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Saturday, 9 July 2016

Seeking Vulcanoes

A quick trek to dangerous yet enchanting Krakatau


Maybe better if you hire a driver…" Our friend Laila was not entirely convinced that our grand plan to take a self-guided tour from Tangerang – just outside Jakarta – to Krakatau Island via Carita Beach by way of local transportation would result in a successful outcome. "Maybe you will find the bus station, but your,” she continued as I tried convincing her that I had already safely navigated many parts of the world on my own. Surely reaching one of the world’s most famous volcanoes would be a piece of cake. “Maybe I will find you a guide. Trust me, or you will not arrive at Krakatau,” Laila stated matter-of-factly. After ten minutes, we finally reached a compromise whereby her co-worker, Agus, would chaperone my friends Rick and Candace, along with myself, to Krakatau the next morning. Just after sunrise, under Agus’ tutelage, we were underway on foot to catch our first angkot along a main road already choked with rush-hour traffic. At the time, the three of us didn't know enough Bahasa Indonesia to carry out a conversa- tion beyond a sentence and a half. Agus knew even less English, and trusty Laila was no longer at our side to steer us clear of mishaps. Even so, as we stood in the mud waiting for the right overcrowded shared van to come along, I still reckoned I could have figured this out for myself. Two short angkot rides later however, while clambering into a smoky intercity bus on the side of another major road at what was clearly not an official stop, I be- gan to see that Laila had been right. None of us would have made it this far on our own, and we were barely three kilometres into our journey. Hiring a driver would have been much easier but definitely not the deep immersion into everyday Indo- nesian life that we sought. By now, Rick, Candace and I all agreed that travelling with Agus was the only way to go. Somewhere along the way, inside that stifling hot bus, I had worked out how to continually ask “are we there yet?” in Ba- hasa Indonesia, and Agus was always on hand to reply with a swift “belum,” which means “not yet”. Almost five hours later, much to our relief, "belum" finally became “we’re here” as yet another angkot from Serang to Carita Beach deposited us at a waterfront condominium complex. Agus quickly negotiated a two-bedroom unit for the next two nights and a boat for the next morning, and we caught our first glimpse of the 813-metre tall Krakatau rising like a perfect triangle from the Sunda Strait be- tween nearby southern Sumatera and our beach at the end of West Java. Prior to the August 27, 1883 erup- tion, Krakatau had been a single five- by-nine kilometre island with three volcanic peaks, the highest reaching 820 metres. The island’s northern two-thirds disappeared in the blast that was heard over 3,000 kilometres away in Perth, Australia. All that remains today is the southernmost peak we were admiring in the distance. By August 1930, ongoing underwater eruptions had played a part in the creation of a new volcano called Krakatau Anak, or Child of Krakatau, which emerged from the ocean where the northern part of the island once stood. It now rises 324 metres next to its parent, and in a very active state too. To approach Krakatau by boat is to ex- perience the pages of a National Geographic photo spread come to life. The over- whelming smell of sulphur enveloped us as we rounded an area of the volcano that had been stripped of its normally lush green vegetation by rough dried lava that had flowed into the sea. Since none of us on that boat could communicate in anything Krakatau Anak’s summit above us. This A was as high up as we would climb, but the C views out over the water were spectacular B nonetheless. We spent almost an hour en- joying Mother Nature’s finest, and joking that she’d better remain asleep. I will admit to feeling anxious that other than smiles and broken Bahasa, we had to place our full faith in Agus that he would guide us away from any danger. Our captain ploughed on through the rough waves, and Krakatau Anak now came into full view. Suddenly we dropped anchor at a black-sand beach lined with tropical trees and purple flowers. We jumped off the boat into ankle-deep warm wet sand, and I struggled to contain my excitement. I could not believe that my lifelong dream had come true. A large sign welcoming us to Cagar Alam Krakatau, or Krakatau Na- ture Preserve, gave a false impression that Krakatau Anak was a safe national park rather than a dangerous volcano. We thought our adventure had come to an end here at this pretty beach, but Agus motioned us towards the woods. An unex- pected 20-minute trek up a path of ash and dried lava took us to a windswept plateau overlooking both nearby Krakatau and this napping giant might roar back to life as I watched several vents spewing smoke on the side of the mountain. After all, an island growing by 13 centimetres a week under the ground that we were standing on could easily knock us from our feet at any second. Scientists have advised against coming within three kilometres of this park due to a good chance of an eruption, and Anak Krakatau did indeed launch a large ash plume not too long after our visit. Looking back on this trip, I no longer see Krakatau as the ultimate destination but as a stop on a journey that opened our eyes to all that Indonesia has to offer, from food to scenic beauty. By placing our trust in Agus, our mission to unlock a version of Indonesia well off the tourist trail was a great success and indeed one we never would have figured out on our own. Exactly as Laila had said to me in the first place.
(By Jake Russack on Jakarta Java Kini Vol 22 No 2 February 2015)

Jakarta Shopping Paradise

A chorus of “boleh beli, boleh beli” can easily be imagined when walking around ITC Mangga Dua, one of several large shopping complexes in the Mangga Dua area. Besides being famous among bargain chasers, Mangga Dua has also for years been a hunting ground for branded knock- offs, from the nearly perfect imitations to the less-convincing counterfeits that look like they’ve been stitched together by some- one wearing a blindfold. Besides ITC Mangga Dua, there are a few other notable shopping precincts located within this area, includ- ing Harco Mangga Dua, Mangga Dua Square, WTC Mangga Dua, Pasar Pagi and Mangga Dua Mall. The two destinations that are most popular with the cut-rate brigade are ITC Mangga Dua and Pasar Pagi. For those who have never stepped foot in either of the afore- mentioned establishments – or even Mangga Dua in general – here’s a preview (taking ITC Mangga Dua as an example): once you enter the building, you’re welcomed by endless rows of small retail shops, piles of fake branded goods, shouty shop assistants, customers haggling for lower prices and, sometimes, a tourist or two. Similar scenes can be found at the other “malls”, although the ambience varies between them. One similarity you will en- counter, though, is the hustle and bustle of the traffic of shoppers within the premises. Mangga Dua has long been a haven for counterfeit branded goods. In fact, it's probably their number one trade – greater than the genuine articles that are sold in bulk and the computer hard- ware. A report issued by the Office of the US Trade Representative in February 2014 – titled 2013 Out-of-Cycle Review of Notorious Mar- kets – named Harco Glodok, Ambassador Mall, Ratu Plaza, and, yes, a representative from Mangga Dua in the form of Mangga Dua Mall. Indeed in the annual Special 301 report released by the US Trade Representative in 2012, Indonesia was named one of the world’s worst countries at preventing the theft of copyrighted ma- terial, which subsequently means that we’re one of the best when it comes to counterfeit goods. In 2013, former Jakarta governor – and current Indonesian President – Joko Widodo unleashed a Governor’s Decree calling for mall owners to show respect towards intellectual property rights. His then-deputy – and now Governor of Jakarta – Ahok has also publicly stated that if malls and International Trade Centres (ITCs) continue to turn a blind eye to retailers selling rip-offs after being given a warning, the Jakarta government would use its authority

