Drama, Panorama and Kaimana

Senja di Kaimana by Alfian is a classic oldie many Indonesians know. The melodious song tells of a girl’s smile and the breathtaking sunset over Kaimana, now part of West Papua province. As I wrote here a while back my friends and I would travel to Kaimana in May. We did. 

Did we get to see the legendary sunset? Well.

Before even leaving the drama had started. We booked flights in February when Wings Air was the only choice from Ambon. The airline delayed our flight to Kaimana by a day only three days before departure, so we scrambled to secure a seat with Garuda Indonesia, which Ambon-Kaimana line had just become available in recent weeks. Barely done with that, Wings Air again notified us of a 2-day delay for our flight back to Ambon. After some collective cussing in the WhatsApp group, we decided to cancel our entire flights with Wings Air, asked for refund, and bought new tickets with Garuda.

Downpour welcomed us during overnight transit in Ambon and first days in the city of Kaimana. The Jakarta-Ambon flight suffered such turbulence the next passenger’s hot tea was spilled on my jeans, I lost an earring on the 1st day of snorkeling, and I scratched my vintage leather bag when I ran away from feisty fishermen’s dogs as we were sunset-hunting on the coast of Kaimana. So much drama, and yet no panorama.

Things started looking up after we left the capital of Kaimana regency to the offshore islands. Ermun Island is small, yet its beach curved 90 degrees it practically has two beach strips, each with tranquil turquoise waterfront and white powder sand that opens up to the famed Triton Bay. We spent a midmorning downtime watching flying fish, a school of fish dancing so close to the beach for not having developed fear over humans, and local father-son tribesmen hunting fish with long spears.

Mai-mai Island has a small wooden pier to reach its tree-lined white beach dotted heavily with purplish shells it was hard to walk without stepping on one that afternoon we stopped for a picnic lunch.

The Waikala islet boasts a couple of small pink beaches, just like over Komodo islands in East Nusa Tenggara. We were brought into the smaller yet pinker one, where nearby underwater would’ve been as beautiful for snorkeling had it not been for the strong current that day.

Deramai is a sizable yet relatively unexplored island populated by Koiwai, one of the few Muslim tribes in Papua. We stayed in a tiny fishermen’s wharf at a small, door-less, wooden stilt-house owned by a villager named Rudy, sharing the bare necessity lodging with five Japanese fishing enthusiasts, while his female relatives cooked for us. Rudy works with a natural conservation NGO while the tour coordinator Jafar is an anthropologist who works for the regency’s tourism department, and they strived to provide good services for visitors, but in general the infrastructures are at minimum on the islands, despite multiple constructions going around by the mainland and Jokowi’s multiple visits to Papua. Except for the fish, most foodstuffs we consumed had to be brought in by speedboats. The government-built inns in Mai-mai and Ermun were left unattended, even after the villas at Ermun were turned over to the community following public pressure. My friends ended up donating the inflatable mattresses and life jackets they toted from Jakarta.

It was the natural beauty around Deramai Island that paid off for all the drama throughout, including enduring the makeshift toilet by our lodging. There are so many picturesque sides, each boasts its own jewel– the shallow turquoise water where sea turtles call home, the secluded strip off a forest where the white sand is so soft you sink ankle-deep as you walk, or the long cove that provides the postcard-perfect sunset we’ve been after. Even the wharf we stayed in welcomed us with a long rainbow at sundown and a shimmering full moon the first day we arrived. The fish dishes were fresh, including sashimi of Napoleon fish the Japs were gracious to share and an 8-kg red snapper that was the catch of the day just before we departed.

While in Kaimana most people only visited Triton Bay or raved about the primitive cave drawings found off Marsi village, and I do marvel at the unique beauty of Triton Bay’s lush atolls—a denser version of Vietnam’s Halong Bay, one may say—and the mystique of the ancient cave drawings by the ancestors of the Marais tribe, yet the wonders lie on the islands scattered 1-2 hours off the city port. The colors are vivid, the natural forces are not tepid, and the panorama is solid. And if you take into account how genuine the smiles and kindness offered by the locals amid their simple circumstances, including by the Buton-hailed boatman or the Javanese woman teaching at the Christian school in Lobo village for 17 years, your sense of how colorful Indonesia is just gets more complete.

Do come to Kaimana. Bring your curiosity, chat up the locals, bring books for the village kids as my friends did, snorkel with manta ray and whale sharks if you’re very lucky, and perhaps there’ll be richer drama sung soon beyond sunsets over Kaimana. Papua, tanah air beta.

As published: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2017/05/20/urban-chat-drama-panorama-and-kaimana.html                                                                                                                             

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