong I settled into the best hotel in town, the Sahid Mariat.

I took a look on Yahoo Travel or some other site and The Sahid is described as "luxurious". In reality it's pretty basic, but Ok. I went to the front desk and asked for a room. Nobody spoke much english, but I found out that there were "delux" rooms for an extra RP100,000 per day. Well, I was interested in finding out what the extra US$10 would buy me. The clerk told me that the delux accomodation included, and I'm not making this up, a "sewing room". Now, I was really interested, so I asked to see the room. About this time, a well dressed fellow I mistook for the concierge stepped up and told me I could have the delux room for the same price as the standard room. I was sold. I was, however, disappointed to find that I had no sewing room. I can only assume that the standard rooms have shared baths, but who knows?

I later ran into the aforementioned well dressed fellow who got me the deal on the delux room at the hotel bar. It turns out that he's from the management company that oversees the Sahid. He is from the main island in Indonesia, Java, and he's a pretty nice guy. I should have asked him what was up with the "sewing room", but it slipped my mind.

I went out tramping around the city of Sarong and met up with a fellow named Isak that spoke some english. He was from the backcountry and had been looking for work in Sorong for a few weeks. My understanding was that the dive shop transfered divers to Kri Island on Sundays and I thought that it was Saturday, so I was just killing time. Imagine my surprise when we passed a church full of people singing hymns. I thought to myself, "it must be the sabbath for Muslims", but then it hit me: Muslims use Friday. These guys weren't Muslim, they were some kind of Christian. It was actually Sunday and I might miss the boat to Kri.

After saying my farewells to Isak, I legged it back to the Sahid and called the dive shop. I made arrangements to get to Kri the next day.

Irian Jaya Page 1 Irian Jaya Page 2 Irian Jaya Page 3 Irian Jaya Page 4