Tag Archives: Indonesia

Climbing the 7 Summits not as easy as 1, 2, 3!

This post is probably simply just more for fun than the scientist’s mind or the adventurer’s heart will likely allow. You judge …

Aconcagua, highpoint of the Americas

Aconcagua, highpoint of the Americas

·        How many continents are there: 5 or 6 or 7?

o   Most students in the United States are taught that there are seven continents: Africa, Antarctica, Australia, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America.

o   Many European students are taught that there are six continents, with North and South America combined as the single continent of America: Africa, Antarctica, Australia, Asia, Europe, and America. In some parts of the world, students learn that there are just five continents: Eurasia, Australia, Africa, Antarctica, and the Americas. And yet other students are taught that Antarctica, due to its lack of permanent inhabitants, does not meet the traditional definition of a continent.

o   Many refer to six continents, where Europe and Asia are combined as Eurasia (since they’re one solid geologic landmass): Africa, Antarctica, Australia, Eurasia, North America, and South America.

o   See National Geographic’s Geography FAQs for a simple, clear & interesting description.

·        Verdict: No consensus!

Climber’s Base Camp on Mt. Vinson, Antarctica

·        What is included in the definition of the “continent” of Australia?

o Australasia is a landmass description which includes Australia and the island group of Indonesia and New Guinea, and holds weight with the concept that islands located near a continent are considered a part of that continent. 

o   Australia is by convention recognized as a continental mass, not just a big island.

o   As a side note, Oceania is identified as a region centered on the islands of the tropical Pacific Ocean. The term is sometimes used to denote the area of Australasia (most common use), sometimes all the islands between Asia and the Americas, and sometimes all the islands of all the oceans (least common use). I have not seen Oceania described as a physical continent, whether using geography, political boundaries, or cultural groupings, but only as a term of convenience to collect disparate islands.

·        Verdict: No consensus!

Mt. Everest, unquestionably the highest summit of the world!

Mt. Everest, unquestionably the highest summit of the world!

·        Which summits should we include in our pursuits?

o   Mont Blanc or Mount Elbrus?

§  From the perspective of geography, many Europeans recognize Mont Blanc as the highest peak of Europe. From the perspective of political boundaries, Mount Elbrus becomes Europe’s highest peak.

o   Carstensz Pyramid or Kosciuszko?

§  If New Guinea is not considered part of the continent of Australasia and is thus a separate island, Kosciuszko would be the highest point on the continent of Australia. If New Guinea is a part of the Australasian continental mass, then the highest peak becomes Carstensz Pyramid. In my experience, most climbers choose to include the island of New Guinea, though strong opinions & some opposing ideas regarding the science of continents exist.

§  To add to the dialog, many have suggested that Kosciuszko does not belong simply because in its short trek there exists no significant challenge for climbers. Carstensz Pyramid, on the other hand, is a true challenge for the adventurer. Others strongly disagree that such a criterion ought to even be considered.

§  Gerry Roach authored an interesting piece entitled, “In Defense of Kosciuszko,” which is a thought-provoking and enjoyable to read.

·        Verdict: No Consensus!

Mount Elbrus, in Caucasus Mountains of Russia

Mount Elbrus, in Caucasus Mountains of Russia

Maybe Dick Bass’s Seven Summits idea will evolve to “nine continental summits of the world’s five continents!”

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Polite! Practical! And 1 for fun!

In my past few posts I have already shared a few fun & interesting words learned as I traveled from Bilogai, through the Zombandoga, and eventually to Sentani. I love different languages & cultures! I’d like to share a few more, not with the intention of imparting any level of proficiency with the language, but just to enjoy sharing a bit more about this amazing land and its peoples. Though I met folks from several different tribal groups, I principally encountered Indonesian Nationals and Papuans of the Moni tribe. A phonetic guide accompanies the literal spelling of the words below.

The Polite

Pak (pak)                             Sir or Mr.

Ibu (ē-bu)                            A polite designation for a woman or a mother;                      i.e., Ma’am or Mrs.

Martha shows off the plump strawberries harvested from her garden. Because I knew her name, I could address her as Ibu Martha.

Martha shows off the plump strawberries harvested from her garden. Because I knew her name, I could address her as Ibu Martha.