this hard-line stance, we've not yet seen a single change – or a shopping complex shut down – over counterfeit goods, which are still abundant across the city. However, it's not just replicas that lure customers to Mangga Dua. Whoesale items are another reason why people go • James Shopper, 27 years old Is this your first visit to Mangga Dua? No, I’ve been here a few times already. Today, I’m just playing chaperone to my wife. We're looking for baby stuff. • NovI ANggrAeNy Shopper, 28 years old Now that you mention it, I there. One venue that specialises in these goods is Pasar Pagi. Setting up shop in this place is an attractive proposition for many retailers because, according to one of the sellers there, Erica, the rental fee is lower than at its nearest neighbour, ITC Man- gga Dua. This is why they can sell whole- sale items at prices substantially cheaper than elsewhere. This also explains why there are so many more shoppers in Pasar Pagi. Fellow shop owner Helen praises responsible towards its tenants. She ex- plains that, as someone who operates a shop in both Pasar Pagi and ITC Mangga Dua, she finds the service charge in Pasar Pagi more reasonable. It's well-managed to the point that the building's air-condi- tioning system is always in working order and the public loos are always clean... to a certain extent. ITC Mangga Dua made headlines last year when its tenants were caught in a stand-off with the building's manage- ment company. This was the second time that a clash had occurred between them. In 2013, 672 kiosks were literally left in the dark after the management decided to up the service charges. The tenants ar- might just grab some clothes for myself while we’re here. Why Mangga Dua? I live in Pamulang, and the shopping malls over there pale in comparison to those in Mangga Dua. Have you observed any differences between Mangga Dua five years ago and now? It’s more crowded, that’s for sure! gued that they had already paid their bills, but the lights were turned off anyway. This case even reached city hall, where then- governor Jokowi had to play peacemaker between the two sides. In 2014, a simi- lar scenario took place, which lasted for months. Stephanie Lawson, a shop owner at ITC Mangga Dua, believes that the sud- den increase in service charges imposed on the tenants was uncalled for. She ques- tions the management's judgement, espe- cially since they've received nothing from them in terms of the
maintenance of the building. Shop proprietor Helen agrees.

Indonesians have a lot of naughty words, don’t we?

Ah, swear words – the part of every language’s vocabu- lary that children much of a surprise. A 2009 study showed that the average person uses up to 90 (or at least 80) swear words a day. Ah, but of course, things can get quite a bit more dialects. All of these contribute to our ever-expanding arsenal of utterances for cussing people who cut us off on the road or for emphasising just how effing deli- pick up faster than interesting – and extra-heated – when cious a plate of nasi goreng is. Again, this other words, as well as being a not so un- common choice in papers and theses by literature students. This is, of course, not it comes to swearing in Jakarta (or any- where in Indonesia, really). See, Indonesia is home to 700 languages, along with thousands of local is especially prevalent in Jakarta, where you can easily meet groups of people made up of individuals from all over the archipelago.

Perhaps the most common swear words are animal names. “Babi” (pig) and “monyet” (monkey) are obvious favour- ites, but these pale in comparison to “an- jing” (dog) and its minced version “an- jrit”, which is more or less the Indonesian equivalent of the F-word. It can be used to express disgust, anger and surprise, but among close friends and out of earshot of
elders and other figures of authority, the word turns into a harmless interjection. Sometimes the word “kirik” is used, espe- cially in regions where Javanese is more ubiquitous than Indonesian. However, “kirik” actually refers to puppies. Can you imagine what kind of reaction shouting “Stop hogging the armrest, you puppy!” would bring? Perhaps “otak udang” is a bit easier to translate, as it literally means “prawn brain”. Surely we can think of another expletive that ends with “... for brains”, right? Speaking of animal-based swear words, a common mistake is to associ- ate “bajingan” (crook or thief, but more commonly used much like the English swear word referencing the end of one’s digestive tract) with “bajing” (squirrel). It doesn’t help that the words sit next to each other in the official Indonesian dic- tionary. Turns out, “bajingan” is related to a much bigger mammal, as it is the Java- nese word for ox-cart drivers. Now, as the story goes, these ox-carts are often late in picking up passengers, who consequent- ly mutter something along the lines of “Where on earth is the effing bajingan?” Thus was born a new swear word. Body parts are another popular source of curse words. We’ve already men- tioned one particular orifice above. No less beloved are the names of the geni- talia of both genders and their near-in- finite variations. However, Indonesia is probably unique in how otherwise innocuous parts of the body can also be used to cuss. A good example would be “Matamu!” (“Your eyes!”), as well as “Kepalamu!” (“Your head!”) along with the less formal variations of “Pala lu!” and the Javanese “Ndasmu!”. These likely originated from expressions like “Eyes on the road, stupid!” or “Why don’t you use that head of yours?” but were eventually contracted into easy-to-use utterances that are well-suited for a heated exchange. Finally, for a more all-encompassing but similarly hard-to-translate anatomy-re- lated cuss, we have “bangke”, from the Ba- linese word for “cadaver”, which is usually shouted out in frustration à la “F*** it!” (or in annoyance à la “F*** you!”). On a side note, if you’re interested in learning how to swear in Balinese, as well as Sundanese and general Bahasa Indo- nesia, look up Sacha Stevenson’s channel on YouTube. Mostly known for her “How To Act Indonesian” series, she also has a trio of “27 ... Swear Words” videos. Hope- fully, more are coming. Back to swearing in general, matters are further complicated by the simple fact that with more than 700 languages, there are bound to be words that are in- nocent in language A, but mean some- thing completely different in language B, and can be a deadly insult in language C. “Bujur”, for example, means a person’s behind in Sundanese and naturally serves a secondary function as an all-purpose insult. In the tongue of the Karo people from Northern Sumatra, though, “bujur” means thank you. The above example is actually one of the milder ones. Of course, on the flip side, it’s not too much of a stretch to as- sume that most people living in this multi-ethnic region would be more than ready to treat a misplaced “bujur” as an in- nocent mistake. Having said that, the one thing that Indonesia doesn’t really have is profanity – as in blasphemy or “taking the Lord’s name in vain”. True, some of the old folks here might know one or two choice swear words in Dutch that are best left unsaid in the presence of a man of the cloth, and there are several local equivalents of OMG. But, again, there is nothing in con- temporary Indonesian that even comes close to a non-minced version of “gosh darn it”. Not that this is entirely unex- pected, seeing that throughout much of its history, Indonesia has always been a PC nation. Therefore, it should come as no sur- prise that you’ll rarely hear any genu- ine, heartfelt and honest swearing in popular media and entertainment. We only hear some of the more formal (for lack of a better word) curses, such as “jahanam” (blasted), “terkutuk” (curses), and “keparat” (darn), terms that are al- most never heard of in actual exchanges of harsh words. Not that it’s hard to see why; everybody and their mum would be up in arms should real swearing ever pop up on national TV, and straying too far from prim and proper Indonesian is a defi- nite critic-magnet. This is also one of the reasons why there’s such a huge discon- nect between Indonesian entertainment and Indonesian reality. Because, hey, in reality, Indonesians are more than ca- pable of cussing up a storm, and we have the swear words from hundreds of vocabularies to pick fro (By Joezer Mandagi on Jakarta Java Kini Vol 22 No 2 February 2015)

Monday, 9 May 2016

10 Amazing Beautiful Beaches In Indonesia

Amazing Beaches In Indonesia

Experiences the best destination Beach In Indonesia, Indonesia is known to have many splendid and beautiful beaches as well. These places will provide you with the best time to relax and also to spend a cool holiday. Below mentioned are some information on the top 10 the most beautiful beaches in Indonesia, which are the best tourist attractions as well.

