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.
As our very last destination in Indonesia and in our travels around parts of the world (for now), we decided to take a slight detour to Raja Ampat, a.k.a., Paradise. Frustrated with the crappy internet, we figured we could just wing it like we have in the past. We would just fly into the main island of Waigeo and decide on our accommodations and destinations from there. This ended up being the biggest amateur mistake we made over our year and a half of traveling. There’s a reason why smart travelers plan way in advance before coming to this part of the world. So here’s Raja Ampat: Take One.
What was supposed to be our final and blissful destination in Indonesia ended up rearing its ugly head as soon as we landed in Sorong. It was completely our fault that we ended up in this predicament too. We haven’t had much luck with finding lodging when we get to a place, but we were feeling lucky despite the added fact that we had done almost zero research on these islands. We flew in on a small propeller plane — as is the common type of plane in these parts because the runways aren’t big enough for jet planes — and drooled over the beautiful small islands below surrounded by turquoise and blue water. I had high hopes, and they were soon dashed.
I knew something was off when we got off the plane and all of the other foreign tourists who were on our flight got immediately whisked away in private cars sent by the expensive resorts they were staying at (think $200~400 per person per night). Then all eyes were on us. A cab driver quoted us 100,000 rupiah (about $8) for a ten minute ride to the ferry terminal. I’m sorry, did I suddenly get unknowingly whisked back to New York? We haggled one cabbie down to 60,000, and his friend jumped into the passenger seat and proceeded to talk to us, telling us he was Papuan and pinching his curly hair.
That’s definitely something you notice right away. The Papuan people are dark, and closely related to the Aborigines in Australia. They are also very quick to point out that they are Papuan, NOT Indonesian. Until a few years ago, not many travelers ventured this far east to Papua because it’s honestly a pain in the ass to get to, and more importantly because there was violence due to social and political discord. Nothing like a few incidents of civil unrest to make the tourists stay away!
There still aren’t that many tourists who make it out here compared to the rest of Indonesia. Not yet, anyway. We were the only tourists on the public ferry to Waisai, the biggest island on Raja Ampat. The ferry was perfectly clean, and the people (the locals) were nice and friendly. What wasn’t so nice was the bathroom on board, but better any bathroom when you don’t really know when you’ll come across one next. Our seats were at the very front of the boat, where two air-conditioners blew acceptable cool air at us and a Bollywood movie played on the screen. Two hours later, we landed in Waisai.
Every cab driver we talked to quoted us 100,000 rupiah and wouldn’t budge. This was making Labuan Bajo in Flores seem cheap. We finally agreed to the price and made the driver stop at three hotels to check prices. The scary shithole was $35, the less scary bungalow was $40 and the least scary hotel room at the Waisai Beach Hotel was $40. Contrary to what the name might suggest, this was not a beachside hotel. But we had clean beds and a cleanish bathroom that reeked of urinal balls (they use them everywhere in Indonesia to keep out the sewage smell from the drains). This would have to do.
This ended up being the best decision because the young woman who worked at the hotel became our personal concierge for the duration of our stay. I wasn’t sure if this was voluntary on her part, but for lunch and dinner, she would knock on our door and walk us to a local restaurant, help us order, wait for us to eat, teach us Bahasa words and walk us back to the hotel. We must’ve looked that helpless. And we kind of were, because of all the places we’ve been to in Indonesia, this had the fewest English speakers. In addition, there was no internet anywhere on the island. We were so screwed.