This young mother and I had a discussion regarding her cowry shell necklace. I did not come to know her name so I addressed her respectfully, simply as Ibu.

This young mother and I had a discussion regarding her cowry shell necklace. I did not come to know her name so I addressed her respectfully, simply as Ibu.

-mala (ma-la)                     This is an endearing ending attached to a boy’s name; e.g., Zani becomes Zanimala

-sama (sa-ma)                   A similar term of endearment, attached to a girl’s name; e.g., Alina becomes Alinasama

Children in tekah (kindergarten).

Awas (a-waas)    danger (i.e., an expression such as “whoa” or “careful,” as when someone slips on the slick log). Awas is an Indonesian word that has made its way into daily indigenous language.

The super slick & muddy jungle path made for many awas moments, especially for anyone in trekking or rubber boots with stiff, slickish soles! I took a number of near falls (as well as several falls!) during the trek. The folks who live in the jungle are, not surprisingly, amazingly proficient in this environment. Their feet functioned in a prehensile manner, wrapping around rocks and small logs as they moved smoothly forward. Not many awas moments for them! I was impressed by three teenage boys who sat shoulder-to-shoulder, squatting on a log not bigger around than their thighs, but balanced several feet above the jungle floor. They sat as comfortably, it seemed, as I would sit in a chair, with their feet wrapped soundly around their small perch.

Ham & Zonatan were not only sure-footed themselves, but excellent, caring guides.

Ham & Zonatan were not only sure-footed themselves, but excellent, caring guides.

Ham's sure-footedness extended beyond the forest floors to the trees. This is one of my favorite shots from the trip, when Ham, all smiles, shot up into the trees to show off a little!

Ham’s sure-footedness extended beyond the forest floors to the trees. This is one of my favorite shots from the trip, when Ham, all smiles, shot up into the trees to show off a little!

The Practical

usua me (u-su-a-meh)     good man

This good man works with the local Papuan regency government to ensure that porters are paid. He walked with me from Sugapa to Hitadipa, a hike of about 4 hours, and we had some significant time to chat. He had worked as a porter for a number of commercial outfitters over the past decade and in that time, the abuses he witnessed spurred him to begin serving as an advocate for the Papuan people. He now ensures that commercial outfitters uphold their responsibility to treat porters respectfully and pay them as promised. On average, he told me, only about 75% of the porters are being paid as promised. His work isn’t easy and can be fraught with tension because he is essentially policing foreigners. That said, he was shocked that I spent time just chatting with him, asking him about his family, showing him pictures of my family, etc – extending what I would consider just simple kindness to a hiking compadre. He confessed that no foreigner had ever expressed such interest in him as a person. I told him, “You are a good man, taking a difficult job, working on behalf of your people.” He appreciated that.

imba (ēmba)                      hurt

obat (ō-bat)                        medicine – Obat is another Indonesian word which is now frequently used by the Moni. In the early days, the Moni did not have words ending in hard consonants, so we also hear obat-i.

meze (me-zā)                     You will have aches and pains (imba) along the trek, and you may be offered a leaf called meze as medicine (obat) to rub against your aches. Don’t accept it! It is a stinging nettle and it will make you miserable! It itches and stings, and gives welts and wheals like nothing you have ever experienced. Meze will make you so miserable that you forget your other aches and pains!

I watched Zonatan rub meze onto his sore knee with his bare hands! It made me wonder how long the plant’s chemicals would remain on his hands.

I watched Zonatan rub meze onto his sore knee with his bare hands! It made me wonder how long the plant’s chemicals would remain on his hands.

Eo (eh-ō)                            Eo is simply an expression of agreement, a little bit like ok.

And 1 for fun!

Mepa (meh-pa)                 An expression or exclamation suggesting that you “get tough!” Akin to “man up!” The expression is spoken only from man to man; the expression is not used by or with women. The expression literally challenges you as “man baby.”

Enjoy!

A Taste of Papua!

One of the most enjoyable experiences of my crossing cultures from the U.S. to visit Indonesia and the jungles of Papua includes sampling local foods. I recently traveled to Papua for a three week trek through the interior with only 30 packets of oatmeal, 30 protein bars and 60 electrolyte drink mixes, intending to procure the remainder of my foods in the villages I visited. I admit I was a bit intimidated by the “taro in the morning and sweet potato at night” diet stories I had heard, so I also brought four freeze-dried dinner meals just in case!

