Here is a daily journal of a journey from the 15th October to the 30th of November 2007 in occidental Papua (ex Irian Jaya, state of Indonesia furthest to the East, and west of Papua new guinea), to meet the Asmat people.

The trip was divided into five journeys by boat who explored two out of four Asmat style regions: the north-west and central region. Missing the Brazza region and the ÇITAK region which will be the subject of our next trip.

15 October 2007
11:00 am

Alain, a twenty year old friend of mine whom I met in the army, my brother Sliman and I were sitting on the tarmac of the Bali airport, aboard flight Garuda 753 to Denpasar-Jayapura about to take off headed to Tamika in Papua Indonesia. All three of us extremely excited to be leaving on such an incredible adventure.
It was going to be a comfortable four hour direct flight with no delay.

My right foot was still paining me, the cast came off two days earlier, and I had to be very careful not to make it worse. The scar tissue left over from the operation was perfect, but still quite fresh. My right calf muscle was still muscularly atrophied from two months of inactivity. A torn Achilles tendon is a serious thing, and the surgeon told me that it would take a complete lack of eccentricity on my part for it to return to its normal state. The place I was heading for it would not be an easy one to follow the doctor’s advice.
It was three weeks ago in Ubud, a medium sized Balinese artist’s village about 20 Kilometers from my house, that I met Damianus SAMIN a Papuan of Kamoro ethnicity that lived for the most part in the national park of Lorentz, at a Papuan art exhibition organized by him for Kallman Muller a Hungarian-American Adventurer, photographer, writer and journalist of 68 years of age.

At length I discussed the subject of the Kamoro (one of the two linguistic sub-groups with the Sempan of the Papuan Mimika tribe) and he convinced me to come spend some time at his place, in the purpose of learning more about the culture of his people and to participate in the traditional crocodile hunt aboard one of their long wooden canoes, and of course above all else to collect some of the art still unknown to the western world, Kamoro artworks id heard so much about.

Both Sliman and Alain, who in the beginning were very skeptical about coming on this journey finally agreed to the adventure.

3.00 pm
We landed at the international airport of Tamika, after a peaceful flight of 2500 kilometers.
This is on the south coast of Irian Jaya. Between the valley of Baliem and the Danu valley on the north east, and the Asmat region on the south east, close to the Kamaro territory.
Tamika is a small village (population 68,800 in the year 2000) which was originally built for operations of the American company PT Freeport Indonesia, the biggest gold mine in the world. It was also built for the chief of Mimika (kebupaten) the department of the Indonesian province of Papua.

We got our light weight traveling bags and left the airport to go meet Damanius.
Of course Damanius did not show up for our meeting. So I called him with my cell phone,
And he saia that his village IWAKA, situated about 10km east of where we were is flooded with rain water, and he has no canoes to pick us up and show us around. He said that he will call us back when the time is “right”.

About two minutes after I hung up the phone, Amir, a taxi driver that I met on my last journey to Papua, recognizes me and comes to say hello.
Amir took us around town in his taxi for about 2 hours looking for a decent hotel, restaurant and a tour guide that will help us negotiate all the prices of future merchandise.
At the end of the day we decided to go with the hotel INTSIA, which is owned by a Balinese Architect by the name of Made who has lived in Tamika for a few years now. He gave us information about the region and also about the Asmat territory. He said he just got back from a one week trip to Asmat with the Indonesian Governor to attend the annual Asmat Festival that has just ended.

Once we were comfortably settled in our air conditioned hotel rooms, we decided to go eat at a small local restaurant down the road. We ordered a “Coto Makassar” A culinary specialty from the south of Sulawesi; it’s a very hot/ spicy beef soup with big chunks of beef and lots of fried onions. It’s delicious!

16 October 2007


Our dinner last night was very fulfilling. There was a lot of food. After the dinner we decided to grab a few beers at the local bar/karaoke.
Sliman and Alain got up on stage and sang a few rock and roll songs. Their voices were so out of tune that they made all the Indonesians and Papua staff laugh.
Now its time to wake up and prepare our day!

I call Damanius again, and he announces to us that he cannot show us around because all the canoes are out of use, and it will take about 2 or 3 weeks to order a new one.
In the Kamaro and the Asmat villages there are no roads or paths. The only way to travel in the south west region is by boat or canoe through the rivers and canals.

Our crocodile hunting appears to me to be compromised, and also the original purpose of our trip, to discover more about the Kamaro culture.

During breakfast Made suggested a solution, to buy 3 plane tickets to Ewer, a small airport on the Asmat territory about 170km south west of where we were. He told us that the festival was over, and that it would be easy for us to find sculptures that hadn’t been sold at the local auction in Agats, the biggest village in the Asmat region.

We immediately agreed, and gave Made the green light to buying the next 3 seats available on a flight out of Tamika and into Ewer.

17 October 2008

8:00 am

We woke up at 7 this morning, even though last night Sliman and I had a few beers at the bar, no karaoke this time. Alain went to sleep early he didn’t want to wake up late the next morning and miss our flight. Yesterday afternoon Made gave us 3 plane tickets to Ewer. Leaving at 9:30 am this morning, so our rendezvous at the airport was at 8:00 o’clock, but having lived in Indonesia all these years I know by experience that the airplane will not leave at the expected time.
I politely asked Made if he could drive us to the airport, and stop at a bank/atm on the way. There is no such technology where we are going so we need cash if we are going to buy some primitive artifacts.

9:30 am
We arrived at the airport, and like I said our plane hasn’t even been announced yet.
This plane from the MERPATI airline leaves in the morning from Merauke (The most oriental town in the republic of Indonesia. Situated on the south coast of the Indonesian Papua province) To arrive in Tamika via Ewer and then returning to base in the evening with a stop in Ewer.
I doubt our plane will be here before lunchtime.

Annoyed, I was sitting on the sidewalk in front of the airport, when I felt a tap on my shoulder and a man asked me if I was waiting for the flight to go to Agats, I look back to see who it was and to my surprise it was Kallman MULLER accompanied by his charming secretary Luluk. I had heard a lot about this man from my friends, and i have read about him in a few books but I have never actually met him in person.
We stayed and conversated about ethnicity until our plane finally arrived, which was 1.30 pm.
We were so lucky to have seats on this plane today, because I have heard people waiting for weeks trying to get a seat on this tiny airplane. It fly’s only twice a week.
The plane has an old bimotor with TUPOLEV propellers. It has uncountable flying hours; god knows how many years it has been flying. There was no air hostess and no separate baggage suit. Every Passenger on this plane feels like they are living the first hours of air postal again.

We were flying at 2000 kilometers altitude. The view from above is absolutely amazing. The green forest covers the whole region for thousands of kilometers, with windy and muddy rivers. I was imagining landing the plane in the middle of the forest and crocodiles. Hehe.

The flight from Tamika to Ewer is only one hour. We landed on a small piece of land which looked more like a football field than a place to land a plane. The plane had hardly come to a halt when a small crowd of people had already come to see what the big deal was.

Around the corner of the “airport” there were a few small boats with Yamaha 40 CV motors. So we asked the locals if they could take us to Agats.
The journey was about 30 minutes long; we had to go down a small river, called Pek, into a big river called Asewetsj, where Agats village is found.

It is a small town that was built in the middle of the 20th century by the Dutch government as a bridgehead for the colonization of the Asmat. Neighboring tribes slowly moved in to be part of this big artificial village. The village is built on a mangrove swamp facing the sea of Aru. There is only one local “road”, an elevated wooden path that is 3 kilometers long it crosses the whole of Syuru village (west) until the Semenes and Baitopis village (east).

The Shuttle was really fast, he dropped us off just in front of the losmen* PADA ELO.
We dropped off our luggage. All this time still accompanied by Kallman, Luluk and Lucius, a Papua guide who imposed his presence on us. A simple guy, about 25 years old who walked with a small limp, kind of naïf yet very endearing.

*The Indonesian definition of losmen; is a small basic hotel, generally quite familial. That only operates on one floor. Around an inner big room (reception) there are small rooms built all around, a common bathroom with a squat toilet. No toilet paper.

We went around the small town, and decided to spend the night at Alex’s hotel. A clean and friendly hotel, with 10 rooms, equipped with mosquito nets perhaps the only hotel in town that’s has them, besides the losmen.

We will then meet Alex, a native bugi from Bira, south Sulawesi. He owns the only Asmat art shop in Agats. Admirable? He has a professional eye for the asmat art; his collection is precious and valuable. Kallman’s job is to organize journeys of several days in the Asmat for wealthy Americans. So we asked him to get us the details from Alex for renting a canoe.

Alex’s asmat art collection is really impressive and interesting. But we decide not to negotiate or buy anything yet, and focus on the most practical and cheapest way, to go and meet the many Asmat tribes.

8:00 pm
Appointment at the LIBRA, the only restaurant in Agats where the food is good. But to my surprise there was no fish on the menu. So I decided to go see if they sell some outside.
An old lady sitting not far away on the dock was selling the few fish she had.
We invited Lucius to join our table, seeing how skinny he was a meal would only do him good. He ate for 3 people, and at the end of diner he asked if he could bring the rests back home for his family.

18 October 2007
7:00 am
After a pleasant night at Libra, and a night with no mosquitoes. We had breakfast in the lobby at Alex’s hotel, While discussing and deciding today’s program. Still accompanied by Lucius who takes his job very seriously.

We woke up early today so that we could visit the Asmat Museum.
The Asmat Museum of Culture and Progress (GCAP) was created in 1973 under the leadership of the local Catholic missionaries, with the assistance of Tobias Schneebaum and Ursula Konrad. Who are aware of the requirement for a renewal of Asmat cultural traditions as a source of local pride. In the same spirit, an Asmat art festival and auction was established to create a rivalry between the wood carvers of the region and develop their global recognition. It takes place every year in October and continues to gain notoriety. The best piece earns its place in the museum.

We followed Lucius to the museum. We admired some very interesting pieces of art: shields, statues of ancestors, burial poles (poles Bisj), masks, costumes, etc...

When we arrived to the skulls of ancestors and enemies cannibalized, I had an idea to photograph Lucius wearing an ancient feather headdress that belonged to his ancestors. Before we were able to react, Lucius had fully undressed himself, it was a triumphant nudity, and he was completely exhibiting himself for the photo. We were surprised as were the other visitors, but he was out of sight for the local museum Indonesian staff, who would have been less sympathetic if they had saw him.

To our surprise and our discomfort, Lucius explained patiently that he thought it would please us to take a photo of him wearing the headdress of the ancient ancestor, which is originally accommodated with nudity. He said a long time ago before white people came here all the ancestors were wearing these outfits (almost naked).

The art pieces have been put to value in the city museum, their authenticity and quality is outstanding, all collected over the years in the region or performed by local contemporary artists, now internationally recognized, for example Adam SAIMA.
It is at his place that we had our first real contact with the contemporary Asmat art. Adam is a sculptor who is 45 years old but seems about sixty. He lost one eye as a result of an accident. He comes from the Per village (30 minutes southwest of Agats) and is one of the oldest Asmat carvers that are still alive today. His work is characterized by works of incredible finesse.

The Asmat carve, (improvised on the spot) stories of human experiences as imaginary scenes, with only two tools, a small carving knife and a stone hammer. The result is breathtaking.

Kallman MULLER bought a very beautiful little statue that has just been completed by him. At Adams house the atmosphere is warm, relaxed and it is surrounded by other sculptors. We spent most of the day talking and preparing beautiful fish, freshly bought from the local market and grilled over a wooden fire in the family house, a small wooden hut under construction on the outskirts of Agats. It looks a bit like the European garden huts.

8:00 pm
Back to the hotel. We were exhausted by our very productful day. The Museum tour, walking all day under the really strong sun on unstable wooden paths and being so careful not to fall on a recovering ankle, has taken its toll.
To our surprise! Lucius awaited us and tells us he suffers from a chronic inflammation of the right leg, which seems to be from an old fall that has not been treated, resulting in permanent lameness. Tonight, his leg seems to be acute because the four symptoms of inflammation are present: pain, warmth, swelling and redness. He asked us if we had medicine, the Papuans are well aware that white travelers do not travel without a minimum of pharmaceuticals.
We gave him the only medicine we had, an aspirin. He was delighted, and after a few minutes he said that he was already feeling better. It seems the placebo effect is even more effective among Papuans? He stayed with us a little longer, and then left.

An hour later, there was a knock on the door of our room: it’s Lucius again, but accompanied by his so-called sister, not really beautiful, she looked more like his grandmother.
He wants to thank us for aspirin that we gave him, he said it calmed his pain and in exchanged he proposed us a relaxing massage by his “sister”. We burst out laughing, and thought it was a weird way to say thank you. We refused nicely.

19 October 2007
8:00 am
Anto, the hotel manager, told us that the police must be informed of the presence of any foreigner in this small village. Administrative paperwork and travel road documents are needed to circulate in the Asmat territory, something that we obviously failed to organize when we were in Tamika.

We decide to go immediately to the authorities in Agats to get this famous travel road document.
We were very well received by the chief of police, Franck a papua about thirty years old, from Merauke, and his subordinate, Nyoman, a Balinese younger than 21 years, serving in Agats for the next eight years .

Franky is very friendly and happy to meet us; few foreigners pass through here and all visitors are a distraction. He also insisted we take pictures at his side, giving us a strange feeling that we are his "Papuan"! For the road document, despite his good intentions, and friendly nature, he could not give us a document, he could only grant us a stay of one week, as the original document is supposed to be obtained in Tamika, and there only.

2:00 pm
We continue to trek the wooden planks of the village of Agats looking to rent canoes. Everyone is asking such outrages prices for the canoes. They are trying to get as much money as possible from us. At the end of the day we still hadn’t found a canoe that matched our budget.

