Monday, July 11, 2011

Snorkels & Crabs

Nearly two weeks in Papua so far. Some highlights: I found a warnet downtown with fast-ish wifi, $2.50 for three hours. Pak Yusuf had his birthday, with cake for the office. (Why does chocolate cake in Indonesia always taste like bubblegum?) I got to go snorkeling off Pulau Mansinam. And Ibu cooked the crabs from Bintuni.

Also the grandbaby is back. (He went home to Bintuni for a while.) He’s fascinated by me. Anytime I’m within view, you can see him staring rapt across the room at me. Not a lot of white girls around, I guess. It’s fun to be new and exciting, especially since I don’t have to change any diapers.

For Mansinam, we met at 10am on campus. So naturally everybody was there by 11:30. I was all ready in bathing suit & sundress, but first there was an odyssey through town, buying things for lunch at a few different places, picking up more people, and finally heading to the dock, where we caught a water taxi to Mansinam Island. The water was that shade of turquoise you see in postcards but don’t expect any real water to be. And of course swaying palm trees, cloud-swathed Arfak mountains in the background, all that. Once we go dropped off on the island it was a bit of a trek to the beach. Paradisiacal as it looks from a distance, all of Manokwari drops its trash in the bay, and visitors to Mansinam leave theirs on the beach, so water and shore on the lee side are full of candy wrappers, plastic bottles, banana peels, and the occasional dirty diaper. Better to hike to windward, which, while not quite pristine, is a hell of a lot better.

On the way we passed a giant white cross, built as a monument on the site where Christian missionaries first landed in Papua in 1855. It took then three years here before they finally headed over to the mainland, though it couldn’t have been more than half an hour’s canoe ride away (or 10 minutes by our motor-powered outrigger of a water taxi). The path was cement, but the day was hot and humid and the swarms of mosquitoes as we passed through the forest didn’t help. By the time we finally found the long, wide, clean beach we were looking for, I went straight for the water. Pak Yusuf agreed with me, but everyone else started lunch first.

The water was lovely, warm, clear, blue. On the shore were tiny hermit crabs, and little white sand crabs that darted into their holes if you got too close. For lunch we had packets of rice with tempe and vegetables (and whole fried fish, if you like ‘em), eaten off their wax-paper wrappers. Screw the 30-minute post-lunch wait, I pulled out my snorkel and headed back to the water. (Yes, I brought my snorkel to Indonesia with me. I sure wasn’t using it in New Haven.) I also had my digital underwater camera from Christmas, the products of which prove that you (or rather I) can take just as crappy pictures with a fancy-pants digital camera as with a disposable, just with the digital one you can take a lot more, and crappy movies too.

Manokwari’s not exactly a snorkeling destination, but if you’re there anyway it’s worth doing. There’s some coral close to shore, and a good number of fish. I saw a bunch of blue starfish, a lot of urchins, some white/yellow/black angelfish, , a couple of parrotfish, and a lot of shiny little things in bright colors. Also a sneaker, some candy wrappers, and a plastic sack or two. And most of the way a pair of 7-year-old boys was following me around and yelling not to go out too deep, that there was a whale, and could they borrow my goggles? A whale would have been pretty cool, actually; I was more afraid of the two jetskis zooming around the beach.

Before we left, I showed Eny and Sutri how to backfloat. Given how close the ocean is, it’s surprising how many Indonesians don’t know how to swim. It started drizzling as we left the beach. We hiked back to the pier, waited nearly two hours for a water taxi back, and made it home for dinner, with plenty of bug bites but somehow no sunburn to show for the day. By 10pm, it was raining so hard I could hardly sleep for the noise (thanks, tin roofs).

And today the crabs. Last week, Gio’s father brought two giant purple crabs (kepiting) from Bintuni, and until now they’d been sitting in the freezer, boiled but awaiting further preparation. After all the fanfare, they finally came out this morning. I came out looking forward to a light breakfast of tea, papaya, and roti, since there were a few buns still left over from yesterday’s grocery run. As I was finishing up, out came bowls of green beans, potatoes, and fried tempe. Okay, a few bites of those so as not to offend. Then – wait! Kepiting! A big bowl of curried crab. Some parts were already broken open, but for the rest, there was just teeth and spoons to do the job, no nutcrackers here. I took a big claw, probably the easiest part to tackle. It was good, once I figured the damn thing out. Hell of an odd breakfast, but good.

And of course there was more crab for lunch and dinner. No refrigerating of the leftovers here – what’s cooked stays out until it gets eaten or gets too old. It’s actually nice having more people in the house now; dishes get finished faster so there’s more variety. For dinner I had the honor of finding my way around all the little mazes of shell to get at the meat inside the body near the legs. These things sure do make you work for them.

Tomorrow back to the office for an afternoon meeting with my Windesi speaker, and hopefully I’ll be able to get this posted. I’ve got pictures from Mansinam, including a few from underwater, which I’ll try to get up at some point this week – I’ve got another hour’s credit left at PapuaNet that expires on Wednesday, and they’re fast enough to get at least a few shots up.

UPDATE: The internet is being shockingly fast on campus today, so all my new photos are posted at in the Manokwari and Mansinam albums.

Also - why does Google think I'm in China? It makes it really hard to sign in when all the links are in Chinese.

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