1. Canggu Beach, Bali Island

Number 39 on CNN World's 100 Best Beaches, make many tourist come Canggu Beach, This surf-perfect coastline has everything from easy waves to serious breaks. The scene is unpretentious and the mood laid-back. The crowd is heavy with adventurous people who know Asia well.
Worth knowing: There’s little nightlife here; instead, travelers kick back with themselves and locals.

Canggu Beach, Echo Beach.

 2.  Nihiwatu Beach, Sumba

Nihiwatu Beach at number 17 on CNN World’s 100 best beaches. In some ways, the perfect beach. It’s remote (an hour’s flight from Bali then a 90-minute drive) with fine, clean sand, clear water, almost no people and amazing sunsets. It is home to the impressive Nihiwatu resort and is best outside wet season.
Highlight: For surfers, the incredible left-hand break. For everyone else, as dusk approaches, a chance to join local villagers as they scour a section of a nearby reef at low tide for octopus, crabs and seaweed.
Nihiwatu Beach, Sumba Indonesia
Nihiwatu Beach,

3. Derawan Beach, East Kalimantan

Pulau Derawan at number 63 on CNN World’s 100 best beaches. Tourist accommodations are no-frills here, and that’s what makes the place special. Most visitors will be able to spot turtles wading about on the island’s spotless silvery beaches.
Highlight: The waters surrounding Derawan are known to be a home to manta rays and green turtles.

Derawan Beach, East kalimantan Indonesia
Derawan Beach,

4. Tanjung Bira, South Sulawesi Indonesia

Tanjung Bira is popular for its flour-like white sands. It is located about 5 hours from city of Makassar. This place is known to be the best for flour-like white sands. This place is located in Bulukumba and is a part of the Sulawesi Island.
Location: Bulukumba, South Sulawesi Province, Indonesia

Tanjung Bira, South Sulawesi Indonesia
Tanjung Bira, South Sulawesi Indonesia

5. Gili Terawangan dan Gili Meno Island

Many people doubt this spot, but that’s good because it keeps the crowds down. This area has a super laid back vibe and the locals are so welcoming, it’s not unusual to be offered a hammock to rest your head indefinitely.

Gili Meno Island, Indonesia
Gili Meno

6. Kanawa Beach, Flores

If your definition of a perfect romantic getaway haven is a white-sand winding beach, this little island in Komodo National Park has even more than that. It is a paradise, above and below the surface. Just a few steps away from the fine sands is an incredible variety of underwater life. You don’t have to dive to see a school of barracuda, lion fish, sea turtles, bat fish, napoleon fish or even reef sharks. Simply go for a snorkel in the shallow water and find yourself in another world. The corals are  healthy and the visibility is amazing. Swim a little further to the other side of the island to find a secluded spot perfect for romance.

Kanawa Beach, Indonesia
Kanawa Beach, Indonesia

7. Jimbaran Beach, Bali

The coast of Jimbaran bay comprises several beach areas interrupted by cliffs, instead of being one long stretch of sand like Kuta Beach.With the coast facing the west, Jimbaran beach boasts a beautiful sunset view. Its most popular spot is the long beach just south of Ngurah Rai airport.

Jimbaran Beach, Bali
Jimbaran Beach, Bali

 8. Belitung Island, Bangka Belitung

Belitung or Belitong is an island off the east coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, flanked by the Gaspar Strait and Karimata Strait. Although the island is famous with white pepper and mineral mining type-C such as lead white, quartz sand, white clay (kaolin), and granite rocks, actually Belitung Island is a special island with beautiful granite rocky, greenish blue sea, and white sandy beach which is not found anywhere.

Belitung Island

9. Peucang Beach, Banten

Ujung Kulon is a conservation area for the endangered Java Rhino. But, tourists are allowed to visit Peucang Island which has amaing white sands beach. Located in Ujung Kulon, Banten Province, Indonesia.

Peucang Beach, Banten

10. Dreamland Beach, Bali Island

Dreamland Beach is a beach located on the Bukit peninsula, on the island of Bali. The beach provides basic accommodation and cafes for surfers and day-trippers. It is also renowned for its dangerous shorebreak.
These some beautiful beaches in Indonesia. Don’t hesitate to visit Indonesia. It’s Amazing!

Dreamland Beach

 Source : The Amazing Indonesia


Monday, 23 March 2015

Golf, and the Beauty of Indonesia


FIVE years ago, after a hiatus of nearly three decades, I began swinging the driver again in Indonesia.
On one of my first times out, the Australian ambassador, Ric Smith, picked me up at 5 on a Saturday morning in Jakarta. “Buy 20 balls, and if you finish with 5, you’ve had a good round,” he remarked as we drove south, to give me some sense of the course we’d be playing, Jagorawi.
It wasn’t much of an exaggeration. Hacked out of the jungle, the three Jagorawi courses (two 18s, and a nine) are hypnotically peaceful, staggeringly scenic — and maddeningly difficult.
Every time I start a round on Jagorawi’s Old Course (built in the early 1970s), I find myself saying, “Ah, how beautiful can it be,” as I look down at the fairway — yes, down, because it is some 100 feet lower than the tee, then gradually runs uphill more than 500 yards, and is lined on both sides with Norfolk pines and mahogany trees. Then I begin to worry whether my drive will clear the gulley and the flower bed to reach that fairway, and not stray into the trees.
There is no rough at Jagorawi. That may sound wonderful, but if you’re not in the fairway, you’re in the jungle, or river, or ravine, and village boys scramble after the balls, with an uncanny ability to find them — developed over the years and passed on to younger brothers — and then sell them back to you. Jagorawi golfers say you don’t buy balls, you lease them, and more than one friend have sworn quite colorfully never to play this club again.
Think Indonesia and tourism, and the first thing that comes to mind is probably Bali. Think golf holiday, and most people would dream of Scotland or Ireland. But Indonesia harbors one of the best-kept secrets in the world of travel: it is a golfer’s paradise.
Within an hour or so of Jakarta, there are more championship golf courses — designed by the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Robert Trent Jones Jr. — than probably in any other comparable geographic place on the planet; and the cost of a round is often less than the cost of a caddy at St. Andrews.
Jakarta also boasts of having one of the oldest golf courses in Asia, Rawamangun, also known as the Jakarta Golf Club. It was founded in 1872, and when Suharto ruled Indonesia, which he did with an iron hand for nearly 30 years, this is where he and his cronies played. It is an old-fashioned English-style course, short (you’ll rarely use a driver) and tree-lined.
After playing five days of golf with me in Indonesia recently, an Australian friend, Tony Sernack, declared, “It’s better than going to Sydney.” That’s quite a testimonial, given that Tony, a management consultant-cum-accomplished photographer, is a former chairman of greens at the New South Wales Club in Sydney, which has been ranked as one of the top 50 golf courses in the world; he twice played there with Bill Clinton. (He could dine out for a long time on the stories he has of those rounds.)
I took Tony first to the New Course at Jagorawi. I bogeyed No. 11, a par 5. On No. 12, I thought, well this should be an easy par — only 153 yards. But you have to hit the green, and hold it — too short, and you’re in the ravine or the steep bunkers in front; too long and you’re in another bunker, or the river behind.