Our life in Agats is starting to become quite boring. The days are really hot, and the nights are full of mosquitoes. Sliman covers himself with mosquito repellent all day long.
Thank god all three of us took malaria shots back in Tamika, just before coming to agats.
Alain is getting quite annoyed with all this, he says he has traveled enough of the world in his life to have to deal with this; he has had enough of walking back and forth all day. He has lost his interest in the Asmat tribes, cultures and primitive art. He thinks that he is of more use in Bali then he is here. I think he is going to quit the adventure before it’s over, especially since he could have a relapse of malaria at any time.

When night came, we were exhausted from walking around under the extremely hot sun all day. We did one last trek of the 3km wooden path, and finally went home to sleep after a non eventful yet exhausting day.

20th October 2007

7:00 am

We all met up at the hotel reception, for an important meeting. Anto served us the usual, a hot tea with some biscuits.

Kallman Muller has finished doing his work here for his American clients, and has decided to go back to Tamika on the next flight available. Alain has also decided to come with, Papua new gunnie is defiantly not a place for him.

I went outside of the hotel to get some fresh air and try and think about ways to get a canoe at a reasonable price. All prices that have been offered to us until now have been outrages and are not in our budget limits.
A guy with a sinister look, sitting on a chair on the opposite side is staring at me. I said hello and he replied and came over. He said he knows where we can find canoes. He is offering us his canoe and service. He says that we can pay him the price we want, as long as we travel with a minimum of 200 liters of petrol. This seems like a lot more than we are going to need, escecially according to the level of lifestyle in Asmat.

So we went to see his canoe, it is near Adam Saimas’s place. The canoe was quite perfect, not too big or to small for the price we offered him. It will do the job.
We climbed the plank shanties, and finally got to our destination, with my ankle still in recovery I have a lot of trouble doing this kind of exercise.

Once we arrived on the boat, the guy asked us for more money (a classic act among Papuans, and if we want to go on this boat trip we are going to have to accept). His excuse was that going on an expedition in the asmat territory is a high risk for his boat and the engine. Especially since the rivers are overflowing right now and there are many tree trunks floating adrift.

I refused to give him the advance sum of money for the 200 liters of fuel. We are not in a hurry. Before we leave on our expedition we must go inform Franky, the chief of police our travel plans and the name of our guide. I invited our “boat” driver, called Soter, to come with us to the station, then to the hotel to pick up our belongings, and then we can go buy fuel, and once we are done we can immediately leave for our journey. But Soter refused, he said he doesn’t like the police, her prefers to wait here for us.
I promised to be diligent. I asked him for his identity card; because there is no way that we are leaving with this guy if Franky doesn’t know his identity.

Sliman and I go to the police station to see franky, who is clearly happy to see us again.
I informed him of our imminent departure, and the identity of our guide, who he doesn’t seem to know. He organized all the paper work, and asked me to introduce/present myself to all the various police stations as soon as I entered their jurisdiction.


Nyoman, a young police officer working for Franky, proposes to escort us to our starting point in his little ATV, the only appropriate means of transportation on the track plank. We go to the pier where Soter and his canoe are, and I informed him that everything is in order. I give him back his ID and asked him to wait a little longer, for us to go back to the hotel and gather our belongings.

We came back half an hour later, and we see that Soter and his boat have disappeared. Our boat driver has set sail (so to speak). He perhaps thought that he could scam us, but when he realized the police were on our side he probably decided it wasn’t such a good idea. We are now here with all our bags on our backs without any specific project or destination. Nyoman suggested that we should go to “Libra” to restore ourselves and maybe find a solution.

Once we were at the restaurant, we ordered fried chicken with rice. (all these problems have not made our apetite go away) Alain feels comforted by the idea of not being part of the whole useless mission. He feels that this is only the beginning of problems and that there are many more to come. Nyoman is making a few phone calls and trying to think of ways to find a canoe at a reasonable price, which is apparently really difficult in Agats. After about half an hour, he remembers that his future brother-in-law must go back in a canoe to Sawa, a small village in the north, perhaps he might take us as passengers. Nyoman made a phone call and a few minutes later a young man enters the restaurant and sits at our table. His name is Nurredine, He is a Bugi, an Indonesian Muslim whose ancestors were from Sulawesi, born in Asmat, where his father emigrated around 40 years ago.
He is going to meet his father in Sawa, he is one of the last remaining shopkeepers there, he owns a "Kios" a small Indonesian shop, where they sell all products of first necessity. Of course, we jumped on the proposal and, once arrived at Sawa, we'll see where the wind takes us, the key for now is to get out of Agats. What an adventure!

3.00 pm
So here we are on board of Nur’s canoe. The young Bugi, we decided that we would be in charge of all fuel expenses. We also told him that he could fill his gallon jugs with fuel incase we run a little low, running out of petrol in the middle of the ocean would not be nice at all.
Just as we were coming out of Agats and the mouth of the River Asewetsj, where it empties into the Flamingo bay. It started raining, within minutes we were soaked. Fortunately Nur took the precaution of taking with him tarpaulins, even though they smelled like petrol!

Here we are at sea, the wind is blowing, and each wave is getting bigger, the water board dangerously low in the water, It's scary, but Nur is smiling, so, so are we.

We went around the muddy and low water at a distance from the coast, and then entered the mouths of two rivers Unir and Pomatsj.

The sun sets, and the rain seems to stop, the birds begin to cry on both sides of the river Pomatsj, which leads to Sawa. Strident sounds from the jungle pierce the night and hundreds of bats which seem bigger then the usual size take flight in the dark sky, the perfectly round moon attracting them by its light.

Just before we reached our destination, the rain started again with even greater intensity. Despite the tarpaulins, all three of us were completely soaked when arriving in Sawa. Three and a half hours of navigation from Agats to Sawa for a 75 kilometers distance. But when we arrived at Pak Limbangs house (Nur’s father) a good hot tea was waiting for us. Since Nur got married and moved to Agats, Pak Limbang lives alone with his daughter Anisa. A small simple room has been prepared for us, so after a good shower and a good meal, we went straight to sleep. We were exhausted.

21 October 2007

For breakfast, Anisa prepared for us tea with biscuits. We organized our program for the day with Pak Limbang, who agreed to accompany us with Nur, his commercial status will be useful to us, and he has a much better knowledge of the land and the local population than Nur

The canoe is charged with petrol, Just enough however to make one journey on the river. We assure Pak Limbang that we will be back in Sawa by tonight; we take only basic necessities for the trip and some food as a precaution for our personal needs, as well as tarpaulins in case of rain.

We are going in the direction of Ojakapis; a village withdraw into the mountains, four hours of sailing from Sawa. This is the last village upstream of the river Jerep, therefore we are going against the current.

We will enter today the oriental part of the national park LORENTZ, where two different language groups of the Asmat live: The Emar Ducur more on the west side and the Uniting Siran further north. It is the latter which include the Ipam, the Esmapano, the Irogo, and Ojakapis, where we are heading.

On our arrival in Ojakapis, the weather is forgiving: no rain. Ojakapis is a small village of about 100 people. Situated right beside the river, there are small wooden huts that are used as homes, the house of men is very dilapidated and in really bad shape.

Ojakapis is one of the poorest villages in the region. Because of its position on the upstream, it receives very few visitors and therefore little income is made here. Completely illiterate people, they live off hunting, mainly of birds, e.g. parrots, cockatoos, or the Casoar, which like ostriches cannot fly, and therefore is a very easy prey.

Some children and adolescents were waiting for us on the shore. They had snotty noses, ragged clothes, all very skinny and some maimed. I explain to them that we are here to look for real Asmat art, and we'd love to purchase or exchange it for food or anything they think they might need for their usual daily lives. But the tribe chief and most the men and women are absent from the village they are all in the forest, the men hunting and the women to prune and harvest the sago palms content, sago, the basis of their food.

After giving them the custom presents which consists of rice, tobacco, salt, sugar, coffee and eggs to the elders of the tribe, that are present at this time, the bartering begins.

They refused money, Sawa being located at one or two days by rowing boat to where there is business’s. So of course they prefer to exchange what they have for food and tobacco.
Each of them brings his "tifa"; a traditional wooden drum with lizard skin, the most ancient object that can currently be found in the Asmat, and used for cultural ceremonies, the only musical instrument used among Papuans.

They also brought us bows and arrows, knives made from Casoar bone, carved wooden dishes, and wooden spears with really solid iron, used for hunting wild boar or crocodile.

Soon, the boat was full from all these objects of everyday life. We are very pleased with our collection, especially since certain of the objects we bought/exchanged seemed very old and ancient, defiantly worthy of being put in a museum.

Pak Limbang is dressed in his uniform, he is responsible for the distribution of food to the native people, and the tribe people were delighted to have received the many things that they needed. It seems that nobody has visited this village in a long time.

The village has nothing more to offer for us, and we decide to descend the river to visit the next village downstream, Irogo

Irogo is a village that is barely larger than Ojakapis.

The chief of the tribe receives us in the “house of men” and as usual, we gave them a small pouch filled with tobacco and rice. All of the village men then came to the house of men to offer us all their gear. They completely refused to exchange for supplies. All of them wanted money, which they will immediately spend at Pak Limbangs, who took more than enough goods with him.

With the exception of some "Tifa and Salawaku (Asmat shields), what we find here are only objects of everyday life.

We left an hour later from Irogo, the boat already half full of articles, put in a bit of a mess in the middle of the boat; we will sort it all out later in Sawa.

We arrived at the next village Esmapano; starting with the classic encounter with the head of the tribe in the house of men. There are few things to buy in this village and they are far less welcoming than the previous two, the prices were outrages.
We tried to negotiate, but the more we negotiated to make the price lower, the more Papuans raised their prices.

Considering the situation, I thanked my kind hosts, but I soon sensed the atmosphere deteriorating, quickly they became hostile and I felt like this was a good time to leave the house of men and the village. The Asmat were angry at us for wanting to leave without buying anything. They blocked our way and said that we had to pay 500$ to have the right of access, finally we got out by paying 20$.

Despite recent events, we went to the next village downstream, Weo; a tribe who unlike the previous one was very welcoming.
But with few sculpture choices, the chief was saddened that we didn’t like anything; he promised he would make the village people make sculptures before our next visit in a few months, and he will give us a beautiful piece.

The tribal chief gave me a necklace made of dog teeth, and I bought two others. The chief has about a dozen around his neck.
The dog teeth necklace was once highly valued among Asmat, because dogs were rare in these hostile lands. A young man that wanted to marry had to buy his fiancée from her parents by offering a wild boar, and a dog teeth necklace. Given the number of necklaces that hung from his neck, the tribal chief had to be the father of many girls!

As there was nothing new to buy here, to our great satisfaction the villagers offered us their ancestral treasures.

We got really beautiful "tifas" very old, museum quality. The canoe was soon full and our food supply was finished, the village was disappointed, they wanted us to stay longer.
We have to go to back to Sawa now, fortunately for us it was a full moon and a clear sky. The only recurring problem in these climates is the mosquitoes, they eat and attack us in an unacceptable manner.

Does a buyer that walks into our gallery know all the trouble we went through to get these artifacts exposed?

The boat moves slowly, because the river is dangerously full of floating tree trunks. This boat and its outboard motor Yamaha 40cv are more than twenty years old, so we have to be careful so that we don’t end up in the water that is full of crocodiles.

We finally get back to the Pak Limbang’s “kios”, after doing 65 kilometers twice in a day. Anisa prepared a nice meal for us, shrimp from the river and white rice.

It's raining really hard, which is very convenient for survival of this hostile jungle. Dozens of barrels have been placed around the house and the rainwater that falls on the roof is captured by gutters directed to these barrels. The bigger the house and the more flat the roof, the more water can be obtained.

22 October 2007

This morning, we decide to return to Weo, due to a late arrival the previous day and the warmth of the villagers. Yesterday we did not meet all the villagers many of them were in the forest. Once all the food was ready, we set out to Weo, on our river journey by boat.


We arrived at Weo at 8 o’clock. Meeting in the house of men, I recognized a few villagers from the day before, but also new ones. The bartering was intense, but there still aren’t any ceremonial sculptures. We got a few additional "tifa" and ancient plates made from sago. The villagers are also very happy that they can purchase food directly from Pak Limbang.

Around 10 o’clock we left Weo to go to Pupis, a village situated on the tributary of the River Wasar, it is approximately 2 hours of navigation (Around 40 kilometers). A big ceremony took place there; a couple rich tourists had paid and organized it. But we don’t find out until later.

By chance, We arrived at the village two hours before the actual tourist boat, and the villagers thinking we were the tourist started their show.

About a hundred meters before we arrived, dozens of canoes charged with men were coming towards us pretending to attack. We moved forward towards the right bank of the river and saw all the villagers that were wearing traditional clothing (almost naked) and face painting. They were singing and dancing on the canoes, and shooting arrows in the air.
A man climbs into our canoe and offers some primitive jewelry and some traditional face painting. We are astonished and very touched by their warm welcome, so we offered all of them cigarettes.

A few minutes later we landed on the bank of the pupis village. The whole population was present for this festival, the atmosphere is fantastic, a surreal experience for a European man. The men and the women dance by shaking their legs from outwards to inwards. A mix between tutti frutti rock and roll and hoola hoop.

Welcome to Pupis the chief of village says, while showing us the way to the house of men. Going through muddy lands on which tree trunks are used as some kind of footbridge. And then there we were at the house of men. The whole tribe followed in a deafening hubbub in a frantic rhythm of dance. Impossible to imagine!

