Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Eastern Papua

Eastern Papua

Many travellers come to this part of Papua just to get a connection to Wamena in the Baliem Valley, but Sentani, Jayapura and the surrounding areas, as well as the interior near Merauke, have a lot to offer. Adventurous travellers with loads of time and money also trickle down to the remote, swampy Asmat region, with its unique culture.

Although Jayapura is dominated by non-Papuans and looks similar to most medium-sized Indonesian cities, it is pleasantly situated around Teluk Yos Sudarso and surrounded by steep hills. There’s little reason to stay in Jayapura, because Sentani is more pleasant and convenient, but you may have to visit to book air or boat tickets, collect a surat jalan for the Baliem Valley, or cash in travellers cheques.

Just about everything you’ll need is confined to the parallel main streets of Jl Ahmad Yani and Jl Percetakan. Along the waterfront, Jl Koti heads east to Hamadi, while Jl Sam Ratulangi goes north towards Tanjung Ria. Most government buildings are in the sprawling southern suburbs of Kotaraja, Abepura and Waena.

Consulate of Papua New Guinea (Jl Raya Argapura; h8am-4pm Mon-Thu, 8am-2pm Fri) The friendly folks at this consulate issue visas to PNG. See p799 for details. To get to the consulate - about 3km east of downtown - catch a green B2 taxi from along Jl Percetakan in Jayapura.

District police station (Polres; Jl Ahmad Yani; hofficially 7am-3pm Mon-Fri) Go to the ‘Satuan IPP’ office upstairs to arrange your surat jalan; expect to pay a 5000Rp administrative fee.
Provincial police station (Polda; Jl Sam Ratulangi 8) May keep longer hours, if you find the district police station closed.
Rumah Sakit Umum Pusat (Jl Kesehatan) The city’s public hospital is in the northern foothills.

Immigration office (Jl Percetakan 15; 8am-4pm Mon-Fri) If you travel between Jayapura and Vanimo (in PNG) by boat, stop by this office to get the proper Indonesian entry/exit stamps in your passport.

Warnet Kopegtel (Jl Ahmad Yani 18; 8am-midnight) Jayapura’s smokier, more centrally located internet center.

All banks should be able to change rupiah into PNG kina (and vice versa); otherwise, try the reception desk at the Matoa International Hotel.

Stock up on rupiah before heading to the Baliem Valley, as the banks in Wamena offer woeful exchange rates. There are no exchange facilities at the Sentani airport.
Bank Mandiri (Jl Ahmad Yani) There’s a 24-hour ATM, and you can exchange travellers cheques here if rates at the other banks are poor.
BII bank (Bank Internasional Indonesia; Jl Percetakan 22) Next to Hotel Dafonsoro, offers the same services and the best cash exchange rates in town.
BNI bank (Bank Negara Indonesia; Jl Ahmad Yani) BNI changes cash and travellers cheques, gives cash advances, and has an ATM for Visa and MasterCard.

Main post office (Jl Sam Ratulangi; h8am-9pm) Has a warnet centre next door.
Telkom (Jl Sam Ratulangi; h24hr) Near the post office.

Tourist office (Komplek Kotaraja, Jl Raya Abepura; 7.30am-3pm Mon-Fri) The Papua provincial tourist office is barely worth visiting; but if you go, ask the taxi driver to let you off at the ‘Kantor Dinas Daerah Otonom’ building along the road between Jayapura and Abepura.

A few local travel agencies still offer a range of tours around Jayapura and Sentani (as well as tours to the Baliem Valley and Asmat region).
Advindo Tours (Jl Percetakan 17; 8am-5pm) Advindo Tours runs a range of package tours to the Baliem Valley, the Asmat region and elsewhere around Papua.
Benneti Expeditions (Jl Ahmad Yani 39) Upstairs from PT Kuwera Jaya, independent Benneti can also arrange custom tours with English-speaking guides.
Papua Adventure Tours & Travel (Komplek Kotaraja, Jl Raya Abepura; h8am-5pm) This agency, near the provincial tourist office, offers a variety of tours around Papua, but specialises in multiday trekking trips in the Baliem Valley and Asmat region.
PT Kuwera Jaya (Jl Ahmad Yani 39) This efficient company can book flights on airlines serving Jayapura - or for a small fee, Pelni tickets heading west.