Broad-leafed taro in a garden.

Broad-leafed taro in a garden.

White taro, marbled taro & sweet potato: staples of the Papuan diet.

White taro, marbled taro & sweet potato: staples of the Papuan diet.

Hoga (a general term used for greens) with chunks of wogo (pig, a precious protein resource for Papuans) and rice (a relatively recent import to the island).

Hoga (a general term used for greens) with chunks of wogo (pig, a precious protein resource for Papuans) and rice (a relatively recent import to the island).

As it turned out, I didn’t need most of what I brought with the exception of the electrolyte drink mixes (the jungle is so hot & humid and I was vigilant regarding hyponatremia!) I was able to eat local, native, traditional and indigenous foods throughout my entire stay.

We buy some fruit from a child along the trail.

We buy some fruit from a child along the trail.

Stripping a sugar cane stalk.

Stripping a sugar cane stalk. The raw cane immediately rewards you with a burst of sweet, wet sugar when bitten.

Phineas enjoying sugar cane.

Phineas enjoying sugar cane.

That said, I am by no means hyper-adventurous when it comes to ingesting strange foods. Neither am I careless with regards to food & water safety protocols for travelers. I also realize, however, that almost all diarrheal illnesses are caused by infectious microorganisms which are ingested and are more common in parts of the world where food or agricultural hygienic practices are compromised or not reliably safe. So I definitely watch what I put in my mouth & where it’s been before I put it there!

Sage tree: "Sage" is pronounced with a short "a" and a long "e"

Sage tree: “Sage” is pronounced with a short “a” and a long “e”

About the size of a plump radish, sage grows on a tree, can be found in either red or white, and has a sweetish initial taste.

About the size of a plump radish, sage grows on a tree, can be found in either red or white, and has a sweetish initial taste.

Plus, contrary to popular belief, traveler’s diarrhea is not caused by food or drink to which the gut is “unaccustomed.” It is also true that most Americans have grown up with pretty good sanitation & food handling practices, and so have little or no immunity to help protect against what might in other places be considered “normal” practices.

Rabbit, chicken & pig comprise the principle meat sources for Highland Papuans. This particular rabbit earned the name "yummy bunny" from a 14-month old child who was given a little bit of leg to eat!

Rabbit, chicken & pig comprise the principle meat sources for Highland Papuans. This particular rabbit earned the name “yummy bunny” from a 14-month old child who was given a little bit of leg to eat!

The reddish tinge seen in the hair of some of these tekah (kindergarten) children has been cited as an indicator that their diets lack sufficient protein.

The reddish tinge seen in the hair of some of these tekah (kindergarten) children has been cited as an indicator that their diets lack sufficient protein.

Fishing in Lake Sentani adds a healthy protein source for people living there. Fish was abundant in the markets.

Fishing in Lake Sentani adds a healthy protein source for people living there. Fish was abundant in the markets.

This beautiful old avocado tree bore an enormous amount of fruit.

This beautiful old avocado tree bore an enormous amount of fruit.

Finally, it would without a doubt be exceedingly cumbersome to import a full menu from home. Practically speaking, with the severe weight restrictions on flights into New Guinea (often a 20 kg max) or the associated exorbitant costs of additional baggage to do so, and the limited variety of familiar foods, even if one shops at commissaries preferred by the expat community, eating at least some local foods becomes a necessity. Let’s be real, though, it’s just plain tasty, interesting and fun to do so.

Papua is rich in its variety of fruits. This grapefruit-like fruit (called a pamalo) tasted sweet like a succulent orange.

Papua is rich in its variety of fruits. This grapefruit-like fruit (called a pamalo) tasted sweet like a succulent orange.

Deserts ... Papuan style!

Deserts … Papuan style!

Rice squares packaged in a bamboo sheath & a tasty mixed vegetable soup served as part of a dinner meal.

Rice squares packaged in a bamboo sheath & a tasty mixed vegetable soup served as part of a dinner meal.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a taste of Papua!

A Return to the Mud Below & the Sky Above!

I took nearly the entire month of February to trek through the interior of Papua’s highlands with the sole intention of getting to know the people through whose lands I wanted to continue traveling in the future. And to be perfectly clear, a month is barely enough time to even scratch the surface!