The house of men is huge and the whole population is squeezed in here. It is a common house of men used to receive visitors and to attend festivals like this one. This house is different than the usual traditional house of men, where the unmarried men live. It is strictly off limits to women and children. Both house of men are situated diametrically opposite each other on both ends of the village.

Its very hot in this common house, the temperature is increased due to the amount of people in here all excited and sweating. After half an hour of singing, screaming and dancing. The chief asked for silence, followed by a small speech and at the end thanking us for coming. When he was finished I also thanked him greatly for his warm welcome and then the usual gave him the presents, and added a few Indonesian notes which was equivalent to 10 Euros.

We then left the common house to go to the rational house of men to speak business.
Many statues are stored in this house; most of them were “umus” a representation of the ancient spirits. Some are used for cultural ceremonies, others are made to sell to tourists that sometimes come and visit the region.
After talking and negotiating, we bought a few things, some very ancient “umus” and some “suluwaku” and also some traditional devil costumes, that are carefully wrapped and put in bags so that the children don’t see them. The shields have their top parts rounded and they have faces carved on them, to frighten the enemies.

When we left the house to go outside we realized that each of the villagers had each put in front of their huts their objects of creation. We went around the village and in a couple hours the canoe was full. Pak limbang was soon invaded by some villagers that were so happy to make money they spent it as soon as they got it. When leaving the village we distributed the rest of the food that we had to the children and old people.

The sun will soon set, it is time to go back to sawa.

We arrived in Sawa, and unloaded all our goods at pak limbangs house. Arranging and organizing the canoe so that we could gain more space, because we still have a few villages to visit before our return to agats,

23 October 2007

Today pak limbang will not come with us, so we will hardly have any food to bring with us in the canoe. Our target villages today are all close to Sawa and so the villagers can quickly reach Pak limbangs “kios” by their own means.
Our first visit will be the village of Erma; it is located right opposite Sawa. On the left bank of the huge river. We found some sculptures that represented ancestors and that were typical of just this village, which made us really happy because we did not want any similar objects to what we have already acquired from previous villages. They were of average size and didn’t take much space in our boat.
The villages Er and Sona also provided us with some beautiful statues. At mid day we continued our journey and decided to stop at Jeni and James place, which is halfway to Agats

The weather is changing and it starts raining, so we decided to return to Agats. After making sure that all our goods were covered by tarpaulins. Sliman and I are curled up at the front of the canoe in the little space there is left. We will have to squeeze together for the next couple of hours until we arrive in Agats.

We arrived at low tide on the bankment of Baitopis, therefore it’s not possible to dock near Nur’s house. We were only a hundred meters from the edge but we had to walk carrying all the goods on the slimy and slippery land, which leads to one of the rooms that nur rented to us that we are using as a warehouse for the goods.
With the help of some young men, we discharged all our goods into the “warehouse”.
There was some breaking, because the night was pitch black and we were sinking in the mud until our knees. The unloading of the goods took about three hours, but it had to be done tonight.
Exhausted, and after a quick shower we went straight to sleep.

24 October 2007
The night was restless, there are many rats in Asmat villages and especially in Agats, and they didn’t stop bothering and teasing us all night.
We had a rapid breakfast, and then we immediately went to our warehouse to start packing each one of our objects so they don’t get devoured by these famous rats, and also so they are protected from the rain and the bumps during transport to Bali.

Nasir, Nur’s uncle, an old guide for traders, appears very skilled at packing these statues. He offers his assistance which is very useful to us; his way of packing is to use the most simple materials which are very solid and effective.
After a whole day of packing and sewing all the goods in tarpaulins, we went to have a bottle of Brandy that Nyoman kindly offered to share with him.

25 October 2007
It’s been 10 days that we have left Bali and seems like an eternity. 10 days full of adventure, from contemporary civilization to almost the Stone Age. What a culture shock!

We loaded the boat with some food, petrol and tarpaulins with the firm intention of continuing our asmat art treasure hunt but on the west of Agats this time. After recently having explored the three rivers Pomatsj, Jerep, and Wasar which corresponds to the north-western style of Asmat art, it is time to interest ourselves in the central asmat style.

So we went upstream on the river Asewetsj and then took a smaller river branch called Jer, which then connects to the Siretsj River. Our first stop is the village of Warse, where we recovered only a few objects because most of the villagers had left to go hunting in the forest.
Nevertheless, we obtained some beautiful “Tifas”, old knives made of casoar bone, and some superbly carved lances used for hunting. The chief’s wife brought us a very old dish made of sagou, which she doesn’t need anymore. Her ancestors had carved it, and till today she hasn’t wanted to separate from it.

It was Perfect timing for us.

By going up the Siretsj River with our boat, we reached Amborep village. We didn’t find many interesting objects here. What is interesting to observe here is that Asmat people don’t like to let us leave empty handed. With little patience, they brought us their objects of great value, they are very ancient objects, and in normal circumstances they wouldn’t have let go of their masterpieces.

It wasn’t before mid day that we arrived, once again under the rain, in the village Atsj, situated on the Betsj River.
Thank god we see a hotel right in front of us; it’s called the “Maranu” hotel. We took a room there that we plan to use as a base while we do all the villages in the region. The hotel staff is really nice and welcoming. We were later joined by Aris, Nur’s cousin, who apparently lives in Atsj. He says that he will guide us to Amanamkaï, a small village about 30 minutes navigation on the Assuwu river.
We were recieved by the tribe chief and a few old people, we gave the usual present. Then he directed us towards the house of the men where a dozen sculptors were occupied cutting works of art. In this village, we acquired some very beautiful pieces, particularly a “salawaku” worked by a man named Dominicus that he carved very finely.

I congratulate him for the quality of his work and encourage all the other sculptors to persevere in their task, because we will be back again in a few months. Negotiations happened fast, and they offered a reasonable price for the two parts. We stayed another two hours chatting about the asmat culture.
When leaving, as usual I distributed candies to the children that have come to join us on the bank.

We arrive at the village of Atjametsj, on the Arowitsj River. Here we find little objects, most of the men being gone to Agats to sell their goods. This is what happens when you don’t arrange a meeting first.
It starts to rain again, so we decide to go back to Atsj, to put all our goods in the shelter.

Our return to Atjs is done under a torrential rain. When it rains in Asmat, it is no joke; but after an extremely hot sunny day, the rain is refreshing. With the Help of Nur and Aris, we discharged the goods to the small hotel. Which we are currently the only customers staying there.

26 October 2007
A little coffee to start off our day, and then we are off to the police station to drop off a photocopy of our road papers. Once our boat is ready to sail we are going towards Jaosakar, a village located on the right affluent river of Sirets, the Sol. as usual under a small rain, which should break up towards mid day.
We are received by some teenagers and children, who lead us to the chief’s house, to which I offer, the custom presents and some tobacco provision. The village, being placed at the edge of a big river, has many frequent passages of Asian trading boats in search of “gaharu*”, a valuable wood which is sold primarily in China and Thailand.
*Gahauru - also called Agar wood, calambac, Oud, aloeswood, etc... Is sold in the form of powder or chips. It’s a natural aromatic resin produced by sick wood of certain conifers of the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, like Aquilaria.

This resin is very odorant and rich in complex molecules that make the wood immune to the attack of parasitic plants and fungus’s “ Phialophora parasitica.”

This Agar wood makes the most extreme of all incense. In its purest form it is worth more than gold. It’s also used in certain luxury perfumes, traditional Chinese, Indian and Tibetan medicine and is considered a powerful aphrodisiac.

The Agar wood is overexploited in Southeast Asia since the 70s and is now threatened with extinction. This wood is extremely rare and its price has greatly raised in the last years. So the Asians go look for new forests to exploit and find the wood, like the forests of Irian Jaya.
A while back the people would only cut down parasited or sick trees; today they also cut down healthy trees to make powder or chips to sell.

The essential activity of most of the men in Jaosakar is the search for this “gaharu” wood and not many people seem to devote themselves to sculpture anymore...

This practice is harmful in two ways:
- It diverts Asmat of their traditional daily activities, like sculpting, they loose their value of their culture.
- It encourages deforestation of certain wild species due to unjustified cutting down of operational trees in the goal of making money.

We leave the village empty handed, and continue towards the east. I tell Nur and Aris to lead us towards places that are more withdrawn with fewer visitors, where we will more likely find interesting objects.
We return on the river Sirets and arrived at the Kaimo village, where we found few woodcarvings: mostly weapons for hunting, and the “Tifas” from the house of men but no ceremonial statues representing ancestors. Even the “salawaku” which have been presented to us are of less interest.

We continue towards Awok, built on the confluence of the rivers Siretsj and betsj; and it’s the same disappointment, trying to collect valuable pieces is not easy. I requested to Nur to change courses and to take us away from this river where everyone just looks for gaharu. Nur tells me that we will perhaps have more chance in the Fos village, on the opposed bank, the village resembled more a colony of Indonesian people than an asmat tribe.

On the bank, a young woman awaits us with a bag in her hand. Once we were on the quay, Aris goes and sees her and invites her into the canoe, without mentioning a word to us. It didn’t take long for me to realise that this was his fiancé, and he made us go all this way just so that he could pick her up.
I don’t say anything and go down from the canoe to go speak to some villagers. I speak to a villager and his wife that is sorting out some gahuru. He tells me that in this area I will not find any sculptures and that there is nobody at the village; everyone has gone to the forest in the search of “gaharu”.
So I return to our boat, very disappointed with Nur and Aris for their behaviour. However this is not the time to get agitated with them. I then asked them to return to Atsj, because it is already 16:00 hours and it would be smarter to return before night.

We arrive in Atsj in a sour mood from this non productive day, annoyed at having being fooled a couple times. Our road papers date limits are coming to the end, and we decide to return to Agats first thing in the morning.

27 October 2007

Our return to Agats was done in a heavy silence. We burned a lot of fuel for small amounts of objects retrieved. The only positive contact was the village of Amanamkaï, where we will certainly return on our next journey here.
After having discharged the boat, we started the cleaning and packing of all the valuable goods we retrieved. Nasir, the packing expert, joined us. He is a very helpful and obliging man. He tells us anecdote after anecdote, because he knows the area well and all its inhabitants; we had a good time. It was just what we needed.

In the afternoon we went to the police station to ask Frank, the chief of police for an extension of our licence of visit. He says that he is sorry and refuses, because he is not the man responsible for extensions. He suggests we return to Tamika to obtain a new road licence,that does not come in our favour because it will cost us additional expenses, the planes are rare and we will waste time.

But Sliman and I realised that we do not have enough remaining cash on us to continue our prospect in the asmat territory. Plus my brother Sliman decided to have a moral breakdown. He says he is sick and tired of walking around in mud all the time and getting constantly wet when in the boat. It is also necessary for us to rest our two faces which are extremely sunburnt. We had thought of almost everything to bring except sun screen...

So we decided that a few days in Tamika might give us some ideas and a chance for our skin to heal.

Nasir informs us that tomorrow there will be two planes coming from Merauke heading to Tamika with one stopover in Ewer. So we need to get two seats on that plane.

28 October 2007

It has been raining all night, and its still raining now. Can the aeroplane take off from Merauke in these conditions? The bigger problem is landing on the wet grounds of Ewer. The landing area for aeroplanes is just a big piece of land covered in grass using thin metal sheets as a path for the plane.

By miracle the rain stops as quickly as it arrived the day before. Now confident we go straight to the port of Agats to take a taxi (small speed boats). Unfortunately we arrived too late, everyone had left.
We wait on the port for more than an hour, angry, we see in the distance planes taking off and landing. A few minutes later a small boat arrives. In the mean time Franky had joined us; he also wants to go to Ewer. So all three of us jumped on the boat, and 20 minutes later we were in Ewer just in time for the second plane to land.

The price of the plane ticket has doubled, and we had no more cash, and to our surprise it was impossible to negotiate. Frank asked us if we wanted to borrow the 30$ that were missing from him. Which will enable us to buy 2 seats, even though there are no tickets to be shown?
Franky has been extremely generous with us and we will not forget that.

The plane only stays a couple minutes on the runway before taking off again. As soon as the plane opened its doors. Many things happened at the same time, passengers rushing to get on and off the plane, with people carrying bags, and some other people just standing there in hope of getting some money some how.

In the rush of people I tried and forced people to the side to make way for a severely wounded guy lying on a stretcher, accompanied by a doctor from the Red Cross. Finally all the passengers moved out of the way, some even helped the wounded man, that had lost an arm the day before from a blow of a machete in a tribal quarrel, and he was now being repatriated to Tamika for intensive care.

Finally everyone took their seats in the plane, and an hour later we landed in Tamika.
Only having a little money left in our pockets we decide to take motorbikes, and go back to the hotel that we stayed in the first time we arrived. Intsia. We asked the hotel to pay both the motorbike drivers for the journey and we will pay them back later.

Around 3 o’clock we arrived in front of the bank just before its closure. We took out just enough money to continue our expedition in Asmat.

We spent the rest of the afternoon in the hotel, accompanied by the hotel owner Made the Balinese architect. Made showed us a superb piece of art from his collection. A japanese sword from world war II. This sabre would have belonged to a top rank Japanese, which perished on the island of Biak in 1945. held since by the natives of the island, it was given to Made in exchange for his service to a tribe.

When night came, we went to pay a little visit to Kall Muller who had promised to open up a nice bottle of brand name liqueur.

29 October 2007
This morning we are going to change hotels, because we prefer to stay in a hotel that is more in the centre of town. We go down to Lawamena, where I have stayed before in a previous trip to the asmat. It is a little less comfortable than the Intsia, but much cheaper. Kall MULLER is already on the way to the asmat area; perhaps we will see him there.
Once the hotel problem was solved, we stopped two motorbike taxis and headed for the Kuala-Kencana police station, located about 40km from Timika, to obtain our new road licence, the original reason for coming to Tamika.