Festivals & Events
Papua Tourism Week Held around mid-January, you may find a smattering of displays and events showcasing traditional culture as part of this promotion. Check in at the tourist office for more information. Jayapura Cultural Festival During the first week of August, the city hosts an array of dance and music performances from around Papua.

Although hotels are scattered throughout Jayapura, staying in the city centre is most convenient for settling travel arrangements and reaching the city’s services.

Hotel Jayapura (Jl Olah Raga 4) What’s it like to sleep in a chicken coop? Find out here. Ceilings in the fanless, steambox rooms slope down to windows covered in chicken wire (for real!). All rooms share mandis. Breakfast is not included.
Hotel Ayu (Jl Tugu II 1) Being the best cheap choice in Jayapura, this place is often full, and no wonder - it’s snug and bright, with breakfast included and a pleasant common hall. Fan-only rooms have shared mandis, while air-con rooms have attached mandis.
Hotel Kartini (Jl Perintis 2) Rooms are small and noisy at this family-run spot. It’s just over the bridge and to the right at the top end of Jl Ahmad Yani. All rooms come with fan and breakfast.
Hotel Sederhana (Jl Halmahera 2) Central and clean, but fairly unremarkable and noisy. Despite the inflated rates, it’s often full. Breakfast is included.

Unless otherwise noted, rates include breakfast at the following hotels.
Hotel Dafonsoro (Jl Percetakan 20) Central and friendly, this spotless hotel has quiet, characterless rooms with hot water and air-con. Traditional-style carvings decorate the marble halls of this unpretentious place.
Hotel Papua (Jl Percetakan 78) Along with bonuses like hot water, satellite TV and bathtubs in superior rooms, this place goes the extra decorating mile with mismatched murals and elaborately carved furniture. It’s predictably overpriced, but a comparatively attractive deal.
Hotel Yasmin (Jl Percetakan 8) A classy but pretentious place offering small, well-furnished rooms, with satellite TV. Save a little cash by asking for rates quoted in rupiah rather than US dollars.
Matoa International Hotel (Jl Ahmad Yani 14) The flashest place in town charges accordingly. The guest rooms are most certainly comfortable (with satellite TV, fridge and hot water), but overpriced.

Eating & Drinking
Prima Garden Café & Bakery (Jl Ahmad Yani 28; breakfast, lunch & dinner Mon-Sat, dinner Sun; a) Relax upstairs with some scrumptious pandanus cake and diner coffee.
Rumah Makan Khas Manado (Jl Koti; lunch & dinner) Has sea views, but surprisingly little fish. Most of what is available is simply a variation of the ubiquitous nasi campur (rice ‘with the lot’).
Rumah Makan Cita Rasa (Jl Percetakan 66; lunch & dinner) A clean and friendly place that serves the usual range of Indonesian and Chinese food.
Rumah Makan Simpang Tigo (Jl Percetakan; lunch & dinner) Probably one of the better Padang-style places in town because it does offer other types of food. But the warbling diners at the karaoke machine are likely to limit any conversation.
Among the hotel restaurants downtown, the following are the best places for range, price, service and setting - plus, they will serve you a cold beer.
Fantasi Restaurant (Hotel Dafonsoro)
Hotel Papua Restaurant (Hotel Papua)
At night along Jl Ahmad Yani and around the waterfront, warungs serve cheap and tasty gado gado (vegetables with spicy peanut sauce) and nasi campur. Plenty of food stalls along Jl Nindya also sell delicious, filling nasi campur and baked fish. Jayapura is ‘dry’, but alcohol is served here and there.

Getting There & Away
Jayapura is well connected to the rest of Indonesia. Every day, Merpati flies between Jayapura and Jakarta, via Biak, Timika and/or Makassar, and from Jayapura to Merauke.
It also flies four times a week to Nabire. Book at the efficient Merpati office (Jl Ahmad Yani; 7.30am-noon & 1-7pm).

