When you live remotely in a country where twelve percent of people live on less than $2 a day, your perspective is bound to change somewhat.
Fairly quickly, first world worries become trivial. What follows is a realisation that the key to emotional survival in a place like this is in reminding (and yes, sometimes forcing) yourself to give thanks for the simple things.
Simple things…you know, like carrots.
Almost every day, for the past month or so, I’ve found myself desperately seeking out the colour orange in our local store. It’s been a long time between beta-carotene hits for our little family…! Carrots are the world’s second most popular vegetable after potatoes and, in a place like this where vegetables are as rare as hen’s teeth at the best of times, when we lose a staple and normally reliable ingredient, we really feel it. So today, wherever you are in the world, be grateful for your plentiful carrot supply and don’t fret about the odd split one (or mouldy one!) here and there…it’s all good!
We gave up on reliable fresh green vegetable supply long ago (zucchini, broccoli, beans, spinach etc) and started growing our own. After establishing a robust herb garden, a successful lettuce crop and a reasonable supply of beans, we somehow managed an unexpected bumper crop of highly coveted broccoli. While I was anxiously awaiting our broccoli harvest and planning all sorts of nutritious dishes filled with the stuff, a bunch of wandering Papuans came and relieved me of my stash. Oh, the heartbreak! They didn’t even leave me one!
Now I’ll be honest. It’s been hard to exercise gratitude in this particular instance. There may or may not have been some serious name-calling going on. However, as I refer back to my opening sentence and the abject poverty faced by much of the population here, I manage to tell myself, “Oh well, there’s always potatoes!” (All the while hoping that whoever helped themselves to my crop actually ate every darn scrap of it!)
Life here regularly reminds me of the many freedoms we take for granted back home. It would come as no surprise that reliable high-speed internet is a pipe dream for us, right up there with access to fresh food. Another idiosyncrasy is the fact that our access to transport on and off the mountain is controlled by our employer and the government. If, for whatever reason, our buses, choppers or planes were prevented from operating (and it’s happened before), we would in turn be prevented from leaving the island. Now, Aussies are accustomed to life in somewhat of a ‘Nanny State’, but even we were surprised when asked to prove our marital status before gaining permission to live here. Unmarried cohabitation is prohibited in Indonesia (as is interfaith marriage and atheism) and can even be punished by imprisonment. In our little town, it would more likely result in instant dismissal for an expat, but still! Completely inconceivable in modern-day society back home and just another freedom to be grateful for.
On the flip side, life here strips away lots of unnecessary clutter, uncovering the benefits of a simpler existence. It is enlightening to discover how much ‘stuff’ you really need and to realise what you can live without. It’s less about relishing this new way of life (because sometimes it’s just plain tough), and more about discovering our true capabilities and resourcefulness. I am capable of much more than I knew, especially in the kitchen where absolutely everything is made from scratch and feeding the family is a time-consuming occupation. Indeed there are days when I liken parts of my life to that of my Grandmothers’ daily grind in the ‘olden days’ – admittedly with much less housework thanks to our local maid service! In this back-to-basics existence, I have found much gratitude in learning new skills and improved levels of patience and tolerance.
Like any small town, the solid friendships that blossom within our little expat community between people from all over the world are cherished and life long. I can’t tell you how much sanity preservation occurs on a daily basis as a direct result of these relationships (and the wine they share) and I am certainly grateful for that!
And then there are those times when we simply stop and take the time to look around. We are repeatedly rewarded with the most spectacular views that money literally can’t buy – there’s no getting in or out of this place without having a job here. It really is a stunning and serenely beautiful place. So, we’re grateful that even though we live with our challenges in the middle of nowhere, at least it’s easy on the eye.
As a Mum, I also find much to be grateful for here in the jungle. Yes, there are things that our girls miss out on living so remotely, but it’s a fairly low-stress family life and one which allows me to spend precious time with them. Indeed just the simple fact that I’m unable to drive here saves me hours every single day…I just try not to think about the fact that there’s nowhere to go even if I could drive! The school is a seven minute walk from home and I can be at the shops in less than five. Oh, and my groceries are home-delivered within a matter of hours. It’s the little things!
Speaking of school, the girls recently participated in the traditional end-of-year school performance – something they had been hard at work rehearsing for many weeks and that many school Mums helped bring to fruition. They had a fabulous time singing, dancing and acting their way through the Mt Zaagkam School production of Alice in Wonderland in a room chock full of super-proud parents.
I have heard many, many renditions of the songs from the performance at home over the past couple of months – I even caught myself humming one over and over again today. This is one of their favourites:
As the last school term of the year draws to a close, our family has spoken often about all that we have to be grateful for, both in our new life and our old. For now though, we are looking forward to returning home for much-anticipated visits with family and friends. We’re very grateful for the fabulous travel experiences coming our way this break – winter and skiing in the southern hemisphere for the little kids and summer and cruising in the northern hemisphere for the big kids – Spain, Portugal and the Baltics, here we come!
While we eagerly await the excesses of school holidays, our Muslim friends here in Tembagapura are carrying out their own period of self-reflection by settling into Ramadan, a month-long religious observance where they fast from dawn till dusk every day. Ramadan culminates in a mass exodus where workers return to their villages and hometowns to celebrate the holy holiday of Idul Fitri by practicing forgiveness and feasting with their families.
Self-reflection for us means looking back over the past 18 months of Our Indo Adventure and embracing the unique experiences thrown at us by this self-imposed tree change. And, carrot famine aside, jungle life as we know it is pretty good…just as long as our attitude of gratitude prevails! Now, bring on the feast…
Until next time,
(See you later)
It’s an interesting little place, this jungle home of ours.
Our town of Tembagapura has a population of around 10,000, all of which are employed either directly or indirectly by Freeport McMoran for the purpose of running the local Grasberg copper and gold mine. The town is predominantly made up of native Papuans and Indonesians and although these two cultures are historically combative and remain culturally diverse, here in Tembag, getting along is part and parcel of life in a remote Company town.