One hour of motorbike, for them to tell us that the man in charge of the road permits is not here at the moment and will is only available tomorrow morning. How annoying!

So we mounted back on the motorbike taxis, and after about 10 minutes it started to rain really hard, in just a few seconds we were soaked. We stopped at a shelter. Two hours later the rain finally stops and we attempt to continue our road. Unfortunately the motorbike that was driving my brother Sliman would not start, because it got water in the corroborator. After half an hour of pushing the motorbike, it started again. We arrived at the hotel completely soaked in water. This is an adventure right?

30 October 2007

The two motorbike taxis met us at the hotel. The police station opens at 9 o’clock so we might as well be the first ones there. When we Arrived at Kuala-Kencana, it only took us a few minutes to obtain our road licence. At the police station we met a French man called Etienne, a French yacht man, he is the owner of a splendid “phinisi*”, he also came to obtain a road licence to bring about a team tourists to visit Korowai. He told us not to hesitate to come on board his ship to have a drink if ever our paths cross again.

“Phinisi – a Indonesian traditional sailing boat made from iron wood.
Has almost no keel (very flat) Built by the Bugis, (the sea people of south Sulawesi) and used as a merchant boat to transport goods from one island to another. These boats are mostly built in Sulawesi at the shipyards of Tanah Beru, they are then often reconditioned by westerners specifically for cruising.

By mid day we were back in Tamika, we took advantage of the time we had in Tamika to buy some sun screen, sun glasses, hats, raincoats and some plastic boots. We bought 4 extra raincoats for our guides. Having already received or road licence, we went to the merpati agency to book two seats on the next flight to Ewer.

31 October 2007
We are registered on the waiting list for a flight leaving on the 1 November.
The day passed by smoothly at the Lawamena hotel; we benefited from this rainy weather by resting and preparing our next expedition to the Asmat.

1 November 2007
We arrive at the airport at 9.00am but as usual our plane will not leave until 1.00pm.

We arrived in Ewer under the rain for a change, but then again it is the raining season. Nur and Aris came to pick us up with their boat. When we arrived at Nur’s house we had a wonderful surprise. Nasir had packed all our goods in just 3 days, and he even put wooden frames on objects that were fragile and bulky.
During our absence Nur seems to have changed his attitude for our consideration, he seems more interested.
From the four galleons of petrol that we bought for stock, Nur has already used 2 for his personal use, and he is still asking for a 100$ from the previous trip. Since we are using his home as base for work, and it is hard to say no. Nur says that he refuses to come on our future trips, so his uncle Nasir will take his place as our guide. He lives in the village Baitopis, close to Nur’s house.
So we went to Nasirs house and I prepared a grilled fish that I had bought in the Agats market. While eating we talked and prepared our program for the following day. We have not discussed any prices for Nasir to guide us on our expedition.

2 November 2007

Our canoe was ready with Nasir very happy. Like all Bugis in asmat territory, he has a small “kios”, charged of provisions which he will sell to the tribes once we have bought their art. Nasir’s neighbour, a native who’s name is Jacob, joined us in the canoe carrying an enormous “tifa” he said it is very ancient, and he wants to sell it to us. I promised him I would examine it more close when we got back, its to late because we are ready to leave.
Our destination is again Sawa-Erma district by the Pomatsj river. On the way, we made a stop at the Yamas village, where we discovered lots of old crocodile teeth.

At Pak Limbangs, in Sawa, we stopped for a bit to restore ourselves, happy to find him with his daughter.

We continued our journey by going upstream on the Pomatsj River, going in the direction of Mbu Agani. the welcome was cold; we remained on the bank to do our purchases. Only a few villagers are here and the chief is not here, so there is no way we are going to the house of men. We have been told that when the chief is not around there is a high risks that they will try to take all our money somehow. We progressed to the next step of the trip which lasted three hours.

Our arrival at the tribe of Momogo was more pleasant, they are very welcoming like the village Pupis: singing, dancing and cries of joy in the whole village. The whole population was there to greet us. With the agreement of the chief of the village, we decided to spend the night there: we will sleep in the house of men, with all the other unmarried men.

The evening was calm, the youngest of the asmat sat around to observe us like we were curious animals and make fun of us in their native language, (its easy to tell when someone is making fun of you no matter what language they use). I bring out the biscuits that were suppose to be our meal for this evening and shared it with the crowd. I only ended up with two biscuits, what a small meal.

Nasir, the sneaky fellow, an original bugis, brought all of his goods into the house of men, and then hid them so no one could see them. He knows that once the papuans have sold all their art to us, they will Immediately spend all their money on his stock.
But this isn’t the moment to reveal his food products with the risk of having to distribute them for free, but considering there is neither light, nor pans in the house of the men and that nobody seems to want to eat, the goods are not likely to be discovered.
We will remain here, with our hollow bellies and all these idlers looking at us as if we came from another planet.

3 November 2007


The chickens are singing, we were bitten by mosquitoes all night long, even after rubbing “guaranteed mosquito repellent” all over our bodies. It itches really bad, not even counting all the bites from the flea’s that live in the house of men.

There are eight fires lit in this immense house, and some men are cooking sagou. It is really a good breakfast, even basic food when your famished is better than nothing. However, nobody invites us to their table; it is every man for himself here. The place that I occupied last night to sleep with all the flees, belongs to a deaf-mute young man who quickly makes me understand, in spite of his handicap, that I must give him some money for the spot.
Finally, the village starts moving a little; the house of men is quickly full of men that have come to sell their art. The asmat telephone functions well. All the villagers already knew that we were here so negotiations start now, never mind the morning coffee.

They presented us some costumes of the devil (Jipae), “Umu” statues, shields, dog teeth necklaces, bows and arrows etc…
I did not give them the pleasure to set their prices. I announce the prices which I thought were reasonable, they are the same prices as everywhere else. All of them shrugged their shoulders and asked: “why have the prices dropped?”

It appears that in Jakarta everything is sold in millions of rupees and I’m only proposing hundreds of thousands of rupees. Some are furious and there is a big discussion/.argument between those who understand and those who don’t.

Some more malignant than others and having apparently travelled some parts of the world, propose to close the debate and not sell us anything, while waiting for more tourists with more money. Unfortunately tourist only pass by about once a year and most of them do not want to buy shields or two meter high statues.
Certain villagers understood where I was coming from, I am not here to choose just one object, but to buy in quantity for a reasonable price for the lot, well all the things that I think I will be able to sell at least. The eldest refuses and orders them to pack up all the goods. Others are furious, because they will miss the chance to sell their articles and then buy provisions from Nasir.

The quarrels in the “house” are rising, and I see that the situation is a dead end, I discreetly decide to leave. I asked Nasir to pack up all his goods and load them into the boat. We will be taking a premature departure, before things get worse.

Several villagers follow us; they refuse to let us leave: they want provisions; so I tell them that I want statues, but at correct prices, like the other villages. They are furious and ask us to stay until tourists with more money show up and buy their objects at the asked price. It is foolish, but I know that there is no other way to make the papuans understand, they are very stubborn. So all there is to do now is leave.
Nasir starts the engine of the boat and we leave promptly, accompanied by a young man from the tribe that needs a ride to Sawa. Just before arriving in Mbu Agani, we come across Kall MULLER on board a fast patrol boat owned by a rich American billionaire, whom he brings to visit Momogo. Thus here is the perfect purchaser for the outrages priced statues back in that village. The young man on our boat immediately understood, changed boats and went back to Momogo with the millionaire.

At Mbu Agani, we take a transverse river branch, which takes us to the Unir river, where we will find the village of Tomor upstream; going up the river is long and hard. On several occasions, we thought that we took the wrong route, but then suddenly after several hours of navigation, a village is in sight: Tomor.

We are exhausted from spending the day on the canoe, and night was starting to fall; we are going to leave the boat here, and once more we had nothing to eat but a few biscuits.

4 November 2007


The mosquitoes did not let us sleep, my left wrist is already swollen from bites of the day before and the day before that. It has gotten infected, and at night I cannot stop myself from scratching. So I rinse my face and hands with mineral water and disinfect it with alcohol.

The villagers show us their artwork, unfortunately we do not find anything interesting and the prices requested are even more outrages. There is no way that we are buying anything just to make the papuans happy, they have absolutely no notion of money. All they know is they want money, and if they don’t get it they get angry.

So we got back into the boat, threw some provisions out to the children and then left.

We will have to sail all day on the Unir river (formerly known as Lorentz) to reach the village of Jeniseko, last asmat village on the upstream before the Yali tribes of the mountain.
We were greeted by the village chief; we offered food and tobacco as the usual gesture. He invited us to the house of men. They did not have many things to present to us but considering the small amount of people who venture this far up river, we found some splendid small statues representing the ancestors. It was very easy to negotiate with the villagers this time, and as soon as they had their money they bought all of the provisions from pak Nasir.

For once, in two days, everyone is happy and got what they wanted. So we decide to spend the night in this tribe, where this time everyone eats and shares the rice, sagou, chocolate bars, coffee, tobacco and even some wild pig and casoar meat.

5 November 2007

As the sun was rising, we slowly descended the Unir river, in the direction of the tribes Ti, Sagapu, and Monu. We visited these villages and found a few interesting things here and there. Just enough to fill up the boat.
At the end of the day we still hadn’t joined the sea, the night had fallen and we could not see anything. Sliman, in front of the boat swept the river with his flashlight, in order to avoid bumping into floating tree trunks. In this jungle, the night is darker than dark. No moon tonight to shine our way.

Around eight o’clock we finally arrived at the mouth of the Unir river, after 110 kilometres of travel.
The tide is low and Nasir is not sure which channel to go through to avoid the silt and quicksand. We see lights in the distance: one which flickers and several which seems static.

Sliman is still curled up in the front of the boat and receives a good bucket of water every time a wave hits. Gradually, we approach the luminous points: they are lights coming from two ships, one trying to gain the open sea and the larger boat was there already.
Finally, we catch up with the first boat; it was a merchant ship. It did not seem to be moving forward because of the swell and current. “Not surprising” Nasir says to me: “it is exactly the place where we feared to pass. Considering its tonnage, it is going to be there for a while”. We slowly pass behind him making course to the second ship.

This boat, more illuminated, seems to be bigger and stronger than the stranded one. We were wondering if this wasn’t the ship of the rich American guy whom Kall Muller accompanied to Momogo. He had told us that the boat was huge, so it had to remain in the open sea.
Nasir advised to try and join them. In the darkness we did not realize the distance that we had to catch up to the boat.

But if it is the boat of Kall MULLER and his friends, once on board they will offer us a drink to comfort us, we are completly soaked. With this perspective, Nasir increases the gas of the engine, which accelerates the boat; Sliman clings to the front while we race towards the boat. It should take less than one hour to catch up with it. But we thought the boat was stopped. Eventually we realized that it was going in the direction of Agats.

Astonishingly it looked like Kall Muller’s boat. He had told us that the boat had to big of a keel to venture close to Agats. We are now in sight and we are trying to get as close as we can, but the boat moves fast.
A few moments later, we distinguish well its silhouette and it looks more like a small steamer than a sailing ship. When we got closer, we finally read its name: “KELIMUTU”. Big disappointment! It is the passenger’s ship which takes people between Sulawesi and New Guinea. No hope of drinking any alcohol on a Muslim ship.

We finally arrived at the small port of Agats, it was low tide. We once again had to face the knee deep mud carrying all the goods for 500 meters to Nasirs house. We employed some men as carriers and transported all the goods in less than one hour.
We took a shower, and ate a sardine can with rice for dinner. It was at this moment that Sliman said he has had enough of the asmat territory. He wants to go find a nice hotel, so that we can have a good night sleep before we set out again.

6 November 2007

Today we decided to go along the coast towards the south. To the mouth of the Sirets River, to join the Jiwa river, which is only accessible when its high tide, to then finally arrive at the Biwar Laut village.

Sliman finally put himself back together and decided to join us after a night of refreshing sleep, which made him want to continue the adventure. We took along with us a papuan guidebook of Biwar Laut, we needed it to find the way to this village because Nasir doesn’t know the way, he has never been around here.

The river was very narrow and strewn with broken tree trunks that we had to move out of the way ourselves to make a path for the boat.

We arrived at Biwar Laut at 10:00; we were received by the village chief, who led us to the house of the men. I gave him the usual present, which he accepted but he found it quite small.

They asked me for money and not a little: 100 $ would do the deal he says. He says it is the normal price to pay for anyone that wants to enter his village. After a lot of negotiating we settled on 20$. But I then realise that these Asmat have nothing to offer us at all. They have understood that they only need to make people pay to come in, and they do not need to work to make money.

We left Biwar Laut not even surprised by their behaviour because we are now use to it, and if this behaviour has not generalized everywhere it will soon develop.

We go up towards the north along the coast that goes into the Bow river, to arrive at the Owus Village.

fortunately we were well recieved there and discovered many objects to buy. negotiations happen fast and everyone was happy. On this trip Nasir did not bring provisions to sell because these villages are rather close to Agats.
In the afternoon feeling perked up, we wanted to try to go through the sea again, to go down south along the coast towards Omandesep, but the sea was to restless and the boat is not big enough, So we decided to return. We will try and go another time by other means of transport.

On the way back, we stopped at Per, on the Mani river, a coastal village well known by art lovers for its famous sculptors like Thomas Omanerpak or Lazarus. Photographs of the chiefs ornaments occupy many pages in the Asmat Books...