Garuda also flies between Jayapura and Jakarta every day but Wednesday, via Biak and Makassar or Timika and Denpasar. Tickets are available at the Garuda office (Bank Papua Bldg, Jl Ahmad Yani 4-7; h9am-6pm Mon-Sat, 9am-3pm Sun).
The missionary service AMA (Jl Misi Sentani, Sentani) regularly flies to Ilaga, Nabire, Timika, Mulia and Enarotali, but not to Wamena. MAF (Jl Misi Sentani, Sentani) can arrange charter flights.
All flights leave from the airport in nearby Sentani.

Of course, all boats head west from Jayapura. Every two weeks, the Pelni liners Sinabung, Nggapulu and Dobonsolo travel to Biak, while the Doro Londa stops at Serui and Nabire (but not Biak).

The port is 800m east of the post office and accessible by any taxi to Hamadi. Tickets for all major boats are available at the Pelni office (Jl Halmahera 1; 8.30am-6pm Mon-Sat) or for an extra fee at tour operator PT Kuwera Jaya.

Perintis boats also leave Jayapura every week or so for Serui, Nabire, Biak and Manokwari. These boats, and the other smaller ones that ply the north coast, normally leave from the small boat harbour (Jl Sam Ratulangi).

Getting Around
Try rounding up other passengers, or take a cheap, efficient public taxis. Public taxis to most places in and around Jayapura leave every second or two from designated stops along Jl Percetakan, Jl Ahmad Yani and Jl Sam Ratulangi. A ride on an ojek is a quick and easy way to get around the city centre.

Sentani, 36km west of Jayapura, is a small town that services the airport. Built near the shores of the magnificent Danau Sentani, it’s quieter, cooler and more convenient than Jayapura and has most of the facilities you’ll need. But Sentani has lost some of its appeal: during riots by Papuan separatists between 1998 and 2002, many buildings, including offices and hotels, were destroyed, abandoned and/or looted. While some businesses have gotten back on their feet, others have been left to decay.

The only attraction is the unimpressive memorial-cum-cemetery, grandly named in English as the Papua Freedom & Human Rights Abuses Memorial Park (Jl Kemiri Sentani Kota). It contains the grave of the Papuan independence leader, Theys Eluay, who was murdered in November 2001 (by soldiers of the Kopassus special forces).

You’ll have to venture into Jayapura to change travellers cheques.
Airport information office (h5am-5pm) At the airport terminal, it’s useful for general inquiries, though it’s not a tourist office.
Bank Mandiri (Jl Kemiri Sentani Kota) You can change cash here, or withdraw rupiah from its 24-hour ATM.
BNI bank (Bank Negara Indonesia; Multi Jaya Shopping Centre; Jl Kemiri Sentani Kota) About 3km west of the post office, this bank changes cash and has an ATM.
District police station (Jl Raya Hawai 97) Conveniently, you can now get your surat jalan at this station 5km east of Sentani.
Duta Computer (Jl Kemiri Sentani Kota; 2-9pm) Slow internet access has hit Sentani.
Main post office (Jl Kemiri Sentani Kota; 8am-5.30pm Mon-Sat) Has a poste restante.
Police station (Polres; Jl Airport) For local questions and complaints only; you cannot get a surat jalan here. The district police station issues the surat jalan.
Telkom office (Jl Eluay II; 24hr)

Since airport access is so easy from here and the town is so low-key, most visitors base themselves in Sentani rather than in Jayapura. All places listed below offer rooms with attached bathroom, and all rates include breakfast.
Hotel Semeru (Jl Yabaso) The most convenient and best-value option in town. The basic rooms are slightly worn, but they are clean and comfortable. Breakfast is do-and-brew-yourself.
Hotel Flafouw Indah (Jl Raya Sentani Kota) Offers largish, cleanish rooms, but most are dark and noisy from the main road traffic. It’s about 800m east of the post office.
Hotel Mansapur Rani (Jl Yabaso 113) Priced more for its potential than for what you actually get, ‘ekonomi’ rooms here are dingy and dank, while the ‘deluxe’ rooms at the back are slightly larger and brighter. Upsides include the garden setting, complete with flowers and roving ducks, and its proximity to the airport.
Hotel Ratna (Jl PLN 1) The Ratna’s rooms are clean, green and comfortable, with cable TV and homey touches. Most staff speak English, and the standard is probably the best in Sentani for the price.
Hotel Sentani Indah (Jl Raya Hawai) Along the road to Jayapura is this incongruous monstrosity about 5km from Sentani. It has a fitness center, pool, café, and lots of rooms that aspire to luxury but look a little worn and weary.