All of the national population here adheres to a chosen religion – either Christian or Islamic (Atheism is banned in Indonesia) and as such, we are exposed to the full gamut of culturally religious practices. From the five daily calls to prayer, Ramadan and Idul Fitri for the Muslims to Sunday services, Lent, Easter and Christmas for the Christians, there’s always something faith-based happening here.
As for our small Expat community, the cultural diversity is simply fascinating. Our local company-run Mount Zaagkam School (MZS) recently conducted a cultural study across all grades to find out more about ‘Where We Come From’ – there were world maps all over the place! MZS currently has around 75 students aged between 3 and 14 years from Preschool through to the 8th Grade.
There are 15 countries of origin represented – Australia, USA, South Africa, Ghana, Canada, Indonesia, Chile, Mongolia, India, Zambia, Vietnam, Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Thailand and Holland – with Zimbabwe arriving next week. On any given day, I’ll hear Spanish, Hindi and Afrikaans spoken alongside English and Bahasa Indonesia. You could say that we live in our own little world up here, and you’d be right, for more reasons than one!
Having so many countries and cultures represented at school is a big contributor to the internationally-minded program of study on offer here. Indeed, many of our kids were born into homes with English as a second language, and yet, they are thriving. What I love about this place is that our kids have truly open minds when it comes to cultural diversity – and that’s no mean feat in today’s society. Diversity at school fosters a natural curiosity and a desire to learn more about and appreciate different points of view or ways of doing things. They don’t bat an eyelid at skin colour, manner of dress, vocal accent or religious disposition. They’re all just kids.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on the ‘Where Have You Been’ discussions that stemmed from the cultural study…there are some seriously well-travelled kids up here! I wouldn’t recommend a ‘Guess that Flag’ challenge either…they have that one in the bag!
Heading up the school’s Parents and Teachers Association, I too see cultural diversity bringing a variety of skills and perspectives to the table and contributing to our mantra of ‘filling the gaps’ in our kids’ lives.
It’s not all about the kids either. Last year’s UN Day at school was embraced by expat ladies keen to showcase their national heritage and the unique culture of their homelands. A huge hit were the food tables where we sampled specialty dishes from Australia, South Africa, Chile, Ghana, Mongolia, Indonesia and the USA. It was a delicious multicultural celebration, enjoyed by all!
Life in this unique little town accentuates and embraces cultural diversity in an way which is beyond interesting and without prejudice. There’s bound to be a lesson in that for all of us.
Tembagapura, West Papua. Diversity…but not as you know it!
Until next time,
(See you later)
We recently spent our ‘summer’ school break in the glorious Australian winter, savouring the abundant lifestyle on offer in our home country. The little things we completely took for granted when we lived there (visiting family and friends, well-stocked supermarkets, walking on the beach, driving a car, eating out, good internet/download speed, clear phone lines, going to the movies, bike riding and playing with pets to mention but a few!) are appreciated so much more now.
While we do miss all of these first world luxuries (and many more), the experiences we have in our new jungle life are similarly rewarding. For now it seems that the hot topic is ‘Independence’ and the life lessons are many and varied.
To begin with, on one of the three aircraft we take to travel from Townsville to Tembagapura, the girls got a taste of what life as an independent woman is like when they were invited into the cockpit of an all-female crew. Now that was fascinating and fun! The pilots were friendly and accommodating and had Gracie talking all about ‘driving’ planes when she grows up.
We expect our expat lives to be full of contrast, but we have somewhat unexpectedly returned to challenging times in our little jungle community. West Papua is firmly in the grip of a significant drought, thanks to a substantial El Nino phenomenon forming in the region. In a place where water collection is dependent on daily rainfall, drought is a serious issue. We have two reservoirs which supply water to the Tembagapura township and, given that annual rainfall is usually around six metres per year, keeping them full to overflowing is rarely a problem. Now that we have not seen rain for over a month and the El Nino effect is likely to prevail until November or so, we have a real problem.
In terms of impact, our running water availability has now been limited to two periods per day – 4am to 10am and 4pm to 10pm. And yes, while living a life independent of a constant running water supply is indeed possible, it is very challenging and inconvenient! Lack of water is also proving to be a big problem for mining operations within the region, with some mines across the border in PNG closing down until the situation improves. We are hopeful that the water limitation strategy will not worsen for us and that El Nino shoves off soon. In the meantime, if your life currently boasts an uninterrupted water supply, pop that near the top of your ‘Things to be Grateful For’ list, and think of us!
I had hoped that the upside to an extended dry spell and the absence of daily inclement weather would be an improvement in the quality of our internet service. Alas, this wishful thinking has not proven true, with our dismal internet speed remaining a big challenge for me up here. Loading an internet banking page before it times out or downloading an attachment bigger than one megabyte from a received email are big wins for me when they happen!
We are however very grateful for the return of fresh milk to our shop shelves – something else we were trying (unsuccessfully) to getting used to living without. Living life with young children independent of a fresh milk supply is also not fun! However, thankfully it’s back and as a sweetener, we even had a (very) brief supply of salami to go with it! Like I said, it’s the little things!
Necessity dictates that I am also very independent in the kitchen up here, making most things from scratch these days in the absence of store-bought alternatives. Aside from regular baking items like biscuits and muffins, we make our own savoury scrolls and slices for lunch boxes, bread loaves and rolls, tortillas for wraps and tacos, ice cream for a sweet treat and if the butter supply situation is not resolved soon, I’m going to give churning my own butter a go too. Feeding the family is a busy proposition in Tembagapura!
On August 17, we celebrated Indonesian Independence Day with the whole community. A day that saw many VIP’s – including Freeport Indonesia’s President Director Maroef Sjamsoeddin – arrive in Tembagapura to join in the celebrations. Every enclosed space was transformed into either an entertainment venue or a dormitory to house the swollen town population for the weekend. An unexpected benefit was that we had uninterrupted water supply for two whole days too!