Thomas receives us at his place and then leads us to the house of the men: an old damaged house where the statues are stored. Apparently a new house is in the course of construction.

While entering the house, my foot goes through the worm-eaten wooden floor, which notches my leg. Just what I needed!

Thomas sold most of his statues at the last auction sale in Agats, but we bought about 10 objects from which he had kept at his place. Lazarus also offered us some of his objects which I find authentic but not quite original. The sun was setting so it was time for us to leave our new friends.

We are moving towards Jepem, on the river Jomat, a village just before the Syuru village, where we will spend the night because it is low tide just like in Agats, and we are sick and tired of discharging the goods in the mud. So we will return tomorrow morning.

7 November 2007

We did not find anything to buy in Jepem so we left back to Agats.
On arrival all the goods were discharged. The process is much faster when it is high tide because we can tie up on the quay right in front of Nasirs house.
Sliman, who has had enough of the mosquitoes and the uncomfortable stays in the house of men, has another little emotional breakdown. He decided to stay at Nasir’s to finish packing all the artefacts. He gave his spot on the boat to Moktar. With whom I will leave with towards the south east district “Pantai Kasoari ».

8 November 2007

We departed in the darkness a big boat was awaiting us. We did not even take time to eat breakfast. Mokhtar is going to accompany us; he is a Bugis born in Basim in Pantai Kasoari. He has been going back and forth his whole life. He knows all the areas and tribes. He works for the “Foundation for the development of the asmat people” therefore he has access to this boat which his friend rented to him at a very reasonable price.


Our first stopover was on the Fajit river, to the Basim village where his father lives and owns a small “kios”. He prepared a nice lunch for us, because we have not eaten since yesterday.

The People of this village are all very welcoming; they had already presented themselves at Mokhars father’s house to sell us their goods.
Mokhtar explains to them that we must first visit villagers which are more upstream while it is still high tide, and on our return home we will examine their objects.

We went to Buepis, a village upstream of Basim, where a whole group of people with their nose pierced “bipanes” welcome us. They had some “ salawaku” and other objects of traditional use.

Once the business was done, I was taxed with a leaving fee of 50 $, that I quickly paid and then disappeared. They are cannibals in this region.

We left to go to the next village as quickly as possible, Naneu village.
We meet a few young people there that offered us tifas and salwaku, that surely belonged to their parents. The members of this tribe are more civilized so we exited Basim peacefully. Mokhtar proposes we sail towards the south coast until Aorket, at the mouth of the river Ewt.

We sailed the entire coast of cassowaries (Casuarina coast) to the Bay of Cook (Cook's Bay). Once Aorket village was in sight, it was easy finding the entrance path, because it was starting to become low tide.

The villagers had spotted us from their beach, and soon the beach was full of people. It was sunset, and to my surprise there is no mud or mangrove, just a small white sand beach with seashells.

The boat had hardly touched the shore that the tribe people rushed to help us moor. But this beach, which seems idyllic from afar at sunset, is infested with mosquitoes; the villagers were all hitting themselves all over their body to chase away the mosquitoes. This is horrible!

I take out my most precious weapon, a bottle of anti mosquito lotion; I rub my whole body with this magic potion. Two mosquitoes will bite me instead of three, because even though the mosquitoes are ridiculously small their stings are terribly painful and irritating.

The village chief welcomed us and gave me a hug. He is a stooped old man with a huge hole in his nasal septum. The Bugis say that if an Asmat nose is pierced, it means he has tasted human flesh. I want to believe him, but I think those who don’t have piercings have eaten human flesh too.

I am invited to enter the big village house, but since there are so many mosquitoes present, I prefer to accept Mokhtar invitation to his cousin’s house who owns the “kios” of this tribe. The location will be more comfortable and less noisy mainly because in the house of men, a whole bunch of children is riveted to a television, whose electricity is supplied by a generator.
At the cousin’s house, they told me where the showers were, and once I was clean, I cleaned my wounds caused by scratching of mosquito bites, which are beginning to get infected. After I coated my entire body with lotion, I went to join my new friends.

we ate all together, meals consisting of rice and fresh fish; here a kilo of fish only costs 1000Rp, perhaps the cheapest place in the world to buy fish.

Around 8.00p.m, we were starting to feel less mosquito bites, so we decide to go visit the village, accompanied by some men from the tribe.
We make a sort of camp by the edge of the water and lit a fire to keep the last mosquitoes thirsting for blood away.
The young villagers, in the beginning quite shy are now more talkative, and soon I got to know one of them; Sakai, a guy with a moustache, about 30 years old. Single, like most of the men that are sitting with us tonight.

Sakai has a sinister look, but is yet very friendly and has a helpful nature, he is responsible for taking care of the fire, so throughout the evening added pieces of logs and fanned the flames, while his friends only threw in a few twigs.

Sakai is an apprentice sculptor and offered me a statue of his work, which is not yet perfect, because he is still inexperienced, but the price he said was reasonable and his friendly nature made me want to buy it. So I did and I don’t regret it because:
Sakai really happy from selling his statue, told me he had something that could be of more interest to me. I'm very curious, so I tell him that everything that relates to the Asmat art fascinates me, even the most unusual thing, especially the most unusual things.

Sakai disappeared into the surrounding jungle and returned half an hour later, holding in his hands a mysterious package.
He put it on the sand, wrapped in old towels was three human skulls. Sakai has had them stored for several years; he says that in the Asmat territory it is dangerous to possess such trophies, especially those obtained by cannibalism. The Indonesian government is serious on this matter.

Sakai does not hide from me that despite his relatively young age, he was once a cannibal. He willingly admitted to me that human flesh, which taste a little like pig meat is the best meat he has ever eaten, and that is why all his ancestors have eaten this meat for all these decades.
But the skulls that Sakai is showing me, are not those of neighboring tribes or warriors killed in battle and cannibalized that is called “Ndaokus”, they are simply the skulls of his ancestors, “Ndambirkus” because the skull and the jaw is still intact. The jaw is tied together with rattan. They also decorated the orbits and nasal cavity, with a mixture of bee wax and some red and black seeds called “Abru precatorius”. A splendid headdress of cacatoo feathers can sometimes complete the decoration.

Observing the skulls and the patina, I assume they are between fifty and one hundred years old, real museum pieces! I am really amazed at the tremendous opportunity that was presented to me tonight: Asmat skulls of rare authentic patina!

Sakai is obviously happy that his surprise has pleased me, he is one of the few in the village to keep skulls of ancestors. he promised me he would bring me more at dawn, most likely the rest from cannibalism that he is hiding in the forest.

Mokhtar, who was fortunately absent during this whole time to visit friends in the village, now joined us by the fire, unaware of the transaction which had been made. He asked us if we wanted to spend the night at his cousin’s place in a small hut, which I accepted immediately. No way am I sleeping on the beach with all these mosquitoes!

A mosquito net is waiting for me in the shelter. Despite the series of stories on cannibalism told this evening and other legends that would freeze your blood. I fall asleep peacefully.

9 November 2007

The screaming of a woman running around the village wakes the village up. I do not understand what she is saying, because the dialect of each village is different. Mokhtar's cousin translated for us.
He explains that the village has caught her husband in bed with another woman, while she herself was in the arms of the husband of the mistress of her husband. Very complicated!

The whole village awoke from the bickering of the two women, also involving the two husbands. Each villager now takes part. Mokhtar's cousin told us that among the Asmat, sexuality is very liberated by polygamous tradition, exchanging partners is theoretically forbidden today by the Government of Jakarta but it is a common thing here, the practice is known as papitsj. All this does not prevent small fits of jealousy, which could end in a bloodbath. But this time things will settle down by morning, and there will be no war within the tribe.

A discreet knock at my door, Sakai woke me because he knew where I was staying. He asks me if I want to discover the rest of his treasures before the whole village wakes up. We walk about twenty minutes in the mangroves along the beach to the east. This is where his bones are buried. It takes us one hour to dig up the skulls which seem to have been buried here for a long time.
Sakai has been conserving them for a long time, he has either found them in the forest or some close relative gave them to him. He knows the importance of preserving the bones have to the Asmat culture, although the Indonesian law forbids and punishes cannibalism and possession of such trophies. Sakai must subconsciously think that I, a European Amateur of Asmat art, will better protect his prized possessions .

The skulls are very ancient and seem to have belonged to men killed in battle and cannibalized. Because the lower jaw is missing and there are lots of holes on the vertex or results of a violent trauma (crushing the skull) and extraction of the brain, with the use of stone or special kind of ax for cannibalistic consumption (i.e. cooked alone or ritually mixed with the extract of sago).
The absence of the lower jaw is due to the custom that Asmat warrior offers the jawbone of the vanquished to his wife or another woman as tradition to wear as a necklace. The ultimate insult to your enemies! But given his age, Sakai could not have eaten these men, or he would have been really young. Is he showing off?

We dug up everything we could, but it was starting to be late so we went back to the village before they would start becoming concerned of our absence.

The villages of Aorket and Pirimapun had reunited on the beach across the bay, where our boat was docked. It's like being at a popular market each villager patient, standing in front of his work and waiting until I go around and choose the things I like. There is a lot of choice so I need to be patient to find what we are searching for.
But I realized that the most valuable goods are not shown to me until the end. The most beautiful objects will only be presented on the sly in a couple hours, after I have suffered the heat on this beach with an extremely hot sun.

Once all the transactions were made, I excused my self and told them that we had to leave before the tide was to low. Mohktar and Tinus, a young man from the tribe took responsibly to load all the goods into the boat.

I must go thank Mohktar’s cousin for his hospitality. Two official secretaries wearing uniforms came up to us. They are too beautiful to be honest girls. They defiantly want money. It’s certain.

Both the girls went to sit in Mokhtar cousin little hut and pulled out a big book, where I have to write my name and signature, and as I predicted I have to write down the amount of money that I am prepared to pay them. I explain to them that I am here to spend my money only on valuable items that have been worked on by the villagers, and so I will only give my money to a villager in exchange for his beautiful work. I wont give in to the their manipulation.

They started getting angry and threaten to take all of my goods if I did not pay each of them a $ 100. I am against people that try use corruption and intimidation, so I pretend not to have enough money, telling them I had spent it all with the villagers, I only have $ 4 left in my wallet so I will give $ 2 to each. But that was not it! They protested! so to try and cut the situation short, I suggested for one to take the $4 and the other one can have my flashlight. In the end they gave in.

Back on the beach, I see that the tide has fallen during this interlude, and that our boat is aground. It will take us more than half an hour with the help of a dozen strong young villagers to return it to the water.

Our boat finally reaches the water so we sail up north, where we reach Kajerin. Tinus, who has decided to accompany us, was fortunately there to show us the way when it was low tide. Once on the beach, I get off the boat and ask the first man I see to take me to the chief of tribe.

We were sinking in the mangroves all the way there. The chiefs house is the last house at the end of the central aisle that runs through the entire village. The houses of women are on the opposite on the left and right side. The ground is muddy and slippery at the edge of the forest and once again I have to try and keep my balance on tree trunks spread out on the mud to make some sort of path. My recovering ankle is not helping.

Finally we find the chief to whom I give the custom presents. I explain to him that I am here only shortly, and I would like him to reunite all his villagers on the beach with all the objects they have to sell. I then went straight back to the beach followed by a few villagers, more and more came as we got closer to the beach.

Immediately the "nose pierced papoos" offered me human bones necklaces. I tell them that all Asmat art interests me, but that payment will be made from the boat once all of the goods are in the boat. Then I had to face the entire population who are offering me all their objects of creation.

I began with the shields and "Tifas. But I quickly understand, since the Sakai incident, that men who come up to the canoe with plastic bags but don’t open them surly have more valuable or secret objects to quietly show me. I quickly take the bags and discreetly look inside to see what it was.
What I sometimes discover in those bags is morbid, but interesting for amateurs. So I tell the villagers with bags to wait until I finish looking around at the objects showed, and once I finish then I will move on to negotiation with them about their objects. The bags were carefully hidden in the canoes.

The tribe chief decided to join us and sat on the bow of our boat. He is a man that is about it in his forties, pale skin, seems intelligent, accompanied by his son aged 16 who is standing behind him. He looked liked he was mixed blood, he had pale skin. In one hand he held a huge "tifa" new and worthy of a leader, and in the other a wonderful salawaku. Proud, almost disdainful, this young man does not mix in with the crowd, he stayed behind his father.

Once I finished paying and loaded the boat with all the goods that interested me, I hand some cash to the men who had quietly handed me plastic bags, I know exactly who gave me what and how many skulls were in the bags.

Some skulls are in perfect condition and beautifully decorated (beeswax surrounds the orbits and dotted with colorful berries of all kinds or seashells), where as some others were partially broken and incomplete. Some are skulls of ancestors and other enemies of those killed and eaten.

Other villagers also offer me necklaces made of human bones, jawbones and the missing pieces of some skulls that I had acquired earlier. Disgusting.

I then faced the village chief and asked him how much he wanted for his tifa and shield.. He smiled at me in an ambiguous way, but did not answer me. He seemed to be of high status so I offered the chief double the price that I offered the other villagers for their objects, he accept and appreciated the gesture.

I must now go, but the crowd stays very agitated around the boat, almost capsizing the boat and its contents several times. I raised the tone of my voice to some people, while keeping my cool and polite smile. Some really look mean with their bright red eyes, injected: I do not want to end up like Rockefellers son in 1961, in a plastic bag.
In an attempt to divert their attention, I propose to take a large family photo of all the villagers, an idea that everyone accepts but in exchange for $ 10 per photo. I agree, only if the money goes to the chief. They all consent, but there is bidding and it quickly becomes $ 20. I take the first picture and asked the villagers to move backwards a little in order to get everyone in the photo. I then take a second photo, and a man clinging to my boat shakes it, he looks at me with a look that says “give me my 40$!”