Tanjung Mutiara (Jl Kemiri Sentani Kota; lunch & dinner) Tasty Padang food in an immaculate, airy setting.
Rumah Makan Mickey (Jl Kemiri Sentani Kota 49; lunch & dinner) Mickey remains the most popular place for travelers and expats. The menu (written in English) has reasonably priced Indonesian and Western-style selections.
At the corner of Jl Airport and Jl Eluay I, several night warungs serve basic meals from late afternoon. A few nondescript rumah makan (eating houses) are dotted along the main road (the better ones are between Hotel Flafouw Indah and the turn-off to Tugu MacArthur). Sentani is another ‘dry’ town, though if you ask around, you can find a shop or two that sells cold beer.

YPA Let-Let Hut (Jl Raya Hawai; 8.30am-4pm Mon-Fri, 8.30am-noon Sat) Featuring an imaginative array of fair-trade souvenirs and handicrafts, this (thankfully, air-conditioned) shop is 4.7km east of Sentani, along the road to Jayapura. A portion of the shop’s profits is funnelled back to the crafts people’s communities.

Getting There & Away
Several airline offices are conveniently located in the departure area of the airport terminal, including Merpati, Air Efata and Trigana.

Getting Around
You can easily walk (or hop on a public taxi). Travelling by public transport between Sentani and Jayapura requires a change of taxis. First, catch a taxi to Abepura (30 minutes) from anywhere in Sentani and disembark near the turn-off to the right for the Abepura terminal (look for the white church called Jewaat Elim). Then board one of the awaiting buses or taxis to Jayapura. From Jayapura, catch a taxi to Abepura from the waterfront terminal near the main post office, and get off at the roundabout in Abepura (the driver will probably kick you off here before returning to Jayapura). From here, catch another taxi to Sentani. If in doubt, check with the driver. Taxis stop running at about 8pm.

A convenient way to get around Sentani is by ojek. Drivers can take you to all the local sites, such as Yabaso, Danau Sentani and Tugu MacArthur ( p835 ), as well as to the taxi terminal in western Sentani - all for a negotiable fare. The most convenient ojek stand is on the corner of Jl Ondikleuw and Jl Misi Sentani.

Several interesting places around Jayapura and Sentani can be easily visited on day trips from either town. Chartering a taxi is a painless way to reach more remote places or to see a few sights in one day.

Museum Loka Budaya (Cultural Museum; Jl Abepura, Abepura; admission by donation; 7.30am-4pm Mon-
Fri) contains a fascinating range of Papuan artefacts, including the best collection of Asmat carvings outside of Agats, as well as a small souvenir shop. It’s in the grounds of the Cenderawasih University (in the closest building to Jayapura, on the right-hand side of the road from Sentani). To get to the museum take the Sentani Abepura taxi, almost as far as the turn-off to the Abepura terminal.

The Museum Negeri (State Museum; Jl Abepura, Waena; 8am-4pm Tue-Sat, 11am-4pm Sun) includes a marginally interesting collection of carvings, costumes, boats and artefacts from all over Papua, as well as historical items from Dutch colonial times. The museum is often closed; when open, a small shop inside sells souvenirs and books. The museum is easy to reach by taxi along the Sentani-Abepura road.

Next door, Taman Budaya (Cultural Park; Jl Abepura, Waena; admission free; 8am-4pm Tue-Sat, 10am-4pm Sun) is a collection of traditional houses, each representing a district of Papua - including the ‘other district’: the PT Freeport mine in Timika (!). The state of dilapidation of this park is a sad reflection of the general decline of Papua.

Pantai Base G
Made famous by General MacArthur, Base G Beach (also known locally as Pantai Tanjung Ria) is wide and desolate - except on Sunday when locals come in droves for a picnic and walk. Taxis marked ‘Base G’ regularly head north along Jl Sam Ratulangi in Jayapura for the pleasant trip to Tanjung Ria; ask to be dropped off at the beach, which is a 10-minute walk down the hill.

