I sat there, clinging on to the side of our speedboat, the light gust of wind with sprinkles of salt water began to hit my face as we set off from the port of Waisai to our home for the next 2 nights in Mansuar Island, Raja Ampat. As the speedboat picked up it’s pace, we ripped through the Halmahera Sea, the view of Yenwaoupnor to our right instantly drowned out the engine noise. In the distance we see, what I later believe, was the closest thing to heaven..
Whilst I was living in Bali in the year of 2013, I dreamt about traveling to Raja Ampat. Personal circumstances or in this case, lack of funds, meant that my dream remained just that; a dream. One of those dreams that would slowly creep up upon you when you’re at your desk at work, surrounded by white walls that would transform into cloudless skies. Or when you’re in sitting in your car in the middle of a traffic jam, where everything around you would sink into the bottom of the deep blue ocean.
Making a trip to Raja Ampat, is somewhat expensive, especially if you have an above average salary in Indonesia. Most of that expense is not actually on the journey to get there, but the actual stay in Raja Ampat itself. The cost of a stay for 2 nights would be the equivalent of a return ticket back home to London. To even dream about it, I felt like I had to first punch in my pin number at an ATM.
But somehow, the universe had its way of giving you a bone to chew on…
A close friend texted me saying “Would you like to go to Raja Ampat?” to which I replied accusing her of going through my browser history.
“My cousin has a voucher for 3 people which needs to be used for the month of October, she’s not able to go and told me to take it!”. This meant that, with my budget, I was able to live my dream.
We are going!
We had only a few weeks to prepare, I rummage through my camera gear to organise what I needed to bring; those white walls were slowly coming down and the honking cars would slowly submerge themselves into the water. I never woke up.
Our journey begins at Bali’s Ngurah Rai Airport, departing to our first stop at Makassar, South Sulawesi. An overnight stay near the Sultan Hasanuddin Airport was needed, before our morning flight to Sorong, West Papua. We tried the city’s signature dish called Coto Makassar before I stuffed my face with another popular dish called Mie Titi. Before rest, we stopped over the city’s closest beach, Pantai Losari. Indonesian tourists loved taking photos of themselves in between the massive sign that reads ‘Pantai Losari’, where the only letters remaining in the photograph would read ‘Tai Lo’, which translates to ‘You Shit’.
A night’s sleep and 2 hour flight later, we reached our second stop in Sorong, a coastal city of West Papua where travellers tend not to stay longer than they needed, using it as an access to Raja Ampat, via its port island of Waisai where it will be our 3rd stop before our destination. To get around Raja Ampat, it is highly recommended to hire a guide, where usually your homestay or resort would provide. We met him beside an old man selling beverages in his makeshift kiosk. He welcomed us and gave us badges to keep, which certifies our contribution towards the conservation for the richest marine biodiversity in the world.
Our 2 hour ferry trip to Waisai had a mix of Chinese tourists and scuba diving enthusiasts, outnumbered by Papuan natives travelling home to their respected islands. We arrived in Waisai, a town in Waiego, which is the capital of the Raja Ampat Regency. The port of Waisai was filled with men carrying boxes of groceries from the city and women carrying their belongings in their ‘Bilum’ bags, a Papuan handmade string bag which they sling across their foreheads. I wrapped my camera bag with a water resistant cover, as our speedboat arrived to take us to Mansuar island. Clinging on to the side of the boat, the light gust of wind with sprinkles of salt water begins to hit my face as the boat picked up speed.
The entrance to Mansuar Island became visible as it treated us to views of coconut trees absolutely covering every inch of the small island. We stepped off the boat onto the dock, walked under a sign that reads out “Welcome to Raja Ampat Dive Lodge”. The clearest waters I have ever seen, with marine life as busy as London town surrounded the dock. Stepping foot on the island’s white sands, I could hear… absolutely nothing.