Indonesian Independence Day is taken very seriously here and the date of August 17, 1945 marks the start of Indonesia’s National Revolution – a War of Independence between Indonesia and the Dutch Empire. The revolution commenced following the occupation of Indonesia by Japan for three and a half years during World War II, an occupation that the ruling Dutch Empire had little ability to defend. The Japanese occupation encouraged nationalist sentiment while degrading Dutch-created infrastructures and leadership. On August 17, 1945 two days after the Japanese surrender, Indonesian nationalists self-proclaimed Indonesian Independence and a day later elected their first President. A four-year diplomatic and at times bloody battle followed until Dutch recognition of Indonesia’s Independence in December 1949 marked the end of colonial administration and the establishment of an independent nation.
Freeport’s favourite Anthropologist and Kamoro tribe chaperone, Kal Muller, also visited our school to talk to the kids about the true meaning behind the fun celebrations of Independence Day which prompted lots of interesting discussion on the topic.
The Independence Day ceremony here in Tembagapura centred around an early morning traditional flag raising ceremony, led by President Director Maroef and carried out by students and community members. The red and white Indonesian flag symbolising courage (red) and purity (white) was slowly and solemnly raised while a local ladies choir sang a beautiful rendition of the Indonesian national anthem, Indonesia Raya.
We were also treated to some fantastic entertainment on the day including an acrobatic military marching band, dancing and singing acts from local schools and a special performance from the Kamoro tribe. The celebrations culminated in a traditional food festival with more entertainment, singing and dancing continuing well into the afternoon. I especially enjoyed the choir’s spirited performance of the Freeport Company Song which, like any good footy song, proclaimed the Freeport qualities of teamwork, drive, endurance and success – it really got the crowd going.
All attendees were encouraged to wear traditional Batik dress which contributed nicely to the spectacle. John even donned a special little hat gifted to him for the occasion, emblazoned with the Indonesian National Emblem, the ‘Garuda Pancasila’. The golden Javanese Eagle holds a shield symbolising the five principles of Indonesian ideology (faith, humanity, unity, democracy and social justice) and grips a scroll containing words that loosely translate to ‘Unity in Diversity’.
So, there you have it. Our latest adventures, brought to you by a family independent of a first world internet connection, but delivered nonetheless. As the old saying goes, where there’s a will (and a LOT of patience), there’s a way!
Now, time to get our skates on (it’s our latest fad):
Until next time,
(See you later)
The last term of the school year up here on the mountain has been incredibly busy. So…where to start?
One constant is the joy offered by the monkey bars in the school playground – never seems to get dull!
There have also been birthday parties galore, where too much Elsa is never enough…
Culturally interesting school field trips, learning about Indonesian family values:
Strange and unusual critters:
And newly acquired skills in the form of homemade sausages:
But by far the most exciting event was Nana and Grandad’s first trip to the jungle. Visitors are a rare and welcome delight up here and this visit in particular made a couple of little kids very happy indeed! Mum and Dad were also lucky enough to experience a chopper ride up the mountain which is a remarkable introduction to the dense beauty of our jungle home.
Coinciding with their visit was a two-week long festival hosted by the local Kamoro Tribe and their accompanying Ethnologist Kal Muller (www.kamoroculture.blogspot.com) who has lived and studied the tribe for decades. The Kamoro are a tribe of around 18,000 who hail from the surrounds of Timika and live a peaceful lifestyle of hunting, gathering and fishing. The tribesmen use their dogs and spears to hunt for meat staples like pigs and cassowaries while the women gather crustaceans, grubs, fruits and vegetables, just like their ancestors did.
The Kamoro spent a whole week at school with the kids, teaching them traditional weaving, carving, drumming and dancing techniques. They were fantastic with the kids and every day heralded a stack of new stories to bring home.
The Kamoro were also special guests at Sunday Brunch, during which they shared with diners how some of their food staples are harvested and prepared.
Of particular interest was the preparation of Sago, the Kamoro’s staple carbohydrate. Just before a sago tree reaches flowering age (around 10-15 years), the pith in it’s trunk transforms into an almost pure form of soft carbohydrate which is easily harvested with blunt axe-like tools. The resulting pulp is mixed with water, filtered and drained in a long trough where the starch settles and progressively solidifies over the course of an hour or two.
The resulting solid sago starch is grated, mixed with water and prepared for consumption in a variety of ways. We were told that the sago is commonly baked on iron over a fire into something resembling a pancake or waffle. This carbohydrate is the main accompaniment to the Kamoro’s protein sources – typically seafood, pig and cassowary meats. There are, however some more exotic forms of protein that the Kamoro enjoy. One being the fat and juicy Sago Grub, housed in the same trees from which the sago starch is sourced. When ingesting these, it is important to gulp them rear end first before biting off the grub below the head in order to avoid the two sharp teeth it uses to scrape the sago pith…we decided to give trying one a miss.
The other, possibly less enticing, worm-like food source is the ‘Tambelo’ a bivalve mollusk that lurks in fallen rotting mangrove tree trunks. This long, slimy, smelly delicacy is viewed by the Kamoro as a health food, cure-all and an aphrodisiac! It apparently tastes like a sweet oyster, but I couldn’t tell you if that were true…
The Kamoro also shared their traditional method of sealing an animal skin (in this case lizard) onto the top of a carved drum, using blood mixed with lime as the glue.
The Kamoro’s primary source of cash income is the sale of their intricate carvings with the aforementioned drums, wall hangings, ancestral totems and cassowary-feather head-dresses proving very popular among the locals up here.
Visits from Nana, Grandad and the Kamoro certainly made the month of May one to remember for many reasons with good fun had by all, but the fun certainly didn’t end there.
The kids participated in the school-run ‘Hardball Classic’, held at the local Sportsfield. It was a magnificently warm and sunny day, perfect for ball games. Gracie’s age group played T-ball while Ava’s class played ‘Kick Ball’ which is essentially baseball rules played with a soccer ball, stacks of fun!
The following weekend was the Bali Swim Meet where Ava joined seven other ‘Tembagapura Torpedos’ in a friendly swim meet with the Bali-based Australian Independent School. It was great fun with all of the kids thoroughly enjoying the weekend of swimming and recreation. The Mums who chaperoned also had a ball, enjoying good food, wine and company.
In the past week, we have also enjoyed the end of year school concert where the kids had an absolute ball singing, dancing and performing on stage after many weeks of dedicated practice at school.