Set under the dramatic mountain ranges of Pegunungan Cyclops, the pretty village of Depapre is an enjoyable day trip. From the village jetty you can charter boats or canoes to explore the sheltered Teluk Tanah Merah and enjoy some snorkelling (bring your own gear). A track (7km) from the back of the village leads to the secluded Pantai Amai.

Taxis for Depapre (one hour) leave about every hour from the taxi terminal, 4km west of the post office in Sentani. You can easily stop along the way at other charming villages, such as Maribua Tua, and the hot springs at Sabron Siri.

Hamadi’s bustling but down-at-heel daily market is one of the most fascinating in the region. Several shops along the main road also sell souvenirs, including tacky mass-produced Asmat and Dani art (but you’ll find better stuff in Wamena).

Pantai Hamadi, the s ite of a US amphibious landing on 22 April 1944, is another two minutes’ drive past the market. The beach is pleasant, if a little dirty, however, it contains some rusting WWII wrecks and a WWII monument. At the start of the trail to the beach, you’ll have to report to the military barracks with a copy of your surat jalan.

Hamadi is also the place to charter a boat to nearby islands and to Vanimo in PNG.
Mahkota Beach Hotel (Jl Hamadi Tanjung 1) is, according to its brochure, ‘a place where the Pacific Wave Singing’. Check out a few rooms here before settling on one, as some are in better repair than others. The breezy, seaside restaurant offers tasty seafood, and live music most evenings. The hotel-restaurant is 500m down from the first bend in the road as you approach from Jayapura.

Taxis head to Hamadi from along Jl Koti in Jayapura every few seconds; you can also catch one directly to Hamadi from the terminal at Entrop.

Halfway along the Abepura-Entrop road, it’s worth stopping for a look around two huge temples - if only for the magnificent views of Teluk Yofeta. The Buddhist temple, Vihara Arya Dharma (Jl Kotaraja; admission free; daylight hours), was not built in any classical style, but the setting and views are worth the short, steep climb.

About 300m further down towards Jayapura, on the other side of the road, the Hindu temple, Pura Agung Surya Bhuvana (Jl Kotaraja), is also fairly standard, but again the vistas are more than enough reason to visit.

Danau Sentani
This magnificent lake (96.5 sq km) is in itself worth a trip to Jayapura and/or Sentani. If you fly to Sentani, you will soar across the lake and see its 19 islands, as well as numerous fishing villages full of wooden houses precariously raised on stilts above the water. No organised tours of the lake are available, so you’ll have to travel around independently, but it’s certainly worth the effort. The lake is particularly attractive and photogenic at dusk and dawn.

A trip by boat across the lake is the best (and sometimes only) way to visit some of the islands and villages. From Yahim, 4km south of the pasar malam (night market) in Sentani by taxi, motorboats (for five people) can be rented for per hour, but you may have to spend some time looking for a solid boat and willing driver. Canoes cost considerably less, but obviously can’t go far.

The most convenient and reliable option, especially if you’re in a group, is to charter a motorboat from Pondok Wisata Yougwa( right ). A sturdy boat (for nine people), with a knowledgeable driver-cum-guide, can be hired for a reasonable price.
 By boat, you can visit simple, friendly villages such as Doyo Lama, renowned for the manufacture of impressive, large wood-carvings, and for unexplained rock paintings nearby. Public transport to Doyo Lama also leaves from the taxi terminal in western Sentani two or three times a day (except Sunday). Alternatively, take a regular taxi (from the same terminal in Sentani) to Kemiri, along the main road to Depapre, and walk about 4km to Doyo Lama.

Another way to explore the lake is to stroll for 40 minutes along Jl Yabaso from Hotel Mansapur Rani in Sentani. The road (then path) goes through Yabaso village and continues around the lake for another few kilometers past several villages. At the end of the path (90 minutes from Sentani), look for a public boat (or charter one) across the lake to a point close to Pondok Wisata Yougwa.