Our living situations were in small huts, which were all lined in a row, placed right on the edge of the island. The huts were standard at best, with mosquito nets covering our beds. Wi-Fi was practically non-existent due to it’s very slow speed with no TV sets, but that didn’t matter one bit, we didn’t come all this way to sit in our rooms when we had heaven outside our doors. Before sunset, we took to the ocean. The waters were calm. We slowly lowered ourselves into the water to marvel at the amazing corals on show, even so close to shore.
Drying ourselves off, we sat by the dock in silence. I could probably count in one hand with how many other guests there were at the lodge. It felt like we had the whole island to ourselves. As night falls, we could see 2 or 3 shining lights underwater where night divers were exploring the sleepy seas.
Next day / New adventure
Before sunrise, we woke up for our short trip to another small island where it is home to the Birds of Paradise, the Cenderawasih in Sawinggrai Village. I stepped out of our huts to the blackest of mornings and I could hear… absolutely nothing. The water were as calm as the first time I stepped foot in Mansuar. We climbed onto our speedboat, which was sitting, by the dock. The dark blue sky slowly turning into a canvas of a Darren Waterston painting, I found myself fixated by the water as it reflects the sky with the trail of our speedboat ripping through it, truly ethereal. As the boat docks at the village, 3 children and their father, who turned out to be our guide for the island, welcomed us. To view the Cenderawasih, we had to hike up to the peak of the island. We were equipped with comfortable hiking shoes but I felt miles apart from our guide who himself was only wearing flip-flops. Once at the peak of the island, drenched in sweat, we marveled at the views the island had to offer with distant singing from the Cenderawasih as they flew from branch to branch.
Our bellies rumbled once we got back to Mansuar Island, we were treated to a delicacy native to Papua and Maluku called Papeda. A congee made of Sago; Papeda is the staple food for eastern Indonesia, commonly eaten with fish. Some would need the stomach to eat a dish like this but thankfully I could eat for England and thoroughly enjoyed my 3 portions of Papeda. Betel Nuts on the other hand, I could probably do without, as I was left with the bitterest taste on my tongue as I spat out the colour red. Papuan natives would chew on these, which gives out a mild stimulant when you mix it with mustard seeds causing it to turn red and giving out a euphoric feeling like when you take a drag from a cigarette. The streets across West Papua are filled with red residue because of locals spitting, often turning it into works of art.
Schools of barracuda can be seen in the distance after we jumped off the docks into the crystal clear waters. Different coloured species filled the cosmopolitan ocean as we snorkelled our way through different areas on the archipelago. It was another world under the water, with only the sun lighting our way through like street lamps. We got back on to our speedboat and rode into the middle of the ocean. In between islands, during low tides, lay Pasir Timbul, a bank of sand more than 10 meters wide. Incredibly, this tiny island does not get washed out by daily tides, a true phenomena.
Every moment in Raja Ampat, my jaw became heavy due to my constant awe at the sights and sounds of the archipelago. As I sat in between the wet sand and the ocean, I reminisce about a cartoon from my childhood titled ‘The Cold-Blooded Penguin’. A story about a penguin named Pablo, being frustrated and fed up with the freezing temperatures of the South Pole, deciding to leave everything behind and risking his life to find a warmer climate, finally finding a new home in his own little island…
“…and so as the warm tropical sun sinks slowly in the west relieved little Pablo… a bird in Paradise.”
Sadly, marine life in Raja Ampat, like most marine national parks and ecosystems are under threat due to man-made incompetence. In 2017, due to a cruise ship accident, Raja Ampat had lost 1,600 square feet of reef with substantial damage costing almost $20 million.
In 2013, to get to Waisai was only available via a ferry from Sorong. Nowadays, Waisai has an airport called The Raja Ampat Marinda Airport, which you can travel from Manado.
Please research the Papua Conflict.
Expenses (In IDR):
- Flights (Denpasar – Makassar – Sorong) = Rp 2,800,000
- 1 Night Makassar = Rp 500,000
- Sorong Airport to Port = Rp 150,000
- Port of Sorong to Port of Waisai (per person return) = Rp 240,000
- Raja Ampat Dive Lodge (2 nights) = Rp 4,600,000
- Hiking tour of Sawinggrai Village = Rp 500,000