Then came No. 13. Every time, I vow not to think about the ravine just ahead, which requires a drive of over 150 yards to clear. And the fairway quickly narrows, with jungle on the left and right. I usually don’t succeed in hitting the fairway, and thus make another donation to the village boys (they got two from me that day).
On No. 14, you look at another ravine from the tee, and another one after that — and more boys scrambling into place for an errant shot.
They call it a “amen corner” for good reason.
But if you don’t want to pray (or curse), just head down the road, for less than 15 minutes away are two superb clubs, Riverside and Emeralda. Riverside is longer and tougher, with a double dogleg par 5.
Adjacent to Riverside is Emeralda, which has three nine-hole courses — the River and Lake layouts were designed by Mr. Palmer; a third nine, Plantation, by Mr. Nicklaus. The courses are well maintained and manicured, with undulating greens. There is rough, and it’s nasty.
But there is also whimsy. No. 4 on Plantation is an interesting 154-yard par 3, over a paddy field with stick-figure scarecrows in local dress.
The three Emeralda courses were completed in 1995. There was to have been a fourth, but the Asian economic crisis crashed the business dreams.
Just what that meltdown did to the ambitions of golf developers is even more visible at Rainbow Hill (or Bukit Pelangi in Indonesian). It is situated in the mountains near Bogor, a pleasant city with a noted botanical garden and the royal palace where President Bush met in November with the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
You gasp upon entering the clubhouse and viewing the course through two-story high windows. Playing this hilly course, you get a look at recent Indonesian history — environmental, economic and political. Beyond the trees and other colorful flora on the course, the terraced hillsides are scarred and denuded — an all-too-familiar sight in Indonesia, and which partly explains why rains in February triggered horrific floods.
Along the fairways stand gray, silent shells of huge mansions — it looks like Sarajevo during the war. This was intended to be a major resort development, and one stares in jaw-dropping disbelief at what was planned, and is now abandoned. A Sheraton Hotel is partly built; the stadium tennis courts, dreaming of international tournaments, barely started.
That economic collapse also explains why it is easy and inexpensive to play there — quality courses desperate for greens-fee-paying players are charging as little as 245,000 rupiahs, about $26 at 9,270 rupiahs to the dollar. But as the Indonesian economy picks up, which it is, I imagine that it won’t be long before it will be much harder, and certainly more expensive.
I’M not the only foreigner who took up golf while living in Jakarta. Many ambassadors and expatriate executives who had never played before become true believers, routinely getting up at 4:30 or 5 on a Saturday morning (not easy in a city with a vibrant night life).
For one thing, with the pollution and traffic, and little green space, golf offers a rare chance to get some outside activity. And the cost of playing is a fraction of what it would be in the United States, Europe or Australia — only on Bali does it cost more than $100 a round, and on most courses the greens fee during the week comes to less than $50.
(The only months when the weather is a problem is the December-to-February rainy season. Extremely rare, however, is the day that it is impossible to play at all. The hard rains, often accompanied by lightning, which causes courses to sound the siren, are usually in the mid-to-late afternoon.)
Finally, professional lessons are available, from Australian, British, Korean, Indonesian pros, for as little as $25 an hour. There is no guide to instructors, but they can be found at any of the driving ranges, or through local golfers, whom you will easily meet.
Recently, a sophisticated golf school, the Bank Commonwealth Institute of Golf, opened at Jagorawi, where two young Australian pros give 45-minute private lessons for $50 ( One instructor, Daniel O’Neill, even convinced me that I could use one of those monster-headed drivers. I had limited my tee shots to a 3-wood, having read somewhere that if you’re over a 15-handicap, leave the driver at home. Under Daniel’s tutelage, I began hitting the driver not only farther, of course, but also straighter, which stunned me.
The school is trying to develop junior golfers, to represent Indonesia on the international circuit. Keep your eyes out for Ujang Zarems, who started chasing balls like other village boys, but is now a willowy 5-foot-1, 110-pound 15-year old — with a 3 handicap!
Many of Ujang’s friends from the village are caddies. The caddies may be legendary at St. Andrews, but caddies are surely Indonesia’s golf signature. The charges vary from course to course, but $10 is tops, and most golfers, except the stingy, tip $10.
Some caddies have single-digit handicaps, and it becomes like playing with an instructor: “You lifted your head.” “You didn’t follow through.”
They can read greens to within a blade of grass. “Two balls left.” “Uphill.” “Fast green.”
After playing numerous rounds with these caddies, I was lost when I went to the United States or Australia and played. Do I hit a 5-iron or a 6-iron? How far right should I putt this for the break? When I returned to Indonesia, I still took a caddy (most courses require you to), but I listened to him, or her, less, and tried to make my own decisions.
YES, there are female caddies. On most courses, the caddies, who pull or drive carts, are young women.
Indeed, that is part of the experience, in the eyes of most expatriates who play there. When Tony and I asked local golfers where to play on his last day, after we had already had rounds at Jagorawi, Emeralda and Rainbow Hill, one of the courses recommended was Bogor Raya. It has “the most beautiful caddies in Asia,” more than one told us.
It is also a challenging course, but we opted for Bumi Serpong Damai, where the female caddies wear long-sleeved shirts (protection against the sun) with pink hoods. We played behind a lithe Singaporean woman in her 30s, with a long pony tail, three kids and a rhythmic swing.
I left this course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, with one memory: sand. Along the left side of the sixth hole, a short par 4, the bunker runs more than 100 yards. I avoided that, by going too far right, into some low, thick shrubs.
Then I faced the green, where they had placed the pin in the left corner. If I hit over the green, I’d be in more jungle, or the river. I hit to the right and then faced an unpleasantly long put on an undulating green. In general, the greens are nasty.
Golf in Indonesia has something else to offer: ways to make you forget the last four hours and take away the aches. Nearly every course has a spa — hot tub, cold tub, sauna and massage. With little question, however, the best massages are not at any golf course, but at Bersih Sehat, which offers a “massage for the family.”
A massage in Indonesia that isn’t a euphemism for other activity is a rarity, and Bersih Sehat, which has several locations in central Jakarta, is that exception. For $10, you get an hourlong massage that is unmatchable, and leaves you ready for another round tomorrow.


There are no accomplished golf tour operators in Indonesia, so a golf holiday there is a do-it-yourself operation. But don’t let that deter you. Golf Promo Indonesia, at, gives basic information on dozens of courses on Java, Bali and other islands.
Don’t be put off when you read that a course is for “members and guests.” During the week, it is possible to play almost any course. Greens fees fluctuate roughly from $30 to more than $100, depending on time of year, day of the week and the exchange rate, which is now about 9,270 rupiahs to the dollar.