I looked around to observe the reaction of the chief, who seemed to be unfazed, and continues to smile at me; I move towards him while he is still sitting on the bow of the canoe. I told him that everyone agreed for me to give him $ 20, he asked me 5 more so I accepted, and he got down from the boat and headed back home.

I tried without provocation to take a final photo of the entire village on the beach, but immediately they started yelling "We are not puppets." Though I understood "we are completely wild” As I respect these people, I put away my camera.
You have to stay calm, smart and know a little psychology to manage in this country.

We still sail towards the north, half an hour from Kajerin, you find the village Bajuni at the mouth of the river Dere. Once on shore, I went off the boat and asked those present where I can meet the village chief. They told me that he is in Basim. I told them that I was looking to buy objects, a couple men presented me their work but most of them were gone because they are accompanying the chief to Basim for a ceremony. So I will confine myself to a few shields and knives made of cassowary’s bones.

We head upstream to the village of Simsagar.

We arrive at a dock, which I must climb to reach because now the tide is really low. I go to the chief’s house, whom is under the shower. Wow at least there is one clean papoo.

They make us wait outside the house. Once the chief was available I went up a small staircase made of branches, trying not to lose my balance because of my problem with the Achilles tendon. Concurrently, as I progressed into the house men were laying mats under my feet as I was going along until I reached the chief at the end of the house. How ceremonial. It was really important for him to take a shower and be clean! I feel like I am in the son of the Ambassador of Persia visiting the court of the Sun King.

I sit cross-legged before him and give him the usual customary package. I explain the purpose of my visit and he takes it very seriously, and I insisted on the fact that the tide was getting lower and I would like to receive all the sellers directly on the beach. He agrees and orders his men to present their collection.

I quickly realize that the whole village already knows the reason for my visit and is waiting for me at the dock. I hasten to return to the boat, before being overwhelmed by the crowd.

I ask that they first bring me the "salawaku" I get about 20 very beautiful ones. The oldest object was inherited by the tribe chief from his late fathers. The negotiations are fast and fair for everyone, no protesters and spoilers. Everyone had something interesting to sell and a correct amount of money in return. The boat is almost full.

We leave the village in order to go deeper into the territory of Pantai Kasoari. But Mokhtar, wisely suggests returning to the sea instead, because our fuel is low and we can barely return to Basim tonight, especially since it is very difficult to find fuel less than $ 3 per liter around here.

We arrived in Santambor, a coastal village where it’s not as hot as Simsagar. We did not find anything interesting here. The village chief, about 30 years old and very skinny, says he wants to go to Basim, and asks if he can catch a ride with us.

The tide is now at its lowest level and it is difficult to take the path that leads to the ocean. We were on the verge of falling into the mud but fortunately the chief had brought a paddle that he used to stick into the mud to stop the boat. Instantly, the engine stalls and Mokhtar took a good fifteen minutes to restart the engine and take us to the sea without tipping over. We sailed to Basim once again under the rain.

When we arrived in Basim the tribe chief of Santambor didn’t want to leave us, he is standing in front of Mokhtar father’s house. He brought with him a small traveling bag and looks like he intends to follow us to Agats. Considering the load of the canoe is only three-quarters full the chief knows that we can permit ourselves to have one extra person on the boat in the open sea. After an hour of discussion he finally left, only God knows where.

10 November 2007

Having slept only a few hours, Mokhtar woke me up at 6.00 am. We must take an early start, today we are going to the Buepis village then to Naneu village, and then back to Agats with the boat full of goods from the day’s work.

We arrived in Buepis. we were received by a group of "pierced nose" who have little to offer, a few shields and "Tifas. Even though I know a few techniques to avoid these situations, the village chief still managed to drain $ 50 from me as an entrance fee in his village. No drinks or entertainment offered!

We are going in the Direction of Naneu village, but arriving there we are told the chief is in Basim. The rest of them were younger men who received us, and immediately offered some beautiful tifas. They said they had seen me in Basim, and they immediately returned so they could show/sell me their tifas, which undoubtedly belonged to their parents or their grandparents. Were they allowed to sell them?

The boat is full; I have barely enough room for me to slip in at the front, protected from wind and spray. I put my raincoat on and we sailed off back to Agats.

The journey is long, because we are sailing against the current. We tried to have a stop at Otsjanep and Omandesep village, but the tide was again too low and it was impossible to find a path without the risk of falling, so we abandon the plan and continued back.

The night arrives and we are still at sea with a black moon: zero visibility.

The sea begins to get agitated, to continue in these conditions with a boat full of goods would be suicidal. The wise thing to do is to get closer to the coast to locate a "bifak" (phonetically, a Papua bivouac), i.e. a shelter that Asmats build along the rivers or on the coast, so that in case of hard blows they can go into the shelters.

It is 11.00pm and we think we are between Omandesep and Biwar Laut. So we decide to camp here. The wind is blowing terribly hard: but that is a positive point because it is chasing all the mosquitos away. Tinus found a crab that he wants to grill on the fire. And since I have some cookies left, I teasingly asked if he wanted some to make a hamburger, “Big-mac-cheese or Royal cheese” Outbids Mokhtar. All three of burst out laughing, but in the end it was Mohktar who ate the crab right in front of Tinus.

11 November 2007

I awoke surprised, I had been devoured by mosquitoes, the wind had stopped blowing and the mosquitoes came out of their hiding spots, attracted by the warmth of our bodies. We immediately got back into the canoe and returned to sea which was still a little choppy. I stayed curled up in the front trying to fall back to sleep while avoiding the sprays

Back in Basim, Mokhtar's father gave me as a gift a baby cockatoo, found lost in the forest, with another parrot wounded in the eye and the leg by a hunter. I put them in two separate boxes that I covered with material. They seem frightened, but still in good health. And I slipped them in the boat making sure not to crush them.

We arrived on the Bay of Agats, the tide is high and we can easily dock just fifty meters from Nasir’s house. Once ashore, Mokhtar, exhausted, ties the boat and returns home, leaving us without any explanation.

Tinus and Sliman who came out to greet us, assisted in unloading the cargo under the rain, that became stronger and stronger. We must be diligent if we do not want to damage the objects collected, especially the "salawaku" which could lose their beautiful red and white colors.

In half an hour everything was at Nasirs house. We dried off the wet goods by putting them outside where there were a few rays of sunlight.
Nasir informs me that a merchant ship chartered by the culture and tourism department of the Asmat region for an exhibition of the people, will set to sea today in destination to Bali. On board must be loaded seven long canoes, as well as statues and paddles. Taking a look at our finances and considering the possible difficulties in finding a merchant ship or other means of transport to repatriate our thirty cubic meters of goods to Bali. I jump at the opportunity and decided to end our expedition in the Asmat. Nasir, Sliman and Tinus will be responsible for packing all the latest objects.

I go to Pak Sam’s, he is responsible for the cultural and tourism service of the Asmat region and also the charter for the merchant ship. He is about forty years old, from Makassar in South Sulawesi. He explains to me that from 21 to 28 November 2007 an Asmat exhibition will be held in Bali, with dances, singing and various cultural attractions, to promote the art and culture of these tribe people for the tourists of the Balinese population. It is the 12th today and the opening of the exhibition is in 10 days, we have no time to lose.

Two men then arrive at Pak Sams: Buddin, the owner of the merchant ship chartered originally from Tomia, one of the four islands of Wakatobi (South-east Sulawesi), well known in the Banda Sea for its corals and the annual spawning of sea turtles, and Endi, a captain and an experienced sailor of 36 years from Probolinggo, a fishing port on the north coast of Java.

Pak Sam explains that time is limited because it takes ten days to sail to Bali, we would have to leave today to get there on time. We negotiate a reasonable fee for the transport of my goods. The cost remains high given the limited finances that I have. But I have no choice and it is too good of an opportunity to miss.
Pak Sam asks me to go with the ship and ensure the arrival in Bali is on time. He said he will deal with all the boarding and other paperwork necessary to leave. These papers will all cost me and are actually unnecessary and it will take me a couple days to obtain them. I accept, I am glad that I am going to save the cost of the plane tickets from Tamika to Bali.

Everything is set then. So I went to the market with Mokhtar, who came to join us at Pak Sams, and we bought four bottles of brandy, some vegetables and lemon, the rest we will buy from Nasir.

We returned to Nasir house, Mokhtar and Nur offer me their respective long-boat to transport all the goods on the merchant ship anchored in the harbor. Four shuttle boats will be needed to bring all the goods. We hired 8 people to help us.

Nasir prepared us 10 days worth of food an then put them in boxes.

Whew! All our merchandise is now properly stored in the ship and our personal belongings in the captain's cabin, which is shared with four people: Buddin, Endi, Sliman and me. There is only one small bed but we will take turns sleeping in it. But if we have enough time we will stretch out a rattan mat and attach it to the back bridge.

The boat is a "phinisi", the famous Indonesian traditional sailboat, which we have already discussed earlier. Thirty meters long on six meters wide, built in Sulawesi 20 years ago. The boat seems to be clean at first but I quickly discovered that the stowaways: rats and cockroaches will be on this journey too

Most Indonesian vessels use old engines of heavy weight made in Japan, This boat has an old Mitsubishi engine of 6 cylinders, it’s about 20 years old. The engine room is dark and little can be done, but the engineer and captain assure me without a shadow of doubt that everything will work perfectly and that we will be in Bali on 21st as planned. I hope their god hears their prayers, because I don’t think it will happen.

The seven Asmat canoes accost near our ship, we were waiting for them to lift the anchor. It will take one hour with thirty young vigorous men to load them on the deck.

Suddenly a huge rat followed by an Asmat guy burst through the bridge and fell in the water near a long canoe, where one of the men dived in the water hands first by reflex, to catch the animal; the rat dived under water in order not to get caught.
But after several attempts the Asmat was finally able to catch the rat, he quickly twists the neck and throws the corps into the boat. "It will be for dinner tonight" he says, with hungry eyes.

Everything is ready: the documents of the vessel, cargo, full fuel, food provisions, crew and even my birds Yakop, my young cockatoo of just one month, and Heckel the blind bird, including three small Asmat parakeets that are also on the boat, they are the same species as Heckel.
The ship is called the "SURYA TIMUR (should translate as' the beautiful SURYA of the East"). It usually carries a variety of essential goods to Surabaya, the capital of the Indonesian province of Java is located on the north coast of the island, goods then will eventually be distributed in the Asmat region for several months, until the holds are empty. On the way back it usually carries tons of Sandal wood, a wood that is sold at a high price in Surabaya. This time it will only bring back asmat art and us.

Endi gave the order to lift the anchor. Goodbye Asmat land! Goodbye all those that have sailed with us during this trip and will leave an indelible trace in our memories. Comfortably installed, we are happy to return to Bali to our families and the comfort and benefits of civilization.
I will use the free time I have on this boat, to attend to my secondary skin infections caused by mosquitoes that are not yet healed, and get to know the crew.
They are seven members not counting the captain: the mechanic Junaidi, and his deputy Ali, the cook Moya, and the men from the bridge: Jamal Junaid, Bula and Bisu the deaf mute one. All of them originate from Tomia, like Buddin, and all of them have been long-time friends.

To celebrate the beginning of the journey and then end of our trip, I open a bottle of brandy, then a second, we are happy to be at sea and it is measured by the number of glasses we drink.
Drunk and tired, I fell asleep on a mat at the rear of the cockpit.

12 November 2007

I wake up from a deep sleep. Even the cockroaches who crawled over my body all night long didn’t make me leave the arms of Morpheus. I feel an irritation on my right hand and it’s swollen, after several cockroaches bites. Junaidi tells me that: it is normal and common to be bitten by cockroaches or rats during sleep on a ship, and he tells me that the cockroaches can even penetrate plastic water bottles and then drink the water.

I then get up to realize with amazement that the boat is still in Agats, How is this possible? I dreamt in my sleep that we lifted the anchor and departed? Captain Endi explains to me that during the night Pak Sam called on his mobile and told him that many items had been forgetting on the platform including the oars for the canoes. In order to have a credible exhibition it is essential to come retrieve them. One day has been lost.

I wonder if this is not an opportunity to get back on land and buy 2 more bottles of Brandy because there are only two left and ten drinkers. Muslim or not, in an evening there will soon be nothing left. Too late the oars have already been loaded onto the deck, the crew lifted the anchor again. Bali here we come.

We are now off the coast of Asmat, no way can we turn back now. Two net lines were thrown out into the sea behind the boat hoping to catch some fish for lunch, but the water that comes from all the rivers of Irian Jaya is muddy and alluvial; our lures are not likely to attract fish for several days. So we are going to go for hard-boiled eggs and white rice for this first meal at sea

I'm sitting at the back of the boat talking with Endi and Buddin and we are now well away from the coast. The water is still a bit muddy but we see some floaters and flags floating on the water about a hundred meters to the left of the boat. There is no other ship in the horizon, all the men start to pull in the blue ropes and buoys and everything that was hooked on it. “These are shark lines” explains Juniedi.
Hundreds of meters of nylon rope were pulled on board and about every ten meters a shark hooked on it. Small black tip sharks are on the hooks but they have been dead for several days. And some even eaten.

These lines must have drifted and their owners have lost it, everything was on board and on the last hook Jamal finds a 20 Kilo Merou fish still alive. Hum! We're going to have a good dinner tonight!

I cut up two huge fish, which I divide into small pieces and then fry the fish, Moya, the cook, takes the fish heads to make us a good soup. Having no ice it is impossible to preserve all the fish for more than twenty four hours.