Amy shows pictures from a  previous visit to the Bulapa village area.

Amy shows pictures from a previous visit to the Bulapa village area.

For me, it was a total immersion experience. I met with everyone I could, sometimes just to say hello, sometimes to explain in greater detail why I was passing through. It would not be accurate to say that I involved myself in the practice of “muna muna” because I needed translators (my friends Amy, John & Maximus) to help me tell stories. Nonetheless, we were very warmly received everywhere.

A little "muna muna" goin' on!

A little “muna muna” goin’ on!

Only men “muna muna.” This looks like two or more men squatting on their haunches (a common & apparently comfortable pose, at least for Papuans), deeply involved in conversation. These conversations will run the gamut, but many of them revolve around what traditionally has been the domain of men in tribal society: strategies to wage war, the secrets of effective hunting, and how to best protect their families. These discussions are secretively guarded among the men to the extent that involvement is considered a bit taboo for women, but it is also true that some women hinted that their men “muna muna” to such an extent that entire days are consumed in the practice, and no work gets done!

People would rarely let you pass through their territory without some manner of cordial acknowledgment. Walking along a roaring river, my eyes drifted three-hundred up to the very top of an embankment to see a family waving. Far across a field of crops, a working family yells a greeting, barely discernible, but clearly friendly. A tough looking group of six young men steps out from a village hut, and a quick “amakanie” breaks down barriers as we all shake hands and greet each other. (“Amakane” is the customary greeting in the singular form; “amakanie” is the plural form.)

I zoomed in on these folks, who greeted us from a  substantial distance.

I zoomed in on these folks, who greeted us from a substantial distance.

After spending a hospitable evening in an “nduni” (a men’s hut, where travelers are welcomed to spend the night), our host dressed up in his traditional best, recognizing that us tourists would likely love a photo. He and his family got just as big a thrill out of the evening of stories and meal sharing as we did, and were delighted to see themselves in a digital photograph.

An nduni, men's hut.

An nduni, men’s hut.

Our host joyful posed with us in his traditional best.

Our host joyfully posed with us in his traditional best.

Not everything was all sweet and perfect along the way, of course, and I hope to unpack some stories in the months to come that will help paint an accurate and realistic picture of the peoples and the lands through which we traveled. This was my second trip to New Guinea, however, and I remain hanging onto Amy’s statement about these people: “They are the loudest talking, meanest looking … intelligent and friendly people you would ever meet!” She grew up here, and so far that has been spot on!

Welcome to Ugimba, West Papua

The village of Ugimba lies in the heart of Moni land in West Papua, deep in the jungles of New Guinea. It is the deepest of the tribal villages; only immensely dense jungle and the high marshes and limestone plateau’s of the Sudirman mountain range lie further afield. We would travel these jungle paths en route to Carstensz Pyramid, the jutting high point of the Australasian continental mass.

As we descended toward the village of Ugimba, two men – wearing only traditional kotekas (penis gourds) and tribal markings and wielding large bow and arrow sets – stepped out of the bush and onto the path, raising their weapons toward us as they did so.

Our hearts stopped, but just for a breath. A moment later several young women also stepped into our path. Equally modestly dressed in grass skirts and colorful jog bras – I guess that’s what I should call their tops – also with a variety of facial paintings and tribal markings.

The women began a series of repetitive calls that sounded very much like an old style emergency alert siren. The sound that issued from them rang amazingly loud and clear and others, further toward the village, responded in kind, setting up a sort of path of sonic bread crumbs for us to follow. We were being treated to an entirely genuine and traditional village welcome ceremony, complete with dance and song.

The welcome committee, now growing rapidly as additional warriors, women and children joined in, guided us patiently toward Ugimba. Running ahead about fifty feet, then stopping to dance as we caught up, and all the while calling out, the six of us were soon engulfed in a friendly swarm of Moni villagers.

Some villagers welcomed & greeted us in traditional dress …

… and others came to welcome us in casual dress.

We all joined in for the photo op.