Between the Museum Negeri and Taman Budaya in Waena, another path (800m) leads to a decrepit lakeside recreational park, simply signposted as ‘Danau Wisata’. After the boatman regains his composure
from seeing a foreigner, he may agree to take you out on the lake.

Gunung Ifar
For breathtaking views of Danau Sentani, visit Tugu MacArthur on top of Gunung Ifar (2160m). Here, according to legend, MacArthur sat and contemplated his WWII strategies. A plaque on the monument reads: ‘Here stood the Headquarters of General Douglas MacArthur and Task Force Reckless during the Pacific War’.

The very steep road (6km) to the top starts about 500m east of the corner of Jl Ondikleuw and Jl Kemiri Sentani Kota in Sentani. Taxis are irregular, except on Sunday when the hilltop is a popular picnic spot, so charter a taxi from Sentani or an ojek from the bottom of the access road, Jl Ifar Gunung Ormu. Just before you reach the monument, you may have to report to the local military office with a copy of your surat jalan.

Along the Sentani-Abepura road, the charming Pondok Wisata Yougwa (Jl Raya Sentani) overlooks the lake. The sparkling rooms have bathrooms, and balconies with lake views, but the serenity is shattered by the traffic (which does quieten down at night). The breezy restaurant provides wonderful views and delicious fish.
The hotel/restaurant is unmarked, about 15km from Sentani; ask the taxi driver to drop you off.

Merauke is a quite prosperous, orderly and clean town, renowned in Indonesia as the most eastern settlement in the country. There is very little to do, but it’s an obvious starting point for trips to the interior, particularly the Asmat region.

Merauke has no town centre, so virtually everything you’ll need is along Jl Raya Mandala, which stretches about 7km between the airport and port.
Bank Mandiri (Jl Raya Mandala 1) At the western end of the main road, not far from Hotel Asmat, changes US dollars cash and travellers cheques and has an ATM.
BNI bank (Bank Negara Indonesia; Jl Raya Mandala 168)
Next to Hotel Megaria and has a 24-hour ATM for Visa and MasterCard.
Police station (Jl Raya Mandala 48) North of Hotel Nirmala about 300m; handles extra permits for the interior.
Tourist office (Jl Ahmad Yani 3; 8am-3pm Mon-Thu, 8-11am Fri) Along a street off the top end of Jl Raya Mandala; has a simple brochure, but no maps of town.

Sights & Activities
On Sundays when the tide is out, catch the motorcycle drag races along Pantai Lampu Satu - if you get there before the cops do. The beach is 5km along Jl Nowari, which starts southwest of the Bank Mandiri build- ing in Merauke. If you don’t mind an audience, splash around in the hot springs (Jl Yos Sudarso; admission free; 24hr), about 200m south of Hotel Asmat.

The peak of Merauke’s dry season comes in October, the first week of which brings with it the Asmat Art & Culture Festival - also held in Agats - which features displays of Asmat woodcarving and traditional dancing. During the first week of November, the traditional festival of Kimam is celebrated with boat races, dancing and woodcarving, held on Pulau Yos Sudarso near Merauke (first week of November).

Sleeping & Eating
Hotel Nakoro (Jl Irmasu 96) This sweet spot is on a quiet road and has a home style sort of feel. All rooms come with breakfast, and the smaller ones upstairs have pleasant views of banana trees below. Prices include breakfast.
Hotel Megaria (Jl Raya Mandala 166) Set back from the road and commendably quiet, the Megaria has a good selection of large, clean and well furnished rooms. Breakfast is not included, but the staff will bring you tea or coffee.
Hotel Asmat (Jl Trikora 3) Just off the western end of Jl Raya Mandala, Hotel Asmat offers comfortable, quiet rooms (all with breakfast and amenities like satellite TV), as well as excellent service.
Kantin Mesaran (Jl Raya Mandala; lunch & dinner) Just around the corner from Hotel Asmat, this place is run by deliriously cheery people who pile huge amounts of tasty eats on your plate.
Sandra Café (Jl Raya Mandala 125; lunch & dinner) Set in a quasi jungle garden opposite Hotel Megaria, Sandra Café looks appealing but offers the usual fare.
Javanis Café & Resto (Jl Raya Mandala; lunch & dinner) About 100m west of Hotel Megaria, this is another friendly restaurant serving typical Indonesian meals. The traffic outside is a bit noisy, but the atmosphere inside is pleasant enough.