Everyone has eaten as much as they can but we still have about three quarters of the fish left. Moya will warm up the soup several times in the night so that it does not go bad. Everyone keeps busy however they can, Endi opens a bottle of brandy and tells me stories from his past. Sliman’s playing dominoes on the deck with three crew members.

Already Buzzed but not satisfied, we open the second and last bottle of Brandy, the atmosphere is happy and everyone is having a good time. The sea is very calm and the sky full of stars

Empty bottle of brandy, so everyone goes to bed except Junaidi who is on the watch and takes the helm.

13 November 2007

I wake up on the deck, I shared my bed with my brother Sliman, with a moldy pillow that was found in the captain's cabin. Hmm the boat is at a stop and only the generator works.
Endi explains that the fuel purchased in Agats was cut with water. We must therefore change the filters and drain the tank; it will take us a few hours!

Moya prepares a hot coffee. After drinking our coffee and smoking a cigarette, we took advantage of the fact that the boat was at a stop to go for a swim in the now blue sea of Aru.

The boat is still hasn’t started again; repairs will take longer than expected but nobody seems to worry and everyone sits down at the table to eat soup and eat the rest of the fried Moure fish with white rice. It Lacks seasoning so we spread a little lemon on the fish to give it more taste.

The boat, immobilized, is the drifting with the waves. The news is not good; injectors in the engine have leaks. Endi and Junaidi begin to disassemble and take apart the whole engine.

Bisu cleans the injectors that have been removed; Bula transfers the fuel from one tank to the other. The injection pump is damaged, and no one here has the qualifications to repair it.

We ate the Merou fish again tonight, and had a splendid dinner. But this will be the last time because the fish is already starting to smell and we will have to throw it away.
The engine still has not been fixed, but all the men are squeezed in the engine room. Since I know nothing about mechanicals I prefer to go to bed.

14 November 2007

The sun is really strong, it is very hot today.
The boat has not moved one cm. there is no wind or current, we are in the exact same position as yesterday, off the Kamaro coast.
In the engine room, we try and find a solution but there are only two old tools that we can use and no spare parts.
We try and tinker with the engine. Some joints are cut out on rubber planks. Sliman who knows a little about mechanism, also tries to help.

The night falls and the situation worsens: two injectors continue to leek and the dynamo has just died on us; impossible to turn the engine back on.

November 15, 2008

I wake up in the captain’s cabin.
The whole crew including the captain, spent most of the night in the engine room in vain!
This time it is the battery cables that got burnt. A second dynamo was found so we tried to fix the first one with the parts of the one found.

The dynamo is still not working.
Buddin is trying to contact other boats through the radio to try and get them to rescue us, but it seems like we are the only boat in the region. I don’t think there is any way to be rescued.

We see a ship in the distance and Sliman makes distress signals using the mirror. It didn’t seem like it worked, but to our surprise half an hour later the ship turns around and head towards us.

It is a merchant ship on the way to Sulawesi. Their boat is much smaller than our boat and has no spare parts that we could use to fix our dynamo.
20 minutes later the boat leaves us to our destiny.
Everything has been tried but the engine still won’t turn on, every man that comes out of this oven, the engine room, is filthy, dirty, exhausted and discouraged.
To try and comfort everyone and fill our stomachs, Moya cooks us white rice and boiled eggs.

16 November 2007
The current has become stronger and the boat has been derived towards the coast during the night and the coastal vegetation is now quite visible. The sea is now only 30 meters deep, if we are pushed further we will have to throw out the anchor because if not we will run aground on the beach.

We are starting to ration the food, which were already small portions to start with. The situation in the engine room is not getting better. How long will we be stuck on this boat?

Buddin is really worried; we will never be in Bali by the 21 November for the opening of the asmat festival.
Since we are halfway to the port of Tamika and Kaimana, I suggested to him to try and contact one of these ports by radio, to eventually try and get help from another boat. But Buddin doesn’t seem to agree. He knows that if we took this initiative it would cost us hundreds of litters of fuel that we don’t have.

Buddin, the owner of the boat spends the whole day walking around in circles and trying to contact other boats hoping to get help.
We are alone and have to face our problems ourselves; we have to fix the engine with the only tools we have!
Junaidi is still trying to find where the broken part is on the dynamo, where as Ali is trying to fix the injectors.
We have all drank a lot of coffee today so I think we are going to have a hard time falling asleep.

17 November 2007

The dynamo has been reassembled again for the third time; Junaidi and Bisu install it on the engine and vainly try to start it again, but it remains absolutely quiet.
Sliman then realizes that the battery cables are not tightened enough and very rusted; after a meticulous cleaning for a few minutes, the engine starts to whirr and then starts again.
Junaidi throws himself onto the wheel and the boat is moving again! The injectors are still leaking and the ship is moving only at the speed of four knots, but we are moving, that is the important thing! We all are exhausted and a few hours of rest will do us good.
I awake from being rocked heavily by the swell. The wind is rising and blowing at twenty five knots. It is coming from the west, the direction we are headed, so it is slowing us down, we are now only going at two knots. We hope to reach the island of Gorong in two days, in order to be able to get the injectors checked.

On this island, there are many trading ships and we think that we will be able to find one that will help us. If the wind turns in another direction before the end of the day that will facilitate things for us.

Our speed is now of three knots per hour. The wind slightly lessened and blows between fifteen and twenty knots, the sky is grey.

I feed my birds powdered baby milk for babies, mixed with warm water and biscuits. Yakop only chirps and eats. Heckel and the small parakeet are very affectionate, they like to play and walk on my shoulder. They hate being alone.

After one week of navigation, the captain’s cabin has become a true mess; between the birds, the leakages of water and the whole crew, it is no Hilton hotel.

The wind has slightly dropped, but the current remains very strong, our speed is two knots per hour.

Moya the cook has a malaria relapse; I gave him three tablets to swallow and hopefully tomorrow he will feel better.
Yakop is dirty from sitting in his cage that is full of faeces, even though I clean it out twice a day. He has only a fine coat but I think it needs a warm bath

Very clean with its fine plumage now shining, Yakop has once again become attractive.

Our cruising speed is two knots: I asked the captain if it was possible to put a little more power on the engine in order to catch up with wasted time. We went up to three and half knots. We are just offcoast of Adi Island on the western point of New Guinea; the two injectors are leaking more and more, slowing down our speed more and more.

November 18, 2007

The sea was very agitated last night; the wind did not stop blowing and we were rocked all night long.

Everyone had gone to sleep very early therefore awoke at dawn. The wind has calmed. And we are moving at three point six knots; with a little luck we will arrive at Gorong before midnight, which means that we will have to wait tomorrow morning to repair the engine.
The captain then decides to put our course towards the island of Banda, more in the west, he wants to be there tomorrow by mid day.

Moya announces some more bad news: we have no more coffee, sugar or tea. There is only white rice and supermie (Indonesian packet noodles). The crew does not care; white rice is enough for them. The lines are still tied to the back of the boat and we are impatiently waiting until a fish bites the hook.
Wow! The lines are moving: Junaidi and Bisu bring up four superb yellow tunas of approximately three kg each. We are going to have a good feast. An amazing catch when you think that all they used was “tali rafia” (plastic string).

The drinking water is running low to; the few bottles we had were pierced by the sneaky cockroaches. There is only 6 litters left for 20 people. Fortunately we recovered rainwater in plastic barrels, in case we need it. Normally we use this water for shower, but if we have no other choice then we will have to drink it.

My birds also don’t have any more food: so I prepare them some “Bubur” (porridge). We really need to go on land as soon as possible.

Moya is feeling much better; I think the tablets had a good effect on him. As for me all my wounds have healed.
The afternoon was really hot. I spent most of my time on the prow of the boat daydreaming. I also cut Sliman and Buddin’s hair, I unconsciously made them a pirate hairstyle.

Jamal caught a beautiful barracuda for our dinner tonight. With no wind we are moving at a speed of four knots per hour on the calm sea. We should be in the Watubela archipelago by tonight.
A dozen huge dolphins have joined us in front of the boat, they are jumping around and playing, happy to have company.

Throughout all history we hear that travelling with these beautiful mammals is a wonderful show and moral booster for all sailors.
The sun is setting and the colours in the sky are beautiful, with the dolphins swimming next to us. This is a wonderful feeling.

To the right we also see two enormous whales that have come to breathe some oxygen at the surface of the water. It is the third time that we have seen whales in a couple days. I tried to take photos but they are to far away and don’t stay in one place long enough for the photo.

19 November 2007

We have not yet arrived in the archipelago of Watubela, so I ask the captain to change his course a little and head north towards the island of Gorong. This is the only place where we can fix our broken engine. At this speed we won’t arrive in Bali before Christmas.

It has already been eight days and eight nights that we have been at sea without seeing land. The asmat festival starts tomorrow and Pak Sam and our families will be waiting for us.

We have to stop in Gerong and inform them of our situation, so that no one gets worried.
All of this is very annoying because my European visa to stay in Indonesia terminated three days ago, it will cost me money to pay the late penalties. I also have to organise a container to New Caledonia of asmat art before the 5th of December. I don’t think that is going to happen.
This morning there is no coffee or tea, just plain water. Sliman is starting to get mad, I understand him but unfortunately there is nothing we can do. The crew fatalist like all Asian people, stay passive and don’t complain.
Junaidi the boat mechanic, is making a hammock with the nylon wire recovered from the sea, so he can be forgiven. It will help Sliman have more comfort, because every night he sleeps on the ground on the back bridge of the boat, unceasingly disturbed by the rats and the cockroaches.

I’m sleeping in the captain’s cabin, it is hotter than on the back bridge and there is a small foam mattress that is five centimetres thick. Endi and Buddin sleep on the ground as well, wherever there is place. As for the crew, some sleep on rice bags, others in a cabin on a piece of wood of 120 X 50 cm, the foetal position is a must.
Junaidi sleeps in the engine room with all the dirty oil present.

It is 8.00am; no crescents or chocolate bread on the menu. I propose to Sliman to make an omelette with the eggs that are left.
He asks me if he could use salt; I answer him teasingly “of course! And with cultivated mushrooms from Paris, sweet herbs and some pieces of ham please”
There is absolutely no wind, the sea is calm and there are no clouds in the sky. The sun is extremely strong, I have just spent two hours being barbecued in the sun, and it burns.

Jamal is trying to fix Junaidi’s hair that I butchered yesterday.
Buddin is also waiting for his hair cut that jamal said he wanted to do, he made him a shwatztnegar haircut.

While waiting for my turn I fed my birds; with no dried milk, they have to eat the crushed rice, they don’t really like it but they have no choice.

I go back to the bridge. Junaidi cuts my hair in the Huron style, a Mohawk.

We are now approaching the archipelago of Gorong, which has three beautiful islands.
Gorong, Panjang, and Manawoka.
The islands are surrounded by crystal white sand and the sea is turquoise colour. The water is so clear that we can clearly sea the coral 20 meters deep.

The archipalego of Gerong is occupied by many cruise ships.

We enter through the channel of Menawoka and Gorong, to moor on the northern slope of Gorong at a small village called Kailakat.

The engine breaks down a hundred meters before the unloading dock. Moya is sent to land in a small boat in the shape of mini canoe, and we attached a rope to it.

Unhappy Moya, a cook not a sailor, finds himself in a rowing a boat that has more holes than a sieve.
Nevertheless he arrives on the dock and throws the rope at a young boy that was standing there.
The young man attaches the cord firmly while Moya takes out the water that has filled the canoe up to three quarters and then he returns back to the boat.

We all pull on the rope in order to bring the ship closer to the dock, not having omitted to drop the anchor on the opposite side.

We spent the whole afternoon in the village on the mission to find the joints that are missing from the injectors. The chief of port made us go to all the “kios” but none had the corresponding joints.
But we took advantage of being here to restock on all provisions needed. Moya and Bisu take care of the drinking water, Junaidi, Endi and me are buying all the food; we find almost everything we need except for fruit and vegetables.

Alcohol being banned on all the archipelagos, it is impossible to find a drop of Brandy or any other strong alcohol. The population is mainly Muslim and 90% of the women are veiled. Even with the chief of port as a friend, impossible to even find one bottle.

We go back to the boat, Buddin found some joints in the local electric store of the island.
They are smaller that the ones that we need, but extendible, it will do until our next stop the aripelago of Banda. Moya is cooking us eggs with white rice, it’s a change from all the fish, and we found some soya sauce and chilli in a bottle to spice up the taste a little.

Junaidi, the chief mechanic, and Ali his assistant, put themselves to work on the engine.

A police officer comes on board, armed with a machine-gun; he heads towards the higher bridge and sits close to the cabin of the crew, where I hid all the birds in a cardboard box.
The trade of certain species is prohibited. The police officers of each port have the pleasure of inspecting all the trading vessels coming from New Guinea, in order to find species that they will confiscate and keep for themselves.

This police officer has not come on board for nothing and immediately asks the crew if there is any alcohol or other illegal substances on board. The answer is obviously negative and after a few minutes, this young police officer was intimidated even though he had a machine-gun, by this troop of pirates of the tropical seas with odd hairstyles. He leaves disappointed and empty handed.

15 minutes later Jamal comes and sees me and asks me for some milk for the birds. He tells me that they are very sick and will surely die. Surprised, I tell him that he doesn’t need to worry because they are fine sitting in the cardboard boxes in the captain’s cabin. But when I opened the door of the cabin I realised the birds we no longer there. Jamal explains that Buddin had put them in the engine room since midday because he was scared that the police would find them, and now they were on the verge of suffocating. I run to the engine room and find my little birds in a bad state. What a dumbass that Buddin! They are covered in oil, and they are struggling for some oxygen to breath. I will have to wash them and give them a big meal.