The following day saw the kids enjoying their school break up dance party at the Lupe.
Our final social event for the term was the community Hash Run – a first for us! The Hash saw us spend a couple of hours traversing town streets, drains, rivers, hills and the jungle which made for a very messy morning full of fun and muck! Not many photos of this one as the environment was definitely not camera-friendly.
And so now that ‘School’s Out’, it’s time to look forward to our lengthy ‘Summer Break’ (winter break for us Aussies). For us this means another longed-for trip back home to Oz, catching up with family and friends while enjoying an uninterrupted food supply…it’s the simple things!
Until next time,
(See you later)
So, we’ve clocked up almost five months on the mountain and all things considered, life is pretty good.
There have been some real highlights over the past month – none more significant than the much-anticipated delivery of our sea freight. It took just over four months to travel the 2000km between our home town of Townsville and our little mountain community up here in Tembagapura. Needless to say, the massive stack of boxes that descended upon us on Monday 20 April was a sight for sore eyes…and a source of sore backs!
After a fairly solid week of unpacking, we now have ourselves a home that’s comfortable and full of familiar things. Happy days!
Speaking of happy days, the kids were thrilled with Pajama Day at school recently – one that saw a couple of regular morning rituals (dressing and grooming!) dispensed with, resulting in a pleasant change of pace.
That same week at school, and indeed in the whole community, we celebrated Hari Kartini or Kartini Day. The day honours Raden Ajeng Kartini, a young Indonesian pioneer in the area of women’s rights. Born into a wealthy and intellectual Javanese family on 21 April in 1879, Kartini was lucky enough to attend school up to the age of 12, an honour rarely bestowed upon girls of that era. Once Kartini turned 12, she was ‘secluded’ at home in preparation for an arranged marriage. During seclusion, girls were not permitted to leave their parent’s home until they were married, at which time authority over them was transferred to their husband. Somewhat unconventionally, Kartini’s Father allowed her to continue to educate herself at home during her twelve-year period of seclusion. Kartini chose to pursue interests in European feminist thinking and the emancipation of indigenous Indonesian women who held very low social status and had very little access to education. She also became a prolific and published writer on the same subjects.
Kartini’s arranged marriage took place when she was 24 and saw her become the third wife of a forward thinking aristocrat, 26 years her senior. He was uncharacteristically supportive of her desire to improve access to education for Indonesian women, encouraging her to open a school for girls at his workplace. Sadly, Kartini’s life was cut short when she died at age 25, following complications resulting from the birth of her first child.
Her many letters were published posthumously in 1911, creating support for establishment of the ‘Kartini Foundation’ which went on to open the first girls school in Java in 1912 and many more since. While it’s true that gender equality remains an issue in Indonesian education, significant progress continues to be made, in no small way due to the early influence of Raden Ajeng Kartini. Her legacy lives on and each year on Kartini’s birthday, Indonesia celebrates the significance of her achievements.
Our school community honoured RA Kartini by dressing in ‘Kebaya’ – a blouse/dress combination style of national dress or ‘Batik’ – a cloth dying technique traditional to Indonesia. Our girls wore traditional local Papuan Batik made in Timika. The children also put on a number of performances designed to honour Indonesia’s national hero – or superhero as Grace called her. The festivities concluded with a traditional Indonesian feast which was thoroughly enjoyed by all.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the monkey bars are popular among kids in this place!
Following the fanfare of Kartini Day, it was time for much more somber reflections in the form of our local Anzac Day celebrations. Dawn Service at our local club, The Lupe, kicked off at 4:45am and was extremely well organised and attended. We are really blessed to have such a fantastic local community up here, a large chunk of which is an awesome bunch of patriotic Aussies, gathering in the jungle of West Papua to solemnly commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli. Dawn Service was followed by a ‘gunfire’ breakfast replete with Aussie Bundaberg Rum and Anzac biscuits.
To top off an incredibly full and busy couple of weeks, we enjoyed a family run in the inaugural Tembagapura Colour Run – an early morning adventure across town which was full of fun and featured coloured powder bombing stations. The kids had a blast, eagerly anticipating each colour station and happily receiving their finisher’s medals – indeed everyone walked away feeling like a winner!
The run wrapped up a very busy but fun-filled couple of weeks in our little mountain town, but it won’t end there. We are super-excited to be receiving visitors this coming week, with Nana and Grandad heading up the mountain to see how the other half (now) lives. Their visit will coincide with a week-long cultural visit conducted by a nearby traditional Papuan tribe called the Kamoro. Suffice it to say, the next couple of weeks in Tembagapura are bound to be memorable ones and we can’t wait!
I’m also excited to say that my Bahasa Indonesia language classes have kicked off with an awesome teacher and a great group of other like-minded Aussie women, all learning new skills and having fun doing it! Wish me luck!
Until next time,
(See you later)
Ok, so there was no surfing to be had, but a recent girls’ weekend in Bali turned out to be an unexpected highlight of my first two months on the mountain.
It’s funny how one’s perspective is ever-changing. When living in Australia, I had not even the slightest inclination to visit Bali, none whatsoever. Now, being based in Papua, Bali presents itself as a sunny refuge with cheap daily direct flights from Timika and no need for a passport! It is, put simply, a sanity escape for many of the expats here. That being said, I never thought I’d put ‘Bali’ and ‘sanity’ in the same sentence, but there you have it!
Our trip began as it usually does here on the mountain, with an early morning chopper ride down to Timika. After a brief stopover, we boarded our Garuda Indonesia direct 3 hour flight to Denpasar. The domestic airport in Bali has recently been upgraded and my travel buddies assure me that the new version is infinitely more pleasant (and rat-free) than its predecessor. Upon our exit from the terminal building, we picked up a Bintang beer each (as you do), hired a private driver for the afternoon for the grand total of 120,000 Rupiah – around twelve Aussie dollars – and set off. We stopped off at a local department to stock up on some quality wine, cheese and nibbles (things that are all quite difficult to obtain on the mountain) and then took a very slow drive through the busy and bustling streets of Kuta to our hotel, the Kokonut Suites in Seminyak.
