Thursday. August 9, 2012.
We got an early start on the river, just as students at the Mission primary school were arriving by foot and canoe for classes. We headed downriver to Pagwi, where we were met by our van and driver for the return trip to Wewak. Oh, did I mention that long stretches of the road are more pothole than road?
In Wewak we first visited the Agricultural Inspection Office to arrange for an inspection of the wooden carvings we acquired at the Sepik villages so we could send them to the states. Another of Pomat’s cousins worked there and issued the certificate after a perfunctory glance at the pieces. We then walked past a roadside beer stand at which sat one of his “brothers,” probably just another friend from his village, who, together with his friends, seemed to have drunk most of their inventory. Just a bit down the road, we came to the office of the TNT Courier representative to organize the shipping of our souvenirs back to the States.
We drove west out of town on the coastal road that after 200 miles would reach the border between Papua New Guinea and West Papua, previously known as Irian Jaya, an Indonesian province that occupies the western half of the island. After just a few miles, we turned off onto a small road to a war memorial at Cape Wom commemorating the place where Japanese Lieutenant General Hatazo Adachi signed the official surrender documents on September 13, 1945 that ceased hostilities in New Guinea. By that time only 13,500 of his original force of 65,000 men were still alive, having suffered terribly during the long siege of Wewak. In 1947, Adachi was sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes, and committed suicide. A few miles further down the coast road, we turned down another small lane leading to the locals’ most popular beach. The road was lined on both sides with mangrove swamps, where we stopped to watch the antics of mudskippers. The place was literally crawling with these 4” long walking fish that hopped, skipped and jumped their way from puddle to puddle across the mangrove mud flats.
Later that afternoon, swimming in our hotel pool, we meet another couple who had been at the Crocodile Festival. Seventeen years before, Stetson (yes, his name was Stetson) and his wife travelled to Irian Jaya on the Indonesian side of the island. They convinced a missionary cargo plane to take them into the highlands and then spent 5 days trekking with a guide from village to village and staying in villagers’ homes. The villagers they met and stayed with wore their traditional garb, with men being formally attired in nothing more than a penis gourd. Now that was roughing it! Stetson, told us that when he goes to villages, he takes with him balloons, Pop Rocks, and cricket clickers to amuse the children, and that in turn leads to their parents becoming friendly. Memo to self – buy balloons and clickers before our next trip to an underdeveloped region.