The generator of the engine stops and the ship is in total darkness and silence: just what we needed. Ali is furious; he insults the boat of all the names of birds, except mine, he says that this boat is bad luck. His leg is infected and covered with blood, his furuncle has gotten a lot worse and it urgently needs medical attention. exhausted he throws himself on the power generator trying in vain to make it start again; the engine room is very dark, we cannot do anything without light; this is all making us waste more time.

The generator still does not function, Ali, with his wound covered with a mixture of dirty oil and blood, is trying to restart the engine again. Junaidi fell asleep at the foot of the engine with his tools still in his hand.

I go and get my first aid, because it is necessary to clean Ali’s wound. Bisu lights me with a flashlight. I burn the point of my knife and then insert it in his horrible wound. Ali does not move but it will take me more than one hour in these extreme conditions to extract the liter of pus which has infected the wound. More than half of the alcohol bottle is used and also all the compress’s. Once all the dead skin and dirty blood was cleaned, I filled the enormous deep hole with antibiotic powder and then bandaged it, in a few days his thigh will get better; the ship is really disgusting and the smallest wound, under these climates, can quickly become a nightmare.

I stay on the boat’s bridge until two o’clock in the morning to chat with a few villagers that had come to satisfy their curiosity. Not many boats come around here, we are therefore the village attraction.

20 November 2007
I awake from a deep sleep. My birds Yakop and Hackle are poking my nose and ears with their beaks, they thank me for saving them and also to remind me that it is breakfast time. I prepare them a bowl of milk with some rolled oats that I had bought in the village.

Ali is also feeling better, he does not feel the throbbing and pulsating pain that he was feeling before. He thanks me gratefully and then heads to the engine room with Junaidi to work on the engine.
It was at 11 o’clock that we heard the buzz of the engine again. The crew bring up the anchor and we set to sea once again: The pieces we used to repair the cylinder head gasket are from metarials that were found on the boat; The injectors are leaking as much as before. So we are of course looking forward to breaking down in the middle of the ocean a couple times before arriving in Bali. But at least now we can go faster than four knots per hour. The day is sunny, and there is very little wind.
We are on course heading towards the island of Banda.

We will not be in Banda for another twenty four hours!
I washed my birds again, so their plumage is beautiful and shining again. I also changed Ali’s bandage; here I am a toilettor, nurse and surgeon! But it is normal that I give everyone a helping hand, considering that I am unable to contribute with the machine or the wheel.
The rudder is completely bent. So the boat moves forward like a crab. We must constantly steer the wheel to the left and to the right so that the boat will go remotely straight. Jamal is the one that knows how to do it best. Sometimes we turn around in circles because it is difficult to keep going straight with such an abnormal rudder.
Some nights it is Buddin and Moya which take the wheel; and in the morning they realise that they have actually turned around and have not been going in the right direction. It is not tomorrow that we will be in Bali.
Moya prepares us a good dinner: Mie goreng with fried eggs.
Bisu is making us a second hammock; soon we will be better here than in the Sheraton!

21 November 2007

The wind and the swell woke us up! I will heat up some water to make a ginger tea. In a few hours we will approach the islands of Banda says captain Endi.

This area is really beautiful: we encounter many small islands or rather volcanoes pointing out of the water; there is so much vegetation, white sand beaches, a true paradise, defiantly worthy of a postcard!

We enter the channel where the port of Banda is. Many “Fenisi” boats are anchored here. The water is very deep, at thirty feet from the edge the sea is about two thousand meters deep. It is impressive and several warships have been sunk here. A real experience for scuba divers.

The engine stalls a hundred meters from the shore, the alternator is not working it will take two hours to recharge the batteries. Fortunately two small boats came to meet us and helped us get to the shore.
Captain Endi’s house is right in front of us: a lovely place situated at the foot of the volcano. We descend on land and take a shower at Endi’s house.

His mother prepared some tea and biscuits for us, she gave us as a gift, two beautiful birds of Seram, they are very smart and are showing off, but beware of your fingers because they have a sharp beak and bite hard.
We put our two new friends on the boat and with Endi, Buddin and Junaidi we went to the village to restock with provisions.

The village is dominated by an old Dutch fortress dating from the year 1611, when Banda was an important military stronghold on the road of spices, mainly nutmeg and clove, which is still today one of the main resources of the Moluccas .

After having visited the village and the fortress we decided to return to the boat, It is very hot this afternoon.

A fisherman brought us two beautiful 5kg snappers; we will have a nice meal tonight.

Here we were able to find everything we needed, including some parts for the engine. Unfortunately we did not find Brandy and we had to settle for a bad local whisky: with a little coca-cola it should do the trick.
The boat is ready to set to sea again, everything is almost working correctly. We emptied a few bottles of whisky before going to sleep.

22 November 2007

Today we are well fed and rested, with plenty to drink everyone was in a good mood. For some it would be like being on a cruise. The atmosphere is very relaxed, even if the boat is having a hard time to reach the six knots. I checked on Alis wounds, which looks much better, Moya is also fully recovered from his malaria crisis and all bottles purchased the previous day have already been drunk.

23 November 2007

The sea is very calm today, but not one fish bite our lines. The fish from yesterday has been completely devoured; we try and pass by a school of tuna or mackerel! But nothing. Sliman scans the horizon in vain with his binoculars. We will have to eat rice and eggs again today.
To cheer us, dolphins have been accompanying us throughout the whole day until sunset, it is rather magical.

Unfortunately the smiles of the day disappeared fast when the generator refused to work again, an old generator that Buddin purchased from an Asmat in Agats. We have to wait another three hours before it works again.
We spent the rest of the night at the front of the ship admiring the full moon.

24 November 2007

The wind suddenly began to blow violently easily reaching thirty knots, we are tossed in all directions and the engine stops again. This is because the fuel has been mixed with water in the fuel tanks. it will take us two hours to repair it.

The wind starts to blow stronger and stronger but this time to our advantage, because it is coming from the east therefore pushing us from the back. Huge waves propel us forward and our speed quickly reaches seven knots.
The whole crew throw themselves on the bridge and hoist the main sail, a big word for just a simple plastic sheet, but it seems to be effective because the wind was gusting to thirty five knots.

The boat was rocking back and forth and side to side. It was very unpleasant but we were not complaining because we are moving forward and that means we are getting closer to home.

We passed by Wetar Island still in Banda Sea in the Moluccas. Fishing still produces nothing, so we will have the same menu tonight.
The sunset is absolutely marvelous tonight. It is setting in front of us on the horizon and the red moon is coming up behind us. There are thousounds of colors in the sky and we are the only ones able to witness it in the middle of the nowhere. This is defiantly something we rarely see in our lives.

Bisu and Jamal take down the sail that has now become useless. The evening is spent playing poker around a mat using rusty nails as chips.

25 November 2007

The sea is very calm, not a breath of wind, but a slow currant is coming from the opposite direction that is slowing us a little. We are going at a speed of approximately five knots. The water is so clear in this region that we imagine ourselves in a huge saltwater swimming pool. Suddenly the boat begins to turn by itself. Buddin, who is in charge, slows down but he does not want to cut the gas for fear that it won’t start again. We turn around in circle in the middle of the ocean for about one hour before Bisu solved the problem.

The engine stopped abruptly again but this time nobody responds, we are getting use to it, and we take advantage of the stop to take a dip in the crystal clear water.
This breakdown was perfect timing, we are not in a hurry to leave again.

We spent three hours playing in the water, some are washing clothes, others are cleaning the deck, the sun is really strong and it is great, better than Club Med!

The boat starts again and we set off on our course, with the wind gradually rising. We threw out the line behind the boat, but once again didn’t catch anything; it seems like nothings living under the sea!

We pass by off the coast of the island Kumba, this island is an active volcano which has risen above the water by 750 meters and the ocean is 2000 meters deep. The wind is blowing towards us and we receive microscopic volcanic dust that irritates our eyes.
It was once inhabited by a few fishing villages, the volcano is now completely deserted.
Only large numbers of goats and dears are now living on its flanks, the next eruption will be fatal.

At the rear of the boat everyone was excited because we passed by a school of small yellow tuna; we catch eight in just half an hour. We will have a good dinner tonight!

26 November 2007

The sunrise is as beautiful as the sunset. We arrive off shore of the western tip of Flores, Kumba is still visible but far behind us. Heckel and Jeckel are picking at my feet, they are hungry and it's time to get up.

There is no wind and the sky’s blue again with hardly any clouds. We have been lucky with the weather; I don’t think the boat would have survived for more than two weeks in rough seas.

We are short of provisions again; Buddin was in charge of all the shopping in Banda, but he was too thrifty to face the hungry and greedy sailors, we thought for a moment to maybe pass by Labuhan Bajo a city in Flores, but we are almost at the end of our journey and our financial reserves are nearly finished, and it would delay us of another twenty-four hours.
Oh well! We decide to continue our journey directly to Bali on an empty stomach. As long as the engine still runs we can deal with it. Tobacco and cigarettes are also finished.
Its simple all we have left is white rice.
In these waters there are not that many fish and there is little chance that we will stumble across another school of tuna.

Junaidi’s bird took off and fell into the open sea! He doesn’t dare go after it because he says that he is scared of sharks. The captain who is at the helm attempts a maneuver to turn around and rescue the poor bird. After three tries, Junaidi still can not retrieve the bird, buffeted by the waves it was slowly drowning.
Courageous Sliman, jumps into the water and swims towards the bird. At just about one hundred meters from the boat we could hardly see him.

After fifteen minutes Sliman is holding the bird in his hand, the boat gets closer to them and we haul both survivors on board. The bird was exhausted, a minute longer and it would have never been found.

The crew members are angry at Junaidi for cowardly abandoning his bird. Sliman who saved the bird had the right to claim it because without his intervention the bird would have died.

Junaidi decides not to take this into consideration; he thanked Sliman for saving it but then said that would rather have lost the bird than give it to Sliman.

This evening Sliman and I drink a bowl of chocolate milk with some biscuits for dinner, we cannot do white rice and eggs anymore.
Junaidi is tending to his bird while Sliman tries to convince him to finally give it to him.

27 November 2007
The sea is very calm. There is still no tailwind for us to be able to hoist the sail. Tonight we should pass by Labuhan Bajo for our 17th day at sea. Despite the beauty of the landscape and vegetation along the coast of the island of Flores, the time begins to pass really slow. There isn’t much to entertain or distract us, especially with no more cigarette smoking. The atmosphere on the boat is dull and no one feels like being talkative.
Sliman and I sunbathe on the bow of the boat. a few huge dolphins have come to swim at the front of the boat with us.

Our skin is already pretty dark from the 2 months of travelling almost like real Papuans! Sliman has just negotiated the bird with Junaidi for a pair of sunglasses and a Mexican hat purchased in Timika. The bird seems to like Sliman a lot, like he knows that he’s the one that saved him from the water.

We are now on the off coast of Labuhan Bajo. The engine has not been playing any tricks so we continue our progress and head towards Sumbawa. Lying at the rear of the cockpit I play a little game of carrom on my cell phone, while the crew is running in circles looking for cigarettes.

28 November 2007
The cries of the birds wake me up; Sliman got up before me and was feeding them. We arrive on the island of Sangeang north-east of Sumbawa. It is a volcano completely deserted and abandoned because of its volcanic eruptions, especially the one of 1985.

We throw down the anchor facing a village on the coast of Bima, just in front of the volcano. The water is very clear here so I don’t hesitate to jump into the water and swim to shore.

Buddin and Mayo went on the small boat, which sunk before they could reach the beach: and both of them ended up in the water. Mayo is trying desperately to recover his canoe and repair it once on shore, so he can later use it for transporting drinking water to the boat.

Six huge "Fenisi" are being built on the beach of this village, they are not as beautiful and strong as those produced in Kalimantan or Sulawesi, but they are still very big.
Villagers then explain to me that these boats have been in construction for over two years and have not been completed due to lack of wood in this region and because of quotas on timber from Kalimantan.
After having made full restock of cigarettes and drinking water, we returned to the boat. I swam and Buddin took his lucky canoe. Everyone has found their smile again and took the opportunity to go for a swim.

The wind rises.
We could not find any fish in the village, so we put the fishing line behind the boat again. But we did not catch anything. Only dolphins that continue to escort us.

29 November 2007

This last day at sea is starting out well, the weather is nice and no current or wind. We only hear the steady hum of the diesel engine. We are all hoping for the day to continue. I ask the captain to reduce the speed of the boat, and I throw out two buoys attached to ropes to drag behind the boat.
Sliman and I jump overboard clinging to the buoys, and let ourselves get pulled by the boat. It is great fun but very physical. The speed seems to be multiplied by ten, we must hold on.
We let the boat pull us for about one hour, losing our swimsuits with the power of water and once out of breath we let go of the floaters and swam to the boat.
We arrive close to Lombok and we now see Mount Rinjani.
Yakop is sick or upset, he will not eat anything, I think he is tired of eating porridge and would certainly love some corn.

Very gracefully the dolphins are still accompanying us, in such a clear sea. Three whales come to the surface to take a breath of fresh air a few meters from the boat: a beautiful show for our last day at sea! The evening meal is very small but it doesn’t bother us, because tomorrow we will be in Bali.

A forty five day journey that seemed like an eternity. Many extraordinary human contacts and relations were made. And many authentic objects discovered from the most primitive of mankind. With stories and legends behind them which are difficult for modern society to believe.
Next year we will be back for more adventures.

Nadji Benotmane