I took an informal survey of playing colleagues for courses they would recommend to visitors. The panel, whose handicaps ranged from 2 to 28, included five ambassadors, several foreign business executives and an Indonesian, Winston Wiharto, who owns a courier company, is a member at several clubs and is the intrepid organizer of a motley bunch for Saturday golf (
Here are their recommendations:


Jagorawi Golf and Country Club (62-21-875-3810-15; is about 45 minutes south of Jakarta on the Jagorawi toll road. This is the rare course that is difficult to get on without a member sponsor. But guests at the Lodge at Jagorawi (62-21-879 02483), where a double is 550,000 rupiahs, about $60, and a suite 880,000, or $95, can play, as well use the 25-meter pool and the tennis courts.
Another option is to stay at the Gran Melia, a 428-room, luxury hotel in central Jakarta (62-21-526-8080,, which has an arrangement with Jagorawi, allowing guests to play. John Richards, the general manager at the Park Lane (, and managers at other hotels, including the Shangri-La and Mandarin, can get guests at their hotels privileges as well.
Emeralda Golf Club (62-21-875-9019; is just down the toll road from Jagorawi, as is the Riverside Golf Club (62-21-867-1533;, where there is a meandering swimming pool for children or a spouse who might not play golf.
Bukit Pelangi Golf and Country Club, or Rainbow Hill (62-251-270-222,, is not far from those courses, but is at a higher altitude in Bogor, and so is delightfully cooler.
Bumi Serpong Damai (62-21-537-0290; in North Jakarta is another course that is supposed to be for “members and guests.” But I had no trouble getting a tee time on a Monday morning a couple of months ago.
Bogor Raya (62-251-271-888; is a verdant course in pleasant climes near Bogor. Its clubhouse has a locker room that offers views of the greenery.
Rancamaya Golf and Country Club (62-251-242 282; is a resort-housing-golf development near Bogor Raya. It is hard, but not impossible, to play without a member sponsor, but it has a long list of courses in the United States, Europe, Australia and Asia with which it has reciprocal privileges.
Cengkareng Golf Club (62-21-5591-1111; is so close to the international airport that the local name for a high tee shot is a Garuda, after the national airline. One of the most popular courses in Southeast Asia, it gets more than 70,000 rounds a year. But the wear doesn’t show on this well-maintained course. The biggest drawback is that if a military general or high government official shows up, he and his entourage are given priority, and a round can take six hours.


There are two options — and renting a car and driving yourself is definitely not one. Either hire a hotel car and driver, or a Silver Bird taxi (62-21-798-1234 or 62-21-794-1234). Its cars are comfortable, spacious sedans, and the drivers are reliable and honest. From most major Jakarta hotels to Jagorawi, Riverside, Emeralda and Bogor, it will be less than $50 round trip. A hotel car and driver will cost at least twice that.

Java, Jogja

by Mike Di Paola
The stately pleasure domain of a sultan becomes a playground for all
Life was good for Sultan Hamengku Buwono I of the Javanese kingdom of Yogyakarta. When he wasn’t in his personal bathing pond contemplating a happy existence, he was in one of his private viewing rooms above the baths of the Water Palace, watching over his wives and concubines. At night, the sultan was said to sneak out through a secret tunnel and tryst it up with Nyi Roro Kidul, the Javanese goddess believed to control all of the Indian Ocean. When HB I was not disporting with the ladies, he was either praying in his private mosque (you’ve got to wonder, praying for what?) or evading assassins by drawing them into his emptied aquatic chambers and then opening the floodgates. Anything goes in love and war.
The Water Palace was one of 59 buildings at Tamansari, or “Perfumed Garden,” a complex of meditation chambers, pools, and pavilions surrounded by ornamental lakes. It was little used after the sultan’s death in 1792, and abandoned entirely after an earthquake in 1867 destroyed many of the buildings and drained much of the compound’s most famous feature, water. Squatters moved in, and the erstwhile aquatic playground fell into steady decline for the next hundred years.
In 1970, five structures of the Water Palace were restored, and the site began attracting tourists. Now, the local government—and some prominent visitors from abroad—have launched another reparations project. In December 2003, work began on parts of the crumbling palace, with repairs expected to be completed by year’s end; further maintenance will continue through 2005.
The relatively modest restoration is notable for its far-flung support. The government of Portugal, via the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, has ponied up $185,000 for the effort, the Yogyakarta regional government another $127,000. Last year, the World Monuments Fund named Tamansari among its 100 Most Endangered Sites. A sister city to Yogyakarta, Savannah, Georgia, is pitching in with technical assistance. “Tamansari’s intrinsic value is really significant,” says Savannah city manager Michael Brown. “It is a profound cultural expression, in part because the sultan [today Hamengku Buwono X] is still a figure of prominence—and because the royal family was instrumental in ending colonial rule.”
All this attention from interested outsiders suggests that in some cases, globalism works. The restoration project should elevate Tamansari from decrepit tourist oddity to historical park, making it a palpable link to a resplendent past.


by Samantha Gillison

Good-bye, luxury. Hello, adventure. Samantha Gillison goes on the cruise of a lifetime along the primeval coast where, forty-four years ago, Michael C. Rockefeller vanished

It was as though we had stumbled into an Aladdin’s Cave stuffed with exquisite primitive art. Erick Sarckol, the Indonesian assistant curator at the Asmat Museum of Culture and Progress, had led us over a maze of rickety boardwalks built across tidal mudflats to a simple one-story structure. Inside, wooden carvings representing humans, spirits, and animals peered at us, alternately sexual, threatening, mournful, ecstatic, and tender. The sculptures were covered in curlicues and praying mantises, pig tusks and malevolent ghosts, and all were larger than life, colored white, red, and black. A few so-called soul ships, used in long-ago Asmat male initiation ceremonies, sat on the floor. Each three-foot-long boat held wooden figures of men bowing to a magical turtle, the Asmat symbol of male fertility. Human skulls decorated with feathers and seeds rested in a corner, half-hidden by row upon row of war shields painted in bold abstract patterns.

The four of us, who had come ashore from the Mona Lisa, were allowed as much time as we wanted to gaze at the artifacts made by West Papua’s legendary warrior-sculptors. The artists had meant for their work to overwhelm, and overwhelmed I was, unprepared for the enormity and beauty of the collection. I began to laugh with pleasure, as giddy as when I first saw Michelangelo’s Pietà at the Vatican on a high school Latin trip. And immediately I understood why in 1961, twenty-three-year-old Michael C. Rockefeller, newly graduated from Harvard with a degree in anthropology, had risked—and ultimately lost—his life studying this art (see The Vanishing). The pieces he amassed before his death form the backbone of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection of primitive works in New York City.

Those in the Asmat Museum of Culture and Progress are no less world-class, despite their location on a side street—or rather a side boardwalk—in Agats, the capital of the Asmat region. This territory comprises ten thousand square acres of lowland swamp and rain forest on the southern coast of Indonesian Papua, the western half of the island of New Guinea. The only way to get here, or to leave, is by boat (or chartered helicopter). And once you’ve arrived in the Asmat, the only way to travel around is via canoe or motorboat along crocodile-infested river highways—there are no roads, no airports.