What a fantastic experience after a day of trekking through the heat, humidity and wetness of the jungle! At the time, I simply knew we had a lot to look forward to on this trip. We were engaged on an excellent adventure via a route that has seen few western travelers, with a two-fold goal: first, safely reach and return from the summit of Carstensz Pyramid and second, build relationships with indigenous people which would respectfully balance our visit with their way of life. Now, in retrospect, I know we were treated to the very special and unique experience that not many see any longer … literally being welcomed into the Moni home! The July 2012 excursion represented our inaugural effort and as I now look forward to future visits, I am still full of hope for more summits and stronger relationships.

Watch my short, fun video of some of the Moni welcome ceremony.

Enjoy!

Our Connection with Carstensz

About Alex’s Carstensz Connection

In the early 1990s, while guiding on Mt. Rainier in Washington State, I met Amy Meredith. Amy had grown up as a missionary kid in the jungle highlands village of Hitadipa, very near to Carstensz Pyramid, in what we know today as West Papua. The friendship between our families grew over the years and she has been an unbelievable resource in the development of this adventure.

As we collaborated to build this adventure, it was important to all of us (me, Amy, our Papuan friends) that we create a program with high regard for the indigenous peoples, their ways of life, and their native lands. Our program truly does this. The many programs where foreigners come in only to grab a summit, seemingly without those regards, were viewed in less than endearing terms by the Papuans. We wanted no part of that!

Our decision to utilize a Moni tribesman as tour operator highlights our value to highly regard the indigenous culture. Masmus, as he is affectionately known, is currently the only indigenous Papuan tour operator and we are his only client from the Western Hemisphere. According to Masmus, I am “Amy’s little brother from the same net as she,” and as Masmus honors me through his service on this trip, he also honors Amy, whom he has known since childhood. This is a significant relationship which has taken years and years to foster.

About RMI’s Carstensz connection

RMI has been setting the standard in mountain guiding excellence since 1969 and getting safely up and down mountains is just the beginning of our story. RMI has built a four-decade long legacy of safe, successful, and enjoyable mountaineering adventures and now we bring our standard of excellence to Papua.  From the beginning, we have desired to build long-term relationships with local indigenous peoples, relationships which would respectfully balance our visit with the Papuan’s traditional ways of life.

Masmus is the perfect choice as a commercial liaison. He is soft-spoken; a peace-maker, not a warrior. He has a good heart for the Ugimba Moni people. As a young boy, Masmus began working at the Grasberg copper and gold mine. He worked his way up from watering the gardens of ex-pats, to operating super-heavy equipment, and later to serving on the operational safety and education teams. He has both the capacity to connect with local tribes-peoples as we trek through Papuan villages and at the same time be in-tune with the ways of the visiting tourist.

We are in the best hands possible, hands that welcome us in the most traditional Moni greeting, “Amakane!”

Visiting Indonesia (Part 1: Travel Facts)

The following 2 posts spotlight interesting cultural elements of a trip to Indonesia. This particular post provides quick, simple, useful answers to questions commonly asked by travelers. Part 2 will introduce us to the Moni people, from the perspective of an expat who grew up in Moni land.

General Information

Capital City of Indonesia: Jakarta
Capital City of Papua: Jayapura
Currency: Rupiah
Languages of Indonesia: Bahasa Indonesia, English (major cities)
Languages of Papua: 300+ tribal languages
Religions: 6 formally recognized world religions and other traditional faiths

Indonesia at a Glance

The word “Indonesia” originates from the Greek words “Indos,” meaning “India,” and “Nesos,” meaning “island,” together literally meaning “Islands of India.” 17,508 islands exist in the archipelago, stretching for 3,200 miles (5,510 kilometers) between Australia and the Asian Continent. These islands, 6,000 of which are occupied, divide the Pacific and Indian Oceans along the equatorial line. Indonesia has 400 volcanoes, 100 of which are active.

Papua at a Glance

Papua is the largest province of Indonesia, comprising a majority of the western half of the island of New Guinea and nearby islands. The provincial capital is Jayapura, located high on a hill overlooking the sea to the north. Papua is a land of contrasts, with some of the thickest jungles lowland in the world, rugged snow-capped mountain peaks, beautiful sandy beaches, huge stretches of marshlands, and deep river gorges carved through dense forests.

Climate and Weather

Indonesia’s monsoon-type climate changes approximately every six months, although, in recent years, global warming has somewhat disrupted weather patterns. In Papua, regardless of the time of year, the rain is part of the rainforest.

