Right when we get into a leaky wooden canoe with strangers and get to the point where we’re proud of ourselves for being able to rough it in very basic accommodations, someone else comes by to prove us wrong. In this case, one day after arriving at Yangkawe Bungalows on Waigeo Island in Raja Ampat and still trying to adjust to not having plumbing, refrigeration or 24-hour electricity, an energetic older French couple came swooping in by longboat from another homestay an hour away. It was their fourteenth time in Indonesia, their third month in Papua, and this would be their seventh homestay in the area. They also spoke Indonesian fluently. Seriously.
They were also a godsend. We are. Such. Lucky. Bastards. As described in our previous post, we hadn’t had the foresight to do any research prior to arriving in Raja Ampat, and the Lonely Planet guidebook was useless. So very long story short, we ended up at this homestay* and spent the first day by ourselves snorkeling around the cove, building a sand castle and wondering where we should go and how long we should stay at this homestay.
When Eva and Ante arrived, we latched onto them like leeches and siphoned them for information. They were incredibly generous in sharing their extensive knowledge with us, and they pretty much planned out the rest of our stay for us among these islands. We also extended our stay at the homestay by one more night because we just weren’t ready to say goodbye.
We spent the majority of our waking hours with this globetrotting couple. Every morning, we started a leisurely, sunny day over breakfast of freshly-baked cakes and instant Indonesian sludge (coffee). This was followed by a snorkel in the vicinity with a couple of family members from the homestay making sure we weren’t going to drown ourselves. Lunch was fish, rice and vegetables. Dinner was the same, except small crabs would scuttle over our feet for scraps as we ate. Hey, I’ll take crabs over cockroaches any day. Even though the main ingredients were always the same, Mary tried to change it up for us with preparation methods.
Every evening, the four of us would sit at a little wooden table by the water and watch the little kids Yolanda and Manuel splashing in the water while the sun blazed bright orange and red behind them on its way into the water. We swapped travel stories, Eva and Ante telling us stories from their 40 years of traveling while we supplemented with our limited experiences.
Eva spent the first 20 years of her life in Morocco, where her father was supervising an auto parts plant. When we asked Ante how he became a carpenter (now retired), he told us the most interesting and colorful story we’ve ever heard about how anyone got into their occupations. I won’t go into it here, but it involves Croatia, stowaways, commandos and a new immigrant who falls in love with a beautiful French girl.
For a change of scenery, the four of us decided to go on a day trip into the bay of Waigeo Island. After situating ourselves into the insanely rocky wooden boat and managing not to capsize, we were off. We chugged along the calm dark blue water for a while before turning into the bay, where we slowly passed by limestone jutting out of the water. It was like a mini Halong Bay minus the trash in the water and tourists everywhere you turn. And this is what I loved about Raja Ampat. After being surrounded by people all throughout Southeast Asia, we were in a less-traveled place and the quiet and calm was exactly what we needed.
In the middle of the bay, there stands a thin pointy piece of rock, and the locals have named it Stone Pencil. I was surprised to see that a wooden platform had been built around it, and there was even some kind of informational board standing in front of the rock formation. It just seemed out-of-place I imagine that in a few years from now, this bay will be as crowded as Halong Bay, with tourists from Jakarta coming over in droves to take photos in front of the Stone Pencil. But for now we had the place to ourselves as the boat guy (we never got his name) steered the boat deftly around the rocks.
Our first stop was a cave entrance which they gestured for us to go into, but none of us wanted to have to worry about how we would get ourselves back on the boat in the water so Eva, N and I sat there while Ante stripped down and swam in. Timotheus offered to take photos for me inside, which was cool of him. Small stingless jellyfish floated around our boat, and N plunged her hand in to repeatedly grab and squeeze them while Ante and Timotheus’s voices echoed from within the cave.
Everyone managed to crawl back into the boat with some upper body strength, and we continued on our way past a small fishing village to a quiet beach. Danny, Timotheus and the boat guy were setting up lunch for us when they realized that they forgot to bring plates. Nothing a few big leaves or shells can’t fix! After fish, rice and vegetables for lunch, we waded in to see what was under the water. Right off the bat, we scared a flatfish which was cool to watch as it tried to camouflage itself. There were plenty of fish but nothing we hadn’t seen before, and the current was strong. Timotheus followed us and pointed out stuff to us. He liked to manhandle marine animals to show us, but hey, it’s his turf.
N decided to stay close to the shore while Timotheus and I swam against the current and slowly inched our way around the drop-off to stare at schools of fish hiding from the pull of the current between the rocks. I was too busy trying not to be pushed backwards to take any decent photos. While big fish swam against the current in the drop-off, tiny fish hid amongst the corals in the shallower areas and quickly ducked back in the shadows when we floated by.
Dinner that night was special. The homestay family wanted Yolanda and Manuel to perform a little dance for us but they were held up at a wedding in the village so Danny and Timotheus danced for us instead. With music blaring from a stereo they brought in from the village, they played first Indonesian, then Papuan music. Antoine jumped right in, mimicking the two Papuans and shuffling his feet along to the beat of the music. The guys invited us to dance too but we were being shy so we declined and instead watched them spinning each other in the sand and stepping happily in unison, their smiling faces lit up by a few bare lightbulbs in the darkness of this little hidden cove.
*Thanks to a great website called Stay Raja Ampat (stayrajaampat.com), we had read a raving review by someone about Yangkawe, so we took a chance and we were so glad we did.
For more photos from our time at Yangkawe, check out our Flickr album.