At first Agats reminded me a little of New York’s Fire Island, with its boardwalks and close-together houses on stilts. Except here, the equatorial sun glares down on you from its zenith between midmorning and late afternoon, tropical birds call, opportunistic mosquitoes buzz nonstop, and little boys, shrieking in delight, dive off the walkways into muddy, brackish streams. The people who live in Agats include Asmats themselves and newcomers from other islands in Indonesia who run the small dry-goods shops.

Ethnohistorians postulate that the Asmat people’s earliest ancestors came to New Guinea about fifty thousand years ago as part of a migration out of mainland Asia through the Malay Archipelago. In any event, the Asmat have been living in the forests along the Asmat River for thousands of years, hunting, fishing, and gathering the starchy sap of the sago palm. Before the outside world—in the form of Catholic missionaries and the Dutch and Indonesian governments—started arriving in the 1950s, they were a fierce warrior tribe who led raids against one another and ate their slaughtered enemies. Cannibalism and head-hunting, which persisted until the early 1970s, figure largely in Asmat cosmology, art, and religion.

I had heard about the Asmat all my life: My mother is an anthropologist, and I spent several years of my childhood in neighboring Papua New Guinea while she conducted fieldwork. As a teenager, I interned at the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing of the Metropolitan Museum, learning about the magical, intricate carvings that the Asmat created for use in their ritual feasts. Furthermore, I had just spent two years working on a novelization of young Rockefeller’s tragic trip to the Asmat, The King of America. Curious to finally see this legendary place and learn how much of its culture was intact, I booked an Indonesian cruise that traveled the length of the West Papuan coast, starting in Sorong, on the western end of the island, and ending in the Asmat. It was meant to be a two-week voyage (although engine trouble and bureaucratic quagmires extended it to nearly three) on a pininsi, a traditional Indonesian schooner that is a distant cousin of the Chinese junk and is small enough to explore coastal inlets and reefs. I was the lone American among the twelve passengers. All but a Catalan couple from Majorca, a world-traveling French nomad named Bruno, and the photographer Brigitte Lacombe were on a tour organized by a French travel agency specializing in far-flung destinations. The agency also sent along Yves Paccalet, a naturalist who had worked with Jacques Cousteau for twenty years, to be the Mona Lisa’s resident nature expert. While the others were excited to be on such an exotic adventure to West Papua, none of them were as Asmat mad as I was.

In the Denpasar airport on Bali, we all met up with Étienne Lheureux, the cruise director and captain, a Belgian expatriate who had worn a bright pink polo shirt so we could pick him out of the churning crowds. The chaotic domestic terminal at Denpasar is a thrill in itself: full of surfers of all stripes, soldiers, French tourists, and Indonesian families. The air is sweet with burning incense and clove cigarette smoke, there are little banana-leaf-packet offerings of saffron rice to the goddess Saraswati everywhere, and fresh-cut gardenia blossoms float in bowls of water. It took another three flights to finally reach West Papua, the long journey extended by a series of just-missed connections on irregularly scheduled routes. In another place at another time, this would have deeply annoyed me, but here it had the opposite effect, heightening my sense of anticipation. I felt as though we were, to paraphrase the British art critic Sacheverell Sitwell, passing through the suburbs of a new, fantastical world.

Nonetheless, we were a bleary-eyed group by the time we arrived in Sorong in the early evening and boarded the Mona Lisa. I was so tired that I barely noticed the crew of ten, the seven black sails, or the wide communal dining table that I would grow so fond of over the course of our trip.

To take advantage of daylight for sightseeing, snorkeling, and hiking, the Mona Lisa sails—well, motors—at night, and we woke up the first morning off the coast at Batanta Island. We had dropped anchor in a lagoon opposite a tiny fishing community of thatch-roofed huts. The villagers, explained Lheureux, harvest sea cucumbers and mother-of-pearl. Palm trees lined the beach, and a few overturned boats basked lazily on the sand. A French couple jumped off the boat into the warm aqua-blue ocean for a swim while the rest of us sipped coffee and gazed out at the vista. The smell of wood smoke from the village’s cooking fires drifted over. It was like a dream of the South Pacific: the soft wind, the forested hills in the distance, the sound of a rooster crowing.

A boat carrying villagers came to take us into the lowland rain forest to look for birds of paradise. I decided to stay and meditate on the view. Having grown up with my father, a wildlife photographer whose passion is birds of paradise, I didn’t think this group would see any: His rule of thumb is that to spot one in the wild you must be very lucky, have excellent local intelligence, and be in position and silent well before dawn. It was already 7:30 a.m., and the equatorial sun was strong. Indeed, a disappointed group of bird-watchers arrived back at the boat in time for lunch. I maintained a tactful silence.

After eating, we wound our way through the waters off Batanta, where the rain forest dripped down to the beaches. Clouds of fish jumped into the air in silvery flashes of greeting. It was hot—hot like New York City in an August heat wave, except of course that we were on a boat, with soft breezes washing over us and an endless shallow green sea below. There was something surreally peaceful about motoring through this undiscovered world, drifting by deserted beaches and over coral reefs that flickered iridescent blue with darting parrot fish.

We never saw another passenger boat on the whole trip. It is expensive and logistically difficult to travel along this, the easternmost island of Indonesia. And, Lheureux blithely informed me, Australian boats avoid the Papuan coast because they’re worried about pirates. Pirates? Our captain, who has sailed in this part of the world for fifteen years, seemed to think it was a risible fear. I decided to follow suit.

Sailing on the Mona Lisa is not a luxurious experience. The hundred-foot-long wooden schooner is, however, aesthetically pleasing—and ruggedly comfortable. There are six passenger cabins off a narrow hallway, with a shower at the forward end. An indoor dining/living area leads out onto the deck. Some of the cabins have skylights, although the one I shared with Brigitte did not. The cabins have little sinks and are somewhat claustrophobic if you’re in the top bunk but are quite okay from the bottom. All in all, it was a perfectly fine boat to live on for two weeks—especially if you slept on deck, as Brigitte and I quickly decided to do. Every night the crew supplied comfortable mats, sheets, and quilts, and we lay underneath a sky lit by thousands of stars, lost in the Southern Cross while Jupiter and Venus blinked at us.

The Mona Lisa sailed south, away from the Papuan coast to the Misool Archipelago, where we encountered karst formations, limestone islets that have been pushed up by shifting tectonic plates over the millennia. From a distance they appeared as a series of enormous bulbous gray forms sticking out of the water. Up close they looked like dramatic lunar rocks capped in rain forest. As we approached, Lheureux mounted the rigging in excitement, climbing almost to the top of the mast. Millions of years ago, Paccalet told us, these limestone lumps were coral reefs. Out popped digital cameras, disposables, the new Leica bought just for this trip, and a frenzy of clicking and shutter-snapping ensued. Lheureux told us that there are almost no visitors here besides the odd group aboard a sailboat like his and a few fishermen who collect shells, which are sent to Java to be made into mother-of-pearl buttons. But mostly it is a hidden place.

A frigate bird flew in circles over our boat as we got ready to snorkel near Sabuda Island. The sea was breathtaking, a labyrinth of karst formations. Acres of coral spread underwater, and Paccalet identified the various types for us: elkhorn, brain, and plate. Brilliant yellow and purple tubes protruded from the reef, pre-vertebrate creatures that belong to a scientific family more than 450 million years old.

