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Hut on the beach at sunset, Proop island

Cendrawasih Bay

In the northern hollow of the outstretched “neck” of the bird-shaped island of Papua is a giant bay, named after the “Cendrawasih”, the Bird of Paradise. A rectangular area encompassing a large part of the bay has been set aside as a marine park, the largest in South-East Asia. Like most national parks in Indonesia, we suspected that the park existed only on paper, without any real enforcement. Still, the fact that few tourists visit the area enticed us to investigate.

In Ransiki we looked for Pak Ayomi, the boatman recommended in Manokwari. The largest boat, the one with a fiberglass hull, looked like the best option. After talking with Ayomi we negotiated a price for a four-day trip. Before leaving we had to find someone from the marine park to take our permit. The office, right next to the harbor, was empty. We asked the neighbors how to find the ranger’s house. He turned out to be a polite and friendly man from Solo. Despite peering at our permit carefully, he didn’t notice that the names and the dates were incorrect. We had planned to visit the park after hiking to the Anggi lakes, but Dan’s arrival had changed our plans. The ranger accompanied us back to Ayomi’s house to make sure everything was settled. Because tomorrow would be a Sunday, we would have to leave after church service.

The next morning Eric went to the harbor to plunk down the equivalent of $100 for gas and motor oil. It took forever to get everything sorted out and loaded on the boat. There was not enough fresh water, so we asked for more jerrycans. Instead of a crew of two, we had four! Ayomi, who seemed like a solid captain, told us that he was sick with “malaria” and wouldn’t be coming. His son-in-law, Heine, would take his place. The three others, Hendrik, Abner and Arnold, were excited about the trip. Abner was older than the others, shyer but more mature. Hendrik and Arnold liked to joke around, and quickly learned how to say “oh my God” from Dan. Heine was a calm, responsible captain and Hendrik was a crack spear fisherman.

As soon as we had pushed the boat through the surf, one of the engines died. Off came the cover and out came the tools. The pull-rope broke. After an hour of tinkering, the engine roared to life in a cloud of black smoke and we set off. Rumberpon island, barely visible in the distance, was our first destination. Our first required stop was to “report” to the park officer and village chief on the island. Arnold and Eric went ashore to sort out the formalities. The chief, sitting under a small shelter with some other villagers, welcomed us cautiously. He seemed overwhelmed by the full page of tightly-packed print on the permit, but insisted on peering at it solemnly for a few minutes. The park officer arrived; it was his turn to finger the document and look official. After exchanging pleasantries there were a few minutes of awkward silence. Judging that a sufficient time had passed, Eric broke the ice and said that we might want to get going before it started to rain. The chief dismissed us, and after a round of handshakes, we left. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Nobody had noticed that the names and dates were incorrect, nor had they bothered about our extra passenger, Dan.