16 January 2014 8:20PMSo, long but amazingly fun day today. We awoke this morning with plans for an overnight stay at the "outer beach", which would've involved about an hour taxi drive followed by an hour on a boat, after which I'm told we would've had an entire beach all to ourselves. We were going to be borrowing some camping equipment (tarp and mosquito nets mostly), and bring along a bit of food we picked up last at a local supermarket last night, and just 'roughing it' on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Or so I'm told. As it turns out, I still haven't been able to visit this wonderful beach I've heard so much about from the lovely Naomi.
We had had some difficulties last night trying to arrange the taxi ride out to where the boat would pick us up. One taxi driver spoke good English, but wasn't available in the time frame we wanted, and the one he recommended as a replacement spoke only very limited English. Since our Indonesian is rusty (Naomi) or non-existent (me), communicating our wishes for not only the taxi ride there (and back the following day) and also the boat ride we hoped he'd help us arrange was a little iffy. We gave it about a 50-50 chance that we'd have a boat and taxi ride back the next day. So that was all going on in the background.
Then we woke up this morning to a menacing sky that looked very much like rain, and soon. The weather report was fairly ambiguous, for whatever that's actually worth in this part of the world. The next few days said 50% chance of thunderstorms, which I could've told you just by looking at the clouds. So that's strike 2 for an overnight camping trip on a very remote beach. To top this all off, we had a good conversation with a friend about the same time in which we discovered that this part of Indo is no longer as safe as it used to be, and he strongly recommended not doing this trip with just the two of us.
So... all those things lead us to cancel with our prearranged taxi driver, rent a vehicle from the guesthouse where we're staying, and strike off on our own to go exploring. We started off easy, just enjoying having a ride around Sentani after the miles we walked yesterday getting lost around town. We topped off the cash reserves from an ATM at the airport (Clive was good enough to explain the ins and outs of how to pick a good ATM here) and headed for Sentani's newest and only mall. Nothing was open we got there except the Dunkin Donuts, so we were forced to enjoy a nice cup of coffee and donuts. Except that Naomi got something that was definitely not a donut, and had some sort of old banana inside. She ate around the banana and claimed the rest of it was tasty, but I'm dubious. The mall was open when we were done eating, so we browsed for a while, mostly in the clothing section. Found a nice pair of sandals for Naomi, but they couldn't find the right size. I ended up with just a jacket (it's freezing in Tokyo, and I'm a bit short on winter clothes).
We paid for our parking (a whopping 3000 rupiah, or $0.30) and swung by the Yajasi facility back at the airport, where Naomi's dad used to work when they lived here. They're in the middle of a fairly extensive remodel, so it was busy and a bit loud, but we got a nice tour of the upgraded hanger, offices, and work areas from Syd Johnsen. We saw a few familiar faces (to Naomi) and a met a few others for the first time. One or two recognized the VanDoren name from my dad's work in PNG or Waxhaw.
It was about lunch time by that point, and we went back to Sentani Center (the mall) for lunch at "Papa Ron's Pizza." Totally not a rip-off of any other similar-sounding pizza chain in the U.S. At least their menu was different. We had a Thai Sesame Chicken pizza with stuffed crust. Delicious! Just a bit more than we could eat, but without a handy fridge for keeping leftovers, we had to just leave the rest. Next stop was back to Hillcrest International School, where Naomi attended for her middle and high school years. There were still a few of her old teachers we hadn't been able to see yet, so we walked around to the different classrooms and spent some time catching up with old friends. It's been a bit difficult for Naomi since we've been here since most of the people she knew here have moved on. The school seems to be the one place so far where she still knows quite a few people, so that's been very nice for her. We were able to see just about everyone she wanted to.
Naomi: "Visited our first house we could call our own here in Sentani back in 2000 when I was in 6th grade. It was white then. The owner greeted us and asked if we wanted to come inside but we had things to do and see so declined."
The rest of the day was, in my mind, the best part. This is what Naomi and I love doing... exploring. We had a truck, somewhere between 1/8 and a full tank of gas (the fuel gage was somewhat ambiguous, not to mention fickle), and a whole afternoon with no destination in mind. We just picked a road, a direction, and drove. We ended up circling around Lake Sentani for the first hour or so, stopping a few times for pictures and chatting with some of the local kids. Well, Naomi chatted. I know about half a dozen words in Indonesian... all the useful ones like, umm, "Be careful!", "White person", and "Thank you". The "thank you" Naomi taught me... the others were from what has been shouted at me since I've been driving here.
After circling part of the lake and doubling back, we headed out of town away from Jayapura. We happened upon a place where they were replacing a bridge across a relatively deep river. The two options for crossing were a rather unstable looking fording, or a rickety wooden bridge. I immediately wanted to drive right through the water, but Naomi convinced me that the vehicle we were driving (no 4WD, very small wheels) probably wasn't exactly built for river crossings, so we had to wait in line for our turn on the bridge. Once we were across, we stopped at a little toko (tiny one-room store with a single counter that faces the street) and bought something to drink. The 20-something Indonesian guy took a fancy to Naomi, and kept staring at her while we were standing by the truck enjoying our drinks and smiling, hoping to get her attention. So that got awkward kind of quick, and we headed back on the road.
The next few hours were up and down roads, without much of note except that it's so very beautiful here, and reminds me a lot of PNG, and made me just a touch homesick, even though I've never really felt that way for PNG before. The people are nice, the scenery is stunning, and there's just so much life and energy everywhere. I love it here!
Our evening ended with a nice dinner at a restaurant on the water that Naomi showed me on the way back from Abepura. It was part someone's house, part restaurant, and it was all open to the air like a big dock with a roof over it. Very quaint, very nice, and we were there just in time to watch the sun set over the lake. Dinner was mie goreng spesial for me and ayam steak for Naomi. Both very tasty, as I've come to expect from local restaurants here. A nice breeze from the lake, storm clouds and lightning across the water after the sun set, and perfect weather on our side made it a night to remember. It also helped that we were the only people in the restaurant. Can't think of a more romantic dinner we've had in a long while, and it was more or less just by accident.