Anyone who complains that there is no more wilderness hasn’t taken six planes to Papua, hopped on a pininsi schooner, and spent two days sailing to arrive in a place as close to terra incognita as you can imagine: uninhabited stretches of primary-growth rain forest framing bays of pristine reefs where hornbills, eagles, frigate birds, and cockatoos fly overhead and improbably colored tropical butterflies flutter. Strewn on the beach are dozens of giant clamshells, their wavy mouths agape—massive, ugly-beautiful things that seem like prehistoric artifacts. Although we hadn’t even reached the primeval estuaries of the Asmat, we were already deep in another, older universe.

As we headed back to the Papuan coast that night under a sky blotted with thick clouds, the Mona Lisa hit rough seas. I sat on the bridge’s roof, looking into the vast darkness as the boat pitched in the waves. When the clouds finally parted, the full moon was immense in the equatorial sky, lighting everything in an otherworldly silver-white. I thought of Magellan and Columbus and the Stone Age Polynesians setting sail for the unknown. And what, as a landlubber, I had never really understood I now saw as clearly as the moonlight glowing on the waves: Part of the urge to explore the unknown is the sheer pleasure of sailing in the unknown.

At dawn we sighted the famous Kiti Kiti Waterfalls, a freshwater river that spills from a rocky forty-foot cliff into the sea opposite the Papuan coast’s Fak Fak Peninsula. We dropped anchor at a small beach nearby and hiked into the rain forest. Brigitte, the ship’s cook, and I went off on our own, exploring a mossy green forest full of orchids and hanging vines and the smell of wet earth. Three agile wallabies bounded past us, and pelicans soared overhead. Farther up the hill, we were met with a thrilling clamor of calling birds, buzzing insects, a rushing river. I began climbing a partially felled tree but stopped abruptly when I heard piercing shrieks coming from Brigitte. She had brushed against a tree and was being attacked by biting ants. After a few minutes, the ants retreated and we decided to do the same. Heading back to the Mona Lisa, we came upon a little pool in the river. It was clear and beautiful and reminded me of my childhood in the New Guinea rain forest. I couldn’t resist and, in my underwear and sneakers, leaped into the most delicious peppery-flavored ice water I had ever tasted.

The next day, we stopped in Kaimana, the oldest port in Papua, established by the Dutch and now run by the Indonesians. About ten thousand people live in the small, dusty town, which has a harbormaster, a market, dry goods stores, a Catholic church, and a mosque. It was here that our trip drifted into a Graham Greene novel. The Mona Lisa couldn’t go anywhere until the harbormaster signed our papers—which he seemed in absolutely no hurry to do. We waited for eight hours, tied up next to a huge Indonesian cargo boat, before he finally complied. Such were the bureaucratic intricacies of sailing in West Papua, Lheureux explained.

Kaimana has a kind of charm, although it is in no sense a tourist destination: It is a resupply port, and resupply we did. Cucumbers, eggplant, fresh peanuts, coconuts, bananas, soybeans, tofu, eggs, several species of fish and squid, gingerroot, limes, peppers—the Mona Lisa’s hold was crammed with the bounty of the mid-Papuan coast.

After an hour back at sea, we were once again floating past inlets and forest-edged bays when we came upon a series of cliffs covered in ancient petroglyphs: hands, fish, intricate and beautiful abstract patterns. Known to ethnologists and historians as the painted sea cliffs of the Bomberai Peninsula (though confusingly located east of that landmass), they were found by European adventurers in 1678, more than two hundred years before anyone discovered the first decorated caves in Europe. Lheureux said there are so many of these cliffs that you could spend a month looking and not find them all. The drawings, millennia old, were the first evidence we had seen on our trip of an original people making their mark on the world around them.

The next day we entered Triton Bay. Motoring slowly through a magnificent series of limestone coves and islets, it felt as though we’d entered the lush tropical world of Gauguin’s paintings of the South Seas. We spent the afternoon in a sheltered bay, ate fresh shrimp for lunch, and snorkeled in the warm sea.

Later, three Papuan men showed up in a motorboat and took Blandine, a Frenchwoman on Paccalet’s tour, and me to a grove of wild nutmeg trees in the rain forest. The branches were heavy with the fruit, which resembles a lemon-shaped pear. Hundreds lay on the ground, ripe and rotting. Back on the boat, we sliced one open and found that the inside looked like that of an avocado: The nutmeg itself is a hard brown seed covered in a brilliant red, plasticky web, which is mace. The cook made nutmeg juice, nutmeg syrup, nutmeg jelly, nutmeg soup. Never again will nutmeg make me think of eggnog.

We sailed west to Etna Bay, smaller than Triton but just as beautiful, where Paccalet led a group on a bird of paradise hike. I decided that I would look for one too—alone. A local man had told us that a species of that family hung out in trees near the shore. A reluctant crew member took me in the Zodiac to a secluded beach. I scrambled through heavy brush, uphill, fighting prickly, tangled vines until I found what I thought was a suitably uncomfortable spot, knowing the bird would accept only suffering as proper homage.

I crouched for forty minutes, smacking at ants and mosquitoes and muttering about malaria, while both of my feet went to sleep. Finally, I sensed that a largish bird had alighted on the upper branches of a nearby pandanus tree. Birds of paradise are unlike any other birds—they have a kind of stage presence: You just feel it when they are around. Finally, the bird hopped into my line of vision. He was a big black thing with a shimmery blue-black bustle of a tail—a glossy-manteled manucode, not uncommon, according to my Birds of New Guinea and the Bismark Archipelago, but so, so beautiful. The resplendent creature left after a few minutes, just long enough for me to get a good look at him shaking his plumage.

As we traveled farther .east, pausing near Uta for lunch around our communal table, the landscape became mudflats, mangrove swamps, wide green plains, and mountains whose runoff feeds the salt swamps. Passing through the port of Amamapare, the Mona Lisa dropped anchor near Timika, a boom town that has grown up near an American copper mine. Timika is considered the doorway to Asmat country, and with its airport, a Sheraton, and the world’s most remote golf course, it is the last major outpost of civilization on Indonesia’s Papuan coast.

We stopped in a narrow muddy river that leads inland from the Arafura Sea to the port of Timika, flowing through swamp and lowland jungle. Although we were still more than two days’ sail from real Asmat country, the scene from the deck of the Mona Lisa looked like old documentary footage I had seen of the Asmat—people paddling long dugout canoes, the brown river reflecting the pure blue sky, and enormous trees bending over the water as though sipping it.

That night we went to a dance in nearby Pomoko, an Asmat village that for some reason had been relocated here. After dinner, we all zipped upriver in a large motorized longboat. The black water reflected the stars, and everything felt alive and lush.

The villagers greeted us in traditional ritual regalia—grass skirts, feather crowns, dog- and pig-tooth necklaces, their faces and bodies painted with white and orange clay—and put on a heartbreakingly beautiful performance. A bonfire burned in the middle of Pomoko and illuminated the dancers around it, who beat on lizard-skin drums, chanted call and response, and did a wiggly-kneed Asmat version of the Charleston. There was so much emotion in this tourist performance that it reminded me a little of the ritual theater I saw as a child in New Guinea in the early 1970s.