Getting There & Away
Merpati flies daily from Merauke to Jayapura, and less regularly to regional centres such as Ewer and Senggo. Book tickets at the Merpati office (Jl Raya Mandala 226;8am-4.30pm Mon-Fri, 9am-2pm Sat, 11am-2pm Sun).

Every four weeks, the Pelni liner Kelimutu links Merauke with Timika and southeastern Maluku, while the Tatamailau sails from Merauke to Timika, Fak-Fak and Sulawesi. Also, every two weeks the Sangiang stops at Agats, Timika and Fak-Fak.

Perintis boats are the next best option. Other uncomfortable wooden boats also make fortnightly runs up and down the coast to Kimam (Pulau Yos Sudarso), Bade, Agats, and - incredibly - as far inland as Tanahmerah.

Tickets for Pelni and Perintis boats are available at the Pelni office (Jl Sabang 318), about 200m south of Hotel Asmat.

Getting Around
Mopah airport is about 7km from Hotel Asmat. Yellow and red mikrolet hurtle up and down the main road, between the airport and port, every nanosecond.

Wasur National Park
This park is the joint project of the Indonesian Directorate of Forest Protection & Nature Conservation and the indigenous people (mainly the Kanum and Marind) who contribute to, and benefit from, the park and its management. The 4138-sq-km park (Taman Nasional Wasur) backs onto the PNG border, and features termite mounds, wetlands, traditional villages and extensive bird life (74 endemic species). Wildlife includes cuscus and kangaroos (including 27 endemic species), but animals are often very difficult to see. The best time to visit is during the dry season (July to January); access during the wet season (February to June) is often only possible to Yanggandur and Onggaya villages.

Before visiting, the Wasur National Park office (Balai Taman Nasional Wasur; Jl Garuda Leproseri 3; 8am-2.30pm Mon-Thu, 8-11am Fri, 8am-1pm Sat) asks that all travellers register with them to receive a travel permit. It is about 5km south of Merauke. It can arrange guides and organise transport. The park office at the Wasur entrance has a helpful information center (8am-5pm).

Activities include hiking around the wetlands near Yanggandur, horse -riding around Rawabiru, and wildlife viewing from the observation tower at Ukra.

It’s possible to stay in various villages by checking in at the military posts and/or with the kepala desa.. Visitors can also bring their own tents.

Public buses barrel over the park’s dirt roads to the villages around the park only once or twice a day; otherwise, you’ll have to charter a mikrolet from Merauke or hire one of the knowledgeable, amiable park rangers to be your guide (recommended). The travel agencies can also arrange (expensive) tours around Wasur.

Sungai Bian & Muting
As an alternative to the comparatively overrun Baliem Valley, there are several regions near Merauke that are worth exploring. The most accessible is an area 170km by winding road north of Merauke (mainly around Muting and other villages strung along Sungai Bian). In this region there are probably enough rainforests, wildlife and traditional people to keep most visitors happy.

Foreigners are not permitted to visit this area independently, however, so all visits must be arranged with Yapsel (Jl Misi) in Merauke, a local indigenous-run organisation.

The Asmat region is a massive area of mangroves, pandanus and rivers with huge tides. It remains almost completely undeveloped and one of the few truly unexplored regions left in the world. The Asmat people are justifiably famous for their woodcarvings and less so for their past head-hunting exploits. They are semi- nomadic and their lives are dictated by the rivers, a necessary source of transport and food.

To appreciate what the Asmat region has to offer definitely takes a lot of time and a lot of money. Independent travellers with a limited budget and no real interest in the regional culture may be very disappointed with how little they can see. And Agats and the Asmat region is nowhere near as developed or accessible as Wamena and the Baliem Valley.

The travel agencies can arrange expensive trips to the Asmat region and to inland areas where the Kombai and Korowai people live in extraordinary tree houses.

The word ‘Asmat’ comes from either as akat (‘right man’ in the local language) or osamat (man from tree), though the Asmat people refer to themselves as asmat-ow (real people).