Seminyak is like a breath of fresh air after the chaos of Kuta. The streets are cleaner, the shopping more refined (not a hawker in sight) and the power lines somewhat orderly! As we were soon to discover, the food in Seminyak is also sensational!
This trip was really all about eating, drinking and shopping so if you’re looking for some interesting insights into the natural wonders of Bali, then this post is not for you. However if, like me, you had no idea of the modern culinary delights on offer on the Island of the Gods, then this might make for an enlightening read. In short, don’t believe everything the media would have you believe about this place. While Bali is certainly a little land of extremes, there is truly something for everyone here.
After enjoying some refreshments in our apartment, we were ready to explore and find somewhere to settle in for the evening. So, we set off on foot in the direction of what is known as ‘Eat Street’ by our fellow mountaineers in Tembagapura. There are stacks of motorbikes and taxis on the streets of Bali and very few walkable footpaths so our little excursion was an eye-opener! Between the traffic on one side of us, open drains on the other, intriguing motorbike refueling ‘stations’ and the obstacle course of lovely little offerings scattered about (sorry to the God whose goodies I accidentally trod on), this was not the time for gawking about.
Serious attention needs to be paid to one’s footfalls in this place! We were so diligent in this regard that we promptly got lost and quickly decided to surrender our pedestrian mode of transport for a taxi…a super-cheap way of getting around. Five bucks and twenty minutes later, we arrived at our destination, Jalan Kayu Aya, overwhelmed by the incredible array of bars, restaurants and boutiques on offer.
We bypassed the popular Champagne Bar and headed across the road to a restaurant called La Favela and wow, what a treat! Inside, the recycled decor was just amazing – a collection of eclectic pre-loved bits and pieces put together to create awe-inspiring, comforting ambiance.
‘Favela’ is a Portuguese word meaning ‘a collection of shacks’ and as such La Favela offers an impressive array of private dining rooms, all fitted out in different themes. There is also a stunningly beautiful outdoor garden dining setting and a variety of cozy inside bars and big leather lounge areas. Food wise, we were in heaven! Remote jungle life certainly facilitates a renewed appreciation of good food and wine…
We were thrilled to bits with our tapas starters in the garden and moved inside to sample the mains menu. Oh lamb, how we’ve missed you! Every morsel was appreciated more than I can put into words – the stunning lamb racks and melt in your mouth slow-cooked osso buco cannelloni really hit the spot. Once we sampled the Chilean Merlot, we decided to chalk the night up as one to remember. Our early start to the day meant that as midnight rolled around, we were starting to feel weary and, knowing we had a big day of shopping ahead of us (!), we called it a night and caught a taxi home.
Day two saw us indulge in a delicious breakfast in the artisan bakery attached to our hotel, before engaging a driver for the day to visit a number of local manufacturers.
Handmade ceramics and tableware, bespoke recycled furniture and various gift shops and boutiques ticked most of the items off our lists. We managed to save enough room for one of the more critical purchases, necessary for maintaining sanity on the mountain…alcohol. Yes, a quality tipple is very difficult to come by in a largely Muslim community, and importation is forbidden, so travel within Indonesia necessitates returning to Papua with a suitcase full of (in my case) wine. Such are our struggles!
That night we were off to meet up with a fellow Tembag resident at the Potato Head Beach Club on Jalan Petitenget – yet another stunningly creative venue on the eat streets of Seminyak. The façade of this place is extraordinary.
Inspired by the Roman Colosseum and decorated with antique shutters collected from across Indonesia, the entryway is an experience in itself. Inside, the attention to detail is almost too much to take in, with so many intriguing architectural elements to observe. Potato Head is renowned for its cocktail menu and on this occasion, it didn’t disappoint. Best Mojitos and Bloody Marys’ ever!
After a big day of shopping, we were a tad peckish and the pulled pork burgers were an instant hit. Pork (along with lamb) is something we see very little of on the mountain so we savoured the dripping rolls one scrumptious mouthful after the other. We happily lounged about on the revered Potato Head poolside daybeds until the early hours, relishing our cocktails and wondering what the rest of the world was up to. One of the managers selected a range of Indonesian tapas (yes there is such a thing in Seminyak!) to top off our night – firm favourites were the catfish, local eggplant and curried tofu dishes…who would have thought?!
Our final day in Bali saw us take in some much-needed day spa treatments in the morning…
We followed up with lunch at a real find around the corner on Jalan Petitenget, a little place in soft opening mode called the Smokehouse – a traditional Texas barbecue joint.
At the risk of being predictable, we yet again indulged in pulled pork burgers with coleslaw, real hand cut chips and a Bintang beer for around twelve bucks. Smokey delicious-ness right there people.
Needing to walk off all that pork, we took in a few of the local sights around Kerobokan which was just a short walk away. We passed local markets, plenty of bespoke furniture shops, homewares boutiques, street food vendors, the notorious Kerobokan Prison and passed about a gazillion motorbikes.
And then, unexpectedly, tucked away amid the hustle and bustle are working rice paddy fields, standing in defiant tranquil contrast to the chaos around them.
On our final evening, before our overnight flight home, we had planned to visit a restaurant down the road called Barbacoa – largely due to the suckling pig we viewed slow roasting over a fire pit. Sadly we ran out of time (successful shopping day) and instead decided to eat at our hotel restaurant. Apparently this was meant to be as the special of the day at the Livingstone turned out to be pork ribs! While we admit to some concern at being asked ‘how would you like them cooked’, they turned out to be meltingly delicious and a perfect ending to our Seminyak sojourn. We’ll take a raincheck on Barbacoa though…
All in all, my first trip to Bali was such an unexpected delight that it certainly won’t be my last.
Our next trip off the mountain is a much-longed-for trip home to Townsville to see family and friends for the Easter school break – see you in a week or so fellow Aussies!
Until next time,
(See you later)
Freeport Indonesia’s Grasberg Mine is the world’s largest gold mine and third largest copper mine, the scale of which is so big that the mile-wide open pit is clearly visible from space.