The next morning, Brigitte and I went back to see Pomoko in the daylight, passing the rush-hour traffic of dugout canoes in the Mona Lisa’s Zodiac. Birdsong echoed from the forest, and the river widened until everything was trees and sky and briny-smelling water. The tide was high at Pomoko. Canoes tied to posts bobbed in the waves. A woman chest-deep in the water, untangling her shrimp nets, called a greeting to us, and children ran along the shore laughing and waving while Brigitte took photos and I scribbled away in my notebook. I couldn’t believe where I was. I had been thinking, writing, and dreaming about this country for so many years. Just this one little village was more beautiful than anything I had fantasized—imagine what could be awaiting me in the Asmat region proper.

That afternoon, most of the passengers left the Mona Lisa, driving into Timika and then flying back to the real world. The trip had fallen victim to Murphy’s Law (or Merpati’s Law, to use an Indonesian surname): Between the harbormaster in Kaimana. and engine trouble, we were two days off schedule. Only Bruno, Jaume and Catalina (the Catalan couple), and I stayed on to travel to Agats and the heart of the Asmat.

Rudy Karundeng, the business manager of Mona Lisa Cruises, flew in from Bali to join us for the final five days. With only four passengers, the trip took on a contemplative, voyage-of-exploration feel. I became keenly aware of time passing as we headed east: the sun traveling across the sky, the crew praying at dawn and evening, the brown sea’s different moods.

Jaume dropped two lines and caught a mackerel. He marinated it in Papuan garlic, Balinese lemon, and Spanish olive oil he had brought with him all the way from Majorca. It was by far the best fish I have ever eaten—full of the taste of the sea, the oil coaxing the mackerel’s flavors from its flesh. The clear aqua waters of the fantasy Pacific were long gone: Here, branches and logs from the mountain runoff bobbed in a coffee-colored sea. It was humid too; we were on the threshold of the monsoon, and every once in a while the sky grew dark and unleashed a downpour.

Bright sunshine lit up Flamingo Bay. We were at last in the Asmat. On the muddy shore stood the town of Agats, a series of rickety-looking houses on stilts. While we drank our coffee and ate some delicious pancakes drowned in nutmeg syrup, a steady stream of people paddled out to the Mona Lisa in dugouts. Before breakfast was over, tourist carvings, baby parrots, and magnificent orchids, their roots still dripping with earth, had appeared on board for sale.

Only a handful of visitors a year make it through the logistical obstacle course to get to the Asmat. That first morning, a few local guides came to welcome us and to drum up some business. One of them told me that there were fewer boats this year than in the lean years since 9/11. But even with so few tourists, I worried that there was really nothing left of the original way of life. As Rockefeller wrote in 1961: “Asmat is a culture where art is a necessary and integrated element. There can be no war, no feasting, without tremendous effort on the part of the sculptor.” The Asmat warrior-sculptors carved because they had to make the tools for their rituals. What happens to the art, I wondered, if you dilute the culture with a half-century of Christianity, poverty, and harsh colonial rule, both Dutch and Indonesian?

I needn’t have worried. The Catholic mission that has been here since the 1950s has in fact protected and nourished Asmat creativity. Many collectors and Asmat-lovers return here over and over again, promoting the area and its art, helping the people to earn money through creative endeavor and thereby maintain their cultural identity.

That afternoon, we left the museum stunned, our heads full of swirling abstract images, meticulously carved figures, human-bone daggers, lizard-skin drums, spirit masks, and canoe prows, all of which sang the song of Asmat life. We walked past the Catholic church—built in lines that echo Asmat architecture—to the end of the boardwalk, where we were greeted by giggling, dancing children and then terrified by young men who jumped out of the bushes, chanting and thrusting spears in our direction, re-creating a headhunting attack. Even from this made-for-tourists performance, you could feel how ferocious the raids must have been. Finally, we stood in front of a long-house and watched a traditional dance, enraptured by men in full-length spirit masks representing the avenging dead, chanting Asmat songs to the beating of drums.

A local guide beckoned me over. He introduced an elderly Asmat man, saying, “This is Leo Bewerpitsj. He was on the boat with Rockefeller that day. He swam for help.”

Bewerpitsj opened a plastic bag and pulled out a laminated plaque. It was a proclamation from Nelson Rockefeller, thanking him for helping with the search for his son.

At sunset on our last night in Agats, the waters of Flamingo Bay glowed an iridescent orange. The sun turned a deep bloodred and spilled its liquid color onto the clouds. As Claude Levi-Straus wrote in Tristes Tropiques, it is only possible, as a modern traveler, to chase after vestiges of vanished reality. But how exquisite and moving the afterimages of Asmat culture are. In that moment, there was only the sky above and a dugout canoe being paddled slowly across the muddy waters of the Arafura Sea

Places + Prices
West Papua
by Samantha Gillison

Until very recently, West Papua was known as Irian Jaya. It shares the island of New Guinea with an independent country, Papua New Guinea. Given the vagaries of Papuan time and tide, allow at least two days of land time on either side of your cruise—at worst, you’ll have some extra beach time in Bali. Cruises typically leave from Timika to explore the coast’s bays and islands, and send passengers into the interior in motorized longboats from Agats. A particularly good time to go is October, during the weeklong Asmat art festival in Agats.

Although you will be warned that there is nothing authentic left to buy in Agats and the more remote villages, there are some lovely handcrafted pieces around: sculpture, jewelry, woven bags and baskets, and bark-cloth paintings. While haggling is de rigueur in most of Indonesia, in the Asmat you are generally dealing with truly impoverished craftspeople who ask for one-twentieth of what you would pay in a gallery. In other words, no bargaining necessary.

While vaccinations are not required, a regimen of antimalarials is advised. Of vital importance are insect repellent, sun block, lightweight long-sleeved clothing, binoculars, and a flashlight.

The country code for Indonesia is 62. Prices quoted are for the current month. The nearest U.S. consulate is in Bali, at 188 Jalan Hayam Wuruk (361-233-605;

Because of mechanical problems I experienced aboard the Mona Lisa—as well as uneven service and food—I would instead recommend booking on the Katharina, its sister ship, through Rudy Karundeng (361-283-824; two-week cruise, $3,100 per person, including round-trip airfare from Bali). Stateside, you can contact Mary Crowley and her staff at Ocean Voyages, who specialize in exotic charters and inspect the vessels and their crews regularly (800-299-4444;; two-week cruises, $3,000-$6,000 per person). Bear in mind, however, that any cruise here is particularly prone to delays and itinerary changes.

The Asmat Museum of Culture and Progress in Agats is a must-see—not only for its extensive collection of art and artifacts but for its succinct introduction to Asmat culture and cosmology (902-311-38; If you’re in New York before your trip to the region, the Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is the premier place to learn about the Asmat and their art (212-535-7710;

After a long flight, recover at the lovely Patra Bali, near the airport (361-751-161;; doubles, $150). The Sheraton Timika calls itself an eco-resort with what is arguably the world’s most remote championship golf course. Hendrix, at the front desk, is charming and able to handle all kinds of crises and special requests (901-394-949;; doubles, $60-$75).