Due to the large number of islands and mountains in Indonesia, temperatures vary. Along the coastal plains, the average is 82°F (28°C); for inland and mountain areas, it is 79°F (26°C); and, in the higher mountain areas, the average is around 73°F (23°C). Like other tropical countries, Indonesia has a high average relative humidity, usually between 73 and 87 percent.

Flora and Fauna

Within the Indonesian archipelago lies one of the most remarkable zoological zones on the planet. Home of the most diverse flora and fauna in the world, Indonesia has 10 percent of all flowering plant species, 12 percent of mammal species, 17 percent of bird species and 25 percent of the world’s species of fish.

Time Zones

Indonesia has three time zones—Western Indonesia Time which is GMT +7 (covering Sumatra, Java, Madura, West Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan), Central Indonesia Time which is GMT +8 (covering East and South Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Bali, Nusa Tenggara) and the last is Eastern Indonesia Time which is GMT +9 (covering Maluku and Papua).

The capital Jakarta is GMT +7 or 16 hours ahead of US Pacific Standard Time.

Ethnic Groups

Some 300 ethnic groups call Indonesia home, but most (45 percent) of Indonesians are Javanese. In addition, 14 percent are Sundanese, 7.5 percent Madurese, 7.5 percent coastal Malays, and 26 percent are of other ethnic groups.

Languages

There are more than 700 languages and dialects spoken in the archipelago. They normally belong to the different ethnic groups of the population. Some of the distinctly different local languages are: Acehnese, Batak, Sundanese, Javanese, Sasak, Tetum of Timor, Dayak, Minahasa, Toraja, Buginese, Halmahera, Ambonese, Ceramese, and several Irianese languages. To make the picture even more colorful, these languages are also spoken in different dialects.

Bahasa Indonesia is the national language. It is similar to Malay and written in Roman script based on European orthography. English is the most prevalent foreign language. Also, some Dutch is still spoken and understood in the bigger cities and French increasing in its popularity at the better hotels and restaurants.

The Flag

The Indonesian national flag is called Sang Saka Merah Putih or “the red and white treasure.” As provided for in Article 35 of the 1945 Constitution, the flag is made up of two colors, red on top of white. By law, its width must be two-thirds of the length.

Like the country’s coat of arms, its flag is also symbolic. The flag’s red stripe represents bravery, and its white stripe stands for spirituality.

The Garuda

Indonesia’s official coat of arms is centered on the Garuda, and ancient, mythical bird from the country’s historical epics. Like the Bald Eagle in the United States, the Garuda is often used to represent Indonesia.

A great deal of symbolism runs through the Garuda. The eagle is a symbol of creative energy. Its principal color, gold, symbolizes the greatness of the nation. The black color represents nature. There are 17 feathers on each wing, 8 on the tail and 45 on the neck. These numbers stand for the date Indonesia proclaimed its independence: 17 August 1945. The shield symbolizes self-defense and protection in struggle. The five symbols on the shield represent the state philosophy of Pancasila. The motto Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (“Unity in Diversity”) is enshrined on a banner held in the eagle’s talons, signifying the unity of the Indonesian people despite their diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Traditions, Customs & Considerations

  • Even though hand shaking is deemed appropriate between men and women, bear in mind that a number of Muslim women prefer to introduce themselves to men by nodding their head, smiling, and clasping their hands without any physical contact.
  • Traditionally, when you greet someone, both hands are used when shaking, without grasping.
  • It is considered polite to make a phone call first before visiting.
  • Shoes must be taken off before entering a house or place of worship like mosques.
  • Usually drinks are offered to guests. It is polite to accept.
  • When eating, receiving or giving something, always use your right hand.
  • Your right index finger should not be used to point a place, items or people. Use the right hand thumb and fold the remaining fingers to be more polite.
  • Taking photographs of houses of worships is allowed, however permission should be asked first whenever possible, especially if you want to take pictures of the interior.
  • Most Indonesian Muslims do not consume alcoholic drinks and pork. Hence, the tradition of proposing a toast to honor someone is not generally known.
  • Skimpy clothing in public areas, save from beaches and pools, might warrant unwanted attention.

Fun stuff! Enjoy!