The mine is situated in one of the most inaccessible and unforgiving locations on the planet…a place we now call home. The abundance of work here is the reason behind our move to this remote but spectacular part of the West Papuan jungle. Indeed, the company-owned town we live in, Tembagapura, literally means Copper Town (tembaga = copper, pura = town) in Indonesian.
The mining operations up here encompass many forms, however Grasberg relates solely to the Open Pit mining operation. This week, I was lucky enough to be invited to visit the pit on a private tour and to have my visit coincide with fabulous weather. Climatic conditions can be a little unpredictable when you’re 4,285 metres above sea-level!
Firstly though, a little history to set the scene. Prior to the discovery of Grasberg, operations at its small predecessor Ertsberg (Dutch for ‘Ore Mountain’) carried on for more than 15 years, oblivious to the fact that right next door, less than 3 km away, lay the world’s largest gold and copper deposit. Up until 1988, this super-sized treasure was just another ‘Grass Hill’, the Dutch translation of which led to the mine’s eventual name, Grasberg.
There was however, nothing simple about accessing the wealth contained beneath the soil. Ertsberg was tiny in comparison, in fact all of its equipment and workers were transported to that mine via an aerial cable tram system which required that all heavy equipment was disassembled at one end before being reassembled at the other. This existing transportation system simply would not cope with the demands of Grasberg. So, thanks to the fearless ambition of one Indonesian man and his little dozer, the HEAT (Heavy Equipment Access Trail) Road was born. One look at these pictures and you can see, this guy had a seriously strong constitution!
All vehicular access to the Grasberg pit is now via the cliff-hugging 11km long HEAT Road which rises in elevation by 2000 metres from start to finish with some fairly steep grades and relatively narrow tunnels along the way. It has to be, hands-down, the most stunningly beautiful haul road on the planet, flanked by dense jungle and picturesque waterfalls the entire way up. I was more than happy to let my guide do the driving, this is seriously challenging terrain, especially when the clouds roll in and torrential rain takes hold!
The cable tram system is still in full use, transporting smaller equipment, supplies and up to 100 people at a time from the milling area to the mining area quickly and effectively – it traverses a 700 metre high cliff in under seven minutes. Not to be attempted with a stuffy head!
Down in the pit, Grasberg operates a truck and shovel extraction methodology on a massive scale. The open pit produces around 140,000 tonnes of ore per day, using machinery from its fleet of around 150 dump trucks and 20 or so shovels. Most of the trucks used in Grasberg are 300 Tonne capacity and, as usual with photos, it’s hard to get some perspective. One thing is certain though, these massive machines look no bigger than ants when viewed at the bottom of the pit.
Once the overburden and ore are extracted from the pit, they are crushed and transported along a staggering network of surface and underground conveyors and vertical ore passes for further processing. Many of these systems pass directly through the massive mountains surrounding the mine site. I’m looking forward to visiting the mill, where secondary crushing, treatment, extraction and concentrating occurs and to understand how the final concentrate slurry is transported to the port at Timika for export. Fascinating stuff so stay tuned for more on that.
Now, I’m no rock doctor, but some of the geologic features of the pit and its surrounds are truly extraordinary. On one side of Grasberg are rare equatorial glaciers framing Puncak Jaya (Indonesia’s highest peak and one of the world’s ‘Seven Summits’ mountaineering challenges). On the other side, picturesque snow-capped mountains join with plentiful limestone deposits which are mined and processed into lime on-site. There are areas of magnetite (rendering parts of the pit wall highly magnetic), a significant amount of sulfur (resulting in the occasional whiff of rotten egg gas) and also a surprising amount of silver to complement the aforementioned copper and gold.
Everywhere you look up here at Grasberg results in fascination. From the seemingly unconquerable terrain, to the immense scale of the operations and the stunning beauty surrounding the site, Grasberg is awe-inspiring on every level.
This is the first in what I hope will be a series of tours of Freeport’s operations for me up here. There are a staggering number of underground operations either currently producing or under development, preparing to take over when Grasberg ceases production in a year or so. The Concentrator Mill area, where John works, is also contemplating massive expansion plans and I’m keen to some day see the port facilities where the concentrate leaves Timika for it’s various domestic and international customers.
So there you have it – Grasberg Mine – our reason for being up here in the jungle.
Until next time,
(See you later)
Last week we journeyed to the delightful Singapore on what’s known on the mountain as a ‘Visa Run’. When John initially started work here, he was granted a four-month visa which expired in mid-February, requiring us to exit Indonesia in order to apply for renewal. Most expat visas come up for renewal from January to March which sees Tembagapura experience a steady exodus of expats during this period, resulting in many challenges for the community from a staffing and schooling perspective. However, the show must go on, and so it does.
The Indonesian Embassy in Singapore is Freeport’s preferred port of call for visa renewals, offering the quickest turnaround time and on February 8, it was our turn. Fittingly, Ava’s ‘Unit of Inquiry’ at school at the time was ‘Transportation Systems’ and boy was she spoilt for choice or research options during our brief Singapore Fling. Just getting from Tembagapura to Singapore involved us taking a car, town bus, chopper, hotel bus x 2, jet plane x 2, an airport train and finally a taxi which, after around 12 hours in transit, delivered us to our very pleasant hotel in the heart of the city called The Orchard.
Singapore was abuzz with plans for the celebration of the Chinese New Year – The Year of the Goat – so the city was boldly decorated in all things Chinese, together with many a goat and an abundance of fruit-laden miniature orange trees in doorways and lobbies. I was puzzled by the symbolism of the fruit trees and have since discovered that ‘tangerine’ and ‘orange’ in Chinese sound similar to the words ‘luck’ and ‘wealth’ and the bright orange colour symbolises ‘gold’ and as such, the display and gifting of these fruits is believed to bring good fortune to the occupants. So now I get it.
We were booked for a short three-night stay in Singapore so we woke on our first morning ready to embrace the sunshine and go exploring. After surrendering our passports (something I don’t think I’ll ever get used to!), we were off to the nearest MRT (subway) station to not only gain super-efficient city-wide transportation, but also to provide research fodder for Ava. Our first stop was Gardens by the Bay – a beautiful parkland located near the spectacular Marina Bay Sands hotel complex. The gardens were just perfection and a great way to spend the morning, The Supertrees were a big hit – stunning structures that harvest solar energy to light up the gardens at night. It seems everything in Singapore not only looks good, but serves a purpose.