Trees feature heavily in Asmat symbolism, which is not surprising given the immense jungles in the region. The Asmat believe that humans are the image of a tree: their feet are its roots, the torso its trunk, the arms are the branches, and the fruit represents the head. Also, an important element of their belief is that no person - except the very young and the very old - dies for any other reason than through tribal fighting or magic. So, each death of a family member must be ‘avenged’ if the spirit of the recently deceased can rest in the spiritual world known as safan. Not long ago, this ‘avenging’ took the form of head-hunting raids, and while it is now more ceremonial, ‘avenging’ is still taken seriously.

The center of the Asmat people’s beliefs is the figure of Fumeripitisj, who first carved wooden figures, thereby ‘creating’ the Asmat people. Through their carvings, the Asmat remain in contact with their ancestors. Each village appoints a wow ipits (woodcarver) based on his skills. Carvings are traditionally made only for use in ceremonies and are then left to rot in the jungle, but these days, inevitably, there is strong tourist demand for these and other specially made carvings.

Funeral ceremonies involve decorated shields which represent and avenge the dead relative, ancestor poles (bis) and ancestor figures (kawe). Other ceremonial items include wooden masks, drums made from lizard skins, spears, paddles, and horns that were once used to herald the return of head-hunting raids and to frighten enemies.

Facilities in the Asmat region are very limited and almost nonexistent outside Agats, which has two hotels, limited electricity and precious little fresh water. Due to the extraordinary tides and location, the town is traversed on raised (and often broken) wooden walkways - watch your step! Report to the police station (er, hut) with your surat jalan as soon as you arrive. There is nowhere in the Asmat region to change money.

Held during the first week of October, the Asmat Art & Culture Festival showcases the region’s renowned woodcarving, and features traditional dancing.
The Pusat Asmat & Pusat Pendidikan Asmat (Asmat Education Centre & Asmat Centre; Jl Yos Sudarso; admission free; herratic hours), 400m north of the mosque, is an impressive collection of buildings, primarily of interest for their traditional architecture.
Museum Kebudayaan & Kemajuan (Museum of Culture & Progress; about 8am-1pm Mon-Sat), one ‘block’ behind (south of ) the mosque, offers a collection of varied cultural displays; try to recruit an English-speaking guide on your visit, as there are few interpretive signs to explain the exhibits.

There are only two hotels in Agats.
Losmen Pada Elo (Jl Kompas Agats) About 200m northeast of Asmat Inn, this losmen (basic accommodation) offers similar standards, as well as having friendly and helpful service. All rooms have shared mandis.
Asmat Inn (Jl Yos Sudarso) At the junction opposite the mosque, offers acceptable but unremarkable rooms.

The tiny Merpati planes fly several times a week between Merauke and Ewer (near Agats), though flights are usually cancelled in the wet season if the grass airfield is water- logged. The only other air option is the flight three times a week from Merauke to Senggo, from where it’s a five-hour boat trip to Agats. Missionary planes can also be chartered from Merauke or Timika for exorbitant sums.

The Pelni liner Sangiang comes past Agats twice every two weeks on the route between Merauke and Timika. Other less comfortable Perintis boats stop every week or so on the way between Merauke and Fak-Fak. The port in Agats is a 10-minute walk north of the police station (and a superb place to watch sunsets).

The airports at Ewer and Senggo are connected to Agats by boat. All passengers on arrival will get a seat on the boat, but to get to the airport, you’ll have to organise a place on a boat yourself.

Motorboats are the only form of local transport. Cheaper rates are possible if you ask around Sjuru village, a 10-minute walk south of Agats.

Canoes are a far cheaper alternative, but you obviously can’t go very far. Ask around Sjuru or at the hotels in Agats.

To explore the region properly, allow plenty of time and plenty of money. In addition to the exorbitant boat hire, and bring all your own supplies. (Shops in Agats sell basic items.) Alternatively, you can arrange tours from the agencies in Jayapura

There are no hotels outside of Agats, but in the larger villages, such as Senggo, you can sleep at missions or schools. Alternatively, bring your own camping gear, although much of the ground is swampy.


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