Grace could not stop talking about the ‘ferris wheel’ she had spotted on entry to the gardens so after a late lunch (such a pleasant change to have a myriad of dining options to choose from) we were off to ride the Singapore Flyer and see the sights from a bird’s eye view. Something that fascinated me were the huge number of cargo ships gathered at it’s deep and vast harbour just beyond Gardens by the Bay, hundreds of them. I didn’t realise it at the time but it is the worlds busiest port with around 1,000 ships in port at any given time. No wonder it seemed busy!
Singapore is so clean and controlled, with many reminders about the place to ensure it stays that way. Vandalism offences carry heavy fines and punishment by caning which appears to be an effective deterrent. I commented to John that in Singapore, compliance breeds compliance such that “if everyone else is doing the right thing, then I guess I should too”. Eating, drinking and even breastfeeding is forbidden on trains where even a sip of water can land you a $500 fine. When chewing gum was used to block sensor doors on the Singapore MRT and bring the system to a halt over 20 years ago, they simply banned the sale of chewing gum. Effective. Public shaming is also alive and well in Singapore and I walked past a couple of signs naming offenders under the ‘Outrage of Modesty’ laws which encompass offences related to ‘unwanted touching’. Interesting place!
After a very full day in the Gardens and a thorough exploration of Singapore’s transportation systems, we headed off to the Hard Rock Cafe for some pub fare, something we don’t get a lot of on the mountain.
Day two in Singapore was another big day at what we think is one of the best zoos in the world. The Singapore version uses a clever blend of ditches and moats rather than cages to house their animals in natural looking exhibits. It was a great day and the kids had a ball. The highlight of the day was the giraffe feeding which extracted giggles galore from the girls. The lions, zebras, big cats and rhinos were a sight to behold although we must say that the resident white tiger seemed a little melancholy.
It’s sad to think that our girls may never get the opportunity to see these magical beasts in the wild, given the impact the rapid deterioration in their natural habitats is having. While seeing these animals at the zoo is a great experience, it’s certainly a far cry from the real thing.
The zoo also gave Ava the opportunity to test a couple of more traditional forms of transportation. This one’s for you Terry…
A full second day saw both kids asleep in the (cheap-as-chips) taxi on the way home so it was a quiet night of in-room dining while we put some thought into how we would spend our final day in Singapore. Sadly the super-efficient embassy had processed our visa renewals in record time so our hopes of gaining a couple of extra days in this great city were quashed. Nonetheless, a three-night company-funded stay in Singapore was better than none at all!
Day three saw us taking our final train ride out into the suburbs to visit the Singapore Science Centre. Singapore is renowned for it’s science and technology exploits and the Science Centre didn’t disappoint. Our only regret was that we only had a couple of hours here, exploring it all could easily take a whole day. Our main point of interest was the Human Body Experience but before making our way there we spent an hour just playing with all of the optical illusions and experiments lining the post-entry foyer. It was great fun for both the kids and the grown-ups! Once we made it to our exhibit of choice, it didn’t disappoint. Greeting us was a giant-sized human body that we could walk through and explore.
That long yellow thing is the pancreas (yep, I had no idea either), the pic of the kidneys is for you Caitlin, and yes, that is Ava exiting out the rear end…how cool is this exhibit? Needless to say, lots of fun was had by all and while we wished we could stay longer – to learn more about volcanos, tsunamis and to simulate some earthquakes – alas it was not to be as our first flight of the day was calling.
Even our exit from Singapore was a pleasure – spending time in Changi Airport is no hardship with good food, decent shopping, beautiful floral displays and plenty of fun things like to koi pond and butterfly garden to entertain the kids.
Boarding our flight meant the start of a long and tiring journey home – two overnight flights, a one-night stay at the Rimba Papua Hotel in Timika, Biometrics (again – just to be sure our fingerprints haven’t changed…) and then the chopper back up to Tembagapura. I had stocked up on a suitcase full of food supplies in Singapore before coming home but it was still a shock to the system to find the local grocery store here very light-on in the veggie department and stocking zero in the way of salad ingredients. Over a week later and we have only just got milk and mouldy carrots back in store. I will never again complain about the quality of fresh produce at our Aussie grocery stores!
It’s just over five weeks before we head back to Australia on our Easter break – something we’re all looking forward to very much. It’ll be here before we know it!
Until next time,
(See you later)
It’s just on three weeks since we arrived in our little mountain-top community and to-date it’s been a case of so far, so good.
Following our arrival in our home, which I assume is on the west side of town (since our street name is West 1), we took a little time to explore everything within its four walls. The girls were suitably impressed – it’s roomy and airy and will serve us well.
After a couple of days of unpacking, grocery shopping and settling in at home, we were ready to get out and about with some exploring and socialising. We hung out with some of the awesome local families here, playing and lunching and we familiarised ourselves with where everything is (which didn’t take long!).
We even took ourselves off to the club, The Lupe, for Sunday Brunch which is a bit of an institution here, and a nice way to break up the weekend. After brunch we were keen to get everything ready for the first day of school, something the kids were really excited about.
When Monday rolled around, their first day didn’t disappoint, they’re loving it! School-wise, it’s a fairly massive adjustment for me, but for them it’s business as usual – kids are so adaptable and ours have really taken all of their recent life changes in their stride.
Their first week in this new school environment has seen them gently tested academically so that their teachers can employ the ‘differential’ teaching methods called for by the Primary Years Program that the School runs here. I have also had a number of opportunities to chat with their teachers and the incoming School Superintendent (Principal) to keep a tabs on how the kids are settling in. A source of great excitement for the kids has been getting acquainted with the native inhabitants of the school playground…the moths up here are huge!
I feel as though I’m fitting in ok too. There are an amazing bunch of expat women up here – mostly Aussies and Americans but I’ve also met Kiwis, Africans, Asians and Canadians around the traps. I’ve already been nominated the relieving Vice President of the Tembagapura Torpedoes Swim Club so I suspect my diary will start to fill up fairly quickly.
Monday 26 January was of course Australia Day and we trotted down to The Lupe once more with some of the other Expat Aussies here for a special edition Australia Day Sunday Brunch on the 25th to celebrate in advance. I was REALLY hoping to see some lamb on the menu or even some snags, but alas there was none. Nonetheless, temporary tattoos were worn, Champagne and Bintang was drunk and suitable celebrations were had.
Last weekend, the kids took part in an intensive swim program to kick off this quarter of training. Gracie is in the ‘Bronze’ group and swam for 3 hours across the weekend. Ava is in the ‘Gold’ group and swam for 9 hours! The coach was flown from Bali to train the kids and as much as they complained about the hard work, it was also lots of fun. The parental committee runs the swim club, training and associated events in between flying in expert coaching a couple of times each quarter.
The weather has been beautiful of late – lovely warm sunny mornings with crisp, clear air before the clouds roll in for a cool afternoon. It really is amazing to see the entire town turn white with cloud cover. In the mornings the visibility from our deck of the surrounding mountains is incredible, but most afternoons we can barely see our neighbour’s house! We’ve had a number of thunderstorms and a couple of fairly heavy showers but mostly just drizzle. Check out the difference in the morning and afternoon views down the river toward our place…
The highland climate makes for very good sleeping weather and the girls have been no exception – a pleasant surprise given that they have chosen to share a room ever since we moved out of our home in Oz. Up here sharing a room means also sharing a bed until our gear arrives. We were frustrated to discover that our shipment of household goods is still sitting at the port in Cairns, waiting to get onto the next ship to Timika – hopefully this departure will occur within a week. Once the container arrives in Timika it needs to go through customs which is where delays usually occur. We assumed getting it out of Australia would be the easy bit but are quickly discovering that there is a fairly wide divide between how things ‘should’ happen and how they ‘actually’ happen up here in Indo!
Late last week, I joined in on one of the popular exercise regimes here…walking ‘The Hill’. This is the road that runs between our township of Tembagapura up to Hidden Valley and is the same road we take up to the swimming pool. It has an elevation of around 300m, is quite steep in places and has a road surface made up of various forms of mud, slush and course gravel. Walkers are also expected to share the road with all sorts of light vehicles and heavy equipment so alertness is necessary! The views are absolutely spectacular all the way up and after an hour or so of walking (and stopping for photos) we made it and rewarded ourselves with a drink at the Hidden Valley cafe. Many ladies undertake this walk on a daily basis, so hopefully some of those good habits will rub off! Here are some of the shots I took on my phone, but they really don’t do the scenery justice.
So, as you can see, we are slowly settling in and finding our jungle rhythm. Unfortunately, in saying that, John’s visa is up in mid-February and that means a trip to Singapore this weekend for new visas for all of us. The best-case scenario is that we’ll be there for four days or so…worst case, well, it could be weeks! Here’s hoping for a nice little mini-break and then back to the mountain to pick up where we left off with school, swimming, socialising etc.
Until next time…
(See you later)
Sorry all, I have a few posts to catch up on! I have figured out fairly quickly that my standard practice of working at night has been sabotaged by a fairly lousy wi-fi service at that time of day. Uploading photos means entering a whole world of pain so it’s low-res all the way from now on!
Nonetheless, we have arrived safely in Tembagapura and this is how we did it…
I left Cairns with two children, 22 pieces of luggage and 1 Litre of (necessary) Vodka in tow. Thank goodness my parents and brother were there to help with the send-off as I certainly couldn’t have managed it all on my own! The poor woman at check in drew the short straw with me and probably took a step closer to a repetitive strain injury on her wrist after hand-writing all of our bag tags and boarding passes!
A tearful farewell to Nana, Grandad and Uncle Matt preceded an easy flight – there were about 35 of us on the plane so there was plenty of room for us all to spread out and for the kids on the flight to play together. It was only upon landing that I started to feel a little uneasy about getting all of my luggage through customs unscathed. Importation of food, toys, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals is forbidden and so if you want to bring any of these things in with you, they have to come as luggage. Hence all the bags! The last time I travelled in to Timika, my luggage was given a thorough rummaging and I didn’t fancy doing that again, 22 times over with two kids in tow… However, as it turns out, it was my lucky day! They opened two food boxes and one toy box and left everything else alone, hooray!
The girls were bursting with excitement to see Daddy and we (and our five trolleys of luggage) were rewarded with a reunion at the Customs exit – yay!
We were transported to the Rimba Papua Hotel for a two-night stay in adjoining rooms. Ordinarily we would stay just one night in transit, but this time we had to spend a few hours in Timika undergoing ‘Biometrics’ with the Indonesian Government. This involved having our photos and fingerprints taken – a fairly straight forward process – with most of the time taken spent waiting our turn. From what I gather, Biometrics are taken each time a visa is renewed (um, our fingerprints aren’t likely to change are they!?) and given that our Visas expire in February, it may be an exercise we undergo again soon.
Following our stay at the Rimba, it was up early with our fingers and toes crossed for clear skies and Chopper transport (as opposed to the bus). We were in luck and ‘Choppered Up’ to Rainbow Ridge in the early morning, much to the girls’ excitement and my immense relief. Earmuffs and a bird’s-eye view for all! These Choppers are pretty impressive – 12 tonnes of armoured goodness, 2 tonnes of which is passenger and cargo weight and around 1.5 tonnes of fuel.
Fifteen minutes in the air and 205 litres of fuel later, we touched down into a magnificent morning – cool and clear with incredible views of the surrounding mountains.
We were bussed down into the town centre of Tembagapura and then set off on foot to our house. Only hand luggage travels on the Chopper – all the other baggage comes up the mountain by bus – so the 5 minute walk to our house was an easy one.
And with that, we became permanent residents of Tembagapura, West Papua. Hard to believe I know…
Stay tuned for my next post in which I’ll share some snippets from our first week in town.
(See you later)
PS – We’ve updated our Contact Us page, click here to view it